One of the key components to Yoga is mindfulness. As this Axis Yoga Teacher Training student realized, mindfulness can be a simple act that creates complex shifts. Mindfulness can include observation and gratitude when things are calm. It can also bring about self-awareness when times are messy; such as moving across country and parenting a small child as in the account below. In this way we are able to grow and work towards experiencing life as our true Self.
When tasked with taking on a personal experiment in a field you know next to nothing about, it’s easy to become over-whelmed. After taking a close inventory of my current life status, and also the sage advice of former Axis yoga students and mentors I chose to play it safe rather than bite off more than I could chew. I guess now would be as good a time as any to admit that this is sort-of my M.O.- perhaps I have more kapha in me than Dr. Lad’s test suggested. I wound up choosing the large box on the end marked ‘self-care’ as the focus of my experiment and although choosing this topic wasn’t particularly noteworthy at the time, I’m excited to share that I’ve learned more about myself (and Ayurveda) in the last couple weeks than I really thought was possible. Most meaningful to me has been the mindfulness piece. I’m learning that mindfulness isn’t challenging because there are a million other things to think about at any given moment, but rather that mindfulness can be tough because the minute you really start paying attention, buried thoughts and patterns begin to come to light and you inevitably begin to shift a little bit. As a species we are of course in a constant state of evolution, only most of us aren’t tapped into it. Bringing awareness to the present can be murky– to say the least.
Prior to beginning this experiment, back when we were first asked to discover our doshas, I struggled. Some tests said I didn’t have a dominant dosha, others thought I had a dual dosha (vata-pitta) and still another said pitta was prominent with a healthy dose of vata to boot. Commence the overwhelming. Regardless of which dosha was primarily mine, it was clear that having just moved from Boston to Denver with my husband and young son, living with family in the interim and enrolling in a 200hr. yoga teacher training without even a bedroom door to close was throwing a snag into just about every corner of my life. Self-care made sense and sounded nice no matter my doshic tallies. About a week into my experiment (and a week into living in our new home) I was able to quiet the winds of change a bit and listen more closely to my inner self. I came to see that my prakriti is in fact primarily pitta with a smidge more vata than meets the eye, now I had something to work with; Hates the heat; hands, feet and nose are always cold: strive for warm. New altitude is dry and unseasonably hot: cooling oil to the rescue. Spent last 12 months working through new trauma only to bring up old trauma and is annoyed that it’s taking so long to feel better: welcome yoga, acupuncture and Ayurveda to the party. My self-diagnosis? The middle ground would be my sweet spot, which we all know can be much easier to acknowledge than experience.
The self-care I participated most often in was tongue scraping and oil swishing. It took about a week of sesame swishing before I decided to give almond oil a try. I discovered I not only enjoyed the latter oil more, but also it called my attention to a perhaps not-so-hidden little character trait known as ‘ambivalence’, but that’s a whole other experiment. My mental state as of late has included a heightened reactionary response to any and all bodily sensations or changes, and so I discovered a daily tongue analysis might not be the best thing for me. I did however begin seeing an acupuncturist regularly during these past three weeks and am working towards letting some of the fear of the unknown go. If ama is sticky and yellowish-white, I’m happy to report I haven’t pulled much of anything of note from my tongue since that first morning. Day one was the first time I’d ever scraped my tongue, and although I didn’t collect much, I’ve had less than that first scraping every day since. About 5 days into the oil swishing and for the first time in what felt like forever, I didn’t lose a single drop of blood while flossing. That surprised me because I didn’t expect such tangible results so quickly or perhaps at all I came to realize. Now nearing the end of week three, my mouth feels more sensitive than usual, and I wonder if it isn’t the new rituals combined with bringing some actual awareness to this part of my body.
Another interesting experience I’ve had since starting this experiment is observing some of my long-standing habits, primarily of the mouth, beginning to change. I have a proficient background in wine and wine drinking with what I thought was an innate and unwavering love for red wine, but wouldn’t you know it, I haven’t touched the stuff in over a month. The current Colorado climate makes it less appealing to me, or perhaps it’s my pitta keeping me in check? Alcohol in general doesn’t seem to be holding the same space in my life it did just weeks ago, also coffee has been another no-show in my diet as of late. I’ve never been a multiple cups a day kind of gal, but it can be hard to come between my morning café au lait and me. It seems my caffeine habit has gone AWOL, replaced with a steamy blend of hibiscus + green teas, and a generous teaspoon of honey I can’t seem to give up. Meat is another food group that looks unintentionally different these days, simply said it doesn’t appeal to me in the same ways it did a month or so ago. While talking with some classmates about this recent change, I realize I’ve never really eaten a lot of meat, only recently after having my son and a change in our family schedule did meat show up in the nightly dinner rotation.
In an effort to calm my imbalanced vata dosha and having finally found a home to call our own, I also tried (in vain) to get a dinacharya going these last couple of weeks. Although I’ve been unsuccessful in making too much stick, I have begun to include myself in my son’s routine, which I think is a step in the right direction. Instead of feeding him and either disregarding my own hunger or waiting until a less convenient time, we are now eating breakfast and lunch together. Also, some afternoons while he naps I take the time to give myself a coconut oil massage before a quick, non-skin searing shower. Or I’ll burn a jasmine scented candle while reading a book or writing. One might think that these little bits and pieces of self-care wouldn’t really add up too much, but for me it has. The practiced bits of self-care in the morning have begun to spill over into other parts of my day and life. I’m finding I now rarely seek to distract myself at meal times and not with regularity but more often then ever before I now make efforts to wind down appropriately at bedtime. Which for me means less time ‘getting lost in the feed’ or watching stimulating television. And legs up the wall or a warm bath and taking the time to oil my feet and scalp have absolutely helped my quality of sleep. I’ve even begun to add a few lighter colors, blues and whites mostly, to my usual black clothing rotation, and I’m finding it helps me to feel more physically comfortable.
All in, the positives of this experience have far outweighed the negatives. There is of course plenty of work still to be done and opportunities for practice and growth at every corner. Self-regulating consistency is not my strongest suit and my natural tendencies toward anger and irritability are still alive and well within me, but I’m learning to navigate these familiar waters more effectively via mindfulness and anticipation. For example, opting out of a power-walk drenched in black clothing and the hot Colorado sun days before my cycle begins. And so I believe that this experiment as well as my time thus far in YTT has planted some real seeds in the soils of my life most desperate for nourishment, attention and care. With so much change and newness surrounding me and in addition to learning more about yoga, Ayurveda and the doshas it feels like I am absolutely at the beginning of something wonderful, while in the same breathe like I’m returning home to myself in some ways. I am grateful to this experience and to these seeds, may they continue to help me to grow strong stalks of which to bear abundant fruit. Namaste.
Axis Yoga Trainings’ students received customized feedback and suggestions for their ayurvedic experiments. Here is what Susan Bernhardt, AYT’s lead ayurveda instructor, had to say about this students process.
“What a great insight: “”mindfulness can be tough because the minute you really start paying attention, buried thoughts and patterns begin to come to light and you inevitably begin to shift a little bit.”” So true.
I love that you started involving yourself more in your son’s routine. It’s a wonderful way to create a dinacharya and to be with him. It’s perfectly fine to create your own dinacharya to fit you and your situation. One of the keys to reducing vata is to have a routine – it’s the fact of a routine rather than the particular routine that is most important. And, of course, the self-care component of what you did is huge.
I’m glad that overall you found the experiment to be positive. It’s a process for sure, but it sounds like you are well on your way!
Thank you for the thoughtful experiment and paper.
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