by Sandra Radja
The health spectrum can waiver from the life zapping chemotherapy of cancer to I’m feeling a little shitty after last night’s chicken parmagiana (chicken and cheese to those uninitiated) to I feel so alive and vibrant I want to make the world a better place. Each of those points in the rainbow of colourful health reports must have started somewhere.
It’s that moment of flashback, the gold mine of hindsight – where does one go digging and find the beginning of the cause of all things, the big bang if you like, the creation story. It’s an eternal quest, from the minor pains and itches in our lives to the greater philharmonic questions. There is some great big God graphic artist drawing an arrow to our weak points saying HERE, LOOK HERE, but we swat the flies and kill the wasps. And hindsight feels useless sometimes, especially when it vanishes in just the moment when another tsunami is building. You feel like you need to stare continuously at the ocean. But it’s tiring if it’s too far from the coffee shop.
I did an internship with the venerable Ayurvedic physician, Dr Vasant Lad in Pune, India in 2011. It was one of those experiences you can’t quite put your finger on. Sure you learnt some technical aspects of Ayurveda but it was so much more. We would gather each morning at a hotel to be driven by mini bus to the farm clinic, about 90 minutes away. One morning after eating some breakfast I noticed a really tiny kitten amongst us. I think it belonged to the hotel. I picked it up and moved it out of the way because it looked like someone would trample it. Fast forward about 8 hours and we are at the farm clinic in session. Dr Lad used me as a physical example to showcase facial diagnostics. He suddenly turns to me and asks – did you touch a cat this morning?
Whoa. What? I then ask him whether he can smell disease.
Yep. And he can tell by the way you walk, the things you say, the way you live in your house, and mostly, he can look you in the eye and get a feeling. He said that he has images flash before him. So with this intuitive sense you observe him ask the patient questions, like a detective. He takes the pulse and trusts his insights and uses his tools to work out the puzzle. Read between the lines of his lectures and you soon learn about devotion, surrender, meditation, love and compassion for humanity as key ingredients to be a successful healer.
I also asked him whether we should always seek the advice of another healer when dealing with our own health (the premise for my question being whether we could be objective when viewing ourselves). He looked me in the eye and said – yes you must heal yourself. Oooo…..chills. That shifted my perspective.
And I’ve mused on it since and here is how I interpret the layperson beginning the inner sensitive journey that we all must take if we want to know ourselves, whether for health related reasons or otherwise, from an Ayurvedic perspective.
THE MORNING ROUTINE
Ayurveda thinks of our senses (taste, touch, hearing, sight, smell) as gateways from the outside world to the inside world. We are constantly taking in impressions. Some of these impressions appeal to us and some of them create mini stresses we may not even be aware of. We not only aim to protect our senses so they work for us for as long as we are alive but we are in a constant act of purification, meaning we start to create an invisible boundary of what we accept into our physiology and what doesn’t serve our higher purpose.
As a basis, I encourage you to get an Ayurvedic diagnosis from a practitioner. Find out your prakruti (inherent constitution) and your vikruti (current imbalances) so you can get an overall blueprint as to where your tendencies lie and just so you have a framework of language to work back into. Ayurveda is just one way to create your relationship to nature, and therefore yourself.
A morning routine will benefit you to make better choices in your life. You will be more attracted to certain foods, people and interior design. Your sense of “taste” in all matters will improve over time. The messages will get stronger if you are out of alignment with your true nature. You will be healthier in the higher spectrum of the idea of health.
All it takes is consistency. Here are the ideas -
A client told me that she had an aversion to mouth swishing and tongue scraping because she could taste her cigarettes more intensely. The papillae on the tongue are sense receptors to the qualities in food. If we can taste the subtle elements of small amounts of sweet from having a clean tongue ( to calm our nervous system for instance) we don’t need to look for intense ways to get the message (such as alcohol). I liken the relationship of taste to jet lag. If you take it slow and take in the scenery you will arrive (in your digestion) with body and soul intact. If you take the quick and easy flight bypassing the essential need for tasting your food, the body will react to being out of sync. It then needs time to catch up.
Each morning, a small amount of sesame oil (or coconut) swished around the mouth for about 10 minutes can loosen the debris, make flossing easier and it will help to strengthen the gums. Sesame oil is antibacterial. It has the properties of pulling at toxins but also providing an unctuous film to protect against intruders. Scraping the tongue from back to front (with a stainless steel or copper tongue scraper), removes a film of undigested food from the day before. We can also detect from the colour of the film as to whether we have too much Vata, Pitta or Kapha. This is a message board as to what types of food we should be seeking and whether our food practices are measured and joyful.
If you visit Mumbai or any densely populated city of the world most of your time will be in very close proximity to someone else. You need to be ok with this or the vacation may just end up being a hotel visit. And for some of us, this is exactly how we can cope, by creating resorts that we feel safe within – not only with the foods we eat but the distance we keep from others.
It is, of course, important to be mindful of whom we feel comfortable touching us. Someone told me about some kind of workshop around my hometown. It was tantric based and involved asking participants to work with their fear of touch by a stranger. It involved being touched and touching (with permission of course) another person unfamiliar to you. I’m not a fan. Just like we prepare for a cleanse in Ayurveda in order to be effective, I do not believe we can come from the street and be ready to be touched by a stranger, well not all of us can. Call it Tantra or whatever you want. First getting used to your own touch is recommended.
Use Ayurvedic based medicated oils for your constitution or even just base oils like sesame, almond, coconut, avocado, etc with some essential oils to suit, should be heated and briskly applied. It is best to know your constitution in this regard to choose the appropriate oils and importantly how to change oils according to the season. Creating friction and heat helps the oils to merge deep into the bloodstream. It is recommended the oils are kept on the skin for at least 20 minutes. Then a warm shower and pat dry with a towel and you’re ready with your armour to face the elements of the day.
The great writer on Ayurveda, Dr Robert Svoboda, talks to us about affluence and aligning ourselves with affluent neighbours in order to be abundant ourselves. Looking at poverty every day can be depressing on the nervous system. This is not a judgement on humanity but it is wise to understand your capacity. There are few great souls whose ojas and unconditional love is so great, they can affect more than be affected. Mother Theresa and Mata Amma are ones that come to mind. To know yourself is to know what you can handle. If it inspires great love in you, then be of selfless service. If it causes anguish in your digestion and mind, find yourself amongst pleasant things and build up your immunity. Places of rejuvenation and rest, such as pancha karma centres, are geared towards visual beauty, understanding how vital it is for your healing.
In the morning splash your eyes with cool water. It will feel refreshing. You can use a mix of organic rose water and distilled water and make an eye bath. Making a chrysanthemum tea is a good way to rejuvenate the eyes as well. If your eyes are dry, dabbing a little ghee in the cornea at night before bed will strengthen and nourish your eyes upon awakening.
There is a wonderful practice as part of Yoga Nidra, which helps to prepare from withdrawing the senses. You lie on your back, savasana style and eyes closed. Pay attention to the noises in the distance. Use your hearing like a radar to pick up on any sounds that you hear in the background and follow them from sound to sound without trying to figure out where the sound came from (this one is hard for Pittas). Then move to closer sounds outside the building and then inside the building. Then focus on the breath.
The more you can practice this, the more sound won’t bother you. If you can focus on being one pointed on whatever you are doing, you can shut out noise pollution. It’s a good skill to harness and it means you are selective as to what can come into your being.
Each morning, put a couple of drops of warm sesame oils in your ears to strengthen the tissue. Or once a week put ½ dropper of sesame oil, plug it with some cotton and go to sleep on the other side allowing it to saturate your ear drum. Let it seep out during the night as you move. Do the other side the next night.
I saw a documentary as a kid on the mummification process. They talked about pulling the brain through the nose. It left a permanent picture captured in my brain, which I’m 100% sure led to my love of nasya oil (I love thinking about the ghee juicing up the fat of my brain). It took time to connect my breath work in Yoga with body movement but once I had tapped into that feeling of Prana moving through my body and releasing tension just by breathing right, I saw angels and golden harps. Hallelujah brothers and sisters, but it was a moment to behold.
Merge this a-ha moment with the Ayurvedic discovery of putting medicated oils up the nasal passages daily to keep them lubricated and my brain nice and juicy, and you have a Yoga/Ayurveda match made in heaven. Some oils are more intense than others so be mindful of your mind afflictions and whether you need to perk up the fogginess, cool down the over thinking or nourish the worry. Some folks like the cleansing process of neti pots, which can be very helpful for mucho mucus. If you don’t have a lot of mucous, just some medicated nasya can be enough to breathe free and easy.
YOGA AND MEDITATION
With clear nostrils, learn a sun salutation. And learn it according to your prakruti (fast, slow or medium style) and the season. Learn how to work with your breath in alternate nostril breathing or at least deep belly breaths. Learn what it feels like to breathe calm and deep. Learn what it feels like to be quiet. For just 20 minutes a day, find a sacred spot to call your own decorated with an altar of your choice and know what it’s like to feel content. In Ayurveda we say the root cause of disease is the disconnection from the spirit.
There is mention of health and longevity prescriptions in the Rig and Arthava Vedas, dating back to 1500BC. The rishis or “seers” of the time observed the truth through contemplation and observation. They viewed the micro in the macro and discerned that nature had certain laws that repeated themselves. Ayurveda was borne from this method of discerning the self in relation to nature- know yourself and you know the universe as you see it.
Make a crack in your day to let some light in. A routine of paying attention to your senses will naturally find you going within and refining yourself. The most simplistic Ayurvedic rituals can have immense impact – they are to be treated with the respect that belies a many thousand year old tradition. As Dr Lad prescribes, you are on a journey to heal the self. Take responsibility and take action – the rewards of being established in the self are great.