Ayurveda! Ayur….what?

The ancient Indian art, Ayurveda, the ‘science of life’ has now become an integral part of how I function from day to day, hour to hour, and seasonally. I use it for my own health and wellness as well as to assist other people. How did this all come about, how did I begin this journey of self care and self discovery? I will try to explain a little about how it all happened for me and why, as well as giving a little insight into the Ayurvedic system itself. Inevitably this will also include some of my Yoga journey as the two are inextricably linked, often called ‘sister sciences.’ It is said that they should always be practised with one another in order to achieve the ultimate ‘Sattvic’ state. To be Sattvic means complete equanimity in body and mind, as a result of your diet, daily routine, Yoga and meditation practice and general lifestyle.

I started practicing Yoga in 2003. I gradually progressed in my practice and eventually, in 2006, ‘found’ myself on the  Devon School of Yoga foundation course, and then the two year teacher training with them from 2007. During this time, around 2004, I stopped eating meat and fish and became vegetarian. I mention this because it is often seen as an essential part of being a ‘serious’ Yoga and Ayurveda practitioner. It is true that animal products are harder to digest and so make us feel sluggish and low in energy, this is called a state of ‘Tamas’ in Ayurveda and can increase the balance of our ‘Kapha’ dosha, which is represented as the earth and water elements in the body. I was born predominantly a Kapha person, I gained weight easily, I should have, but did not, avoid animal proteins and should have, but did not, eat lots of vegetables. I did not understand any of this until I explored Ayurveda. So I struggled with my weight and energy levels well into my mid 30’s. I then encountered a period of chesty coughs, often with mucous, around October or November each year. I still didn’t know anything about Ayurveda and so I went, as all good citizens do, to my GP, three years in a row, and got antibiotics. I did ask on more than one occasion if it was seasonal as it seem to occur at the same time each year, but this was dismissed as merely coincidental. After a few years of this I had embarked upon my Yoga training and so I began to learn a little about Ayurveda both within my Yoga training and through further study.

The topic of Ayurveda is endless and is a lifelong learning process. A huge part of this journey for me was learning Ayurvedic massage and the philosophy underpinning this with Sunita Passi. Massage in Ayurveda is used to balance the energy, to remove stagnant energy, to keep the circulation moving and to maintain overall health and flexibility of the body. As well as going to a massage practitioner, who can tailor the treatment to help to rebalance you depending on how you are at any particular time, you can also practice daily self massage, Abhyanga, to maintain your own health and to give yourself a daily practice of self care.

I leaned about the individual doshas and the seasons. Most significantly for me I leaned that as we move from the Autumn, dry windy weather (predominantly a Vata dosha environment) we go into the cold and damp of winter, this is the Kapha dosha season. So because my constitution was also cold and damp, the weather similar to this simply escalated the issue and my body became unable to cope with the increasing cold and damp conditions. My body then produced excess mucous as a symptom of this. So, the solution? Cut out anything which causes the body to become cold and damp and then increase the heat (fire element, Pitta dosha) and create more movement (air and ether, Vata dosha).

The next time Autumn approached, I stopped all damp forming foods, dairy, tropical fruits (yes even bananas!), avocado, yoghurt, eggs, salads. I increased the amount of leafy greens I ate. All food was cooked and lightly spiced, often spiced with chilli to boost the heat and metabolism. I replaced the proteins I needed with tofu and pulses. I had already embarked upon and continued daily with a practice of Kriyas (cleansing breathing practices designed to keep the respiratory and digestive systems free from congestion), oil pulling, tongue scraping and Neti (washing the nose with warm saline water every morning). I ensured that my Yoga practice was more energising than relaxing at this time of year to conteract the sluggish system.

The mucous that we see when we get congested is literally the tip of the mucous iceberg! I am a fan of discussing this because it is so very important. It’s interesting how we shy away in society from discussing such things, and yet they are so essential as indicators of our health and wellness. Think about it. If we have mucous constantly pouring out of us, nose, eyes streaming, sinuses blocked, coughing up phlegm, where is it all coming from? It is said in Ayurveda that this is a symptom of excess Ama, toxins in the system. If there is external mucous then internally, in our digestive tract, our blood vessels, our tissues, organs and cells, everything is blocked. And so it is essential to address this on a surface level but also to perhaps consider a deeper cleanse. 

A simple cleanse is to spend 3 days (more if you can) eating a mono diet of kitchari, which is rice and daal cooked together. Some simple spices and vegetables can be added to this. This is especially effective in Spring and Autumn when the seasons change as this is also when the dosha balance changes. This combined with a regular daily cleansing Kriyas and Yoga routine, meditation, a diet suited to your individual dosha (everyone is different), will definitely improve your health and wellness and help to prevent disease.

And now, 13 years after my journey began how is it working for me? It is true to say I have not always stuck strictly to the Ayurvedic route and when I have strayed from it my health has not been as good. More recently I’ve been fortunate to live in a more focused way where I can use Ayurvedic tools very consistently, as a result my health is the best it has ever been. Since I stopped dairy I have never had another chest problem. I don’t even get a cough or cold. I now very occasionally eat dairy or similar, but only in the warmer months when the risk of cold damp weather is less. I have stable and much lower body weight than I have had my whole life. I have lots of energy. I sleep like a log! If I do notice anything happening, such as increased anxiety feelings or insomnia (symptoms of excess Vata, air and ether elements), then I know what to do to rebalance myself. True it is not always easy to remain so disciplined, but it is always effective. As well as dietary considerations, I take Ayurvedic herbs, especially ‘triphala’, a combination of 3 fruits to balance the constitution, and I have regular massage as well as practicing self massage daily with oil. I have maintained my self massage, Kriya and Yoga practice. This system of Ayurveda, especially with the sister science of Yoga, aims to care completely for the whole body and mind. It brings us into a Sattvic state,where we feel nourished, whole, healthy and focused. Should anything go off balance (this is real life and it happens of course!) then can learn to we rebalance again using these ancient tools.

For more information about Yoga and Ayurveda with me, including workshops, retreats, massage and 121 session, please email virigniasyoga@icloud.com or have a look at the rest of this website.