Advanced Ayurveda: Listening to Your Body’s Signals
When it comes to health, we each have our own unique story to tell. My personal health journey started at a young age when my parents taught me to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and whole wheat bread, a truly revolutionary idea in the 1960s, when Wonder Bread was king. I was rarely sick and only remember going to a doctor twice—once for a bad bout of poison ivy and another time when I stepped on barbed wire and needed a tetanus shot.
So it was a big surprise that as I entered my mid-twenties, I no longer felt so healthy. I suffered from congestion and blocked sinuses every spring, sometimes with a productive cough that would keep me at home for an entire month. For the first time in my life, I took antibiotics, but eventually the antibiotics didn’t work. Something was clearly out of balance, and I didn’t have a clue how to feel better. And there’s nothing worse than feeling bad and not knowing what’s wrong.
Fortunately, I was soon introduced to the practical science of Maharishi Ayurveda. I learned that spring is the Kapha time of year, when the heavy, cold, sticky qualities of Kapha dosha predominate. I found that if I cut back on dairy foods—and especially ice cream—I could avoid the build-up of ama, the sticky byproduct of undigested food that is the cause of most imbalances. It was incredibly helpful to learn how to adjust my diet with the seasons, and I was amazed at how one simple change solved such a big problem in my life.
From there I learned about my body type and the specific foods I needed to stay healthy (as opposed to a one-healthy-diet fits-all approach from my childhood). But more importantly, I also learned to respond directly to my body and its needs. For instance, if I started to feel congestion coming on when traveling or during times of stress, I immediately reverted to a lighter diet of warm, well-cooked veggies, and pulses (from the legume family) to let my digestion recover. I learned how to choose foods that would keep my digestion in balance all through the year, so ama wouldn’t accumulate in my body. As I learned more about the seasonal changes that affect us and my innate mind-body tendencies, it was like receiving essential clues to solve my personal health puzzles.
In other words, by understanding the underlying principles of my own mind-body type and the way emotional, social, and seasonal factors affected me, it became a springboard for my intuition. I learned to listen to my mind and body in a new way.
You could call this a more advanced approach to Ayurveda. It’s all about developing your inner compass, listening to your body’s signals, and learning how to use food, herbal supplements, and lifestyle choices to restore balance. That may sound difficult to master, but everyone has this innate ability.
The first step to creating a sustained state of balance is to pay attention to how you feel. Do you feel better the next morning after eating a light dinner or when you eat a big meal before bed? Do you feel happier the next day when you stay up late or when you go to bed earlier? That’s what finding balance is about—becoming more aware if a certain food or lifestyle choice is nourishing for YOU. Sharpening this kind of self-guidance skill is a powerful companion to following outer rules.
The Ayurvedic guidelines—the seasonal tips, the Vata, Pitta, and Kapha dietary and lifestyle guidelines—provide helpful hints and, as in my case, provide insight into health imbalances. Yet there may be times when the dietary guidelines for different doshas can be confusing. For instance, we are all a mixture of doshas, and if you’re a Kapha-Vata, the dietary guidelines for Kapha are exactly opposite to the guidelines for Vata. That can be confusing unless you employ your own self-feedback mechanisms.
Plus our needs change as we experience different seasonal and life cycles. For instance, in my case, I am a Vata-Pitta, but following the Kapha guidelines in spring was the thing that helped me strengthen my upper respiratory system.
New circumstances are always coming up in our lives that don’t fit the outer rules. So we need to use the Ayurvedic recommendations to understand what is right for our unique physiology, to decide intuitively what is right for us. Ultimately real understanding comes from the inside. That’s why we’re calling it “Advanced Ayurveda.” It’s not about going by the rules—it’s about applying the rules to your specific mind-body needs. While using the vast body of Ayurvedic knowledge, you’re also going by the inner ruler—your intuition, your own body speaking to you, how you are feeling—and finding solutions. It is a subtle yet effective strategy.
Okay, you may think. This sounds good. But how do you develop your self-referral skills, your inner compass, your intuition? Like a TV screen that is disconnected from power, it’s hard to pick up signals if you’re disconnected from your inner self, or if mind-body coordination is switched off. Here are four simple steps to reconnect with your inner compass, sharpen your Advanced Ayurveda skills, and restore balance.
1. Establish Healthy Daily Habits. Following simple health habits can bring your mind-body system into balance and help you align with your own nature. Good sleep, fresh food according to your body type and the seasons, daily exercise, and stress reduction are pillars of Ayurveda. So in this way, the Ayurvedic path to staying in balance is somewhat the same for every person.
Yet the specifics differ according to your mind-body type, the season and climate where you live, and other emotional, social, and environmental influences. Ayurveda recognizes these differences and offers specific guidelines for the three main dosha types. And that is a major tenet of Ayurveda: There are different remedies for different people. So the daily routine and lifestyle, the type of exercise, the foods you eat—all are slightly different according to your mind-body type. Check out the Vata, Pitta and Kapha recommendations for helpful insights and tips.
2.Purify toxins. Toxins in the body, whether from the environment or from digestive impurities (ama), can make you feel sluggish, clouding perceptions and dulling intuition. Simple Ayurvedic habits such as daily abhyanga, regular exercise (even walking), seasonal purification procedures, such as drinking Organic Digest & Detox Tea can help clear the mind and body and put you more in touch with your inner resources. Check out this step-by-step detox routine for cleansing your body of toxins.
3. Practice Self-pulse Diagnosis. The most powerful and insightful way to determine what you need is pulse diagnosis, called nadi vigyan in ancient Ayurvedic texts. It’s a powerful diagnostic tool to assess the condition of your mind and body and what it requires to achieve a state of balance. It’s also a therapeutic remedy in itself. By putting your attention on your pulse in a quiet way, it allows your entire mind-body system to settle down and rebalance itself. It’s been called a window into the heart.
If you are interested in learning how to take your own pulse, check out this online course at Maharishi International University. Or learn from this free 14-lesson series on pulse diagnosis and global group meditation by Tony Nader, M.D., Ph.D.
4. Meditate Daily. I have found that my daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique helps me release stress and become more self-referral, intuitive, and aware. It helps me stay in tune with my feelings and needs. Plus when I transcend the surface level of thought and experience deep inner bliss, I find myself feeling joy in everything that I do. I find myself spontaneously choosing the foods and behaviors that bring me more happiness.
Whatever your choice of meditation or method, it’s important to find a way to tap into your inner resources. Then by natural desire, by natural inclination, you’ll make choices more in line with your own nature. And over time, as you become more attuned to what a balanced mind and body feels like, it becomes easier and easier to make the right choices, to choose the healthier options to stay in balance. Thus the Ayurvedic guidelines become easier to follow as you become more attuned to your inner nature. They also help verify that you are going in the right direction.
One of my favorite sections of the Ayurvedic texts gives a sweeping vision of what it means to be in balance.
“For those whose doshas are in balance, whose appetite is good, whose body tissues (dhatus) are functioning normally, whose elimination and other waste removal systems (malas) are in balance and whose body, mind and senses remain full of bliss, they are called a healthy person.” —Sushruta Sutrasthana 15, 41
So let’s remember that the main goal of Ayurveda is to feel balanced, to feel joy. If your intention is to feel bliss, if your intention is to feel good, you will naturally seek out the food and lifestyle choices that make you feel healthy.
With very best wishes for your health and happiness.
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