Prakriti, Vikruti, and the Ayurvedic Clock

This article is the fourth in a series leading us into the Ayurveda Immersion at Yoga Center of Columbia beginning in January.

Prakriti

Prakriti on the one hand means “Nature, She who is the first creation.” (Svoboda, Prakriti, Your Ayurvedic Constitution, p. 27)  It also refers to your innate physical constitution, your personal metabolic pattern, or in other words your dosha signature.  You may recall kapha, pitta, and vata from our first post.   Your unique constitution depends upon many factors — some of them including genetics, your mother’s health habits during pregnancy, or any abnormal events that may have occurred surrounding your birth.  The amount of each dosha present within you offers the framework for your life experience.  At birth you had certain characteristics that define you, your prakriti, and that tends to not change throughout your lifetime.

There are eight different body constitutions according to ayurveda: kapha, pitta, vata, kapha-pitta, kapha-vata, pitta-vata, vata, and the eighth is much more rare, it is called tridoshic and refers to when kapha-pitta-vata are all of equal amounts.  Everyone has one or more doshas predominant at the time of birth, but as life unfolds, it is possible and even likely that one or more of the doshas will go out of balance.  In other words there may be accumulations or deficiencies of the different qualities.

A common misunderstanding is that when we attempt to bring ourselves back into balance, that means we want to maintain kapha, pitta, and vata in equal amounts within the body-mind structure.  This is not true.  Balance means that kapha, pitta, and vata are restored to your unique prakritic level.

Vikruti

There are many tests you may take to determine your constitution.  You may find examples here and here.  But the question really is, what is currently out of balance within me?  The current state of your health is your Vikruti.  You may be a Pitta-Vata but lately you have been incredibly hangry and have no patience with your family.  Sounds like your pitta is a little excessive.  To restore balance, remember the principle of “like increases like and opposites balance,” and you might want to take up swimming for example, an activity that has a cooling quality.  You might add more cooling foods and herbs to your diet like melons, cucumber, or cilantro.  Or, you may be a straight-up Vata, but you have a lot of congestion in your sinuses and lungs.  In that case, Kapha is out of balance and so you might choose to add more warming foods and spices like cayenne pepper to your diet to help decrease the excess earthy-watery mucous.

Ayurveda suggests gentle ways to deal with imbalances before they get out of control and turn in to disease.  Changing foods or exercise habits to meet your needs are excellent places to begin.  There are many ways to look at vikruti, a current imbalance, and to restore your doshas back to your prakritic level.  This is a longer discussion, no doubt.

Doshas may be in or out of balance based on other factors too.  The time of day, the season of the year, the stage of life, all of these have an effect on the doshas as well.

Ayurvedic Clock

In Ayurveda, 10, 2, and 6 are important transitions to the day, AM or PM.  6 0’clock is a little more fluid, one might refer to that time as sunrise or sunset instead.  From 6am (sunrise) to 10am and also 6pm (sunset) to 10pm, the elements of earth and water, Kapha dosha, are predominant.  This is the time of the day that we might feel more loving, more grounded, or more sleepy for example.  It is a good idea to get to bed by 10pm to ride the coattails of Kapha’s sleepiness into a delightful slumber.

10am to 2pm and 10pm to 2am are fire and water predominant, Pitta dosha.  Therefore, lunchtime is ideal for your biggest meal of the day, when the outer fire, the sun shines brightest, our inner fire is most ready to digest the foods we eat.  This might also account for the desire for a midnight snack.  However, at night when we are sleeping is really the best time to digest not only excess food already consumed previously during the day but also our daily sense impressions, so better to be sleeping from 10pm to 2am.  Says your mother.  In a loving way.

2am to 6am and 2pm to 6pm are air and space predominant, related to Vata dosha.  This is a lighter, drier, more mobile time of the day.  It is also a more subtle time.  In the morning before or around sunrise is an excellent time for meditation or spiritual practice.  Likewise at sunset.  If you can at least arise out of bed by sunrise, quite often you’ll notice a “spring in your step” or just a sense of being awake and alert in a calm manner, as opposed to when you sleep in until the kapha time of day and then the rest of the day you feel logy and sluggish.  Says your mother.  In a loving way.  But there is a reason for it, see?

The seasons also correspond to the doshas.  In Ayurveda, we think of the year as containing three seasons.  Kapha occurs in late winter and early spring when it is cold and wet outside.  Pitta is related to summer, no question; and Vata is related to autumn and early winter when things are drying out and turning cool again.  So you might be a Pitta who gets acid indigestion, but in winter a few hotter, spicier foods may be available to you without discomfort.  You might be a Kapha, but in summertime when it is hot outside, having some ice cream may be good for you.

Time of life corresponds to the doshas as well.  From birth to puberty, Kapha is predominant.  Think of how babies are chubby and full of love.  At puberty, a bit of hormonal fire kicks in and Pitta arises. From the teen years to middle age is when we study hard, find a fulfilling career, and start a family.  These are all very active, busy activities.  Pitta is the one who is motivated to get things done.  Middle age to end of life is associated with Vata.  In Ayurveda there is a saying that the process of aging is the process of drying out.  This is why there are so many practices that involve oils.  Sesame oil swishing in the mouth, self-massage with a doshic balancing oil, or even shirodhara, the process of dripping warm oil on the eyebrow center for relaxation and purification.  Oil counters the drying out and keeps one looking young and beautiful.  (with radiant skin!)  😉

So when we talk about Ayurveda being the study of aligning with Nature’s rhythms, these are some ways to be aware of Her rhythm.  This is a long and complex discussion, but I think a fun one because it opens up so many possibilities for self care.  To me, it is extremely fulfilling to flow with the rhythm of Nature, and in studying Ayurveda we learn how to do that.  When you feel balanced and healthy, you make the world a more balanced and healthy place.  We all owe that to ourselves!!!

In my upcoming Ayurveda Immersion, co-taught with Debbie Martin at the Yoga Center of Columbia, we will go into more detail on nature’s rhythms, prakriti, vikruti, and the ayurvedic clock.  The Immersion is a great way to learn in community with others; the conversations will be interesting and stimulating, and the community support will help you to change unwanted habits for the better.  If you would like to learn more, I hope you will join us!

Agni and Ama

This article is the third in a series leading us into the Ayurveda Immersion at Yoga Center of Columbia beginning in January.

If the subtle essences of prana, tejas, and ojas are the reward for living a healthy lifestyle, just how do we increase these qualities in our lives?

AGNI  

“It is the inextinguishable flame, the witness behind all our states of consciousness, the ever-wakeful seer.” (Frawley, Yoga and Ayurveda, p.105-6)

While there are specific ways to encourage more prana, tejas, and ojas, it all comes down to fire.  Agni in Sanskrit means fire, and Hinduism deifies Agni into an anthropomorphic form because they consider it that important.  Fire metabolizes, fire changes, fire transforms.  It is the transforming force of the universe.  It is not simply fire as we know it, but fire with all of its potential — heat, light, electricity.

The yogis tell us that this divine fire is the origin of all life and the impulse to love.  They say it is the “power of the soul that motivates us from within.” (Frawley, Yoga and Ayurveda, p.105)  Without fire there would be no warmth to cook our food nor warmth with which to hug and offer love.  According to Ayurveda, there are over 40 different types of fire in the body.  A few examples would be the digestive fire that transforms food into nutrients; the fire of awareness that helps us understand the difference between what is real and meaningful and what is not; the fire that affects body heat and fever when we are fighting off illness; there is even an agni representing cellular metabolism and functioning.

Cue the happy music:  Agni is the force necessary for evolution to occur.  This concept of fire in Ayurveda represents how the elements combine and convert into doshas which are refined into the subtle essences.  The yogis advise us to cultivate balanced agni whenever and wherever possible.

Types of Agni Related to Digestion

Jatharagni is located in the stomach and duodenum.  This is the one responsible for digestion.  There are four types:

  1. Samagni – a balanced digestive fire; this is the ideal, when food is digested and absorbed well; one will have a good appetite for nutritious food and very little gas, colic, or constipation
  2. Tikshnagni – sharp or excessive digestive fire; in this case one may develop heart burn, diarrhea, or a host of other things involved with hyperacidity of the stomach
  3. Mandagni – weak digestive fire; one may have a poor appetite, feel sluggish, or have a tendency toward weight gain
  4. Vishamagni – variable digestive fire; there are alternating cycles of strong appetite and loss of appetite; one may be affected by gas, constipation, diarrhea, or a host of other things

We can use food, herbs, and spices to help regulate jatharagni.  If one has a predominantly earth-water constitution of Kapha, Ayurveda suggests this person eat lighter drier foods like leafy greens and hotter spices like ginger or cayenne pepper to balance that.  If one has the predominantly fire-water constitution of Pitta, she should consume more cooling foods like cucumbers, sweet melons, cilantro, or turmeric.  Likewise if one has a predominantly air-space constitution of Vata, then he would favor foods with more earth element in them like root vegetables, avocado, or coconut.  The principle of “opposites balance” is at play here.

When agni is balanced, one will experience nourishment, proper energy level, contentment, regular elimination, strong immunity, a clear radiant complexion, excellent circulation, and overall strength and vitality.  Who would not want to cultivate proper agni?

But, what happens if agni is weak and food is not digested properly?

AMA

Cue the scary music here:  Ama is the Sanskrit word for undigested food, sense impressions, thoughts, and actions; it is a toxic, sticky sludge that forms in the body and creates cloudiness, confusion, and excess weight.  Ama can lead to fatigue and a feeling of heaviness.  It may induce indigestion, bad breath, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and mental confusion.  When ama is present, one might experience excessive mucous production, clammy skin, loss of appetite, hypertension, diabetes, or obesity.

So, it really does pay to support agni because agni is the fire that burns away impurities; it helps rid the body of ama or excess gunk.  It enhances our experience of the subtle essences of prana, tejas, and ojas which we now know creates the experiences of creativity, inner radiance, peacefulness, contentment, and joy.  Balanced agni is our friend in good health.  Cue the fireworks!

In my upcoming Ayurveda Immersion, co-taught with Debbie Martin at the Yoga Center of Columbia, we will go into more detail on how to cultivate agni and reduce ama.  The Immersion is a great way to learn in community with others; the conversations will be interesting and stimulating, and the community support will help you to change unwanted habits for the better.  If you would like to learn more, I hope you will join us!

The Subtle Essences

This article is the second in a series leading us into the Ayurveda Immersion at Yoga Center of Columbia beginning in January.

Last week we talked about the three doshas or body constitutions, the six tastes known as sat rasa, and the principle of how “like increases like and opposites balance each other.”  This week we will discuss what happens when the body-mind structure is in balance.

According to ayurveda, there are three subtle essences that arise within the body from the doshas.

Ojas

Kapha is the constitution related to water and earth.  When kapha is out of balance, one may feel heaviness, sadness, or depression; one may be sluggish, lethargic or carry excess weight.  When kapha is in balance, a person feels love and compassion for oneself and the world, she feels at peace and in harmony with herself and those around her.  Ojas arises.

Ojas is the first of the subtle essences.  Ojas is the lubricating part of the body that nourishes all of the tissues, such as blood, lymph, muscles, and bones.  It is the stuff responsible for a strong immune system, vigor, longevity, and overall well being of an individual.  We cannot have ojas without balanced kapha dosha.  When ojas is present, one has a radiant complexion, youthfulness, cheerfulness, a high threshold for stress, and mental clarity.  If ojas is weak or low, one may be timid, insecure, have poor appetite, or have feelings of worthlessness.

A few ways to protect ojas would be to eat a balanced meal which, according to ayurveda, contains all of the six tastes as discussed last week.  Do not rush your meal or eat on the go in the car or on the run.  In other words, sit and enjoy your meal, taste your food and keep good company when you eat.  Nourishing your mind through meditation or quiet walks in nature also protects and increases ojas.  There are more ways to support ojas, but this is a good start.

Tejas

Tejas is the second of the subtle essences.  Tejas is the inner radiance that shines in the luster of one’s eyes and the glow of one’s skin.  Tejas brings clarity to the mind, will-power, courage and fearlessness to one’s demeanor.  It is a type of fire that transforms food into nutrients the body can use and it transforms sensory experiences into knowledge and even wisdom.   One cannot have tejas without balanced pitta dosha.

Pitta dosha is the constitution related to fire and secondarily water.  When pitta is out of balance, one may feel sharp emotions like anger, jealousy, irritation, frustration.  In the extreme, pitta becomes the “type A” personality.  When pitta is in balance, one has energy to accomplish things, one has a healthy sense of competition, and there is a warmth to one’s personality that is highly attractive.

Keeping pitta in balance will stoke the subtle fire of tejas in a healthy way.  Avoid excessive talking about menial things or gossip to strengthen tejas.  A regular meditation practice or even chanting mantras will keep the inner radiance shining brightly.  Long slow deep breathing and mindful awareness are also helpful.

Prana

The third of the vital essences arises from Vata dosha.  It is known as prana.  Vata dosha forms from the elements of air and space so a person with a vata dominant constitution will have qualities of lightness, mobility, tendency toward dryness, and plenty of creativity.  Vata dosha is the primary biological force because it is the one that creates and supports movement.  Without movement of any fashion there is no life.  The key to managing all doshas and subtle essences is to care for vata.

When vata is out of balance, one may feel mentally scattered or ungrounded; one may be anxious, nervous, or fearful; and one’s behavior may be erratic.  When vata is in balance, one is creative and open-minded; one is a powerful speaker with an enthusiastic personality and the ability to understand a broad range of topics quickly.  When vata is in balance, prana is unblocked and flows freely.

Prana moves in five directions in the body: downward and inward like an inhalation, downward and outward like an exhalation, metabolizing or support during transformation, upward and outward as in speech, and circulating throughout the entire body-mind structure.  When prana is unblocked and flows freely, one has abundant vitality and is a source of inspiration.

A few suggestions to keep vata in balance are to keep a regular schedule for your daily routine: wake at the same time every day, eat meals at the same time, and go to bed at the same time every day.  This sets up a rhythm for life so one’s body-mind knows what to expect and even prepares for food or sleep so that one may gain more nourishment from those experiences.  Turning off all electronics, including television and phone, one hour before bedtime to have a more sound sleep is another way; one could use that time for reading, quiet contemplation, or meditation.  Third but not lastly, increasing one’s intake of root vegetables in the diet may have a grounding, soothing effect on one’s system to help balance vata.

Conclusion

So you can see that cultivating the subtle essences can be a very positive force in one’s life.  Ayurveda practice offers techniques to enhance ojas, tejas, and prana to restore balance in one’s life but also to live life fully and to thrive.

In my upcoming Ayurveda Immersion, co-taught with Debbie Martin at the Yoga Center of Columbia, we will go into more detail on how to cultivate the subtle essences.  The Immersion is a great way to learn in community with others; the conversations will be interesting and stimulating, and the community support will help you to change unwanted habits for the better.  If you would like to learn more, I hope you will join us!

 

Why Study Ayurveda?

This article is the first in a series leading us into the Ayurveda Immersion at Yoga Center of Columbia beginning in January.

The word Ayurveda means the knowledge of life.  Ayur means life or vital power, and Veda means knowledge or science.  It offers a way of approaching life that encourages good health and well-being.  I think of it as a handbook for living well.  Ayurveda is considered a sister-practice of yoga because they both developed around the same time, several thousand years ago, in the same place, India.  Yoga and other meditative practices are a part of Ayurveda, and there is so much more.

So, how does it work?  In Ayurveda, one tries to align oneself with the rhythms of nature, and nature consists of five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space.  These elements are the stuff of the universe and therefore are within our own bodies as well as in animals, plants, and everything we experience in life.  Our senses perceive these elements in different forms, we smell the earth, we taste with liquids, we feel warmth, we see color, and we hear vibration.  Ayurveda wants to find balance in all that we perceive, think, and do.

If all things are made of these five elements, then so are our bodies.  Earth represents the density of our bones, and any physical tangible part of us that we can see, touch, and smell.  Water is in the fluids of our bodies, blood, lymph, saliva, sexual fluid, gastric juices.  Fire is found in body heat, and in the act of processing and digestion.  Gastric juices are fluid but they also contain acids which are a type of fire that help us digest food.  There are many types of fire, called agni, within the body, and each one is responsible for some type of processing or transformation.  Think: once we take in some kind of sensory information, then we have to make sense of it, the making sense is the processing.  Of course we breathe air and it provides vital life force for us to live — one can go weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without air.  And space is more ephemeral, it is more difficult to recognize, but space exists, and if we did not have space we would not be here.

In our bodies, these five elements dance together in different ways and each of us has one or two predominant elements that provide our constitutional make-up.  There are three main constitutions that arise and they may combine in seven different ways to describe one’s particular essence and predilections.  The three main constitutions are known as doshas.  Dosha literally translates as “that which darkens,” or even “defect,” but this is referring specifically to the qualifying of the infinite, universal stuff that according to yoga is our True Nature.  So, we all come from this infinite, expansive, universal consciousness, but Consciousness, or Light, chooses to embody, and it does so through the elements, appearing in the manifest world by way of the doshas, that which darkens the Infinite Light, so to speak.  Here they are:

Kapha (kahp’-ha) – predominantly water and earth; kapha is nourishing, soft, related to the emotion of love, and a kapha person is someone you want to hug; some of its qualities include heaviness, coldness, tenderness, and slowness

Pitta (pit’-ta) – predominantly fire and water; pitta is a driving force that makes us competitive and compels us to do more, a pitta person gets things done; pitta metabolizes, and some of its qualities include hotness, moistness, sharpness, and of a spreading nature

Vata (vah’-tah) – predominantly air and space elements; vata is highly mobile, all movement in the body is because of vata, creativity is associated with this dosha; some of its qualities include dryness, lightness, coldness, and volatility

There are also subtle essences of these doshas.  When a person is in balance, a more subtle form of these qualities or doshas arise, and that is typically when one feels healthy, vital, and connected to others in community.  Stay tuned for another blog post on the subtle essences.

Life is centrifugal – as we live and grow, things tend to expand and change, nothing stays the same.  We gain more life experiences and therefore (hopefully) we gain wisdom.  Inevitably, life circumstances will pull us out of balance.  Ayurveda looks at the five elements and how they are found in nature and offers ways to maintain balance within your own constitution.  One of the ways it does this is by identifying six tastes.  I will list them here:

Sweet – made of earth and water; builds bodily tissues; examples include of course sugar and honey, but sweet taste is also found in butter, cream, grains like wheat and rice, some beans and fruits like mangos or bananas

Salty – made of water and fire; builds bodily tissues; examples will include salt itself, sea salt, rock salt, and also sea vegetables like seaweed and kelp; foods like nuts, chips, and pickles have plenty of salt added to them also

Sour – made of earth and fire; builds bodily tissues; sour taste is found in citrus fruits like lemon and lime; sour milk products like yogurt, cheese, and sour cream; and fermented foods like sauerkraut, vinegar, wine, and soy sauce

Bitter – made of air and space; depletes bodily tissues; examples of foods with bitter taste are leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and cabbage; herbs and spices like turmeric, fenugreek, and dandelion root; and coffee

Pungent – made of air and fire; depletes bodily tissues; pungent taste makes food spicy — garlic, onion, and chili peppers for example and also spices like black pepper, ginger, and cumin

Astringent – made of earth and air; depletes bodily tissues; this taste is more difficult to discern, but think of kidney, black, or navy beans, or lentils; vegetables like artichoke, broccoli, cauliflower, and turnips; and grains like rye or quinoa

So the principle in Ayurveda is that “Like increases like and opposites balance each other.”  When you have too much fire element within you, which might manifest as heartburn, then back off of the fiery tastes.  Eat more cooling foods like sweet juicy melon or leafy green vegetables.  If you feel too ungrounded or your mind is spacey or racing, eat more root vegetables.  This is an over-simplification but the examples do hold.

We can work with foods, herbs, and spices in Ayurveda to restore balance, but there are other daily practices that also help to bring equanimity too.  In my upcoming Ayurveda Immersion, co-taught with Debbie Martin at the Yoga Center of Columbia, we will go into more detail on many of these practices.  The Immersion is a great way to learn in community with others; the conversations will be interesting and stimulating, and the community support will help you to change unwanted habits for the better.  If you would like to learn more, I hope you will join us!

The Joy of Child’s Pose

How did you get here? Close your eyes and surrender. The hurt that we embrace becomes joy. 
 -Rumi

For the past five months I have been dealing with fluid in my knees. I think it began with a long flight overseas and back (did I mention I am obsessed with India? See here, here, and here) where I was cramped in an economy seat for hours without much movement. At first they were only painful with some restricted movement, but after an anniversary weekend in NYC walking everywhere in not the greatest shoes (go see the World is Sound exhibit at the Rubin and The Great Comet!) and a bit of landscaping with a shovel into the hard Cheverly clay, my knees became two little orbs of sharp, burning, stabbing pain.

Needless to say, there was no child’s pose for me.

My yoga practice really changed. Instead of yoga postures each morning, I became fast friends with my tennis ball. If you’ve been to my class, you’ll know that fascial release is one of my favorite things, and all you need is a humble tennis ball to support you in this endeavor. So instead of coming to my mat for yoga postures, I would press and roll the tennis ball into and over hamstrings, calves, quadriceps, even on the outside of my feet to help open the peroneal muscles, IT band and tensor fascia latae. This tennis ball rolling, making space in and around the knee joints, felt really good relative to the constant pain and it was about all I could do for a while. My meditation was in a wide-legged seat, upavista konasana, sitting up on blankets with rolled towels or blocks for support under my knees.

A yoga pose I found really helpful was elevated pigeon pose. With my back foot on the floor, I would place my front shin on a bed or raised surface. You have to spread the toes of the front foot wide and draw the pinky toe back toward the knee to do this safely when there is knee pain. Going slowly, I would sink in to the sensation and breathe with it, allowing time to release gripping and holding, and believe me, there was a lot of gripping and holding.










This kind of practice, patience, massage, and acupuncture began to offer results and my knees became not so cranky. Yesterday, slowly, with toes active and pressing into the mat, I was able to slowly lower my hips toward my heels and, even though I was very wary of not going too far, it felt like heaven. In child’s pose it was as though the earth swallowed me up and held me in her embrace, reassuring me that this pain is just a phase, and like many things in life only temporary. But it takes work, patience, and persistence to overcome.


Anxiety and the Brave Warrior

This week in class we’ve been learning the story of Virabhadra — the ferocious and terrifying warrior that arose out of Shiva’s anguish at the loss of his beloved Sati. Virabhadra is the namesake for all those Warrior Poses we do in class, Virabhadrasana I, II, III, the Humble Warrior, and more.

virabhadraBriefly, Shiva and Sati were insulted by Sati’s father, King Daks’a, who never liked Shiva and certainly did not want his daughter to marry him because Shiva was an outcast from society. He is both the Lord of Meditation and the Lord of Destruction, and as such would dress in rags and cover himself in ash. He had long, unwieldy dreadlocks, hung out in cremation grounds, and was often surrounded by goblins. After Shiva and Sati’s marriage, to spite them, Daks’a hosted a fire ceremony, an auspicious occasion, but did not invite Sati or Shiva due to his lack of love for Shiva. Sati found out about this while the ceremony was taking place, and so she rushed to her father’s home in protest and, sitting dignified in her meditation amid the crowd, she called up her own inner fire so powerfully that she immolated herself.

At the moment of her death, the worlds shook. Shiva knew exactly what had happened. He howled in anguish and went into a rage. He ran to the fire ceremony himself and began destroying things at the party, Lord of Destruction he is. In his misery, he ripped a dreadlock from his head and threw it on the ground, and out of that lock of his hair arose a fearsome warrior, Virabhadra. He was as tall as the sky and as dark as thunderclouds. He wore garlands of bloody skulls and had the most formidable weapons. Everyone knew to run and hide when Virabhadra appeared. This brave warrior finished the job of destroying the fire ceremony for Shiva and he even lopped off Daks’a’s head.

Kelly Virabhadrasana IAs in all of the Indian tales, this story begins in the middle and ends in the middle too. Shiva grieves for eons while Virabhadra goes off doing warrior-like things. Ultimately, Virabhadra stands for courage and potency, the definitions of the Sanskrit word vira. He is born of the Lord of Meditation’s heartbreak, and he is the one who will bravely step into the fire in order to set things right. In our own lives, his energy represents our courage to stand up and face the things we would rather not face. He is the innate potential within us to wield our own power in a way that restores balance to our lives. He is our own fear and agony and he is the ability to overcome it.

Kelly Vira II ReversedSo, anxiety. People experience anxiety in different ways, and therefore there are different ways to address it, but often it is best to look at the source. On many occasions, anxiety is the manifestation of some deeper trauma — a loss, grief, fear, or even anger. When a strong emotion is buried deep, we may even forget the thing causing the emotion, but we are left with the anxiety: a gripping around the heart, a tension in the throat, a “deer in the headlights” immobility. Yoga addresses the physicality of the experience of anxiety.

Sometimes the person might need more activity, a flowing practice that is connected to the breath to help move the tension out of the body. Sometimes the person might need more stillness, to inwardly address what is coming up for them. It depends on the person and the situation. Either direction takes courage. Through yoga practice and even breathing techniques and meditation, one can develop the strength of inner fire, the potency to step courageously into the world, or into one’s own mind, and face the deeper source of the anxiety. A warrior pose with some steady, deep breathing may help.

img_3072If you are experiencing anxiety, first be kind to yourself. Remember that feelings are like waves in the ocean, they come and they go but they need time. And, try some yoga. If you are not sure where to begin, contact me, let’s talk. Together we can find a doable practice that is suitable for your needs and goals. Relief is possible.

What is Yoga Therapy?

The International Association of Yoga Therapists defines yoga therapy like this:

Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga.

You may read the entire article here.

img_0061I have been interested and practicing yoga and meditation since college when I was first introduced to the practices. Immediately I felt the anxiety-reducing and joy-producing effects of yoga and meditation and I knew deep in my heart that these practices, called sadhana in Sanskrit, would support my life in a profound way. Some 25 years later, my yoga practice has survived loved-and-lost, love again, family issues, pets, career changes, moves, and band crises.

I’m very pleased to announce that recently, the IAYT accepted me as a certified Yoga Therapist. This represents many years of study, practice, and application in the field. Yoga Therapy is an emerging field, but one that is a natural evolution of continued and perhaps deeper yoga practices. If you are a yoga practitioner, then you already know the personal benefits that yoga may have in your life, whether it is a stronger, healthier body, relief from aches or pains, relief from anxiety and depression, less headaches, a stronger, healthier mind, the list goes on.

Once a student asked me “what is the advanced version of this practice?” And I love the answer… sticking with it. After 25 years, I am here to say, the practice of yoga only continues to enhance your life in more and better ways then you may imagine.

IAYT logo-webOn the physical level, yoga activates muscles in chains. When you take Side Angle Posture for example, the entire side of your body is affected, from the sole of your foot through the peroneal muscles, to the IT band, through the obliques, latissimus dorsi, the scalenes, to the top of your head. There is a connective tissue chain along the entire side of the body that is activated, and not to mention the other muscles supporting your pose, the adductors, the psoas and so forth. So if there is, let’s say, lower back pain, it is addressed in a holistic way. It is not simply one area of the body that receives the focus, yes that area gets addressed, but in context of the entire being. There are refinements to alignment that awaken new avenues of feeling and awareness in the body that help the yogi let go of past habits that were causing the pain in order to establish new habits that better support the body as a whole, and the mind too is effected in a positive way.

fisher_kelly-113_2Another way to approach these issues is through relieving physical and mental stress. Through the practices of meditation and even breath work, known as pranayama, we find a more subtle and lasting way to make positive changes in your body and life.

Another way to approach these issues is looking at lifestyle habits. How much sleep are you getting? Are you eating well and drinking enough water? What daily habits support you and which ones might be exacerbating your issues? The science of life, ayurveda, offers tools to align your personal habits to access your fullest potential.

Yoga therapy incorporates yoga postures, breath work, meditation, and ayurveda to help you live better. I have been studying and teaching these things for many years now and am so pleased to have IAYT’s recognition. It is an emerging field and so far a little over 300 people around the world have received their certification that represents a significant amount of hours practicing, studying, and teaching; therefore I am proud to be able to offer my services at this enhanced level.

So, if you are wondering how yoga may enhance your life more, if you have been dealing with anxiety, arthritis, osteoporosis, headaches, joint pain, muscle sprains, back pain, shoulder issues, depression, trouble sleeping, or generalized ennui, let’s talk.

Balanced Diet = Balanced Tastes

Photo by Kathryn Andrews
Photo by Kathryn Andrews
Good morning. Last week I mentioned the tenth suggestion for fascial fitness is to keep active and eat a balanced diet. Seems like there are so many theories out there on how to eat well and maintain proper weight. Despite the fact that I love numbers, I abhor counting calories, and so the Ayurvedic approach to eating well is much more appealing to me.

A balanced diet according to Ayurveda has much nuance based on your own personal constitution, but a good starting point is knowing about the Sat Rasa, the six tastes.

“Our tastebuds do much more than simply identify tastes; they unlock the nutritive value of foods and provide the initial spark to the entire digestive process.” [Eat, Taste, Heal, Thomas Yarema et al, p.43] As they say in Ayurveda, you are what you digest.

The starting point of the six tastes is the Ayurvedic paradigm of the world being composed of five basic elements — earth, water, fire, air, and space. Each taste is a combination of two of these five and therefore have corresponding qualities to match:

1. Sweet – earth and water; heavy, moist, cooling
2. Sour – earth and fire; light, moist, heating
3. Salty – water and fire; heavy, moist, heating
4. Pungent – air and fire; light, dry, heating
5. Bitter – space and air; light, dry, cooling
6. Astringent – air and earth; heavy, dry, cooling

To be completely satisfied, one should include all six tastes during every meal. Practically speaking, for me personally this is often a challenge, so I make myself content attempting to get all six tastes in any particular day. Some days are better than others, and some tastes are easier to come by then others.

Sweet is the first, and the most abundant. This does not mean simply sugar. Other “sweet” foods are most grains like wheat and rice, milk, butter, and cream, some beans like limas, sweet fruits, and some vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and beets.

Sour foods include citrus fruits like lemon, lime and grapefruit, yogurt, cheeses, sour cream, and fermented products like wine, vinegar, sauerkraut, and soy sauce.

Salty foods might be more obvious, anything that you add salt to, like nuts, chips, or pickles, sea vegetables like kelp or nori, and even celery is considered salty. (Sometimes the taste is very subtle.)

These three tastes are considered building tastes. If you eat a lot of them, you will build tissue in your body — all kinds of tissue, including muscle and fat.

The second set of three tastes are considered reducing tastes. If you eat more of these, there is a cleansing effect that helps your body reduce stored energy, generally in the form of adipose tissue.

Pungent foods are spicy, think chili peppers, garlic, onions, and spices themselves, black pepper, ginger, cumin.

Bitter foods include leafy green veggies such as spinach, kale, green cabbage, chard, zucchini, eggplant, as well as turmeric, fenugreek, and dandelion roots and leaves. Cate Stillman of yogahealer.com says that wild foods like dandelion are superfoods that can replace long lost minerals from your body and also detox your liver, blood, and fat.

Astringent foods generally are harder to name because astringent taste is harder to identify. You know how after you eat cranberries or pomegranates your mouth tends to pucker a little and feel dry? That helps to identify astringent taste. Other examples would be certain beans again like lentils and chickpeas, and also pears, dried fruits, broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke, asparagus, turnip, rye, buckwheat, quinoa, coffee and tea.

Many foods are a combination of tastes. I’m thinking of coffee here, it is astringent but it is also bitter. Beans are sweet and astringent. Oranges are sour and sweet.

Photo by Kathryn Andrews
Photo by Kathryn Andrews
The authors of Eat, Taste, Heal tell us, “Food speaks to us directly through taste. A juicy pear may call out to us with a gentle message of delight, while the flaming chili pepper cries out in warning. As we tune into the tastes naturally desired by the body, we tap into the body’s innate wisdom regarding food and nutrition.” [p.43]

Yoga practice including asana and meditation helps one tune in to the wisdom of the body. This takes time and dedication, but it is possible to attune yourself to your health needs. When you slow down and listen to your body, appetite and cravings mellow to the point where they do not dominate your life and you can make proper choices based on desire rather than denying yourself the pleasure of taste.

“If you observe no other guidelines, at least do not eat too fast or too often.” [Prakriti, Robert Svoboda, p.87] They say your stomach should be full with 1/2 food, 1/4 water, and 1/4 air. Slow down and TASTE your food.

Next up: The Depth of Great Taste.
Return to Fascianation: CTF V.

Fascianation: CTF V

Welcome to the fifth and final installment of the 10 Steps to Fascial Fitness. Special thanks to Tom Myers, author of Anatomy Trains.

7. Gentle Perseverance A: You can go far when you go consciously.

This is perfect for yoga practitioners. Work and family commitments often cause one to rush without thinking from one activity to the next. A week, a month, a year, moves rapidly by when one is continually over-scheduled. If you move quickly and without thinking in yoga, you may find some benefit, but when you slow things down in order to really get to know the sensation within a posture, that is when your connective tissue becomes your friend, and your yoga experience truly blossoms.

Think of Virabhadrasana II for example. When you take the outer form of the pose, it helps to build strength in your ankles, feet, legs, and hips, while you experience a greater sense of lift and lengthening in the spine and openness of the upper body in general. If you linger in the pose, yes, your muscles will feel more intensity, but your awareness will sink deeper. You notice a certain grounding stability through the lower body that leads to a sense of spaciousness around your heart. It is a warrior pose, the yogi is battling lethargy or fatigue (among other things perhaps), in order to access her own birthright — consciousness and freedom and happiness. Linger further and the breath opens up in a way that allows you to reap the benefits of clarity in the pranic channels called nadi. This is much more fun when felt — it’s the hit you get when you reach the sweet spot in a pose. (akin to Runner’s high, perhaps?)

Photo by Erik Dunham
Photo by Erik Dunham
Especially in more challenging postures like eka pada rajakapotasana, slowing your movements down to be fully aware in each moment will help tremendously in allowing you to deepen your experience.

A note about coming out of a pose: most injury in yoga occurs when releasing a posture. This is often because the yogi figures the work is done, I can let go without thinking. But the moment you let go of conscious movement is the moment you become most vulnerable. A posture is not complete until you safely dismount, to use a gymnastics term. As one of my teachers used to say, it is not about how far you go… it is about how you go far.

8. Gentle perseverance B: Think long-term progress. The tortoise wins the race.

In very real physical terms, muscles can reshape in a matter of weeks. It takes six to 24 months for fascia to reshape. Patience and perseverance will be helpful, and necessary.

Our culture has trained us to want things right now, when we want them. If something is wrong, you can usually buy something to make it better — or better yet, take a pill for what ails you. But these are short-term fixes that often only treat symptoms and not the cause. It takes patience and perseverance to address an issue at its core. And, if you don’t treat the underlying cause of the issue, whether physical or psychological, it will keep recurring until you do. You can count on that.

In considering long term progress, the first step to me is to recognize that you are already perfect just the way you are. You are how you are because of all of the things that have happened to lead you to this point. Perfect. Nobody else is exactly like you. The yogis have a term for that, purna, which means fullness and it also means perfection. This to me means that if you are experiencing life to the fullest, if you are doing your best, then everything is already perfect. Your job then becomes to reveal more and more of your self. Just do your best. What a concept, huh?

There is no need to rush. The hare ran and ran and got tired and burnt out. Set an intention to live fully as you are and simply allow things to unfold. Do your yoga practice and “all is coming.” Thank you Shri K. Pattabhi Jois.

And finally,
10. Move it or lose it. Be active and eat a good diet.

The human body is a marvelous machine. It is a conduit for vital energy. If we continuously sit still, joints get creaky and stiff, you know how it is. Your body is meant to move. Walking, dancing, riding a bike, playing sports, practicing yoga… whatever it may be for you, movement lubricates the joints and the connective tissue. Your heart pumps blood throughout your body so cells and tissues can be nourished, but what moves the water through the fascia? Movement. What allows lymph to circulate to improve your immunity? Movement. What keeps muscles supple and strong? Movement. What feels good when we do it? Movement.

Are you sensing a theme here?

Eating a good diet is a more complicated matter. There are many theories on how to eat. Ayurveda has lots of good suggestions for the proper diet for your dosha, or body constitution. I think that will be the next blog post. For now, let’s stick with plenty of fresh, preferably local, fruits and vegetables, rice and other whole grains, and legumes. Take less dairy, and even less still of meat and processed foods.

See you on the mat!

Next Up: Balanced Diet = Balanced Tastes.
Return to: Fascianation: CTF IV.

Fascianation: CTF IV

Snelson Tensegrity sculpture7. You are unique. Respect your body.

In many ways we humans are the same, but in many ways we humans are completely individual. The one-size-fits-all prescription for health and wellness is just not possible. You are fully in control of your own self, and more than that, your body has an innate wisdom that you would do well to listen to. I often witness how people, my students, my family, myself included, unconsciously act as if we have no control over our actions. A shift in perspective is sorely needed.

Expansive consciousness is the source of being. There is an underlying pattern in all things and we are all subject to that rhythm, that pulsation. Animals and plants in nature have no choice but to follow this underlying structure. But lucky us, we humans have the ability to choose whether we want to align with nature or whether we want to completely and rebelliously strike out on our own.

I like to think balance is the key, asserting your own freedom, but knowing why you make that choice. Maintaining that balance is a big part of yoga practice, the more you practice, the more you understand yourself — who you are and why you do what you do. Choices are no longer unconscious.

So, regarding fascia, Tom Myers explains physiological differences based on the “Viking” or the “temple dancer” models. A Viking comes from a northern climate, is relatively strong, with thicker skin and a hearty, tougher constitution. A temple dancer hails from a southern warmer climate and is more lithe and flexible. In this scenario, very broadly speaking, Vikings would do exercise that helps them become more limber and temple dancers would do exercise to help them become stronger.

Ayurveda is more specific in its description of different body types. There are three main categories, called dosha, in which human bodies can be described. These dosha develop out of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, and space. I will list them here:

Vata Dosha
Consisting of air and space elements, a Vata person has a relatively slender build, loses weight easily and has trouble gaining weight. Her energy level is variable and comes in short bursts, her appetite is unpredictable and her skin tends toward dryness and is darker in tone. She is a light sleeper and often has difficulty falling asleep, and she prefers weather that is warm and moist as opposed to cool and dry.

Pitta Dosha
Consisting of fire and water elements, a Pitta person has a medium build and can gain or lose weight relatively easily. Her energy and activity level is high, her appetite is strong and she eliminates well. Her skin tends toward oily and is ruddy in tone. Her sleep varies and she tends to prefer cooler weather; hot weather can cause her irritability.

Kapha Dosha
Consisting of earth and water elements, a Kapha person has a full build and has trouble losing weight. Her energy level may be slow to get going but she has plenty of long-term stamina. Digestion might be weak and she might often feel heavy after meals. Her skin is paler and will be smooth and more oily. She generally has deep, sound sleep, and she prefers hot weather over cold or damp.

Most of us are some combination of the three dosha. If you did not take the constitution quiz with the last post, you may find it here.

What does this mean for fascial fitness? If you listen to your own body, you will notice on certain days you have more or less energy, appetite, and so on. Let your exercise be guided by this awareness.

If Vata is dominant, you would want your yoga to balance those qualities, slower movements and longer holds of postures, things that build heat in the body. Practice poses that have a more grounding quality, like forward bends, hip openers and twists.

For Pitta, your yoga practice can include poses with more cooling and calming effect. Side bending and rhythmic flows will be helpful. Slow, deep breathing during postures held for a medium amount of time will encourage the calming effects of practice.

And for Kapha, let your practice be more energizing. Sun salutations and other poses that will get you moving with shorter holds are ideal. Backward bending poses can help move the water element and break up the stagnancy the earth element can cause.

Again, most of us are some combination of these body types. Generally speaking, getting up with the sunrise to meditate and exercise for at least 20 minutes – doing yoga or even walking – to get your circulation going will work wonders for the fascia. One of my yoga teachers once said, “After lunch rest a while, after dinner walk a mile.”

Balance is key in all things. Practice listening to your intuition. Do not work too hard and take time each day to be thankful for your own unique and wonder-filled gifts.

Next up: Fascianation: CTF V.
Go back to Fascianation: CTF III.

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