So, I’ve gotten interested in ayurveda recently. Not so much because I have a desire to become a yoga master (I’m way too impatient for yoga…you’re free to counsel me in the benefits, and I’m sure that I would become as flexible as a bendy straw if I could just. settle. down. and. do. it. But I can’t.) or a strong desire to ingest mass quantities of suspicious herbs that grow on the roadside in India (I’m only taking one of those), but because I think it has some very interesting principles that I not only really agree with, but that I think are directly applicable to how I want to live my life and take care of myself.
That being said, I am in NO way an Ayurveda expert, but if anything I say below offends, by either oversimplification (likely) or just complete falsehood (slightly less likely), please know that I meant no harm in this post. There, you’ve just been disclaimed (can you say that?).
So what IS ayurveda? Ayurveda is basically a sister to yoga, a practice of health and wellness grounded in nature. Where yoga is about physical movement and mental clarity, ayurveda is about eating (my kind of wellness!) and cleansing your way to heath. But, similar to yoga, ayurveda is holistic: it treats the whole being, and looks for underlying causes or weaknesses rather than a collection of surface symptoms.
Ayurveda is also about both wellness and disease. It has the capacity to treat ailments and sufferings, but it also has the capacity to maintain wellness, both physical and mental, and simultaneously! It is largely a collection of diet and lifestyle modifications that help you live in harmony with who you are in the universe.
Basically, ayurveda has a cosmology background. It believes that each person is different, but that there are three main body types that you can have in combination:
VATA: light of body frame, constantly cold, fast-speaking, fast-moving, highly creative, very sensitive, minimal elimination (sweat, urine, feces), great at starting new projects but bad at finishing them, often forget to eat regularly but then become voraciously hungry. Believed to be composed mostly of SPACE and LIGHT.
PITTA: still light of body frame, but with a great deal more musculature than Vatas. They have light skin sensitive to rashes and redness, a strong appetite, regular and frequent elimination, more sweat, focused, competitive (to a fault), and prone to strong emotions of calor, like anger, irritation, etc.
KAPHA: strong, well-proportioned bodies with thick, flexible skin, full and lustrous hair, and with digestion and metabolism that moves more slowly. They tend to have lesser appetites, move more slowly, and avoid extensive physical activity. They are usually deeply satisfied in life.
Me? I’m a Pitta. Almost entirely. Those who know me are probably laughing their fool heads off right now.
The reason I sought out an ayurvedist is because I have adult acne. I SUFFER from adult acne. It is constant, although worse sometimes to others, and impacts my daily life. I have been waiting patiently for it to go away for over a decade. It has not. I gave Western medicine a try:
1. Birth control: it worked, and I was free. However, I gained weight, felt stabby, and generally just wanted to lie around drinking wine and eating chocolate and yelling at the television. While this is my base state much of the time, I promise that this time was different. Plus, god forbid I forgot to take one pill and had to double up. That was a recipe for this:
2. Proactiv / topical treatments: this controlled my acne for two years, but I was not free. Twice daily, I religiously smeared a three-part treatment plan on my face. It smelled bad, it bleached countless pillowcases belonging to my mother (sorry, Mom), and it STILL didn’t work perfectly…if I was non-compliant for even a day, BAM. Acne.
So, inevitably, I rebelled:
And decided to try a bunch of all-natural remedies I found on the interwebs. While continuing to maintain my diet of cheese quesadillas and pizza.
I tried the Oil-Cleansing Method, which was HORRIFIC. Please…if you are reading this and considering OCM, TURN BACK FINE SOUL BEFORE YOU ARE LOST FOREVER! OCM triggered the worst cystic acne outbreak of my life. It was seriously god awful. And this is coming from someone who has a long history of acne. Do not believe the interwebs on this one.
I settled grudgingly on my wonderful coconut oil soap, infused with tea tree oil. It works, but it doesn’t solve the problem, especially once the hormones took back over from the residual Proactiv.
But anyway, this post isn’t so much about listening to me whine about my acne, but more about ayurveda and some of the things I learned about how its applicable to daily life. Here’s my three basic principles that I think are really applicable:
1. Eating locally and seasonally: This one makes a lot of sense to me from a very holistic place. Think about it. Winter vegetables are traditionally thicker skinned (like squashes), heavier (like potatoes), tough greens (kale, thick lettuce, etc.). This is what your body needs when its spending energy to stay warm. Summer vegetables are cool and watery, like cucumbers, citrus fruits, berries. They help your body stay cool and also help detoxify your liver (where ayurveda says that heat comes from).
How this applies: Bottom line, it’s already proven its better to eat local and fresh. The less time the plant spends dead before it enters your mouth, the better it is. It makes sense to eat seasonally for the same reasons. Why would you want food unnaturally grown in far away places or greenhouses and then shipped to you? Not to mention its WAAAAYYYYY cheaper to eat like this. Spend $20 at the farmers market or $100 at Whole Foods (don’t even get me started).
2. Change comes from within: You are what you eat. This is a principle of Western medicine, too, in the sense that it is known that the proteins you get from vegetable AND animal sources are chopped up into amino acids and incorporated into cell synthesis. This means that your little cells literally have bits of chicken DNA in them. Or whatever you ate about two days ago. Pizza DNA. So do you want your DNA to have pesticides in it? Weird fundamental changes from genetic manipulation? Say no to GMO, kids. AND say no to processed foods…these function the same as GMO, in the sense that their natural structures are altered.
How this applies: a wonderful principle of mindfulness and related to my next bullet point. Eat things that you feel proud to put in your body and that are known to be good sources for your body. You only get one, so its your choice what to fill it with, but I’m more and more choosing health over saturated fat (except pizza).
3. Eat things your body loves, put things on your body that your body loves: Simple as that. My body doesn’t love French Fries, so I don’t give them to my body. My face despises baking soda, so that doesn’t go on my face. The principle is of mindfulness and balance, as above. Sure, my body doesn’t REALLY like beer if you think about it, but *I* like beer, so I get beer sometimes! Not always, that’s the catch. My mind doesn’t love dandelion root, but my body does, so we compromise. My body LOVES coconut oil (common for Pittas), so that, I buy in 1 gallon pails and use for everything (and it can be. Used for everything. From lice treatment to anti fungal to candida reduction to cradle cap treatment to delicious coffee recipe. Everything).
THIS IS HOW I APPLY THESE PRINCIPLES NOW:
- I juice leafy greens and drink 32 oz. a day.
- I drink burdock root tea once a day.
- I use coconut oil soap with tea tree oil infusion for facial cleansing, followed by rosewater toner and rose hip oil applied to the face.
- I am practicing abhyanga, which is oil massage before shower. You massage in some coconut oil, let it sit for a bit, wash it off, repeat. Stay tuned for a blog post dedicated to that!
♦ Stay cool, friends.