Adventures in Ayurveda

As I have mentioned on here a bit, I have been working for the past 5 months or so with an Ayurvedic doctor here in Brisbane, who also happens to be a friend and amazing yoga teacher.  I went to a workshop she put on months ago, and was inspired to learn more about ayurveda and how it could help me improve my own health and wellness.

It’s been an adventure delving into this.  First, I learned about my dosha, which in ayurveda means your constitution. There are three; kapha, pitta, and vatta.  They all have very specific qualities that make them unique and reflect elements of the natural world like fire, water, air, and earth.  The way these elements interact together helps to explain the way your body and mind work; your energy levels, your mindset, and many elements of your physical and mental health. Most people are a mix of all three doshas – often the way the three interact will change with the seasons.  But each person has their own unique mix, which is something you’re born with and can’t really change.  You can, however, manage the way the doshas work within your body to attempt to achieve balance and improve your health.

In my case, I didn’t come to Heidi, my doctor, with any specific health issues.  I basically had a host of small things that had bothered me for a long time.  I could hardly eat a meal without being doubled over in stomach pain shortly thereafter.  I had skin rashes, inflammation, and my mind often felt foggy and tired.  I was also extremely moody.  But I took all of these things to be normal – and assumed that most people dealt with the same health frustrations.   I just wanted to see if ayurveda could offer me an alternative to it, and after hearing Heidi talk about it, I thought it might .

When Heidi sat down with me, we had a talk. A serious talk. I walked away feeling like I had bared my soul.  She knew about my mental state, the way I felt about my friends and family and their health issues, my relationships, my stressors, my libido, my sweat, my exercise habits, and every last details about my excrement.  She looked at my tongue and drew pictures of it, and she looked into my eyes and furrowed her brow.  She looked at my fingernails and my skin, and by the time I was done I felt there was nothing Heidi didn’t know about me (and she probably knew things even I didn’t).  It was all a bit intrusive at first, but as we went on I could help but wonder why no doctor had ever asked me some of these questions.

I learned from her, that I’m a pitta.  A pitta pitta.  Where most people are more of a mix of three, I’m pretty much all pitta.  In short, that means I have a fiery nature, a strong metabolism, a strong desire to work and stay busy, and I’m prone to skin and stomach issues.   There is a LOT more to that – but that’s the quick and dirty.  It felt oddly validating to be deemed super pitta.  I’ve been told on more than one occasion, by more than one person, that I am the most intense person they know – which I have never fully understood.  But, Heidi saw it too in my “crazy eyes”, so I’m just accepting it as fact.  I’m intense, apparently.

So, to help balance out the pitta in me and bring me to a more healthful place, I have been going heavy on bitter foods like rocket, kale, broccoli, pomegranate, berries, and other “cooling” things like coconut water, coriander and fennel.  I’m laying off some of my favorite foods like tomatoes, anything salty, all nightshades, and sour things like lemons and oranges.   I also take all sorts of tinctures (not the sketchy type…) and potions.   I meditate and do breathing exercises.  I feel like a witch.  And, I like it.

The end of summer here in Australia is a hot, and extremely wet time of year.  It’s a hard time to be a pitta.  Things go all out of whack – and my body has.   I got a serious infection which I tried to treat with ayurveda – and which was working pretty well until guests arrived, I went traveling, and drank a lot for my birthday (which I do not regret!).  The inability to keep a routine and follow the rules I needed to follow to heal myself totally backfired on me.  I ended up in a lot of pain, upset with myself for failing ayurveda, and in a doctor’s office getting myself some antibiotics – which I try to avoid like the plague.   I am wiped out from battling nasties for weeks now, both with ayurveda and with western meds.

But despite that, I’m pretty hooked on the benefits of ayurveda,  It’s amazing to recognize that by observing my body more closely and recognizing what my symptoms mean, I can figure out how to be healthier and happier by making dietary adjustments.  I don’t have pain after my meals now, because I have worked on cultivating the right flora in my digestive tract.  That has helped my moods (because eating without pain is always a good thing!).  My PMS is less intense, my temper flares less easily, and I don’t feel that inner sense of hardness that I did for so long, which made it hard for me to cultivate empathy for other people.   I feel (more) comfortable being vulnerable. My skin has cleared up so I barely have a hint of skin rash or inflammation.  And I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to work rather than groggy all day and alert in the evening when I want to sleep.  My whole life seems to make more sense and feel more aligned with what is healthy and right.

I know some people might think ayurveda is a bit wacky and out there, but to me you simply cannot argue with results.  I feel amazing. And even though I have been unwell recently (during a hard wet season with LOTS of rain, heat, and humidity – all which really throw off my dosha), I know that I am on a course towards much better health than I have had ever before.  It feels so, so, good.

I want to encourage everyone out there to learn more about ayurveda and improving your health in a natural, diet-based way – because health is so much more than the absence of disease.  The goal is feeling vibrant, alert, and whole.  And I’m finally feeling that way!

The Seat of Exhaustion

I’m writing from the seat of exhaustion – where exhaustion starts, ends, and returns to.  I am there, literally and metaphorically.   My body’s aversion to gravity, while never very strong, is weaker today than is typical.  It feels as though my skin is sinking off my bones, seeking its angle of repose: a horizontal pool of Kat on the ground.

This deep weariness is rooted, as weariness often is, in imbalance.  My scales have weighted heavily towards work in recent weeks, but that alone wouldn’t have brought me to this place.  It was the relentless pursuit of fun, on top of the imbalanced work, that has brought me here.

Last night I stood in an outdoor amphitheater in my polka-dotted work dress, sipping Bundy and coke and listening to Mumford & Sons.  It was a little bittersweet as I had bought the tickets as a surprise for Rick, but knowing his work schedule can be so unforgiving, I told him in advance of the show so he could plan to be here.  Nonetheless, this week came around, and he was unavoidably stuck in Cunnamulla, Queensland drilling holes in the ground while I was left quietly singing the words to songs that have been a recurring soundtrack for the last few years of my life, surrounded by masses of that unique brand of concert-goer who stands, arms crossed, face stern, assessing a show through thick-rimmed glasses, rather than enjoying it.

That’s not to say the show wasn’t fun – it was lovely.  My feet in the grass of the outdoor amphitheater, my friend Krystle laughing with me at the stodginess of the crowd, my heart cascading up and around the crescendos of banjo and lyrical whirligigs.  It was beautiful.  When the show ended, Krystle and I retired to her apartment and drank guava drinks and chatted into the night, before I teetered back to my yellow steed and let her guide me home through the night.  I bumbled around my house, exhausted, watering plants and cooking eggs as I had skipped dinner, and then collapsed into my bed for a few brief hours.

This morning, as they do, the birds began to squawk. . . at 4:30.  It’s hard to emphasize enough how god awful the caterwaul of the avian beings here really is.  It’s like they were put on Earth to destroy peace and happiness, and instead, replace it with a persistent rage that the laws of evolution denied this continent a branch of the Felidae tree.  Please, someone import a tiger up in here to shut these birds up!

But, the beauty of being awake at the crack of dawn is the chance to enjoy the crack of dawn.  I have been doing a lot of enjoying it, recently.  I wake up and immediately head (pajama clad)  to the porch where I uncover all my plants from the blankets and grocery bags that I use each night to protect them from possum teeth.  I then wander down the steps to the garden I cleared in front of the house and water my seedlings, beans, and the native garden that I put on top of the hill where it’s dry.  It’s a pleasant way to start the morning, dwelling barefoot in dark loamy soil of the garden, assessing the growth of my little shoots and stalks and trying to figure out how the whole thing works.  I can’t wait until Rick finishes building my greenhouse in the back where I can keep them protected.

And with that description, it seems the exhaustion has finally caught up with me.  I didn’t even get a chance to talk about our surprise surfing trip last weekend or the beach, or the debates, or anything else I’d hoped to touch on.   So, we’ll have to hope I have the stamina next go round.

Goodnight friends.

Where are my pants?

They’re in my drawer.  Where they might stay for the next 6-months. Summer is here. The sun is shining by 5 am again. The horrific Queensland birds are calling.  Magpies are in full kill-all-moving-things mode.  Make way, because the season of extremely short shorts is upon us. Hello, Queensland in all your uncovered glory! I had missed the overexposed upper thighs and barely concealed…anything. But, hey it’s already almost too hot to wear pants and it’s September. So, I’m not wearing pants. And, I won’t hold anyone else to that obscene standard either.

Look at me, complaining about the heat of summer, only a couple short weeks after complaining of the cold of winter.  I can barely keep up with the seasons, but I ate a mango today that almost melted me, it was so sweet and juicy. Summer is here! Mangos are juicy, skin is exposed and gleaming, the air feels sensual – especially when I ride my bike quickly to avoid having my eyes pecked out by magpies.

I don’t have a theme in mind for today, but let’s roll with it and see where it takes us. I was feeling a little guilty for not posting anything for a few weeks and so I’m writing off the cuff; we’re flying by the seat of our non-existent pants with this one, friends.

On to real life – where I am forced to wear pants.

Today, I’m on day 18 of my 30-day yoga challenge, and also 20ish days into eating paleo. I probably would have been wise to do these little experiments in health independent of each other, but I just don’t have the time to wait, so here we are, doing king pigeon and eating steak. (I actually cooked my first steak this week and I will not lie, Rick makes a much better steak than me and I wish he would come back from Broome.)

Regarding this experiment in cave man eating and yogaing, I have to begin by saying that I took a 3-hour nap yesterday afternoon, and just awoke from sleeping another 9 hours and I am not quite awake, even now. I am wiped out in a way that leads me to believe that something big is happening in my body – or this whole plan is a horrific failure. But, my yoga seems to reflect that change positively, so I’m a happy, exhausted camper.

In the last week I have reached new thresholds in poses that always challenged me, and tried some new things. I can feel real changes in my hips and lower back and hamstrings – places I’ve been historically tight. In fact, yesterday my teacher used me for demonstration purposes for a one-legged king pigeon. (I was the counter example to a girl named Jade who, it appears, has no bones in her body. She slips into one-legged king pigeon like she’s sitting in a chair.)  Me? I don’t slip into anything related to pigeon. I work and breathe, and breathe and attempt to soften, and a wince, and lose my balance and sometimes fall over. However, with 18 days of unmitigated yoga breathing under my belt, apparently I’ve softened a bit. I won’t say my one-legged king pigeon was perfect – far from it, but I actually touched my foot with both hands and didn’t fall over. It was a big deal for me – the pressure of having 30 people watch me do it might have helped. For those who don’t know this pose, here’s a photo.

Anyway, without going into too much detail of the ways my body is changing through yoga, I can say it’s good. There are places  that I never even recognized as being tight, that I may have not even known I could loosen, which are slowly awakening and making their presence known. My alignment is improving much the way it did in college when I got into Pilates for a bit. Overall, it’s a good thing, but sometimes I am pretty sore. It’s a good time for Rick to be in the field for nearly two weeks because I would be asking for a lot of back rubs if he were here.

I have to say that doing this 30-day challenge is harder than I expected. It’s like running in the sense that I’ve always done yoga for the mental and physical enjoyment of it, not because I had set a goal related to it.   This made it MY time to enjoy and decompress. But, much like running, once a goal has been attached to it, it becomes both a blessing and an obligation to go to yoga, and I think it’s harder to work with intention under those circumstances. For the first time in my life I have caught myself glancing at my watch during class, wondering how much longer it will go. I am just very tired. And, I see that exhaustion mirrored on the faces of the other 30-day challengers. But we’re truckin’ along.

Overall, the benefits far outweigh my tiredness or my worries about my intention being lost. My body feels strong, balanced, and good in a way that I don’t get with running. And the knee problems that have been plaguing me of late are slowly getting better. I can feel flexibility and increased strength through my left hip and knee, whereas just a month ago I could barely kneel on it because it was so sensitive and inflamed. Obviously this is a positive development, and with my grandpa getting his knee replaced in just a few weeks and lecturing me on why I need to stop running, it seems timely that I’ve started down this yoga path with a more dedicated focus now.

So, for the second half of my 30-days of experiments on myself, I am eating paleo. For those who aren’t familiar with paleo, it’s a way of eating that attempts to replicate what humans have historically eaten throughout our development. It’s become very trendy for people doing things like Cross Fit or other kinds of fitness stuff, and also among those with food sensitivities. It involves cutting grains, processed/refined sugars, dairy, and legumes out of your diet, leaving you with basic cave man foods like nuts, veggies, and meat. For me, the food sensitivity thing is really why I’m doing paleo. I have always had a sensitive stomach, and as I’ve gotten older I have suffered increasingly annoying skin issues like sun rashes, blistering, and heightened skin sensitivity. I also have a thyroid disorder, which is often related to autoimmune disease. Many doctors have linked these together in passing, but none has ever actually recommended I do anything to understand or explain how they are related.

So, linking my own symptoms with family history that includes lupus, thyroid, and some mood disorders (which all show strong autoimmune-related dietary connections), I have increasingly begun to believe that what I eat really matters to my health and well-being. This is an interesting turn of fate as my diet for the last 10-years or so was significantly dictated not by what was best for me, but what I thought was best for the world. So, I was a vegetarian, pescatarian, and intermittently a carnivore, but primarily I was a vegetarian for the fact that I didn’t like the way industrial meat was raised and the environmental effects of industrial agriculture. I have to admit that I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought, beyond the fact that I didn’t eat meat. I never took too seriously the likelihood of creating any kinds of nutritional deficits because I ate healthy, vitamin-rich foods.

Well, fast forward to two months ago when I learned I was severely anemic, low in zinc, low in about 4 other important things, and just basically poorly nourished. Here I was thinking I was in good shape after running my third marathon, and I learn that I am actually not in good shape. In fact, I am unhealthy. I am short on nearly everything that one can get by eating meats. Holy hell!

So, I decided to try paleo. I hadn’t ever done a full exclusionary diet to test my food sensitivities and I needed to eat meat – so I’m killing two birds with one stone.

And, I think I am slaughtering these birds. I feel amazing. There are major differences in my skin and how it looks and feels. It is really soft to the touch now, where it has always been dry. I also feel like it’s less prone to inflammation than just a few weeks ago. Also, I wake up in the mornings without feeling groggy. I get out of bed and function like normal person. And my stomach doesn’t get upset the way it used to. It is mind-blowing. I didn’t expect that the results of changing my diet would be so apparent after such a short time. It floors me.

Now admittedly, I can’t tell you that my skin is healthier because I am doing paleo, because it might be from doing so many inversions at yoga. But, either way, I feel really good. So, I guess to close, my life at the moment feels good. Yoga is mildly addictive, despite the fact that it tires me out. Eating paleo is a bit sad, due to the whole cheese prohibition thing, but it’s worth it because I feel really healthy this way. And, oh yes! Rick’s family and mine are coming to visit in November! So, we have some serious beach time ahead, and probably some reef time as well. I’m already chomping at the bit.