In the united states, Ayurveda used to be an "alternative" and even "fringe" type of medical system. Americans had not, until recently, begun to see the system of medicine as something that could help them in their daily lives.
But in the communities like yoga and bodywork, that embraced Ayurveda, an undercurrent of perfectionism lurked: Do you meditate daily? Twice Daily? Eat vegan? Never drink anything but water? Practice Mysore-style Ashtanga at 5am daily without fail? Grow, process and encapsulate all your own herbs? Feed your family dosha-specific and delicious meals daily and never ever give them a french fry, tantrums be damned? Breastfeed your baby exclusively while cooking perfectly nourishing meals that are fresh and never, ever consume leftovers? Travel to India to get your Yoga training after attending a silent retreat? No? You really need to get going.
The implication is that we should do it all, without fail or we are...well, failing. It is true that Ayurveda has a famous proverb that states:
"When Diet is Incorrect, medicine is of no use; when diet is correct, medicine is of no need!"
This can be taken quite out of context to tell us that if we are imperfect, we are doomed. In reality, Ayurveda has thousands of herbal formulas, treatments, body therapies and remedies, which obviously recognize the USE of medicines, as well as dietary recommendations for everyone from householders to Bramacharya Yogis! In fact, this Americanization of Ayurvedic principles revealed a competitive nature in American yoga that Ayurveda itself would find quite problematic and Pitta-provoking.
My (painfully recent) Story
When I was an active Ayurvedic Practitioner, it was somewhat easier to maintain some of this air of perfection. I woke up at the crack of dawn, self-massaged and drank my hot water and did yoga...meditated with my clients to begin and end every session, spent hours in the quiet and around my herbs and study and relished the grounding nature of studying the Charak Samhita (classical Ayurvedic texts). I had a flawless routine, punctuated only with the occasional party and transgression.
I got pregnant, ended my Ayurvedic practice, had a horrible business partner break-up and decided to make the ghee-company a full-time gig while my husband took a job in another state. CRASH! My meticulously built castle came to the ground. All of the sudden, instead of meditating at work, I was working 100 hour weeks and negotiating contracts, grieving lost friendships and frankly, doing an entirely different job than I had realized. How did this Ayurvedic Practitioner with a sweet little office kitchen and small batch ghee become a marketing professional in the manufacturing space? Without training, none-the-less? I was cracked. Lost. Confused. Was I waking early and doing gentle pregnancy exercises? Naw, Mam! I was working fairs and farmers markets and trucking with my big belly to stores and negotiating with distributors.
Some days were up and down, as I went from excited to nervous to disappointed to ecstatic and back again (vata vitiation). Some days were full of focus and fire and the warm entrepreneurial glow of possibility (Pitta vitiation). Some days I was pregnant, tired, heavy and unmotivated and only wanted bacon and mac N Cheese (kapha vitiation). I felt like a fraud. I felt like an imposter. Here I was, running a ghee company and riding on my Ayurvedic training and credentials and yet, I was HUMAN like the people I served. Sigh. The Humanity (rolls eyes and laughs at self).
Did I get kicked out of Ayurveda? Cast off into the land of the lost? NOPE! I remembered that I have a choice. Ayurveda taught me a home-base. In my years of perfection seeking, I had occasionally hit on a sweet spot. I knew what it felt like to meditate and lose my sense of self and be deeply in love with being. I knew what it felt like to have a really balanced belly with sh*t that LITERALLY did not stink. I knew what it felt like after a strong morning practice and a self massage and I knew that what I was doing was NOT IT!
This baseline has saved me, innumerable times. I knew that when I birthed my baby, I absolutely NEEDED an Ayurvedic postpartum doula to help me get back on track. Her fresh meals and my own ghee, stuffed into dates as a treat healed my body and my heart as well as my sense of self-worth. Ayurveda, the kind mother that she is, was waiting for me when I remembered myself. This certainly does not preclude this busy mom (who has been working full time, running the business she founded while being the main caregiver of sprited 4 and 7 year old boys) from leaning off the tight rope and sometimes falling off. It does not mean that I did not have the same whacky pandemic of keeping-my-sh*t together that many of you did and are. What it DOES mean, is that I have a place to return to. For me, eating healthy is my default setting, but it does not preclude a host of other ways that I caused myself imbalance. Ayurveda is, after all, a WHOLE science. We can eat perfect and meditate daily, but if we chew too fast and don't sleep well, we can throw ourselves off as surely as if we ate McDonalds daily.
Recently I had a fall off of this particular horse. After over-booking myself and trying to be the perfect mom while not stopping any of my work commitments, I managed to make a blunder worthy of the face-palm in the picture for this blog. In fact, that little girl is exactly how I felt after realizing that I missed a meeting...for the SECOND TIME with the SAME PERSON. OMG. This is Vata vitiation at its finest, with Pitta as a backup to bring the shame of failure and loss of face. I could choose to melt into this...slink away with my tail between my legs and carry on...but instead, Ayurveda reminds me that I have tools.
Here is what I am doing, in real time to address this:
Make a pot of kitchadi to eat today to balance my digestion and reduce decision fatigue.
Set alarms to drink water and take herbs for my mind and digestion
wrote in my bullet journal and make a plan of action to address the imbalance
Took some Fertili-Ghee to root me and renew my Ojas or deep immunity and energy
Reach out to a trusted friend to tell her what happened and discharge the energy
Plan a bath and self-massage for tonight
Ask my 4-year old to do kids yoga with me as a work-break
Plan my 2-week cleanse for the middle of the coming month.
Said NO to 3 things that were asked of me
Made time to work in my garden and get my hands dirty
Turned my phone OFF instead of answering calls while writing this blog
Reprioritized myself and my health above everything. YES. EVERYTHING! My kids, my business and my partner ALL suffer when I do not do this.
The key is to take a hint. When your day gets bad and your emotions run wild...when the shame-monster comes through the closet door or the perfection-fairy taps you on the head with her judgy wand to tell you you are not good enough...when you feel triggered and put upon and OVER IT, you know you have been ignoring the signs for awhile and failure to address right away will lead to undesired outcomes. Period. It is as factual and dispassionate as this.
Like forgetting to water a plant for a few days will not kill it, but forgetting to water it for a year is a dealbreaker, we need to find our personal boundaries and signs. As we get better at it and Goddess-willing, as this pandemic eases up, especially on Moms and primary caregivers, we can step in and intervene on behalf of ourselves earlier.
Ayurveda likens the path of disease (samprapti) to that of a tree. It is preferable to keep the tree happy at all times by providing it what it needs...but if you fail to do so, the first symptoms will be hard to see, as they manifest in the roots. The next symptoms will appear in the trunk as suspicions or "something is not right", then they will climb to the branches, where Western Medicine starts to recognize a mild pathology, and if you still don't listen, full blown disease occurs at the leaves and fruits. This is the real gift of Ayurveda. It is a tuning fork to help us stop disease BEFORE it starts by recognizing the prodromal symptoms (the ones that come before the "REAL" symptoms). This is as true with the mind as the body. For me, missing this meeting with a respected potential collaborator was a sign that I had ignored the dry roots for too long and if I did not want this fruit to be my food, I was going to have to come back to center.
Luckily, I have been here before. I know what to do. If you do not, I highly recommend you check out some of the practitioners on the Health Headliners page, such as Dr. Siva Mohan and get yourself a baseline, or even join a cleanse or a class with Susan Bass to start your own Ayurvedic Education.
Water your tree. Take a moment of self assessment and make a plan. Write it down. All of it. The "bad" things you do and how they affect you. Decide which pieces of the balancing Ayurvedic routine, known as Dinacharya, are most important for your balance and commit to a couple pieces rather than an all-or-nothing approach. Fall is the perfect time for a reset. With practice, you will get better at swinging back to center and making a clean landing. What are your addictions, whether to substance or behaviors, telling you? This is not a competition. There is no yoga mom at class worth her salt that should be judging you for your bacon-cheeseburger. You don't need to be perfect. You need to find ground zero so you can recognize when you are not there and know for sure when you have made it back.
You are your best doctor and teacher and no one knows you like you do. I send deep thanks to Ayurveda for this warm reception.