I talk a lot about reconnecting with our body after cancer treatment, in fact the subtitle of the book I am working on is, “Reconnecting to Your Body Could Save Your Life.”
The reason that I put a lot of emphasis on this is because we have powerful intuition as humans, especially as women. When we are in a mindful state, tuned into ourselves and aware of what is happening in the moment, aka being present. We are able to sense what is working for us, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
However, when we go through a life-threatening, frightening and difficult experience like cancer we often tend to tune out of our body and out of the present moment as we slip into survival mode. It’s not uncommon to hear and it wasn’t uncommon for me to say, “I just need to live through this.”
When I think back on my treatment days, the last thing I wanted was to have toxic chemicals pumped through my veins while I was swallowing dozens of other chemicals to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy. This was not a part of my lifestyle beliefs. However, the one thing I did want to do was to stay alive. So, I disconnected from my core values of living a mostly chemical free life, to doing whatever I had to in order to live. I didn’t want to have my breasts cut off, but when the decision came down to them or me…they had to go. Another disconnect.
Most of us cancer survivors, got through treatment doing what we had to do, which probably included things you really didn’t want to do. Now you’re living with a body that feels different, looks different, and maybe doesn’t please you aesthetically.
How do you deal with that? You disconnect. You don’t look at yourself. You don’t show yourself off to your partner in the same way you used to. Maybe your posture even begins to change as you subconsciously roll your shoulders forward protecting or concealing your surgical area.
It’s in reconnecting to your body, in getting a firm grasp of what it is that’s important to you that will help you move forward beyond surviving and into thriving. That’s where Ayurveda comes in and where it can help you.
What is Ayurveda
Ayurveda, is a Sanskrit word meaning the science of life.
The knowledge of Ayurveda dates back more than 4,000 years to ancient texts known as the Vedas. Ayurveda is part of the fourth book of the Vedas, the Arthavaveda. It is one of the world’s oldest medical systems and is still used by the majority of the population of India today.
Ayurveda focuses on creating healthy habits, related to food, herbs, sleep, movement, personal hygiene, and personal surroundings including color and aroma.
The history of Ayurveda is complex and includes Sanskrit words and universal, spiritual ideas which go beyond the scope of explaining and understanding in this blog post.
Incorporating Ayurvedic practices into your life works to create an environment in your body that maximizes its self-healing capacities. When we gain an understanding of what our body needs, and we understand what it’s like to feel good and to be in balance, we also learn to distinguish what being out of balance feels like, and what steps we need to take to get back to feeling well.
One of the things that I love so much about Ayurveda is that even though it dates back thousands of years, it is a living science and can be adapted to our modern lives.
At its very core, Ayurveda looks at the energetic qualities and the interconnectedness of all things including, people, health, food, relationships and habits. It considers how different energies affect each other to bring about balance or imbalance.
Once you learn the philosophy of Ayurveda, a structure begins to take place that paints a beautiful picture of how all of the qualities of the world and the universe work together, affect each other, and build upon each other. A significant part of this structure is that of life forces or Doshas.
Energetics of the Doshas
There are 3 doshas in Ayurveda, and all 3 exist in everyone and everything in different combinations. The doshas can be most easily understood as groups of qualities.
For example, if you know someone who has a bad temper, you probably refer to that person as a hot head. Or, if someone loses their temper we say they lost their cool, or we tell them to cool off. Notice the reference to the hot and cold energies of these emotions.
Let’s take a look at inflammation. Studies show that inflammation is the root of many of common diseases, including cancer. The qualities of inflammation are hot, red, and swollen. In order to treat inflammation we apply ice, anti-inflammatories, alkaline foods, or things that cool. This is a very Ayurvedic approach in that opposites bring balance, and like increases like.
The doshas are combinations of the qualities of the five elements; earth, air, fire, water and ether. When we are in balance, feeling great, having enough energy to get through the day, free of digestive and elimination issues that create discomfort, sleeping soundly and waking feeling refreshed, this is called our prakriti.
This is our natural state of balance where the energies and qualities of our bodies are in sync and working just as they were intended to.
Conversely, when we are in a state of disease, or we are overweight, lethargic, in pain, not sleeping soundly, or experiencing frequent indigestion, this is called our vikriti, a state of imbalance.
Understanding what your balanced dosha or prakriti is helps you to become aware of imbalances when they begin so that you can take steps to correct them.
The interesting difference between Ayurveda and western medicine is that Ayurveda doesn’t just look at symptoms, but at the qualities of the symptoms.
For example, if you have a headache, you might say this is a stress headache because you notice your shoulders are tight and you have a lot on your mind. or you might say this is a sinus headache because you’re feeling mucus and congestion. Either way, you’ll take an aspirin or other pain reliever to relieve the pain.
However, in Ayurveda you would address the qualities of the headache with a change in diet, or nutrition or routine or even herbal support. If the headache is dull and congested, you would take steps to reduce those qualities through herbs or other steps that have the opposite qualities. Make sense? Ayurveda is looking at addressing the underlying energetics that are manifesting into the symptom you’re experiencing.
Kapha (Kah-fah) is the combination of earth and water and all of the qualities of those elements including heavy, dense, cold, oily, sticky and liquid to name a few. Here are some attributes of the physical and emotional manifestation of Kapha:
Physical– Big boned, overweight, oily skin and hair, but also thick hair and nails, mucus and congestion, deep voiced, slow digestion, clammy skin, sleeps a lot.
Emotional– loving and attached, possessive or firmly rooted in specific beliefs, slow to anger and slow to change.
Pitta dosha is the combination of Fire and Water. The qualities of this energetic combination include Hot, sharp, mobile, oily, liquid and light.
Examples of physical and emotional manifestations of these qualities are:
Physical– fast metabolism, reddish skin or easily flushed a tendency toward heated digestive issues like heartburn, sensitive teeth.
Emotional sharp intellect and probing mind, acne or rashy skin, medium build with an affinity for athleticism, competition and a quick or intense temper. The western comparison would be the type A personality.
The Vata dosha is the combination of space and air. Vata includes the qualities of dry, light, cold, mobile, rough, and clear. Examples of Vata Dosha Are:
Physical- dry hair and nails, thin, constipation, fast talking and walking, stiff joints.
Emotional- Vivid dreaming, Creative, flexible, anxiousness and fear, cold hands and feet.
Think about the person you know who is naturally very thin and seems to never stop moving or talking. The classic western ectomorph.
Dosha Accumulation and Management
These are just a few of the qualities in each doshas and it’s important to understand that everyone has all 3 of these doshas in them in different combinations. Some qualities being naturally more dominant than others and some changing with age, seasons, and environmental circumstances.
For instance let’s say that you are naturally high in Vata qualities. Your thoughts move quickly from one thing to the next, you may find it difficult to focus on one thing or to complete sentences sometimes. You might have a fast metabolism and find it difficult to gain weight. You might also have a lot of creativity and you can run like Forest Gump.
As we age we enter the Vata time of life, so you will experience more dry, stiff, rough qualities in your body and let’s say it’s late fall which is a Vata season, cold and windy, add the holiday season to that which may create a lot of stress, planning around events, travel, and shopping.
In this scenario you can see that vata qualities are piling on from every aspect of life. You may begin to experience unpleasant symptoms of high vata like insomnia, constipation, panic attacks, bloating and gassy digestive issues, painful bones and joints.
However, if you understand the concept of doshas and you become aware of what’s happening in and around you, there are steps you can take to manage vata. You may incorporate vata reducing foods and practices such as eating warm gooey foods, (stews not cinnamon buns), or take hot, relaxing baths, create consistent routines around eating and sleeping and rub warm oils on your body to decrease all of the vata that is accumulating.
Hopefully from this example you can see that like increases like and that increasing any one dosha or group of qualities too much is where you experience symptoms of being out of balance.
When you apply nutrition and lifestyle habits to bring ourselves back into balance, they have the opposite qualities of what is troubling us. If we increase our awareness of what is happening in our body and in our lives then we can catch these imbalances early and make adjustments to support our health.
However, if you are not aware or you turn a blind eye to imbalance then the imbalances go deeper into our system and the manifestations become more and more severe.
Vikriti and Prakriti
It’s important to remember the difference between the natural state of a dosha in your body and the imbalance of one. If your naturally a high vata dosha, and you have more vata going on than any other dosha in your body, but you feel good because this is your nature, this is your prakriti. However, if vata has gotten too high and you are experiencing physical or emotional discomfort, this is you vikriti and this is when you need to take steps to support your health.
The best way to understand your dosha, both your prakriti (balanced state) and vikriti (imbalance) is to have a thorough intake done by a trained Ayurvedic practitioner. You can find a list of practitioners here, and of course you can contact me.
In lieu of seeing a practitioner and to get a cursory understanding of your Ayurvedic constitution, you can take a simple online test like this one from Banyan Botanicals. My absolute favorite Ayurvedic supplement company.
Ayurveda and Cancer Recurrence
Ayurveda is a beautiful, gentle way of reconnecting to your body and to your life. It’s a way of understanding how your body feels when it’s well, and understanding the signals that it sends to you when something is out of whack.
As survivors, a common source of anxiety is the looming threat of a recurrence and an excellent way of reducing that anxiety is by learning to understand your body and the changes its going through. That way you can distinguish between signs of too little rest, or too little movement, or too much of the wrong foods compared to identifying signs that something is wrong at a deeper level and needs medical attention.
I’d love to hear your questions or comments about Ayurveda. Please find me on Facebook and share your thoughts with me and with our community of survivors.
Until next time,
Let your lifestyle be your medicine,