by Kara-Leah Grant, Musings from the Mat
I went and had an Ayurvedic Consultation recently with the fine folk at Ancient’s Best here in Blenheim.
I’ve had a subtle sense of certain bodily functions not performing at optimum for awhile now.
Nothing wrong or broken as such… but just a knowing that things need looking at.
It’s not the kind of thing you can go to the doctor for though – doctors are great at broken arms and clearly defined illnesses and disease but show up with a vague sense that something is not right… and they’re often at a loss.
I knew I needed to go and see someone else – maybe someone in Chinese medicine, or naturopathy.
I was delighted when Nicky Hewett and Vaidyar Mani Maran offered me a complimentary consultation so I could see exactly what they offer and how it works.
Mani Maran is only here on for short time – he’s Nicky’s teacher and is a Singaporean-born Indian with Ayurveda in his blood – quite literally. His family have been Ayurvedic Practitioners for generations, on both sides.
Mani was at great pains to describe to me how the Ayurveda they practice is traditional – focussed on identifying and working on the subtle and root causes of dis-ease rather than the symptoms.
Apparently, here in the West and increasingly in India, people trained in Ayurveda treat disease and illness, rather than helping people simply live according to Ayurvedic principles regardless of whether they’re showing any symptoms of being out of balance or not.
Traditional Ayurveda is firstly and foremost a spiritual system rather than a medical/allopathic system but this is all but lost today.
The first indication that this was a serious undertaking was when my appointment was set for 7am – not your usual time to show up at a health practitioner’s clinic!
I was instructed to eat light the night before, and eat nothing at all in the morning. I was also emailed a four page document to print out and fill in, asking for all kinds of information about my medical history and lifestyle.
All of this was to make the consultation as accurate as possible. Nicky and Mani use pulse readings to determine both one’s birth constitution and current constitution – plus I was weighed and had my blood pressure taken, in both arms.
The consultation itself took two hours, during which time Nicky also gave me a thorough rundown on what Ayurveda is and how it works – using a flip chart and magic markers.
Mani spent time talking about what was going on with me, but didn’t overload me with too much information. Instead, within 24 hours, I received an email with the details of my consultation and suggested treatments. There was an extraordinary amount of information, and I had to read through both documents a few times to digest it all.
There were no real surprises in the results – my birth constitution is Pitta, single dosha. And I’m currently Pitta, although strangely enough my Kapha is also slightly disturbed. Pitta is aggravated though, and when Mani explained it, he put into context the vague physical symptoms I’ve been experiencing for the last year or so.
In essence, my liver is overloaded and not functioning properly. It’s struggling to do it’s work – which is why I’ve been feeling so toxic after only a glass or two of wine.
I knew my liver wasn’t doing a great job. What I didn’t realise was that because the liver is struggling to keep up with it’s detox duties, it’s not producing enough bile. Bile goes into the gall bladder and is then released on a as-needed basis into the small intestine to help with digesting fats.
My digestive system has felt sluggish and off for awhile, and I’m often bloated for no discernable reason.
Mani’s description of what was happening lined up with what I’d been observing in my body. This was awesome – now I knew what was happening and what was causing it, I could take action.
My liver needs to detox, and it needs support.
According to Ayurveda, the issue with liver or gall bladder are symptoms of aggravated Pitta Dosha. Reducing and pacifying the Dosha is considered Primary treatment and improving the performance of such organs or tissues are considered secondary treatment. Without the primary treatment the secondary treatment will fail over time.
That means no more alcohol for one. I’d already realised this… but in the lead-up to Christmas and spending time with family, I’d been having the odd glass of wine and was already feeling the accumulated affects of the toxins.
However, this only touches on the scope of Ayurveda. The treatment plan recommendation focused on two aspects – short term and long term.
Short Term Treatment: This phase of treatment includes Ayurvedic Herbal formulas; Ayurvedic oil massage; Yoga for Dosha therapy; and Pancha Karma. Note that regular feedback and follow-up consultations are extremely important during this period of time. The period of short-term treatment is not fixed but depends on your needs and much will depend on you; your attitude, discipline and commitment; also the degree of any disturbances and how stubborn the excess Dosha is to remove.
Long Term Treatment: This aspect of treatment mainly deals with lifestyle management – meaning, how to live your life on a moment-to-moment basis without disturbing your natural and unique state (Prakriti). This starts now and continues throughout your life. This phase of the treatment includes gaining knowledge on how to manage your Dietetics (food that suits you), exercise, attitude, work, relationships, the ever-changing environment and climate; and developing an appropriate time-management routine.
This life-long approach is what traditional Ayurveda is really all about, the awareness and practical application of this knowledge each day and in every moment to manage your unique Prakriti (birth constitution).
This was when things became stickier for me.
It’s one thing to have disturbances in the body identified, it’s another to take the correct treatments to balance it all out.
The short-term treatments as outlined above came with a significant price-tag – at least they did for me. I’m a part-time working single parent, with little disposable income. And like it or not, disposable income is what I’d be spending on my health.
It was somewhat disheartening to realise I couldn’t afford to do any of what Ancient’s Best was recommending. I felt like I was letting down the process, and Nicky and Mani by not following through.
However, there was no pressure at all to follow any of the treatment recommendations and Mani was clear in stating that the most important aspect is diet and lifestyle – which doesn’t cost anything extra.
With some research of my own and chatting to knowledgable friends who also practice Ayurveda, I was able to put together my own short-term treatment at minimal cost – a simple routine of yoga, herbal tonics and cleanses.
That left long term treatment – primarily managed through diet and lifestyle. It’s about what I eat, when I eat, when I get up and go to bed, how I work and when I work.
The ideal lifestyle for someone who’s Pitta matches up with my own ideal lifestyle. When I’m in a good routine, it’s exactly how I like to live. Up at 6am, most of my work done by 11am, in bed and asleep before 10pm.
Even the recommended foods for Pitta match up with my natural tendencies. Mostly vegetarian, and focused on three of the six tastes – sweet, bitter and astringent. However there were some aspects I didn’t like. For example, bananas in moderation, and absolutely no garlic. No garlic! How can I live the rest of my life without garlic? And why would I want to?
And this is where I struggle with Ayurveda. According to the way it works, each dosha has foods which aggravate and foods which pacify. As I have excessive Pitta, I’m meant to eat certain foods for the rest of my life and avoid other foods. No red meat. No egg yolks. No garlic. But that just seems crazy to me… It seems arbitrary.
How can we be meant to totally avoid certain foods for our entire lives, just because they don’t suit our doshas?
Mani was quite clear though. Paraphrasing what he said:
Garlic can be good for you – unless you’re Pitta, and then it’s poison. Take a little a day for your lifetime and it adds up to ill-health.
Of course, since finding out what my dosha is and the food I’m meant to eat, I’ve been eating the wrong foods at times, the only difference is that now I know they’re wrong – at least, wrong in Ayurveda’s eyes.
I’m not meant to eat spicy food, and the other night I had a spicy Thai Curry for dinner. Did I enjoy it? No, not really. It felt wrong… too spicy and hot for me. Is this psychosomatic? Or is it because I’m tuning into my my body with more discernment now?
I’m not sure, but Nicky and Mani have been incredibly supportive through this entire process – even when my doubts and issues arose.
Here’s some of Nicky and Mani’s emailed response to my article:
Regarding food and having to omit certain foods as they are Pitta aggravating, this requires a common sense approach.
It doesn’t necessarily mean never have a food that aggravates Pitta. Instead it means, be aware that those tastes are already in excess in the body and they will cause problems if taken regularly as the effects accumulate.
Pitta is fire so foods with a fiery quality such as garlic or chilli will increase that fire (which is already on the high side). Like increases like. Nothing is considered good or bad, or right and wrong, only whether it is supportive or not, whether it is ‘correct for you’. Attitude is key here.
There is no point feeling guilty or considering something ‘bad’. Instead take responsibility for your actions and see how to manage the situation. If the food is not so supportive at times, then manage those other things you have better control over to help counteract those negative effects. Or at least take those foods at times or seasons when Pitta is less naturally aggravated (eg. in the cool parts of the day or year).
This is our own choice and responsibility and we can manage better when we are equipped with the knowledge of how to do so.
Rather than feeling that the system is something imposed from outside, the important lesson here is that your nature is that which you have chosen, and that which is required for you to experience what you have taken this birth to experience.
Traditionally this kind of knowledge is instilled from young childhood so becomes part of life in a very natural way. That’s not common today, hence we often feel quite confronted and challenged as we have to learn to think differently. Understanding your own nature, working with it, managing it, is what living ‘naturally’ is about, living according to your unique nature.
It is part of the responsibility we take on if we wish to live a life of awareness and to remain in the Ocean or Yoga. Gaining this awareness does not mean rigidity or lack of enjoyment, it simply means watching yourself and your environment every moment and responding moment by moment to that. If something is pleasurable, enjoy it fully. Then let it pass. If it is painful, then manage it until it has passed. All things pass.
The better we understand our instrument, the body and mind, the easier it will be to manage. It does not prevent that which is on its way from coming (karma, or the effects of previous actions), only softens the blow so to speak and we know why we are experiencing certain things and accept that. It removes the fear of the unknown.
This is a constant process and in fact a practice of deep and continual meditation as we are always watching.
We are constantly learning and we and the world around us are constantly changing. Knowing our own strengths and weaknesses allows us to be free to move with that and to recognise what is required in each moment.
So instead of feeling encumbered by a system or external authority telling us what to do we recognise that these are valuable tools (as with any yogic system) that are shared to give us ultimate freedom through knowledge (removing ignorance).
We should not get ‘stuck’ with the tools themselves! Our practical application of this knowledge and personal experience leads to wisdom.
This response made me feel much better about what I was experiencing. And I really like this about Nicky and Mani – they’re supportive and responsive, as well as knowledgeable, yet they haven’t been dictatorial at all.
It’s now been a couple of weeks since I went on my short-term Ayurveda treatment plan and I’m already seeing great results.
That constant bloating has disappeared and I’m feeling less sluggish. My energy levels are returning as well. I feel clearer, and sharper.
I’m paying closer attention to the food I eat and the effects it has on my system. I’m noticing how my lifestyle affects my energy levels and moods.
Ayurveda is like another tool in my Health & Well-Being toolbox. It’s not a system to slavishly bow down before, but another perspective to explore, taking what works, and discarding the rest.
As Mani & Nicky say, don’t get ‘stuck’ with the tools themselves!