The One Place You'll Get Stuck While Learning Ayurveda


Hello All,

First thing:  I’m writing another book!  It’s called Selfcarefully and it’s a collaboration with the lovely team at Thick Press and my dear friend Maria Habib (also a brilliant illustrator/designer).  This limited-edition risograph-printed book will hold all the self-care wisdom we’ve gained over the years and show how to use self-care as a lens for all things (from setting boundaries to eating lunch to talking about racism). We are still putting the book together - the process has been slow and fruitful - but we’ll hopefully have something for you to hold in your hands in early 2019, and I’ll be sharing bits and pieces along the way.

(Some of you may be wondering about my first book. Yes, I finished it a while back, but honestly, I still haven’t figured out how to publish it + promote it while raising a toddler and running my self-care coaching programs. I’d love to hear any advice on publishing during a busy phase of life!  I think the book’s message on cultivating leadership through self-care is more important than ever.)

And now today…

Fall is now upon us on the east coast.   I feel this seasonal transition more intensely than any other.  As soon as it gets colder, I go from my late-summer steady, productive energy to feeling scattered and slightly anxious.  My skin starts to crack, my back gets achey and I begin silently counting the days until spring.

Fortunately, learning about self-care, particularly the self-care of Ayurveda, helps me weather this transition with grace.  With practice, I’ve learned to keep my balance steady enough to actually enjoy this seasonal shift from summer to fall (except for the cold feet - I don’t think I’ll ever love those).

I want to share this special seasonal self-care with you.  But while I’d love to just launch into my favorite fall Ayurvedic self-care tips, I know these practices will be so much richer with just a little background in Ayurvedic theory.  

For this, today I’m giving a basic lesson in Ayurveda, and next Wednesday, I’ll be back with all the fall self-care goodness.  

If you’ve never studied Ayurveda, I invite you to keep an open mind.  This ancient science is both very complex and also quite simple. There will be things we can probably never understand, especially as westerners, and concepts that will feel immediately applicable.  One thing I’ve learned about Ayurveda is that you cannot talk too much about the basics. Even though I’ve studied it for years, everytime I hear someone discuss the essential theories and practices, I learn something new.

With our beginner’s mind, let’s dive in!  I’ll begin by sharing basic doshic theory - where all Ayurvedic students must start - and then explain the one place you can get eternally stuck while cultivating your Ayurvedic practice.  

Ayurvedic scriptures (some of which date back more than 5,000 years) teach that the essence of all things is consciousness itself.  This consciousness is formless, timeless and has infinite potential. And from that formless consciousness arises form. (I know this is pretty abstract stuff but stay with me.)

Form is everything that makes up matter.  It’s all the things we can see with our eyes and feel with our hands like mountains, bodies, and cars. It’s also all the things we can’t see and feel like teeny particulars of matter.  

Ayurveda teaches that all this matter is comprised of three different energies called the doshas. Very basically, the doshas are:

Vata:  The energy of air and ether, responsible for the end of things.  The qualities of vata are dry, cold, light, unstable, and fast-moving. Vata brings movement of all kinds.  In our bodies, vata rules our circulation, speech and much of our nervous system function. Seasonally, the energy of vata is strongest during the fall when the world is drying out and getting colder. (I’m going to talk a lot more about this next week).

Pitta:  The energy of fire and water, responsible for the middle part of things. The qualities of pitta are quick, light, hot, oily, and penetrating.  Pitta is our metabolism and other forms of transformation. In our bodies, pitta rules our digestion, not just through our stomachs but also what we mentally consume. We eat in many ways - not just food!  Seasonally, pitta is strongest during the summer when the harvest is growing abundant and the sun shines bright.

Kapha:  The energy of earth and water, responsible for beginnings.  The qualities of kapha are heavy, slow, cold, thick, and stable. Kapha is the most stable of the doshas.  Kapha, which makes up our skeleton, keep us steady and grounded. Seasonally, kapha is strongest during late winter/spring when the snow is melting and we are getting ready to begin planting.

We need all three doshas. To stay balanced, we have to make sure we have enough stability, enough metabolism and enough connected movement. Ayurveda teaches that keeping our balance is natural.  The doshas - these building blocks of life - are meant to stay in balance, both within ourselves and out in the world.

How do we know when we go out of balance?  We feel off and/or we get sick. The longer we stay imbalanced, the harder it is to get back into balance because we actually start to crave the imbalance.  (This is when you can’t get off the couch when you’re feeling depressed or schedule more when you’re already overwhelmed). However, once we find a pretty good balance in ourselves, it’s usually not as hard to maintain it because balance also craves balance. (Yay!)

I hope this is all feeling fairly simple and applicable to your own life.  Ayurveda is just telling us to pay attention to how we feel, and if we feel off, to try to make things feel better.

This brings me to the one thing that can absolutely derail this simplicity.  If you give into it, you can miss learning the full goodness of Ayurveda. And it seems like no one - myself included - can escape it at first.

The place we can get stuck is that everyone wants to discover “their” dosha.

Because yes, it’s true. Ayurveda teaches that each of us has our own makeup of the three doshas within us.  Usually, one of the doshas is predominant, one is secondary and one affects us a little less. (I’ve heard it’s incredibly rare for anyone to be completely tri-doshic).  

This desire to know your dosha is rooted in a lot of the modern Ayurvedic resources out there.  In many books and websites, you are told to take a test, discover your dosha and then care for yourself according to the standard recommendations.  From there, you know all the rules. Pitta-types are told to avoid tomatoes, kaphas need more exercise and vatas should sleep in extra late. Etc etc etc.

These rules are fine, but I’ve found it’s incredibly difficult to discover your actual dosha.  I won’t go into too much detail here, but there are just so many factors that influence your essential dosha, including your stage of life, the season, the time of day, any previous trauma you’ve had in your life.  Figuring it out is so complex!

(A little personal example here.  After years of studying Ayurveda and never quite being sure if I was more vata or more pitta, I finally made it to an Ayurvedic clinic in India.  As soon as I could see him, I asked the doctor, a very learned man, if he could tell me my dosha. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Pitta? Vata? It’s very hard to tell.”  Honestly, I still don’t know.)

The problem is that when we can’t figure out our dosha, we may get discouraged and stop learning.  Because Ayurveda can feel way too complex in this beginning step, we may think it isn’t for us at all.   

With that, I’m here to say that you can get an amazing amount of self-care knowledge from Ayurveda without knowing your dosha.  Personally, learning this baseline Ayurvedic wisdom has transformed my life and that of my clients, many of whom still don’t know their doshas.

Next week, I’ll go into that knowledge and the very special ways it applies to this time of year.  I can’t wait to share it with you!

Until then, take extra good care of yourself!