The Cost of Living Out of Alignment
Have you ever thought about how you can eat pretty much any diet you want, any time of the year? Or how, with heat and AC, you can create any climate you want, anywhere in the world? Or how with devices, coffee and sleeping pills, you can live on any schedule you want, any time of year?
Yet the transition into the fall season reminds us that it’s time to change. The leaves fall off the trees to bring more resources to their roots. The days become shorter. The weather gets colder.
If our ancestors evolved to live in alignment with nature, there must be some sort of cost to us living out of alignment with nature, right? What does Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga, have to say about this?
“Ayurveda is a complete system of living. It is an attitude or philosophy, but with tools and techniques that can bring people back to a connection with their environment, to the recognition that we live in a system of inter-dependent life cycles. Of course, the modern urban world is doing its best to ignore this by creating as many nature-defying inventions it can. But can we really conquer nature? Do we want to? Ayurveda certainly does not," - Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya, MD
How about Western medicine? I did some research and found something interesting: 74% of Americans are living with digestive distress. Everything from bloating, to gas, constipation, heartburn, indigestion to IBS. According to Western medicine, this is not that big of a deal. Most people ignore it, or take a pill and hope it goes away.
According to Ayurveda, though, this is a huge deal. Why? The key is in the Sanskrit word “agni.” This translates to your metabolism of everything from food to your experiences to the information you take in. In short, agni is your “digestive fire.”
3000+ years of Ayurvedic teachings say that your agni is one of the most important factors in your health. They even go so far to say all disease starts in the transition of the seasons, with digestive distress.
Could our chronic digestive distress be a symptom of living out alignment with nature and not listening to our bodies? I reflected on my own experience, and what i’ve learned in studying Ayurveda, and here’s my take:
Like Increases Like
The primary teaching of ayurveda is “like increases like” and “opposites brings balance.” What are we balancing? In short, the three Doshas. From earth, air, water, fire and ether we get the five elements. From the five elements s we get the three doshas. They are:
Vata is air and ether, the qualities of cold, movement and dry; the fall / early winter season.
Pitta is fire and water, the qualities of hot, oily and sharp, the summer season.
Kapha is earth and water, the qualities of cold, wet and stable; the late winter / spring season
When the seasons change, these doshas can be thrown off alignment and dampen your digestive fire, or agni... As I learned the hard way:
Growing up in MInnesota, my vata was off the charts. Long sub-zero winters meant cold limbs and digestive issues were a way of life. Because like increases like, I lived a very vata lifestyle. Lots of creative ideas. Lots of activity. Lots of dry, rough and cold foods. I loved vegan ice cream, smoothies, raw fruits and kale. For about a year I was even a raw vegan. My intentions were good. I was living the healthiest I knew how to, but i was getting sick every few months.
My digestive fire was being smothered, and by the Fall of 2010, I could no longer ignore my body.
At a raw “uncooking” class I prepared a five course meal of “gourmet raw vegan” food. This included sweet potatoes, kale, dates, cashews for days and, i wish i was kidding, 6 whole onions. All raw. We dehydrated most of these foods to mimic the way humans might have “baked” food in the sun hundreds of years ago... Hindsight is a great teacher. Had it been 100 years prior, it’s hard to imagine any of us surviving a Minnesota winter without fire.
By the time I ate my third raw onion I felt like I had eaten wet cement. “Uh-oh,” i thought, “I hope this isn’t permanent.”
Two days later, when i finally felt hunger again, I knew it was time to listen to my gut. I could no longer ignore my digestive issues.
Opposites Bring Balance
I still didn’t know about Ayurveda, but I knew I needed a change to my diet. I knew I needed to live in a warmer environment. And I knew I needed to change my lifestyle.
Ayurveda teaches that “opposites bring balance.” For me in 2011, moving from Minnesota to Austin, Texas was about as opposite as I could get.
I did my yoga training and began to learn about Ayurveda. Instead of eating what seemed healthy, I learned to eat for my body type (Dosha) and the season.
This meant eating a lot of opposites of what I had gotten used to. Warm, oily and heavy foods instead of cold, dry and rough foods. Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga to engage my whole body and get out of my head. Time in the sun. Meditation to be still and grounded. In short; making changes when I felt digestive distress, instead of ignoring it.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” - Ayurvedic Proverb
This is always a work in progress. Each transition of the seasons is a test of what I’ve learned. A time to make adjustments, let go of any idea of having it all figured out, and listen to my gut all over again.
From growing up catching a cold almost every season of my life. To today, where I can stop most disease at the first cough, sneeze or itchy eye.
I am human. I still have days where I buy pints of ice cream and eat until my stomach hurts. I also have days where I wake up with congestion, drink a drying tea and find instant relief.
The Benefits of Living in Alignment
The main thing I have no that i didn’t before is an understanding of health and wellness that I trust, and that I know works. 3000+ years of wisdom has stood the test of time for many people, including me. Since 2012 I have been applying the principles of Ayurveda, and here are my personal results:
I am happy. I dont get stuck in emotional ruts or get reactive to others like i used to.
I have a fulfilling, fun and enjoyable life and can find humor and connection in most situations
My limbs aren’t cold all the time anymore. People have even described me as “a furnace.”
My digestion is consistent. I rarely have the bloating and stomach pain I used to.
I don’t have the doubt, anxiety and stuck feelings I grew up with. I felt confident and grounded.
People used to describe me as “spacey.” Now people describe me as “steady in all situations.”
I can fully engage with my work, and I can fully let go and enjoy downtime, rest and nature.
I used to have major energy dips every day around noon, now I feel steady energy all day.
I generally feel a lot of vitality, energy and enthusiasm.
At 32 years old, I frequently meet people who think I’m in my early 20s.