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.
Here’s how you can apply the principles of Ayurveda for yourself to have a healthy, happy Fall season and avoid colds, flues and sickness often associated with the Autumn:
1. Have a Morning Routine (Dinacharya)
The word Dinacharya translates to “morning ritual” and it is a significant part of Ayurveda. A morning routine can be as simple as waking up at the same time each day, or drinking a glass of water in the morning. These suggestions help pacify vata in the Fall, and are suitable for all doshas.
Fall Morning Routine:
Wake between 5 - 6am
Scrape tongue (the whiter the tongue, the more toxins in your system
Drink 8-16oz clean, room temp water (I like the Berkey filter)
Abhyangha (full body self massage with sesame or almond oil)
Gentle yoga stretching followed by meditation
Shower and wash oil off
Light breakfast between 7-9am
Two practices that have become popular in recent years are dry brushing and oil pulling. These both can aggravate vata dosha. Dry brushing has the qualities of rough and dry which increase vata. Oil pulling can be good in moderation. Done in excess it will begin to deplete Ojas; a sort of vital essence from that body. I will explain more about Ojas in a future post.
*This is a general guideline for the vata imbalanced fall season. If your Dosha is kapha or pitta you may want variations of this, such as more vigorous yoga or different oils. For a personalized plan, schedule a private session with me here
2. Eat Seasonal Foods and Include All Six Tastes
The 74% of Americans having digestive distress are most likely not eating all six tastes. The tastes are bitter, astringent, spicy, sweet, salty and sour. Ayurveda suggests your agni will be strongest if you eat them all at each day. In the Fall favor sweet, sour and salty tastes. These help ground and warm the body. Keep, but reduce spicy, bitter and astringent tastes which are drying and aggravate vata.
Chooses warm, grounding, wet foods
Favor sweet, sour and salty tastes
Choose cooked over raw vegetables
This is a great time for a Kitchari cleanse and other “one pot” meals like stews and soups.
Kitchari recipe: https://www.ayurveda.com/recipes/kitchari
Fall Ayurvedic foods: https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/seasonal-guides/autumn-guide/
3. Practice Yoga to Ground, Warm and Center
Vata means “movement” and ”change,” and this is the main characteristic of the fall season. In your yoga practice, notice when there is too much movement and change. Balance this with grounding, warming and centereing asana.
Many animals have a hibernation period where they take time to rest and recharge. If you maintain a busy schedule all year, your yoga practice can be your place to rest and recharge. If practicing vigorous yoga, keep it steady and grounding instead of fast and dynamic.
Season two of the Quietmind Yoga podcast is a series of full length yoga classes specifically for the Fall season. You can roll out your mat and practice here:
Yoga to Reduce in the Fall Season
One legged postures / destabilizing balance postures
Big backbends that feel overstimulating
Lots of complex cues and postures that aggravate vat
Yoga to Increase in the Fall Season
Twists and binds
Chair pose, eagle pose, Gomukhasana
Emphasis on pressing into the ground
Simple cues and simple postures
Mild inversions like vipariti karani: legs up the wall
Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra and Restorative Yoga
Steady paced Hatha Yoga or Vinyasa Yoga
In general; warming, grounding and centering
4. Meditate to Calm the Mind
Vata rules the emotion of fear. Anxiety, worry and doubt can all increase in the fall season. This can be hard to interrupt because like increase like. Sitting down may make the voices more audible and self perpetuating. To interrupt this pattern we can look to the vedas and the teachings of the gunas. Each of the three doshas has an essence, these make up the three gunas.
The default state of the body is tamasic; dense, heavy and slow. The essence of Kapha.
The default state of the mind is rajasic; quick and changing. The essence of Vata.
The goal of ayurveda, yoga and meditaiton to bring both to a state of sattva; pure, clear and bright. The essence of Pitta.
To balance a rajasic mind, practice Yoga that is grounding, warming and calming. To balance a tamasic body, practice yoga that is warming and activating. Yoga is the perfect practice to do both without aggravating the other. Then, sitting to meditate and observe thought patterns becomes much more doable.
I lead a full 60 minute gentle yoga class with guided meditation that guides you through this process. You can listen here:
5. Keep Your Agni Strong
The closest translation we have of the word agni is “metabolism” but that’s not quite it. Agni is everything you take in; thoughts, experiences, ideas, meetings, activities. It’s all being digested in processed throughout the day. In our modern lives, with so much new stimulation and information being received every day, our agni is more important than ever.
How to Strengthen Agni
Eat meals at regular times, but with the call of hunger.
Eat your largest meal at lunch
Avoid overeating. From a scale of 0 to 10, eat until you’re at a 5.
If your agni feels weak, drink the “agni appetizer” below.
Signs of Weak Agni
Fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, lethargy, or depression.
Low energy, weakness, or fatigue
Under or over-active appetite
Digestive distress: gas, bloating, constipation, nausea, hyperacidity, loose stools, a sense of heaviness, feeling tired or mentally foggy after meals.
Congestion in the sinuses, the lymph, or even the mind.
Signs of Healthy Agni
Proper (and regular) elimination
Stable energy, strong vitality
Calm, clear mind
Happiness, optimism, and enthusiasm
Love of life
If you notice your digestive fire getting weak, or if you are going to eat before you feel the call of hunger, this can help stimulate digestion. Just combine with warm water and drink before eating:
One 2” long piece of fresh ginger
½ of a fresh lime
½ tsp Himalayan salt
What’s your favorite way to stay healthy in the Fall season?
Of course, you don’t need to do all of these things to be healthy and happy. If something stands out, maybe try implementing that this week. My Ayurveda teacher says “little little.” It’s better to make small changes that are sustainable than to try to change everything at once and crash.
As you go through the fall season, see what things work and resonate with you. Leave your questions, thoughts or feedback in the comments below.
Since 2016 I have offered 3-day “Seasonal Alignment” retreats. Sign up for the next one at http://www.quietmind.yoga/retreats.