At some point in our lives, mostly at the least opportune time, we come to a sudden recognition of ill health. Be it fatigue, lack of mental clarity, weight gain, lethargy, a sloppy inefficient liver, cholesterol and blood sugar levels creeping up or indigestion and other annoying reminders that all is not well.
Ayurveda, a life science originating in India, 5,000 years ago, says we all come from the same source and are made of the same material. All living organisms are composed of the five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth. Space is present in the hollow parts of our body, the distance between matter, air is everything that moves in the body, in the form of circulation, digestion, the movement of the heart, lungs, thought, etc. Fire in the body is enclosed in liquid in the form of acids, enzymes etc., water in the form of fluids like blood and plasma, while earth, is the solid structure of the body.
We are born with a unique constitution; it does not change throughout our lives, but factors like our age, weather, season, diet, and lifestyle affects it and causes imbalances.
There are three basic types of constitutions or doshas: Vata dosha or the air constitution that comprises of space and air. Air types are thin, light, airy, mobile, creative and anxious, distracted and tend towards dryness. Pitta dosha or fire types are made up of fire and water. The fire that transforms is within us, cooking our food, thought and experience, pitta or fire types typically are organized, medium framed people who love to lead, speak with conviction and have penetrating, sharp features. Kapha dosha or the earth types are made up of water and earth and as the elements would denote, they are slow, heavy, have difficulty losing weight, are sweet looking, sweet loving, round featured with a motherly disposition. Most people display characteristics of two types called dual doshas, as in air-fire, fire-earth, air-earth and the tridoshic with all three, air-fire-earth.
Eating with little awareness, even within your dosha, can contribute to poor digestion. These factors weaken our internal digestive fire or agni which governs digestion and assimilation. A weak agni cannot digest and absorb nutrients causing them to accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract and turn into a toxic sticky substance called ama. Ama clogs the intestines, overflows through the bodily channels and infiltrates bodily tissues, causing disease. Ama is the root cause of disease. Signs of ama include weight gain, smelly stools, turbid urine, coated furry tongue, bad breath, lethargy, loss of clarity of the mind, indigestion etc. As my teacher often said, it’s not what you eat, it’s what you digest that counts.
Cleaning up the House
Ancient ayurvedists formulated a scientific system of cleansing out accumulated toxins that hang on our insides. When the toxins go unaddressed, the body refuses to forgive our insults to wisdom, war breaks out in the form of disease, starting as mild disturbances into something that needs full fledged medical attention. Just as health is a process, disease is also a process. Since this accumulation is due to a host of physical, emotional and spiritual crimes against wisdom, a physical, emotional and spiritual detox is in order.
The body has natural means of elimination, stools, urine, and sweat. Ayurveda uses these to naturally remove toxins from the body via a 5 step process called panchkarma. Or the five acts of emesis, purgation, enema, nasal medication and blood letting.
Although this process may sound alarming, Ayurveda says, in our daily lives, there is nothing more beneficial to a body than to stop the intake of foods and emotions for a period of time, and indulge in a regulated fast which with the help of supplements pushes the toxins into the gut and gets eliminated with purgation.
In other words, do nothing, just fast to the extent your body and mind will let you. For a simple home detox, there are simple procedures of internal and external oleation, sweating, purgation and rejuvenation that will leave a person with a sense of lightness, clarity and increased energy flow. Herbal supplements support the detox process to a great degree with keeping the dosha balance in check as well as rejuvenating and restoring the depleted tissues after the detox.
Emotional and Spiritual Detox
In the words of an wise old man, “Man is Mad! All his life he searches for something he already has.” The old man speaks of finding that elusive “self”. The one person everyone knows, but we never know for ourselves.
We are a product of conditioning since we took our first breath. Family, friends, co-workers, advertising, society, religion, the news, anxiety about the future, worries from the past haunt us and prevent us from keeping our consciousness awake and aware. We lose focus, sleep, and the appetite for life’s experiences and instead live a life of reacting instead of charting our journey and following it with trust and wisdom.
Without real purpose, we learn to live as a direct response to how others make us feel. We know them, our spouses, family members, co-workers, they are the mirror to our well-being or disease. They make us feel brave or fearful; it’s our reaction to their response to our outer life. And it is a rich outer life. Full of drama, tensions, stress, expectations and a search for something…you ask yourself, does this being even have a purpose for living, a purpose for anything, except relating to others?
According to Vedanta, the Universe is always in a state of balance. As beings of limited insight most times, we see one side or the other. We live lives of stress. We most often do not see how disease has brought us to a point where it has made us stubbornly aware of taking better care of ourselves, infusing more discipline in our eating habits and lifestyle and using that pass to the gym, not passing it by. On the opposite side of this, a life of well-being can serve as an invitation to complacency, disregard for changes in our lives, relationships and seasons. Everything matters!
The support and challenges we face in the form of health and disease is essential for growth. An emotional detox clears past emotional baggage, gives clarity and purpose to move forward instead of rewinding old drama or stagnating in victimhood and resentment.
A simple component of an emotional detox could include unwinding past memories and seeing both sides of the drama. We often get caught up in what is labeled “bad” until we really go back with an open heart and find the blessing in the challenge, no matter how earth shattering it seemed then. Getting rid of toxic emotions of guilt and fear, victimhood, abandonment, is key to not only moving on, but essential to finding our own true purpose.
Knowing your dosha or ayurvedic constitution is like being re-introduced to your own name, but with small print attached to it. There is a lot more to that as we know it. Our values are based on our conditioning and what we perceive is missing in our life. The seven areas of our life, physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, vocational, familial and social provide a source of inspiration or desperation depending on how important something is to us. The highest values are most organized; the lowest often languish in chaos.
Living in a world with tons of conditioning growing up, we realize we need to discover ourselves. Meditation is key in discovering the inner world. It is by far the easiest, and yet so elusive to most. Dancing, singing, walking, running, chanting, any action can be a source of meditation as long as the doer loses himself or herself. And we have often caught ourselves doing that. Only now it’s time to question who you are until you don’t just lose the mind but the person asking is nowhere to be found.
If Ayurveda was a religion, Nature would be its Goddess and overindulgence would be the sole sin She would punish ~ Dr. Robert Svoboda.