Reveal the Unmet Needs Behind Your Fears
No matter how great the change is we are seeking to make, there is always some amalgam of fear involved. This is because the undefined, unfamiliar, unpredictable unknown is vata embodied. In fact, any transition is a vata dominated process, and signs of vata imbalance (excess vata) are common.
Oftentimes, we ignore the valuable message in our fears and focus on criticizing ourselves for not being “tough” enough to make the change. All feelings reveal unmet needs within us. If we can engage in a healthy exploration of our fears, we can use them to come up with a strong list of exactly what we need to support ourselves through the process.
For example, I’d been putting off buying a house because I felt too scared of the financial commitment. Once I explored that fear, I understood that I had a need for 6 months living expenses in savings to feel more secure in that transition. This clarity allowed me to set a clear goal to move forward in my home-buying process, and this allowed me to feel more supported and aligned. Without addressing and exploring the unmet need my fear was revealing, I felt like I just needed to “pull the trigger” on buying, which led to inaction because I was with mixed feelings (a vata state of incongruence).
Change is not about “toughening up” and moving past your fears; it’s about bringing in more support to address them.
STEP 1: Acknowledge your fears (a simple list is fine) and explore:What need do I have that this fear is making me aware of? What would make me feel most comfortable in making this change? What would help to assuage the fears in this transition (not eliminate them, because fear is a part of the process)?
STEP 2: Come up with a clear list of how to meet those needs, aka how to best support yourself through this change.
This is great to do with a loved one, or coach, or therapist. Since fear and transition are vata energetics, the more support you have and the more grounded you are in a personal plan for that change, the more you balance vata and move through the transition gracefully.
Fire Ceremony to Ritualize the Transition
I personally find fire ceremony to be surprisingly helpful in releasing the old and welcoming in the new, and several of my clients have reported powerful effects as well. Fire is a transformative force and pitta energy embodies this. Fire transforms the wood and air into light and heat energy and smoke. Similarly, we offer into the fire a symbol of what we’d like to transform, and receive the products of the transformation (light, warmth, smoke) as a symbol of what we are looking to change into. It’s a ritual to represent the transformation on a subtle energetic level in our physical world.
Overcome the Inertia with Clear Intent and a Plan of Action
So we don’t want to ignore our fears, but we don’t want to let them drive our decision making either. We also have a tendency to be so aware of the fears, that we make fear-based choices. From this place, we avoid change. We stay in unhealthy jobs or relationships, or patterns. The fear is important only in that it is a messenger. Again, if you can come to what unmet needs are underlying those fears, you can let those needs drive how you make decisions.
More importantly, where you set your attention is going to determine what you attract in your life. So if the feared scenario is ever-present in your mind, you are aligning yourself with that being your reality. Shifting our attention from the fear to the plan-of-action-to-meet-your-
The other facet of vata, related to fear, that keeps us stuck is overwhelm. Other times it’s more of a kaphic stuck where we are fuzzy and unclear about what to do or how to bring about the change, and thus do nothing.
Either way, having clarity of intention is key, as is a clear plan of action. Both are vata and kapha balancing, and thus balance overwhelmed-and-unsure-so-
STEP 4: Keep it simple and keep it clear. Define your goal in one sentence. Define a maximum of 3-5 next steps. Define sub steps and details for each of those. This is where you start. The rest will come to you in due time.
Lean In to the Feelings of the Desired Change
Change doesn’t always come about in one fell swoop. What I see more often are cycles of release and manifestation, and phases of shifting towards our intention. How the change happens is what you surrender. This means you have a clear plan of how, only to get you started aligning your actions with your intention. The plan of action you create is just a tool to support you through initiating the change, stepping up and indicating your readiness for the change. However, when your planned approach requires a shift, you surrender to that, understanding you are being gently guided (or not so gently) through the change in the way it needs to best support your spiritual growth. The plan of action is just a first step in “leaning in” toward the desired change.
Watch for the signs in your life. What you are naturally attracted to and repelled by. Conversations, people, dreams, ideas, spirit animals (you get the picture)–anything that feels more like how you wish to feel after this change has happened. In fact, a great exercise is to imagine yourself after the desired change.
STEP 5: Make a list of how you feel in this visualization. (Visualizing is also a powerful tool invoking the law of attraction.) Use this list as a guide to where you lean in.
Any experience in your life that invokes these same feelings is where you want to lean in, center your attention and spend the majority of your time, energy, and resources. Anything that feels more on the side of the desired change, we respond to in a timely manner, and as a priority.
Show Up! Align your Words and Actions with your Intention
Once you have how to best support yourself, a clear intention and a simple starting plan of action, you’ve laid a great foundation towards attracting your desired change. In fact, it’s quite likely that during the process of taking all of the steps above, you’ve already started to shift things in the right direction.
STEP 6: If you are still stuck, start taking practice steps. Take the steps as if you were really making the change, as practice until you are ready to take real steps. For example, I recently assigned a client to apply to 10 jobs outside of her specialty area for the sake of experiencing action that was consistent with her intention of finding a new job. Because these were just jobs that seemed fun to her, and not where she really thought she would find a job, the exercise was light and more playful. In the process, she practiced tailoring her resume, got faster at writing cover letters, started a tracking system to monitor her follow up, etc. She created all of the tools and practiced, so she felt very unintimidated when it came time to apply for jobs in her specialty.
Affirmations, or rather new thought patterns, are a great first step at alignment as well. As you’ve already identified your feared perspectives, use these to identify healthy new thought patterns to replace them. This is not an exercise in denial. It’s a practice of shifting a fear based thought pattern to a more empowered thought pattern. For example:
Fear/victim perspective: I’m fat and Iosing weight is so hard for me.
Empowered perspective: I’m working towards my happy place with my weight and I’m open to experiencing ease in that process.
STEP 7: Starting to align your words and actions is well supported by also aligning your internal dialogue. So every time that fear-based perspective speaks in your mind, you stop it, and replace it by saying your empowered perspective (out loud is great).
So miss-I-don’t-watch-tv just watched about ten straight episodes of How I Met Your Mother. I needed to laugh aloud–it felt so good.
Then I just started numbing out and really not even laughing anymore.
I hit a point at which I could no longer engage. I couldn’t disengage either. (Damn netflix!)
Okay, bless netflix, but how did this happen? There I lay, a TV zombie. I looked in the mirror and my eyes look liked I had just worked a 36 hour shift at a county hospital. This can’t be healthy.
Where’s the boundary? Healthy release and laughter is fun, but feeling like I just dipped into an alternate reality that zapped me is not.
I guess this is the case with everything in life: there’s a sweet spot. A level of engagement that is healthy and serving, past which it’s unhealthy and a disservice to ourselves.
Now that I think about it, it’s that way with people, food, work, anything. And the sweet spot is a relative concept–it’s different for each of us.
Only you can know what your sweet spot is on any given energetic input. You just have to listen to that little voice inside.
It’s also a dynamic concept. My sweet spot for yoga, writing, time with my kids is different day to day.
So why do we expect ourselves to be able to take in the same amount of anything everyday? Why aren’t we taught to check in with ourselves and feel what our sweet spot for anything is? For example “Today, I can handle very much of my garden, very little of my husband, about an hour of writing, and not too much driving.” And then, adjust our daily decisions to match our sweet spots, and thereby optimize our experience of that day.
Oh yeah, social obligation.
Plans are made, commitments must be stuck to, and things need to get done. Then we prioritize these external factors and find ourselves needing to create “healthy boundaries.” If we honored our sweet spots, we would inherently be maintaining healthy boundaries (and inherently maintaining doshic balance). Our internal sense of limits naturally guides us to energetic balance, and thus health.
Well, we’ll all die with things still needing to be done. And isn’t the most important commitment you make the one to your joy/health (synonymous in many ways).
What do you think? Or rather, what do you feel? (Please share in the comments below!)
Ok, is there really any form of balanced travel? Well, read this article I wrote about vacationing to catch a glimpse of what that could look like.
For the rest of us humans, travel usually has some untoward effects.
Why? Well, travel is akin to truckloads of vata coming into your life.
That which is not familiar, or simply different from your usual, is a change; and change is vata embodied.
Furthermore, flying is a lot of vata because of the altitude (and yes, higher altitude destinations are also more vata) and the rapid movement.
Any movement is a vata input, so the more you move around, the more vata you bring in.
This is why the majority of symptoms of travel are signs of vata imbalance: gas, constipation, dryness, insomnia, and lower immunity to name a few.
Most of us crave travel when we are craving the wonderful aspects of vata–a fresh perspective, inspiration. Sometimes our vata imbalance is driving the craving–like when you feel overwhelmed and want to escape it all.
Either way, balancing travel is all about balancing vata.
So here are a few general tips. Of course, each travel situation is unique and the best balancing happens when you consider the whole picture. This list will get you started in the right direction.
- Ginger tea. Ginger is a super antimicrobial and maintains healthy digestive capacity. This is important as vata lowers digestive capacity and immunity. Also, this root is warming and that further helps to balance the cold of vata. I throw a few slices of fresh ginger root in a ziplock and ask for hot water on the plane. Most grocery stores carry ginger teabags and that is convenient for travel. As a carminative, ginger helps to reduce gas too.
- Hot water. No ice on the plane!! When traveling try to drink hot or at least warmish liquids. Hot water is easily available everywhere you would eat and you can at least use it to add to your drink to change the temperature. This helps to maintain your digestive capacity and prevent constipation and gas.
- “Spiceballs.” There are these little magic balls of churna (digestive aid spices) that are travel friendly and are super for supporting digestion and immunity in much of the same way ginger does (just stronger). I use these in addition to the ginger tea. Many times when traveling we are eating in restaurants with heavier, more processed food in larger portions. These little spiceballs help to digest all of that, so you don’t have toxic schmutz building up in your tract causing digestive upset and inflammation. We carry these in our online store.
- Neti pot. This is the second thing I pack. Travel dries out your sinuses and makes your upper respiratory system prone to congestion and infection. This combined with lower immunity is why many catch a cold after travel. I import fantastic stainless steel neti pots, which we carry in our online store. But these days, I’ve even seen an array of portable saline sprays for travel. The neti is a whole level (or ten) above the dinky portable sprays; however, something is better than nothing.
- am/pm routine. As much as you can maintain some semblance of your morning and evening ritual, you can support your internal circadian rhythms. These are the rhythms that coordinate the miraculous dance of every system in your body. Oftentimes, travel means shifts in our usual rhythms, and this throws off our internal clocks. Maintaining am/pm rituals helps to keep those clocks anchored.
- Nutmeg. Nutmeg is a phenomenal herb for insomnia and jet lag, as well as a digestive aid and antimicrobial. Personally, I put a blend of cardamom and nutmeg (organic and medicinal grade) in my travel bag. I’ll have this in a latte (steamed milk and hot water) or just as tea before bed on the first days of adjusting to a new time zone.
- Triphala. This is the first thing I pack! For more on the benefits of triphala (which we carry as well), read this article.
- Slow it down! When we plan travel, it’s common to want to maximize the experience. We overbook our travel itenerary, and forget to have down time as a priority. Aim for being present and really sinking into places, cultures, experiences–depth over quantity.
- Bookend your travel with Grounding Days. Plan for a day of ease and grounding just to recover from the actual movement of travel when you arrive. Similarly, plan for a day of recovery and grounding when you return. It’s so nice to not have to jump back into a full schedule when coming back home.
- Bumblebee breath (Brahmari Pranayam). There are several Youtube videos demonstrating this breathwork and it’s benefits. This is perhaps the funniest to me (because of the music and the closing line ).
I got a speeding citation a few days ago. I was speechless. I haven’t gotten a moving violation since I first started driving at 16. Of course, I communicated my disbelief, and the officer pulled down his sunglasses and replied, “Are there any more games we have to play?” It struck me, in that moment, that this cop has to deal with all sorts of defensive and evasive maneuvers each time he cites anyone. I wonder if anyone says, “Wow, I’m so glad you cited me because I really didn’t realize how fast I drive and now I’ll be more conscious and perhaps prevent an accident. That’s definitely worth a few hundred dollars!” (I’ll have to ask that next time I run into a cop.)
Of course, I mentioned the incident venting to a loved one…because I knew I would have my feelings validated. Her response to story: “That [insert explitive]! They are out to make money off of innocent people. He must be trying to make his quota before the holidays.”
I agreed, and villainized the policeman in my mind, framing the incident with my victim archetype. I listed all the details that supported my innocence in my imaginatory courtroom, quoting Bernouli’s effect to the judge. I even told my loved ones that I planned to fight the citation and listed again my theorem of justice.
That night, I had trouble sleeping. My mind had trouble turning off because there was an unresolved conflict. I ran over the details of the incident in my mind, and went through a few strategies on how to best approach the situation. As I scripted a defense in my head, I realized that I was going through the experience of feeling attacked, defensive, angry, helpless, aggressive, hurt, and well, you get the picture.
Wait a minute. If I decide to fight this citation, that means I have to deal with this mind being preoccupied, and all of my cells feeling the effects of those emotional states surrounding the situation, until the verdict is reached. That could be months. And, the verdict could have an outcome that affirms my victim stance. Hmmm…a few hundred dollars may be worth my peace of mind in having the situation resolved, and more importantly, to not have to sit in the energetic container of all the above emotions. I can just pay the price, assume that it was a small price to pay for accident prevention and emotional balance over the next few months, and move on in joy. The energy I would have spent fighting this citation could go to other activities that earn more money. Deal! I’m happy to invest in my experience of life being more joyful in the next two months.
The most valuable part of this experience was the insight I came to on the value of my vibrational state/ emotional valence/ energetic container/ experience of life. This lesson was definitely worth the citation experience, as it will pay off for me to prioritize my feelings over “being right” every time.
Make your decisions based on what feelings, or experiences are part and parcel for the given choice. You know yourself best, and just have to be honest with yourself about your likely emotional responses. In the above example, I know I have a tendency to keep running scenarios in the background of my mind until the conflict is resolved (a.k.a. a tendency toward vata pitta imbalance). The choice that has a matrix of emotional responses that is most favorable for you, is the path of least resistance.
In other words, at each junction, there is another path we may not always recognize at first; the path that is how we use the experience to propel our spiritual growth.
At this point, I’m actually even happy to pay the street sweeping ticket I got two days later. (and I won’t even slander LBPD here…:))
Here we are, in the cyclone of vata. We see people expressing their imbalances in extremes of all kinds. A great part of what I’m hearing from people is an expression of vata excess, or imbalance, in the mind. While there are many ways to describe a vata state of mind, the key word in our culture seems to be anxiety. When I think of the patterns of my conversations surrounding anxiety, I find they mostly sound something like this:Q: What is anxiety? A: It’s a state of vata excess, in the mind and body. It can feel like worry, fear, dread, insecurity, overwhelm, hypersensitivity, poor impulse control, internal conflict, indecision, instability, and you get the idea. A lot of people describe anxiety as feeling stressed. Q: What do you mean by ‘a state of vata excess, in the mind and body?’ A: It’s an energetic state where there is more vata present in your life than your being prefers. According to ayurveda, we can sense imbalance at the level of spiritual intuition first. If the imbalance remains unrecognized, we will then see signs of that same imbalance at the level of the emotions and mentation patterns. If the imbalance remains unaddressed, we manifest signs and symptoms of that imbalance in the tissues of the body. In my experience, the first tissues affected in the body are the digestive. This is why we are all acutely aware of the effects of stress on our guts. Q: How do I know if there is more vata present in my life than my being prefers? A: Simple, if you have an excess of vata energy, you will be seeing signs and symptoms of vata imbalance (see table below).
Feeling like you’ve been doing a lot but still don’t really have a sense of where you are headed in this life, what you are about, or where you feel at “home”; A pervading feeling of restlessness, or being unsettled
difficulty completing tasks
cycling of emotions
impulsive speech or behavior
addictive tendenciesinterrupting your own thoughts with tangential ones
|dry (and itchy) skin
brittle nails, dry cuticles
dry lips and mucous membranes
dry scratchy throat
dry, itchy eyes
gas, intestinal gurgling, belching
constipation, hard stools, straining
low appetite and bloating
increased coating on tongue
PAIN, especially musculoskeletal
stiff, creaky-cracky joints
dark circles under your eyes
increased urinary frequency
inability to sit still
tremor, unsteadiness in movement
For anxiety-relief, ten powerful tools to reduce vata in the mind and nervous system (in no particular order) are:
1. Having a baseline routine. Nobody experiences the same thing everyday, but we can have a baseline to our daily rhythm. Rising and going to bed at approximately the same time, and even having a simple ritual (e.g. drink triphala, go to restroom, read affirmations) in the morning and night can be a very effective way to strengthen circadian rhythms. The stronger your circadian rhythm, the less vata there is in your circadian bodily functions (e.g. appetite, alertness, hormonal patterns), and the less anxiety you will experience in your mind.
2. Brahmari Pranayam. This is “bumblebee” breathwork exercise. I won’t do it justice to just write about it, so stay tuned for a video demo. Or you can look this one up in Light on Yoga by Iyengar. The truth is any exercise to deepen and slow the breath is going to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce anxiety, and as such there are a few types of breathing exercises that can be vata-reducing.
3. Forehead-to-the-ground asana. It’s incredible, but true. Literally placing your forehead to the ground (and taking a few deep breaths while you visualize Mother Earth absorbing all of your excess stress) also calms the stress response which anxiety is a byproduct of. You can be in child’s pose, in any variation of a forward fold, or even just laying flat on your belly, and all of these poses reduce vata.
4. Marma Point Therapy. This is akin to using acupressure on a certain point along an energetic pathway (nadi, or meridian). For anxiety reduction, there is a lovely point on the left hand. More specifically, the marma point is on the left palm just below the middle finger bottom knuckle. For most of us, the bottom of the bottom knuckle is going to be about a quarter to a third of the way down from the top of the palm. Allow the left palm to collapse and relax as you press into the point with your right thumb. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
5. Getting enough sleep. We have all been sleep deprived at some point in our lives, and most of us can remember how vata that felt to be moving through the day floating, half-present, and feeling depleted. Sleep is when the body rejuvenates, so making sure we have enough time in slumber is a great way to allow the nervous system to restore itself, reducing anxiety by addressing root causes.
6. Vata reducing nervines. This is a class of herbs that warms, and rejuvenates the nervous system tissue. Most of these herbs also have grounding effects on the subtle energetic body. My favorites are shankpushpi, jatamamsi (hard to get in the US), ashwagandha, brahmi, and tulsi. See your practitioner for appropriate combinations and dosing.
7. Spending quality time with yourself. By connecting to the experiences that bring you true joy, you can reduce vata and reclaim some of your usual energy expenditure to others. Most of us do not have enough time alone where we are engaging in fun, or quality-time with ourselves. We use our alone time to work or clean or get things done. When we enjoy our alone-time (and prioritize it), we ending up grounding in our sense of self and purpose and reduce vata in a powerful way.
8. Consciously reduce the multi-tasking. Focusing on one thing at a time, and completing the activity, is a great way to reduce vata in the mind. The more we try to do at once, the more scattered and anxious we feel, and the less likely we are to produce quality outcomes.
9. Shirodhara. This is a lovely ayurvedic body therapy which involves dripping herbal oil over the third eye (6th chakra) and allowing the warm oil to coat the entire scalp. You can find this at any ayurvedic healing center, and even may upper end spas. Warm oil scalp massage at home produces similiar anxiety reducution, especially when done regularly.
10. Meditate. Most people I know begin meditation because they want to address their anxiety, or stress. Everyone with a regular meditation practice will report diminished symptoms of vata in the mind, including anxiety.
One of my closest friends in college had perpetually loose and foul-smelling stools, with several bowel movements a day. It became a funny part of our collective college experience as, amongst our group of friends, we knew after every meal we had to allow time for him to run to the restroom (and then all of us had to avoid the restroom afterward, or use it before he finished his meal). He coined the phenomenon, “mushy caca syndrome.”
Today, I actually understand what was going on was pitta imbalance, or excess heat, in his digestive tract. Unsurprisingly, this is a common phenomenon amongst pitta-predominants and with anyone during the summertime.
So I smiled as July rolled around and several of my clients emailed in describing mushy caca syndrome.
How do you know if you’ve got pitta imbalance in your digestive system?
- more than 2-3 bowel movements/day
- the consistency is anywhere from “softserve” to unformed flurries
- it feels hot as it exits
- it smells unusually pungent or sulfuric
- color is greenish, reddish, orangish, or yellowish
- you see flattened or ribbon-like stool (long and skinny) indicating inflammation in the colon
- FYI, stools get looser as the day progresses usually
What can you do about it? Well, everything you do to decrease pitta will help. Here are a few tips:
- avoid fire-water (alcohol), and coffee is also quite heating (it’s vata and pitta increasing)
- avoid sour taste (sour tart berries, citrus, etc)
- avoid fermented or pickled foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, etc.)
- avoid spicy-hot foods, aka pungent taste (jalapeno, tabasco, red pepper, garlic, ginger, etc.)
- avoid direct sunlight during peak sun hours
- avoid spicy-hot people
- decrease sex (heats things up)
- decrease the intensity of workouts (also heats things up)
- bring in lots of cooling foods: coconut, rose water, lemon (the citrus exception as it is cooling internally), anything sweet is good
- bitter greens decrease heat, so green juices and salads, and bitter herbs (neem, guduci, dandelion, etc) are great
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