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).
In reality, holding on to weight and looking older (and feeling it) are two expressions of the same root cause: depletion. The habits we cultivate over our lives which result in depletion (vata imbalance), are the same that result in unhealthy eating and exercise patterns, and poor self care. I’m describing a primary vata imbalance with a secondary kapha accumulation of weight. For those that don’t speak ayurveda, that’s akin to saying the body holds on to everything when it knows it’s running “in the red” (energetic deficit). While addressing lifelong patterns may take a while (and a long term supportive environment), there are a few things we can do to see some quick changes in our vitality and our figures. Essentially, we need to address both vata and kapha, but moreso the primary vata imbalance. Here are my top 10 tips to looking, and more importantly, feeling younger and less heavy:
1. Drop the salad (and the dried nuts). All diet foods are vata. Overweight people are drawn to these foods because they believe they will help them lose weight. When that doesn’t happen, it’s confusing for some, but evidence of the fact that this is not a simple situation due to just eating fatty foods. Avoiding vata foods is a good way to get your body out of the sense of depletion. Favor warm, and moist foods that are also low-fat.
2. Oil your body. I recommend using an organic oil (we carry medicinal grade herbal oils without any preservatives) everyday AFTER your shower. This is a modification from traditional abhyanga for our vata culture. Again, we are reducing depletion by feeding the tissues through the skin, and reducing vata. In addition, massage stimulates microcirculation which helps to increase fat metabolism (this is why some spas claim to have slimming treatments.)
3. Go to bed on time. I’m hoping this one is self-explanatory on reducing depletion, and vata. You get bonus points if you go to bed around the same time and develop a stronger circadian rhythm to support healthy metabolism.
4. Even out your meals. The theory on having 5 small meals/day works because it is based on supporting thyroid function. If you are getting a nice steady stream of fuel to your main engine (reducing vata to the thyroid), it will work more efficiently than if you starve it for long periods of time and then flood it. This may not be the best approach for people that have low appetite in the morning. Don’t force yourself to eat if you are not hungry. Just make sure you have food available when your body is ready for it. When you are hungry eat; when you are full, stop.
5. Wake and walk. This is the best way to melt kapha, and gets your metabolism up in the beginning of the day. Just get up and move before you have the time to think about not doing it. You’ll have to force it the first few days and then it will feel so great, you’ll feel off if you don’t do it.
6. Spice your food. This is important for reducing both vata and kapha. Supporting the digestion of what you do it prevents accumulation. Also, spices help to decrease fat in the body as well.
7. Avoid any cold dairy. Ice-cream is not your friend, nor is cold yogurt or cottage cheese or a tall glass of milk, when you are in secondary kapha imbalance. If you bring in dairy, make sure it is cooked and spiced (e.g. spiced warm milk, or cheese in lasagna).
8. Personalized portion control. Cup your two hands together to form the shape of a bowl. This is your personal portion size (level, not heaping). It’s nice to find a bowl in your kitchen that is that size and use it to monitor your portions. Of course, stop eating if you feel full before finishing this amount. Try to avoid eating more than this personal portion.
9. Eat healthy sweets in moderation. Again, avoiding extremes where we deprive ourselves and then swing the other way and binge. Healthy sweets, like dates, and all sorts of goodies at health food stores are good in moderation. Give yourself a daily allowance that you feel good about and stick to it. (recent post on craving sweets)
10. Process your emotions. I laugh that this is on a “top 10″ list because it can be a lot of work. It can also be as simple as journaling. The more you digest your emotions, the less you feel you need to hold on to on a subconscious level. The strong relationship between emotions and eating patterns and weight has been well established in Western medicine. In ayurveda, the fat tissues are proportional to the amount of love we need. So by loving yourself, nurturing your emotional needs, you can actually decrease your need for extra padding against the ups and downs of life.
Cancer is increasingly ubiquitous–what’s behind that trend? I agree that the use of so many more carcinogenics in our products, and increased EMG radiation play a big role. However, these are influences that increase the likelihood of a cancerous (irregular) cell forming. A little known fact is that everyone of us has irregular cells forming in our bodies. A healthy functioning immune system has the ability to seek out these irregular cells and dispose of them neatly (amazing, isn’t it?).
So why is it that some of us are no longer able to detect and rid ourselves of irregular cells? Well, the simple answer is that depleted immune systems can’t do their job. We have all experienced how stress affects our immune systems; increased stress, increased colds. Similarly, stress induced immunodeficiency allows latent viruses (e.g. Herpes) great opportunity to come out and play. (I had a client recently tell me “if I over-anything, I get a Herpes attack.”)
A fascinating area of medical research surrounds the high association of viral infection (e.g. Epstein-Barr, Human Papilloma Virus) and cancer. The Western take on this is that viruses likely play a role in the etiology of cancer. From an ayurvedic perspective, both conditions are the result of immune deficiency.
So does stress lead to cancer? My answer is “yes, if it’s chronic.” The more chronic your state of depletion, the less your immune system is able to protect. From an ayurvedic perspective, I’m talking about long-standing vata imbalance.
Of course there are a host of other factors, two major physical ones being cellular memory (a.k.a. genetic predisposition), and carcinogen exposure. Yet, these are still secondary influences. There are millions of people out there with first degree relatives with cancer, that are cancer-free. Similarly, there are millions of people with significant carcinogen exposure that are also cancer-free.
In addition, each person has there own unique threshold for how stress affects them. This is due to our unique constitution. So a vata predominant person may be more susceptible to depletion. Similary, someone with a very vata lifestyle may be more susceptible. We each have our own way of internalizing our stress, or depletion. This highlights the importance of yogic practices as cancer prevention.
Once there is long-standing vata imbalance, then the body turns on signals to “hold on to” or accumulate as a protective response. These signals can result in the accumulation of tissue (e.g. pannus formation in rheumatioid arthritis, cholesterol plaque accumulation in the arteries, and cancerous tumors in vulnerable tissues). This innate protective response can be described as a secondary kaphic imbalance.
Ayurveda teaches tumor growth as a manifestation of kapha imbalance. However, I’ve yet to meet someone who has a primary kapha imbalance behind their cancer. I’ve only seen this in the context of vata pushing kapha (primary vata imbalance and secondary kaphic imbalance). In plain language, I’ve only seen cancer in the setting of long-standing depletion.
How do you know if you have long-term depletion? Well, check -in with yourself. Are you seemingly always reacting to life, and stressed about it? Do you have long-term issues in one or more organ systems (usually the digestive and musculoskeletal systems show symptoms first and for women, long-standing irregularities in moon cycle). Long-term “any condition” has an association with cancer in the same tissue system (e.g. hepatitis and liver cancer; chronic anemia and leukemia; chronic lung inflammation and lung cancer; chronic HPV infection and cervical cancer, and the list goes on), validating the “depletion hypothesis.”
So what is the best cancer prevention? Feeling good and repleted. How that happens and what that means in each of our lives will be different.
What I didn’t touch on here is the psychospiritual aspects of cancer pathogenesis. That’s another post! This whole topic could easily fill a book. If you’d like to learn more, please check out my upcoming workshop on Ayurveda and Cancer.
Can cancer be cured by ayurveda? Well, I’ve definitely worked with people with active cancer. Each person has their own comfort level with various approaches to cancer; there are many differen combos of radiation, chemotherapy and ayurvedic herbs and lifestyle changes. One of my favorite journeys is helping cancer survivors figure out how they came to cancer in the first place, and what lifestyle (diet, yoga, herbs, etc.) is best for them to prevent a recurrence.
So why is cancer on the rise? Because we are increasingly choosing to live in states of chronic depletion and disconnection with our spirit. On the bright side, every time you choose to meditate, really connect with yourself, and nurture yourself, you are practicing the best prevention.
I personally overcame (it’s an ongoing process) my acne with ayurveda. I had years of antibiotics, RetinA, benzoyl peroxide and even accutane–a super frustrating issue because it’s on your face. When I first looked into ayurveda for acne, I was pretty disappointed. All I could find were some recipes for masks and pitta reducing diets…none of these yielded immediate results for me, and so I gave up on them prematurely.
It’s often not a simple issue of pitta reduction.
The type of acne you have will reveal more about the doshas involved. More dry and hard feeling blackheads (vata)? That’s different from those painful lumps deep down that may never even surface (kapha). Also, the acne can be a secondary issue to another root issue. Reducing pitta in your life (not just your diet) will help with any inflammation and ulceration. Reducing vata will help with reducing scaring. Reducing kapha will help with oiliness and swelling/ pus. So, you can see that all of the doshas may be involved, and figuring out which approach to take will depend on your individual experience.
In any case, reducing acne means cleaning the blood and circulating lymph (rasa dhatu).
If you have “nodulocystic” acne, the doshic imbalances are down into the level of the ayurvedic muscle tissue correlate, the mamsa dhatu. To reduce the level of the imbalance, start first with the digestive system and the blood–clean up your diet, hydrate, and detox. This means:
- no weird chemicals (cigarettes/ skin products/ household products),
- no processed stuff (e.g. diet coke)
- lots and lots of water
- alterative herbs (burdock, neem, dandelion are all cooling alteratives) cool and cleanse the blood.
- herbs that are rejuvinatives to the skin are helpful, as are those which build healthy hormonal flow.
- triphala helps balance all the doshas and clean up the digestive system
- follow the dosha balancing approach to your diet depending on your type of acne
- heavy foods tend to congest/ build ama, and worsen acne.
- alcohol is a big load of toxins and pitta and dehydrates, so it really worsens acne.
- maintain healthy digestive fire to decrease ama–there are herbs to help with this (dipanas, digestive teas).
- I DONT recommend any radical cleanses. Pancha Karma is helpful, but expensive and not necessary.
Reducing doshic imbalances: look at your prakruti AND your vikruti to change your lifestyle and habits
For me this means looking at you and your patterns since before the acne began, and through the experience. Someone with a predominantly kapha constitution is just as likely to have acne just as a predominantly vata constitution, especially in the pitta time of life. In other words, anyone can get acne. Your constitution is helpful when fine-tuning an ayurvedic treatment, but what has been coming into your life in the time of the acne is more important in my opinion (vikruti). This means looking at your relationships, routine, climate, etc. Herbs and diet can greatly help and even resolve acne, but ultimately the imbalance came from a lifestyle and habits that are imbalancing for you. If you want long-term acne clearance, likely your lifestyle and habits will have to change.
Your skin is a digestive system. What is it eating?
Switch out chemicals for natural options: shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, drycleaners, etc. Use natural oils instead of lotions…medicinal oils are great tools. Herbal face packs and scrubs help to address the doshic imbalance from the “outside in.” Clean your sheets and towels often. Think of what you hear and feel in your day–toxic words are absorbed too.
Now do all of that for at least a month…not easy! but not impossible either. I did it…you can too:).
So you want “the best” in life? You want to have this experience of life be of “the highest” vibration?
I do. Maybe you do too…but how?
Well, “the best” and “the highest” are by definition the most rare and the most difficult to attain. So, no matter what the answer to “how?” is, it’s going to involve work.
Let’s take a moment here to appreciate how intimidating these words can be. We can have compassion for all the times we talk ourselves out of what we know is best for ourselves because we don’t want to do the work. (I forgive myself here…:))
After all, to attain “best” or “highest” means moving from where I am (the betterment process), and that movement = applying energy in a direction = work =practiced discipline.
We are fighting the natural force of entropy (disarray, a.k.a. vata) to establish and maintain a rhythm. Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm so we have a stable foundation = sense of security = a faith from which we can surf the waves of life with more balance.
Who wrestles the untamable degenerative force of wind/vata? You do; with your disciplined practice = routine.
So for all of you whom aren’t yet annoyed with my inserting equal signs yet, the work of betterment is accomplished through routine. What you do routinely, or what the rhythm of your life is made of doesn’t matter as much as the fact that there is a rhythm. I cannot think of one suggested road to greater balance/health/happiness that isn’t based in some kind of practiced discipline.
So, why “warrior” of peace (as opposed to lover of peace)? Well, because this means facing a challenge knowing that it is never-ending; that it will not be easy; and that you will only succeed if you keep your focus on how you benefit from it–all akin to the discipline of a warrior.
“The ‘battle’ is not really against the self, but against the entropy that brings disorder to consciousness.” (From Flow: the psychology of optimal experience)
To battle entropy, establish practiced discipline, or routine, in your life. That routine will bring more kapha energy into your life, and diminish vata. This means more contentment, stability, and being less affected by stress= peace.
Optimal bowel movements
- every morning upon rising
- not needing caffeine to happen
- easy to pass
- feels complete (and satisfying!)
- well formed log that is so long it curves
- no blood or mucus or flurries
- floats (bonus points)
Signs of Vata Imbalance
- dry or hard
- not pooping everyday or at all different times (no rhythm)
- look more like little pebbles instead of a log
- straining to get it out
- feels incomplete
- gas, bloating
Signs of Pitta Imbalance
- loose or watery
- more than 2 times a day
- burns when it comes out
- long skinny poops indicate inflammation in colon
- red/ green/ yellow in color
Signs of Kapha Imbalance
- smells like it has been sitting in the colon for a while
- comes mostly after eating
- mucous in stool (globs or stringy)
There’s a coat of stuff on my tongue! What does that mean?
- Any coating on tongue=digestive fire is too low to burn through the food you are taking in
The coating on your tongue is also coating your entire digestive tract.
- The thickness of the coating is proportional to the amount of toxic buildup in your colon.
- The color of the coating can reveal which doshas are imbalanced in your digestive tract (the first place to see doshic imbalance).
What do the colors tell us?
- White=kapha imbalance
- Brown/ Black/ Blue/ Gray= vata imbalance
- Red/ Yellow/ Green= pitta imbalance
What about all the other markings?
- “Scallops:” These are the marks of your teeth impressed along the edges of the tongue. It’s easiest to see these first thing upon waking. These mean you are not hydrated enough and there is vata in the colon.
- Deep lines in the middle: These grooves also indicate vata in the digestive tract.
- Ulcerations or cold sores/ fever blisters indicate pitta imbalance or excess heat in the digestive tract.
(The above is a good starting place without being trained in tongue diagnosis)
- Oil enemas (Please don’t do this unless you have been instructed on how)
- Avoiding any cold or dry foods. That means nourishing, warm temperature, and moist foods diminish vata in the diet and help to maintain healthy digestive fire. This is one reason why kitchardi is great when you are fighting a bug and why soups and teas feel so good.
- Neti. Neti is not intended when you are so congested that there is occlusion of the sinuses/ nasal passageways–it’s painful. Utilize neti if you are at the stage of dry mucus membranes/ light runny nose/ but still breathing through the nose without any problem. (Nasal saline spray for kids…I like Little Tummies brand)
- Nasya. After netiing (allow me to create that word), I put two drops of warm sesame oil (or any vata reducing oil) in each nostril. I also put two drops in each ear. All before bed because, ideally, we are laying down to receive the oil in the ENT (that’s dr. shorthand for ear-nose-throat) passageways. Are you still going to benefit if you put some warm oil in at another time of the day? Of course.
- Kitchardi. Moong helps to detoxify and rejuvenate at the same time. That’s my kind of bean (lentil? bean?…it doesn’t matter how we classify it, what matters is what it does )
- Spices. Garlic, ginger, any kind of pepper = antimicrobial + reduce vata + maintain agni
- Rest. Be still. Snuggle.
- Humidify. Warm baths and humidifiers are great. If you don’t have a bathtub or humidifier, just put a big pot on the stove and put it on low for a few hours. It’s great to add essential oils or herbs to the pot as well. Some of my favorite are ginger, cardamom, eucalyptus, frankincense, and cinnamon (all have therapeutic properties that help with cold symptoms ). Warm and moist on the outside just like for the inside.
- Avoid foods that are too heavy… ice cream or fried foods, for example. This frees up more energy for healing instead of digesting, and also helps with maintaining healthy agni. Most colds start with vata imbalance and end with a kapha imbalance (congestion, lethargy), so we want to balance vata without aggravating kapha.
When vata energy combines with kapha, there can be an explosion of creativity! On the flipside, many of us may also be feeling the crash after several weeks of doing too much during the business of vata season.
A few of my friends have commented on how they have needed to just cancel plans, call in sick, and just stay in bed because of feeling overwhelmed. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Vata-Kapha season can also be a time where runny noses meet sinus congestion, and emotions can cycle quickly. Crying, and melancholy and feeling sluggish can come into the picture, especially during these heavy kapha rains.
Grounding vata while not aggravating kapha is the key to balance this time of year. My recipe:
- maintain as much routine as possible
- eat warm spiced foods; keep the amount of dairy to a minimum
- do 2 sun salutations in the morning, and everytime I start to feel slow
- a cup of warm tea in the afternoon
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