Ayurveda, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Poop, Pray, Move [Part 1] – with apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert

This is my secret recipe for inner peace and outward calm, the kind I felt during my yoga stay in India last year. I’ve summarized the most important things I learnt at Kailash Tribal School of Yoga into five essentials. Yes, we studied yoga philosophy and yoga psychology and Vedic wisdom and ancient Sanskrit and sequencing of yoga asanas – all of it fascinating and interesting and rewarding. And all of it enhanced when it was layered on top of this yoga blueprint for a healthy body, mind and spirit.

The recipe isn’t complicated. It’s simple, but not necessarily easy (isn’t that often the case?) : Poop, Pray, Move, and two other vital ingredients. 

(With an I-am-not-a-guru disclaimer inserted here. These suggestions are what work for me, and I invite you to explore and adopt those that make most sense to you.)

POOP

Please excuse the toilet language, but the reality is that poor digestion and sluggish elimination means our bodies are filled with toxins, and our minds and emotions become toxic, too. Elimination at least once, maybe twice, a day is healthy, so if that’s not happening for you, check your diet. When we eat well, we eliminate well.

Scrumptious veggies from the garden
Scrumptious veggies from our garden at home

Already eliminating happily, every day? Good for you, you pooper trouper! Nevertheless, the broader subject of diet is still crucial, as it affects not only digestion and elimination, but also our emotions and state of mind.

“We dig our graves more through our mouths than anything else.” – Swami Satyananda about our approach to food.

Our teacher, Yogi Sivadas, had an Ayurvedic and therapeutic approach to yoga and kept emphasizing how a healthy diet is the basis for a yoga lifestyle. He described eating as the most sacred part of the day, when we create an awareness and reverence for the food we’re eating, rather than shoveling it mindlessly down our gullets (my words, not his). He encouraged us to see the colors of the food, smell the aromas, imagine the taste, prepare the digestive juices for what’s coming and then eat slowly, savoring every mouthful.

Perfect pineapple
We’re lucky enough to be able to grow delicious pineapples in our own garden – be inspired to grow whatever’s possible in yours.

The Ayurvedic belief is that most emotional, hormonal and physical imbalances and agitations of the mind are caused by bad diet, poor digestion and a sedentary and/or stressful lifestyle. Doing simple things like eating dinner no later than 7 p.m. helps the digestive process. Other common sense advice was to follow as much as possible a vegetarian diet of fresh food, in modest quantities, avoiding or reducing refined foods, caffeine and alcohol.

I love a cappuccino with a chocolate croissant, and I enjoy a glass of wine, so does that make me a bad yogini? No, it doesn’t; but if I am anxious, impatient or irritable, chances are it’s because of the amount of caffeine/alcohol/refined sugar I’ve consumed. When I pay attention to my diet and reduce or remove those elements, I notice I am a mix of calm, vitality and a joy for life.

And if this sounds like advice from a health food magazine instead of a yoga teacher, Yogi Sivadas’s point was if we practice yoga, then by association we also practice Ahimsa (non-violence), which includes non-violence to the body, through a healthy diet. To “do yoga” is to start with the fundamentals of a healthy diet. As he said,

“Yoga only BEGINS when you regulate your diet and lifestyle”.

It doesn’t begin by rocking a kick-butt Astavakrasana.

Your thoughts? Your tips on following a healthy diet and yet not feel like you’re missing out? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Next up, Part 2 of this recipe for a happy, yogic life … in the meantime, here’s to your healthy diet, digestion and elimination. I’m just off to grab me a handful of sunflower seeds and bran.

[A wee note here … if you’re seeing strange adverts (nose and ear hair trimmers) in the space below, it’s because WordPress randomly displays these ads in return for my free blog space. I don’t make money from the ads and neither do I have a choice on what appears. Perhaps over time, the hair trimmers will be replaced by yoga mats and yoga books :-). ]

Ayurveda, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Gee, I can Make Ghee!

Love butter, but worried about cholesterol? Guilt-free ghee is your alternative!

Butter About to Become Ghee
Butter About to Become Ghee

Fat is good for you! In fact, “good” fat (in moderation) is an essential part of a healthy diet if you want happy joints, healthy tissues and good digestion. This is what I learnt today at our Ayurvedic cooking class with Dr Arun Sharna of the Ayuskama Ayurvedic Clinic in Bhagsu, Himachal Pradesh.

Ghee (clarified butter) is:

  • easily absorbed by the body
  • a pure form of fat, with no milk protein in it
  • a healthy form of fat, nourishing the tissues and helping to prevent diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s (note: I am not a doctor, so insert my disclosure here about doing your own research about what is good for you)
Gee, I Can Make Ghee!
Gee, I Can Make Ghee!

I use ghee (from my local Indian shop) when I cook Indian food, but always thought it was a convoluted and difficult process to make your own. Same with paneer … as much as I love this cheese, when a recipe’s ingredients calls for cheesecloth, I immediately file it in the “Complicated” category.

I’ve been eating my way through a mountain of paneer here in Macleod Ganj. Paneer in curry sauce. Paneer with grilled green peppers. Paneer with peas. The thought of being able to make my own paneer when I get home, instead of buying frozen paneer, had me salivating. And so I found myself spending cheerful cooking time with Arun, learning his family recipes for ghee and paneer.

Straining the paneer through a muslin cloth
Straining the paneer through a muslin cloth

Arun is one of the many Sanskrit words for “sun” and he couldn’t be more aptly named – he was sunny and smiling throughout, answering our questions and smiling as he told us that healthy eating is not complicated; it’s common sense.

He explained the Ayurvedic belief that the body has 7 different types of tissues and they all need different foods for healthy functioning; so a balanced diet consists of grains, protein, cooked vegetables, raw vegetables, fruit and yoghurt or milk – all of this, every day.

Simple advice, like avoiding processed and refined foods (white rice, white flour, processed sugars), keeping a regular eating routine and not eating in a hurry or late at night, are a good start. All things that we inherently know, but often ignore – well, I know I do!

I’ve only just recently been introduced to Ayurveda and there’s lots to learn, but I’m inspired to ditch some of my bad habits and try a healthier approach. And if the lifestyle results in a sunny disposition like Arun’s, that’s an added incentive. (recipes to follow soon, once I have better wifi access!)

Ayurveda, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Ayurveda and Yoga

Ayurveda is the Vedic science of healing for both body and mind, developed in ancient India around 1500 BC. The word means “wisdom of life”. It’s a vast subject, and I like the way it’s summarized in the book, Yoga for Your Type – An Ayurvedic Approach to Your Asana Practice (David Frawley and Sandra Summerfield Kozak):

image“We develop disease because of two factors that usually go together: externally, a wrong relationship with environmental forces like food or climate and, internally, a wrong movement of internal energies brought about by disharmonious thoughts and emotions”. It’s an excellent book, as is Mukunda Stiles’ Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy.  [[Update: 1 October: many people have asked me where to find these books. My photos show covers printed in India, but if you click on the links, you’ll find the same books online, even if the covers look different.]]

Today, Ayurveda is emerging as one of the most important systems of mind-body medicine in the world. Its treatment of disease prevention and cure is based on key lifestyle changes, individualized diet, herbal formulas and a spiritual focus of Yoga and meditation.

The practice of Ayurveda first identifies our body types and behaviours into three different categories, or “doshas”: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. We’re typically a blend of all three constitutions, with one more prevalent than the others, and when all three are in a balanced state, we naturally choose what is good for us in terms of diet and lifestyle.

When they’re out of balance … Look out! A cocktail of fear, anxiety, panic attacks, rage, impatience, criticism, laziness or lack of motivation follows, depending on what your dosha is. And guess what a major culprit is for imbalance of the constitutions? Diet and the digestive system. We’ve heard this so many times during the past 3 weeks, it’s like a broken record. We just keep coming back to the logic of You Are What You Eat, and Your Body Is A Temple.

Ayurvedic-yoga-therapy-Mukunda-Stiles
Mukunda Stiles’ easy to read book on Yoga and Ayurveda

“Food is that which you eat, as well as that which eats you” – Anonymous

When we eat without awareness, shoving the wrong food into our bodies at the wrong times of the day or night, we place stress on the systems of the body as it attempts to balance hormones, digest and eliminate toxins.

Not surprisingly, Yoga and Ayurveda are a perfect match.

“Yoga and Ayurveda belong to each other like a brother to a sister, the breath to the body, a plant in its soil”. – Mukunda Stiles

There are specific yoga poses, breathing techniques and meditation types that vary for each of the three dosha types. It’s ironic how a Vata-dominant person who is out of balance will often seek a fast, active and potentially harmful style of yoga, when what that constitution really needs is more meditation and a gentler yoga practice; holding the poses for longer. Or a Pitta-dominant person will benefit more from shorter holds without strain, but when they’re out of balance they’ll tend to overdo it, pushing their bodies too much with over-enthusiastic intensity. And a Kapha-dominant person when out of balance would like to lie around on restorative yoga boulsters or dedicate their yoga time to kirtan chanting, when they would get more out of a regular and active yoga practice.

Yogi Sivadas tells us that when we live a healthy and balanced “Sattvic” (clean) life – in diet, lifestyle, exercise, attitude and meditation, we will create an environment for a happy body and a calm mind. And if you can’t live this totally Sattvic life, obeying every single discipline? He’s in favour of the 80/20 rule; being pure and clean 80% of the time and allowing yourself indulgences 20% of the time, making those choices with awareness.

And as it’s getting late and I’ve already eaten a bar of Cadburys chocolate tonight, I would like to keep in line with the circadian rhythms of the body, so I’m heading to bed for a good night’s sleep!