Grounded: a healing journey using the principles of Ayurveda

If I keep bringing up Ayurveda like its my new pet-topic, it’s because the results of exploring it through my practical experiences of healing the body are somewhat astounding me. They are helping me to reconcile some of the most challenging aspects of being the dosha-type that I am – which is, concertedly Vata – in a way that is both making sense of my past health experiences and new headway, going forwards, when it comes to feeling much more grounded in the body…as I must, in order to heal.

As a recap, our doshas are made up of a combination of these:

Vata – Air/Ether

Pitta – Fire/Water

Kapha – Water/Earth

A quick “What Dosha Am I?” quiz online (there are many) will tell you what dosha (or mixture of doshas) you are though you probably already suspect…

When it comes to Vata-dominance, this Ayurvedic model offers so much insight to its trait of becoming “airy” or “ungrounded”; for Vata is all about movement and impulse and hates to get tied down. This ungroundedness has run like a constant theme beneath the health issues I have experienced for many years, really all of my life, and so working with this new-found knowledge has helped me enormously. The entirety of my healing process to date could be said to have been an attempt to ground myself back into my body (and to rebalance my doshas…long before I was even aware what these were) since my energy is inherently up-in-the-air, high-vibe and changeable; like a butterfly in high winds. Meanwhile, a tendency (or even a preference) to live outside of the body, to lose myself in the airy and expansive places that feel most like home to me, without taking adequate steps to ground myself by eating appropriate food or other grounding practices, can leave my health and energy severely depleted and my body in pain (and I suspect this trait could underly the numerous chronic health conditions that remain “unsolvable mysteries” to people – perhaps you – that don’t realise they have a Vata-dominance going on).

rowan-chestnut-175874And sure, spending time in those airy places (for me, that occurs when I sleep, meditate, lose myself in painting and creating or even in reverie outside in nature) can allow what Ayurveda terms ‘Ojas” to flourish in the body; which is great (generally speaking). ‘Ojas’ is our vital primordial essence derived from ether or spirit, responsible for higher states of consciousness, perfect health, love, joy, immunity, longevity, intelligence, creativity and ultimate wellbeing. It derives from feelings of pure bliss and it can be obtained by connecting with the pure centre of your being where this resides…however (and this is my experience) the more frequently you tend to do that, the harder it can feel to come back into the body again; the contrast being so very great (often) with physical circumstance. When it increases faster than the body can process it (and this differential exists between inner and outer states) it can lead to toxins building up in the body and this – in a nutshell – hints at why  chronic pain is so often the experience of those who bring so much back with them from these blissful excursions. This feels like a state of affairs I have noticed about myself yet struggled to articulate for quite a number of years and Ayurveda has helped me to make sense of it. Could it be why so many people who are profoundly spiritual and connected to source, beauty and positivity in all aspects of their lives still fail to thrive in their bodies; which only frustrates them and those tying to make sense of their health issues all the more? I give you Vata-dominance run amok!

So here’s my hypothesis, pretty much as I jotted it down one morning on waking to find these words wanted to be shared:

Our pineal gland is associated with the “third eye” chakra or, as some consider it, is the “seat of the soul”. It also produces a substance  called DMT, the study of much experimentation during and since the 1960s through the application of DMT as a mind-altering substance (I recently plunged into a fascinating book “DMT: Spirit Molecule” which explores this very topic) yet the body also produces its own supply; from the pineal gland. It is my pet theory that some people produce more than others and that this produces subtle yet important differences between the experiences of some people compared to others. The body also releases significant qualities of DMT immediately prior to death, facilitating the process of transition from one reality into the other; thought to be the substance which generates the “long white tunnel” experience reported by so many near death experience survivors so you could regard it as a bridge between one reality and another. It’s a  hotly contended, as yet unproven, theory that DMT is released during REM sleep (I suspect that it is) and that it hangs around during that first early morning phase of deep-meditative insight and cohesion (the time of day when my most powerful inspiration tends to arrive with such ease) which, interestingly, is the time of morning when the Vata dosha is most active.

Some of us Vata-types, I suspect, release DMT subtly yet significantly into our blood stream during our waking hours, blurring the boundaries between one reality and the other in a way that can prove physically challenging yet provide great (spiritual, if you like…otherwise creative, philosophical etc) inspiration. This can be something like lucid-dreaming, only tipped in the direction of lucidity just sufficiently for us to be considered awake and normally-functioning (but sometimes, only just); and so early morning tends to be my time of day for receiving great insights or a pressing urge to write. On other days, the feeling lasts all day – and I channel it into creative things but, not necessarily, the more practical aspects of life. This way of being does not fit so well with a nine-to-five job; but thankfully, due to health issues, I no longer pretend to hold one of those down  and I can’t help feeling that this is a poetic circumstance which chronic health issues force upon many of those with a Vata constitution (and, perhaps, in the past those same individuals would have occupied artist’s garrets and monasteries or become the wandering poets, misfits and wrongly diagnosed “crazies” of our world).  To varying degrees, I can feel as though my head is in the clouds for most of the morning and this can be both wonderful yet challenging, depending upon what life has lined up for me yet I see how I have learned to work with this aspect of myself to such a high degree that I lead a remarkably comfortable life, free to follow and explore my highest inspirations, considering how grim it could be in a world that is still not geared for such a constitution. Being like this does not, however, balance my doshas…which means my health continues to be a significant challenge. I feel like the kid in the back of the car on the longest journey ever, repeatedly asking “Are we nearly there yet?” and I know this sentiment is a familiar one for some of the most spiritual people out there who still struggle with their health.

So we Vatas walk around in a sort of multidimensional dream world (to varying degrees), these multi-dimensional realities of which we are aware presenting as a sort of blended reality. This blended reality is a kind of synaesthesia that I have known all my life, which has always fueled my creativity and insight (yes) but which I have had to keep under strict control at times when the more left-brained, grounded aspects of life have made heavy demands upon me. I look back and see how the point when my health collapsed was when my ability to keep those two versions of experience (the fully blended version that I now succumb to and the neat-and-tidy “accepted” reality of the physical 3D world that includes “going to work”, meeting targets, earning an income and keeping to a timetable) separate from one another. It was as though “ill-health” forced my hand and provoked me into a situation where I stopped all that 3D stuff for long enough for those other layers of experience to assert themselves. I now consider it the best thing that ever happened to me!

Because allowing that blended reality into “ordinary-everyday life” can be near impossible for the uninitiated to achieve; just for starters, it interferes with spacial reality, with perception of those things that are otherwise almost universally accepted to be non-negotiably “logical” about our current reality and all those other ceaseless demands of the modern material world, so people fear succumbing to it. It puts them in a very awkward position to do so; making them a disenter and a swimmer against the tide. My husband gets very close sometimes but fears he would be unable to continue holding down a full-time job if he went any further into its perspective. The two realities just don’t seem to meet in any mutually satisfactory way (not yet, anyway…) and daring to jump off that edge can feel like plunging off a mountain without knowing if there is going to be a soft place to land.

Confronted with this apparently unsolvable dilemma, many people collapse into what seems to be a chronic state of illness which is really a case of passively surrendering into a state of non-participation in the way of life that no longer fits easily with their blended multi-dimensional reality. The body supplies the myriad reasons why they have to stop doing pretty much everything they used to do and they pull back from “ordinary” life…temporarily or, in some cases, for the rest of their life; perhaps orchestrating a new life that fits better with their new-broader experience of everything (and that is my long-term objective too). Often – as I certainly did – they re-gather their determination to survive and thrive and so they seek answers as to how to allow their physical body to get more up to speed with this infinitely more expansive, lighter, often very ungrounded, version of reality; which leads to making many changes to lifestyle, diet and belief system. Like me, they learn how to use this dimensionally broad perspective as a source of inspiration to fuel, say, an artistic career, though this may not fit easily or well with the material demands of the current three-dimensional paradigm in which maintaining a healthy bank account does not come easily from such pursuits. In short, they find themselves longing for more of the highs that they get to experience without all of the crashing lows that come with a more materialistically grounded existence in our world as it currently is.

Those of us who know these “highs” inevitably become addicted to the feeling of them and seek them out at times when they are sorely absent. One way that we learn to do this, often when we are very young children (forming the habits of a lifetime) is to eat inappropriate foods. These are substances (typically manmade) to which we have a particular intolerance or which have a generally bad effect upon human biology (refined sugar springs to mind but there are many others). By (over) indulging in this food type…and it could be as subtle as a particular additive or seasoning that is added to a great variety of different foods…we constantly re-enact a sort of mini-death at the biological level. This chemical reaction releases a flood of DMT into the blood stream (as would happen prior to death), mimicking that feeling of high-inspiration that we subconsciously seek as our natural “home” state; the domain of air/ether that is the Vata quality that we most identify with. We push ourselves very close to that edge like a high-octane addict seeking yet another edge to bungee jump over; dicing with death for the life-defying thrill of it…only, all of this takes places at the chemical-cellular level where we hardly know we are getting such a thrill while, on the surface, it presents as irritable bowl, tissue inflammation or a chronic condition that makes us feel deeply and inexplicably unwell. Meanwhile, those substances that we keep on consuming and which take us so close to the edge do us nothing but compounded harm so our overall health becomes more and more compromised and complex; the unsolvable mystery of our chronic-ness which remains ever harder to unravel.

This is why I have come to believe that diet is the key to unlocking it all; that all other riddles can be left by the wayside whilst this one central conundrum is rectified and healed via the gut. I suspect this is especially so for the Vata-dominant type of person, who is likely to have solved many riddles at the broadest spiritual level and yet remains something of the novice when it comes to managing the body. In fact, they are often prone to ignoring the needs of the body altogether, so providing this attention is the first crucial step in grounding them so they can heal.

Paradoxically, the mini-death that comes with each inappropriate substance eaten makes us feel, temporarily, “more alive”. Of course, akin to any addiction, we find we need more and more of this substance to get the same “high”, often craving it at the time that would do us the most biological harm (which is when we are already feeling most physically depleted) and so we develop a systemic illness; a wholesale crash of endocrine and organ function that becomes the basis of long-term chronic illness. This, for just one example, has been my long-running relationship with dairy food including cheese (of which I now have a demonstrated “level red” intolerance). My craving for strong mature cheese has been a lifetime thing and has been almost overwhelming at times when it was least appropriate for me to eat it; times when I was feeling (unbeknownst to me) even more energetically triggered and “under attack” than ever before. As a teenager, I would get up for it in the night like I was mainlining on cheddar and for many years I suspected it was a problem but kept on eating it anyway. This wasn’t the only food that had such an affect but it was a prime example of how I kept pushing myself over that limit, against my better instincts.

This comes right back to how Vata-types tend to be acutely oversensitive to their world and the subtle-energetic environment that they live in; and will seek any way that they can to buffer or get out of that when it gets too much. This super-sensitivity can allow them to live on the crest of a creative/spiritual wave…or can crash them mercilessly to the ground whenever the harshness of so many earth-sensations becomes all too much for them to deal with. In such a circumstance, they instinctively do the only thing they know how…and reach for the higher experience that is absent; a mini-death that brings them close to the physical edge as some sort of “get me out of here” plea to the universe! As such, I suspect that Vata-types are much more prone to addiction and certain types of chronicly-unsolvable illness than any other dosha type (and I would love to hear the views of any other Vata-dominant people out there).

Then, paradoxically again, any attempt to rebalance their doshas (intentionally, through a working knowledge of Ayurveda or instinctively…as most of us are likely to do when pushed to the brink) has a tendency to backfire. In my own case, times when I was feeling most ungrounded would result in me seeking-out the more pitta or kapha experiences without even knowing why I was seeking them…but the sudden contrast with my own Vata state would often feel more like a crisis or conflict zone than a pacifier.

For instance, numerous attempts to introduce more pitta-like qualities into my life, over the course of many years, would only seem to “burn” me with the pain of even more emotional or physical “inflammation”, leaving me metaphorically torched to the ground. As I reached for those emotional/circumstantial fire starters to mend circumstances I wasn’t feeling happy with (resulting in angry scenes, broken relationships, drastic measures taken and many cases of pushing myself way out of my comfort zone) I would be left in even more existential agony than ever; which is the story of the first few decades of my life and which taught me to become suspicious of pitta-like behaviours…both in myself and in others. It was as though my Vata-winds would whip up the first flames of my Pitta fire until they became the burning building in which I was trapped watching my life fall back into wholesale destruction and disarray so I learned to avoid pitta at all costs, associating it with pain, chaos and loss. Vata is, after all, the impulse towards destruction and propulsion so, combined with the rocket-launcher that is pitta, I would find myself almost too formidable to be comfortable with; and recoiled from that aspect of myself as a result.

Conversely, a metaphorical hand stretched out towards a more Kapha-like experience to ground me or immerse me in the healing balm of life’s gentle flow would often backfire by seeming to drown me in an all-consuming lethargy and even borderline depression. Those earth-bound qualities could seem so starkly flat compared to the fast-moving, inspirational heights I was used to navigating by. As the classic quick-witted, fast talking, endlessly multitasking, high-vibe and even mercurial Vata-type, finding myself confined to the slow-plodding pace of those early recovery days on the sofa would often result in me whipping up a dire situation just so I could  eject myself off the seeming death-bed of a life become mundane. People would urge me to just stop or at least slow down but, in the end, attempts to content myself with ordinary-domestic things would always feel as though my very life-force was waining…until I did something to shock it back into my body; like a defibrilator to get my heart going once more. This is where being so concertedly Vata can feel a bit like being addicted to existential bungee jumping; we have that wonderful knack of self-generating a healing or other crisis or conundrum in order to keep ourselves feeling vital and would rather feel profoundly unwell than comatose, stuck in one place or bored!

The trick when it comes to persuading the doshas to work most cohesively together, I now see with the benefit of hindsight, is to seek out the higher qualities of each of them and focus on bringing, specifically, these qualities on board. Pitta, after all, is the force of transformation, digestion, illumination and growth whilst Kapha preserves, sustains, stabilises and adds cohesion; and all these are formidable qualities to have on your team. The domain in which this teamwork is easiest to achieve, I find, is that concerned with diet since the rules about which food pacifies or encourages a particular dosha are as instinctive as they are straightforward. Perhaps this is why the gut is the place in which the very strongest healing foundations can be built and all without the mind interfering too much. Appropriately so since the gut is the forum in which we enact some of the  most epic battles for our survival (half the time, without even knowing this is happening at the mental level) yet really there should be no battle at all. Ayurveda helps us to easily find that level place, whilst we could wrestle with its concepts to no avail if we were to talk about it at the more abstract level. In this sense, Ayurveda is the most practical tool of personal transformation I have ever come across; which is why I love it so.

This past three weeks, especially the most recent of those which was spent on an Ayurvedic retreat of sorts, I have been rebalancing my health by adhering to a Vata-pacifying diet combined with careful avoidance of those foods which came up on my recent intolerance test. Honestly, I don’t think I have ever felt more justifiably surrendered to the care of another than I did during the week that all my food came out of a kitchen that works with Ayurvedic principles. The funny thing is, I booked that vegan holiday-retreat long before I knew anything  about Ayurveda or the food intolerances that have, effectively, turned me suddenly and abruptly vegan myself; a nod from the universe that my back is always covered and that there is beautiful method in all the madness that my life seems to take me through. The confidence boost, and inspiration, that week of exceptional eating has given me as I come to terms with a whole new way of working with diet to heal myself has been immense and I will talk about that more in another post.

The elimination of all known food intolerances from my diet (wheat, dairy and eggs were amongst them) has made an immense difference already. The result is far more mental clarity and groundedness which is, paradoxically, combined with even more flowing multi-dimensional inspiration than ever before (you could say, the best of both worlds…the ultimate hemispherical brain-balance). On the fifth day of our stay, we walked a rugged mountain in the hottest temperatures of the week and I walked like that for almost four hours, relishing every step; which, as my astounded husband commented, I could never have done the previous summer. Balancing through the most suitable diet for your constitution type (this is the very mainstay of Ayurveda) is like finding the elusive bridge that spans the most disparate aspects of your being; suddenly, you are straddling the once gaping breach and enjoying a whole new view, with you as its all important pivot point. Especially as a Vata-type, this can start to feel like the beginning of a newly uncompromised state of being; one that no longer flings you hither and thither in the mercurial and flighty way that you have become used to but which allows you to settle upon something that feels far more steady and sustainable. If this is what groundedness feels like, I intend to explore it much more and report back as I make it (perhaps for the first time in my life) my permanent physical home.

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