I had a session with my Ayurveda practitioner yesterday. She showed me how to read my own pulse…to feel the three doshas playing out in my body. True to form, my vata was there…flip flop flippety flop…like a wet fish being slapped back and forth. My kapha was there…less so…but paced, measured, sonorous, like a strong, steady walking pace. My pitta was nowhere to be found (not to my inexperienced reading…my practioner could just about make it out). Oh dear, more work to do balancing those doshas, bringing my fire up to make me physically stronger.
This morning, I set about reading those three signals again, just after waking. It took a while and much concentration but (was I reading this right?) I could feel the steady plod of kapha, then there was the brisk, stiff walking pace of pitta (like a tall thin man walking briskly to the office, a little bit frazzled as though he was late)… but vata had completely withdrawn into the shadows. Hmm.
This analogy brought to mind my father…not tall but so thin and angular with his long set jaw, that he seemed to be tall anyway; like an arrow heading for target. When I was small…only 6…he retired due to ill-health and started walking me to and from school. He couldn’t bring his pace down at all in retirement (so our lives were suddenly beset with a timetable of riduculous new domestic routines…much to my mother’s frustration) and he marched me to school like there was a commuter train to catch. “Stand up straight, swing your arms” he would beseech as we set off as though from a starting gun; and I had to keep pace just to consider myself walking with him. Other children and parents, anyone I might have wanted to pass the time with in the name of cultivating friendships with my peers…were left for a blur as we speeded past. Once I was duly dropped at the playground I dreaded arriving so early at, since it only exposed me the more to all the spite of people not amongst my friends, he would turn and be gone…only to appear nail on time (and no time for hanging around) when the bell rang at the end. This continued until (somewhat sooner than I might otherwise have done) I declared myself confident enough to walk to school alone. He paced himself like that on all our family outings and shopping trips too. Once he memorably failed to notice that my mother was on the ground and a sizeable crowd gathered around her because she had fallen face down in the road trying to keep up with him whilst carrying shopping. “Where’s your daddy?” I remember someone asked me. “Somewhere over there…” I must have said, pointing vaguely. When my mother broke her hip a few years later he was, likewise, nowhere near her side though they were, technically, out together.
To keep up with him, I learned, I just had to walk that pace…it would get me to wherever I needed to get in life (he taught me) and that rapid-paced walking style stayed with me for years…until I met my current partner, really. A true kapha, he likes to slow down enough on walks to smell the roses. What’s the point of a country walk, is his view, if you don’t hang around enough to see it…and, besides, he does enough rushing around the rest of the week (wishing he didn’t have to).
My own super-rapid walking style, to be fair, had evolved somewhat by the time we met; become looser, developed its own style and, like a renegade beat, had started to play its own melody beneath the predictable tune of life. It still had purpose and urgency yet also a chaotic, impulsive leaning. Fast fast fast…”oh look at that” (abrupt stop)…take a picture, smell something, bend down…go off in a completely different direction…fast fast fast…sit down for a bit…notice something sparkly…compose something in my head or have an idea…fast fast fast home, now eager to do whatever it is I just thought of. All that is me, a classic vata with a pitta undertone. I never stop. More specifically, I never stop having thoughts…many of them, interconnected in all sorts of intricate ways…and my walking pace ebbs and flows with my mental state. Whereas my kapha husband walks to quiet his thinking mind…and finds that relatively easy to do; being in that moment, fully.
My daughter, for complete contrast, is so pitta she just wants to “get there”, wherever that is, and she likes to discuss topics about work, goals, people-politics and problems on the way (all of which I hate to give my attention to when I’m out in nature). These days, she tends to run off ahead, turning the whole escapade into a “means to keeping fit”. If the two of us walk together alone, we keep a very different pace to when I walk with my husband; which can feel quite purposeful and strangely satisfying, like a moment of bonding and deep inter-personal collaboration at the time as we stride out with our long legs swinging in beautiful synchronicity, covering lots of ground (geographically and in our discussions)…but so often I “crash” afterwards, like after doing a major cardio workout or sitting though a three-hour board meeting. I also wonder where we went…where even the time went…as I dont remember a thing about the scenery or what the weather was doing and my camera hangs unused around my neck. For all the kapha-plod can be frustrating to the high-vibe vata (like a steadying hand tugging on the reins of a horse that remembers a time before bridles…), I enjoy the walks so much more; at least, as far as a constitutional goes (as opposed to putting the world to rights or breaking out in a sweat).
We all adopt these paces in life; finding our groove…are we happiest in the fast lane, are we more middling or are we slow and steady. Should I say, we should find our own groove…yet so many of us live to the pace that is expected of us (or one that was set for us by the metronome of our childhood or cultural entrainment) and this “wrong pace” for our constitution can make us so unwell in the long-term; burning us out or even slowing us down to the point of long-simmering frustration with a life that doesn’t keep apace with our longings and aspirations. When we pitch it just right, we land in our sweet spot, and our natural melody of life simply comes forth, asserting over the noise of everything else that may be going on. Our tempo may change according to time of day or the season but the key thing is that we are hearing its direction from somewhere within and then attuning ourselves to it, listening for the clues of our inner conductor as we swell our sound or soften it in ways that feel the most natural to our innate constitution.
I now acknowledge and (actually) love my erratic vata way of being; its my natural constitution, is what “makes me me” and it fuels all my creative urges, the things that I see…and the way that I see them, use them, express them…in my life. For far too many years, I endeavoured to “walk” to someone else’s pace…and that’s why I tipped over when I did. Now, my kapha companion has slowed me sufficiently for me to try on a new way of being…at least when it’s just us…which means my vata spiral-head gets to calm down, at least some of the time. Some of the most deeply relaxing times I can recall in the last few years are the times I have walked much slower than my usual breakneck pace alongside him. Likewise, I spiral him up somewhat, inspiring him to see more in his environment (and other possibilities that await him there) than he might otherwise have noticed. My playful spontaneity leads his plodding walk down some unexpected paths and, together, we share the adventures of a lifetime doing what might otherwise be mundane (or so fast-past that it would all be about getting somewhere else…) Whatever your dosha-type..and whoever you choose to spend your life with, the key is knowing your comfortable, most productive, generally optimum pace and working with it for your own enjoyment factor and deepest wellbeing.
There are other times when you might want to invite in whatever that “other” pace is (the one that you feel least at home with…) but on your own terms. Now that I recognise that pitta naturally rises in me first thing after waking (I’m convinced that’s the reason for my morning cortisol spike, as recently flagged up in a blood test), I choose to work with it to “get me going” of a morning. By consciously “getting in first” and determining that the feeling should be all about excitement and eagerness to get a wonderful day started, I distract that pitta from self-determining itself as a misplaced feeling of high-adrenalin, stress or fear. When I feel it come up, I get to think through what I have lined up for my day’s projects and all the ways I can’t wait to get going on them. In otherwords, I turn it into a check-list of excitement and gratitude. By the time I’ve drummed up some gently rising “goddess” heat on my yoga mat (which is something else I’m consciously working on at the moment, as compared to the more passive routine I used to stick to), I’m raring to go with my day. Then, I’m ready to settle into my kapha-like routine of doing some work-stuff but you can be sure there will be time set asside for that vata-style walk in the woods or across open fields later…a walk with no objective, no plan, no particular route until I make it up on the spur of the moment (and sure to deliver me lots of inspirational gifts, feeding back into my so-called work). Between these three, I get to experience a truly well-paced life.
Slowpoke I’m gonna run with you,
Wear all your clothes and do what you do.
Slowpoke we got some things to find,
When I was faster I was always behind, When I was faster I was always behind.
Neil Young “Slowpoke” (started playing just as I finished writing this post…)