Yoga and Ayurveda are both at essence about expanding awareness and entering more fully into relationship with Reality. Through Hatha Yoga, we relate to our embodiment, not as a mental concept, but as our direct experience or felt-sense that includes layers of mental and emotional tension patterns as well as depths of intuitive knowing and at essence, Being itself, as our very nature.
Our physical and mental habits can either free or obscure the flow of prana through our system. With more awareness of our habit patterns comes more freedom to choose responses that support our deeper intentions. Yoga reveals to us directly that we are not separate from the whole, but intimately a part of it. Ayurveda shows us that our interconnectedness with all means that our organism is always registering changes in our environment. By adjusting our routines and daily rhythms to support our body’s balance, we can come into better alignment with ourselves, others and all of Life.
Ayurveda, which is the science of life describes those things which bring health and well-being and those things which bring disease and anguish. As we become more aware of the impact of our choices, we are free to choose things which bring us more calm and happiness.
One of the major issues of our time, and especially for us living in cities, is the tremendous amount of busyness in our lives. It’s hard to find a person who feels rested and peaceful. Most of us feel stressed out, anxious and agitated more of the time than we’d like to admit. Living in a chronic, low-level, fight or flight response,for which anxiety and agitation are symptoms, has a cumulative bad effect on our well-being over time: lowering immunity, disturbing our hormonal balance, affecting our mood, energy levels, weight gain and sleep (to name a few). The latest research on the seriously adverse effects of stress on health show up on most every level: High levels of stress are indicated in heart disease, cancer, IBS, depression, anxiety and addiction. Ayurveda also identifies the root cause of disease at any level is an overactive Nervous system—STRESS—The Classical texts of Ayurveda state that 80% of all illness originates from an overactive nervous system, which occurs through the over-use, under-use and misuse of our senses. One of the things we need to get real about collectively is how much our overstimulated lives are wreaking havoc with our health—physically, mentally/emotionally and spiritually.
Like most of you, I know a lot about stress. I grew up in a family that coped with divorce, addiction and mental illness. There could be an unpredictable and volatile energy at home: a lot of rushing and stressing about even ordinary activities that led to my own over-active nervous system. I’m sure this is what led me to find yoga as a young college student, and helped me understand the importance of taking care of myself and wanting to support others to do the same.
When I later married, divorced and was a single-parent in my mid-thirties, co-parenting my son, running a business while also cultivating relationships, and trying to prioritize my inner life, I remember the stress of trying to do it all. I know many of you can relate to these different periods in our lives where we are seriously busy. It begs the question: How do we calm down and relax when even when life is very full?
I thought I’d share with you some of the things I tried that didn’t work—
Waiting for the pace of life to slow down and open up a quiet, peaceful space just for me. Well, that rarely happens without us first prioritizing the time it takes to connect more deeply with ourselves.
Trying to do it all. Trying to keep all the balls in the air, and look good doing it, just made me feel tenser, and ultimately like a failure because even if it can be done sometimes, it can’t be done for long. Learning what my priorities are, and being willing not to do it all has been a real learning that has led to more ease and happiness.
Collapsing into overwhelm and feeling (however subtly) like a victim. Victim mentality, however subtle, takes us out of our power. No matter how it may seem otherwise, the truth is, we are never a victim. Learning to take 100% responsibility for my life, my circumstances, and all that comes my way has brought more real capacity and energy into my life.
What did work is a more intentional approach:
Understanding what was most important to me, prioritizing those things and letting go of the rest, even when my ego which had been well conditioned to strive, achieve and do it all, suffered. Ego pain is nothing to laugh at–it is something to understand and detach from–When we really see that no amount of ego gratification can ever really satisfy, it is easier to suffer the temporary feeling of failure for the more lasting satisfaction that comes from surrender to our deeper Nature.
This more intentional approach that comes from the teachings of Yoga, is supported by Ayurveda’s understanding of Natural Rhythms and how to align with the different energies that arise at different times of day/month/season/lifetime. Understanding Natural Rhythms is easy if you simply consider how you feel in the early morning hours compared with how you tend to feel in the late afternoon. How do you feel at the peak of Summer versus the depth of Winter? How do you feel when the full moon light is streaming through your bedroom window compared to when the night sky is dark with the new moon? How do you feel now, at your present life-stage, compared to how you felt as an 18 year-old, just coming into your young adult self?
Looking at how we experience these different times of day, month, year and life phase illustrates the different kinds of energy that predominate during each day, lunar cycle, year and lifetime. Ayurveda understands this as a shift in the 5-elements, space, air, fire, water and earth and the different ratios of these elements and their qualities at different times.
I’m going to talk about one major rhythm you can align with daily to support your calm and happiness and that is the early morning.
Across traditions the early morning hours, and here I’m talking 4 – 6am or so are considered the most spiritually uplifting hours of the day. Monks and Mystics across traditions awake early to pray and meditate. You may not be ready to awaken before dawn, but simply waking as close to dawn as you can will support your system in aligning with the expansive, refreshing energy of the morning. Sunrise is like birth, it sets the tone for the entire day to follow, and the way we begin the day is critical to how the rest of the day will flow.
- To align with Dawn and start your day off optimally, give yourself 15 – 30 minutes of time in the morning that is just for you.
- Go to bed a little earlier so you can wake up a little earlier.
- After brushing your teeth and scraping your tongue, hydrate yourself with 8 – 16 oz of water, preferably hot. This will wake you up and gently support peristalsis.
- Take 5 – 15 minutes to sit quietly attuning to your body, breath and mind. Consider how you would like the day to unfold, any potential challenges, and how you would like to move through these moments.
- Take 5 – 15 minutes to move and breathe. Do yoga asana, take a brisk walk, and open your body and refresh your mind.
- Shower, dress, and eat breakfast (warm in the colder months is nice) with awareness.
Now you are ready for the day—centered and refreshed.
Just for comparison. Contrast the feeling of the above with the feeling of…
- Wake up late and dehydrated.
- Drink a cup or two of coffee on an empty stomach to get going.
- Turn on TV, news, the internet or radio and move into the virtual world.
- Race around getting ready to go to work.
- Mindlessly grab food, eating on the run, or skip breakfast.
Consider how you might take 5 – 30 minutes in the early morning to center yourself and take care of your body-mind-spirit before other tasks. The ego will tell us that 5 minutes isn’t enough; but the truth is, 5 minutes is an eternity when we can connect to a place of wholeness and flow within.
The truth is we need to take some time every day, preferably several times a day, to shift from the busy, left-brained state we are in much of the time, and into a more holistic, embodied space.
The connection, ease and happiness we seek are not outside of ourselves and our life circumstances don’t have to change dramatically for us to connect to them. We can create space within our lives to re-connect to our own Source, THE Source, and from here, let the outer world take shape around us. And while we may still have to put the kids to bed, and get the dishes down, we can slow down just enough to breathe with more awareness and remember the presence that we are right Now.