Do you strive and struggle more often than not to get things done? Exhausted at the end of the day yet not sleeping well? Waking up tired and dreading the day ahead? That's not fun and no way to live. The good news is there is another way. One that invites ease, energy and enthusiasm. It's called the ayurvedic lifestyle. And it is about living in harmony with Nature, guided from within.
Lessons From the Natural World
In nature everything unfolds with ease. One season inevitably leads to the next, one day to the next, without fail, no faster or slower. A higher intelligence is at work in plants and animals that guides them to seek nourishment in the right amount, at the right time. Animals eat when they are hungry, no more or less than what they need to sustain them. Birds migrate when the winter arrives, intuitively knowing that if they are to survive they'd better head south to warmer climates. So much activity in nature! Yet chronic stress among animals is unheard of. Everything that needs to happen happens in its own time. Why can’t it be the same with us? After all we are part of Nature too. Made of the same elements, subjects to the same laws, and with higher consciousness on top of that. So you'd think...But one problem with human beings is that we try too hard, at everything.
A Hard Life, Against the Flow
We work hard, work out hard (think boot camps, cross-fit...), eat hard (by that I mean rigid diets that may exclude gluten, soy, nuts, dairy, sugar, meat, carbs or else. How fun.). We cleanse hard (think Master Cleanse or juice cleanses that extend for days), we try hard at "living our best life" following guidance from the experts, instead of our own truth. For God's sake even the yoga classes in New York city are full of that striving energy! (It was not like that when I began practicing in the mid 90's.) All this hard-ness (yang) creates tension that cuts us off from our feeling-nature and intuitive guidance (yin). So we make choices according to what's expected of us, or what we think is right, instead of operating from our wisdom-centered self. When we lose contact with that fine innermost compass we feel out of sync with the world and with ourselves. Life feels hard. Our modern lifestyles are greatly responsible for this sad state of affairs, by messing up with our natural rhythms. Here is a snapshot of a life lived out of sync with Mother Nature:
We watch TV late, or browse the internet on our phone, well after the sun's gone down. Artificial light exposure, be it from a light bulb or blue-light emitting device, messes up with our melatonin production and therefore our sleep cycles. So we catch a “second wind” around 11pm and end up falling asleep past midnight, failing to cash in on that “second wind” energy, a sharp, fiery energy (called pitta, in ayurveda) really meant for your body's nightly repair work.
We wake up long after sunrise, missing out on the unique light, crisp qualities of the early morning hours, propitious to contemplation and inspiration. Instead we take our first conscious breath in kapha time, a dense and heavy energy that's prime fuel for tackling those tedious tasks once we're at our desk, but not to get us out of bed! So we struggle to get going and step into our day feeling sluggish.
We get to work later than intended, still foggy. Sure enough an uninspired, unfocused day unfolds, a reflection of our internal state.
We skip lunch, even though midday is the optimal time to digest and assimilate a large meal. (pitta time of day, 11am-2pm)
We workout in the evening, stimulating our system as nature goes to sleep, instead of gently unwinding alongside with it.
We have a big dinner late, when our personal solar center, our digestive fire, like the sun in the sky is at its weakest. So we don't digest well, our sleep quality suffers, we wake up groggy and tired.
We cleanse at any time of year, even when it’s very cold or very hot, often in reaction to feeling like crap without addressing what made us feel like crap in the first place, causing more harm than good in the end.
Can you see the patterns of going against the natural flow of Life? And creating struggle in the process?
The Ayurvedic Lifestyle: In Sync With Nature
Ayurvedic wisdom and cosmology teaches there is an optimal time to do everything. This is based on the natural ebb and flow of the vata, pita and kapha energies (air, fire and earth) throughout the circadian, lunar and solar cycles. In today's modern world that kind of wisdom has all but been lost, unless you are tuned in. Because guess what? That wisdom is in you. Yet we spend a lot of time looking outside of ourselves for answers, hoping the "experts” can tell us how to live our lives. In this sea (ocean!) of often conflicting information, how do you know what is good for you? Tuning in is the only way. We've overdone our tuning out. It's created confusion and a sense of disconnect. Ayurveda reminds us to tune in and trust that what we feel is real. And to let that inform the choices we make daily.
I come from a family of farmers. My parents are the salt-of-the-earth. I often joke they're the most normal people I know! By that I mean stable, vital, loving. Unknowingly they've been following an ayurvedic lifestyle all their life, because that wisdom is at work in anybody whose livelihood is dependent on the earth.
But it took me a while to appreciate the effects of Nature on my own physical and emotional health. As a kid I couldn't wait to escape the french countryside for the big city, and I did. Interestingly my work in New York City has brought me back to my roots. With Ayurveda I have re-discovered the balancing, sanity-inducing power of a life lived in sync with Nature. Sooner or later I believe we all come to that realization: one cannot exist, lest thrive apart from Nature.
So how do we do if we live in the city, and maybe even love it ?! We make small adjustments whenever we can. That's it. There is nothing else to attempt.
Perhaps you experiment with going to bed and waking up a half hour earlier, once or twice a week. Later you might try a light dinner, at least two hours prior to your bedtime. Expect to feel more energized and clear-minded upon awakening. Next, when winter comes around you could choose to do away with ice water and instead sip on hot water, a simple way to cleanse and improve digestion. Those are the small adjustments that pay off overtime.
Harmonizing our lifestyle with the rhythms of the earth naturally generates a sturdier constitution and stable emotional state. This approach to living is essential to heal a dys-regulated nervous system, and therefore stress and anxiety.