What I Learned from an Ayurvedic Witch

In times past, women who cherished the earth and all its inhabitants, who understood herbs and other natural mechanisms for healing, were often maligned as witches. The word witch brings to mind images of a gnarled and wrinkled old crone, who eats tasty babies for a mid-morning snack. Not exactly the vision of a woman to inspire you to find your highest, most healthful and happy self.

But the woman who came to our local yoga studio to teach us the Ayurvedic way of life, Cate Stillman, is a young woman in her 30s, vibrant in personality and physical appearance. She’s tall, lean, and full of energy. She mountain bikes, surfs, hikes, writes a blog, travels around conducting ayurvedic workshops, teaches Anusara yoga, nurtures a young daughter, loves a husband. In one of her recent blog posts, she refers to herself as The Witch on the Mountain Bike, musing on her habit of gathering herbs while out on her bicycle. She’s quite clever, this witch.

Of course, I knew she’d counsel us on what we actually put in our mouth. I knew she wouldn’t approve of my Diet Coke habit, (and neither do I) but some of the things she said were quite surprising. Cate started by discussing the Doshsas, or forces, which are manifestations of various gunas (tendencies) in our lives. (If you don’t know your dosha from a Dunkin donut, take this test and find out.) Cate spent quite a bit of time discussing the vata, pitta and kapha doshas and helping us to understand ourselves. Often, one dosha is dominant in our mental and emotional self, and another one in our physical body. Me? I’m a pitta-kapha.

I’m not going to review all the detailed material that Cate gave us, because that’s how she makes her living for goodness sake. She does Skype consultations and various ongoing teleconferences, if you’re interested. Our course was two and a half days long, and covered the basics of Ayurveda, yoga poses for various dosha imbalances, and diseases and tendencies of each dosha. One particular session was for women only, where Cate taught us the life cycle of womanhood from a doshic perspective. It left us all wanting to be supportive of women at all ages.

But I will share some of the take-aways that Cate gave us, specific things that we should try to incorporate into our daily routine. These are helpful no matter your dosha, and even if you don’t practice yoga.

  • Rise before dawn. Naturally this presupposes that you are going to bed early enough, and getting enough sleep. Shut down Facebook and just go to bed, already.
  • Splash cold water on your face. I grant you that you’ll want to stop after the first two splashes, but just try it. It’s amazing that this can awaken and energize you, but it does.
  • Scrape your tongue. Buy a metal scraper and use it daily. Learning about the state of your tongue can give you great insights into what’s going on inside your body, particularly with your digestion. Nice pink tongue or coated in white? Pay attention.
  • Do 20 minutes of some kind of physical activity. If you practice asana, this is  a great time to do a few Sun Salutions or other poses. Just like the water-splashing, you’ll want to stop after the first Downward Facing Dog, while your hamstrings bitch and moan. You’ll feel better after just a few poses.
  • Meditate for a few minutes. You do not have to sit in the lotus position or some other contorted pose. The idea is just to get quiet and still. If you can sit on the floor with your legs in a simple cross-legged stance, do that. Otherwise, sit in a chair. Set a timer for 10 minutes, close your eyes and just sit.
  • Practice the art of self-massage. Get yourself a bottle of coconut oil from the health food store and massage it into your entire body. Then take a shower and rinse off the excess. Your body will thank you, I promise.
  • Eat breakfast, eat your largest meal of the day at noon, and eat a very small dinner. You’ve heard these things before. But how about this: do not eat between meals. That’s right. No apple, nuts, cheese, nothing. I was convinced that I couldn’t do this, because even though I eat breakfast I’m starving by 10:00 a.m. The idea is to let yourself get hungry enough for lunch. This is a pretty revolutionary concept and goes against all advice in the fitness magazines. But I implore you to try it.

An Irish girl blessing for you today:
May you learn more about how to care for your physical and emotional self and increase your sense of ease and well-being, so that you may enjoy life and be a blessing to others.