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Super Simple First Steps to Recovering from Illness, Using Yoga and Ayurveda
Over the past three months I have been traveling around the world on a path of personal rediscovery. During these few months I have avoided becoming ill by what now feels like pure luck. I realize now that it was pure luck because I hadn't been taking care of myself as well as I should have. For example, I have been staying up late pretty regularly, as well as eating poorly (although it’s difficult to find the foods that I am accustomed to), and I have been pushing my body to its very edge up mountains and through cities. So it's no surprise that my luck has finally caught up with me as I lie here ill and writing this to you.
Since this is my current situation I'd like to spend this post talking about illness recovery. I've written to you before about recipes and herbs that I've used in order to stave off sickness or to recover from it. You can find that information here for the turmeric tea and here for the ginger tea, but for now let’s talk about other options.
Often when we think about recovering from an illness, we might say to ourselves, "Oh I need to stop doing my normal routine, and then I might take some medication, and then boom I'll go right back to what I was doing before." But the thing that is very important to recognize is that we become ill because something we are doing is not working very well or is not healthy for us overall. Whether it is our perceived stress in life, whether we are working too many hours, or whether we're eating poorly or we are staying up until the middle of the night on a regular basis... becoming ill is a flashing light that says, "HEY SOMETHING ISN'T RIGHT HERE!" And if we don't make a change then we create a place for Dis-Ease to develop and stick.
Since becoming sick here in Budapest, with what feels like the flu or a really bad cold, I have found that it seems almost impossible for me to simply go down the street to purchase my usual ‘get well’ supplies, such as:
With this realization I originally felt pretty defeated. But then, with a little self reflection I remembered that I have other tools in my 'tool box' that I can use... that we all do.
Our Thoughts Manifest Our Well Being: Be Aware of How We Use Our Words and Our Thoughts
I caught myself saying more than once, "I'm getting sick... crap I have a cold... crap I'm sick, poor me."
However, one of the things that is pretty important in order to heal ourselves is that we learn to speak of the disease as the disease. As long as we call it my disease, or my cancer, or my thyroid problem, or my cold, then we identify with it. I've caught myself doing this recently. In my experience and observations, if we identify with the disease or illness, it simply won't be going anywhere. In fact we manifest more sickness by identifying with the disease. Does that make sense? It's like by identifying with the disease, we trick ourselves into letting down our defensive walls and instead allow the disease to march on in.
So if you really want to become free of the illness then start to look at it as the illnessand speak of it that way… and then notice that if you want to call it my, what part of it do you want to hang on to? Now that might sound crazy because a lot of people say “Of course not! I don't want to hang on to a disease!” But sometimes for example, we get sick because we won’t let ourselves slow down and rest... and maybe our subconscious enjoys the disease because it forces us to rest. Do you see what I mean? Or maybe, in my case, I enjoyed this illness for a moment because it forced me to stop, slow down, rest, be still, hunt down soup and spices that I’ve been missing and simply, breathe… which in turn brought me back to you and yoga. So if we find that we are really identified with the disease, then there’s usually something in there that we need. Either way, once we observe and reflect upon this, it’s really good to think of the disease as simply something that’s happening and that will pass if we let it pass.
All things shall pass... as they say
Don't let the ego push you around: Checking in with your physical body
I’m going to make the assumption here that you are reading my blog because you either have a yoga practice or are interested in beginning one. But for now, let’s say there are two types of people in this world. Those that practice yoga and breath work, and those that do not. When you’re the person that practices pranayama or yoga on a daily basis, no matter what level, and then you find you can't breathe through your nostrils because they are clogged up, or that you can't hold a downward dog due to a headache, well, it’s a little frustrating, don't you agree? Especially since yogi’s KNOW from experience that yoga postures can help heal us… It's tempting to push ourselves but it is so very important that we do not. It's important that we set our ego’s aside for a moment and remember that yoga postures can still be done very gently, and the result is just as beneficial because it still helps us start moving the negative energy and toxins out of our body while allowing the positive, healing energy to flow more freely through our body.
Whether you are a regular practitioner or not, it’s very important that while you are ill, that you give the body plenty of time to REST. When an illness has happened, now I am speaking very generally because it will vary a little bit depending on what the problem was, but when an illness has happened, if you allow the body to recover, it will. But if we keep doing things that will challenge our body, pushing it back to the edge of illness, then the recovery process will take much longer. So the very most important thing first in healing yourself is REST.
Here's a thought: So often I have people say to me, “Oh but I can't rest, I have to take care of my family, I have to go back to work, etc…” In my case, I originally thought to myself, “Oh, but I can't rest, I need to explore Budapest!!” We know it may really feel like we have to do those things, however if we go too soon, we're just going to end up sick again or continue to be sick. This applies to injuries as well. And this happens so often to people we know doesn't it? Let’s assume that once in our lives, we ignored the number one principle of getting well, REST. Let’s assume that we went on about our business, forcing our bodies to continue. Did we continue our work or yoga practice or exploring the world at our highest level? Or, did we instead live our life at an inferior level? In other words your performance at work while ill might not have been very good because your head was pounding. Or your way of taking care of your family might not be very good because you find your fever makes you sit more often than standing. So if you think about it, the people you work with, the world around you and your family might appreciate it much more if you rested and then could be fully present in the incredible being that you are, without the illness. Right? So... REST. Selfishness while being selfless ;)
We start the second step now, which is checking in with our body in order to determine the level of physical rest that is needed to heal ourselves. And you do this by becoming aware of the nature of your natural breath. With time, as you develop a familiarity and relationship with your breath, you will learn that this is truly your life force and the one thing that determines how good you feel in your life. Your breath will tell you the story of what’s happening within your mind or body. If you find that you can not breathe easily and smoothly, then your body or mind is still under a lot of stress, and if this the case maybe it’s not time to even do any physical yoga postures yet. Maybe you need to REST completely.
However as you start to feel better, there are certain types of yoga postures that would be helpful depending on what kind of illness you have, and what your constitution is, and your state of balance and imbalance. And those are all the things that can be determined and assisted with through yoga and Ayurveda or through a teacher like myself or Zac Occhiline for example. (If breathing consciously is not something you are familiar with, then I suggest finding a knowledgeable teacher; someone that has good experience working with people recovering from illness. I will suggest here a teacher that I have a deep respect for, Zac Occhiline of 7 Centers Yoga Arts Academy in Sedona, AZ.)
So, to begin for myself today, I started with simply breathing… A place to start with getting to know your breath is to pause now, stop what you are doing, and take 12 nice, slow, conscious, deep breaths. And then at the end of it, just smile to yourself without any judgment. It's a simple practice that puts you in touch with your body and mind... that allows you to consciously check in with your level of physical or mental stress. Whether you found that it was easy and you are ready for a gentle asana practice, or whether you found it difficult to take 12 deep breaths and that you feel more apt to maybe start with six or four or whatever feels appropriate for you and that realize you should probably not begin an asana practice today; either way I bet you feel differently than you did when you first sat down. Remember, that what you're looking for is the ability to just breath smoothly and with a sense of calm... Without force… Very calm, smooth, easy breaths.
I practiced this simple breath check-in before writing this blog, and I realized that despite my clogged up nostrils I can breathe pretty smoothly just sitting here, even if I have to open my mouth. So afterwards I began a simple and gentle hatha practice of poses that I knew would help me with certain ailments I was experiencing. In my case it is basically impossible for me to do any yoga asana at the moment besides deep breathing while in Childs Pose, Marjariasana (Cat/Cow), Downward Dog, and a few heart opening poses that I find a little more difficult to describe with the written word at this time, as well as Lion Pose to ease my sore throat.
And that's okay.
FOOD: What to eat while ill in order to build strength from the inside out
If you’ve been ill your digestive fire, or agni as it’s called in Sanskrit, which is the energy that’s available within you to actually transform and digest your food, is low. Otherwise honestly you would not get ill. The fire would be so strong as to burn out any toxins and illness that tried to invade your body. And so you need to strengthen your agni again and give it an opportunity to rejuvenate. If you think of agni as a fire that fuels the body, you need to feed it a little bit, you need to stoke it, and give it some air in order to gradually strengthen it.
To start, it means that you need to eat foods that are easily digestible. After or while you’re ill, if you’re not eating that’s one thing, but then when it’s time to start eating, it’s best if you have something that is very easy to digest. For example, a soupy basmati rice. You could start it out in a 1-8 or even a 1-12 ratio with water. Meaning one cup of rice to 12 cups of water. Add a little bit of mineral salt, a little turmeric, and a little bit of ginger. You could put a small amount of ghee in there too if you like and overtime additional spices cooked in ghee such as fennel, cumin, and cardamom. This will give you nourishment while you are recovering and it is easy to digest.
As you feel more comfortable with digesting that, then you could have the soup become more thicker, in other words you would drop that ratio down to 1 to 6 and then 1 to 4, which is going to make the soup fairly thick. Next, if your body is digesting that pretty easily, then gradually add split mung beans to your rice in order to provide yourself with some additional protein. Protein is harder to digest so take your time recovering. Check in with your body often. Notice if you feel very tired after eating or if you feel more energetic for example. Avoid eating raw food while you are ill because such things as cold salad or other raw vegetables are really difficult to digest.
Since I lack the above ingredients at the moment here in Budapest, Hungary (I am hungry grrr)... I am living off Oatmeal, vegetable soup, Tulsi Tea with honey and Chocolate. Yeah... Chocolate. It builds my Ojas!
Our Spiritual Fire: Assisting our recovery with positive energy
When you're recovering from illness, including heartache, it’s easy to let your whole notion of a spiritual life go out the window… trust me, I know. For example, it’s been awhile since you heard from me right? As a human I've experienced heartache and loss in all forms recently and I admit that I kind of tossed my spirituality out the window for a moment. But like I stated before, there was something about this illness experience that I subconsciously kind of liked… and you know what it was? It brought me back to myself in a spiritual way. I knew, from my experiences of being ill in the past, that if I made a conscious effort to become better, through yoga and Ayurveda then I would be better. So as you can see, I’m digging into my yoga and Ayurveda tool box for the first time in a long time and sharing it with you. It’s kind of nice.
Back to spirituality. Many people in this world use prayer to tap into their spirituality. Others use mantra. Some people yoga. Nature. Fishing. :) Everyone seems to have an option available to them that they have discovered on their own or which was introduced to them during their upbringing. You can each use these tools like prayer, mantra, or moments of inward contemplation, etc... to help assist you while you work on your own self healing.
In my opinion, everything can be a form of spiritual yoga in it’s own way. Asana. Mantra. Breathing. Writing. However, it’s important that all these tools, options to you per say, have an air of positivity surrounding them while you are ill or in general. For example, if you are going to read or be exposed to anything while you are ill, it’s best that it’s not of a negative nature like violent articles or news programs. Rather that you might read a spiritual passage, or anything that helps you feel good about your life.
Today, I started with an easily digestible meal followed by rest. Then I began my breath work. Once I determined that my breath was actually pretty smooth and that I felt strong enough to add physical asana to my healing program, I followed up with 15 minutes of a gentle and easy asana practice. Next I added a dose of purposeful spirituality if you will by adding 10 minutes of seated meditation with the mantra So Hum.
You could start with 1-3 minutes of meditation if it's new for you and trust me, any amount of time would be plenty. Use mantra if you like. Prayer. Breath awareness. Nothing... it doesn't matter. Set a timer, use a wall to sit up against, ensure your spine is as upright as possible and that your head is positioned directly on top of your shoulders, the crown of which effortlessly reaches for the sky.
Having a straight spine like this allows the energy of your body to move freely… This energy concept might feel odd if you're new at meditation, and that’s okay, just work with the breath by imagining that each inhale brings in the strength of the universe into your being and that each exhale is a release of your illness… Imagine that healing energy spreading through your physical body and within the energetic bubble that surrounds your body... emanating like the rays of the sun going within and without.
Acceptance & Letting Go - Everything is temporary & our body is a temple that deserves love
When we are ill, it’s almost like a reminder that we are so much more than our body. It might feel like “Oh I feel terrible and I'd really like to just be done with the illness and it be out of here.” But when the body is ill its a great opportunity to remember who we are as spirit… to honor ourselves and our body in the future... and to remember that we have this incredible power within us to heal ourselves… and if we allow that awareness to shine through us then the physical body will follow suit and it will come right back to its very best place of balance.
I got sick. It doesn't mean I'm a horrible person or that karmically I deserved it. For me at the moment it means that I haven't been digesting my experiences as well as they deserve. I probably haven't been as fully present as a trip like the one I'm on deserves because I haven't digested or really completely dealt with the losses I've incurred over the last year. It happens. Sure I'm sick with a cold or something, but at least I got to sit here and write to you. At least upon contemplation I was reminded that I had this super light-weight tool box of things to help me get better, all by myself. At least I had an excuse to rest my aching feet and back after back-packing through almost all of Europe over the past three months, non-stop. My current illness was a sign to stop running, to breathe, to come back to my mat and simply be happy that I am here now. Being. Breathing. Alive and open hearted once again. And that's pretty cool.
Oh, and since being sick meant I had to stay inside all day and rest and not explore this beautiful city... I was still blessed with this really great view outside my window just now.
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being. ~ Ashley