How to prevent progression of a chronic illness.
Vitality and strong immunity is a natural state for healthy humans. Maintenance of good health and vitality is the best course of action to sustain the good state of a healthy balanced lifestyle. Those who have the good fortune of experiencing ease and fresh vitality may be oblivious to signs and symptoms of imbalance, which may lead to progression of a chronic illness.
Ayurveda is an energetic science or philosophy passed down orally and then captured in Sanskrit writings from early sages and shaped by early religions steeped in nature for the past 5,000 years. Part of the first documented writings of humans, Ayurveda brings a study of life that has been proven for thousands of years to promote a healthful balanced state of being. The state of balance is ideal and enhances, both, our current state, as well as traits we are born. At conception, we are perfectly matter with DNA potential. This state is known as prakruti. Once we are conceived, our bodies are in a perpetual state of adaptation to our environment, also known as vikruti.
Adaptation is a human animal condition, to which we may or may not give focus. Adaptation needs little thought, because your body is naturally doing this every moment of the day. For example, when you are in a sunny spot for long enough, your skin may burn or develop more melatonin to adapt to the sun’s exposure. The change of color and feel of the skin is your body’s language that you need to protect your skin to create balance in your skin’s health.
"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change." -- Charles Darwin
Becoming sensitive to this kind of body language and understanding your unique body’s language are the keys to preventing the progression of chronic illness. We may not always receive body language through signs and symptoms, but often times we do receive these signals. Being aware and educating yourself about these signs and symptoms is a gift not only to you, but a gift to those who you love. The longer we can live productive healthful lives, the more quality time and joy we can share with our loved ones and our community, at large.
When in balance, we feel energetic, awake, fresh, and bright. Our outlook is positive, and we have a plan for our days. When out of balance, we may have too much or too little energy. We may be too involved or lethargic. It may be difficult to get out of the bed, or we may stay up too late in the evenings. These are signs of imbalance and over the long term, will lead to a state of compromised immunity. If left unchecked, these signs (your body's unique language) will most likely lead to a chronic illness.
In our current state of Western culture, you may find these realities to be accepted. The realities of staying up too late, working unnatural shifts, or accepting lethargy or an existence of low energy. Culturally, those around us may need to maintain steady adrenaline from an overactive lifestyle, while others may be coping with depression through taking Western medicine. These tactics are adaptive in nature for survival.
Are these adaptive measures promoting health and vitality? Surviving on adrenal will lead to adrenal fatigue or dysfunction and affect every other organ affected by the thyroid and adrenal glands. Anti-depressants are taken with the acceptance of side effects which may last long term and are unnatural to a baseline state of being. These are examples of survival in our modern world.
Perhaps this is the real question: How do we adapt to our modern life while also promoting health and vitality? This is a question that propels our adaptation into evolution. Adaptation is a natural state of being. It is constant and fluid whether we are ready for it or not. When we experience too much or too little energy, we are in a state of imbalance. Imbalance creates stagnant, depleted, or burning energy.
Energetic and elemental qualities in nature are part of the matter and DNA that our bodies are made of, known as our constitution. Our constitution or nature is defined in the three doshas: pitta, vata, and kapha. This is a truth and you don't have to believe it or be in disbelief, as it continues. Understanding energetic science or philosophy is helpful to deconstruct the process of inflammation, which is the crux of chronic illness. Inflammation is a product of burning energy, known as pitta. One of the three doshas of Ayurveda. Let's examine all of these here:
- Pitta dosha is the fire and water elements. Pitta expresses intelligence, energetic drive, charisma, and executive functioning. When pitta is out of balance, inflammation is imminent and presents itself as pain, redness, swelling, acne, headaches, digestive disorders, cancer, and in a myriad of other signs and symptoms. Strong bodies with muscle definition are pitta dominant.
- Vata dosha is the air and ether elements. Vata expresses creativity, lightness, ethereal ease and could almost always use some grounding. When out of balance, vata presents flighty behavior, absent-mindedness, over-sharing, clumsiness, excitedness, and can lead to destructiveness, lack of control, lack of focus. In the body, vata presents a being of underweight, dry tissues: constipation and colon disorders, creaking joints, arthritis, thin, dry and wrinkly skin, leading to inflammation of body's tissues and organs. Light and lean bodies are vata dominant.
- Kapha dosha is the water and earth elements. When in balance kapha expresses stability, affection, nurturance, stamina, good memory, and groundedness. When out of balance, kapha dosha presents symptoms of being overweight, obesity, depression, congestion, colds, hay fever, boredom, sluggishness, learning struggles, nervous system disruption. Round beautiful bodies are kapha dominant.
Ideally, each person has the capability of being tri-doshic, encompassing some of each energetic quality. Throughout our days, we will experience a dominant energy at any given moment, depending upon how we are navigating in our lifestyle. Prakruti is the beginnings of human potential. This is the state of the matter and DNA, which come together during conception, encompassing the energy that brought the two beings together. Including the lunar and astrological calendar, and all elemental influence of local weather and time of day, prakruti is part of many variables in the universe. Development and continued adaptation to life in the womb presents vikruti, which is known as our current state, or state of imbalance. Drawing from prakruti, we understand our initial potential. When we understand our dominant vikruti, consideration of our prakruti allows us to define ways of seeking balance.
My personal experience.
I was conceived with vata energy. I am the product of an unplanned pregnancy. Luckily my parents were married and offered some structure after I was born. As a child, my vikruti continued as vata dominant. This was presented as I have a medical history many childhood illnesses, light weight, poor digestion, and full of anxiety. As an adult, my vikruti has shifted to pitta. I have pursued leadership, fundraising, and very driven positions. Working as a pastry chef, I enjoyed collaborative leadership and directing of others. This was a good partner with my baseline vata prakruti, as it presents as creative, light, quick, and multi-tasking. However, in recent years, my pitta vikruti has presented opportunity for burn-out, overworking, driving too hard for initiatives and I have experienced chronic illness. Press wood, this is my first experience with this and it has been a challenge.
After consulting with multiple celebrated doctors, I found myself immersed in the mystery of what was happening with my signs and symptoms. Was it an allergy? Did I have a scary life-threatening illness? How do I recover? Is this related to being in my mid-40's? After blood tests, and follow ups, no one had the best answer. I was told an out-of-pocket expense (I have great PPO insurance, mind you), would be $1,500 to have an conclusive allergy test to know what I may be allergic. This seemed to be a poor use of resources and I decided to become my own patient. I am still working with my Ayurvedic practitioner to refine lifestyle and herbal actions to adapt to my current state, and this has been the best course of action by far, after experiencing signs and symptoms of inflammation for the last 8 months.
Adaptive lifestyle = self awareness.
Understanding our bodies' baseline energy allows us to better manage how we comport ourselves and take care of ourselves in a way that promotes good health. Chronic illness takes time to develop and having a connectedness to our own personal nature allows us to see signs and symptoms before the development of chronic illness comes forward. Some things are out of our control: pollution, unknown factors, congenital, and family history. These can lead to hereditary and unexplained illness. That is not what this blog post is about. Elements out of our control can present opportunities to better understand our bodies. We can offer adaptive lifestyle measures to maximize our daily existence and healthful potential.
Without a connection to our daily habits and body functions we are victims of our own lives. Some things are out of our control. However, we design our own lifestyles by circumstance or by intentional behavior. With this in mind, we can hone in on five energy-enhancing habits to prevent chronic illness from beginning. If you have a chronic illness, adding these five habits will help create balance and realize your body's maximum potential.
- Breathe. Oxygen is essential to sustaining life. Breathing oxygenates our tissues and offers a life force that is both calming and meditative. Yogis take part in elevated actions of breathing like pranayama, creating a cooling sensation and benefiting from the body's response by enhancing synapses in the brain, and improved cardiovascular health. Breathing is a simple activity and when done with others can unify and support groups of individuals. Improved oxygen eases our bodies' functions and allows for healing repair of tissues, which our bodies do naturally when we sleep.
- Exercise. Movement is critical to organ and tissue function. Simple walking and yoga improve our bodies' digestion and offer improved simple alignment to our skeletons to hold our tissues in place. Over time, our bodies are pulled by gravity and may be misshapen from lack of movement. Proper organ placement allows for maximum potential function and ease in moving pain free. 60% of our bodies' energy is dedicated to digesting food. Let's consider this, more than half of our energy is used to absorb nutrients and excrete waste from our bodies. Exercise increases our energy and moves our bodies to facilitate and ease digestion, as well as spend and build energy in a balanced way.
- Exercise is also the best opportunity to check in with your body's performance. Are you feeling bloated? Does your shin ache? Do you have lower back pain? Do you notice that you feel stronger or weaker in your arms or legs? Connecting with yourself through exercise helps you gauge what you may need to adjust in your daily diet and routine.
- Feel hungry. Routine meals are a means to restore and maintain good agni, our bodies' source of fire and intelligence. Agni is considered a life force and critically important to our overall health. Tapping into this feeling of hunger refines our energy on a cellular level, as agni discerns which substances enter our cells and tissues, and which substances should be removed as waste. Maintaining a routine with meal times (2-3 daily, depending upon your constitution), eliminating snacks, and sipping water or tea between meals fuels the fire to perform at your highest potential. Clarity in your diet will result in clarity in your mind, as well.
- Meditate. An exercise for the brain and clearing the clutter in our thoughts optimizes brain performance. When practicing daily meditation on a long term basis, we eventually experience the benefits of meditation in our day to day lives through intentionality. With benefits reaching beyond the calming of our mind and bodies to the greatest potential of blossoming as social beings and elevating our local and global communities. A daily meditation practice has been found to offer a source of strength to those experiencing chronic illness and PTSD. Generously giving yourself this opportunity to develop a practice as a well person, allows for strength building in the mind and the capacity to calm the body to reduce inflammation and be strong in our personal constitutions striving for balance.
- Rest and reflect. An early bed time is the best course of action to reset our routines. Finding the discipline to organize our lives in the circadian rhythm of nature aligns our bodies with living things in our natural environment. Humans are diurnal in nature, as are so many animals. Reflecting upon the day at sun's set and resting with the moon's light offers mental organization and natural support to our organs. Upon night fall, the human body is oriented to rest, refresh, rebuild and heal tissues. Allowing the unique needs of your body to rest 6 - 10 hours daily at night sets yourself up for optimum digestive and tissue performance. Protecting your digestive performance in this way enables all of the nutrients from the fresh organic foods you've eaten (hopefully) to be absorbed with maximum potential. This daily routine is critical for long term vitality.
- Reflecting upon the day and quite literally, resting your eyes in the mirror upon our personal appearance is another opportunity to check in with yourself. Do you have circles under your eyes? You may need more sleep. Is your hair shiny or dull? You may need more protein or good oils in your diet. Do you look bloated or gaunt? You may need to add more fruits, vegetables, or proteins to your diet. Do you have cracks on your tongue? You may need to hydrate more often.
Seasonal shifts require adaptation.
With these five actions in mind, you may have lifestyle flaws that must be considered or need adjustment. Adaptation to your daily lifestyle is important, but can only go so far for long term health. The habit of a busy lifestyle must be adjusted according to the season, which will offer the natural inclinations of activities in this way:
- Winter offers more time at home and we are not as active.
- Spring presents difficulty in getting back to a regenerative, livelier time in life.
- Summer is highly active and an exciting time of the year.
- Fall is a preparation for Winter's slowing down.
With these seasonal shifts, our bodies are in a constant mode of adaptation. The five habits of breathing, exercising, good agni, meditation, and rest each develop a resource of equilibrium from which to draw. Chronic illness can come on slowly with signs and symptoms from your body's unique-to-you personal language. You are the expert about what is happening in your body and will be your best advocate during your annual check up with your physician or practitioner.
Journal to relate to yourself and others.
Using these daily habits to deepen your reflection in a journal will be beneficial for years to come. Keeping a daily personal health journal including an outline of your daily meals, exercise, sensations you feel after eating and moving, personal health goals, and concerns to share with your medical or Ayurvedic practitioner will offer a completeness in your dialogue and relationship. After keeping a journal for one year, you will be able to reference continuing concerns you may have that come up each season. Reviewing this during a time of reflection will help you stay on the path of preventing chronic illness and developing your wellness practice.
Many productive and self-aware people practice the habit of journaling for self reflection. Deepening the connection with yourself and learning your unique body language is building a foundation to support these five habits to prevent chronic illness. Carving out this time to develop a personal wellness practice is the best investment of time for relating to yourself, those you love, and your local community.