Process not Perfection

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Is done really better than perfect? Maybe in marketing or bed-making, but perfect sounds like a good idea when engaging in say, heart surgery or packing a parachute. Habits, though? Where do they fit in? I’m siding with done. To any degree.

I’m two weeks into my made up Three for Three system. I’m counting the “dones” because there is no perfect here. This is life. It’s more about mastery than perfection. And it’s all 100% subjective.

There is a quote from Swami Kripalu that I have always marveled at and I’m on a constant quest to embed it into every judgmental cell of my being: “Self-observation without judgment is the highest form of spiritual practice.” And how.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Eliminating things is way easier than adding in new practices. At least the things I chose to let go of. It took absolutely no effort to deny alcohol. I mean aside from thinking somewhere on the periphery while preparing dinner that first night how lovely a glass of wine would be while chopping veggies, there has really been no thought of wine or alcohol of any kind.

While I was making my list of positive changes I wanted to adopt this year, there were other food items that I wanted to eliminate or greatly reduce: meat, dairy, gluten and sugar. I secretly bundled two of those into the curriculum of month one of “Project Me” and, like their buddy alcohol, they have not been missed. No meat or gluten for 14 days. Check.

BUT, if I do have meat and/or gluten, I have already given myself permission to let it go and not be judgmental. Alcohol is the focus. That was the one thing I promised myself.

I also want to clarify the reason I am doing this. To myself as much as anyone. I have identified those 5 foods as working against me. Or perhaps it is my affinity for them that becomes detrimental. Alcohol invites me to stay up too late and cozy up to lethargy. Meat has become more of a compassion issue over the years, but I also know too much of it too often promotes prolonged couch sitting. Gluten is glue to my digestive system. Nuff said. Dairy is inflammatory to everyone and I am everyone. Sugar is my best friend. I love sugar. I have let her go before and plan to move to another state to avoid her enticements if I have to to say bye-bye again. But not yet.

I always have these five frenemies in the back of my mind. I am hyper aware of each teaspoon of sugar that goes into my coffee and of how much butter I am using on my gluten-free toast. I have let go of cheese for the most part and don’t miss it. But just knowing this is the direction in which I’d like to go, keeps me from overindulging and seems to be working in my favor.

Plus, I have made no promises to let go of any of these things forever. Or maybe I will. But there is no pressure to label myself anything or any pride involved in being something-free. In fact, I would like to be the type of person that becomes so attuned to the needs of their own body that they eat and nourish it with exactly what and how much it requires.

Can you imagine? Not succumbing to peer pressure, advertising or non-supportive habits? Sounds kinda magical.

The side effect of eliminating all of these things, slowly and mindfully, is to create space and clarity. Clean energy to be used for higher pursuits. Give myself and my body the best opportunity to digest and thrive, thereby clearing my mind and sparking the moldering embers of creativity. To give myself every opportunity to be shiny.

Weight loss could also be a side benefit, but it’s not the driver. I haven’t weighed myself at all. I know I need to lighten up, lose weight and reduce inflammation and I believe that will happen naturally. I want to be my ideal size, but I’ve actually grown quite fond of my curves and thickness over the years. I like being huggable and grounded. But, if the universe decides my best body mass is 120 pounds I’m down with that too. I’ll adjust.

Now, for the moment of truth: The adding in of helpful habits. (Big sign, eye roll.)

The morning practice and daily writing? More difficult. For me it’s about structure and time. If I get up early enough these things will flow with much less effort. (That’s my belief.) The holidays and company have given me many convenient excuses not to do this. But honestly, even when I get up at 5:00 AM I manage to somehow fill the time with other things.

But I’m not giving up. Quitting would not serve me. These two practices are still tugging at me.

Let’s start with the morning practice. In my mind it was to be about an hour and include meditation, breath work and yoga. In reality, on my best days, it turned into 15 minutes of all of that. However, I am reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear and one of the methods to skillfully adopt a habit is to commit 2 minutes to it daily. In the case of my little routine that would look like sitting on my mat for 2 minutes. Maybe eyes closed and breathing. Maybe looking around my backyard. The habit is rolling out my mat and sitting down however I spend that time is irrelevant. In theory this mat sitting will evolve into the hour I had envisioned. Maybe two minutes at a time. Better than avoidance.

The writing has had a higher success rate. I have wondered more than once why I chose writing. I love to write. I hate to write. I love to think about writing and to have written, but the process sometimes feels arduous and the words won’t flow and who wants to read this drivel anyway when I’m bored with my own sentences. But bad writing is still writing. Good and better writing comes with consistency. And lots pages of bad writing. I have been able to meet my goal of 1000 words per day about 65% of the time.

As I consider my choices, and that voice of lethargy disguised as common sense that tries to talk me into other distractions, I am also fortifying my decisions by reading about habits, by reading about food, by writing about what I’m reading about. I believe that is called studying. And I do not have a specific goal in mind for any of it. No weight loss or book deal, no financial gain or gold stars.

The process is the struggle and the reward. To let it go is to fail. To skip days, fight against it and whine, but still do something, anything? That’s progress. Process not perfection.

 

Three for Three

Here we go!

We have the opportunity to hit the reset button the first of every month, the beginning of each new day, even the top of each inhalation, yet somehow flipping the page from one year to the next creates in us the need for an entire life makeover.

I get it. I’m in that boat. Every year. It’s the possibility of change, of an updated version of the me I already like with better features; more energy, an easier smile and less stress.

But are we just kidding ourselves? Am I just kidding myself? Again?

Maybe. Yet the exercise, the review, the hope seem like a really good thing, so I persist.

Nothing really ever goes exactly according to plan, yet we plan. This year is no different. But hopefully it is. Hopefully I will stop breaking promises to myself, stop lying to myself and trust that way more intelligent higher self within me. She’s inexhaustible and patient. She sits quietly by while all the crazy lower selves run around in circles convincing me that one more glass of wine is not going to hurt anything, that gluten is fine for me taken in small doses – like two or three cookies at a time – that sugar has been around forever so it can’t be all bad and that going for that walk tomorrow makes more sense than getting off the comfy couch right now.

She’s waiting. I’m ready to hang out with her now.

That band of lazy, chaotic pranksters needs to be put in their place. So, we, my higher self and I, are going to employ some different tactics this year.

Quick Reader’s Digest version of a familial backstory here that has led to this “new” system: My brother and I are a lot alike in our desire to be better, do better and take better care of ourselves. We want to better ourselves and the world. We chat ad nauseum about such things. And sometimes we actually do them. This year though, we decided to create a structure in which to give ourselves a better chance for success. And a way to hold each other accountable. It’s based on not a single stitch of personal research, it is instead based on our desire to improve and the subliminal messages of millions of hours spent reading the books, and listening to the podcasts of, those who seem to have cracked the personal best life mastery code. So here goes…

Three things in three months. Three for Three. To be repeated each quarter. Different goals each quarter, same system.

We each have a list of those practices we’d like to add in to our lives and a list of items or practices we’d like to eliminate. In addition, we’re both entrepreneurial so there are some business benchmarks we’d also like to hit.

We’ve learned through trial and [mostly] error that we’re not so good at this, and that attempting a clean sweep of all the bad and adding a dump truck load of all the good all at once is not only nearly impossible, but also not recommended. On the other side of the coin, choosing a moderate path just seems to find us wandering back into the same bad habits full of colorful excuses. And the ‘let it go and just be’ tactic trips us up as well. Although there is a component of that in this plan.

Let me explain. We need structure. This is a royal we so you’re included here. When we automate certain positive habits, we have more time for creative pursuits because we are spending less time stressing about what we should be doing. Think: brushing your teeth. You just automatically do that. As a kid you may have whined, bargained and drug your feet on the way to the bathroom sink, but now you get it and it’s a natural part of your day. THAT’S what we’re going for here.

To make it easier (we hope), we created three categories under which to place three of the changes we wanted to make in each three month time block.

  • Assimilate: Folding a good habit or practice into your day – pick one and commit to it for three months. Weave it into your life. Every day.
  • Eliminate: Choose one unhelpful habit or item, kick it to the curb and commit to its absence for three months. Every day.
  • Dominate: These are achievable business/personal goals. They differ in that there will be an end point; something measurable. Pick one commit to it for three months. Work it every day.

Here’s where I’m starting:

Assimilate: Morning practice. What does this look like? A combination of meditation, breath work and yoga. Some days it may be 10 minutes, others may be 2 hours. The time is way less important than the commitment to the daily practice.

Eliminate: I want to pick all the gremlins, but I am settling on alcohol. No one needs alcohol and when we hang out together we eat poorly and stay up too late. She’s fun and all, but we’re gonna take a break.

Dominate: Daily writing. Not journaling, but actual writing. Book pages, blogs, articles, etc. This is more on the personal than business side, but it’s been a struggle to get me to sit down and focus in front of my screen on the daily. Now it’s a priority. The measurable part? 1,000 words a day. Maybe that book will finally reveal itself.

The idea here is if the habit just isn’t sticking after three months I can let it go guilt-free and move on to the next three for three. If it sticks, great, it’s automated and it continues without much thought and I still move on to the next three.

The rest of the list? It’s long and includes things like no snacking, planting a food garden, 10,000 steps a day and consuming lots of water.

I’m hoping along the path of this journey I will stumble upon my keystone habit; that one habit that shifts everything and all those lists and plans simply fall into place. I’ll keep you informed.

How about you? How do you plan to love yourself back to health this year?

 

Going Places

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The page – or in this case, the blinking cursor – is calling me back. I’m not sure what exactly it’s asking for yet, but I’m open and making myself available.

Mostly it seems to be inquiring about travel.

In the middle of reading another inspiring non-fiction book on self-mastery, the question was posed … really the author demanded, that I finish reading the current sentence then go sit with myself somewhere and write down my dreams. All the crazy, seemingly unattainable ones, the ones that make me shudder with excitement, fear or anxiety, the simple ones – like having a place for everything in my house, I mean super simple – and any rogue thought that happens to pop into my head that might be a thread that leads somewhere magical.

On it. Aside from discussing consciousness with Christians, yogis and atheists alike, dreaming is my favorite!

Travel writing.

That’s what the Universe handed me on a slightly smudgy, obviously dented, silver platter. Gifts from the Universe often have to make a few trips around the sun before I’m ready to receive them. This one may frisbee back out yet before it sits beside me each day.

And I had to really study those two words because I don’t think they mean what they seem to say. I believe, in my case, they are meant as two separate commands that intersect.

Here’s how I see it:

Travel is my blood type, a plane ticket, a new passport stamp? Those are transfusions. When I don’t get to go places (by which I mean, when I believe there is something more important than wandering like laundry or running my businesses) I get sick. It’s not a normal sick, I’m rarely that. I get bitchy and itchy. I grumble a lot like an old man who wishes those idiot boxes were never invented and what the hell is a sofrita anyway, what’s wrong with meat and potatoes? That guy. The only antidote is travel. I’ve tried other medicines; wine, chocolate, yoga, they only take me so far.

Writing too has been my constant companion my entire life. Mountains of journals sit heaving in my closet, eyes rolling when they find out they’re not so special. Each one has the same list of how I want to structure my day and all that I would like to accomplish. Day after day. They get bored, my journals. I hear them yawn, audibly breathe the sigh of disappointment when I start rolling out a new plan. But when I start to describe the view from my hotel room that includes a black-faced monkey and the Ganges they start to perk up. They’re totally fine with packing lists for European treks and they especially like when I confess how a place has revealed something about me to me.

And there are blogs, once organized, now somewhat willy nilly, and mostly lately covered in cobwebs and neglect. It helps me, the writing. The publishing is scary, but it’s part of the process too.

Travel. Writing. Travel writing. These will likely never be the kind of stories picked up by Afar or Conde Nast Traveler. I’m not likely to tell you where to eat or what not to miss or what time to be at the Vatican, and which gate so you can bypass the line. But I will tell you how standing on the banks of the Ganges made me cry tears of connection to everything and while sipping red wine at a vineyard overlooking the Mediterranean in Lucca, Italy on the most perfect day ever, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for this life I couldn’t speak.

I will share the humility I have gained by talking to a man who had no home and no shoes but smiled nonetheless and even gave the dog sharing his tarp the piece of bread I offered him. How he had enough. He was happy. He gave up everything and now whatever he needs comes to him. I will tell you that that is true abundance and I may even give you a hint of yoga philosophy lesson on the tenet of Aparigraha or non-attachment. Mostly because it’s a reminder and lesson to me.

The more I tell you, the more I learn about me.

Travel. Writing. They are symbiotic in my world. They need each other. One does not describe the other. When I look at them I can see them each on the bulbous sides of an infinity symbol.  Traveling opens me up and reveals the dark corners that need to be energetically vacuumed out, as well as the covered bits of light yearning to shine and share.

Traveling is manna to me. Writing is how I process and share my experiences.

So this is my big, anxious, hairy, exciting dream. I mean, a well-organized house is also still on the list, but it just doesn’t curl my toes like going places.

What’s your dream?

Homeward Bound

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Day Seven, Last Day.

We choose to end our time here on the beach as the sun rises again. I am convinced there is no better way to start the day. We are all together, including the therapists. It feels like a special group. We’re told we were a low maintenance group and we hear, “You are our favorite group.” There is an ease among us now. We have been through a transformation together and it has bonded us. At least while we’re still in one place. Once we get in our cars and onto our planes and back into our lives, who knows.

Of the Fourteen people involved in this whole process from the therapists and cooks to the doctor and the participants I knew five coming in. And I’ll continue to stay in touch with them. But this whole experience is unique because we each had such inward experiences. We were tiny little islands of processes. Our take-away and evolution, or involution, were extremely personal. While we shared the same big house and amazing therapists and helpers, our transformations were ours alone.

We came together in this experience in much the same way we get to know our neighbors right after a hurricane or other natural calamity and vow – at least privately – that we’ll all become best friends and this will become THAT neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else. But it’s not sustainable. I’m not sad or wistful about this, just observing it.

People come into and leave our lives all the time. It’s by design.

Today, I meet with Dr. Jain for the last official time. The news is all positive. My agni is up, my ama is down, but there’s still a ways to go. My Pitta/Kapha constitution has been restored but my Vata is still elevated, but not nearly to the degree it was, there are still some stress management practices I will need to continue.

Oh, and, I should be a vegan.

He actually told me this back in August when I brought my husband here for some mini-panchakarma. I nodded and said okay and committed for about 45 minutes. I didn’t totally agree with him. Here’s why:

About 12 years ago I got fed up with food being the enemy and decided to make it my friend by learning as much as I could about it. I found an amazing program in NYC called the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. It continues to be one of the most profound and life-enhancing experiences I’ve ever had. During the study of  my own self with regards to food I came to the now-educated conclusion that the Blood Type diet held the most positive answers for me. I was also quite taken with the whole concept of Ayurveda, so as a newly minted Certified Holistic Health Coach I used those two philosophies together to heal my own food issues as well as the digestive, weight and stress concerns of others.

All of this to say, my blood type tells me that I should basically eat beef and broccoli. And when I do eat mostly paleo my weight normalizes, my energy is sustained and I feel good. But it’s been a long time since I held to a strict diet of any kind.

So I do what I should have done in August, and ask him why.

Does it have something to do with agni? Does eating meat put the fire out per se? I mean, I’m open to try almost anything that will boost my energy and make me feel shiny again.

“No,” said he, “eating meat has nothing to do with agni. You do not have enough agni right now to digest meat.”

Of course! That makes total sense.

In truth, if I thought I could be a healthy vegan I would completely embrace it. I don’t like the smell of cooking meat. I don’t like touching raw meat. I do love a beautifully seasoned filet made by a Cordon Bleu chef. But I am committed to my own health. I have promised myself, and Dr. Jain, that I will do the vegan thing for three months. My hope is to be balanced enough to add eggs back in. That’s all, I don’t need meat. Maybe a few times of year. Some happy grass-fed, free range animal protein. Or not.

If I had one recommendation about all this food misinformation and conflicting theories – for anyone who is looking for one – that came out of all this experience it would be this: find a way to cleanse so that you can begin to understand the language of your body again. Learn to listen to its needs, not the desires of your tired, worn out ego looking for a sugar bump. Reset in some way and listen.

Really listen.

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Our amazing healers: Casey, Roslyn, Jenny (therapists), Dr. Jain and Michele Jain.

A Nice Cup of Hot Water

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Day Five

Today is Big B Day. Basti – you remember, enema. (I just want you to know I typed that last word  s u p e r   s l o w l y  with my face all scrunched up.)

I decide to start my day right, with the routine Dr. Jain recommended.

  • Tongue scraping
  • Oil pulling
  • Teeth brushing
  • Hot water drinking
  • Pranayama
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

Let’s unpack a few of these a little more, shall we?

I briefly explained tongue scraping and oil pulling in yesterday’s blog and I trust you understand teeth brushing, but maybe you don’t see the appeal of “a nice cup of hot water”. Honestly I don’t either, or didn’t, but it’s not so bad.

Hot water with lemon was grandma’s old remedy to get things going in the morning. That’s still its purpose. Hot water stokes the digestive fires or maybe wakes them up. Mostly one cup will do, but if you’ve cheesed it up the night before or went to bed with a hamburger, maybe add a second cup. The idea is to drink the hot water until you eliminate.

Drinking hot water throughout the day keeps the plumbing happy. Dr. Jain recommends lime instead of lemon, and just a little bit, if you’d like to flavor your water. I wish I could remember why, I know asked him no less than 20 times. But a little of either would be fine.

Pranayama, our next step in this process, is a fancy Sanskrit word for breath work. Here, we are doing three different kinds.

Bastrika or breath of fire – forcefully inhaling and exhaling through the nose. We’re guided to do as many rounds as is comfortable and feels beneficial for us. Mostly we seem to be doing 2 sets of around 35. Between each round we take a moment to allow the breath to come back to normal.

Nadhi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing. This is an amazing technique that balances both hemispheres of the brain and is great to do before meditation or bed. It is done with a mudra (hand gesture) so that each nostril can be closed off to switch back and forth.

Kappalabhati or skull shining. It might be my favorite. It is also a forceful breath, but just on the exhalation. It takes a bit more practice to master as it involves the snapping in and up of the diaphragm on that forceful exhalation. The inhalation happens on its own. We do several rounds including adding in the kicky alternate nostril bit along with it.

All of these breathing techniques are done in this order and slowly with awareness of how they are making us feel. This part takes about 10 minutes.

The breath work clears the mind to prepare it for meditation. Here we sit for about 20 minutes, followed by a gentle yoga class.

This is my new morning routine, maybe an hour, hour and 15 each day. Fingers crossed.

My treatment is scheduled early today so I will forego breakfast. Skipping lunch yesterday had the pleasant consequences I was hoping for, so I’m trusting my gut. And leaving it empty. It will all be emptied out for me anyway.

It is Big Basti Day.

I want so badly to share the details with you but I fear I will lose you forever, so let’s just leave it at this: It cannot be done wrong, at least not with these kind and loving therapists. I imagine no matter what happens they remain encouraging and tell you what a great job you’re doing.

I can tell you that the bag they use is scary. It is big and full of oatmeal colored stuff. (Imagine an IV drip bag half full.) Each basti is tailor-made to the individual. I have no idea what is in mine but it has a yellowish tinge so I’m assuming turmeric is among its ingredients. They all have some sort of oil base, like coconut, olive or even ghee. There are tiny specs of things floating around in the bag which I take to be healing herbs.

Thank you. This is good for me.

It wasn’t humiliating or as bad as I thought. It did produce the desired results and after about an hour I felt pretty amazing. And I get to do it all over again tomorrow! (There’s sarcasm in that exclamation point.)

Most of us are walking around lighter and glowy as we meet for dinner. It is a free night, and a movie on Netflix has been cued up for us. It is not by accident that we are going to watch What the Health. It’s food education after all. The movie is clearly shewed toward Veganism with all the right doctors and statistics. But it offers a lot of useful information. We wince and oh my god at all the right places and vow to become vegans, at least until we leave here. After the movie we engage in a lively discourse about what we have just watched. We offer our opinions as well as debate certain facts. We listen to each other and agree or disagree kindly. All movies should be viewed this way, with a group of people who are like-minded but may have differing opinions. This art of conversation seems to have been swept away with the tides of civility not so long ago.

I head to bed with the stories of the three people in the movie that went from death’s door to glowing health in just two weeks, the pleasant feeling of being empty and a text from home that the kitty I’m fostering is a monster.

This should make for some interesting dreams.

Scrape, Pull, Brush

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Day Four

On this morning we decide to do our pranayama and meditation on the beach as the sun rises. It’s chilly so we bundle up, gather towels to sit on and blankets to wrap ourselves in. The tide is making its way in and at this particular location that means there will be no beach on which to sit in less than an hour so we perch on the ridge of the sand dune and wait. The sky is already light and beginning to blush as the sun still hides behind the horizon. The full moon is directly behind us slowly descending against a gradient sky of pastels. Suddenly a man with fishing gear is standing beside us with a huge smile on this face. He says a hearty “good morning” and makes his way down to the water’s edge to set up his poles. Not long after, another happy soul appears and emits a, “Wow! Good morning!” They must not get much company in the wee hours.

Their mood is infectious. We learn later, when we ask one of them to take our photo, that they are here on vacation from Portugal.

The sun rises behind the Florida mountains, rimming the tops of the clouds in a shimmering neon orange. It is full minutes before it seems to move at all. We’ve forgotten pranayama, mostly,  but we do chant a quiet Gayatri Mantra and an attempt is made to do an open eye meditation. But mostly we’re struck silent by the magnificence before us: this trivial thing we take for granted will happen on a daily basis.

Once the spell is broken and the sun too bright to gaze into, we do some random yoga poses. It turns into more of Simon Says play time, with each of us guiding one pose. Then Dr. Jain’s wife, Michelle, who is a yoga teacher and yoga nidra facilitator (among her many talents) asks if we’d like to do some laughter yoga. She’s certified in that as well.

We’re a bit tentative, too refined for such silliness, then she lets out this huge belly laugh totally unexpectedly and we fall apart. It might be my new favorite yoga.

Laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Back at the house we begin to mentally prepare for our personal schedules. My meeting with the doctor is early today and our goal is to discuss my daily routine. (Finally! Over 40 years of journals have been filled with this ridiculous notion of scheduling my day or at least my morning. Mostly it ends up with me needing to get up at 3 A.M. and be done with my whole day somewhere around 11 A.M.) I have some ideas of my own so we’ll see what comes up.

I show up armed with the daily routine for a pitta, some notes from a friend who is in a training for just this – creating healthy habits based on Ayurvedic principles – and the usual suspects I believe I need to complete in the morning in order to feel prepared and productive.

He tosses the pitta routine aside, apparently my secondary dosha, Kapha is what needs addressing at this time, and he scrutinizes my various lists placing check marks, numbers and other notations beside items. Overall his recommendations seem doable and at this moment I am committed and ready to take my time and my life back. Here’s the abbrieviated list:

  • Rise before the sun
  • Tongue scraping – clearing the sleeping muck (or ama – toxins – that collect on the tongue overnight)
  • Oil pulling – a blend of sesame oil with a touch of peppermint oil swished around the mouth, pulled through the teeth and gargled
  • Drink a cup of hot water
  • Pranayama – specific breath work to clean out the cobwebs of the nasal passages and sleepy brain
  • Meditation – maybe 10-20 minutes to start
  • Yoga – whatever I want to do

Beyond that, he has no opinion of the morning routine. I still think I can cram in journaling, reading and writing, which may put me back at 3 AM, but we’ll see. Also not sure where walking or the gym will come in. But I like the beginnings of this, it feels like something I can implement while I’m here and continue once I’m home.

I skip lunch so I don’t react during my treatments. It’s a good plan and I am glad I did. So many things are better on an empty stomach. If only I could remember that more often.

The treatments hold no surprises today. I am able to relax through them. Tomorrow is Big B day. THAT may have some surprises.

Evening session after dinner brought a cooking class with a sidebar of Dr. Jain’s personal story and entry into Ayurveda. It was far more entertaining than the cooking lesson. Like most people who make huge lifestyle changes, he was struck with a personal issue that seemed devastating at the time.

He calls it the first crack in the ego foundation. This crack is  necessary and the impetus for change.

As chief of staff and general surgery at a hospital, at the prime of his life and career, he developed an auto-immune muscle disease. He was told he should take a year sabbatical and rest. There’s a lot in between, but the bottom line is, it led him to Ayurveda and he credits Ayurveda for healing him completely of the disease.

For me, it’s the personal stories that have the most impact and his was profound.

I head up to bed with the sense that I am exactly where I am supposed to be in this moment. I open the window to hear the ocean and try not to think about Big B.

D-Day

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Day Two

We were warned yesterday that today we would all receive something to take – either pills or a liquid – that will cause something they like to call “controlled diarrhea”. Have you stopped reading yet? None of us is excited about this prospect especially when some of us have to take our medicine just before our treatments – the massages and sandings. The pills are tasteless and I am not worried and I swallow them 10 minutes before my massage.

I march up to the treatment room prepared for a repeat of the day before. Today will be gentler I am told. There will be no sanding – actually called udvartana or something sounding like it came out of the fabric lips of the Swedish Chef on Sesame Street, and it’s done with silk gloves, that’s it, no sand paper – and no basti. Just the massage and steam. Oh, and the eye drops and nose dealios. It sounds manageable.

But something happens to me when I lie down. There is an acidic surge from my stomach to my throat, a sourness, that I try to maintain and ignore. Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be? I manage to make my way through the massage on both sides, albeit uncomfortably. As they lowered Steamy Wonder over my slick body, I took a breath and tried to suck it up. But the steam apparently cooked whatever was already brewing inside and I had to cut my session about 10 minutes short. They managed to muddy my eyes with ghee and have me snort some oil, but that was it.

As I sat up, the therapist handed me a glass of water and I could barely swallow the first sip. Not a good sign.

I went to my room to use the bathroom (by now you know what you’ve gotten yourself into) and vomited my entire breakfast. Both bowls of some sort of spiced rice mush with broccoli. Fortunately, the broccoli did not make a second appearance. And actually I felt much better after the purge.

I never throw up. I will do whatever I can not to vomit. Ok, well, there have been a few times when the wine was flowing freely and I may have been over-served, but this elimination was so much cleaner. There was no shaking with cold sweats. There were no promises to any entity with the power to make this go away as I pressed the side of my tortured head to the coolness of the porcelain. It was more of a quick assessment and realization that that just happened and now we’re moving on.

Then there was the other end.

[A note of caution: When you’ve been soaked by a gallon of oil head to toe, take care when taking a seat on a slippery surface like porcelain.]

Again, I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that it was more annoying than anything. I would start to read a sentence or two in a book and be interrupted again by the goings on in my digestive tract. It went on for about two hours. For others it lasted over eight.

Four coconut waters, a couple of naps and an empty stomach later, I arrived back at the dinner table feeling lighter. Mostly.

We’re bonded now, having gone through the same experience. We eat slowly and gaze up from our bowls of food on occasion to smile at one another. Quiet conversations start and fade out. No one asks how the other is doing, we simply assume our presence at the table indicates we have survived.

Tonight’s lecture topic is all about agni, digestive fire. I do not have enough, most of us probably don’t considering the way we eat and our stressful lifestyles. Ways to increase it?

  • Meditation
  • Pranayama
  • Sipping warm (or hot) water all day
  • Eating only warm food
  • Certain spices – these are specific to each individual dosha (constitution)

This doesn’t have to be forever, just until the body is back in balance. But there is so much benefit in continuing ALL of those practices, so why not? Oh, and here’s a revelation for our excessively-minded society:

Only eat when you’re hungry.

Wait, what? But, what about breakfast, the most important meal of the day? And lunch. I have to have lunch when it’s my time to go to lunch. And dinner, of course, that’s when we all get together and talk about our day (or sit in front of the TV mindlessly shoveling food into our waiting, bored mouths). What about 6 small meals a day?

Ayurveda may actually be the originator of intermittent fasting. Two meals a day is really all anyone needs. But we’ll explore all the food stuff later. It’s too good not to share all on its own.

But for now…

Hungry? Eat. Not hungry? Don’t eat.

 

 

Sanded, Slathered and Steamed

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Day One and a Half

It is Sunday and I have been gagging on melted medicated ghee for a week now. This is the day I head to the beach to the wellness center to begin my purge. I am ready. Not ready. I don’t have to be there until 5 PM and it only takes about an hour to get there so I decide to have late lunch before I go, around 3. I stop at Chipotle and choose the barbacoa bowl.

I’m gonna need to fortify with some good beef, I convince myself.

If I were a healthy, balanced person I would have chosen to eat mostly cooked vegetables and maybe a little rice at home, but I am neither, so my constant companion, Habit, takes me to lunch.

The drive is easy and when I arrive I am the last of the six of us who will be sharing the intimacies of our bodily functions and mental neuroses.

Two of my friends are here and they have brought along another friend who I adore immediately. The four of us will spend time together when we are not otherwise engaged.

The center is a big house originally built to be a bed and breakfast. It is on A1A, the main highway that runs along the east coast. We are on the mainland side. There is a row of houses between the road and the beach that prevents us direct access, but does not completely obstruct the view, refreshing scent of sea air or the lullaby of crashing waves. A short walk will take us to public access.

My room is on the second story in the front of the house. Each room is equipped with a queen or king bed, a variety of other furniture pieces and a private bath. That last part is going to be key.

Once settled, I head back down to the kitchen where we gather around the large oval hand-painted table. The theme of the house is American Tuscany, but in case the architectural pieces and iron railings don’t make that clear, there is a giant map of Italy on the kitchen wall.

Conversations are easy but brief, we learn a little about each other, form our opinions and eat the first pot of our healthy food. We have a cook, two I hear, that will be making us a pot of something healthy every day for every meal. All our food will be served warm, it’s part of the healing protocol.

After dinner we head to the living room for our first lecture. We learn about the three body constitutions and their attributes. I am familiar with most of what is being said, but I dutifully take notes in an attempt to remain awake and upright. He, the doctor, seems to realize we’re all a bit distracted and tired so he wraps up and we head up to our respective rooms. My friends from California sit at the kitchen table and chat with a couple from Texas. Their bodies are all still a few time differences behind.

It’s chilly for Florida, but I open the window anyway. I like the fresh air and I want to hear the ocean. I also turn on the ceiling fan, I like air moving. Sleep comes pretty easily and each time I wake I rest back into the rhythm of mother ocean.

A good start.

I wake at 6:00 AM refreshed and ready to start this process.

After pranayama (breath work), meditation and yoga, we head to the kitchen for a breakfast of oatmeal and spiced fruit. The fruit is amazing.

My treatment isn’t scheduled until later so I walk down to the beach to drink in all those healing negative ions. There is no better reset for me.

After my walk, some journaling, a taste of boredom I have become unaccustomed to, and lunch, I head to the treatment room.

I am handed a blue paper sheet and asked to disrobe, sit on the table and cover my intimate parts with the sheet. A delicate knock later, two of the massage therapists approach me to begin treatment with a prayer, each of them holding one of my hands in both of theirs. After a shared om, one moves behind me to gently place her hands on my shoulders and the other places her fingertips on the top of my head and on my third eye. As the one in the front moves to place her warm, oiled hand over my heart, the one behind me does the same in the back. My heart is in their hands. Then I am guided to lay on my belly. This is where it gets good, the warm oil massage.

But wait, apparently I have to be sanded down first like a wooden board to receive stain.

I don’t know what they’re doing or why. But I go with it. I take it. They are moving in tandem, scrubbing up the sides of me, starting at my hip and ending at my ribcage. I am being planed. After I am polished and smooth, they begin the warm oil massage. Only it’s hot. It feels hot. Perhaps it is because I have been tenderized. Again, they are working in tandem. This is abhyanga, a specific massage done by two therapists working together. It is a lymphatic massage to help detoxify the body. Mostly gentle in nature, except for that first part. That was new. I am lulled into submission by their rhythm. Then they begin pressing on certain points in my appendages, marma points I am told and it’s all good, until they hook their thumbs into my airpits and wave at my shoulders. It tickles and it shocked me. I struggle not to giggle. This is serious business after all. This healing stuff.

They shift the cover from my legs up to my back slick and sticky with oil. They will now work on my legs. They separate my feet and tuck the sheet between my legs and I am suddenly struck with the visual of a sumo wrestler. It isn’t pretty.

As I lean into the ebb and flow of the massage again, I exhale and relax.

Time to flip. Now the front. I have become so seduced by the warm oil that I nearly rise off the table when they begin sanding the front of me. They are moving together on my sides again, only this skin feels a bit more tender. And it’s starting to get personal. They begin to do this arching thing from my rib cage up through the middle of “the girls” to my collar bone. Over and over again. When they take a break, I take a breath.

Warm oil on the front. Too hot again, but ultimately soothing. I am complacent once more.

When they are done with the massage, they lower this coffin-like tent over my body. Its name? Steamy Wonder. I soak in steam for a day or two it seems, I don’t like it, but they’ve devised clever ways to distract me. While laying on my back they put a few droppers of warm ghee into my eyes, sauteing my eyeballs with hot butter right in their sockets. Miraculously I can still see afterwards.  Then some sort of medicated oil I am to snort up my nose. It rests in the back of my throat and burns a hole to my spine, I am sure. just as I am about to fling the tent off me and run for the ocean, the facial massage begins. This is divine. I endure the steam as long as they are petting me.

Then the front is essentially done, but now it’s time to flip again, gotta roast the back, which somehow isn’t as uncomfortable. More padding back there perhaps.

Just when I think I am done, they guide me to assume a position to receive a medicated basti (think enema). The process is very brief. Not details. No real discomfort either.

But I do find myself wondering what I have signed up for?

Once I retrieve what’s left of my dignity I am shuffled to a chair in the hallway where I await an additional treatment. Shirodhara. This one I am looking forward to. A warm oil drip in the middle of the forehead for about 30 continuous minutes, followed by a head massage. I let go into that one.

My door is next to this particular treatment room so I don’t have far to stumble. I walk into the bathroom of my room uncertain what I should do with myself now. My hair is thick with oil, my body slick and there’s the possibility that something digestive could be happening at any minute. I am in limbo.

I decide to entertain myself with a book. Later there will be dinner and a short lecture on Ayurveda.

I’m still trying to figure things out, control them, fix them, but there is a softening around the edges, I am quicker to let go of the struggle. Perhaps the day’s events are beginning to do their work.

Impure

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It has been a week since I completed an 8-day detox. This was not a stay-at-home and mix some lemon and apple cider vinegar cleanse type of thing, this was a go to a place get lulled into relaxation by the beautiful surroundings then get beaten up by treatments kinda deal.

I may be a tad bit dramatic here.

What I did is called panchakarma. It is an Ayurvedic detoxification process. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga – they kind of grew up together – which focuses on food, the physical body and its relationship to nature. Yoga, is the spiritual practice that is its companion.

You may be confused by that last sentence as yoga certainly seems like a physical exercise and in part it is, but that is just one small aspect of the philosophy. But we’ll get into that at another time.

Panchakarma translates to: pancha = five, karma = actions. There are five actions taken to help the body detoxify, but the actual detoxification is three weeks long (or forever). Here are the cliff notes:

Week One: The week before attending panchakarma I met with the doctor. Based on his assessment of my overall health he prescribed medicated ghee (an organic clarified butter with helpful herbs for my constitution), a powder to mix into hot water and drink before meals, and castor oil to drink at night. For 7 days.

Week Two: Go to the location of the panchakarma and receive the five actions, as well as; participate in breath work, meditation and yoga each morning; eat healthy balancing food provided throughout the day; and attend a lecture each evening.

The five actions in brief:

Abhyanga – a two-person lymphatic massage using a gallon of oil. Two people work on opposite sides of the body, in tandem, to help the lymph move through to carry toxins out of the body. There are other add-ons to the body work that I will share as they happen.

Swedana – Steaming out the impurities either through a canvas steamed dome that is lowered over the massage table or a steam box in which one sits with the head out.

Shirodhara – a continuous warm oil drip onto the third eye. You might see god, it’s that divine.

Vamana or Vierechana – Controlled Elimination. Depending on the individual’s constitution and level of impurities, they are administered herbs to either “gently” vomit or have “controlled” diarrhea.

Basti – enema. Do you want the name and number of this magical retreat yet? There are two types: a 2 ounce oleating enema that mostly gets absorbed into the colon, and the 12-ounce bag (think IV size) that is filled with a personalized prescription of oils and herbs. The results of this one are markedly different from the 2-ounce as you’ve likely already surmised.

Rakta Mokshana – Blood letting. Like leeches. We did not do this one. Apparently the FDA has rules about the health of leeches so we missed out.

Ok, I know that’s six and there are also nasya – medicated oil up the nose, and netra tarpin – eye drops. Just know we got the full package, plus some extras, minus the leeches.

Week Three: During week two diet and lifestyle practices have been discussed and then prescribed for home. In addition, some herbs or supplements may be recommended. And in all honesty, this third week is really a suggested way to continue eating and living for the next three months. Or forever. I am doing the vegan thing until May. At least. To the best of my ability. [Please note: chocolate, wine and coffee are all vegan.]

By now you may be wondering, Why? Why would you do this and why are you sharing this masochistic torture with me?

Because the results are amazing.

It is a complete reset. When I showed up at the center’s front door, I was stressed beyond my capacity to deal with it in a healthy manner, instead I was on the fuck it diet – eating whatever I wanted – and drinking way too much wine. I let go of all my helpful practices and even gave up riding my beloved bike, Ruby Blue. I was just too busy being overwhelmed and important to take care of myself. I was on auto-destruct but powering through.

I had to disrupt all my habits.

I had committed to the panchakarma six months before going. A couple of friends from California were going to do it and invited me join, so I say yes. One of my best yesses, I’d say.

The first few days of panchakarma I was still stuck in my head, anxious without an impossible list of tasks to complete, but by mid-week I had relaxed into the rhythm and surrendered to the schedule. I could feel the stress turning to vapor and leaving my body (it left in other ways too, but I don’t want to spoil it), I could feel my mind beginning to clear and my muscles and righteousness beginning to relax.

By the time I left, I had a clarity and focus I have not had in years. My body felt lighter and more open. I could breathe fully and smile easily. My skin was glowing.

Why would I want to give that up? Why would I ever want to go back to the old uptight pressure cooker I was? I wouldn’t. I don’t. I am doing all I can to maintain my peace and continue to heal body and mind.

What will follow the next few days is my day-by-day account of what I went through. It’s written in real time, as I was experiencing it, so it has all the snark that comes along with a sarcastic, stressed, overweight, toxic, middle-aged woman being asked to get naked so her body can be sanded, slathered and sweated for her own good.

Regardless of what that crazy bitch has to say, this clearer, calmer version of her, highly recommends the process and the amazing therapists and doctor of the Mind Body Wellness Center in Flagler Beach, Florida.

 

Diet Roulette

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I’m doing it again. The food thing. Changing it up. If you’ve lost track, as I have, let me recount the past few food philosophies I have adopted and what I’ve learned and why I’m switching again.

There was the juice cleanse. The intention was to drink nothing but freshly pressed green juices, mostly my own, for 3-5 days. Eat a little whole fruit in there, perhaps some all-vegetable salads with only cold pressed olive oil drizzled. It went pretty well, but really 3 days of that is not enough to reveal any great insights, and I got so bored. So, I moved on.

I was feeling an unreasonable amount of stuffiness and congestion so I investigated the low-histamine trend. It’s the newest shiny thing in the food world. It’s difficult, but I did it religiously for about three weeks then slowly incorporated higher histamine foods back in. I mean, no avocado? Come on! Plus, I was reading conflicting articles, apparently it’s a very personal thing, this histamine. I did however find relief from the congestion and I stopped my morning ritual of three sneezes upon rising, so a win, I would say. But not sustainable and not intended to be.

That brings us to Whole30. That blog was a few days ago. The Cliff Notes version: It was good and pretty easy for me.

But still, there was this nagging in my mind or gut or somewhere demanding attention that told me I had not quite figured it out.

Circumstances being what they were I was heading to Flagler Beach to take my love to an Ayurvedic Physician. There was a consultation, then the recommendation that he return for four days to do a cleanse for four hours each day. This involved a specific kind of lymphatic massage, a sweat box, a forehead oil drip and something I promised not to mention. Let’s just say, it was a big part of the ‘cleanse’. Back and forth each day. That’s about an hour and a half each way. But it’s the beach, so. Plus, I personally know and love the doctor here. He spent his first lifetime as a general surgeon, then shifted a little more than 10 years ago to Ayurveda.

A quick primer: Ayurveda literally translates to Science of Life, it is the sister science to yoga. Where yoga is mostly a spiritual path, Ayurveda deals with the physical health of the body as it relates to diet, the seasons and the rhythms of the earth. Together they are a comprehensive approach to health. Everything prescribed in Ayurveda is dependent upon your dosha – your body’s constitution. This can be determined by a quick pulse diagnosis by someone who knows what they’re looking for. Often our constitutions are out of balance and some tweaking with food, exercise, lifestyle choices, treatments like massage, activities like yoga and herbs, will help straighten everything out. Other times call for a detox to remove stubborn waste called ama.

As I mentioned in the Whole 30 blog, body intuition goes a long way to recognizing an imbalance, but it is often useful to get another opinion. I also mentioned how it would be so great to be a vegetarian. (That right there is a little thing we call foreshadowing.)

Well, while I was waiting in this spectacular giant home on the water with a pool at my disposal, I decided to schedule a consultation for myself. Turns out, according to Ayurveda, a vegan diet is what is best for me right now. Vegan. No eggs, no dairy, no meat. Kind of the opposite of Whole 30, but I’m game. My first question was, “Forever?”

One year, with check-ins every three months. I’m down. And kind of excited. From past experimental experiences, I can tell you that a vegetarian diet for a month or more always left me feeling clearer and lighter, but I was invariably pulled back to the other side by my habits. The every-three-month thing will probably hold me accountable. Plus, I can have dark chocolate, coffee and wine on occasion. Win.

There is still “no list” food in my home and I am awaiting some herbs, so I plan to use the next couple days to transition and start with full attention on Sunday. In the margins of my life I am also completing a Life Plan as directed by the motivational book Living Forward, which happens to have as one of its “life accounts” Health. This will be completed on Saturday so the stars seem to be aligning.

I’m such an over-achiever wannabe.