The Second Brain

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Day Six

Mornings have become routine. I am making good on my promise to myself to do the tongue/oil/brush dance. This morning I woke up a bit earlier so I just got up and took care of all these things and added in a little journaling.

I love my time alone in the dark, still morning hours.

It has taken this long for some people to come out of their shells – a natural byproduct of releasing mental, emotional and physical gunk (the technical term) – and as such we are all talking over each other and interrupting. We are all pittas so everything we have to say is important. Perhaps this would be a good time to explain the constitutions or doshas as they’re known in Sanskrit, briefly as I can.

Firstly, you are born with your constitution which is some combination of the three doshas. Like your blood type, it will not change in your lifetime, so it’s important to embrace it. Secondly, since we all have some mix of all three any one, or all of them, can become frightfully out of balance. Next, doing something intense like this detox or something as simple as changing your diet can greatly help bring the doshas back into balance.

Here is a bit about each:

Pitta: Fire and water elements. Pittas have a medium frame and are well-proportioned. Because one of the elements that defines them is fire, they tend to overheat easily and can anger quickly if they are out of balance. They are often Type A personalities that thrive on accomplishing tasks. Highly organized and focused they are able to power through most things (but that doesn’t mean they should). That determination can also take a turn when they are out of balance creating workaholics who may create problems that don’t exist just so they have something to fix. They love to fix problems. They get hangry easily. Their heat can manifest as skin rashes, digestive issues and irritability. It’s best for pittas to stay away from heating foods and spices and partake in more gentle exercises than they are likely drawn to.

Vata: Defined by the air element and all that entails – airy, spacey, flighty, dry but also highly creative, quick thinking and sharp. Their body types tend to be thin with delicate bone structures. When they are out of balance they can worry unnecessarily, become nervous or suffer from sleeplessness. In balance they usually tend toward the arts. Physiologically they are defined by the nervous system.

Kapha: Earth and water elements. Kaphas generally have larger body types and bigger bones. They can gain weight easily but are not necessarily overweight. They can be very powerful athletes better at endurance sports than short sprints. When they are in balance everyone wants to be around them, especially Vatas, they can be a very grounding presence. Out of balance they can become lethargic and depressed. They can be difficult to get moving, but once they are they tend to stick with a program that is fun.

There are thousands of years of information on these and if they interest you, I’ve noted a few resources at the end of this post. You can also find a dosha questionnaire online to help you determine your constitution, but please note, these tests are subjective so your mood, belief systems and even the current temperature can skew your results. The only definitive way I know of to get an accurate answer is to have an Ayurvedic Practitioner or Physician do a pulse diagnosis. If they have been practicing for a while, they can also likely tell you what your imbalances are and offer recommendations on how to treat them.

I am a pitta/kapha. My primary dosha is pitta with kapha running a close second. Vata for me is very low. IF I’m balanced. When I arrived here my pitta was slightly elevated (anger/stress), my kapha was higher than it should be (toxins/lethargy) and my Vata was off the charts high (stress, stress and more stress and more specifically, the inability or desire to manage it effectively). My job during this week has been to lower all three back into balance, specifically by increasing my agni – digestive fire – by eating vegan, doing pranayama, meditation, yoga and the treatments AND reducing my ama – toxins – also by the same means. I’ll be assessed my last day here to see how my body and mind have responded to the treatments and changes in diet and daily routine.

My treatments are early once again today so I take just a tiny bit of baked fruit. This may be my favorite find this trip so far. Seriously. Anyway, the treatments are going well. All of them and I feel lighter and lighter, both physically, for obvious reasons, and mentally and emotionally. The reason for this is the gut-brain connection.

Just before coming here, I watched an 8-part docuseries on how nutrition affects the brain, and it was mesmerizing. The gut is known as the second brain; your entire immune system resides in your gut. What you eat has a profound impact on your mental clarity and emotional stability. And most of what we eat in this country is Frankenfood; processed, packaged and lacking any prana and little nutrition. Stay tuned for a future rant on that subject!

Our last night here becomes a time of reflection. Not in the sweet, sappy way but in the recounting of where we started and how easy it is to not even recognize what a mess we were while we were in the middle of it. How we lose our footing and balance and that becomes the norm. We become so accustomed to our habits and lulled into repeating bad choices because we are so stuffed with impurities. As we take a step back from this renewed perspective, we marvel at our ability to stand and think before being purged, pummeled and pampered. We vow to not let ourselves get “there” again.

One last lecture. We devolve. We become silly, there has been an incredible release of … pick something, anything, someone has let that go and so we are feeling the lightness of being that is our birthright. We quiet a bit, learn a few more things, but at this point how we are feeling trumps any sort of knowledge we could take in.

We embody a gentle euphoria, an understanding that life does not have to be suffered – that is always a choice. Suffering is always optional. Pain is a given, how you are with the pain determines your state of health.

In Ayurveda, there is a word for optimal health. It has nothing to do with what size or age you are, it doesn’t take into consideration your DNA or food allergies. That word is:

SWASTHYA = Established in the Self.

If you know your Self – that part of you connected to consciousness or your source – you are healthy.

Refreshing.

 

Resources:

Sunrise, Sunset

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Day Three

I awake with a constant questioning of my existence here. I know this is productive and all good things are coming, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. My feeble mantra every time I’m accosted by a therapist is “thank you, this is good for me”.

Our days begin with pranayama, meditation and yoga. Today we made it through the first two then three of us had the sudden urge to… I know what you’re thinking, but no… go watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. I live here, in Florida, less than hour from the beach but my friends live in LaLaLand and perhaps have not seen a sunrise that was not produced on a green screen. So, we trotted to the shore and took selfies with the rising sun. It was magnificent and awe-inspiring as always and I think to myself, “If I could wake up to this view every morning I’d be a better person.” Maybe.

Today’s treatments are similar to Day one. I can manage this. Even the steam. I really don’t want to be THAT person, you know, the one telling everyone how to do their job better to suit my needs? But I have learned that expressing my concerns gets me either an explanation of why they are trying to melt my skin off or an adjustment to alleviate my concerns, and the heat, sometimes both. I have also learned that I can refuse treatment any time I want. There is some comfort in this I guess, but I think many years ago a tiny little directive snuck up on me, that whispered, “Just go with it, see where it leads.” And so mostly I try to lean into new experiences. But it has been helpful to both lean in and find my edges and my voice.

After treatments, my afternoon stretches out before me. I have three hours before my consultation with the doctor. I have a list of questions and recommendations. This is because I am a pitta I am told; one of the Ayurvedic constitutions known as doshas. All you need to know is that pitta’s know everything, they’re always right, and they have the best ideas.

I contemplate a shower, but we are told leaving the oil on our hair and skin as long as possible is beneficial. I feel like a giant piece of walking fly paper, but I wander around the big house anyway careful not to get too close to things that will adhere themselves to me. I find no one in the kitchen so I grab my laptop to write about not only this experience but a few memoir type chapter starters. One of my hopes coming here was to find the time and desire to write again. Although all the books I’ve read on writing (Is that ridiculous? Reading books on writing?) insist one must not wait for inspiration but instead put oneself in the path of inspiration. This is my attempt.

Time to meet with the doctor. Now, this is no ordinary MD, Dr. Jain was a surgeon in his previous life (well, this lifetime, not his previous incarnation – it can all get dicey with all the Indian and yoga stuff) and a couple of decades ago started studying Ayurveda, so he is now still an MD and an Ayurvedic physician. East meets west. It’s a lovely thing. We chat a little about bodily functions – which is becoming surprisingly comfortable now (sorry, not sorry) – and then we start talking about stress. There has been a bit of stress in my life lately – like every day for 365+ days – so this is the probable cause of most of my issues.

We chat about control and letting go of trying to control what others do and don’t do. We talk about yoga, meditation and deep breathing practices. And we talk a little about food, but mostly it is a counseling session and I immerse myself in what he is telling me. And much of what he is telling me is a reiteration of what some of my closest friends have also suggested. I am now just ready to hear it fully.

It feels like balm to my rattled brain, salve to my struggling soul, someone asking about and listening to my “problems” with concern, compassion and no judgment. This is what medicine should be.

The healing is in the listening.

Buoyed by my counseling session I head to the kitchen to find dinner and company. The topic of conversation: the super blood full moon. Tonight. And we want to watch it rise over the ocean. We are staying right across from the beach so this isn’t a big deal, but there is no direct beach access so we plan to drive ½ a mile up the road to find our dune.

The beach here has been hit hard by hurricanes the past few years. Repairs to the wooden steps leading down to the beach were damaged a couple of years ago, and only about half of them were repaired. Then another hurricane barreled through last fall undoing everything. Right where we are a giant slab of concrete has been upended and looks like it could fall at any moment. A sea wall perhaps? We stay high on the only beach access here, a dune divoted by the passage of many feet.

We sit patiently, maybe a little concerned that we got the time or location wrong. But there were a couple of people already here that seemed to have the same schedule and a few more showed up, so we relaxed and gazed out to sea. There was a bank of clouds on the horizon – Florida mountains, I like to call them – that the moon would have to rise above. Which she did, slowly and elegantly. It was beautiful. We are held still and silent.

There is a call to presence when experiencing nature’s power.

Back to the house for lecture number 4 on Ayurveda. Tonight we chat about prana in food. Prana is the Sanskrit word for life force or energy, as in pranayama – breath control, or literally life force cessation, suspending the breath. All living things contain prana, it is what animates us. When we eat a live plant we are getting prana, when we eat fruit just picked from the tree: prana. When we eat an egg, a steak or drink a glass of milk? No prana. There are still nutrients, protein, fat, etc. in animal products, and we are not discouraged from eating them, but they contain little to no prana. When you start to look at food as energy (and actually many countries use Energy Units rather than calories on their food labels) you may make different choices. I know I will.

As I prepare for bed I have the sweet realization that we began the day with the rising sun and put it to bed with the rising moon. Goodnight moon.