Make Ayurveda Work for You

by: Sara Harvey

Almost two years ago, I attended the Chopra Center’s Perfect Health with Panchakarma program, and the experience was transformational. The classes were chock full of valuable tips to help live a healthy, balanced lifestyle from the perspective of Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old healing system that originated in India.

In fact, so many tips and tools were provided that initially I felt a sense of overwhelm. In my day-to-day life, I barely had time to breathe. My passions include being a mom, swimming, speaking foreign languages, international travel, and a challenging job. My dosha is Vata and my biggest vice is iced tea . . . more about that later. Between my personal and my professional life, I am in “go mode” most of the time. My immediate reaction to stress is worry and overwhelm.

I wondered how I would ever put all the valuable techniques I learned at Perfect Health in place in my busy, fast-paced schedule. I had to come up with a way to move beyond the excuses and obstacles and begin to make some changes. Knowing my dosha was Vata, I reviewed each of the dosha-balancing tools I had learned and determined which ones would help me to live my life in a state of vibrant health and help keep my Vata nature in balance. I narrowed it down to five core principles and practices to help me live my DREAM life, which I define as a balanced state of health and well-being. I call it my DREAM life because each of the letters in the word dream represents one of my core practices – Digestion, Rest, Exercise, Awakening my Mind, and Meditation. Let’s look at each of these practices in more detail . . .

Core Practice #1: Maintain Strong, Healthy Digestion

The digestive fire, known in Sanskrit as agni, is what metabolizes not only our food, but also our emotions and experiences. When that fire is burning bright, we are digesting and processing all that we take in. What our body needs, it turns into energy; and what it doesn’t, it eliminates. When I’m rushed and out of balance, I forget to eat. When I finally do, all I want is something sweet to raise my blood sugar, which further exacerbates my imbalance. Earlier I mentioned that one of my vices is iced tea. An ice-cold drink diminishes the digestive fire within us, making it so much more difficult for the body to eliminate toxins and nourish us with the vitamins and nutrients that keep us healthy. Ayurveda has guided me to do the following to maintain strong healthy digestion:

  • Drink a cup of warm water with a squeeze of lemon juice before sitting down to eat. Warm water with lemon enhances digestion and reduces bloating and gas. It also kindles the appetite, aides in internal cleansing, and promotes elimination.
  • Eat lunch between 12 noon and 1 p.m. and make it the largest meal of the day. Our digestive fire is strongest at this time of day.
  • Sit down to eat and ensure each meal is as colorful and fresh as possible and contains all six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent).

Core Practice #2: Get Restful Sleep Every Night

Have you ever had a problem that seemed so big that your world was crashing in on you or that you just couldn’t stop crying or that you thought there was no real solution? I have; but I find it usually happens when I haven’t slept very well. Without restful sleep, my temper is short, my emotions flair up unexpectedly, my mind is cloudy, and my eyes don’t sparkle.

As a Vata, when I get out of balance, I can’t sleep because my mind is replaying my worries over and over like a broken record while my ego is coming up with every worst-case scenario possible. It’s miserable! I get out of bed the next morning and realize the fears that loomed so large in the dark of night were exaggerated, but I’m tired and don’t feel good. According to Ayurveda, our minds and bodies need time to rejuvenate and detoxify. When we sleep well, we are in harmony with the circadian rhythms of nature, our immune system is strengthened, and when we wake up, we feel a sense of vibrant energy circulating within us. Some techniques I use to help ensure restful sleep include:

  • Taking a warm bath before bed and using aromatherapy essential oils such as lavender or sandalwood to calm and ground me. I complement this relaxing experience with slow, deep breathing.
  • Doing 5–10 minutes of yogic stretches next to my bed. Pigeon pose and hip opening poses are particularly good for those with lower back pain – a common Vata imbalance.
  • Practicing recapitulation – a mental review of my entire day from the moment I woke up until now, activity by activity. This helps me put my day in perspective and release anything I’m holding on to that is causing me upset or not serving me.

Core Practice #3: Exercise

I have gone for long periods in my life without exercising, but I always get the same result: I feel toxic, sluggish, unhappy with my body, more prone to injury, and tired. It’s funny how we tend to say “I’m too tired to exercise,” but it’s precisely the lack of exercise that is causing that feeling.

Earlier I mentioned that my passion is swimming. I grew up in Arizona and have been swimming my whole life. I’ve always loved it but never really knew why. I thought it was because I was a Pisces – you know, the fish in the water thing – but after working at the Chopra Center and learning meditation, I realized I love it because it’s a form of meditation for me. My ears are under the water, which blocks out any noise, and I’m practicing rhythmic breathing and listening to my breath. My mind is freed up and lets go of its constant chatter. I can slip into the “gap” – that peaceful, silent space between thoughts (runners call it “getting in the zone”). My creativity flourishes during a swim as I create the space for new thoughts and ideas to rise up.

Swimming gives me cardio and strength training, two of the three core components of a complete body workout. To work on the third component, flexibility, I practice yoga. I don’t get to a yoga class very often, but yoga is something I do at home with a video or simply by doing a few stretching poses next to my bed. If you can learn the Sun Salutation sequence of poses you can get in all three aspects of a complete body workout. Now that’s efficiency! Here are some tips that have helped me and the students I teach at Perfect Health make exercise a regular, consistent part of their lives.

  • Schedule your exercise into your calendar like an appointment that you would never miss.
  • Set realistic exercise goals. On the days when you feel like skipping exercise because you feel too tired or busy, take the smallest step possible; even just putting on your walking shoes or yoga pants will help shift your energy and get you moving.
  • Practice yoga as a way to connect your mind, body, and spirit.
  • If you can’t get down on the floor to exercise, try chair yoga – I call it the “no excuse” yoga. The director of the Chopra Center’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga program has a wonderful DVD called Sun Salutations: Yoga for Everyone that includes  chair yoga exercises to get you started.
  • Focus on the benefits and find activities you enjoy. Exercise promotes strong digestion, promotes restful sleep, enhances your mood, and boosts mental clarity. These are just a few of the ways exercise helps you stay in balance, both mentally and physically, so it’s important to find enjoyable ways to move your body. You don’t have to go to the gym or run around a track – there are many other ways to get exercise, including dancing, hula hooping, martial arts, Rollerblading, and hiking.

Core Practice #4: Awaken Your Mind

“The most creative act you will ever undertake is the act of creating yourself.” These words from Deepak Chopra in his book The Way of the Wizard resonate deeply with me. I try to awaken my mind to everything the universe has to offer. I read books. I attend workshops. I love to discuss ideas with my family, friends, and co-workers. I ask question about topics that are unfamiliar to me. I deeply explore my passions and hobbies, and if I find one I particularly love, I learn to teach it.

Without ongoing learning, decay and complacency set in. When I’m not expanding my creative mind, I find I am no longer in a space of infinite possibilities but rather am constrained to the limited choices that my fear-based ego presents to me. Each morning and evening before I meditate, I ask myself the three soul questions: Who am I? What do I want? and How can I serve? I ask these questions as an opportunity for expanding my consciousness.

One of the best things about the Chopra Center is that we are consistently presenting opportunities to help each other awaken our minds – whether it’s a 21-Day Meditation Challenge or a seven-day meditation retreat like Seduction of Spirit. You might want to consider dipping your toe in to see if your mind needs some awakening! Here are some suggestions to awaken your mind.

  • Read a book. I just finished Deepak Chopra’s latest book, The Soul of Leadership, and am now focusing more deeply on practicing leadership from the level of the soul, paying attention to synchronicities and tapping into the creative response to find innovative solutions to business challenges.
  • Attend a workshop that expands your happiness and challenges the way you think.  Two of the most impactful programs that I’ve attended were, of course, Perfect Health because without it, I wouldn’t have all these lifestyle tools to promote balance in my life; and a course I took from Marshall Rosenberg in nonviolent communication (also known as conscious communication) because effective communication is at the heart of every human interaction we have.Another of my favorite Chopra Center programs is SynchroDestiny. The experience at this event is like tapping into a treasure chest. Once I attended, I began to recognize synchronicities as clues to my destiny. Life is filled with so many amazing meaningful coincidences, and it’s these events that give us access to the subtle connection between every being in the universe. It’s inspirational!
  • Nurture your sense of sight, sound, and smell. These three senses are the body’s portals to awaken the mind.  Experiment with pleasurable aromas, sounds of nature, and visual meditations to balance and nurture a busy mind.

Core Practice #5: Meditate Regularly

When I practice meditation, I quiet my mind. I tap into my soul, where all the answers I need reside, where creativity has no limits, where the ego completely falls away. It sounds great, doesn’t it? Why then, did I consider myself the master of excuses not to meditate?  Here’s what they sounded like:

  • I am too busy.
  • My kids get up before I do so the house is already noisy.
  • I have to take my kids to school in the morning. There’s just no time.
  • I have to work late.
  • I am too tired.
  • I don’t need another thing to do.
  • All I want is to do after work is turn on the television and relax.
  • If I meditate, I’ll probably just fall asleep.
  • What’s the point . . . even when I try, I can’t stop the ongoing barrage of thoughts.
  • I pray. I don’t need to meditate.
  • I WISH I had an extra 30 minutes every day to meditate.

And on and on and on they went. The turning point for me occurred when an Ayurvedic Consultant at the Chopra Center said to me, after listening to my long list of excuses, “Can you simply start by meditating for fifteen minutes in your car before you walk in the door to work?”

I looked at her with a blank stare because all my excuses fell away and I said, “Yes, I can do that.” And so began my meditation practice. It’s a matter of deciding to stop the excuses and create the opportunity. Here are a few of my thoughts on the gifts and practice of meditation:

  • If you’ve ever felt like you only have two choices and neither seems particularly attractive, when you meditate you’ll observe your range of options expanding from 2 to 2,000 or more.
  • If you’ve ever wondered who you are or what you really want and you just can’t seem to figure it out, meditation will help you connect to the answers because your eternal self or your soul knows. Meditation takes you beyond the mind’s noisy chatter so you can actually tune into your inner wisdom.
  • If you pray and therefore think you don’t need to meditate, consider this: Prayer is talking to God; meditation is listening to God.
  • If you’ve ever been so afraid that you felt paralyzed and incapable of making a necessary life change, meditate and enter a space of knowingness where you can trust what your soul is telling you and overcome any fears that your ego presents.

Is my meditation practice perfect? No, but this I know: I’m a single, professional, mom doing the best I can with the tools I have to take life one thing at a time, one day at a time, and I’m in a state of gratitude for all that I am, all that I have, and for all the ways I can serve. I feel happier than I’ve ever been, and when I find myself getting out of balance, I know how to quickly return to a natural state of calm, centered awareness and joy.

If these DREAM tools resonate with you, I encourage you to try them in your own life. Adapt them and add your own practices that fit your unique needs and lifestyle. I invite you to share your own tips for self-care and creating greater balance and happiness in your life here.

I wish you the best in living your DREAM life!

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About the author

Sara Harvey
August 20, 2013 - 10:19am,

As the Chopra Center’s chief operating officer, Sara Harvey is a dynamic, empowering leader who continues to be instrumental in developing the Chopra Center’s world-renowned lifestyle brand. She works directly with co-founder Dr. Deepak Chopra and the leadership team to fulfill the Chopra Center’s mission to serve as the global source for balance, healing, transformation, and the expansion of awareness.

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