Written by Edy Guy, content creator, yoga teacher, taco eater, and poet on her best days
Science of Life:
This ancient Indian Medicine healed me when my doctors couldn't
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medicine and one of the oldest whole-body healing practices. It is a Sanskrit word that translates to "knowledge of life" and like CBD, Ayurveda encourages natural wellness interventions that promote whole-body balance.
When Western ideas of healing didn’t work, Ayurveda did.
Feeling like a balloon about to pop, I blink into the florescent, ticking light of a doctor’s office: a standard, high-rise business building, reeking of sterile soap… I’m twenty years old, a college sophomore, and for the last six months I’ve suffered from indigestion so severe that I’ve been hospitalized for anxiety attacks to which I was told to “take a Xanax.” Most days, I’ve only been able to eat 250-450 calories a day.
After asking me to lift my shirt, so he could poke and prod at my belly, and a few verbal questions, the doctor comes back to say that there is no definitive diagnosis. He says, however, it’s clear that I should avoid: dairy, alcohol, caffeine, grains, corn, gluten, sugar, raw vegetables, “fruits that don’t agree with me,” and any other foods that trigger indigestion.
I kindly remind him, that’s why I’m here and then ask, “What do you suggest I eat?” to which he plainly replies, “Yogurt.”
I leave the doctor’s office aware that the eating disorder I had unwarrantedly formed would perpetuate and the anxiety would continue.
My mother, the homeopath of our family suggests we try something a bit “more natural.” She had heard of an “Ayurvedic doctor” in a neighboring suburban town. So, in my desperation, I agreed.
Weeks later, I walk into a dimly lit room. A woman dressed in long white garments sits cross-legged on a yoga mat. She holds a string of long beads. She tells me to take off my shoes and motions for me to sit across from her. After briefly introducing herself as Dr. Aurora, she reaches for the inside of my wrist to take my pulse. She closes her eyes to count my sparse breaths. Without making assertions, she begins to ask me questions:
What do you like to eat?
Do you eat with others or alone?
How often do you exercise?
Do you enjoy where you go to school?
Are you in a romantic relationship?
Do your parents get along?
Do you get along with your parents?
I couldn’t help but wonder what any of this had to do with my digestive system. But I felt seen, I felt like I took up space.
Near the end of our time together she reaches for a pen and paper. As she writes she explains what I’ll need to do to get better.
She first suggests a consistent yoga practice. She can tell that I’m not pleased. She explains how yoga is a gentle exercise that is best suited for my body type, which is ‘vata.’ Yoga would also work to connect my mind with my physical state. She says that this disassociation between body and mind is a strong trigger for my digestive problems. Lastly, she shows me a hand gesture by which you place thumb and pointer finger together. She said it encourages presence and that was yoga enough.
Next, she hands me a metal u-shaped tool. She calls it a tongue scraper and explains that it’s used to eliminate residue from my tongue. By using it, I would essentially “cleanse my palate,” to start anew each day. While previously I had been told by doctors and friends alike to take a laxative to “clear out my system,” I was left with a layer of chemicals in my stomach that made digestion impossible and painful. The tongue scraper worked naturally by getting rid of debris in my mouth, rather than messing with my stomach lining, which is incredibly hard to control when it gets out of whack. She tells me that if I eat the right foods, my body will return to neutral on its own.
What she had been scribbling was a detailed dietary plan. She listed example meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and said that it wasn’t merely the foods I was choosing that were important but up-mostly, how they were cooked. These recommendations were based on my specific body type, an airy type that requires warm, grounding food. All meals were to be cooked with spices such as ginger, turmeric, and cardamom. Meat and dairy were okay to eat but in small doses, best eaten at lunch when digestion is most optimal. She also recommended I drink room temperature water or tea in-between meals because warm liquids act as lubricants to digestion where as cold liquids require more energy to break down on top of food.
The bottom line was, there were no restrictions on eating. She simply offered how best to prepare the food and when it was the best time to eat certain things. It was entirely contrary to the all or nothing mentality that was reiterated to me in western medicine.
Lastly, she handed me a long string of beads, which she had been holding when I walked in. She called it a “mala” and said that it is used for meditation. People use the necklace by moving their fingers from one bead to the next, all 108 of them, with an intention in mind. There are many types of stones used, each holding their own power as understood in a multitude of practices. The beads she had chosen for me were pink moonstone, a rock that holds, “Feminine healing power as well as the ability to calm hormones and provide confidence in new beginnings.” She noticed my misunderstanding of such an idea and said that holding the beads could serve as a reminder to heal. She said that while our minds like to fixate, replacing mental repetitions with a physical habit, such as massaging the mala would distract me in a healthy way.
When it was time to leave, I felt hopeful. Ayurveda had proven that I didn’t need to eliminate more from my life. It didn’t tell me that to heal I had to mull over or reduce myself any further. Ayurveda said, 'I want to understand the entire you. We have to get to the root of the problem to heal.’
Three years later I boarded a ship that was set to sail around Southeast Asia. One stop on the voyage was India where I saw Ayurvedic practices firsthand.
While walking the markets in Kochi, the damp air was laced with cardamom and cumin. Through each little doorway, there were shops with vials of essential oils used for massage, aromatherapy, and medicinal purposes.
During my time in India, I was having trouble with my skin due to the constantly changing climate. I walked into a local convenience store to find a remedy and was given a turmeric paste said to eliminate bacteria without over-drying my skin (due to the anti-inflammatory element of turmeric). I brought it back on the boat, and although my skin turned a bit yellow, it worked.
We found a favorite food spot in Kochi, The Fort House. The few times we went there, I witnessed the fisherman bring a net full of fish into the restaurant, which we would eat for dinner. The fresh, spiced food felt glorious in my belly and served to remind me that the process is incredibly important.
Ayurveda believes in holistic awareness, meaning each part of the system contributes to our overall wellbeing. For that reason, the direct (ocean to table) production of food is the most natural and healthy way to consume. In America, the process of bringing food from all over the world demands preservation, meaning chemicals that are forever alien to our bodies.
I had been certified as a yoga instructor only a year after leaving my consultation with Dr. Aurora. I and two others taught yoga while aboard the ship.
One warm and blue evening on the ship, I taught a class to a group of students. As the ship rocked back and forth with the tide, we sat in meditation. I threaded each pink bead of my moonstone mala through my fingers as the honey-like quality of my stomach dripped with contentment. I had not only healed but I had grown immensely because of these natural, gentle practices. I opened my eyes to close the class but glanced down to notice my mala had broken.
When I got back to the states, I was sharing the heartache of breaking my first mala with another yoga instructor. She had asked if I had an intention upon receiving it. She said typically mala’s break when intentions have been fulfilled.
In my mind, I returned to the dimly lit room with Dr. Aurora where I was entirely unbelieving and afraid. I realized, even in that moment, so long ago I had my intention: to heal. And because of Ayurveda, I did.