As winter came to a close and we emerged into spring, accompanied by increasingly daunting Brexit uncertainty and the feeling of sluggishness and lethargy, I met with Divya Babbar, Senior Manager of the Ananda in the Himalayas and renowned Ayurvedic Physician, Dr. Shijoe Mathew, who is currently an Ayurvedic Consultant at the Circle, Brighton ( he was previously Senior Ayurvedic Doctor at Ananda in the Himalayas). They both came to London for a couple of days in March to give Ayurvedic consultations on topics ranging from sleep problems to healthy ageing, as well as the new events and elements that Ananda team is adding to the already fast range of services in the Himalayan foothills overlooking spiritual Ganges river. And if you can’t travel to Ananda, Ananda’s team can share advice with you that you can incorporate into your routine at home.
I found chatting to Dr. Mathew, who was Senior Ayurvedic Doctor at Ananda for several years and in that role developed various Ayurvedic programmes addressing chronic lifestyle issues and overall rejuvenation, particularly fascinating. Softly spoken and with kind, attentive demeanour, he is akin to a trusted friend, rather than a studious Ayurvedic consultant and throughout our conversation he increasingly intrigued and fascinated me with the depth of his knowledge, shared with humour and practicality. Conveniently, he is now based in the UK as Ayurvedic Consultant at the Circle, Brighton with whom Ananda is collaborating to educate and promote healthy, holistic living concepts.
Wellness Is A Journey
The way Dr. Mathew sees the role of Ayurveda in the framework of modern lifestyle comes down to holistic approach and the changes that make you feel better in yourself, not numb the symptoms and ill-desired feelings. We should all be focussing on prevention of illness and diseases by eating well and eating right for our bodies and predispositions. It’s not about following a popular diet or something that your friend recommends (even though it works for her or him, doesn’t necessarily mean it will for you as well). As our lives are increasingly busy, we often become ill-equipped to listen & respond to the signals our bodies send us, trying to alert us to a problem or to make a change that’s needed. What Dr. Mathew recommends is learning from qualified practitioners (he is a proponent of s combination of food and yoga, which help enhance our daily lifestyle) and integrating those lessons or recommendations into your life slowly, but consistently. Simply because wellness is a journey, not a prescription.
For various reasons, only some of which are out of our control, we seem to be detached from our circadian rhythm in practise, when in actual fact our livelihood and health depend on it to a degree. For example, did you know that the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was jointly awarded to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm? Dr. Mathew also reminded me of of the benefits of fasting when it comes to maintaining a certain healthy rhythm to our bodily function. In actual fact, the exact process of occasional fasting can be best determined according to your dosha, as well as depending on whether you live in a busy city or a quieter rural area, plus your own internal rhythm. All you have to do is add small tweaks to your daily routine, which are scientifically proven to positively impact your daily life and observe the changes in how you look and feel.
Our routines can have a positive effect not only on how we feel, but how energetic or lethargic we are throughout the day, especially considering the fact that we ‘waste’ a lot of our energy unnecessarily. Sedate lifestyle? Too many phone pick-ups in a day? Excuses not to exercise even for 15 minutes a day? Eating on the run? It might be simplistic, but its through those actions or inactions that our bodies and minds become separated. Doing regular yoga, any style you like, will help regulate hormones and mental state, while also having a positive effect on pituitary and thyroids glands. Add to that equations pacing ourselves and deep breathing, be it while you cook, are travelling to work or doing a school run and you can improve your heart function as well.
I was surprised to learn that having a power nap reclining (which offers better spine support) is better than having it lying down, because the latter sends the signal to our body and mind for a full shutdown that we get when we get into our beds at night. Try this trick and see if you feel different to when you power nap on a sofa or bed – I was surprised at the difference ! Another important tip is to make sure you take time away from the ‘screens’ before bedtime, switching tv and phone or computer off at least an hour before you are due to go to bed (something I need to put in better practise, as I often edit the drafts late into the night and then dive straight into bed). Of course it goes without saying that sleep rituals are different for everyone, particularly according to your dosh type (something that doesn’t seem to change much throughout your lifetime, so it does help to find out which dosha or doshas you are. For example, if you are a Vata, you will benefit from a relaxing meditation before bed, as well as massaging a cooling oil into the soles of your feet to relax your nerve endings.
Our ‘dosha traits’ can affect our whole body function and Dr. Mathew suggested viewing three of them as a tripod. All three in balance, so are you. One becomes out of whack, you might wobble and if two are misaligned, then you hop or fall! So aiming to be in balance is the best way to ensure you don’t fall, as is preventing a mis-alligntment from getting our of hand, benefiting our long-term health. Something that many scientists and health journalists, as well as proponents of healthy lifestyle, are highlighting with urgency in person, on social media, in books and in the press.
Ayurveda is not against any food groups
There should be some ground rules to our individual diets, making them akin to daily rituals that benefit your health. Having said that, the changes that you decided to incorporate based on professional advice should be gradual, as you stand a better chance of sticking to them that way, as opposed to many big ones at the same time, which are bound to make you feel even more overwhelmed. According to Dr. Mathew it is essential to listen to our bodies, as sometimes they can even override the advice of doctors. Our diets are like pieces of the puzzle that will determine how we feel & look. Sticking to basic rules when it comes to individual diets will help us stay in balance, no matter what life throws at us.
Our bodies are very good at healing themselves, as long as we consciously address such factors as pollution, anxiety, stress, sleep, exercise and diet, which really shouldn’t contain processed foods. Cooking doesn’t have to take a lot of time, nor be a complex process akin to Michelin star cooking. Fresh seasonal produce should give our bodies what they need, a few ingredients at a time and it’s really up to us to control what we put into our bodies. Another interesting point that Dr. Mathew made and that has stuck with me is not to try to ‘trick’ our bodies when it comes to cravings. For example if you body craves something sweet, don’t give it something bitter – have a square of say milk chocolate instead of a dark one or add cinnamon or liquorice to your snack. It’s easily comparable to having a cup of something warming when you are feeling cold – you want have a cold drink to warm you up, would you?
Our diets are also connected to our hormonal functions, but do bare in mind that skin changes related to hormones and age are normal and nothing to worry about. Often the way we feel – angry, irritated, snappy – can be an indication of internal misbalances, so depending on your dosha you might want to forego alcohol for a period of time, start taking aloe vera that has a cooling effect or add fenugreek seeds to your spice rack as they help to balance hormones. It’s also worth noting, as Dr. Mathew gently pointed out, that when we are ‘compromised’, we aren’t capable of fully giving back, meaning the way we nurture our families or friends. In India women are well looked after during pregnancy and particularly so a month after giving birth, to help their bodies recover from childbirth, addressing a variety of factors like hormonal fluctuations, sleepless nights and looking after the needs of a newborn. In the West we are more likely to read about executives who went back to work the day after giving birth and celebrities regaining their ‘beach ready’ bodies two weeks later, something that really shouldn’t be displayed as a sign of achievement. Looking after your body and allowing it to recover after nine months of pregnancy is something that we should be more concerned about, rather than superficial ‘good looks’ or taught muscles.
Ayurveda itself is based on the simple principles that help a person achieve a state of overall balance. Our doshas, or individual body personalities, can be determined based on the evaluation of three functions – diet, mental & physical states. According to Ayurveda each one of us is made up of five elements – water, air, earth, fire and ether, which in turn can be divided into three doshas – Vata (mostly ether & air), Pitta (mostly fire & water) and Kapha (mostly water & earth). We all possess all three doshas, but generally only one or two are our dominant ones for life. Look at it as a representation of nature in yourself. Doshas also represent quality and function in humans – you can choose the quality, while function shows you what is ‘playing up’ and needs attention.
What was fascinating was that after giving me some helpful and insightful descriptions of each Dosha, Dr. Mathew smiled and told me to determine mine – something that he often does with his own clients. When I asked how accurate that process is, as opposed to him determining it, he smiled and with a twinkle in the eye says that generally the accuracy of both is pretty spot on.
Vata: creative people – often journalists, writers, actors or content creators. Often in permanent motion. Impulsive. Multi-tasking. Have good control over their energy. Are all about the movement – be it for the body or mind.
Pitta: Fire. Logical & analytical minds, often work in finance or in law. Have fire in their belly. Are all about change & focus. Prone to acidity within the body and systematic inflammation. Prone to anger (if there is a problem or a person is stressed, heat manifests itself through anger).
Kapha: Water. Grounding & nurturing personality. Often are doctors, nurses, teachers, carers. Oily and cold skin. Stubborn. Sometimes lack desire to change, which can have an impact on energy output in terms of stagnation. Clicky joints.
I am just sharing a few of the points that Dr. Mathew shared with me, but there is much more when it comes to determining each dosha, based on skin, hair, nails, appetite, body , bowel movements and digestion, sleep, reaction to changes in weather, activity, as well as positive and negative personality traits.
Spending time with Dr. Mathew and Divya just reinforced my understanding that our daily existence doesn’t have to be complex or complicated. Instead, if we focus on listening to our bodies and responding to its signals, we stand a better chance of being well in ourselves, irrespective of age, for years to come.
With personalised wellness at its heart, Ananda has been offering authentic Yoga, Meditation, Ayurveda and Vedanta programmes for over 15 years. Latest additions include group yoga retreats (available May – August) that are overseen by Sandeep Agarwalla, Head of Yoga at Ananda. The programmes are personalised and tailored (if you are a single female traveller, those retreats will be well suited to your needs, making sure you are comfortable and well looked after). For more advanced clients, old & new, Ananda is also launching full Panchakarma Retreats, ranging from 14 days to three weeks. Whether you’re seeking to improve at yoga, explore the myriad of benefits of Ayurveda or find better ways to manage stress, Ananda can create a tailored solution.
For more information please visit www.anandaspa.com
P.s. I haven’t visited Ananda In The Himalayas, nor has been paid or sponsored for this post.