By Sonja Semion
The first thing I did was quit coffee. Then I moved out garlic and onions, and stopped eating microwaved leftovers for lunch. I turned my sporadic meditation practice into a daily one. Stopped reading or working during meals. Then I tried abhyanga. As I stood in the morning light of my bathroom, covered in a sheen of oil, I felt a strength and grounding that I had not experienced in a long time. The frustration I had been experiencing, from the sense that I was standing behind a wall that separated me from my true self, was beginning to fall away. This is how I began my journey with Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is more than a dosha quiz
I have considered myself a healthy person for most of my life. I became a vegetarian at age 12 after I learned about hormones in commercial meat. I found a way to grow a garden most summers of my adult life, even while living in the tiniest of apartments in New York City. I brewed my own kombucha, massaged kale salads and ate quinoa and other whole grains, avoiding anything white or refined. In addition to running and working out at the gym, I did Yoga asana several times a week, often in heated classes to expel more toxins. Still, despite all my attempts at health, something was off. I struggled with acne well into my 30s. I suffered painful gas, shortness of breath and terrible impatience. I had stopped feeling most emotions except anger. After ending a marriage after several heartbreaking attempts to get pregnant, I felt that everything I had been doing was leading me in the wrong direction. I knew that I had lost connection with who I was. It was time to try something new.
I’d heard about Ayurveda before. Nearly two decades ago, I took a dosha quiz in a magazine. It gave me a list of what to eat and what not to eat, and most of the foods on the “not” list were things I loved. I brushed it off as a restrictive practice. But when a new love reintroduced me to Ayurveda, and the work of Hale Pule, I learned that a magazine dosha quiz was as distant from the true understanding of Ayurveda as one could get.
I began to listen. Not just to Hale Pule and my love, but to myself. The way I was eating and living was either overheating my tendency toward pitta imbalance (coffee, garlic, kombucha, hot Yoga, working in a highly competitive job) or provoking vata (kale salad, raw vegetables, monthly work travel and all day screen time). Finding health wasn’t about a list of what to eat or not to eat, it was about understanding the balance of elements that exists within me. The way I lived or the foods I ate could either support that balance or diminish it.
To be sure, this wasn’t an overnight realization. It took almost six months of paying attention before I took that first step and got rid of my morning coffee. After barely a week without caffeine, I found greater patience and clarity. This inspired me to take the next step. Then the one after that. Soon after, I left the job that had been weighing me down for years. I stopped going to Yoga studios and began a meaningful (and unheated) home practice that included pranayama and mantra. I focused on eating at home, stocking my pantry with a range of grains and legumes and a brand new pressure cooker. As I simplified my life, my anger calmed down. I began to crack open my emotional body and discovered a range of feeling that I had nearly forgotten.
Ayurveda is a study of oneself
The study of myself is not something I did just at my entry to Ayurveda; it is something I do every minute of every day. It is what keeps me conscious and connected to who I really am. That, too is unfolding. I read recently that as you release imbalance, you will likely find – or remember – new aspects of yourself. I used to think my pitta drive was who I was, but as that fire cools down, kapha’s stability and compassion are showing up again. I’m pleased to see the layers fall away.
I’ve learned that finding health and consciousness is not a like a race, where you find your lane and stay in it until the end. It is more like slalom: You’re alone on the course, observing what’s ahead and turning this way or that to get around obstacles as they appear. The true value of this practice for me comes from watching, then shifting, and then watching again. This allows the connection that has been my healing.
Living this way requires some small changes and some significant ones, but large or small, any change requires readiness to face what remains when you peel away maya, or illusion. This is why I often talk about Ayurveda as a journey – each step will appear as you are ready. Each of us has our own beginning, and each of us has our own pace. What will yours be?