Monday, February 23, 2009


I saw an Ayurvedic practitioner this weekend. The lovely Dr. Susan Barr on 4th Ave. in Vancouver.

I had been doing a lot of research online, trying to determine my dosha and an appropriate diet to appease it. To achieve that elusive balance. Self-diagnosis through online questionnaires and random research is sketchy, but I felt fairly certain I knew what course of action I needed to take. And finally, I felt that I was ready to carry through on any recommendations she would suggest, however difficult.

Meeting with Dr. Barr was like having a frank conversation with a kind and loving friend. Bordering on a therapy session, I found myself telling her of all my troubles and frustrations. My problems with insomnia, energy/fatigue, heaviness, muddy headed thinking, feeling as if I'm always looking through a fog... amongst other things. Within moments she was able to provide some really interesting insight, and give me hope that it's all fixable in some way or another. Everything... from the headaches to the weight gain, she was able to determine that my condition has been worsening for years now.

I know it seems too easy. But some of the things she had to say really resonated with me.

She asked how I was when I was in high school.... was I strong, slim and athletic? Yes, I was. Have I been gaining weight steadily since? Yes. I was 128 lbs when I was 17 and thought I was fat. Did I have lots of energy... sharp focus and drive at school? Yes. Were there headaches and trouble sleeping? No.

I realize I'm not 17 anymore, and that being a teenager has its advantages - the advantage of youth for one. But what I refuse to believe is that in a mere 16 years I have deteriorated so steadily - I'm 33 and my body is acting like it's 53....

The treatment she prescribed will be in stages, starting with a regime to kill off what she believes has been growing in me since high school - candida yeast. Yeast is apparently a chronic problem in North America, feeding on the poor diets of the majority. In my case, she thinks it was more a problem with overuse of antibiotics in my youth, probably aggravated by a poor University student diet. The initial treatment is nothing too drastic, just avoiding sugar in my diet and taking some pills. Ya, just. I wouldn't call cutting sugar out of my diet as 'just', but I'm ready and willing. You'd be surprised by what has sugar in it. Goodbye wine.

In a nutshell, Dr. Barr told me that most of what I thought I knew about my dosha was wrong. That all three doshas are so imbalanced that I can't even see the character type I am supposed to be (pitta). She said that I am still that strong, slim, active person, but all of the imbalances in my body have added up to appear to be a new character type (kapha) - someone that's tired, hard to get motivated, dreamy and heavy.

So for starters, I'll learn to live without sugar in my coffee, I won't have chocolate for awhile, and I'll say goodbye to my crutches - wine and beer. I think I like the image of me healthy better than I like to drink.

So, that's the first step. When the yeast has been corrected, I'll likely follow a more restricted diet. Hard to say what it'll be since I'm so imbalanced, but in all likelihood it will be very little sugar, little to no wheat, little oil, no coffee... I feel lame just writing it. I know that I will feel better doing these things, but it's going to be a huge adjustment. It's amazing how social activities often revolve around the things I'm not supposed to do... guess it's time to find new friends. ;)

Sunday, February 1, 2009


I've been meaning to write about Ayurveda, yoga's sister science, for some time now. Simply, Ayurveda is for food what yoga is for the mind/body. Its premise is that everyone has a particular body type (or dosha), and that we should eat according to our type to create harmony within the body. It is unlike other diets that presuppose we are all the same; one size fits all. 

If you would like to know more, and are curious as to your dosha, here's an excellent blog:

Until now I have been reluctant to fully incorporate this practice into my life. I have a difficult time restricting my diet for any reason. It probably stems from having been on a 'diet' most of my life. I have tried everything... before I knew any better, I tried calorie counting (down to less than 800 calories/day), the grapefruit diet, the protein shake diet.... I thought these approaches were synonymous with weight loss. I thought less food equalled less weight - as simple as that. How could starving oneself possibly backfire? It was until I ended up in the emergency room when I was 17 years old, having just run 7 miles on less than 800 calories that day.  I exercised myself so hard on so little fuel, that I went into hypothermic shock. I had no idea what I was doing to my body, and nothing could prepare me for what happened after I started to eat again. I used to have half a cucumber for lunch, and thought it was normal. The price to pay in order to be thin. And for what it's worth, a lot of people in our culture have some form of eating disorder. Socially acceptable or otherwise...

So over the years I have put on weight, refusing to accept the weight loss fads that come and go. I have been searching for answers, doing the research and trying to find what's right for me and my body. Loosely, I would say I have adopted a 'naturalist' approach to food. I cook everything from scratch, using whole ingredients, organic when possible/affordable. I try to avoid refined sugars, try to buy only organic meat (when I can, directly from local farms), and minimize my wheat and corn intake. I strive for balance; not cutting one thing out in favor of another (i.e., high protein/no carb).

A book that truly influenced how I see food is Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma:
A must read.

I am getting there. But I still have trouble listening to my body. Ayurveda asks that of you - that you stop eating before you stuff yourself, that you eat food that is alive and prepared with love, that you practice awareness of what you are eating as you eat, and that you eat the foods that are beneficial for your dosha.  The concept is simple, yet in today's society of stress and long hours of work, it's hard to respect these teachings. 

According to Ayurveda, my insomnia is partly symptomatic of an imbalance. So I have decided to follow an Ayurvedic Vata-pacifying diet. This includes warm foods with whole grains, dairy, sweet fruits, and well cooked vegetables. It will largely be vegetarian. 

It will be an adjustment, but I am looking forward to seeing the results. 

third eye

In the past few weeks, I've managed to once again build my practice. I still don't go as often as I used to, but I am allowing my body to tell me when I need to go. The trick is to listen to it. With cold and dark January days and sleepless nights, sometimes it's all too easy to ignore the little voice that tells me what I need to do. It tells me that I will feel better, that I will sleep tonight, that I will feel rested. And when I do go, all of those things are true. My mind and body know what's best for me, yet I continue to resist. 

Over the course of January, I have been experimenting with different things for my health. I am hoping to get some clarity on what it is that is creating this imbalance within me that creates a restless mind and unforgiving body. The nights when I go to yoga, the result is predictably positive - I feel gratitude for having gone, and I sleep unburdened. 

Besides yoga, there are changes that need to be made. I mentioned not drinking alcohol. Interestingly, I have now successfully stopped drinking during the week. Beyond that, the overwhelming urge to drink has also subsided. And weekends, when I do allow myself to drink, I find I don't need as much. Nor do I always feel I have to drink. As I write these words, I find myself sounding like an alcoholic... Was I? Am I? I certainly wasn't hiding bottles of booze around the house, or drinking by myself, but I had developed an unhealthy habit of drinking most days. Usually under the guise of social interaction or as a coping mechanism for a bad day. Funny how it never really helped, yet I kept doing it. 

The link with alcohol and insomnia is strong and irrefutable. The nights I drink, I don't sleep. It's as simple as that. I may fall asleep, but 3 hours later I will wake up parched and disoriented, and find that I am AWAKE. And I remain that way, drifting in and out of shallow restless sleep until my alarm goes off. Some days I question whether I ever felt rested. And the day becomes this insurmountable task to face, and I want to crawl back into bed and will it all away. 

Coming from a place of fatigue, yoga is a saving grace. It demands so little of my resources, yet gives so much. I can spend an entire class in child's pose, and feel that I am being kind to myself. And lately, during savasana (corpse pose) I have been rewarded in a way that I never have before. Following a particularly restful class, I laid there with my eyes closed. Within my heavy lidded eyes the blackness retreated and a hazed orb of brilliant purple came before me, as I imagine a third eye might look. It danced and swelled before me, then retreated. From the sides, a new orb of warm azure blue came into focus and spread like an inkblot on paper. Suddenly, my body was bathed in warmth from head to toe. Tangible warmth where there was no cold before. I stared at the orb, accepting it, until it retreated and the blackness spread once again. 

I don't know what I experienced, but I don't feel I have to understand. It's happened a few times now, and I welcome it wholeheartedly. Whatever is happening is good. And I am looking forward to this journey.