Ayurveda for Crohn’s Disease, IBD’s and stress

I was recently very fortunate to have a consultancy session with Dr Marouf Athique and his wife, from the College of Ayurveda. I’ve yet to transcribe the recording of the meeting, so I’m going to describe my personal consultation in a separate post; naturally the advice that follows there will be for my Vata type, and of course for the healing of the Crohn’s symptoms, but I will say now that it was a fascinating, enlightening and incredibly helpful meeting, and I’m very glad we went.

In the meantime I wanted to write about Auurveda in general, with the disclaimer that this is all still very new to me.

Ayurveda is known as the most ancient system of medicine in existence, but I feel that it has more relevance to contemporary society now than ever, with its holistic approach to disease and imbalance, taking into account not just biological imbalances, but lifestyle, diet, and spiritual and emotional health.

Rather than try to describe Ayurveda myself, here’s a summary from well-known Deepak Chopra, M.D.:

Thousands of years before modern medicine provided scientific evidence for the mind-body connection, the sages of India developed Ayurveda, which continues to be one of the world’s most sophisticated and powerful mind-body health systems. More than a mere system of treating illness, Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge). It offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vibrant and healthy while realizing their full human potential.

The two main guiding principles of Ayurveda are:

1.) The mind and the body are inextricably connected
2.) Nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind.

Freedom from illness depends upon expanding our own awareness, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body.

For the full description and breakdown of the Ayurvedic principles, check out the Chopra Center website.

I was drawn to Ayurveda mainly because of its focus on spiritual health as well as health on a biological level, as well as its connection with Advaita Vedanta, the ancient spiritual tradition which I have followed for many years, primarily through its contemporary western interpretation known as Nonduality.

Central to Ayurveda is the identification of your main mind/body type, or ‘Dosha’.

Very basically put – I’m just learning this all myself – there are three Dosha types, and each Dosha has a series of attributes. The three Doshas are found everywhere in the universe, but specifically here we’re interested in the three Doshas as the correspond to the body/mind.

Each of us has an energy that corresponds to a particular Dosha type, or combination of Dosha types; Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.

When our primary Dosha energy is in balance, then the positive attributes of that Dosha are displayed; when it’s out of balance, then the negative attributes come out in force. here’s a short description of the three types:

When we are predominantly Vata, we tend to be thin, light and quick in our thoughts and actions. Change is a constant part of our lives. When Vata is balanced, we are creative, enthusiastic and lively. But if Vata becomes excessive, we may develop anxiety, insomnia or irregular digestion.

If the Pitta dosha is most lively in our nature, we tend to be muscular, smart and determined. If balanced, we are warm, intelligent and a good leader. If out of balance, Pitta can make us critical, irritable and aggressive.

If we have mostly Kapha in our nature, we tend to have a heavier frame, think and move more leisurely and are stable. When balanced, it creates calmness, sweetness and loyalty. When excessive, Kapha can cause weight gain, congestion and resistance to healthy change.

There are various tests you can do online to discover your Dosha type. Deepak Chopra’s test seems popular, and I like the Maharishi Ayurveda test.

My Dosha is Vata, with a little Pitta too. According to the Chopra Center:

If Vata dosha predominates, movement and change are characteristic of your nature. You will tend to always be on the go, with an energetic and creative mind. As long as Vata is in balance, you will be lively and enthusiastic, with a lean body.

That certainly sounds like me on a good day.

However, here’s the flipside:

If excessive stress in your life leads to your Vata force becoming imbalanced, your activity will start to feel out of control. Your mind may race, contributing to anxiety and insomnia. You may start skipping meals, resulting in unintended weight loss, and your digestion may become irregular.

That’s certainly me when I feel under stress, or when I get carried away with myself.

I’m certain that – using these Ayurvedic terms – this Vata imbalance is the underlying, energetic cause of the Crohn’s trigger for me. I let various stress triggers and held traumas go unchecked, and this stress caused an imbalance, that is reflected biologically.

I also notice that at work, the particular type of stress I sometimes experience appears to fire my Pitta energy up alongside the Vata, causing me to feel irritable and aggressive with very little reason.

Wellbeing and an easy-going manner gave way to anxiety and negative thoughts. With the gut being the second brain, and the way the body responds to stress in the way that I’ve described previously, it was, in retrospect, inevitable that something was going to have to give.

Ayurveda advises very clearly on how to keep each of the Dosha types in check; each Dosha has a very different set of dietary, climate, excercise and activity requirements; complying to those requirements will, according to the system, help keep your predominant energy in balance, which in turn keeps your mind/body in balance.

You can see lots of great pages of advice for balancing all of the Doshas online; here’s a great start for each: Vata, Pitta, Kapha.

What I really like about the requirements for balancing each Dosha type is that they appear to be the very things we’re naturally drawn to anyway; our body/minds have this innate intelligence which means that we naturally know what we need already to stay in balance.

For example, my preference when it comes to food is for larger, wet, heavy, warm, cosy, cooked, sweet dishes, such as stews, casseroles, mild curries and warm desserts. Those are naturally Vata-pacifying foods, as the quality of Vata is light, cold, and dry.

Recommended activities for Vata types are things like Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi or Qi Gong, light bicycling, dance, and listening to soothing music – just the kind of activity I’m attracted to.

So it feels right.

I love how the different therapies/treatments from different traditions and cultures that I’ve been exploring complement each other without exception (apart from western medicine’s lean towards symptom-suppressing drugs); Keeping my Vata in balance means being less in-my-head and wired, and more in-my-body, and grounded. This is precisely the principle advice I received from Clare Williams during my first Craniosacral therapy session. The dietary advice I was given according to Ayurvedic guidelines is precisely in line with the dietary advice given by the Chinese Medicine consultant.

Even following the most simple pieces of advice for my type, such as drinking warm water and ghee, makes a noticeable difference; I notice myself feeling more grounded and in-my-body when I’ve been drinking it.

Different traditions and cultures, thousands of years and hundreds of miles apart, but in sync. I like that a lot, and it also helps me feel more confident with listening to my inner voice or intuition during my journey.


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