This week, I’ve been in Nashville for my yoga therapy training. I love my time here. I get to see colleagues and teachers, I can enjoy that sweet feeling of really missing my husband and my girls and I have 10 days to learn about the most interesting thing in the world. Even though it is mostly wonderful, traveling and leaving my regular schedule does mean I’m a little out of balance when I’m there. My sleep is affected, my digestion shifts and my behavior reflects all of this in the strangest of ways.
There was one day in class when I noticed a particular behavior. that I’d raise my hand just as the teacher turned her back. This didn’t happen just once, but three times and by the third time, I noticed this vibe that was something like, “I have something to say but since you aren’t calling on me, I’ll just keep all that brilliance to myself “ while I simultaneously give a sigh of relief at not having to talk. Another day, I left the dining hall to go for a walk and I saw my friends gathered to practice a beautiful chant together. I really wanted to go, but as I walked past, I felt overwhelmed by indecision. Should I go? would that be weird? How will I invite myself into the circle? I think I went back and forth, both walking and in my head, a few times before I finally decided not to join them.
Like most of us, I like to think that I am making really good, conscious, and aware decisions about what I say and do at all times, but this isn’t actually what happens. Traveling on a plane and adjusting to a new schedule? I’m more forgetful and even anxious. Over-heated from the humid and hot day? Irritability runs high and little things start to bug me. Āyurveda, the sister science of yoga, explains this with the concept of the gurvadi guṇas or ten pairs of opposites. When a quality is particularly high in our system, and therefore out of balance, it can have an impact, or even determine, our behavior.
Āyurveda teaches that our behavior and how we experience what goes on in our day is influenced by the dominant quality or qualities in our system. We might think that our rational mind is in charge, but if you’ve ever been lying in bed wanting to go to sleep, you can see that just because our mind wants it doesn’t mean that it is so. Really, the imbalances are running the show. What we do is influence our system with the opposite qualities so that we can come back into balance. It’s from this place of balance that we have the best chance of behaving with presence and awareness.
These qualities don’t just express on the physical, literal level. There are many ways that behavior can also give us a clue about the direction we are out of balance. Running ‘hot’ might express as anger, frustration, and bossiness or actual heat in the body. We could eat more cooling foods like cucumbers or coconut oil. If we are too dry and we see more anxiety, fear, loneliness in our behavior and our day, then unctuous connections will be good. I love a regular āyurvedic oiling massage, abhyanga, with warming sesame oil. Too much heaviness or stability, and it can be difficult to get out of bed in the morning or get motivated. Light foods that are easy to digest and movement practices early in the morning can help. I’m doing my best to gradually apply these principles and come back into balance so that I can participate in live with a little more presence and social grace. I’m glad to have an ayurvedic practitioner as a guide and to have this opportunity to learn about these guṇas as a way of thinking about what I may need to eat, and do to be more balanced.