Welcome to Insight Mind Body Talk, a body-based mental health podcast.
The most grounding force for our mind-body system is routine. Being consistent, having routine can help the nervous system know what to expect and start bringing us back into balance.
Today we’re talking today with Kelly Gardner. She’s a licensed mental health therapist, certified yoga therapist, yoga health coach, and Certified Daring Way facilitator. She specializes in trauma focused yoga therapy in clinical settings and private sessions as well as mindset and lifestyle coaching. She is certified to lead the three-course curriculum created by Brene Brown and combines that work with Ayurvedic lifestyle habits to create lasting change. Kelly lives in Memphis, Tennessee with her husband and two dogs.
Welcome Kelly. What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is often referred to as a sister science to yoga. It is an ancient lifestyle that has the aim of setting us up to feel our best. It’s kind of a preventative lifestyle. If we break down the word, Ayur means life and veda means the study of or the knowledge of.
In the west, we sometimes neglect to teach young folks about how to be in their bodies, to self-regulate, to honor what their bodies are asking for. That’s what Ayurveda is all about. It aligns with how nature functions and tends toward a thriving state.
We are white female Western people with some privilege and want to acknowledge our teachers. This knowledge has been passed down for many thousands of years, from India and Southeast Asia. It is amazing to consider how applicable these concepts are to us today as Westerners, not only to help us in our physical bodies, but in our mental health as well. I often take teachings from yoga and Ayurveda into clinical settings to support everything else that’s being done there.
My understanding is that it’s based on the elements.
You’re absolutely right. It is very much like yoga in that it is broad, and it is deep but when we get down to the fundamental teachings of Ayurveda, it is very much based on the five elements that exist in nature.
Many people are familiar with four of the five elements; earth, water, fire, and air. In Ayurveda, we teach a fifth element, ether, sometimes called space. It literally holds the space for the other elements to show up and be seen. It’s not noticed as much, but it’s supremely important. They all have their time and place. They all show up in our bodies and minds.
We have all five elements within us. They are a way for us to get in tune with the natural world, our connection to nature, and to explore just the unique ways that that’s manifested in our lives. It’s also a way to connect with other people. In this way, we are the same. Many messages we receive can point out how we’re different, so it’s also a connecting science.
Ayurveda the theory, the belief, the teaching is that we’re conceived with our own perfect balance. Upon conception, your perfect balance of the elements was established. Then, as we go through development in utero, are born, and move through life, the circumstances that we’re in, the people that were around, the foods that we eat, everything has an impact on that balance. How we live our lives tends to pull us out of balance. Ayurveda often will say that the practice of the lifestyle of Ayurveda is all about remembering who we are and coming back into our own perfect balance. Rediscovering our true nature.
That sounds a lot like the work that we do as therapists, through introspection and self-exploration. This is another lens to look through. Absolutely.
My understanding is that there are certain constitutions or combinations of elements. Let’s talk a little bit about that.
Ayurveda, like yoga, was originally shared in the Sanskrit language. It’s very much a language based on experience, vibration, and emotion. A feeling language. Because of that, translations can be dependent on the person who’s translating.
We are born with certain dominant elements. Your baseline may fall into a category, constitution, or dosha.
The translation of dosha that is helpful for me, is fault line. This is the place where you can most easily be pushed out of balance.
There are three categories, doshas, energies. We have all three doshas within us. Those doshas are made up of a combination of all of the five elements.
Our constitution, or Prakriti, is our perfect balance. It is a combination of these energies established upon conception. It is your baseline, the perfect balance that you may be working to get closer to with your habits and shifts that you make. Prakriti is balanced. Any imbalance is called Vikruti.
The Sanskrit names for these three categories, or doshas, are Vata, Pitta and Kafa.
Vata is made up of ether, or space, and air. Air is the main element here. Ether is more subtle, the secondary element. If you think about air and ether, they’re invisible. We know that they’re there, but they’re also subtle. They’re all around, but we don’t discuss them.
We can look at how Vata shows up in the physical body, in patterns of the mind, mood, emotional patterns, habits and tendencies, and our gifts or what we have to offer to the world.
Vata, in balance, is very creative. It frequently receives inspiration. It is fun, loving, spontaneous, fly by the seat of my pants energy.
Out of balance, when there’s too much of that happening, we may see a presentation of anxiety, excessive worry, panic, panic attacks, rumination, racing thoughts. When there’s too much of it, it’s really overstimulation.
The second dosha, Pitta. The elements that make up Pitta are mainly fire and a little bit of water. Pitta is the only category that has heat in it. Fire is the only of the five elements that’s hot. Water brings a little balance to Pitta, a little bit of grounding.
In balance, because it is driven by the fire element, Pitta shows up as drive and motivation. Very organized, task oriented, but also very fair. It also represents very justice-minded and fair leadership.
Out of balance, Pitta can show up as, too task oriented, workaholism, never taking a break. It can also show up as a lot of competition and comparison, and a lot of judgment. This is where perfectionistic mindset may show up. In moods, we might see irritability, frustration, anger, and rage.
The third dosha is Kafa. This is the combination of water and earth.
Both of those elements are heavy and very stable.
In balance we see Kafa show up as calm, laid back, stable, go with the flow. Water is the cohesive force in our bodies, it’s what holds our body together. It feels good to be around someone who is very high in Kafa nature. You kind of want to stick with them. They’re stable. It feels good.
When there’s too much of that stability, it can show up as stuckness, low motivation, low drive, low ability to act. If you mix together water and earth, you get mud. You can envision trying to move through the mud within yourself. This can also show up as a holding on to physical objects; collecting things or having lots of clutter or holding on in our minds; holding grudges or more often, or a romantic idea of how it used to be. Too much Kata can display as depression, feeling really down, hopelessness or helpless. Feeling like I don’t know what to do or that I’ve tried, and it didn’t work so I give up.
Your perfect balance does not mean that all three of these doshas are equal within you. I am high in Pitta, almost as high in Vata and very low in Kafa. That’s my perfect balance.
You’re not necessarily born in your perfect balance. If my mom was frequently stressed out or anxious, I could be born with a Vata imbalance, because I was experiencing that imbalance in her in utero. What mom eats and how much she sleeps would impact that balance.
To start to look at our natural tendencies and find our baselines, we often go back to childhood because kids don’t hold back. Until they’re trained to be concerned with what other people think, kids will honor what their bodies need, and will act in whatever way feels good for them in the moment. That’s a great way to find your baseline.
Then, if I look at where I am right now, I feel very anxious or have a short temper, I can start to see what’s out of balance.
I mentioned that I’m highest in Pitta, secondarily, Vata, and lowest in Kafa. Because Pitta is the highest dosha within my constitution, if I have just a tiny bit more Pitta, it’s easy for me to get out of balance, because there’s already the most of that within me. It would take a lot more for me to be out of balance in Kafa because I’m very in Kafa.
What would it look like to add more Pitta to your life?
These energies show up in our minds and bodies, and also show up in nature.
We can see the different qualities of the elements show up in different seasons.
I live in Memphis, Tennessee. In summer it is hot and humid. That adds more heat into my body. Typically, at the end of a season, we see signs that we’re holding on to some of that season’s energy. For example, at the end of summer, I’ll have people asking about acid reflux, acne, rashes, these kind of inflamed presentations in the body. We look at how we can calm that down.
At any point, we can build up an imbalance within us. How we live our lives and our daily habits have a significant impact on that.
To come back into balance in Ayurveda, we want to calm down what is out of control. We would work to pacify Pitta. Often, we do that by giving Vata and Kafa more attention or, looking at the hot qualities of Pitta, doing things that are cooling. It’s usually about adding in the opposite of what we’re experiencing.
Like increases like, so if you’re hot and your Pitta is in overdrive, we wouldn’t recommend that you eat a bunch of jalapeno poppers.
It’s not uncommon to have someone who’s really high in Pitta love hot and spicy foods, put hot sauce on everything, or go to really hot workouts. We can get in a groove of, this is what I am, this is what I know, and this is what feels good to me. We are drawn to that which we are so we may not even recognize that we’re exacerbating the issue.
In the movie Inside Out, there are three characters that perfectly represent the three Doshas. There’s a character that’s fear. He’s very lanky and thin. He’s running around worried creating reports on what could go wrong. Very much representing Vata out of balance. Pitta is Anger. That Louis Black character who’s yelling all the time and his hair’s on fire. Then, sadness represents a Kafa imbalance. She lays down and is like, I just can’t do it. Joy’s dragging her by the foot. Those characters very much represent what we’re talking about.
In nature, we’re constantly in pulsation between two poles, two extremes. The term for that in Ayurveda is Spanda. It’s the root word for spandex. We can move one way and then come back the other way. Stretchy. We want to be nice and stretchy. When we’re in a healthy state, we are able to go from one side to the other.
Looking at the nervous system, a healthy nervous system is able to move into a stimulated state, and able to come back down to a calm state. If we get stuck at one end of the spectrum, we add in qualities and practices from the opposite end of the spectrum to start bringing us back to the center, back into balance.
We are products of the natural world. When we start to recognize the qualities within us during different times of the day, times of the year, times in our lives, we can take advantage of it to feel our best. This is often referred to as the Ayurvedic clock, the Dosha clock. This is where we see the three energies show up within and around us.
We go through periods of life where one of the energies is dominant within us.
From birth through early twenties, we’re in our Kafa stage. Kafa is earth and water. It has a cohesive nature. It’s anabolic. It’s building in nature. We’re in development during those years. We’re learning, we’re growing, and we’re fluid in our tissues. You can see the water element really overpowering everything else.
As we get into the years of determining what we’re going to do for school, for work and lean into having a family, we’re transition to the Pitta stage. This is where we tap into the ability to use our motivation and drive, to get things done, pay the bills, and take care of the family.
Then, as we get into older age, we move into the Vata period of our lives. This is air and ether. They’re both dry. They’re both cool. They’re both subtle. In the physical body, we can see things starting to dry out. We, in our physical bodies, are becoming more subtle. As we age, our bones can become more porous, so the element of space is even in our skeleton.
When we recognize this, we can come into lifestyle practices to help support the process.
These three energies also have a period of time throughout the year that they rule. They have their season, literally.
Fall and early Winter are Vata season. It’s really windy. Things are drying out. You see leaves turning brown and falling off the trees. We’re moving into a cool dry season. It has an impact on our bodies as well. We may find that our skin starts to dry out. We need to lean into hydration and things like that. It can also have an impact on your mind. We’re in those elements all the time. We may feel more spacey or anxious. A little more ungrounded. When we recognize that, there are things we can do to bring ourselves back into balance.
In late Winter and Spring, we move into Kafa. We see a lot of moisture. We have new growth. You get up in the morning, the grass is wet, the new buds are wet. It’s baby season in nature. Almost a rebirth. We can also see allergies come up, congestion, mucusy liquid, build up.
In Summer, we’re in Pitta season. The hot, humid, action phase in nature. Everything’s in full bloom. Everything’s green. Everything’s turned all the way on in nature.
Throughout the year we experience the alternation of the energies.
Moving from macro to micro, we also experience this every 24-hours. In a 24-hour period, each of the three energies comes into power in our minds and bodies twice.
As I explain this, I’ll refer to specific timeframes, but these are guidelines because it’s really based on sunrise and sunset so the timeframes are a little bit different depending on the time of year and where you live.
Between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM is the hottest time of the day in nature and also within us. This is when Pitta rules. This is when our digestive fire is strongest. This is when we are most able to use the fire within us to solve problems. The power of Pitta is transformation. During this time of day, we’re best able to break down things and turn them into other things. For instance, we can break down the problem and turn it into a plan of action. We can break down the food and turn it into nutrients, assimilated into our tissues. The power of Pitta is the ability to break down, digest, or process in some way.
Moving to the afternoon, the 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM period of time. This is when Vata comes into power. Vata is air and ether. If you think about wind, it can move in any direction. Typically, the energy of Vata is up and out in all directions. It has no container; it goes wherever it wants. This is a time of quick reflexes, quick thinking, high creativity. It is a great time to create the to-do list for the next day or tackle creative projects.
Moving into the evening time, 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM is when Kafa comes into to rule. It’s earth and water. It’s a heavy, downward flowing energy. What we want to do is honor the downward flow of energy. Typically, somewhere early in the evening at the end of Vata or the very beginning of Kafa, we’re eating a light meal, the last meal of the day, and then we’re going to honor the downward flow of energy and begin to wind down. That’s when we get our comfy pants on to settle into the couch.
Ideally, this is a time of connection and cohesion. Connection with ourselves, maybe some self-care practices. Connecting with the people that we live with, doing something fun, light, playing a game, or watching a movie.
In the 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM timeframe, we start cycling back through the Doshas. Back into Pitta, an upward flowing energy. There’s a magic window of time that where, if you can fall asleep during the magic window, you’ll sleep more deeply and experience more regeneration. We recommend going to sleep around 10:00 PM so that we beat that upward flow of energy. If we stay up too late, we see a second wind. All of a sudden I’m energized. My brain is clicked on. I can stay up for three more hours. We want to beat that upward flow of energy by going to sleep before it turns on. If we do, then the fire energy works within us as the night shift cleaning house. This is where our minds take everything we’ve learned throughout the day, process and organize it.
From 2:00 AM to 6:00 AM, we get back into Vata. Again, up and out and all over. Quick thinking, quick reflexes. If you wake up between 2:00 AM and 6:00 AM and your mind goes, click I’m on. I can be more difficult to go back to sleep. It’s that Vata energy. Often people who are writers get up very early in the morning to harness that creative, inspiring energy of Vata.
In Ayurveda, we recommend that you do get up before the sun, just to be able to take a moment to tune in. Even if you just sit for a few moments and breathe, it’s opening ourselves to inspiration that can guide us through the day. This may be the time that we practice meditation. It may be the time that we journal or read something inspiring. Now we’re setting ourselves up to be able to respond to our day rather than react to it.
From 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM, Kafa is back. A downward flow of energy. If you sleep in and get up at around 9:00 AM and think, I slept too much, I’m so groggy. You’re trying to wake up in the downward flow of energy. We want to drink water, to rehydrate. We want to honor that downward flow of energy and hopefully let go of the things we don’t need from yesterday. Then we can start on that to-do list. This Kafa period of time is perfect to check things off the list, and really get things done. We have sustainable energy to follow through.
What can we do as Westerners to help balance our energies for improved mental?
The number one most grounding force for our mind-body system is going to be routine. When we recognize that it would make sense for me to do that thing at that time of day, we can set our schedules up in a way that feels better in our system. Also, being consistent can help the nervous system know what to expect, which can help to bring us back into balance. It may be something like going to bed at the same time every night.
Also, starting to notice. Notice how easily you fall asleep or don’t fall asleep, how you feel after you eat, when you eat, if your body needs more movement throughout the day. Really tuning in and recognizing that our bodies can’t lie to us. Our minds have the capacity to lie to us, but our bodies don’t have that capability. They are sending signals and sensations all the time saying, hey, this is what I need.
If we don’t honor our own rhythm, don’t listen, don’t set up routine to help our body be in rhythm, we start to see a buildup of what an Ayurveda we would call Ama, or undigested gunk.
This doesn’t requires a lot of money. We don’t have to buy supplements and oils. It’s really about tuning in, something as simple as increasing your relationship with your mind and body. No matter what you’re working with, you can establish a routine that soothes your body.
Routine is the foundation to bring our minds and our bodies into rhythm. That has an impact on our minds and our moods. It allows us to respond to our lives rather than the inflammation we may be living in, that pushes us to react.
My website is yourradiantsoul.com. I would love to help in any way and encourage people to continue to be curious about this.
Wonderful. Thanks, Kelly.