Secret Keys to the World

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A mentor of mine once told me that she thinks of Anthropology as a secret key to the world - a tool to use when you’re in a difficult situation with a friend, family member, coworker, client, or even when you’re feeling depressed or helpless about world events.

I feel the same about Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of healing that’s been around for over 5,000 years. Like Traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s “elemental,” meaning it draws on the wisdom of the natural elements - earth, water, fire, air, and ether - to promote deep healing. The basic premise behind Ayurveda is that each element is in each of us, but we all have a unique combination of the elements within us and we often get thrown off from our innate balance. Ayurveda strives to bring us back to our individual balance through dietary, lifestyle, herbal, and spiritual recommendations.

Two elements comprise a “dosha,” otherwise known as a mind-body type. Vata is made up of air and ether, Pitta is mostly fire and a bit of water, and Kapha is earth and water. Each dosha has several “gunas” or “qualities” to it. Vata = light, subtle, dry, mobile, cold, rough, and clear; Pitta = oily, sharp, hot, spreading, light, flesh, and liquid; Kapha = slow, dull, heavy, soft, cool, oily, and smooth.

Individuals can be “mono-doshic,” meaning one dosha is dominant in them, or they can be “dual-doshic” meaning two doshas are equally dominant in them, or “tri-doshic,” meaning all three doshas are equal within them (tri-doshic people are rare). It’s important to remember, too, that even if two people are “dual-doshic” e.g. “vata-pitta,” they might each inhabit and embody different qualities of vata and pitta. One person could be very quick and light on their feet, with rough skin, and a sharp mind, and another could be a very clear thinker who likes to spread their knowledge but often gets anxious (anxiety often arises from the “subtle” quality of vata).

Doshas also correspond to times of day, times of our life (childhood, adulthood, older adulthood), and seasons. And, there are lots of physical and mental clues (e.g. thick hair, dry skin, big eyes, easily irritated, natural creative, grounded, etc.) to figuring out someone's doshic balance. But more on that another day...

When I started studying Ayurveda over a year ago, I had no idea how much it would seep into my every being and affect the way I viewed the world. While Ayurveda offers lots of practical dietary and lifestyle tips (e.g. eat fruit alone since it’s digested faster than almost anything else, don’t drink cold water since it dulls your digestion, dry brush & oil your skin to soothe your anxiety and for a glowing complexion, favor warm food and warm spices in the winter, and many, many more), its philosophy and applicable principles to the ebb and flow of life are what really drew me in.

If I’m feeling hot-headed (“hot”) and over-sharing (“spreading”), both signs of an elevated pitta, I counterbalance myself by slowing down (“slow”) and drinking some peppermint tea (“cold”), which help nourishes my kapha and reduces my pitta. If someone I’m working with is being unclear (“dull” and “slow,” kapha) yet reprimanding me in an aggressive way (“hot” and “spreading,” pitta), I recognize that both their kapha and pitta might be elevated.

Ayurveda offers a healthy “outside-looking in” perspective that helps me take things a bit less personally. Ayurveda brings me back to my senses by showing me the “qualities” of people, places, and situations, and reminding me that there’s always a way to counteract imbalances.

My experience of Anthropology has also offered me the gift of perspective. By studying human behavior, culture, habits, and rituals, I've come to understand myself and the world in a less reactive and more open-minded way. I now look at workplaces or families at miniature villages, both wonderful and dysfunctional all at once.

Anthropology and Ayurveda both preach compassionate listening and observation - skills that are essential to literally any academic discipline, work industry, or relationship. Whether in the middle of rural Mali (as I’ve been!) studying spirit possession ceremonies, or zeroed in on an Ayurvedic client weeping about their depression, I've found that the ability to listen, absorb, and synthesize (sometimes immediately, sometimes days later, sometimes externally, sometimes internally... often you have to make the call on the spot!), is crucial to making individuals and groups feel at ease and to offering empathy.

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Over the next couple of months, I’ll be sharing more about my “slash” career (research & strategy consulting and holistic health counseling via Ayurveda), and how both careers help inform each other. In fact, in everything I do, work related or not, I try to embody both Ayurvedic and Anthropological wisdom. I’m grateful that both disciplines help me navigate the world.

Now, I’d love to hear from you: Do you have any practices or topics that you consider secret “keys” to the world? Have you combined your passions or trades in a unique one-of-a-kind way? Drop me a line.

Thanks for reading,

Abby


P.S. - I promise my next blog post won’t take over a year like it did this time :)