Originally by Claire Este McDonald for Down Under's 'Voices' Blog
As a woman I want to make sure that I am doing everything I can to stay healthy and feel at my best. There is so much misinformation out there and we are inundated with fads from the media about what is healthy and good for you. How is one able to decipher what is best and most essential to feel radiant and resilient? What habits are effective? What supports balanced energy, clear mindedness, and an appreciation for life?
The body is essential. We have a body to experience life, the soul, and to live with expression and freedom and to ultimately experience happiness and longevity. We all have different bodies, though. No two are the same. The way one cares for their body is as individualized as there are stars in the heavens. It can feel overwhelming as there is so much to consider.
Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, is an ancient system of individualized health based on the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. Just like in nature, your body is made of these five elements in varying degrees. It is this individual elemental combination that makes you who you are. Ayurveda helps you to understand and work with the dance of these elements within you and the environment around you to access true health and contentment. Essentially, Ayurveda unlocks the mysteries of how the body heals itself. To know this information is empowering and will change your life forever.
In February of 2016, I was diagnosed with advanced stage metastatic breast cancer. The treatments that I endured nearly killed me; eight rounds of chemo, 35 radiation treatments, 14 surgeries, blood transfusions, endless antibiotics, and countless procedures. My body was bombed to oblivion. On two occasions it's a miracle that I even survived. The doctors could not understand how I could withstand such intensity for such a prolonged period of time. They were perplexed by how I looked so healthy, resilient, and beautiful given the severity of the treatments. I felt terrible, but I didn't look sick.
What was my secret? Ayurveda! I was very fortunate to be exposed to the teachings and practices of Yoga and Ayurveda at an early age. This knowledge supported me in building a strong, healthy body, resilient mind, and courageous spirit. I didn’t understand the magnitude of this knowledge and how priceless it truly was until I was struck with the realization that I was dealing with life-long, ongoing treatment for breast cancer. This news was devastating and left me feeling overwhelmed with anger, fear, grief, and sorrow. It felt so unfair to have been dealt such a heavy burden. It was through Ayurveda and my daily practices of yoga, meditation, breath work, diet, and lifestyle that I am able to continue to lift up and out of the black hole of ominous darkness of such a diagnosis and consciously direct my mind and energy to practices that allow me to stay present, patient, and available to the power of life right now.
What is the Ayurvedic daily regime? Dinacharya, daily health practices, looks at the cycles of nature and bases daily activities around these cycles. Ayurveda contends that routines establish balance and that understanding daily cycles promotes health and contentment. The daily practices, such as starting ones day with hot water and lime, stimulate and cleanse the energy channels and eliminate the buildup of dosas in the body and mind. Agni, digestive fire, is the cornerstone of vitality and health in Ayurveda. All practices, yoga asanas, breath work, tongue scraping, body brushing, etc., are done to support the Agni, the God of fire.
Chemotherapy wreaks havoc on the digestive fire. For me it was like I swallowed the sun. My system was on fire. Not everyone experiences this effect. It was individual to me based on my constitution already having more of the fire element. I turned to Ayurveda and practices that supported my digestive fire and ways to pacify the intensity of the symptoms. I had to calm the fire in my tissues as well as rebuild the fire in my gut. Subtle shifts, like drinking boiled water and adding spices such as cumin, coriander, and cloves. Herbs like basil and aloe gave me welcomed relief and healing. Oil massages brought moisture and nourishment to my skin. In Sanskrit the word sneha means to oil and to love. How we do something impacts the qualities and nature of the experience. The attention of the oil to my skin was another layer of receiving nourishment, tenderness, and a tangible feeling of relief and love.
What we feel does matter. The body and mind are giving us feedback all of the time as to which direction we should turn. Being able to discern what is happening is intelligence and the study of Ayurveda. The daily practices over time illuminate the matrix of the inner workings of the subtle qualities of the elements within us. Simple things like knowing when to get more rest or when to get up and move are ways of negotiating with our deeper needs.
On my yoga mat I learned how to breathe, move my body, and deal with my mind. A lifetime of practice, practice, practice. Then, for nearly two years I could not lift my arms above my head. Extensive reconstructive surgery and radiation treatments depleted my tissues and movement was extremely limited and painful. However, my body remembered all those years of practice and breathing on my mat. Even when my body could not do the physical postures I could recall the feeling in my mind and my tissues. I could move the breath through my body like I once did. My skin would glisten, my heart would gallop, and my breath would deepen reminding me of wholeness. The practices brought me back to openness and possibility that I could do this.
Ojas! What are Ojas? Ojas are essential immunity. It is that feeling deep inside that makes you feel safe, sound, loved, and strong, enigmatically connected to the soul of the universe. Food is a necessary ingredient for building your body's tissues and having proper digestion to create Ojas. When you digest food properly your body builds healthy, balanced tissues, muscles, bones, blood, and immunity. When you digest well you have energy and feel alive! When you have weak Agni and don't digest your food your body struggles, you feel tired, suffer from gas/bloating, build toxins, gain weight, can't think clearly, and feel emotionally overwhelmed and awful.
My treatment for breast cancer was in essence food for my tissues. Saturated like a sponge with the intention to heal. That might sound a bit strange given that chemo is so toxic. The intention, however, was not. I knew that if I was going to have treatment I was going to surrender to the process. That’s how treatment works. The side effects are what I have to process on a daily basis. Our bodies take everything in and process it through our organs and tissues. Through Ayurveda, daily, life-long diet and lifestyle choices are remedies that support the body in repairing agni, digesting nutrients properly to rebuild healthy tissues and ultimately Ojas.
Living indeed has made me wiser. Learning through living has changed my life. This attitude, along with my Ayurveda and Yoga daily practices has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. Once in a while someone will ask me if I do all of these things why did I get cancer? My answer is, ”I'm not God”. We don't have control over these things. But we do have control over what we make these things mean and how we choose to experience and live our lives.
I am a healer and healers teach and heal from their experiences. My daily regime has maintained my health, longevity, and access to contentment and happiness. I feel it is my life's work to share this information and how to access radiant health to as many people as possible. If I can go through all of this and feel amazing, just imagine what this information can do for you!