Many years ago, my grandparents took their son and moved from Mombai, India to the "Little India" section of Artesia in Los Angeles county. Although Little India is technically the four-block area of Pioneer Boulevard between 183rd and 187th streets, they moved to a house several blocks away from the Indian mini malls, restaurants, clothing and jewelry stores, and a variety of what most people in the US might consider exotic imports. It is a very colorful area of Los Angeles.
My grandparents strongly supported the idea of fitting in with the local culture and that intent heavily influenced my father. Although my grandparents still have that beautiful, lilting, Indo-British accent, my father has none. Even so, he married a woman with an Indian background. Although she was only half-Indian (her father was British), she was still acceptable to his parents. Beside, they were just happy to have the possibility of grandchildren.
I was born on July 4, 1976; a very auspicious date. I had many of the physical characteristics of my mother, especially her beautiful figure. However, I also had the surprisingly large eyes and smooth, dark skin of my father. I was entered into many beauty contests when I was a baby and a little girl. I won several of them.
But I was more than just beauty. I was also good at sports. By the time I was in school, girls were starting to get into more active sports, and I could hold my own in baseball, soccer, basketball (I've always been tall), and even cricket. My parents expected me to get good grades and I felt that I shouldn't disappoint them. My A- grade average and sports abilities resulted in my receiving offers of full scholarships to several colleges and universities. In 2000, I graduated with an MBA in Business Administration.
I had so many job offers it was amazing. Soon I was working for a medium-sized company with a great salary and great benefits. Life couldn't be better. I had a boyfriend whom my parents adored and who treated me like a goddess. There was nothing I wanted.
But it was all a lie. My name explains it all. "Maya Ananda" is Sanskrit for "illusion of peace." Something was wrong. I felt unhappy and unsatisfied. I always kept a smile on my face, but I felt uncomfortable in my body. It wasn't exactly a feeling of illness, but that something was... "wrong." Sometimes I would sleep all day for no reason. I had been to several doctors and none of them could find anything wrong with me. But something was wrong.
One evening, my boyfriend and I were having dinner with my parents and grandparents. When dinner ended, we all went into the living room to talk and chat. But my grandmother called me over and led me into the den. "You are out of balance, granddaughter," she said.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Oh, granddaughter. I can see it from a mile away. You are not feeling right. Yes?"
I have no idea how she knew. "Well, no, I'm not," I admitted.
"That is okay, child. It is time for you to discover your heritage. For there you will find the secrets of what is wrong. The answer is in ayurveda." She pronounced the word in the traditional Indian style: ah-yoor-ved-ah (where the "d" is almost a "t").
"Indian herbology? Oh grandmother. We live in a scientific world now. I go to the best of doctors..."
"Ah hah hah hah," she laughed. "Ayurveda is much more than herbs. But give in to the whims of an old woman and come with me tomorrow afternoon when I go shopping on Pioneer. Be here at 2:30."
I could see that her eyes were sparkling. She wanted to share something of what she remembered of India with me. How could I say, "No?" I smiled, gave her a hug, and said, "Of course, grandmother. I'd love to go with you." And I really wanted to go. We went back into the living room and rejoined the little party.
So the next day I drove my grandmother to Little India. On the way she said, "Granddaughter, I know you very well. If I took you to an ayurvedic doctor you wouldn't pay any attention to him or her. You need to learn about things first. We will get you a book."
We window-shopped our way down the street, picking up some Indian groceries (I just love the flavors of Indian foods) and a silk scarf along the way. On the east side of the street was a store that sold books from India, books about Indian things... and computer software. Well, India is a major high-tech center and the US imports many programmers trained in India.
Inside, my grandmother took me around the books until we came to a section on ayurveda. I immediately started to look at the books that were imported from India. My grandmother took one I had grabbed from my hands and put it back on the shelf. "That is no good for you," my grandmother said. "You need an American writer." There were some books from Americans, but they tended to be very superficial or perhaps filled with misunderstandings. My grandmother would look through them and put them back with a disparaging sound.
She picked up another book and started going through the pages. I thought she was going to put it back, but instead slowed down as she turned the pages. Finally, she smiled, pushed the book in my hands, and said "This is the book you must get. Come along." She was almost out of the store by the time I paid for Ayurvedic Balancing by Joyce Bueker.
We finished shopping, and on the way home my grandmother said, "You read this book. Call me next week and we'll talk about it. We'll get you well in no time!" I started to protest at having her control my life in this way, but I realized that this was the first time she was treating me like an equal (that's how she treated her friends) rather than as a little girl. This would give me a chance to learn more about my ethnic background. It would bring us closer. I told her that would be great.
The first thing I learned is that "everyone is made up of the same elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth), and personal differences stem from unique combinations of these elements in varying amounts as they manifest in physiological, mental, and emotional patterns. These elements combine to form three main mind-body types, or doshas:
- Vata [VAH-tah]
• Airy and ethereal (manifesting as movement, breath, consciousness)
- Pitta [PIT-tah]
• Fire and water (manifesting as metabolism, vitality, perception)
- Kapha [KAH-fah]
• Water and earth (manifesting as bodily tissue, evenness, patience)
I was surprised to learn just how many of the Vata characteristics I possessed. But what interested me the most was the description of what a person who was of a Vata Dosha was like if such a person had an imbalanced temperament and mode of thinking: Nervous, indecisive, fearful, blurred. I instantly recognized that these were more precise definitions of what I was feeling when everything felt "wrong." I could avoid doing anything by staying in bed and sleeping all day. Why? Because I was fearful of what might happen if I actually made a decision. So to avoid showing how indecisive I was, I would stay in bed. My thinking in this was so blurred that I hadn't been able to see what was actually wrong.
One of the things I was glad to see about Ayurvedic Balancing was that it shows this healing system to be comprehensive and not simplistic. It recognizes everyone as individuals—they are combinations of the different doshas. This means that it doesn't give simple, universal answers for everyone. Instead, it has you identify your qualities and work out goals through asking questions. This, in itself, is enlightening. Then it shows you how to work with what you are to create balance.
As a result of working with the book, I determined (much to my surprise) that I had far too much stress in my life. The responsibilities at work were stressful (I was putting in sixty and more hours per week). My apartment was so big that I couldn't keep it neat and tidy, adding to my stress. I didn't exercise (exercise relieves stress). My parents and my boyfriend had expectations of me that I tried to fulfill, but never quite succeeded. The book gives several ways for dealing with this, including special diets and exercise routines, but I decided to follow the meditation technique.
Although my heritage is from India, I am fully American. As the book says, "Sitting quietly is difficult for most Westerners, because we are impatient and unwilling to undergo the transition from restlessness, busy-ness, or boredom to receive the benefits of being still." (p. 129) The book continues with a simple method of meditation for reducing stress:
- Start by sitting quietly for ten minutes, eyes closed, in a place without distractions, preferably in the morning before you get "caught up" in your daily activities, or perhaps before your evening meal.
- Expand the sitting to twenty minutes, and if possible do this in the morning and evening. If you can't meditate in the morning, a break at lunchtime (like a walk or a "power nap") or before your evening meal would be beneficial. If you begin to meditate and fall asleep, chances are you needed the rest! If at all possible, resume your quiet sitting after your nap. It is also good to lie down after a meditation and absorb the quietness you have introduced into your thoughts and physiology.
- Some schools of thought suggest meditating before bedtime to quiet the mind before sleep. In any form, a regular meditation practice a few minutes a day is very beneficial. It helps to calm a busy mind, let go of worries or tensions accumulated during the day, soothe the body, and help you become accustomed to feeling quiet stillness throughout the day. (p. 130)
So I tried sitting quietly. I tried it several times. About the best I was able to do was thirty seconds before my attention wandered to the things I wasn't doing. This wasn't working. I went back to Ayurvedic Balancing and followed the instructions for a period of guided meditation:
Lie flat on the floor or bed with hands at your sides and palms down. Close your eyes and focus for a few moments on your breathing, allowing your lungs and belly to slowly fill with air. Then release the breath, vocalizing out loud with an "ahhhhhh" sound if you wish. While breathing normally, visualize an opening in the top (crown) of your head, as if energy could freely flow inside this opening and through your body. Imagine this energy coming inside and relaxing all thoughts, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and organs. Guide this energy through your body three times:
First: through the crown of your head, down your ears, sides of your neck, shoulders, arms, and finally through your fingertips, relaxing each area as you focus on it;
Second: through the crown of your head, down your forehead and eyes, nose, mouth, chin, throat, heart, lungs, belly, groin, thigh, knees, feet, and finally through the toes, and;
Third: through the crown of your head, down the back of your head, along the base of your skull and neck, down your spine, the backs of your legs and your heels.
Rest in this peaceful heaviness a few moments, inviting gravity to "let the floor hold you," moving slowly upright when done." (p. 130-131)
I found this practice very easy to do. I did it morning and evening. It only took a few minutes, but by the end of the week I discovered that I was automatically doing the practice for twenty minutes in the morning and thirty minutes at night.
It was also very pleasant. By the weekend, I realized that I hadn't noticed that feeling of something being "not right" in a couple of days. To say that practices this simple made such a wonderful change in me was a surprise would be an understatement. When I called my grandmother and told her about it, she took it all in stride. "Well of course, granddaughter. Didn't I tell you that this book would help you feel better. Bring the book and come over tonight after work and we will talk some more. Good bye. I love you."
And with that, she hung up. I laughed because she didn't check to see if it was okay with me, she just expected me to come over. But it was okay with me and I did go over. And we started to go through Ayurvedic Balancing.
Over the next few weeks, with the help of the book and my grandmother's experience, I learned much more about myself, how I'm a blend of the different doshas, and how to live with it. With the help of the book and her guidance I'm learning how to cook ayurvedically (and you're not limited to Indian-style foods). I think that next week my grandmother is going to show me some more about the uses of herbs that I had dismissed several weeks ago. And she and I are closer together than ever.
I definitely feel that I am happier, more balanced, and much better able to do my work. Others must have seen it, too, because last week I was asked it I would like to be given some special training to prepare me for management. It seems like the company wants me to move up.