Habits…the good, the bad and the ugly

Habits by Tarik Dervish

 

There’s an old English saying that goes,

 

“Our relationships fall into three categories:

  1. Those that happen for a reason
  2. Those that last for a season
  3. Those that last a lifetime

 

But what about our relationship with ourselves?  We cultivate a variety of subpersonalities to help us manage life and all our subpersonalities have their own particular point of view and way of doing things.

 

For example, we may have a sub-personality that is our Inner disciplinarian. Out inner disciplinarian helps us get up for work, do unpleasant choirs, pay bills, do assignments, in fact, anything that requires us asserting our Will because we find the tasks tedious or unpleasant.

 

Another example might be the Inner Child. The part of us that is playful, needy and, well, childlike. The Inner Child also has a way of seeing things and doing things. Our Inner child likes to be spontaneous, chaotic and creative.

 

Astrologically, The Inner disciplinarian is represented by the natal position of the planet Saturn. The sign and position in the chart that Saturn falls in at the moment of your birth, has an influence on how your Inner disciplinarian will behave. This is often represented by how we were parented and what our parents were like. However, I prefer to use the word disciplinarian because it could be either parent or indeed an institution that has provided you with the environmental stimuli necessary to create a sub-personality that handles your affairs.

 

Equally, the Inner child is represented by the position of your natal Moon by sign and house. A Moon in Aries type for example will not behave in the same way as a Moon in Cancer type.

 

So what has all this got to do with Habits you’re wondering? Indeed, what has any of this got to do with Yoga??

 

Our Moon sign has an influence on the kind of habits we form in life that run so deep that they are an intrinsic part of us. They are the domestic and personal habits that you discover about people when you move in with them! Our inner disciplinarian or inner Saturn helps us manage ourselves by establishing wholesome routines. That inner voice that reminds us to brush our teeth or gives us a nasty look when we reach for a cigarette. Lets look a little more deeply into the fraught world of habits….

 

I would like to assert a simple statement and take it from there

 

The habits that we form in our daily lives in relation to other people, our worklife and our home life is created by our subpersonalities.

 

I would also like to assert the following:

 

Our relative success or failure in life is directly influenced by these sub-personalities.

 

I will first engage you in the kind of habits that can bring about successful or unsuccessful outcomes and refer them to the teachings of both Yoga and Ayurveda and how they can help.

 

Habits

 

We could broadly categorize our habits into:

 

  1. Physical habits:

 

These are things like:

  • What time we get up and go to bed and how long we sleep for.
  • What time we eat and what we eat.(Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner)
  • How we cleanse ourselves. (bathroom ablutions etc)
  • Centring or spiritual practices. (such as Yoga and Meditation)
  • How and how much we exercise.
  • Bowel movements. (How many and quality!)
  • Micturation (How often you go for a pee?)

 

  • How we manage our energy levels (stimulants like coffee, tea and chocolate)

 

  1. Emotional Habits

 

  • How do you react to stress?
  • Do you get angry?
  • Are you prone to depression?
  • Are you fearful of new situations?
  • Are you scared of your own body?
  • Do you comfort eat?
  • Do you feel easily overwhelmed?
  • Do you see the glass as half full or half empty when presented with a new situation?

 

All of the above contribute to your overall sense of wellbeing in life and the trickle effect of perhaps one or two bad habits can eventually create a torrent of difficulties cumulatively.

 

Let see how….

 

  1. Sleep:

 

There’s a lot of wisdom in the old adage “Early to bed, early to rise”. The Ayurvedic view on this is very clear. It is best to take our guidelines from nature. In general, it is best to be in bed before the energy of Pitta dosha sets in. Pitta is controlled by the elements of Fire and Water and is mainly responsible for the digestion and assimilation of our food. It controls the periods 10-2pm and 10-2am so if you are still up and active after 10pm, you will probably start getting hungry again. If you are winding down and ready to go to bed then your body can concentrate on fully digesting and assimilating the food you ate during the day so that you can wake up fresh the next morning with an empty stomach. If you eat late, then often, the food sits in your stomach and starts to ferment. You know this has happened because you feel bloated and very gassy! Observe yourself and see!

 

Another reason why both Yoga and Ayurveda recommend going to bed and getting up early is that if you get up in the early hours of the morning, especially just before dawn, there is a very special vibration in the atmosphere that is conducive to deep and fulfilling meditation. The mind is relatively quiet at this time. In Yoga, they say this is because the negative and positive forces of nature are in greater balance. We know this because the breath flows more evenly through the right and left nostrils. The rest of the time, there is a subtle shift of flow between the right and left nostrils every 90 mins or so. You can also observe this! Which nostril is flowing more freely at the moment?

 

I do accept that the world is divided between Larks and Owls. Some people just seem to function better at night like Owls and some people are full of beans in the morning like larks. I’m more of an Owl myself in the sense that I have more creative energy later in the day. However, despite this, I have noticed an improvement in my own health when I do manage to get to bed early and wake up early the next day.

 

Food and Eating habits

 

This is a huge area both in Western and Ayurvedic thinking. I will address it in two sections. Firstly, I will comment on our habitual eating times and secondly, our eating habits.

 

An important aspect of Ayurvedic philosophy is the concept of AGNI. In general terms, this represents the overall efficiency of our digestive system. The rishis observed that agni is at its strongest when the sun is at its highest so it stands to reason that the biggest meal of the day should be lunch. Daylight hours are best for food consumption so the lightest meal should be the evening meal. This is obviously a simplistic approach to a complex subject. After years of clinical experience my conclusion is that the only sustainable way of finding a good eating rhythm is by trial and error.

 

Some people, for example, don’t get hungry in the morning and only feel like eating when the Pitta cycle kicks in after 10am. If this is you, then be prepared for it. Have something wholesome, ready to eat so you don’t have to resort to the nearest junk food around.

 

Some people say that having a big lunch makes them sleepy in the afternoon. This does depend on what you like to eat. Large amounts of carbohydrates can disrupt your blood sugar. We will address this in the next section.

 

Some people like to eat socially with their families and partners in the evenings so prefer to make that the main meal.

 

These are all important considerations when you are looking at eating times. My best advice is

 

Observe the effects of your eating habits on your body and mind.

 

If there is food in your stomach when you go to bed, that food won’t digest well and may cause you insomnia.

If you eat at all times of the day or on the run, Vata dosha will get aggravated and your Agni will get confused. Your body likes wholeseome routines. It likes to work with the rhythms of nature. Honour it and respect it. Then it will serve you well into the future.

 

You are what you eat.

 

Even more important than when we eat is what we eat. Ayurveda recommends we eat foods that are going to be easy for the Agni to break down and assimilate. If it is unable to break down the food, then that undigested food is called Aama and can end up clogging the tissues and channels. Most diseases start off this way which is why our relationship with food is essential for good health.

 

Raw food versus cooked food

 

There is not doubt that raw food is more nutrient rich. However, Ayurveda states that it is not the nutritional value of a food that is important. Indeed arguably, everything has nutritional value but it doesn’t mean that everything is good for everyone.

 

Ayurveda generally recommends eating cooked food that is hot. In Ayurvedic thought, cooking the food helps to break the food down so our agni doesn’t have to work so hard and it can be more easily digested. Cold food and drink tend to diminish the agni including raw food.

 

Though this is not an Ayurvedic idea, raw food is great when you want to detoxify the body. It is commonly used in the Naturopathic approach with good results. Habitually, however, unless you have very strong Agni and you know it, raw food is best limited to side salads and fruit.

 

Before saying any more about the do’s and don’t s of diet, let us remind ourselves of the focus of this article. We are exploring our habits and their positive and negative effects on our lives. So an important exercise here is:

 

What do you eat and drink habitually and how does it make you feel?

 

Do you get gas and bloating?

Do you get heart burn?

Do you feel lethargic all the time?

Do you get aches and pains around the body for no apparent reason?

Do you get constipation?

 

These are all classic symptoms of low agni (poor digestion) and the presence of Aama (undigested material) in the tissues.

 

If this is you, then you cannot ignore your eating hahits and need to look more closely at them.

 

They say its easier to change people’s religion than their eating habits. I have found this to be true. Food is an emotional subject. I’ve often heard people say “What’s the point in living if you can’t eat what you like?” And I’ve seen people eat their way to an early grave too. Food habits run deep and are intrinsically tied up with our sense of self identity.

 

I fully appreciate how hard it is to change eating habits so here are my top tips for the courageous and the willing:

 

  1. Avoid refined carbohydrates especially sugar. It can seriously disturb your metabolism if taken habitually. Cases of Diabetes are rocketing in the UK and this is a big cause. It causes fungal infections like Candida and may be the underlying cause of unexplained fatigue. Keep refined carbs as a treat only.
  2. Avoid the habitual use of coffee. High Kapha types are the only people who can handle coffee well but most of us don’t fall in this category. If you are using coffee to get you going in the morning, take a look at other factors to see if there are other reasons why you re not waking up refreshed.
  3. Avoid too much red meat. It is very high in acid and can dramatically increase Pitta dosha if eaten habitually. I’m not advocating vegetarianism necessarily. Yoga recommends being vegetarian because it’s easier to maintain a sattvic or balanced state of mind for meditation but experience has taught me that vegetarian food is definitely not for everyone. Observe and see. I had one client who was suffering from migraines for years. Nothing seemed to help. I advised him to start with the basics and remove red meat from his diet. The headaches simply vanished overnight! He could hardly believe it himself. So I say it again. Observe yourself and be honest.
  4. Avoid too many processed foods. They say that the US is overfed but undernourished because most of the consumption is processed/ junk food. Feed yourself with real food.

 

 

Apart from the above, if you are generally well, I believe you can eat anything that is natural and wholesome. If your body doesn’t like it, it will tell you. Look out for the signs. An apple a day keeps the doctor away unless you are a high vata type whereby raw apples will produce gas! Learn by your own experience and become your own doctor!

 

Your subpersonalities have their preferences. A Moon in Cancer type tends to like Kapha foods because Cancer is a Kapha sign. A Moon in Aries tends to like spicey foods because Aries is a fire sign and very Pitta in nature. You don’t need to know your Astrology to know your preferences but the reason why I included it here is because our preferences are not only conditioned by our upbringing. They are also influenced by a higher order which adds colour to our uniqueness.

 

So celebrate your uniqueness by growing towards the most wholesome versions of yourself in the way nature intended you to be!

 

 

Tarik Dervish is an experienced Ayurvedic Practitioner and Yoga Teacher/ Trainer. He runs Ayurveda for Yoga Practitioners courses in Central London which are British Wheel of Yoga accredited. The next course starts in May 2011. To find out more about his work, please visit www.yogawell.co.uk