Learning From Illness
If you or someone you love is sick, all is not lost. As a result of illness we become more resilient and learn beautiful life lessons. Illness can even be thought of as a gift.
When you are sick, do you tune into yourself and start a dialogue about what is going on? Have you ever asked yourself, "What does this [insert ailment] mean?" or "What are my body and mind trying to tell me about how I am living?" Asking questions like these help us get to the root of our illness so we can heal more quickly and on a deeper, more permanent level. Self-study is a skill worth honing when sick. Learning to nurture yourself deeply and lovingly will also help ease the physical and psychological effects of being ill.
If we are to endure disease and heal, we must start to take personal responsibility for that which we can control. We can aim to establish a life-affirming, positive, nourishing lifestyle and choose to rely less and less on that which is toxic. Ayurveda, the ancient healing science from India, teaches us how to tune into ourselves and the nature around us so that we can create a way of life that suits our needs. This wisdom provides the framework that can transform your health.
It is important to note that ayurveda is a complimentary health system, which means that it is used in conjunction with your medical doctors' treatments, not as an alternative.
Ayurveda teaches that beyond the material world lies a world that we can't see, but in which anything is possible, called the field of pure potentiality or divine intelligence. This intelligence is not separate from us, as it forms the basis of our being. It flows through each of us bringing animation, life, and health. It resides in each of our hearts as a quiet witness. Tapping into this power can help you feel more safe, empowered, and at peace with your illness. The suggestions below are all ways to connect with the healing power available within each of us:
Nutrition Ayurveda teaches that food is medicine and that what is nourishing for one person may not be for another. Some people are at a stage in their illness where the cleansing of toxins is important. Others may need to build up strength with rejuvinating foods. Some people are sufffering from issues associated with an excess of the element of wind in their mind/body systems, manifesting as issues with sleep, anxiety, and weight loss. Others are experiencing issues with too much of the fire element in their systems and are having issues with inflammation and irritablility and are recommended to eat in a way that will pacify the fire element. Still others are dealing with lethargy and congestion as a result of an excess of the earth element. Learning what type of diet you should be following is a huge step in the direction of self-healing.
Yoga Yoga, ayurveda's sister science, is actually much more than people in the west see it as. In addition to the classic physical postures or asanas, meditation, breathing exercises, and deep relaxation are all components of yoga. The postures that people associate with yoga serve as the preparation for one to be able to sit and meditate. It is advisable to 'start where you are' when starting a yoga practice by taking a beginner or gentle yoga series like the one listed below. Restortative yoga classes offer deep nurturing relaxation that is so needed when we are sick. Gaining mastery over your breath, relaxing the body deeply, and developing an awareness of the chakra system will also help you to sucessfully meditate. Meditation gives us an opportunity to relax our minds, which are in a constant state of fear and anxiety, especially when we are ill. There are many guided meditations online to use to get started with meditation. Insight Timer is a great resource for this. Choose meditations that focus on loving kindness and gratitude to help re-wire your mind towards positivity.
The Senses Just like the foods we eat, we consume information through our other senses. What we see has an impact on the state of our mind and our ability to heal. Choose nourishing sights like the lake, trees, a garden, an alter, or an inspiring movie, rather than violent or meaningless media. This also goes for the information we take in through our skin. When we are sick, a massage does so much more than just release tension. The act of being touched in a kind manner soothes the nervous system and fortifies our immunity. When you are sick, talk to your family and friends about being extra sweet with you; hold hands, snuggle, and cash in on shoulder and foot rubs. Give yourself a massage called abhyanga everyday to nurture yourself. Surround yourself with harmonious sounds as well--the sounds of nature, chanting, or any music that "touches" you, feeds your ability to heal. Learning a mantra to recite in your head can also help you move towards health and well-being. Now would also be the time to learn about aromotherapy, as scent is a powerful ally in our mission to be healthy.
Emotional Healing Remember that all physical symptoms of an illness have associated mental and emotional components. Disease can be caused by the build up of toxic emotions. Ayurveda teaches that these emotions, traumas, and thoughts need to be "digested" just like the food we eat. When we are sick, it is a good time to talk through the experience. Whether you talk to a friend, a counselor, or write in a journal, you are getting these ruminations out and processed. When we are sick there is a greater opportunity to look within our hearts and see what is unresolved. It is a time to find mindfulness by identifying what you are feeling and to "lean into" those feelings rather than suppressing them. It is very important to remember at this time that you are responsible for your emotions. No one can make you feel better emotionally--you are the only one who can do that.
Expression Art, dance, and writing can be powerful therapies for us when we are sick. These modalities allow us to enjoy present-moment awareness. When we are focused on tasks like creating art or dancing we lose track of our worries and fears. This allows space for our illness and its manifestations to loosen their grip and to surface. Expressive arts also help us to dig deep and connect with deep-seated feelings. When expressing ourselves by playing an instrument, singing, or sculpting we are given permission to not need to find the right words. Many cultures throughout history have used circular symbols called mandalas to reflect the inner world and there are many ways to create one yourself. Everyone can dance; even those of us confined to a wheelchair or a bed. Just turn the lights down, turn on some music, and let the body lead. Journaling is another way to express ourselves without judgement.
These suggestions need not be daunting. Connect with people who can help you determine what type of diet you should be following and learn to honor that knowledge in the kitchen. Find a way to learn some yoga. This includes not only physical postures but also how to breath, relax, and meditate. Bathe your senses in beautiful sights and sounds by getting outside during the beautiful Buffalo summer months. Use this opportunity to heal negative emotions that are weighing you down. Let your pain out through creative modalities like art and dance.
The payoff for your dedication to these things is that you get to know yourself on a much deeper level then you ever have before. You will learn what your strengths and weaknesses are and what you need to do to self-heal. You will cultivate tools that you will be able to use for the rest of your years.
And in the end, strangely enough, you may well find that you are grateful for what being ill has taught you.