By Layla Khamoushian, Esq.
Member, CLA Health and Wellness Committee
In the middle of my second year of law school, I ended up at the ER with severe stomach pain. I knew that my body had been out of balance for a while. I was working full time while attending law school in the evening. I had 30 minutes to eat a rush meal at the school cafeteria before going to class. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was stressed. You know the drill—most of us remember how taxing school years were. This was the beginning of my battle with food, and it took years before I finally began my healing journey.
Law school stress and its effects continued into my initial years as a practicing lawyer. Being a new associate, drinking excessive amounts of coffee at work, long billable hours and working on weekends all added up. After two years of pushing on, I noticed all I wanted was to stay in bed all day and stare out the window. I had no energy to move. This wasn’t just mental fog or emotional imbalance. I wasn’t just sad or depressed. I had real physical symptoms and my doctors had no real solutions.
It took a while before I did what many lawyers may think of doing while undergoing similar circumstances. One morning after a court hearing I walked out of my job. I did not have a solid plan but knew that my body was unable to handle the stress of the “lawyer life.” I took a year off from practicing law and frankly believed that this was the end of my legal career. Of course, it wasn’t. It turned out to be a push to choose a more balanced and healthier lifestyle—and food was the doorway. It was the crack where the light got in!
In the summer of 2010, I met someone who practiced and taught a form of alternative medicine based on Ayurveda, an ancient medical system of India which is focused on healing the body, mind and spirit through diet, lifestyle and rejuvenation. The word “Ayurveda” comes from two Sanskrit words: Ayur meaning life and Veda meaning knowledge or science. In fact, many refer to Ayurveda as the sister science of Yoga. Ayurveda is an intelligent and well-designed system that uses elements of earth, water, fire, air and space to bring balance and harmony into your life. Most schools of ancient medicine do the same.
Every person’s wellness journey through Ayurveda is highly personal and individualized based on their body type as well as living conditions such as geographic location, climate and access to certain foods during a particular season. Ayurveda recognizes three body types, called doshas, Sanskrit for “bio-energy.” These are called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is composed of air and ether and governs movement. Pitta is composed of fire and water and affects the digestive and metabolic systems. Kapha is composed of water and earth and governs structure and stability. Each body type tends to have characteristic imbalances as well.
Through practicing Ayurveda, I learned for the first time to develop an awareness about food and my eating habits. I began to keep track of how I felt, physically, mentally and emotionally after digesting certain foods. I did not have to make any radical dietary changes. Observing the food-mood connection and learning how what I ate made me feel was the first step. Slowly, I began to make small adjustments. For example, I drank hot mint tea after eating a meal to help with my digestion. I ate more cooling foods, such as watermelon and drank coconut water during the summer season to lower the excess heat that accumulates in the body.
It is common to advise those who are suffering from various illnesses or simply show general symptoms of stress, such as consistent headaches, to start their wellness journey with meditation to reduce anxiety and stress. However, in Ayurveda, we understand that a highly stressed and anxious individual is not able to meditate because they simply cannot sit still for long. The body is in a state of “Raja,” a quality of disturbance and activity made of excessive air and space elements. To calm this state of disturbance, we first start by reducing foods high in acid such as caffeine and spicy foods that cause more disturbance in the body. We also recommend practices that bring in more earth element into the body such as eating root vegetables and walking in nature.
Same is true for someone who is suffering from fatigue, depression, and heavy feelings in both body and mind. This is referred to as “Tamas,” a quality of dullness and inertia made of excessive earth element. This individual also cannot sit long in meditation because they tend to fall asleep. The Tamasic state must be broken by bringing the fire element into the body, through consuming heating foods such as ginger and dates, and reducing heavy foods such as dairy products and oily fast foods. Fire also helps in detoxifying the body which reduces both depression and anxiety, making the body ready to sit in meditation.
In my opinion, it is misguiding to give the same dietary prescription to everyone, for example, “eat a low carb, high protein diet” or “quit drinking coffee.” The Ayurvedic practitioner analyzes the person’s body type through a detailed examination of habits and lifestyle and guides them accordingly. I learned that my body was not digesting meat properly which led to weight gain, but I did not have to become a vegetarian necessarily to overcome this issue. I simply learned to include foods high in digestive enzymes such as kiwis and pineapple in my diet and eat more lean meats. Also eating sweet fruits such as ripe mangos and figs in the afternoon gave me the fuel that I needed in the afternoon.
In summary, if you are struggling with health issues, suffer from symptoms of stress, or just want to begin a healthier and more harmonious lifestyle, start by noticing your eating habits. Log in your food intake and notice how you feel. Make small tangible changes. Learn what foods nourish your unique body and eat accordingly. If you are interested in discovering your Ayurvedic dosha, there are many online quizzes you can take or you can consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner. Ayurveda is a vast and fascinating world to dive into. The following is my recommended reading list:
- “Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing,” by Dr. Vasant Lad www.ayurveda.com
- “Freedom in Your Relationship with Food,” by Myra Lewin www.halepule.com
- “Food as Medicine,” by Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. www.drdharma.com
Layla Khamoushian is an immigration attorney based in Los Angeles. She is a member of CLA’s Health and Wellness Committee. She practices yoga, eats seasonal fruits and goes on sunset hikes whenever possible. She can be reached at email@example.com.