Driving to Survive, our body’s rivers of life, and how old are you really?

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‘Drive to Survive’ has amassed a legion of new fans keen on the sport of Formula 1. And aside from the title, which immediately made me think of the Doshas, thoughts of them became more pronounced when I recently attended my very first Grand Prix. This is because towards the end of the first qualifying round, an unexpected red flag event occurred, causing a safety car to make its way onto the track. I immediately thought of our daily lifestyles and how they serve as safety cars of sorts for our health. We may not all be shining Ferraris, but we are without exception singularly sleek machines who require careful handling and dedicated attention. And if we’re to win the race of a lifetime-our life, we need to keep an eye on any bodily systems failures, so we can nip them in the bud when they first appear, by incorporating daily changes to our normal routine. And by becoming familiar with our body’s channels-our rivers of life, where the Doshas exert a constant presence, we can begin to make sense of the various complex systems we play host to, and what these lifestyle changes may involve.

Within Ayurveda it’s understood we have fifteen of these bodily channels, with each one also comprising certain associated organs. We have our respiratory channel-responsible for our breathing, which includes our lungs, nose and throat. Our digestive system-the original fireplace for all our digestive needs, is comprised of our oesophagus, stomach and small intestines. Our excretory channel is made of our large intestine, caecum, colon and rectum, and our sweat channel, of our skin and adipose tissue. Our water metabolism includes the upper palate and pancreas, and our urinary system is comprised of our bladder, groin and kidneys. Our mind pathway-responsible for the processing of our thoughts, encompasses our brain, spinal cord, nerves, five sense and five motor organs, and our mind. And our long bones, joints, brain and spinal cord form our nervous system channel. Our lymphatic system is controlled by our heart, and our circulatory system through the heart, liver and spleen. Our muscle function resides in our skin, tendons and ligaments, and our fat metabolism in our kidneys, pancreas and adrenal glands. And our bones, cartilage, teeth, nails and hair together, form our bone function. Last but not least, the male reproductive channel comprises the testes, epididymis, vas deferens, seminal vesicles and penis, and the female reproductive function the ovaries, fallopian ducts, uterus and vagina.(1) And any one of these channels or organs can send us red flag signals at different times in our lives, helping us understand which metabolic function requires attention.

Aside from their innate and most obvious function-such as circulation for example, our bodily channels perform two other very important roles. They’re a pathway for delivery of vital nutrients to the tissues regulated by that channel, and are also responsible for expelling any associated waste so it doesn’t accumulate in the body. Both are important, because without delivery of vital nutrients we can’t function properly, and when toxins accumulate, they begin to obstruct the channel, impacting it’s flow. And as we know, life is all about flow and the movement and transformation of energy.

According to Ayurveda, the pathology and pathway of disease follows a distinct narrative. Firstly, an accumulation of one or more of the Doshas builds up in the digestive tract. Then over time, if not attended to, they begin to move into the bodily channels and associated tissues, eventually finding a weak spot in which to set up camp and disrupt function. The aggravated Doshas then combine with the toxins they’ve helped create, and become further embedded, rendering the body’s natural repair mechanisms to such an extent, they’re unable to reverse the problem. And throughout this timeline, the various red flags that appear, do so in increasing volume and magnitude of importance. This means the sooner we notice the red flag and employ a safety car in the form of a daily lifestyle change, the more likely we can clean up the mess.

Thankfully, the Doshas are very effective communicators, and excel at sending us signs we can respond to. For example if we have no faeces to evacuate in the morning, this is a clear red flag Vata is unhappy. Her movement of Air has been impeded. The actual excretory channel itself may also not be allowing Vata to freely transport the contents towards the exit in an unobstructed manner as well. If you’re suffering from constipation then, a good place to start is by employing a safety car in the form of adjustments to your daily lifestyle, to help soothe Vata. You could begin by incorporating more fibre in your diet or start including soaked prunes in your breakfast. A solid banana shaped excretion first thing in the morning is a race won overnight, and rivals a Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen podium finish in this channel! If you have a red skin rash on your elbows or behind your knees, this is a sign toxins in your blood are travelling around the circulatory system circuit, and are now stuck on the narrow bends in this channel. These toxins need to be discharged, and your inflamed Pitta needs to be cooled down. A safety car in this instance may involve cooking with cooling coconut oil, and cutting out your daily over-hot showers. Viewing at the Grand Prix is priced at a premium in the stands on the turns, as it’s on these narrow pathways cars may try to overtake mid-race and cause an obstruction. Our bodies are no different.

When I was younger, one of my favourite children’s books was ‘A Big Ball of String’ by Dr Seuss. It told a tale of a young boy who enjoyed many creative and winding journeys with a big ball of string. Deep inside of you, imagine each of your channels are also host to a big ball of string, pulling along either your thoughts, nervous impulses, digested foodstuffs etc, with each journey involving a long labyrinth of pathways filled with many twists and turns. These internal adventures amongst nature, could fill a ‘Lonely Planet’ compendium with ease! It’s easy to picture the circuitous path of our intestines, but imagine the pathway of all the channels, especially at the deeper cellular and quantum levels. This is why looking after Vata is so very important-because it’s she and she alone, who courtesy of her airy constitutional make-up, is the bountiful provider of all our energy of movement. It’s for this reason she’s considered the leading Dosha, as without her movement Pitta and Kapha are unable to function fully. Therefore, a wonderful way to look after the flow in all of our body’s channels, is by taking good care of Vata. This is despite every channel being more closely aligned to one or other of the Doshas and not necessarily always her. If you’re unsure of how best to look after Vata, and want to understand more of what rattles and unsettles her in the first place, take a look at the various lists relating to her on the Vata page on my website.

When the Doshas are balanced and our channels free of toxins, life in general flows more smoothly. For example, when we keep Vata’s Space element clear in the channel of our mind, we’re more likely to think more creatively. When we keep her air flowing gently forwards in our nervous channel, we’re less likely to suffer from anxiety, worry and fear. When we keep Pitta’s fire burning just so in our digestive channel, we maximise our digestive capability-allowing for more nutrients to make their way to our organs. When Kapha’s water is kept clean our pancreas can operate unhindered and we’re less likely to suffer from diabetes some time in the future. When her Earth element is also kept pristine in our adipose (fat) channel, our adrenal glands are more likely to function optimally.

Life is all about relationship and the interconnections these form, and the channels of our body are no exception. Problems in one channel will often have implications for the others in varying degrees. Endometriosis, where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus moves beyond the reproductive channel and grows outside of the uterus, is one such example. Not only may it cause severe pain, but it can also make it more difficult to fall pregnant. Within Ayurveda, endometriosis is believed to be caused by imbalances in all three Doshas, along with the accumulation of toxins, and seems to be more prevalent in those with more Kapha-like constitutions. Vata is reposnsible for the pain, menstrual cycle changes and movement of the tissue, Pitta for the hormonal changes and blood, and Kapha with the overgrowth of the cells themselves.

Researchers following the ‘greater spotted eagles’-listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, noticed something quite striking recently. The current war in Ukraine has made their epic migration more perilous, and caused them to fly out of their way to avoid conflict zones, meaning they’ve had to forego stopovers needed to fuel their journey. For the eagles ‘ “it’s been like if you were running a marathon but you’re not allowed to take any water breaks, and at the end someone makes you run an extra eight miles” ‘ said Charlie Russell, a PhD student at the University of East Anglia and lead author of the study. It’s thought this change in path could make them ‘less fit during the critical breeding period’ and cause a ‘phenological mismatch’ between when they arrive and when their prey is most available. (2) Movement of a Dosha or an eagle out of normal channels can have very real consequences in many areas of life-in both these instances directly impacting the chances of reproduction.

In the last few years Epigenetics, the study of how our environment and behaviour can cause changes in the way our genes work, has been very revealing. Many scientists now suggest epigenetic age is ‘a better metric of health and disease risk’ than our actual years of age, as it reveals the ‘true pace of aging’ of one’s cells and tissues. In a recent study published in “Aging Cell” Art Petronis-a chrono-epigeneticist-along with his coauthors, ‘found that epigenetic age actually fluctuates throughout the course of a day’, and can oscillate ‘by five years in a single day’. ‘Cells appear youngest late at night’, and creep up to a ‘peak around midday.’ Previously it was thought epigenetic changes accumulated ‘over years or decades, “but not over short periods” said Petronis.‘ (3) It makes complete sense to me that when we sleep-a time when we experience less stress, our epigenetic age decreases, but that during our hectic days, it rises. And this research clearly confirms, how we manage our channels throughout any 24 hour time period, is very important. Every lifestyle decision we make is impacting the age of our cells, and the more we keep our Doshas in balance, the better our epigenetic outcomes will be both every hour of the day and long term.

Our bodily channels are rivers of life, whose unimpeded flow gift us vitality and health. Another river-the Nile-and its flood plain, ‘have provided food, agriculture and water to Egypt’s inhabitants’ for thousands of years in a similar vein. But this great river’s channel of passage looks very different now. A recent geological survey has unearthed a long lost branch of the Nile that ran by the pyramids and helps explain why the 30 ‘Old and Middle-Kingdom pyramids’ are built where they are. It’s now believed ‘at the time of their construction (2686 to 1649 BC)’, the river ‘stretched from the Giza pyramid complex ‘through what’s now desert, ‘to the village of Lisht’. Only a few stray lakes and channels remain today, with ‘sand blowing in from the Sahara Desert’, and ‘possible tectonic plate shifts’ given as possible causes for the river branch drying up and becoming unnavigable’. (4) When the pyramids were being built, the Nile was flowing at full strength, and the Egyptian Civilisation was at the zenith of its power. When the state of flow in our bodily channels is healthy, the strength of our individual power is maximised in the same way.

Energy is always flowing in some form, whether it be via a river, a bodily channel, or through another energetic means. The Ancient Egyptians are believed to have had a sophisticated understanding of energy principles, with their mastery of this language largely echoing similar theories found in the Hindu chakra system. Consequently, there’s much evidence supporting the thesis the ancient Egyptian temples were placed strategically along the passage of the River Nile, to correlate with each of the seven chakras. The Great Pyramid of Giza along with Mount Sinai, are said to represent the 5th or throat chakra-and therefore symbolise the voice of our planet.

In Ayurveda it’s understood as a river slowly meanders down a mountain, all the rocks in its path are being massaged very delicately at the same time. The gentle flow we create in our bodily channels can offer our body, mind and life a soothing massage in a similar way. For example every time a ‘Lewis’ or a ‘Max’ moves along our colon, they gently massage and exercise our channel walls, keeping them supple. The other channels all operate in a similar way. How well are you navigating your days? What red flags are your bodily channels revealing, and do you need a safety car in the form of an updated daily routine? Is your epigenetic age less than the number of candles on your last birthday cake? Do your days have the feeling of forward momentum and flow? Life may feel perilously like climbing a mountain at times, but if you pay attention to your Doshas, you’ll understand how to navigate your days so you can ‘drive to survive’.

KNOW YOUR DOSHAS

References:

(1)’Ancient Secrets’ by Dr. S. Ajit

(2) https://wildlife.org/ukraine-war-impacts-migrating-eagles/

(3)2) https://www.pnas.org/post/journal-club/epigenetic-age-can-fluctuate-five-years-single-day

(4) https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-024-01449-y