As an Ayurvedic Therapist, Aleiela brings a unique perspective and ancient wisdom into her work as a birth and postpartum doula. Although she specializes in caring for new mothers, the practices she shares can be beneficial and nurturing for all different stages of life.
C: Can you tell us a bit about Ayurveda?
A: Ayurveda translates to “the science of life,” and is an ancient healing modality originating in India. It is rooted in the idea that nature is all around us, as well as within ourselves. Ayurveda, which was created 5000 years ago, was one of the first medical systems and has since become even more popular, as it’s very similar to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and also because it is understood to be the sister science to yoga.
Ayurveda uses various treatments, herbs, spices and lifestyle choices to balance our bodies and minds back to their original constitution, or dosha. I like to explain that we all know how to warm or cool down our bodies externally, but Ayurveda teaches us how to warm and cool our bodies internally.
C: What are doshas?
A: Doshas are body/mind types. There are three doshas in Ayurveda: Pitta, Kapha and Vata. Each dosha is described using energies found in nature. Pitta represents fire and water, Kapha represents earth and water and Vata represents air and space. We all have each dosha within us at all times. Living an Ayurvedic lifestyle involves discovering what your dosha was at the moment of conception (your Prakruti) as well as what dosha is currently ruling your body (your Vakruti). Ayurveda can guide each of us in discovering our imbalances and learn how to balance our Prakruti so that we can do to live in optimal health, free from diseases and/or other non-optimal health conditions.
C: Can you share a self-care recommendation for each dosha?
A:If your Pitta is out of balance or your Prakruti is Pitta, you want to cool down the body internally, avoid stressful situations and “take it easy." A dip in the ocean, some cooling Pranayama (sitali breath) and some meditation can really help to balance Pitta.
If your Kapha is out of balance or you have a Kapha constitution some self care recommendations would be to activate and stimulate the body/mind. The C & The Moon scrub is actually a great product for this as well as dry brushing and steaming to ‘break up the congestion’ in your body. Kapha’s can also benefit from vigorous exercise , like hiking or hot yoga.
If your Kapha is out of balance or you have a Kapha constitution, some self-care recommendations would be to activate the body and mind. You can do this by adding vigorous activity to your day, like hiking or hot yoga. You can also incorporate some dry brushing and steams to “break up” the congestion in your body.
If your Vata is out of balance or you are predominantly Vata, you want to “calm and ground” your system. This dosha can really benefit from abhyanga (self-massage), ginger foot baths and rubbing your feet with ghee or sesame oil before bed. The smallest self-care rituals can make a huge difference in our day-to-day activities.
C: How did you discover this practice and realize it was the path you wanted to embark on?
A: I grew up in a very holistic environment. When my siblings and I were ill, my parents turned to our garden or kitchen for herbs, juices and soups to help us feel better and heal. When I realized this way of healing ourselves wasn’t common, I decided to study nutrition. One class briefly talked about Ayurveda for about five minutes and I was immediately drawn to it. The fact that Ayurveda treats each person differently while also treating the body as a whole really inspired me. I then incorporated it into my own life, and I immediately noticed a difference. I’ve been hooked ever since. I later discovered that Ayurveda plays a role in pregnancy and I fell in love even more. When I discovered that our Western world doesn’t have an answer to postpartum well-being, it became my mission to provide one. I couldn’t ignore the fact that every family needs this care and I was willing to take on the responsibility to spread the message.
C: How do you use Ayurvedic treatments and teachings to support new mothers?
A: No matter what a woman’s constitution is before pregnancy, according to Ayurveda, her Vata will be higher than ever after giving birth. Vata is controlled by air and space and represents movement in the body. During labor and with each contraction before and after birth, this movement pushes Vata higher and higher. After the baby is born, there is now a space left in the womb. Many women can attribute the beginning of a variety of health issues to their postpartum experiences because their Vata was out of balance and they never took the time to rebalance it. When I’m with a new mom, everything I am doing and recommending is going to balance their Vata. This type of care includes bringing a massage table with me to give her a massage, cooking her a warm nutritious meal and recommending other treatments depending on what’s going on for her specifically.
C: Lymphatic massage is a big part of Ayurveda. What are the benefits? Does self-massage count?
A: The lymphatic system is a huge part of our immune system and is constantly working to help keep our bodies healthy. Lymphatic massage encourages the natural processes that release and drain excess fluids, fatty acids, waste and toxins from the body. Abhyanga not only calms the mind and nervous system but also activates the lymphatic system. When performing your abhyanga, make sure to always warm your oils first, massage toward your heart and take the time to put intention behind your movements.
C: How can one incorporate self-massage into their life?
A: Incorporating self-massage, or abhyanga, into your life is similar to adding any other practice to your routine. At first it may be hard to remember and seem like a burden, but once you feel the benefits and create a habit, your body and mind will crave it and it will become second nature. To incorporate self-massage into your life, leave a bottle of organic oil in your bathroom so it’s an easy addition to your morning routine. Our bodies crave healthy oils, especially in winter, which is Vata season. Before you take a shower, massage the oil into your body using long strokes on your limbs and circular motions on your joints. Use your whole hand so that you can have as much skin-to-skin contact as possible while putting loving intention and care into each movement. It is important to always massage toward your heart, so start with massaging your hands and moving up toward your shoulders, then move from your feet to your hips. When you get to your stomach, massage slowly in a clockwise direction. After your abhyanga, take a warm shower to wash away your impurities and start your day feeling more grounded and relaxed.
C: How did Ayurveda transform your own fertility, pregnancy, birth and postpartum experiences?
A: Incorporating Ayurveda into your lifestyle can be life-changing for anyone at any stage of their life, but I personally believe Ayurveda shows up in a really special way for fertility, pregnancy, birth and especially postpartum. It took my partner and I about one year of trying before we conceived. We both changed our diets to balance our bodies and doshas during this time. Imagine how much healthier a baby will be after both parents are healthier themselves. To me this is true conscious conception. After both our bodies were balanced, we then turned to our friend Peter Crone to balance our minds. Peter is an Ayurvedic practitioner but focuses on reframing the mind. The day after my husband had a session with Peter, we conceived. It was a perfect example of how our bodies and minds are connected in every way. Not only did this work help us conceive, but we are now better parents because of it.
In pregnancy, the first and second trimester are ruled by Vata, so I focused on a Vata-pacifying diet. The third trimester is ruled by Pitta so I focused on a Pitta-pacifying diet. Our birth was pretty phenomenal but I’ll leave that story for another time. When it comes to postpartum, I truly believe that Ayurveda is the answer to all of our Western “problems.” I feel grateful that I went into postpartum with the knowledge I have, and I knew I needed the same support that I give to so many mothers in our community. I hired my friend and postpartum doula, Kate Danson. She came to my home twice a week for the first six weeks and nourished me with warm oil massages. It was really special and humbling to experience the care myself. I also had my husband and mother preparing kitchari for me each day.