The doshas of Candyland

Board game

When my new mast cell specialist told me she first trained in Ayurveda, I had no idea what that meant, but I was pretty sure it was a threat to my committed relationship with macaroni and cheese. While I braced for shaming, she asked a million questions–everything from my childhood to diet to sleep to how I like to relax.

“You’re a kapha,” she said, handing me a piece of paper detailing the three Ayurvedic doshas: Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. She explained Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of India and doshas are frameworks for understanding people’s constitutions based on five elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Most people have one predominant dosha, which can provide insight into living a fuller, healthier life. Kapha types are composed of the elements of water and earth, Pitta of fire and water, and Vata air and ether.

I quickly looked to the Kapha column and read: Heavy, slow cold, oily. My face scrunched into a silent WTF, as she continued talking. 

“Some patients have tons of questions, others get overwhelmed and forget easily, but Kapha types need to be pushed and motivated,” she said. “Kapha is slow to learn, but never forgets.”

As someone who takes great pride in my memory, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. I figured if she took the time to learn the nuances of mast cell disease, I could at least learn a little about Ayurveda.

The earth and water elements were certainly accurate. In college, I seriously considered majoring in geology, until my professor gave a lecture memorializing her friends who had fallen into volcanoes for science. I like rocks, but I don’t like fire. That day, I decided my major was political science, because I didn’t want to die in a volcano, as if there were no other geological career options. 

******

Me: Why am I so hungry?

Nicolle: End of summer… time to fatten up for winter

Me: Apparently, I’m the overweight dosha in Ayurveda. Kapha, the heavy, oily dosha that watches lots of TV. The TV part upsets me as much as the oily part. 

Nicolle: You’re not going to get fat from one meal!

Me: Kapha types are also good managers, so that’s probably why I have so much couch time

Nicolle: It is ok to watch TV and relax sometimes… probably good for you actually

Me: I’m also soft

Nicolle: Did you take your relaxi taxi?

Me: Yeah, but I don’t feel relaxed. Am I lazy?

Nicolle: Is this real? No, of course you are never lazy.

Me: Ancient India real

Nicolle sends me a link to a Kapha description which reads, “Earth and water are both by nature: dense, heavy, cold, static, and dull.”

Me: NOW I’M DULL?

Nicolle: None of that is you

Me: Maybe my social media dosha is different

Nicolle: I don’t have the mental capacity to learn about this right now

*****

Of course, as a Kapha, I couldn’t forget those descriptors, but it took me awhile to warm up to the concept. I started noticing Kapha aspects throughout my day: how sitting in the woods relaxes me and day naps destroy me. I began paying attention to my strengths and weaknesses, not just my symptoms. Heavy and oily qualities aside, I began to understand myself in a new way. 

I also began calling myself Gloppy. You know the characters from the board game, Candyland? Specifically the 1984 version?

Gloppy bio reads, “Just before you get to the Candy Castle, you’ll pass through the Molasses Swamp, where you just might meet Gloppy. Don’t be afraid, Gloppy might look like a monster, but he’s really a lovable glop of molasses goo. But Gloppy gets very lonely sitting in the swamp all by himself. So, give him a hug and you’ll have a friend forever.”

I’m pretty sure Candyland and ancient Indian medicine are mutually exclusive, but heavy and lovable Gloppy is definitely Kapha predominant. No offense to ancient Sanskrit, but saying “Gloppy” is way more fun. And now I say it A LOT. Especially around six o’clock.

*****

Me: It’s Gloppy time! Kapha is 6-10 AM and PM, Pitta is 10-2 AM and PM, and Vata is 2-6 AM and PM.

Nicolle: So, these are supposed to be your best times of the day?

Me: Yes, which is actually true

Nicolle: What do they suggest you do during the other times?

Me: Lay in the dirt

*****

My specialist loves to say, “Ayurveda is the original personalized genomic medicine.” This didn’t mean much to me at first, but now after several appointments, I understand Ayurveda values the individual patient. Ayurveda is not a one-size-fits-all medical system. It embraces the personalized approach that every MCAS patient dreams of, since every MCAS patient has different needs and triggers. Additionally, Ayurveda not only addresses the patient’s disease, but their whole life. I’m glad to have a doctor with additional training outside of academic medicine, which frankly has caused a lot of harm to mast cell disease patients. It is empowering to be seen as something more than a disease. 

Clearly, I have a lot more to learn about how Ayurveda can support my life, and I’m grateful to have someone to teach me. For more information on Ayuverdic medicine and doshas, check out The Ayurvedic Institute. Also, I highly recommend this Podcast for Healing Neurology episode.

*****

For this blog post, I had to review my messages with Nicolle to quote it accurately. I was reminded once again why I am so glad Nicolle is still alive. She tolerates me.

Here’s to hoping Ayurveda will help with my apparent neuroinflammation!

P.S. Have you signed up for my monthly emails? Every month, I send out email-only content about my latest advocacy work.

7 ways dog gyms are better than human gyms

Toy poodle Quixote at the dog agility gym

Life changing differences I’ve noticed since starting dog agility

  • Peanut butter and cheese are encouraged.
  • The equipment is pretty basic. You know how a tunnel works. There are no weights. 
  • All shapes, sizes, and abilities are welcome–from Chihuahua to Great Dane.
  • No one stares at you in a room full of dogs. 
  • Barking drowns out your heavy breathing. 
  • When you get tired, you can just say, “My dog needs water.”
  • Someone will probably check out your butt, but they are likely a dog. 

Related reading: How dog agility allows me to exercise with mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), and dysautonomia

How I exercise with MCAS, EDS, and dysautonomia

Toy poodle Quixote runs through agility tunnel

What if I told you that I get up early most weekends… to compete… athletically… in front of lots of people?

While many people would be horrified by this combination alone, don’t forget my physical disabilities and history of exercise-induced anaphylaxis!

Let me back up to 2017, when I canceled my gym membership due to dysautonomia, subluxations, and life-threatening mast cell reactions. 

I wasn’t completely honest. I didn’t cancel all my gym memberships. 

You see I’m part of an athletic team, and while I canceled my personal membership, I couldn’t bear to abandon my teammate.

My 10-pound toy poodle, Quixote. 

Toy poodle Quixote in snow

One night in 2014, before my diagnoses, when Quixote was 5-years-old and interrupting my reading because he never learned to play quietly with his younger brother like I hoped, I signed him up for an agility class. Attracted by the bright obstacles and potential bragging rights, agility had always interested me. Quixote had crushed his puppy class, choreographing his own circus routine for anyone with treats. I didn’t know what agility training actually entailed, but I decided my poodle would likely be the best. 

Quixote absolutely loved class. Why wouldn’t he? The first few months consisted of showering him with meat, cheese, and praise any time he did an obstacle. When it wasn’t his turn, Quixote wooed my classmates into giving him more treats and praise. 

As Quixote’s confidence on the equipment increased, agility training essentially became human training. I significantly underestimated the mental and physical precision required to direct a four-legged beast through an agility course at full speed. I had to learn the footwork, arm movements, and timing of commands. Every time we missed an obstacle, the instructor pointed out how it was my fault and Quixote howled in agreement. Nobody showered me with treats.

As the months passed, Quixote ran harder and faster, but my body did not get stronger. My muscles felt heavy with weakness, and my lungs burned as I tried to shout the commands. My heart distracted me with its pounding. I joked to my friends that I must be allergic to exercise. Unfortunately, there was much more than a grain of truth in that joke. 

By the time I was diagnosed with mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), I could barely walk across my condo without passing out or throwing up. All types of food induced terrifying asthma attacks. My skin and joints were so inflamed that I cried getting dressed for work each morning. 

Quixote didn’t care. When I couldn’t take him outside for walks or throw his ball, he hopped onto the tallest furniture and whined his grievances, throwing in an occasional growl. I had created an exercise monster. Eventually I couldn’t handle the anger of both my body and my poodle, so kept taking Quixote to class as much as possible. 

By the time I reached my disability parking spot at the agility gym, the screams of my body were often muffled by the squeals of my poodle. Once inside, Quixote bounced around the gym as if it were the greatest place on Earth. When it was our turn, I used every bit of energy to play with my poodle. My timing was usually off and afterwards I usually collapsed in pain and wheezing, but seeing Quixote happy made me happy. Although recovering from class required several days of laying on the couch, rest became much more bearable when I replayed his agility highlights in my head or on my phone. 

The pain didn’t scare me as much as the mast cell reactions. As I began to experience throat swelling and air hunger, I searched for a definitive guide. For the most part, all I found were basic medical liability disclaimers. I felt silly seeking validation for a hobby that made me sick, but I had already lost so much: foods, friends, and basic abilities. 

One day, a specialist said, “Sometimes we do things that make us feel sick in the short term, so we can feel better in the long term.”

There was no promise that I wouldn’t have anaphylaxis or need an ambulance, but my doctor urged me to continue with agility. I decided I was willing to risk having acute reactions for my long term wellbeing. Luckily, my instructor and agility friends were willing to support me and learn my emergency protocol.

With the help of daily meds and premedication (yes, I took 50mg of Benadryl to exercise), I began to see the advantages of agility for MCAS, EDS, and dysautonomia. First, people rarely wear fragrance to run with their dogs. Even in the rare event of perfume, the agility gyms have high ceilings and lots of space, meaning good airflow. I’m also lucky that I live in Minnesota where dogs train indoors, so I can avoid the sun and heat. Although I still worry about falling, the foam floor mats are safer than most surfaces.

I noticed that walking the courses for five minutes was much harder than running the course for one minute. Dysautonomia can cause dysfunction of the nervous system when standing–in other words, it can make you feel like you’re going to throw up, pass out, and piss yourself at the same time. I realized, during my timed runs, my competitive focus and adrenaline allowed me to briefly transcend my symptoms. Oftentimes I would skip the course walkthroughs and dedicate all my energy and adrenaline to one smashing run. At the end, I would yell, “One run and done!” knowing there was no way my body could do it a second time.

I worked with the instructor to find alternative techniques to accommodate my dizziness, pain, and muscle weakness. I relied less and less on rescue medication as I recognized my body’s limits and warning signs. On the hardest days, I sat and watched, while my friends ran Quixote for me. (He loves agility so much that he didn’t even turn back to look at me!) Through agility, I learned the needs of my disease and how to take care of my body.

Soon enough, Quixote and I began connecting as a team and crushing courses in our own way. Our runs usually lasted less than a minute, but for that brief period of determination, I forgot my illness and pain. Agility became my medicine.

So instead of quitting agility, I signed up for my first competition.

To be continued…

Toy poodle Quixote in agility weave poles
Quixote crushing the weave poles.

In the meantime, here are the details of why agility works for me.

My circuit workout

  • 2 days without exercise or leaving my condo 
  • 3 minutes of walking the course (if I feel like it)
  • 20 minutes of sitting
  • 2 minutes of running
  • 30 minutes of sitting
  • 2 minutes of running (maybe)
  • 2 hours or more of sleeping
  • 2 days without exercise or leaving my condo 

Advantages of dog agility for MCAS, EDS, and dysautonomia

  • High ceilings and lots of space = better air quality (MCAS)
  • Less perfume (MCAS)
  • Short exercise intervals (MCAS, EDS and dysautonomia)
  • Floor mats to lessen impact (EDS and dysautonomia)
  • Supportive environment (everyone needs this, but especially people with disabilities)

P.S. Have you signed up for my monthly emails? Every month, I send out email-only content about my latest advocacy work.

Header image credit: Great Dane Photos