The little house on Clement Street sits across the way from the forests of Lincoln Park and the splendor of the Legion of Honor. I take off my shoes and enter rooms scented by Bergamot Beeswax candles. Mungbeans, broccoli, sunflowers and fenugreek sprout in the sunlight of the kitchen. The sound of Om resounds throughout the house. My teacher radiates love and acceptance as she sits me down at a table, opposite five tightly wound pink peonies. I will observe them each day as they open.
“We can not hope to address your emotional imbalance until we deal with your digestion,” my teacher says. “You will not sleep until your body reconnects with its natural rhythm. Right now, there is too much vata. So, first you will eat. Then you will rest. Then we will begin the work. The mind is the second stomach.”
Given the two brains’ commonalities, other depression treatments that target the mind can unintentionally impact the gut. The enteric nervous system uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, and in fact 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the bowels. Because antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase serotonin levels, it’s little wonder that meds meant to cause chemical changes in the mind often provoke GI issues as a side effect. Irritable bowel syndrome—which afflicts more than two million Americans—also arises in part from too much serotonin in our entrails, and could perhaps be regarded as a “mental illness” of the second brain. Think Twice: How the Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well-Being
But before anything, she sends me out into the garden where I walk for ten minutes while swishing pure Sesame Oil around in my mouth. Then on to a tiny bathroom where after scraping my tongue, I scrub neem into my gums.
A glass of warm water, brown with herbs to aide digestion. A sliver of lemon and ginger to awaken hunger. A small salad of sprouted beans and spinach, some kraut, seasoned with pink salt and a blend of cumin, turmeric, coriander. Cream of broccoli soup and kitcherie.
Small portions all, yet I have not eaten this much in months.
Five days of being fed. Resting. Breathing. Walking. Meditating. Having oils massaged into my scalp, all over my body. Resting. Breathing. Walking. More oils. Resting. Breathing.
With all this love, with all this caring for, I sleep more deeply. The new med (which is NOT, by the way, a psychotrophic) kicks in. I am no longer waking four or five times each night. The rushing leaves my chest. Yet still my mind is unable to rest. It ruminates. Worries. Clings. Meanders. My body relaxes. Softens. My spirit stills. But my mind can find no peace.
I return home and follow her instructions. Stock up on organic Indian spices. Ghee. Chai. Turkish Apricots. I begin cooking. Mung soup. Dal. Quinoa with Mint, Cilantro & Red Onion. Carrot Soup. Beets and greens. Chickpea breads. Drink only warm water or chai, which I sweeten, if at all, with brown coconut sugar. I listen to the music of Snatam Kaur, Mirabai Ceiba, Jai-Jagdeesh. Burn beeswax candles. Place fragrant peonies, lavender and stargazers in my home. I limit use of my cellphone and computer. Am asleep by ten.
“Listen to your heart,” my teacher says. “You are loved. You will heal. Trust your heart. Your inner teacher.”
Two days before Christmas. A two-hour candlelight Yin Yoga Class. A new teacher. She scents the room with Frankincense and myrrh. We hold each asana for five minutes.
I stay with it, settling in each posture up to edge of pain.
I notice a subtle shift. Colors seem to have a scent to them. Smells vibrate. My feet connect more smoothly with the earth.