Episode 19: Ayurveda, Self Care and Lyme Disease

Episode 19: Ayurveda – A Powerful Platform for Healing and Self-Care

Cindy Kennedy, FNP, is joined by author and blogger Mary Sullivan, who shares her own Lyme journey and how she used Ayurveda to heal from inflammation and illness. Discover what Ayurveda is and how it can be a powerful platform for self care and healing.

Mary Sullivan

Sullivan worked for over 20 years in the chemical industry as a chemist, engineer, manager and director. In early 2000 she began an odyssey of change and learning. She immersed myself in the study and practice of yoga, and became a yoga teacher RYT 200 in 2005. She also began to study Ayurveda and yoga therapy. She continued training to become a yoga teacher registered at the 500 hour level RYT 500, a certified yoga therapist, an Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist and a Karuna Reiki Master.

Sullivan is an amateur herbalist and Secretary of the Herbal Community of Central Massachusetts.

In 2012 Lyme Disease drove a deep change for healing. In 2013, Sullivan launched a website, daretoselfcare.com, and Facebook page to share information for people dealing with Lyme. She blogs on Lyme disease and self care for a number of organizations, including Dare to Self Care, The Mighty, and Yoga Health Coaching. She believes in building and sharing routines that support growth goals and maintain self care as a cornerstone of a healthy vibrant life.

Mary Sullivan, AYS
Dare to Self Care
Build Health Into Your Habits!

Transcript of Episode 19: Ayurveda, Self Care and Lyme Disease

Cindy Kennedy: Welcome everybody. This is Living with Lyme, and I am your host, Cindy Kennedy. Today I have a wonderful woman with us that has got a whole handle on health in a whole different light. Her name is Mary Sullivan. Prior to her journey here with Lyme Disease, she’s worked for over 20 years in the chemical industry as a chemist and an engineer, a manager and a director. She had a health scare and an issue that drove her to learning how to self care for herself. Currently she teaches an online Ayurvedic course, she’s a blogger on Lyme, on yoga, on health issues, and has helped many people, because there are so many health issues that affect us personally, as well as socially and mentally, and she is a certified yoga teacher, she is an Ayurvedic yoga specialist, and has a lot to offer us. So, I’m really excited to have her today. And, after all of that, let’s just say hi to Mary. Hey, Mary, how are yeah?

Mary Sullivan: Hey, Cindy, thanks so much for having me out to talk about this stuff. It’s so important. You know, with Lyme Disease, information is power. There’s so much misinformation out there, for us to connect and put out solid information is really important for the whole community.

Cindy Kennedy: So, were you working as a chemist or in regular employment when you started with your own Lyme journey?

Mary Sullivan: Yeah, I was working full time, and it was interesting, because you look back, and a lot of people, and myself included, 20/20 hindsight, but when you’re living with Lyme, and nobody’s mentioned it, and you don’t have any awareness, you just know that you’re starting to feel worse and worse, and you can’t figure out why, and all these things are going on.
So, I went home on a Friday after teaching, after a full day, and then by Monday morning, I couldn’t pick up a phone, I couldn’t walk. My inflammation in my body just escalated really fast out of control. And, for a good couple of months, I went to the doctor, they sent me to various other doctors, and nobody really understood what was going on, and people were saying things like, “Try to live the best life you can live for as long as you can.”

Cindy Kennedy: Oh my god.

Mary Sullivan: And, you sorta scratch your head and go, “Oh, do they mean I should make a bucket list or something?” So, I …

Cindy Kennedy: Get your will, because we don’t know where this is headed, okay.

Mary Sullivan: Yeah. I was taking a meditation class at the time, and my meditation teacher had been diagnosed with Lyme and had done a lot of work, and he just said, “Mary, you have to go get a very clear test. You have to go get the IGeneX test, don’t mess around with any of these other tests.” So, I went back and forth through the doctor again trying to get a Lyme test, and they kept giving me the Elisa test, and I kept getting false negatives.
So, finally, I said, “I am going to go to an independent lab and pay to get this test done, and I will send you the results,” because the months were going by, and I was still not able to … couldn’t walk a quarter of a mile, couldn’t hold the phone, couldn’t think clearly. So, off I went, I sent them the results, they were like, “Oh,” they call me up at seven o’clock on a … late in the evening. “You have Lyme Disease, you have to come in right away for treatment.”

Cindy Kennedy: Oh, gosh, light bulb, huh?

Mary Sullivan: The light bulb, exactly. But, by that time I had been fighting with Lyme for about eight years.

Cindy Kennedy: Really?

Mary Sullivan: In retrospect, yes.

Cindy Kennedy: Wow.

Mary Sullivan: Because, I had been going to the doctors for isolated things. You know this, and most people who have Lyme Disease for any length of time, that the symptoms can vary. So, I’d have an inflammation problem and my knee would hurt, and I’d go get treatment for my knee, and I’d do physical therapy exercises, and nobody would connect that to the next thing that went wrong, or the next thing that went wrong, and people were saying things, “Well, like, you’re getting older.”

Cindy Kennedy: Oh, I love that one, I love that one.

Mary Sullivan: Or, “You might wanna think about losing some weight,” because at one point my blood pressure went completely out of control, and nobody understood why. But, once we got to the umbrella issue, I could unpack that, and start to apply what I knew about it. And, so I started to study herbalism, I started to study Ayurveda, because I didn’t believe that I would get well without putting everything … it was the fight of a life. So, you put everything you have into it. So, I had to quit my job, because I was unable, for several years, and so I studied. Because, that’s what I could do. And, I started to learn, and I started to apply what I learned to my own body. And …

Cindy Kennedy: That’s probably the best way to learn, because sometimes when I’m dealing with someone who’s got, oh, I don’t know, an orthopedic issue, and they’re talking about their knee, and on the side, and I say, “Hey, has anybody talked to you about your IT band, and rolling on a foam roller, and whatever,” and they go, “Oh, no, oh, you are so smart,” and I say, “No, I just get hurt a lot, so I end up in physical therapy, so they teach me these things, so I pass it forward, or play it forward, whatever.”
But, yeah, and so you learn, and you practice on yourself, and for my listeners out there, I want to sell this. Ayurveda is Ayurveda, because when we say it, phonetically, it might not kinda sound the way you spell it, but I want people to know what that is. All right, so you’re practicing on yourself. Okay, so now what do you do?

Mary Sullivan: Yes. So, Ayurveda is the … life Ayurveda wisdom, or science, so you start by looking at your nature, and looking at what’s out of balance. You know, when you start thinking about Lyme and the treatment arms of Lyme, some of them include lowering inflammation, right? Easing symptoms, killing pathogens, these are different things that you have to do, and you have to restore and rebuild health, tissues, and you have to detoxify your body before you rebuild health.
So, there’s all this stuff going on, and the herbalists and western medical people focus on killing the pathogens. So, you’re killing the antiplasma, you’re killing the … But, there’s not a lot of focus on rebuilding the health, rebuilding your digestive system once you’ve taken antibiotics if that’s your choice, and that’s an individual choice, or you’ve taken silver for two years, and your microbiome is completely distorted. How do you deal with that?
There’s not a doctor where you go and say, “I want my microbiome rebuilt,” and it’s not legal to get fecal transplants in this country, so you really have to start to work on it. And, Ayurveda, one of the things about Ayurveda is it completely focuses on rebuilding health through rebuilding digestions. Because, Ayurveda looks at the body as a terrain, and it’s natural to have bacteria, it’s natural to have all kinds of things going on in your body, but it’s also natural for your body to be able to handle most of it.

Cindy Kennedy: Right, because you know, I think people wonder about … they think that your body just kills stuff, and either your own immune system, or an antibiotic, and it kills it, but no one focuses on eliminating it. And, at one point, I had gotten some help with a Chinese herbalist, and I always prayed that they would email me, because speaking to them was a difficult task because of their accent. But, I learned about the tongue, and the surfaces of the tongue, and what they represent for your body. And, so they had me snap a picture and send it, and the message back is, “You are toxic.” So, isn’t that the case? Your body just gets filled with these toxins, and you just need to work at eliminating it.

Mary Sullivan: Well, yeah, I mean, Lyme Disease … the bacterial community that is Lyme and coinfections are very effective at eluding and … eluding your immune system. It also interferes with your natural detox cycles, because it steals … Lyme gets to the front of the line, and it steals what you need for your body to do its job appropriately. So, repairing digestion becomes really important both from the standpoint of lowering inflammation and detoxifying your body.
Ayurveda teaches daily routines. It’s called Dinacharya, but it’s a daily routine where you get up, and there’s certain things that you do to help your body do those things. You teach your body to defecate every morning. You scrape the toxins off your tongue every morning. You do these simple things, you set up routines that start to build health and unload your body from toxins and inflammation so that it can better heal itself. It can better come into alignment.
And, when you begin to build these habits into your days, they sound simple, but in combination, in combination, they have some power to really turn … You know, Lyme Disease is like being on an ocean liner. By the time you’ve had it eight years, it’s hard to turn. It’s a big ship, and most of it’s under the water, so you have to, in my opinion, and this was for me, I had to really start to rebuild from the what happened every day. Because, if you do the same thing you’ve always done, you’re going to get the same thing you’ve always gotten. To get something different, to change the course of an illness, you have to also be willing to embrace change.

Cindy Kennedy: Right, I think people have a hard time with that, you know, because, “I’ve never had to do this before,” or, “Things came easy for me,” or, “When I had a cold I was sick for three to four days, and now I’m sick every day,” and that change, people have a difficult time with change.

Mary Sullivan: Well, it is … I understand that it can be difficult, because sometimes I’ll say to someone, “Well, you really want to think about quitting smoking,” if they’re smoking and they have Lyme Disease. And, they’ll say, “Well, why do I need to quit smoking,” and I say, “There’s data that shows that smoking inhibits your immune system response. There’s also data that shows that when you smoke you are inhaling 70 … I think it’s 67, around 70 different chemicals in the smoke. Do you want to [crosstalk 00:12:36] …”

Cindy Kennedy: Pollute, you’re polluting.

Mary Sullivan: [inaudible 00:12:37] load, yes pollute, go ahead, I’m sorry.

Cindy Kennedy: That’s the word I was trying to say. I was thinking maybe that’s what you were thinking, you’re just polluting your system. It’s kind of like you’ve got a nice pond and you’re trying to get at … we look at it as our biome, you know, evenly distributed, there’s a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and everybody’s in harmony, but all of a sudden you start throwing in more bacteria, or whatever, it’s going to become burdened, and it’s not going to be able to be a matched, equal, harmonious biome.

Mary Sullivan: That’s exactly right. So, if you are trying to lower inflammation, and help your body to detox, why would you want to add more toxins. So, that’s why quitting smoking, eating whole foods, trying to use the clean 15 and the dirty dozen so that you minimize toxins in your food, using food grade cleaners and cosmetics so that you’re minimizing toxins in your environment. What this does is unloads your body. You give yourself the opportunity to catch up, to deal with the extra load of Lyme in a more effective way.
And, Ayurveda teaches dietary strategies for detox, eating a lot of greens, how do I say this, eating your main meal in the middle of the day when the acid content of your stomach and your enzymes are more available and more able to digest it, so that you digest efficiently and do not create extra toxins. You digest efficiently and give your body nutrients to do the repairs that it needs to do. And then, not a whole bunch of snacking, and a nice light dinner so that you can go to bed and get some sleep, and your body is not struggling to digest your food, so that in sleep you can work on rebuilding, repair, and healing.

Cindy Kennedy: Sleep is a big issue, and I’ve been sick for at least the … when the shoe dropped, I guess you’d call it, or the S H I T hit the fan, it’s been six years. And, I just found out through my reading that Lyme inhibits the production of melatonin, and melatonin is that important hormone that helps our body sleep when it needs to sleep, and then as it diminishes, wake up and function. So, does Ayurvedic help with that part of it? Is there some practice that you do that helps the body produce more without having to take it in the supplement form?

Mary Sullivan: Well, now, I don’t know of a study that quotes this, but the teaching of Ayurveda is that you use something called the [Dosha 00:15:47] Clock, and in the Dosha Clock it says you want to go to sleep when it’s a good time to go to sleep, and you want to wake up when it’s a good time to wake up, and it suggests you go to bed before 10 o’clock, and you get up by six o’clock, because when you do that, when you’re going to sleep before 10, your body’s in a state where it can start that repair and structuring, and then when you get up before six o’clock in the morning, your body connects to … it allows you to connect to your own spirit, and your own spiritual nature in a way that’s healthful and healing.
Now, according to my understanding of Ayurveda, and my experience of it, is that when you start to sleep, you get seven to nine hours of sleep, and for some people with Lyme Disease, they need more sleep, that’s because they’re so worn out. But, you start with seven to nine hours, and you go to bed by 10 o’clock, and that helps you reset your hormone levels. Melatonin naturally decreases as you age, so maybe that comment about aging had one very minor …

Cindy Kennedy: Oh great, oh great. So, I was already on the downside, and sliding off that, you know, the plank there. Oh my goodness.

Mary Sullivan: But, what I will say is that setting up structured sleep habits will support you coming to your homeostasis in terms of hormonal environment, which includes melatonin.

Cindy Kennedy: Did you have this experience in … You know, this has a lot to do with the sleep thing, I would just about die to try to get up in the morning. It would be difficult, and I would feel so sick, and then I would feel a little better for just a little while, and then always a mess all afternoon, and then I’d drag myself home and try to make dinner, and be fighting with the couch and the stove, and where do I go, and all of a sudden I would start to rev up, and then it became like, “Okay, now I’m supposed to be … if I could only be as sleepy as I was trying to get up now,” now it’s dark and it’s quiet, and it’s a real lonely place, because the house is sleepy, and you are now left with whatever your thoughts are, and typically at that time, they’re not good thoughts. Did you ever have that experience? Revving up in the PM hours?

Mary Sullivan: Oh, oh, I used to all the time, yes, and one of the things that I learned to do is, I have my little iPod next to my bed, and there’s a wonderful relaxation practice called Yoga Nedra, and I used to do that to go back to bed. Because, when your mind is racing, your mind is racing, so guess what that does to your body? That tells your body get up and go, not lay down and sleep. So, I think that that can happen, and the best practice to do is a simple practice like Yoga Nedra, or have a wind down routine before bed, and what I mean by that is, so if you’re targeting going to bed by 10, say, and 9:15, turn down the lights in the house, make sure you brush your teeth, do whatever you do that way.
Like, for me, I roll it back a little earlier, because I do detox activities. So, 8:30, quarter to nine, I’m either in the tub or in the sauna to sweat, to do some sweat therapy. And then, when I get out, I rub oil on my hands and feet, I do some relaxation. I get off the computer by 7:30 so I don’t get wound up, because I know, at least for me, sleep is just critical, critical for my feeling well, and for my mental clarity, which is important to me. So, there are certain practices that you can put in place just to … and I’ve written a few blogs, a couple of blogs on this, so I’m happy to give anybody a link for [crosstalk 00:20:19].

Cindy Kennedy: Yeah, go ahead, give people the link, go ahead.

Mary Sullivan: So, you look at daretoselfcare.com, and go to the blog section, and there’s a search bar, and you just put sleep tips in, and it’ll come right up.

Cindy Kennedy: Wonderful.

Mary Sullivan: Yeah.

Cindy Kennedy: Wonderful, that’s awesome, and you know, when we’re talking about detox, lets give our listeners specifics. We know that we should be drinking plenty of water. We need to stay away from the sugar. The water is helpful just as a dilutional kind of thing. Then, we do work on the gut, and things that are fermented like kombucha and sauerkraut, and kefir, all of those things are … Not kefir, actually, that’s not right. We’re going to [inaudible 00:21:13] that one out. After the kombucha and sauerkraut, what else do we do that we eat? What is it?

Mary Sullivan: I mean, wild fermented pickles are [crosstalk 00:21:26].

Cindy Kennedy: Oh, pickles, of course, yes, yes.

Mary Sullivan: Some people use yogurt, but most yogurt has so much sugar in it and very low levels of bacteria, but if you make your own, or you buy one that is nice. You can also drink fermented coconut water.

Cindy Kennedy: Oh, how do you do that? How do you ferment coconut water?

Mary Sullivan: It’s available in the store for purchase, but if you want to … Like, I personally do fermenting in a dehydrator because I can control the temperature a little better. But, you can also … Like, I make my own sauerkraut, I make my own pickles, I usually make them out of radishes or something, and I also make my own kombucha, because I want to know what I have. But, you can also buy these things if you’re working, and/or your energy is so low that you can’t manifest this stuff.

Cindy Kennedy: Right, right.

Mary Sullivan: Now, I mean, I used to buy more of it because I just didn’t have it. I was doing the same thing you were doing with the couch, and you’re like, “How do I do this and add extra things?” You have to start, you have to start where you can, and start where you feel good about it. So, if you’re a cook, and you want to … that’s the person who should ferment cabbage and make sauerkraut. If you’re not a cook, you should swing by the local organics store and pick up some wind fermented, where all it says is cabbage and salt, it doesn’t say sodium benzoate, or sodium citrate, or any of those things that’s going to kill the bacteria. You want live support.
Now, that’s to detox, but the other way is, water is a great detox, or lemon water can help, and the other things are really looking at what you bring into your body, and then eating a good variety of greens and fiber to help move toxins out. Another component of detox is you’ve just … if you’re constipated, how do is I say this? If you’re constipated, you’re holding toxins you want to let go of?

Cindy Kennedy: How hard was that? Now, that wasn’t very hard, come on. How about that Epsom salts bath, that seems to be an awesome thing.

Mary Sullivan: That is a wonderful thing, and it’s magnesium, the body, with Lyme Disease, is starved of magnesium, and magnesium helps your detox processes, and you get … Epsom salts is a magnesium salt, magnesium sulfate, so you just get it in you, and you don’t have to get it in you through a pill, because so many people on Lyme Disease take so many pills. You talk about a pill and they’re like, “I really [crosstalk 00:24:31].”

Cindy Kennedy: Not another, not another.

Mary Sullivan: Not another one, exactly.

Cindy Kennedy: I know. Now, do you do some coaching, or help people through this process?

Mary Sullivan: I have, and I do, yes. So, people email, or I do coaching on the phone, I do coaching via Zoom. And, if someone needs some direction or support around learning to do simple things that will help them detox like dry brushing, or oil massage, this is where there’s a gap between what you get at the doctor’s office and what you need to get help.

Cindy Kennedy: So, how do they reach you?

Mary Sullivan: You can contact me through the website at daretoselfcare.com, and there’s a contact form, or you can call my phone number, 978-760-1251, I try to get back to people regularly, or you can reach out through the Facebook page, daretoselfcare.com.

Cindy Kennedy: Wow, and do you have recipes and all out on your pages?

Mary Sullivan: I have some recipes, yes, I have broth recipes, because I’ve used bone broth as part of my healing, I have soup recipes, I have salad recipes. It’s not a recipe site, but there are recipes on board, and I have smoothie recipes, those kind of things.

Cindy Kennedy: You know what? I got the idea here. What you need to do is you need to do the daretoselfcare organic store, that you produce all of these products, and then you ship like a care package to our Lyme listeners, what do you think about that?

Mary Sullivan: Wow, that’s quite an idea.

Cindy Kennedy: Isn’t that an idea?

Mary Sullivan: Yeah.

Cindy Kennedy: Now, we’ve got thousands of listeners out there, maybe even more now, so they’ll all vouch for me that it was my idea, but that’s okay.

Mary Sullivan: [crosstalk 00:26:41].

Cindy Kennedy: Before we end here, I got a couple questions for you, and I know that this is off the cuff, and I didn’t give you any chance to think about it, but here’s question one. What ticks you off?

Mary Sullivan: What ticks me off? Really, really what ticks me off is the preventable nature of this, and our unwillingness to address it in a forthright manner. It just … I can’t even explain … I never want to see another child get Lyme Disease and not get diagnosed, and not get treated.

Cindy Kennedy: Exactly.

Mary Sullivan: I never want to see what happened to me, where I was told, it’s your weight, it’s your age, it’s your everything, but it might be something real, happen to another person, because this is … So, I actually write and talk a lot about how important it is for people, even right now, we’re in the fall season, leaves are falling, people are out cleaning up their yards, just, it hasn’t been that cold. There are a lot of ticks around. You need to …

Cindy Kennedy: This is big, yeah.

Mary Sullivan: You need to take precautions when you’re …

Cindy Kennedy: Right.

Mary Sullivan: And, I don’t believe that anybody should be denied the wonder of being outdoors. I mean, part of the reason that I got this illness was because I was an outdoor person. But, I do take a different level of precaution, and I think it’s really important.

Cindy Kennedy: That’s awesome. So, question two is, in life, we get handed some lemons, and you and I share that lemon, and our choice is to be sour, or we can make lemonade. So, my lemonade is finding a way to get out to anybody who will listen, and learn, teach them what it is about Lyme Disease and what they can do about it, and how they can prevent it. What is your lemonade?

Mary Sullivan: Yeah, my lemonade is being vibrant … working to be vibrantly healthy, and helping other people do that who have Lyme Disease do that too.

Cindy Kennedy: Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it amazing? And, I say this, and I really mean it, that the Lyme community, the people who have either suffered, or who have a loved one that suffered, we come together and we have that same common goal, and we want to help, and even people who never wanted to help anybody before, once they experience Lyme Disease, are all of a sudden, “I gotta help, I gotta make it better for someone, I gotta prevent this.” And, so, we’re all kinda like joined together, and you just aren’t going to tear that bond apart, it’s a strong family, and I’m fascinated by all the things that you have to offer, and I certainly need to connect with you a lot more so I can continue with my healing process. So, I will do that.
Oh, I want to thank you again, Mary, it’s just been a great learning experience, and my producer here, Doug, he has learned so much about Lyme Disease, he now gets on his soap box and teaches other people about Lyme, but that’s what it’s all about, right?

Mary Sullivan: That’s right. I mean, next week, I mean in November, I’m out in the Berkshires doing a Lyme support talk. I’m going to be at the Natural Living Expo handing out literature on how to prevent tick bites. This is just so important that we do work as a community. I really believe this. With Lyme Disease, information is power. We have to get informed, get people treated, so they can get better, and stop this misery for so many.

Cindy Kennedy: I know. Oh, it’s so awful, it’s so awful. Mary, I want to thank you again, and before everybody leaves this site, I want you to hit the tab up at the top that says subscribe, put in your email so that I can notify you when there is a new podcast, or a new blog put up, so that we can stay connected, and I always tell people, “When you’re doing something, when you’re learning, when you’re sharing this information, you are actually part of this solution, and you have stopped being part of the ignorance and the problem that surrounds Lyme Disease.” So, this has been Living with Lyme, and this is Cindy Kennedy, and I’m signing off, and I’m inviting you to come back real soon and keep listening. Take good care, bye all.