Ayurveda Day 66: Daily Practices pt.2 – Skin, Nasal, Ear, and Eye Care

As part of our daily routines expand, there are many small things we can do that are beneficial. Today, I would like to share how to take care of the skin, nasal passages, ears, and eyes.

Lets start with the skin:

Abhyanga

Self oil massage, or abhyanga is such an easy practice and is beneficial in a multitude of ways. By far, in all the practices I have learned since I started this course, abhyanga has given the most noticeable and quickest results.

Abhyanga is good for all doshas, but what oils we use and how we apply the oils changes accordingly. Did you know the word for oil and love in Sanskrit is the same? Snehana is such a beautiful word because it encompasses both the intention of abhyanga as well as the method. It’s not enough to simply apply the oil; the oil is giving us a sense of self love and care. Putting a mindful intention into doing abhyanga of love for one’s own self will allow us to practice ahimsa which builds ojas. But ojas are only one benefit of this practice.

Benefits

– purifies the lymphatic system
– removes amas (toxins)
– nourishes and balances the nervous system
– since oils are too large to penetrate past the epidermal/dermal layers, it allows our body to focus on lubricating the deeper layers.
– protects our largest organ, the skin, from toxins in our environment. There are over 3000 nerve receptors in our skin alone!
– balances Vata and it’s subdoshas (most of us have vata imbalances due to the agitating environments of today’s society)

– builds ojas!

If you are at all skeptical of the benefits of oil massage, try this experiment: take a drop of oil and place it on a paper. Check on the paper periodically – every 30 minutes or so. Notice what happens to the oil. As time goes on, the oil spreads slowly to consume more of the paper. Oil can be used in practically every orifice of the body to promote health.

Instructions

– Use sesame oil for vata, coconut oil/sunflower/olive oil for pitta, and safflower/mustard oil for kapha. Almond oil can be used for both vata and pitta interchangeably. Ghee is considered tridoshic. If you have multiple doshic problems (like me for example with vata dryness and pitta circulation) you can combine oils 50/50.

– Always, always, always use unprocessed, unrefined, organic, untoasted oils!!!!!!!!

– heat up the oil in a bpa free baby bottle in some already boiled water for 1-2 minutes.

– apply before bath or shower and keep on the body for at least 20 minutes. If you struggle with this timeframe, try doing other things during that 20 minutes – meditation, gathering your clothes, etc.

– If you wish to do it after shower, keep in mind you will find you won’t be able to use as much oil as it will get all over your clothes and the minerals and chemicals in your municipal water will wind up in your skin, which you will then essentially lock into your body by sealing it with the oil. Before shower is recommended.

– Start with the arms and do long strokes along the long bones. Be sure to apply some pressure and speed as to stimulate the lymphatic system. At the joints, do circular strokes.

– Work from the arms towards the chest and downwards to the feet for grounding energy. For Kapha, work upwards to bring stimulating, invigorating energy.

– For the scalp, put some drops on your fingertips and massage gently into the scalp. For dandruff, neem added to the oil will help. Be sure not to rub oil throughout your hands through your hair or you will find it gets greasy.

– For the palms of the hands and soles of feet, put some oil on and rub in between all the nooks and crannies, massaging it in deeply. Whatever oil remains on your hands can be rubbed onto the face. There is no need to add extra oil when massaging the face at this time.

– Use less oil and more stimulation for Kapha. Moderate oil and stimulation for Pitta. Vata’s could essentially be in an oil bath with no issues.

– Make sure to focus on self care and love as you do it! It should feel amazing.

Note when showering we are obsessed as a society with scrubbing off every last bacteria on us. This is completely unnecessary. It would be pointless to do all this abhyanga and then scrub it all off. Be gentle when showering and use soap only on the obvious areas (armpits, genitals, anus), and for shampoo and conditioner try baking soda and apple cider vinegar respectively.

In addition to general abhyanga, the ears and nose are treated a bit differently.

Neti & Nasya - nasal care

Benefits

– decreases congestion

– increases clarity of mind

– treats allergies

Instructions

– acquire a neti pot (pictured) at a drug store. They are inexpensive

– use warm (above room temperature but not too hot) water

– add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of organic salt to 1/2 cup of the water (roughly the capacity of most neti pots)

– blow the nose gently before starting

– tilt the head forwards moderately

– rotate the head to the side while tilted

– tilt the neti pot so that water begins to easily flow from one nostril directly out the other

– You may notice for some time after that more mucous and water drain. This is normal so just keep a tissue handy.

– After one hour, apply some oil directly into each nostril by placing a drop on your pinky and massaging inside.

– neti can be done daily if needed or 3x a week otherwise in the morning.

Important!

Neti can be confusing, weird, or difficult to master for some. If your feel any burning, this means there is not enough salt. Salt balances the pH level of the water. Your instinct will be to add less salt, but this is false and will make it worse. If you are having difficult getting it to drain out of the nostrils, try adjusting the angle and tilts in subtle ways. Make sure to keep the mouth open so you can breathe. Sticking your tongue out can help too. Yes the whole thing looks silly. My advice is try it for awhile first, then stop. Notice the difference in how you feel, and continue if you feel it’s helping you. You can always watch youtube videos as well for help with the technique.

Nasya is supplemental to neti and is basically dropping oil directly into the nostrils. It can be done in the evening if you have dryness. Take an eyedropper and place 3-5 drops of oil directly in each nostril with your head tilted back so your nostrils are parallel to the ceiling. Keep in this position for 5-10 minutes as to lubricate all the sinuses.

These practices are best done as neti in the morning and nasya in the evening; however it’s best to do it at a different time than to not do it at all.

Karna Purana – ear filling

Benefits

– supports the health of our hearing system

– good for tinnitus (ringing of the ears)

– helps in grounding

– good for infections

– keeps the ears healthy

Instructions

– can be done daily or more often if there is a symptom

– best done in the morning during abhyanga or in the evening with nasya.

– place 1-2 drops of oil in one ear with the head tilted. Then do the same for the other ear.

– Massage the lobes of the ear with a small amount of oil.

Note if you have an actual infection or other such symptom, consult a CAS as they can do more therapeutic and deeper treatments.

Netra Tarpana - eye wash or eye filling

Benefits

– helps with dryness, eye strain, excess secretion, infections, burning, redness

– reduces inflammation

– increases strength of eye muscles

– improves eyesight

– prevents degeneration

Instructions

– purchase an eye cup from any pharmacy

– purchase some pure rose water (nothing added). Often called rose hydrosol.

– Mix 50% rose water and 50% warm water in the eye cup. If you are feeling more irritated, try using only the rose water.

– hold the cup in front of your face, then tilt your head down towards the cup. Place your closed eye over the cup and form a solid seal. Tilt your head back to normal position, then open your eye, blinking 3x. Repeat with the other eye. The same rose water cup can be used for both eyes.

– can be done 1x a week for general maintenance during your morning routine, or daily if there are symptoms or if you wear contacts.

– place a dab of oil (best is ghee) in the corner where the eyelid meets the bridge of the nose to promote the health of the tissues. Do so at night as sometimes it may blur your vision momentarily.

Note if you have more chronic symptoms, consult a CAS to make a strained herbal formula for use in the eyewash for you. Rose water alone won’t cut it with more advanced symptoms.

Today we covered a lot of practices. No one is expecting you to start everything all at once. As I mentioned yesterday, start small with one practice at a time. Start with whichever one seems easiest. And if something is not working, try doing it less than I recommended, and slowly build towards it. Slowly your practice will grow. But I highly recommend sticking with abhyanga.

This was my last class for term 1 – ack! Finals soon. Wish me luck! I may blog here and there before my term 2 starts in 3 weeks.

It’s been a great journey through the past 66 classes of Ayurveda with you all. I can’t wait for next term where I will have even more to blog about. Namaste!

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 65: Daily Practices pt. 1 – Oral Care

I would like to start blogging about daily practices that people can do in order to be healthy.

Daily routines, or our habits, or quite simply our lifestyle, set the tone for the day. They are called Dhinacharya in Sanskrit and literally mean “teachings of the day”.

Your habits make you.

So healthy habits create a healthy life, and unhealthy habits create an unhealthy life. And if you are unaware and simply do things without purpose, you are still creating habits. Most often, those habits will lean into your tendencies, and more often than not, your tendencies actually will aggravate the doshas predominant in you.

It takes effort, time, patience, and forgiveness of one’s own self to make good habits. We are our worst critics. Having compassion for ourselves as we try to forge good habits is difficult for most all of us. The habits we have are the best indicators of the state of our consciousness.

To quote my professor, Brenda Igler:

“Where your attention goes, grows”

There is a first nations story that tells of two dogs within each person, always fighting. Ask yourself which dog will win? The answer is whichever dog you feed most.

There is always this duality in life so long as the ego is in control – we make dramas out of everything, assigning credit and blame to all experiences. Although I would argue it is slightly better to feed your good habits, ultimately the goal is to have no dogs fighting within you. Healing can take place if we first feed the habits that promote good health. In good health, we make clearer choices and can transcend this duality and war within us.

All that is beautiful and abstract, but what can I do today to help myself, you may ask.

Let’s start with setting up your day for success by adding to your daily oral care routine.
Oral care is already something that is familiar, so people can easily see the necessity and benefit of doing things like tongue scraping, gum massage, and even pulling.

Did you know that in India traditionally people would use the neem plant’s branch to brush their teeth? As they chewed on it and brushed, the branch would fray, becoming brush-like, and they could clean their whole mouths. It’s not like they had dental floss, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc. 5000 years ago. Yet they were still able to have good dental health. So to describe oral care from an Ayurvedic perspective, let’s take a look at three areas where you can easily make an impact: tongue, teeth, and gums.

Tongue Cleaning

Tongue scraping is done using a copper or stainless steel scraper available at any pharmacy. What it does is remove the ama (toxins) from the tongue. The level of ama present on the tongue is an indicator of how healthy one’s digestion (agni) is.

Get yourself one of these bad boys

Instructions:

– start at the back of the tongue, and gently scrape towards the tip. Do so 3-10x.

– if you feel a gag reflex, try exhaling as you do so, or  start at the tip and gradually work your way back

– this can be done once a day, in the morning, from age 5 and up.

Benefits:

– prevents toxins from being reabsorbed into the body

– massages our tongue which is the first digestive organ, and stimulates the rest of the digestive process

– if ama has rebuilt by the afternoon, it is an indication of poor digestion (faulty agni)

Teeth Cleaning

Brushing and flossing are still great ways to take care of your teeth. Most of us probably aren’t to go grab a stick of neem though and start going to town. However, most toothpastes these days are full of chemicals, preservatives, and non-natural ingredients. The mouth is the gateway to our digestive process. We should take great care to make sure it gets nothing but the best – unprocessed, organic, unmodified toothpastes. Most of these types of toothpastes will be non-foaming, which will be unfamiliar to us at first. However, I recommend making your own toothpaste, and it’s super easy!

Instructions

– take equal parts organic, unprocessed, unrefined coconut oil and baking soda

– Add the essential oil of your choice for flavour to taste (cinnamon, clove, peppermint, neem)

– Add a tiny bit of vegetable glycerine as an emulsifier/volumizer.

Ex. 6tbsp oil, 6tbsp b. soda, 25 drops essential oil.

Gum Care

Many people have gum problems. From receding gum limes, to disease, to sensitivity, taking care of one’s gums is extremely important. Most of us already floss, but there are other things one can do as well.

Floss

– add neem oil to the dental floss before flossing

Gum Massage

Gently massaging the gums with oil is tonifying to the gums and promotes gum health as well as protecting the gums.

– gently massage the gums with your finger using some organic, unprocessed, unrefined, untoasted sesame oil.

– can also use a medicated sesame oil with neem added

Oil Pulling

This is actually not a classic Ayurvedic method. It was popularized by Dr. Karach from Russia in the 1990’s. However, it is inline with Ayurvedic thinking as incorporating oils into the body in any way help to support the phospholipid layer of the cells. Think of it as using mouthwash only better.

– take 1-2tbsp of sesame oil and swish it in your mouth for 10-15 minutes.

– the oil will become foamy first, then thin

– draws toxins from the body and nourishes and protects the gum/teeth

– promotes good breath

– don’t drink any liquid immediately after

If you are having trouble doing this for 10-15 minutes daily, start small, with a few minutes and work your way up. If you are having a gag reflex or nausea, try less oil, don’t be as aggressive with your swishing, and make sure to breathe calmly through your nose. After a while it starts to feel great and your entire mouth will feel great, from the teeth to the gums to the tongue to your lips.

All these practices take time of course, but many are quick and easy and will hardly make a dent in your morning. Oil Pulling does take longer, but that’s actually a good thing. It forces us to take more time when starting our day, setting the tone for how much intention we have. It prepares us and awakens us. Compare this to simply running out the door, tired, sloppily doing your morning routine, and compensating with coffee.

My advice with any of these is start with ONE and practice it for a week or two. Then stop. Pay attention to how your body and mind feel that day. If you feel there is a benefit, continue! Then add another habit and repeat this process.

I’m not sure when I will get to other daily practices, like abhyanga (self oil massage) or neti (nasal cleansing), but I eventually will! In the meantime, make your dentist happy with these Ayurvedic practices.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 64: Colour Therapy

Chromotherapy or colour therapy is a subtle way the doshas move through us. Just as with any of our senses, we have certain sense organs that enable us to perceive colours, which are merely vibrations or wavelengths of light. We primarily do this via our eyes and our skin. Since our senses are the way we interpret the physical world, colours too have a role in our physical, emotional, and mental health. The role of colours are far more subtle, but since we are surrounded by colours every day, their effects are noticeable.

Just imagine for a moment being in a completely black room, wearing black clothes, with black furniture, at night. Contrast that to a completely white room, wearing white clothes, with white furniture, in the day. The effects in this extreme example become more obvious.

There are many ways that colours and light can be utilized in our lives to affect the doshas:

– interior decorating
– coloured lights
– tinted glasses
– clothing
– colour meditations
– coloured water infusions
– trataka (candle gazing)
– gem therapy

Interior decorating and our clothing are two diverse ways to choose colours. From painting, to decorations, artwork, linens, curtains, blankets, pillows, lighting, scarves…we often take for granted the major role colours play in our daily lives.

If you start asking yourself some questions about your environment, from an ayurvedic approach, you can start to surround yourself with that which will pacify your doshas.

Do you feel tired in the mornings? Perhaps a stimulating colour in your bathroom would be a good idea.
Do you want your living space to be a sanctuary where you can relax? Perhaps calming, soothing colours would be best.
Do you need your workout space to provide more motivation? Perhaps intense colours could be utilized.

When we start asking why rather than just bombarding our senses with whatever we like, we start to build our environment in such a way that it’s no longer vitiating us and potentially even supporting our peace of mind and health.

Here are the best colours for pacifying each dosha:
Vata – heavy or warm
Gold
Brown
Green
Yellow
Orange
Purple
Pitta – cooling
Gold
Blue
White
Brown
Violet
Kapha – warm, light, or stimulating
Red
Orange
Green
Gold
Blue
White
Purple
Violet

You’ll notice that gold is on all three lists! It is not the shiny gold we are used to, but it is considered to be tridoshic meaning good for all three doshas. It’s also the best colour for building ojas. It’s said to transform consciousness, support the function of our hormones (endocrine system), and strengthen the emotions and body. Combined with a deep blue it works to balance the mind and bring out one’s deeper potential.

Additionally, some colours are considered more sattvic, or are calming and uplifting:
White
Yellow
Green
Gold
Blue
Violet

Of course colours are not so simple. There is a gamut when it comes to picking the shade of a colour. To keep it simple, adding white to a colour will make it softer. It adds a lightness, expansiveness, and cooling property to the colour. White in excess can lead to apathy, sterility, detachment…but in balance it can be cleansing to the body. Still, again too much can be depleting. White is said to be the seed of all colours.

Adding black to colours makes the darker.Black is said to contain all the elements – air, ether, water, fire, and earth. Though Earth is the most dominant and the rest are in lesser amounts. It is heavy, cool, and contractive. It makes for things being more grounding. In moderation it can provide stability and protection. In excess it creates isolation (just remember that goth phase you went through as a teen).

I’m going to paint my apartment next week with this new found knowledge. Besides, colours are fun! Now Ayurveda has given you a road map to the effects they have and your choices can be more purposeful.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 63: Essential Oils

Yesterday we delved into aromatherapy. Today I want to expand on the subject, and discuss essential oils. Essential oils are powerful and potent as often a large amount of plant is used to extract even small amounts of oil. There are many methods of use for essential oils, such as misting bottles, incense sticks (though smoke can irritate some people), natural perfumes, diffusers, compresses, charcoals, patches…it goes on and on. But what essential oils are best for each dosha?

Vata
Spicy, sweet, and warming aromas are most calming. Some examples are Rose, jasmine, lavender, sandalwood, and cinnamon. A simple and beautiful blend to try is cinnamon and sandalwood.
Pitta
Sweet and cooling aromas are most pacifying. Some examples are rose, sandalwood, honeysuckle, and rose geranium.
Kapha
Pungent, spicy, and warming aromas will be most stimulating for kapha. Some examples are cinnamon, clove, patchouli, cedar, basil, eucalyptus. A simple and beautiful blend to try is patchouli and clove.

Now that we see which aromas are best for each dosha, let’s see how to hone that more into specific common conditions:

Anger
We need to reduce pitta for this. Rose works well for opening and expanding the heart as pitta in the mind is a disconnect between the two. Sandalwood when applied to the third eye supports meditation.
Depression
We need to reduce vata and kapha for this. Wintergreen and Tulsi (holy basil) will be stimulating. Any citrus oils will also have a special action for increasing joy.
Fear/Anxiety
We need to reduce vata for this. Sandalwood works well. Lavender is also considered as it is tridoshic (works well for all doshas). This is especially good if you have multiple doshas out of balance.
Fever
We need to reduce pitta for this. Just as with anger, rose and sandalwood work best.
Immune Building (Ojas)
You want to know how to build ojas? Here’s another way! Try rose or saffron. These can however be a bit pricy, so good alternatives and rose geranium, frankincense, and myrrh.
Clearing the Mind (Stagnation, dramas, lack of motivation)
We need to reduce kapha for this. Tulsi, Calamus, camphor are all stimulating. Eucalyptus (esp. with lemon) will support brain function and rosemary can help support memory.
Reproductive Tone
We need to reduce vata for this. Lavender and lotus work well.
Bronchodialotors (decrease airway resistance, increase airflow to lungs)
We need to reduce kapha for this. Tulsi, eucalyptus, thyme, and mint are great.
Analgesics (reduce pain)
Typically associated with vata. Wintergreen, camphor, cinnamon, and ginger work well.
Digestion
All doshas need good digestion. Cardamon, mint, and ginger all are good choices.

These essential oils must be used with caution however. In order for essential oils to be used safely, please follow these basic rules:
– do not ingest unless very diluted. 1-2 drops in a cup of warm water is plenty! Not to scare you, but in some instances ingesting 1 tsp whole can be fatal!
– avoid contact with mucous membranes of the body
– add 1 drop to a 1/2 tsp of base oil before skin application
– wash hands with soap after handling and don’t touch your eyes.

So now that you know what to do, why to do it, and how to do it, get out there and buy yourself a mister or diffuser! It’s a great way to start and can really help with any issue listed above that you may be having, or just to bring down any doshas that are running rampant.

Special thanks to my instructor, Brenda Igler, for her amazing recommendations.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 62: Aromatherapy

Our sense of smell is very closely related to automatic responses in the body. Often we smell something and an involuntary response is triggered – we salivate, a memory is triggered, we become anxious, aroused, confused, calm…It is in this understanding of the power of our sense of smell that we can use it as a tool to heal. This is the very definition of aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy affects our limbic system (fight/fight/freeze response) and our endocrine system (moods). The essential oils used in aromatherapy also have an effect on the physical body, as all smell really is are particles that enter our body through the nose.

Aromatherapy is just another facet or tool we can use in our healing toolkit. It’s most noticeable effect is usually in the mind. We can utilize certain aromatherapies to pacify the doshas:

Vata – decrease flight mode, calms and soothes
Pitta – decrease fight mode, cools and calms
Kapha – stimulating, uplifting, warming

In short – Vata types tend to run when stressed, Pitta types tend to fight when stressed, and Kapha types tend to stagnate when stressed. When you find yourself stressed and displaying those tendencies, aromatherapy can be a great way to bring down the dosha and restore balance. It’s also a relatively easy way and quick way as well.

There are many different types of aromatic products. Essential oils, hydrosols, absolutes, attars, ottos, etc. They are all just different methods of extracting the properties of the plant. These days you can find diffusers that mist the product into the air for relatively cheap.

But why are we so gung-ho about plants in the first place? Why are they so powerful or potent? Why shouldn’t I pop a pill for my stress?

When it comes to plants, they are considered to be sattwic in nature. Plants are basically better than us. We can yell and scream at plants, and sure it will have an effect on the medicine we make from it. But truly, they are not as sensitive as us to being agitated. They are living parts of nature just as we are, but are beyond ego unlike us. They have grown to be able to thrive in nature, producing beauty in flowers and leaves to spread more life, protection in the roots and bark and the heartwood, and can even heal themselves with resin (dried sap). The resin could even be considered to be the ojas of the plant! By using the plants, we are gaining it’s protective properties as well. Often the herbs and foods we eat contain the same parts that we use to make our essential oils. Aromatherapy is just another delivery mechanism.

Think of the power of plants and smell in this way:

You are sitting in a garden of fresh flowers or in a forest grove. How does that make you feel? Calm, peaceful, grounded.
Compare that to sitting in a garbage dump. You will immediately feel agitated, plugging your nose.

Smells have an effect on the mind that cannot be underestimated. Rather than being used by them, we can use aromatherapy to learn to use them to benefit and balance us.

Aromatherapy is such an easy way to relax. Consider adding it to your lifestyle, especially in our stressful fast paced society.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 61: Herbalism pt. 5 – Digestion & Elimination

Today we wrap up our foray into herbalism. I would like to end by giving you all some tips and advice and what herbs will work best for two of the most commonly afflicted pathways in the body: our digestive and elimination systems.

Digestive System

Vata
Symptoms: irregular agni (digestive fire) and digestion with gas
Herbs to stabilize agni: ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ajwain, fenugreek, chitrak
Herbs for gas: ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin

Pitta
Symptoms: burning indigestion, possible gas with odour
Herbs for burning indigestion: fennel, coriander, peppermint, chamomile
Herbs for gas with odour: fennel, coriander, peppermint, chamomile

Kapha
Symptoms: sluggish digestion
Herbs for sluggish digestion (increase agni): any hot spicy herbs, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves

Elimination
Vata
Symptoms: dry constipation
Moist laxative herbs: psyllium, flax, licorice, shatavari, haritaki
Moistening Herbs: licorice, shatavari, marshmallow root, irish moss
Herbs to build strength of colon: triphala, dashmoola

Pitta:
Symptoms: burning diarrhea, bleeding ulcers
Herbs to decrease diarrhea: amalaki, bibhitaki, red raspberry, sage, bilva (esp. good)
Herbs to aid healing: comfrey, aloe vera, slippery elm, turmeric
Herbs decrease bleeding: majishta, ashoka, praval pishti, red raspberry

Kapha:
Symptoms: Mucous in stools or strong constipation
Herbs to reduce mucous: ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ajwain, fenugreek, chitrak
Herbs for strong constipation (note to use in extreme moderation! Can induce diarrhea): castor oil, aloe vera, high doses of triphala

As you can see, luckily many herbs have multiple actions. They can help in both digestion and elimination and in multiple doshas! This is especially helpful if you have multiple doshic imbalances. but how to take these treatments is another thing altogether. Incorporating these items into your food is possible or into teas will probably be the easiest place for you to start. But if you actually truly want to benefit from more potent and deep healing, you will need to consult a CAS. The remedies we make as referenced last week is a complicated process and we have many different delivery mechanisms to choose from.

It’s also easy to get carried away and assume that you are exactly X dosha because of some quiz you took online. Then you look up some symptoms that dosha typically has, look at this list, and start picking herbs. This can be dangerous as you may aggravate your condition through lack of understanding and knowledge.

Starting small here is a great step into a larger world of Ayurveda. But if you start to experiment with some of these herbs in your diet and are seeing results or have questions, the next step you should take is book an appointment with a CAS.

Tomorrow we will discuss sensory therapies! We are in the home stretch of my first year in the program. Finals soon! Wish me luck :)

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 60: Herbalism pt 4 – How Do We Make Medicine?

When it comes to making formulas for medicinal herb treatments, there are several steps involved. I think it’s important as a patient to understand what you’re putting into your body and why before you do so. Too often in today’s fast paced society we are just starved for the quick solution – we pop pills and just trust that the trials and research that went into them are sound; we expect healing results.

When you go to see a CAS you will no doubt be prescribed some form of herbal treatment. But what is your practitioner doing when they make you your medicine?

Basic herbal treatments involve 6 steps:

1 – Determining the pathology of the patient (what we are treating?)
2 – Setting our intention for the formula (what are we trying to accomplish?)
3 – Brainstorming the categories and actions of herbs for this situation
4 – Within those categories, brainstorming specific examples of herbs that will help
5 – Begin designing the formula
6 – Determining the proper dosage, delivery mechanism, and frequency of administration

Often Herbal formulas will have at least 4-6 herbs involved! But why is this the case? Quite simply put, many herbs have multiple actions in the body. The herb Ashwagandha is a great example. It is used as a Nervine Tonic, to build ojas, as an aphrodisiac, and much more. In order for us to help activate a specific healing property of that herb, we combine it with other herbs that have the same action, thus focusing it. There are many formulas that involve even ten or twenty herbs! However, in these instances if the formula isn’t having the desired effect, it becomes much more difficult to figure out what to tweak.

Often patients come to us with multiple problems. In order to help the patient, we will need a specific formula for each problem in many cases. Though it might seem easier to make a miracle concoction with every herb in order to fix a myriad of problems, it actually really decreases the likelihood of the formula working properly. Therefore, we focus on chief complaints and work from there.

Therein lies a challenge – it can often be very tricky to incorporate treatments into people’s lives. Even herbalism, a relatively easy way to fix problems, requires attentiveness. We set an intention and have steps we must follow when making the medicine. You as the patient also have steps you must follow in order to maximize the potency and effect. The healing really is in your hands. It may be required that you learn how to reduce a tea and strain it, doing so 3 times a day. A lot of people don’t always have time for this and I can appreciate that. We will always do our best to meet the patient where they are at in their lives. But ultimately, holding a patient’s hand too much can also serve to be a problem: they really on their practitioner too much and don’t take a larger role in their own journey to heal.

So the next time you speak to a CAS and ask them what tea is best to drink or what oils are best to use for such and such problem, keep in mind there are many steps involved along the way to pairing you with the perfect treatment. That level of intention and attention is what makes Ayurveda so unique. You will get the most out of your healing if you can begin to commit to your healing in such a manner, even if in the tiniest of ways. The medicine is only there to unlock the healing potential already within you. Without you realizing your role in the process, the medicine can only ever go so far.

With gratitude,

S



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