Ayurveda Day 54/55: Herbalism

So yesterday was a review session in class so I didn’t have any new topics to blog about for you. Also, admittedly, life gets in the way sometimes! It was a busy day. So today, I am going to combine my blog with yesterday, and write one super ultra mega blog entry!

Alright, I skipped a day, so sue me!

Anyway, today I am excited to talk about herbalism with you all.

Last week we discussed nutrition: what foods to eat, their tastes, their affects on the digestive process, and more. We also learned that it is more important how you eat than what you eat.

The affect of foods on us is powerful. However, their effect isn’t always immediately observed. We are what we eat, but that process takes time to complete. So often for the everyday person in their day to day lives, we have trouble connecting that X food led to Y imbalance.

Herbs however often have an immediate affect on the symptoms of our body. Herbs are also divided into the six tastes: sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent. And because herbs can be so potent, they can be used in different ways to have an effect. For example, we can injest them through teas, in our foods, in oils, in a bath…there’s many options! All you can do with food is eat or drink it. Herbs are considered to be much faster acting.

Herbs can have many effects on the body. They can be alterative (blood purifying), antimicrobial (destroy viruses and bacteria), antipyretic (reduce fever), hemostats (stop bleeding)…the list goes on and on. In addition to all that, they will also aid in either the tonifying or purification process (building or depleting tissue).

In short herbs are great!

Here is an excerpt from the Caraka Samhita, considered the most important classical text on Ayurveda:

“Even an acute poison can become an excellent drug if it is properly administered. On the other hand, even a drug, if not properly administered, becomes an acute poison.”

Remember, everything is right for someone. Nothing is right for everyone.

The way Ayurveda uses herbs is to always remember the nature of the patient, the nature of the disease, and then we select the best medicine based on it’s nature to cure the patient.

Often the only reason we ever feel a need to be healthy is when we have a problem. We go to a doctor to get a cure. But without realizing that every person, disease, and medicine is unique, we run the risk of causing the patient more harm.

Herb treatments in Ayurveda are as close to that “Give me a pill to fix my problems!” solution you will get. However, there is a second part to that quote from the Caraka Samhita:

“…a wise patient desirous of longevity and health should not accept any medicine prescribed by a physician ignorant of the principles governing it’s application”

Which basically means that your physician should always know you, the disease, and the treatment, before you ever accept their recommendation.

The truths of Ayurveda are extremely complex – from all the different types of tastes of food, to the gunas, to the doshas, to the chakras and more…it can all seem so overwhelming for the average person to know where to begin.

But the truths of Ayurveda are also extremely simple:

Know your patient.
Know the disease.
Know the treatment.

The real power of Ayurveda doesn’t come from the complexity, the herbs, the foods, or any other healing practices. It comes from taking on responsibility as a patient and recognizing you have a role as the patient. But, in the meantime, if you are suffering and need some relief, the good thing is herbalism can help! Just don’t forget, you are the most important factor when it comes to your health. Not the medicine.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 54: Nutrition pt. 5 – What’s Most Important?

The past two weeks we have delved into the subject of nutrition. We’ve talked about taste, post digestive effects, potency, seasonal eating…the subject actually continues on from here and goes deeper and deeper.

Since the subject of what to eat is so complicated, it can be extremely difficult to stick to a healthy diet. Everyone is unique. All food is unique. There is so much to consider, even when simplified.

But what is most important when it comes to eating? What should I prioritize above all else?

As should be no shock to you by now, I’ve said it before:

It’s more important how you eat than what you eat.

Basically, in this order:

– Eating properly and in accordance with the healthy eating guidelines.
– Choosing the right foods.

When those two things are done correctly, 90% of all digestive issues you have will be cured. It’s all the other complicated stuff that makes up that 10%.

But if all one has to do is pick some relatively fresh and authentic foods and prepare and eat them with mindfulness, then why is it so hard for everyone?

The truth is, there are inhibiting factors when it comes to patient compliance.

When we have a person come to our practice and ask us for help with an issue, the vast majority will want a solution that involves little participation on their part, and is line with what they are used to.

So if I tell them to sit down at a meal, say grace, prepare the body for digestion, avoid distractions, chew the food slowly until it is a paste, and then swallow…most people will not have the time, faith, or courage to do so.

So they will then ask for some meal plan they can have. But then there will be many items on that plan that they are reluctant to give up or try.

So then we will have to go to teas or herbs. Even then, still some people will not be willing to change.

Without your compliance as the patient, there is little Ayurveda can do for you. This is the most important part of nutrition: Your willingness to be healthy.

We have this idea in our heads as a society that we are somehow separate from nature. That we are not subject to the same rules as the plants and animals and environment. But if we just change our lifestyle to be more in accordance with the laws of nature, then we won’t experience disease. But we want to believe that we are special and different from all of existence.

Tired? I don’t need sleep! I’ll just have caffeine.
Feeling weak? I don’t need more nutrition! I just need supplements.
Sick? I don’t need to change my habits, just give me a pill!

But regardless of whether or not we create it or nature creates it, we are a part of that nature. So anything we create is natural. It just may not be naturally occurring. And where mother nature has had millions of years to evolve conditions for life, we tinker for a few decades and believe we can do better, without causing harm or side effects.

We may even be successful from time to time, curing diseases and saving lives! But our priorities are all skewed. The vast majority of the nature we manipulate is not to make existence more healthy for us. We manipulate it to make it more profitable. To lengthen it’s life but not the quality of life. To shave as many hours as we can off of the things we need to do to survive (eating and sleeping) in order to be more productive in society.

We continually sacrifice our health in order to create things that can then rectify that health.

It seems a bit backwards.

This is why Ayurveda is a science of personal responsibility. In order for it to work, you have to put in the work. Ayurveda has outlined the causes of disease. We know that by knowing your nature, the nature of the disease, and the nature of the medicine, we can help you. Ayurveda has categorized things into Doshas and Gunas, to make it easier to understand. It offers a model to view the world and based on that model, we can find the most harmonious ways to live.

But you always have a choice.
If you don’t have time because you are too busy – then you have to reevaluate your priorities and make time for yourself to practice healthier habits.
If you are afraid of being present, being still, being mindful – then you have to have faith that it will all be okay, and trust that it is the right path.
If you are afraid of what others will think – you need to let go of that desire to be socially acceptable, and hope your example will help them to be healthier too.
Finally, if you afraid of being healthy – Talk to a CAS. Everyone feels this way. You are not alone in this. We all must find courage, but you don’t have to start by doing it alone.

If you come to a CAS with an open heart and mind, and are willing to change your diet and your lifestyle, you can find a level of health that few in today’s society have. But if you come in with reluctance, then I challenge you to practice being more open.

Ayurveda will only ever take you as far as you are willing to take yourself.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 53: Nutrition pt. 4 – Seasonal Diet

The past few blogs we have been discussing the topic of nutrition. It is a wide subject full of depth.

From eating in accordance with the taste of food, the potency (warming or cooling), to the post digestive effect, there is a lot to consider when selecting a meal.

Throw the doshas into the mix and things can drive you crazy.

I have a ______ (insert dosha) imbalance, what foods can I eat? What tastes? Should they be warming or cooling? What is their effect on my body? How do they combine with other foods? What if I don’t have those available? I don’t want to give up _______ food! Does this mean I can’t eat ______ anymore??????

It’s enough to make anyone neurotic! So where can someone start?

Well for starters, we must always consider the following:

The fresher, less processed, organic, ethically harvested, and non-gmo foods are always going to be more beneficial to our bodies than anything else.

So you may read something like:

Pitta’s shouldn’t eat tomatoes.

There is a danger in this kind of thinking. Yes, they can increase pitta, but there is a difference between pouring a tomato sauce on your pasta that is full of sulfites that has been collectively reduced from dozens of tomatoes and picking a fresh tomato from a garden, slicing it, and placing it in your meal.

It doesn’t matter if you are Vata, Pitta, or Kapha, the origins of the food are more important.

If you reach in your fridge or pantry right now, pick one item that you eat regularly that isn’t all that healthy (processed, gmo, not organic, etc…). Now see if you can replace that one item with something that is a healthy alternative. Instead of that tomato sauce from a can, maybe you make your own. Then even from there maybe you can work your way off from tomato sauce entirely. But start small.

Aside from eating the healthiest foods possible, eating in accordance with the seasons is paramount. As a general rule of thumb, if it grows easily in that season, it’s probably pacifying the doshas that get aggravated in that season!

Fall/Winter
In the fall and winter, Vata dosha becomes more easily disturbed. Therefore, eating sweet/sour/salty foods that are warming will pacify it. These types are foods are nutrient dense: grains, dals, beans, greens, cultured vegetables, reconstituted dried fruits, winter squashes…essentially foods that are not glucose rich and foods that store easily during this season.

Spring
In the spring, Kapha dosha becomes more easily disturbed. Eating pungent/bitter/astringent foods that are warming will pacify it. Cleansing and reducing foods such as lighter grains, dals, and greens are best. I can not stress this enough: Look around in spring, and what do you see? Growth! Spring is in bloom! Therefore, eat plenty of greens, greens, greens! Veg out!

Summer
In the summer, Pitta dosha becomes more easily disturbed. Eating sweet/bitter/astringent foods that are cooling is best. So many foods become available in the summer that we can have: Fruits, vegetables, greens, grains, dals…Summer is a great time of year to be eating, and preparing for the season ahead.

In order to truly craft a dietary plan for yourself, there is no list you can print off the internet. You really do need a CAS to help you get started on the path. This is why diets typically don’t work or last. People tend to feel good following a diet for a while, but after some time they don’t realize too much of one thing doesn’t work in every season for every dosha. Nature tells us exactly what we need, but it’s hard for us to change our habits. Ayurveda can help you slowly have a healthier diet.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 52: Nutrition pt. 3 – Gluten Free?

It seems these days gluten free diets are all the rage. There are many who are touting the benefits of eliminating gluten from our diet, claiming it is difficult for the body to digest.

Let’s first talk about gluten in general. Gluten is a protein found in many grains, but not all. Most commonly here in the west, gluten is found in wheat products. So what’s inherently wrong with that?

There are some people who genuinely have an inability to digest gluten. These people have celiac disease. However, the rest of us find over time we may have developed an intolerance to gluten. Thus, many people go on a gluten free diet – and they probably feel great too. But trying to eliminate gluten can be extremely difficult.

Think about a typical day:

Breakfast: Cereal, bagel, croissant, toast, etc. – all have gluten.
Lunch: Sandwhich, burger, etc. – gluten.
Dinner: Pasta of some kind – gluten.

We are over saturated with the stuff. It’s already difficult for the body to breakdown, so our body has to work extra hard to digest it. Couple that with the fact that we don’t eat mindfully and further contribute to poor digestion with how we eat, and our body winds up depleting itself in order to convert this food into the tissues of our body.

Furthermore, these tissues are not made up of high quality, nutritious foods. This brings me to this perspective:

What we call being gluten free in reality is merely being processed food free.

When we process foods, it will be with one of two ultimate goals in mind:

– to increase the nutritional value
– to increase the shelf life

Both are mutually exclusive. All those gluten rich foods we have are modified in order to preserve their shelf life. Their nutritional value tanks. Then we expect our body to make tissues out of that poor quality food. Remember, we quite literally are what we eat. When we eat these types of foods, our body sends Pitta to help metabolize and digest the food, then in order to put out the fire of pitta has to send Kapha. We wind up depleting ourselves.

In order to really benefit from a gluten free diet, what you have to realize is that you are not going gluten free – you are changing your diet to being more organic, non-gmo, non-processed, and more nutritious.

Of course you’ll feel better!

But we start seeing GF labels on everything nowadays to draw people in. Maybe there is a hot dog mustard out there that is gluten free, but then again, so is fresh fruits and vegetables. We think merely by picking gluten free foods we are being healthy, but this is where we can be taken advantage of by companies.

It is difficult to eat healthy in today’s society. Everything seems stacked against us. But even (evil) companies like Nestle are switching to sugar from high-fructose corn syrup and all natural dyes because consumers are voting with their dollar.

Unless you are celiac, there is no real reason why you can’t have gluten. There is a difference between eating a fresh, organic, non-gmo, non-processed item with gluten in it and a Tim Horton’s Donut.

But as we spend years of our lives eating three meals a day layered with difficult to digest foods, we wind up building an intolerance to them. In order to truly benefit from a gluten free diet, you have to commit to at least 6 months without the stuff. Then, slowly, try bringing back in those healthier options that may have gluten. With proper portion sizes and knowing your doshas, it shouldn’t be an issue any longer.

In the meantime, if you are struggling with giving up gluten, know that there are so many other options for grains. Wheat is not the end all be all of all grains!

Vata can have:
Rice, oats, quinoa, amaranth in high quantities (1/2 cup)
Pitta can have:
Rice, oats, quinoa, barley, amaranth in high quantities (1/2 cup)
Kapha can have:
Corn, buckwheat, barley, quinoa, amaranth in low quantities (1/4 cup)

In fact, quinoa, amaranth, and basmati rice are all considered tridoshic, meaning good for all three!

So you have lots of options. You may be giving up modified wheat, but it’s not like you’re giving up eating!

So in the end, going gluten free can be an amazing choice. But understand that going non-processed, non-gmo, organic, and fresh – that’s the really amazing choice.

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 51: Nutrition pt. 2 – What’s on your plate?

Yesterday we spoke of mouth taste (Rasa) vs the long term action of a substance (Vipaka). Today we are going to delve deeper into this relationship, and ultimately what a plate of food on your table should look like!

The taste of food, or Rasa, comes in 6 flavours:

– Sweet
– Sour
– Salty
– Pungent
– Bitter
– Astringent

This is also the order our body works to break down the flavours as they move from our mouth and ultimately out the body via elimination.

When we eat food, regardless of which Dosha you are or which is imbalanced, it is important to note:

Everyone needs all 6 flavours.

Everyone. However, the amount we each have will vary based on our constitution and our current doshic imbalances.

Those tastes all can be felt in the mouth, however, the long term effects (Vipaka) of each substance have a specific effect on the body:

– Sweet tastes should not be confused with sugars. These are the carbs, proteins, and fats we ingest. They build the tissues of our body.
– Sour tastes (like fresh unsweetened yogurt) increase the probiotic population.
– Salty tastes maintain the sodium levels essential for the nervous system and fluid movements through all cells.
– Pungent tastes (onions, garlic, peppers, ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, etc.) stoke our metabolism and begin the end of the digestive process. Most pungents are highly alkalizing.
– Bitter tastes clear the impurities from our digestive system (greens, peels of vegetables, cacao nibs). They are high in vitamins and minerals though provide little substance (tissue building) to the body.
– Astringents are digested last (legumes, unripe fruits, cranberries, pomegranate,, cabbage, broccoli, potatoes) and are drying to the body. If you’ve ever licked a banana peel and felt your tongue get immediately dry, that is the effect these foods have on your system. They are extremely drying, typically high in fibre, and draw fluids and impurities away from the digestive system.

As your body eats food it automatically sorts out all these components in order. We don’t have to worry about eating a meal with sweet first, then sour, then salty…however, as you can see, we all need all six of these in our meals.

If we eat a plate of food that contains all 6 tastes in correct proportion (based on our doshas), the body will be able to get everything it needs. Think of the alternative now: You snack throughout the day, eating a bowl of chips only getting salty and astringents flavours. Then you eat a meal of salad, getting bitters. The body can’t find everything it needs, and has to send your reserves, your ojas, to help counteract the effects.

Eating improperly depletes your ojas over time.

Sitting down for a well prepared, fresh, organic, balanced meal based on your doshas is so vital. It’s easy to become neurotic thinking about all this and stress out.

“Do I have to make a different meal for every member of my family for EVERY meal???!! What are you, nuts???”

No, you don’t have to do that. Even in India they don’t do that. All you have to do is know what doshas the people eating are trying to balance, and prepare a meal. The same meal, but a healthy one that utilizes all the tastes. Then, each taste will have a different proportion on the plate:

In short, sweet, then sour, and then salty are great for Vata.
Bitter, then sweet and astringent are great for Pitta.
Pungent, then bitter and astringent are great for Kapha.

But again everyone needs all six! It’s just about knowing portion sizes.

Nutrition is a complicated subject. Crafting a diet for someone is something only a CAS can do for you. But hopefully this gives you an idea of how food affects your body!

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 50: Nutrition

In order to say something is Ayurvedic, we have to be able to know the following:

– The nature of the patient (constitution)
– The nature of the disease (imbalance)
– The nature of the medicine (diet and lifestyle)

Often I will get questions like this:
“I have dry skin that won’t go away…can you give recommend me an ayurvedic medicine to cure it?”

I appreciate that people are curious and want to know more about Ayurveda to help cure them. That’s a great thing! Unfortunately, my answer is always the same:

“Without knowing more about you and the disease, I cannot know which medicine will help you.”

I then may be able to describe generic things – meditation & breathing practices, to eat following the ten healthy guidelines, doing abyangha (daily self oil massage), ahimsa…ultimately all those things will make a big difference as they make the person more conscious of their own role in their health. This is paramount. Though Ayurveda always takes things to their root cause, there are foods and herbs we can suggest as medicine for a person.

In western medicine, the public health approach is based on a statistical model that generalizes what is good for most people. Unfortunately, this falls short insofar as that what may be good for a 23 year old male living in the tropics will be lumped into the same category as a 47 year old female living in the desert. These are extreme examples (and in some cases, research is becoming more individualized), but it leads me to this saying in Ayurveda:

“Nothing is right for everyone. Everything is right for someone.”

This means that from an Ayurvedic perspective, what may be right for one person won’t necessarily be right for another or everyone. We must look at the nature of the patient, the nature of the disease, and the nature of the medicine (the doshas).

This brings us to the foods we eat.

In general, medicine in Ayurveda can be broken down into food and herbs.
Foods have a milder effect on health – they produce the tissues of our body and their actions aren’t immediately felt.
Herbs have a more immediate effect on health and can be noticed much quicker.

Obviously, both play an important role.

When we consider foods, we look at 4 things:

– Rasa – The taste of the food: sweet, sour, salty, pungent (spicy/hot), bitter, and astringent (drying).
– Virya – The potency – does it have a cooling or heating effect in the body?
– Vipaka – the long term action of the substance; or the post digestive effect
– Prabhava – The pharmological action of the substance. Not related to the other three qualities.

We can look at the foods we take in the following manner:

Everything is either poison or medicine.

From this simple lens, we have to ask ourselves why are we putting what we are eating into our bodies.

In today’s society, we eat to please our brain. We look at it from the perspective or Rasa – is it pleasing to my senses? The brain will crave more and more based solely on taste, in order to improperly satisfy your ego.

In order to use food as medicine, we need to look at it from the perspective of Vipaka. Vipaka has sweet, sour, and pungency to it as well. But it’s effect is on our internal body. Whereas with Rasa, foods affect our senses, with Vipaka, the foods affect our physiology. So although sugar may have a sweet taste, from the perspective of Vipaka, it does not do what quality sweetness does in the body.

The different tastes we have and how they affect the body is a really intriguing topic. Tomorrow we will delve into a breakdown of each sense, which doshas they are best for, and even what a plate of food should look like for each dosha!

Until then I will leave you all salivating – pun intended :)

With gratitude,

S

Ayurveda Day 49: The Chakras pt. 3 – Highest Healing Practices

The chakras are an amazing and interesting topic. These centres of energy in our subtle body (the mind body) can become imbalanced just as our physical body can. Each chakra has it’s own unique role and healing practices.

But before we dive right into healing the chakras, it’s important we understand what those imbalances look like in each one.

The first 4 chakras all become imbalanced when we have excessive pranic energy flowing through them (chakras can have deficient flow as well, but this typically manifests as an opposite chakra having too much flow). We correct these excessive imbalances via using the opposite elements.

Root Chakra (Muladhara)
Too much of the earth element can lead to being too stable, meaning immobility, lack of growth, slow and resistant to change.
Sacral Chakra (Svadhistana)
Too much of the water element leads to too much cohesion. You become stuck, stagnant, attached. Remember water isn’t the element that moves – air is. Water cannot move independently and when left alone will stagnate.
Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura)
Too much of the fire element leads to excessive transformation. Everything looks like a problem that needs fixing.
Heart Chakra (Anahata)
Too much of the air element leads to excessive movement in life. Too much movement and change agitates us and makes us rajasic.

The last three chakras all relate to the ether element. Ether holds the space for all other elements, and as such, is responsible for our connectedness.

Throat Chakra (Vishuddha)
Imbalance of the ether element here leads to a disconnect between our expression and our identity. We cannot speak or express the mind accurately for fear of receiving disapproval or rejection. We project the self that we feel others will acknowledge, suppressing who we are.
Third Eye Chakra (Ajna)
Imbalance of this ether element (astral ether) can cause a disconnect in body and mind. We can’t stay in the present moment because we either dwell on the past or fantasize/worry about the future.
Crown Chakra (Sahasra Padma)
Imbalance of this ether element (causal ether) causes a disconnect with our highest self. Our true nature is obscured and we question who we are and don’t know why we are here.

If you resonated with any of these descriptions, chances are you have an imbalance in those chakras. As with anything, it is important to consult a CAS. However, on a basic level, everyone can practice simple things to support their chakric healing. Each chakra has a balanced state and a highest practice of healing:

Root Chakra (Muladhara) – When healthy we are stable, but not immobile. It’s highest healing practice is to form a balanced connection with nature. Nature is grounding because it’s truths don’t change. This is why we can’t use other people in order to feel stable – they will inevitably change their truths based on their egos.
Sacral Chakra (Svadhistana) – We will have a healthy flow of emotions without overflowing or attachment. It’s highest healing practice is to have harmonious use of the senses (take in proper stimulus).
Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura) – When healthy we will only fix what needs fixing. We have the ability to discern and assess. It’s highest healing practice is to have harmonious routines (habits).
Heart Chakra (Anahata) – When healthy we don’t need to move but are able to, and land properly. It’s highest healing practice is harmonious and fluid day to day motions (moving and acting deliberately with grace and intention).
Throat Chakra (Vishuddha) – When healthy we have an authentic expression of our self. It’s highest healing practice is to have harmonious thoughts, words, and actions (harmonious expressions).
Third Eye Chakra (Ajna) – When healthy we have a good connection between our mind and body. It’s highest healing practice is self observation and reflection.
Crown Chakra (Sahasra Padma) – When healthy we have harmonious connection between all three of our bodies. It’s highest form of healing? Meditation.

If you practice these highest healing practices, barring any other anomalies, your chakras can all be healthy, and in turn, so will your mind and emotions. You’ll notice all the healing practices for the chakras are about your lifestyle.

Ayurveda has and always will be a science of personal responsibility. Think of these highest healing practices as mission statements for yourself – by living in alignment with them, you will move closer to a more harmonious life.

With gratitude,

S



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