Monthly Archives: October 2011

Featured Herb: Guggul

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Guggul is the most important resin used in Ayurvedic medicine. It has a wide range of applications and is most often used to treat chronic conditions, including arthritis, nervous disorders, obesity and skin disorders. It also helps to regulate menstruation.

It possesses strong purifying & rejuvenating properties. It is a rejuvenative for Vata & Kapha, and will only mildly aggravate Pitta with long-term usage.

Guggul is combined with other herbs to make Ayurvedic medicines for particular conditions. These are usually sold in tablets and include Kaishore Guggulu (Pitta-balancing for joints & muscles) and Triphala Guggulu (detoxification and support for metabolic function) among many others.   

Guggul can be taken as a decoction, as a powder in warm milk or water, or used as a paste topically.

 

Ayurevda on Treating Illness – The Sequence

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From an Ayurvedic perspective, it is not possible to effectively treat an illness or even a strong doshic imbalance when obstructive ama (or toxins) are present. It is necessary to remove the obstructive ama first. Obstructive ama stops the proper flow of energy through the body’s channels (srotas).

This is why Ayurvedic physicians often use some methods of pancha karma as a first course of action. Once the srotas are cleared and the tissues (dhatus) are clean after pancha karma, then the disease/imbalance can be treated effectively.

Fatigue During Seasonal Transition/Pancha Karma at Home

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The first time we do a pancha karma program, whether the motivation is to gain energy, to prevent future illness, or as a preparation for an Ayurvedic treatment for an illness, we often experience fatigue. This is due to the fact that it takes most of our energy to rid our body of its accumulated ama (toxins). That is the main reason to decrease activity as much as possible during pancha  karma: the more energy you spend on other activities during a cleanse, the less energy your body has to throw off toxins.

The first time we seasonally cleanse is usually the hardest. If we live a constitution-balancing lifestyle during future seasons, assuming all other things are fairly constant, each subsequent pancha karma should be a somewhat less tiring than the previous. The amount of fatigue we experience during a seasonal cleanse is a function of 1) the amount of accumulated ama in our body, 2) our sensitivity (Vata’s tend to feel sensations more strongly), 3) how much of our energy is being consumed by other activities, and 4) our general health.

Something else to consider: in a sincere, well-intentioned attempt to improve our health, sometimes we change a long-standing habit when we enter a seasonal cleanse. A sudden change at the time of a cleanse can be troublesome. Gradual & gentle change of long-standing habits over a period of time is generally beneficial. So, for example, if we cut out our caffeine or tobacco intake just as we begin a cleanse, it will add significant toxins for the body to cleanse and thus significant fatigue (and possibly headache, constipation, mucus discharge & other side effects) to our challenges. This may even overshadow the lovely ending of pancha karma, which is rasayana or rejuvenation. Rasayana should leave us feeling refreshed, restored, nourished and having abundant, balanced energy.

So, if you are going to change your habits to improve your health (which is wonderful) please do it gradually, over a longer period of time leading up to the cleanse. Your body has enough to handle & process during a seasonal cleanse without withdrawing from a substance like caffeine or tobacco.    

Spiritual Foundations of Ayurveda – Part I

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 Ayurveda , the science of life, prevention and longevity is the oldest and most holistic medical system available on the planet today. It was placed in written form over 5,000 years ago in India, it was said to be a world medicine dealing with both body and the spirit. Before the advent of writing, the ancient wisdom of this healing system was a part of the spiritual tradition of the Sanatana Dharma (Universal Religion), or Vedic Religion. There were originally four main books of spirituality, which included among other topics, health, astrology, spiritual business, government, army, poetry and spiritual living and behavior. These books are known as the four Vedas; Rik, Sama, Yajur and Atharva. The Rik Veda, a compilation of verse on the nature of existence, is the oldest surviving book of any Indo-European language (3000 B.C.). The Rik Veda (also known as Rig Veda) refers to the cosmology known as Sankhya which lies at the base of both Ayurveda and Yoga, contains verses on the nature of health and disease, pathogenesis and principles of treatment. Among the Rik Veda are found discussions of the three dosas, Vayu. Pitta and Kapha, and the use of herbs to heal the diseases of the mind and body and to foster longevity. The Atharva Veda lists the eight divisions of Ayurveda: Internal Medicine, Surgery of Head and Neck, Opthamology and Otorinolaryngology, Surgery, Toxicology, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Gerontology or Science of Rejuvenation, and the Science of Fertility. The Vedic Sages took the passages from the Vedic Scriptures relating to Ayurveda and compiled separate books dealing only with Ayurveda. One of these books, called the Atreya Samhita is the oldest medical book in the world! The Vedic Brahmanas were not only priests performing religious rites and ceremonies, they also became Vaidyas (physicians of Ayurveda). The sage-physician-surgeons of the time were the same sages or seers, deeply devoted holy people, who saw health as an integral part of spiritual life. It is said that they received their training of Ayurveda through direct cognition during meditation. In other words, the knowledge of the use of various methods of healing, prevention, longevity and surgery came through Divine revelation; there was no guessing or testing and harming animals. These revelations were transcribed from the oral tradition into book form, interspersed with the other aspects of life and spirituality. Courtesy of Florida Vedic College

The Three Gunas

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Just as there are three energies in the body, there are three mental energies. These are called “the gunas”. The gunas are tamas, rajas and sattva.

Sattva is the energy of harmony, perception & light; rajas is the principle of energy, activity & turbulence; tamas is the energy of inertia, dullness & resistance. All three of these qualities are necessary in nature, but Sattva is the proper mental state for our human nature. In the mind, Rajas & Tamas represent impurities.

Individuals who are primarily Sattvic demonstrate caring for all, humility and honesty. Those with a more Rajasic mind focus on control, prestige & selfishness. And a Tamas-dominated mind is prone to fear, ignorance & inactivity.

According to Hinduism, we progress through our lifetimes from tamas to rajas to sattva before we can merge with God.

The 20 Basic Qualities & “Like Increases Like”

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Ayurveda defines twenty qualities, which appear in ten pairs of opposites. They are:

  1. Heavy – Light
  2. Oily – Dry
  3. Stable – Mobile
  4. Slimy – Rough
  5. Gross – Subtle
  6. Cold – Hot
  7. Slow – Sharp
  8. Soft – Hard
  9. Dense – Liquid
  10. Cloudy – Clear

These qualities can be found in all things – within us and outside of us. 

Some examples of the qualities in and outside of us:

Yogurt is liquid, soft, slimy and cold.

We may feel slow. 

Our mind may be cloudy.

Our mood may be heavy.

The weather is sometimes mobile (changing).

The way that this knowledge is used in Ayurevda is to keep ourselves in balance & to heal ourselves, based on the key principle that LIKE INCREASES LIKE. In other words, things that are like each other increase each other and things which are opposites decrease each other.

So, if our mood is heavy and we eat light foods, our mood will lighten. If we eat heavy foods, our mood will get heavier.

If our temper is fiery and we eat cold foods, we will become cooler-headed. If we eat hot foods, our temper will flare even more. (Note – Hot & cold do not only apply to the food’s temperature, but also to the affect that the food has on us.)

If the weather is mobile (changing), it will increase that quality in us. We might vascillate on a position. We might reverse a decision we have made. If we do something to create stability, the change in the weather will not affect us in the same way. 

If you can’t remember the 20 qualities, you can always remember that Like increases Like.

The Seven Dhatus – in humans & plants

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From an Ayurevdic perspective, the human body is comprised of 7 dhatus or tissues: rasa or plasma, rakta or blood, mamsa or muscle, medu or fat, asthi or bone, majja or marrow & nerve tissue, and shukra/artava or reproductive tissue.

Just as these dhatus/tissues exist in us, they exist in plants. The plant’s sap is its rasa/plasma. Its resin is its rakta/blood. The plant’s softwood is the same as our mamsa/muscle. Its gum or hard sap is its medu/fat. The bark of a plants is the same as our asthi/bone. Leaves are like our majja/marrow & nerve tissue. And flowers & fruit are the same for a plant as our shukra/artavara or reproductive tissues are to us. 

This is one example of a key Ayurevdic principle: Everything that exists inside of us exists outside of us and vise versa. 

                                                                                              Cumin

Doshas & Plants

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The same three doshas that make up a human being’s constitution also make up plants. You will recognize some of the qualities of the doshas I blogged about earlier.

Vata plants have little sap (dry), have rough, cracked bark, & have spindly (mobile) growth habits.

Pitta plants have bright flowers (hot), moderate sap (liquid) and can poison or burn (heat).

Similar to some of the qualities of Kapha people, Kapha plants have luxuriant growth, much sap (liquid/water) and are heavy.  

Which part of the plant best used as medicine is also doshic. Vata is made up of air & ether. The leaves (air) & fruits (as ether) tend to be more effective with Vata problems. Pitta is made up of fire and water. Treatment using the flowers (as fire) tend to work best on Pitta issues. Kapha is made of earth & water. The roots (earth) & bark (water) of plants tend to work well on Kapha imbalances/conditions.

                                                                                       Amla/Amalaki/Indian Gooseberry