5 Lifestyle Hacks for Sound Sleep

5 Lifestyle Hacks for Sound Sleep | Herbal Academy | Wake up more rested, alert, beautiful, and ready to take on the day with these 5 lifestyle hacks for sound sleep. Beauty rest is more than a turn of phrase!

Beauty rest is more than a turn of phrase. Anyone who has suffered from chronic insomnia or disturbed sleep is well aware of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep not only compromises your outward appearance. It wreaks havoc on your metabolism, mental alertness, emotional balance, and even memory (Albrecht & Ripperger, 2018). Sound sleep is vital for whole body health. Both modern science and ancient wellness systems, such as Ayurveda, underscore this truth.

The ancient ayurvedic sages placed sound sleep at such a high premium that it was deemed an essential pillar of health, along with good digestion and effective energy management. In fact, the Charaka Samhita, one of Ayurveda’s pivotal classical texts, states that by upholding these three pillars, the strength of body and good complexion are preserved even until the very end of one’s lifespan (Dash, 2014).

Although you may intuitively know this, stress, schedules, and a number of other factors may interfere with getting the rest you need. This article will explore lifestyle hacks for sound sleep so that you can wake up more rested, alert, beautiful, and ready to take on the day.

The Science of Sleep

In addition to the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, there is mounting scientific evidence to support the value of sound sleep. In fact, not so long ago, an entirely new bodily system that plays a key role in sleep was discovered. It is known as the glymphatic system, and it functions as a waste clearance mechanism, removing metabolic and protein wastes from the brain while you sleep. This curious system may also be involved in distributing nutrients, such as amino acids, lipids, and glucose to brain cells (Jessen et al., 2015). The interesting thing about the glymphatic system is that it only functions while we sleep. Sleep that is regular, ample in quantity, and timed with the natural rhythms of dark and light, keeps this waste clearance system functioning as it should. The result? Sleep that feels restful, as well as clear thinking and a healthier nervous system. When the glymphatic process is disturbed, the consequences may be as serious as exacerbated neurological disease (Albrecht & Ripperger, 2018).

5 Lifestyle Hacks for Sound Sleep

Of course, getting sleep of adequate quantity and quality is easier said than done. If you find that your sleep is less than stellar, these five lifestyle hacks will help put you back on track.

5 Lifestyle Hacks for Sound Sleep | Herbal Academy | Wake up more rested, alert, beautiful, and ready to take on the day with these 5 lifestyle hacks for sound sleep. Beauty rest is more than a turn of phrase!

1. Be Consistent

One trick to attaining sound sleep is regularity. In Ayurveda, restless sleep and insomnia are often linked to an imbalance in vata dosha, which is associated with the wind element, as well as movement (Frawley, 2000). Vata dosha is easily imbalanced by changes in routine. Irregular lifestyle patterns such as frequent travel and irregular work schedules tend to throw vata dosha out of balance, resulting in sleep troubles. Regular sleeping times and good sleep hygiene (such as the sound sleep hacks describes in this article) help soothe the nervous system and keep vata dosha pacified and less likely to wreak havoc on sleep patterns.

The ayurvedic teachings around the importance of sleep routines correspond with the concept of circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the natural rhythms of the body and correlate to the cycles of day and night. It is natural to sleep at night and to awaken with the light of day. When circadian rhythms are thrown out of whack, a number of health issues may ensue, such as being at a higher risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and certain types of cancer (Palanisamy, 2015).

According to Ayurveda, not everyone needs the same exact amount of sleep. You may have noticed this for yourself anecdotally. Vata types tend to need the most sleep, kaphas the least, and pitta types fall somewhere in the middle. Kapha types may also benefit from getting up a bit earlier; too much sleep exacerbates their naturally slower constitutions, causing sluggishness and lethargy. On the other hand, the more delicate nervous systems of vata types require maximum rest and rejuvenation. It is especially important that ravenous pittas are not up in the middle of the night, as they are particularly prone to late night eating, which only leads to an imbalance in their digestion, liver, and sleep patterns. Ayurveda teaches that “early to bed and early to rise” is best for everyone. This means that getting up around sunrise is ideal for all, with slight variations depending on one’s constitutional type (Svoboda, 2010).

5 Lifestyle Hacks for Sound Sleep | Herbal Academy | Wake up more rested, alert, beautiful, and ready to take on the day with these 5 lifestyle hacks for sound sleep. Beauty rest is more than a turn of phrase!

2. Unplug

This lifestyle hack for sound sleep is a game changer. It’s important to give your nervous system time to unwind before bedtime. Just like stopping a fast moving car, it’s not easy to slam on the brakes when you are traveling 100 miles per hour. The same is true for your nervous system. Easing, rather than crashing, into to sleep is generally far more effective.

Why? Melatonin is the reason. Melatonin is important for immune function and sleep quality. Melatonin is released by the pineal gland, and it plays a major role in signaling your nervous system to calm down. Interestingly enough, light exposure, particularly the blue light emitted by screens, prevents the release of melatonin. Therefore, the more time you can spend in dark or dim lighting before bed, the better your chances of falling gently into a sound sleep. Using lamps and area lights in the evening, rather than bright overhead lights is helpful. Also, light bulbs with an orange or red hue are preferable to white or bluish light. Apps, such as f.lux, that adjust your computer screen light throughout the day are useful as well. Ideally, turning away from computer screens and phones in the late evening, and instead of picking up a book, taking a hot bath, or doing other relaxing screen-free activities will help send your nervous system the message to calm down and prepare for sleep (Palanisamy, 2015).

5 Lifestyle Hacks for Sound Sleep | Herbal Academy | Wake up more rested, alert, beautiful, and ready to take on the day with these 5 lifestyle hacks for sound sleep. Beauty rest is more than a turn of phrase!

3. Eat Better to Sleep Better

Refraining from late night snacking will not only assist with weight management, but this healthy habit also helps you sleep better. Even your fat cells have a circadian rhythm. Research shows that eating less at night can assist in weight loss (Garaulet et al., 2013). This is consistent with the ayurvedic recommendation to have your largest meal at lunchtime, which is attributed to the ayurvedic teaching that one’s agni, or digestive fire, is strongest at midday. Also, by eating lightly at night, you give your body the chance to focus on detoxification and restoration during the night, rather than digestion. Furthermore, by normalizing your metabolic circadian rhythms, you have a better chance at bringing all of your circadian rhythms into balance, lining up patterns of eating, sleeping, and waking (Palanisamy, 2015).

4. Keep cool

Though hot summer days may leave you sleepy, our best sleep is attained in a slightly cool environment. The ideal recommended room temperature ranges from 60 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit with pajamas and in the mid-80’s without pajamas and just a sheet as covering (Onin, Bailey & Parquet, 1994). Furthermore, keeping a cool head may especially help with sound sleep. This is a rather amusing sound sleep hack. One study showed that sleep quality was significantly improved in 16 males who were subjected to head and neck cooling in a hot environment (Lan et al., 2018). If you have the option to regulate your bedroom’s temperature, keeping it on the cool side may help you rest more thoroughly. If not, consider a cool shower or applying a cool washcloth to the head and neck before bed for a soothing, soporific effect.  

5. Consider Herbal Support

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

There are a plethora of herbs that can assist in getting a good night’s rest. Ashwagandha, with its nourishing, tonifying capacities is a great place to start. This starchy root is an ayurvedic classic for all types of nervous system disturbances. Ashwagandha is soothing for a range of imbalances including insomnia, fatigue, general debility, tissue deficiency, poor eyesight, and anxiety. Ashwagandha may not correct sleep immediately, but due to its nourishing and stabilizing effects on the nervous system, it will help normalize sleep cycles over time. One great thing about ashwagandha is that it is safe to take in rather large doses—anywhere from 1-9 grams per day (Dass, 2013). To maximize the root’s strengthening and soothing effects, it is helpful to consume in powdered form. For ease of consumption, you can mix powdered ashwagandha into hot water, hot milk, or a hearty warm grain cereal.

5 Lifestyle Hacks for Sound Sleep | Herbal Academy | Wake up more rested, alert, beautiful, and ready to take on the day with these 5 lifestyle hacks for sound sleep. Beauty rest is more than a turn of phrase!

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

If you are looking for an herb with potent sedative effects, valerian may be for you. Valerian is a powerful sleep aid and also has the ability to soothe anxiety and relax tense muscles. Since valerian can cause drowsiness, it is best to take only in the evenings, about 30 to 60 minutes before bed. This strong smelling root can be taken as a liquid extract or in dried powdered form (generally best swallowed in capsules). The suggested dosage is 3-9 grams of dried whole root and 2-6 mL of liquid extract (Mills & Bone, 2000). Some ayurvedic practitioners caution against long-term use of valerian, as it can exacerbate depression, melancholy, and mental lethargy (Dass, 2013). Also, oddly enough, some people find that valerian has a heating and stimulating effect rather than a sedative effect. This is a simple testament to the ayurvedic tenant that nothing is right for everyone. Always listen to your body and be willing to adapt your herbal supports based on your own felt experience.

Skullcap (Scutellaria)

Whereas ashwagandha and valerian are both warm and somewhat heavy herbs, skullcap is light, bitter, and cool. However, it is also a great nervous system soother. Skullcap is classically used as support for a host of imbalances including nervous tension, stress, anxiety, premenstrual syndrome, tremors, and addiction. For vata types who require deep nervous system nourishment, it can be combined with heaver herbs such as ashwagandha or valerian. Though skullcap is helpful as a sound sleep hack, it can also be taken during the day to calm a stressed mind or jittery nervous system. As a tincture, you can take 30-60 drops up to three times per day or 1-9 grams of the dried aerial portion (Dass, 2013).

If getting your zzz’s is a challenge, with the help of these sound sleep hacks, we hope you will find your way back to restful and rejuvenating sleep.

5 Lifestyle Hacks for Sound Sleep | Herbal Academy | Wake up more rested, alert, beautiful, and ready to take on the day with these 5 lifestyle hacks for sound sleep. Beauty rest is more than a turn of phrase!

REFERENCES

Albrecht, U., & Ripperger, J.A. (2018). Circadian clocks and sleep: Impact of rhythmic metabolism and waste clearance on the brain. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30274603

Dash, B., & Sharma, R.K. (2014). Caraka Samhita (Vol. 1). Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office.

Dass, V. (2013). Ayurvedic herbology: East and west. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Frawley, D. (2000). Ayurvedic healing. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Garaulet, M., Gomez-Abellan, P., Alburquerque-Bejar, J.J., Lee, Y.C., Ordovas, J.M., & Scheer, F.A. (2013). Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. International Journal of Obesity, 37(4):604-11. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.229.

Jessen, N.A., Munk, S.A., Lundgaard, I., & Nedergaard, M. (2015). The glymphatic system: A beginners guide. Neurochemisty Research, 40(12):2583-99. doi: 10.1007/s11064-015-1581-6.

Lan, L., Qian, X.L., Lian, Z.W., & Lin, Y.B. (2018). Local body cooling to improve sleep quality and thermal comfort in a hot environment. Indoor Air, 28(1):135-145. doi: 10.1111/ina.12428.

Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: Modern herbal medicine. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone.

Nedeltcheva, A.V., & Scheer, F.A. (2014). Metabolic effects of sleep disruption, links to obesity and diabetes. Current Opinion Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity. 21(4):293-8. doi: 10.1097/MED.0000000000000082.

Onen, S.H., Onen, F., Bailly, D., & Parquet, P. (1994). Prevention and treatment of sleep disorders through regulation of sleeping habits. La Presse Médicale,  23(10):485-9. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8022726

Palanisamy, A. (2015). The paleovedic diet. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.

Svoboda, R. (1999). Prakriti: Your ayurvedic constitution. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn | Herbal Academy | As fall approaches, here are three tips that those with a predominant vata dosha can follow to maintain balance.

Ayurveda teaches that we each have an inherent prakruti, which is our natural, unchanging nature. Our prakruti is our unique balance of vata, pitta, and kapha doshas and is unaffected by phase of life, seasons, or any other external factors. If you’re interested in finding out what your dosha is, read our article, Introduction To Ayurveda: What’s My Dosha.

In addition to our prakruti, each of us also has a vikruti. Our vikruti is our current balance of the doshas. The vikruti may be influenced by situational factors, such as time of day, age, and the seasons. The seasons, in particular, have a strong influence over the doshas, causing an ebb and flow of the doshas throughout the year.

Since summer is the hot season and pitta dosha embodies the hot and fiery side of nature, summer is associated with pitta dosha. This means the qualities of pitta are amplified in summer. As late winter and spring are cool and moist, kapha dosha is more influential at that time of year. However, autumn and early winter, with their dry and cool weather, relate to vata dosha. Vata also correlates to the end of the life cycle. As fall and winter signify the waning of the calendar year and a time when landscapes become bleaker, this is a time to focus on balancing and managing vata dosha.

As fall approaches, those of a predominant vata constitution should take special care that their inherent vata nature (prakruti) does not become imbalanced — leading to problems such as dry skin, insomnia, nervousness, restless sleep, and constipation.

One of my dear Ayurvedic teachers, Mary Thompson, summarized the vata pacification protocol with these three overarching practices: warmth, oil, and regular routine. As a practitioner, it is a mantra that I return to again and again when working with my vata clients on managing vata dosha and when helping people to achieve balance in autumn.

Let’s take a closer look at some Ayurvedic practices you can adopt when it comes to managing vata dosha in the fall.

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn

1. Warmth

Remember that one of the chief characteristics of vata is coolness. Vata types tend to run cold and are prone to weak circulation, which results in cold hands and feet and an overall aversion to cold temperatures. Even if you are a pitta or kapha type, as summer turns to fall and temperatures drop, it is important to take extra care to keep warm. Warmth means more than putting on a sweater or coat. Heat is most powerful when it radiates from deep within.

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn | Herbal Academy | As fall approaches, here are three tips that those with a predominant vata dosha can follow to maintain balance.

One’s agni, or digestive fire, is one of the main sources of heat, so maintaining a strong agni is important for staying healthy and managing vata dosha in the cooler months.

While salads and juices may be suitable for summer — warm, moist, cooked foods are better for stimulating agni during fall and winter. In general, root vegetables, grains, protein-rich foods, and lipids such as ghee and coconut oil are good to eat in the fall. However, the foods that are suggested for the beginning of fall are slightly different than those for deep fall and winter (O’Donnell, 2015).

Since early fall signifies the transition from pitta to vata season, it is helpful to first dispel excess accumulated heat before nourishing the deep tissues of the body with heavier, anabolic foods. The bitter and astringent tastes are helpful for doing just this.

Examples of foods that are bitter are leafy greens such as kale, dandelion greens, collards, and mustard greens (O’Donnell, 2015). Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) is a great food supplement that embodies the bitter taste, and aloe juice or gel is very good for clearing excess heat from the liver and blood (Dass, 2013). Astringent foods include cranberries, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage. These foods may be consumed freely during the transition from summer to autumn. However, it is wise to eat mostly cooked vegetables rather than raw at this time of year, since the body needs to prepare for the heart of vata season. Large quantities of light, dry, and raw foods are difficult to digest and will also aggravate vata dosha. Thus, it is wise to avoid dry, raw foods as autumn approaches, and certainly, in the heart of autumn.

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn | Herbal Academy | As fall approaches, here are three tips that those with a predominant vata dosha can follow to maintain balance.

As the transition from summer to fall becomes complete and mid-autumn sets in with cool temperatures and drier air, it is the perfect time to incorporate heavier, denser, moistening foods. These are the essence of a vata pacifying menu. Foods such as carrots, parsnips, pumpkins, turnips, squash, oats, dates, and nut butters ground vata dosha’s cool, light, and mobile nature.

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn | Herbal Academy | As fall approaches, here are three tips that those with a predominant vata dosha can follow to maintain balance.

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn | Herbal Academy | As fall approaches, here are three tips that those with a predominant vata dosha can follow to maintain balance.

It is important to use suitable digestive spices with these foods (O’Donnell, 2015). Carminative (gas-dispelling) spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, and black pepper are great spices for warming the agni. Incidentally, these spices also encompass the cozy aromas of autumn and are the perfect spices to accompany the heavier foods of fall.

Here is an example of a simple fall recipe that can be prepared and enjoyed by even the novice cook or the busiest of bodies.

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn | Herbal Academy | As fall approaches, here are three tips that those with a predominant vata dosha can follow to maintain balance.

Masala Fried Apples

Inspired by Kate O’Donnell

[recipe_ingredients]

2 whole apples
1 tablespoon ghee
1/8-1/4 tsp garam masala powder

[/recipe_ingredients][recipe_directions]

  • Thinly slice two apples. I like to use honey crisp apples, but a number of varieties will work.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of ghee in a frying pan over medium heat. Add 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of garam masala powder (depending on your spice threshold) to the heated ghee.
  • Add the apples and cover, stirring occasionally. Allow the apples to cook for five minutes or until tender and soft. This is a great stand-alone light meal. You can also consider adding dates and/or walnuts alongside the apples.

[/recipe_directions]

2. Oil

Since vata is light, cool, and dry in nature, oil is one the best remedies for managing vata dosha, and the use of oil, both internally and externally, is an especially helpful practice for managing vata dosha in the fall. If you can imagine a thousand-petaled lotus, there are probably as many Ayurvedic uses for oil as there are petals on that lotus flower. Here are a couple of simple ways that you can incorporate more oil into your life.

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn | Herbal Academy | As fall approaches, here are three tips that those with a predominant vata dosha can follow to maintain balance.

External Oils

Abhyanga, an Ayurvedic form of oil massage, is not only a wonderful spa therapy, it’s also one of several practices referred to as dinacharya, or daily practices. The process of abhyanga can be as simple or as luxurious as you would like it to be. In terms of choosing a good abhyanga oil, raw sesame oil is the oil of choice for pacifying vata and is a good option for fall. Coconut and sunflower oil are appropriate for the warmer months or for those who run very warm, i.e., pitta types. Almond oil is nice for late winter and spring as it is a bit more stimulating and helps to pacify kapha dosha.

Self-abhyanga is classically performed before bathing using a gently warmed oil. To do this, simply place a glass or heat-resistant plastic bottle filled with oil in a pot or bowl of hot water until the oil warms. You can do this while you are brushing your teeth, feeding the cat, or performing other morning tasks. Next, apply the warm oil from head to toe, massaging it into your skin. Ideally, it is best to let the oil seep into your skin for a good twenty minutes or so before rinsing off in the bath or shower. During this time you can put on old clothing and read a book, relax, or do some mild yoga practices. When it’s time to bathe, there’s no need to soap the whole body down. Apply soap where needed and allow the warm water and steam to assist your skin in absorbing the oil.

If you feel like the above process is a bit too much to fit into your morning routine, you may be wondering what the busy person’s version of abhyanga is. As a busy working person myself, I am happy to share the good news — something is better than nothing! Fortunately, Ayurveda is not a list of rules that are right or wrong. For those who don’t feel they have time for a long abhyanga on a daily basis, even a bit of oil massaged into the skin after bathing will help to nourish the skin, calm down vata dosha, and provide a subtle protective force field around the body that will last all day long (O’Donnell, 2015). Once you get used to doing abhyanga, you will see that it is more than skin food; abhyanga is soul food!

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn | Herbal Academy | As fall approaches, here are three tips that those with a predominant vata dosha can follow to maintain balance.

Internal Oils

As I mentioned earlier, autumn is a good time to increase the use of oil, both inside and out. In addition to daily external applications of oil, Ayurveda recommends fairly liberal consumption of oil for pacifying vata dosha. Of course, one still must bear in mind constitution and personal health. For instance, if you are a strong kapha type or are kapha imbalanced, liberal consumption of oil may not be the best idea because it may aggravate the already heavy and moist qualities of kapha dosha. However, generally speaking, the cool dry months of autumn are a good time to enjoy a little more lipids.

If you’re wondering which oil to choose, ghee (clarified butter) is highly revered in Ayurveda and is generally the number one oil of choice. Ghee is wonderful because it is tridoshic (benefits all doshas), stimulates the agni, nourishes the brain, and is one of the easiest oils for the body to digest and assimilate (Dass, 2013).

In terms of incorporating ghee into your diet, the possibilities are truly endless! Ghee is wonderful for sauteing and frying veggies since it has a high smoke point. You can also spread it on your toast instead of butter or stir a teaspoon of ghee into warm, milky beverages or soups. Another magical aspect of ghee is that it helps to carry spices and herbs more deeply into the body. For more ideas, you can read more about Ayurvedic uses for ghee and oil in our post, Ayurvedic Uses of Herbal Oils.

To summarize what has been covered so far on managing vata dosha in fall, the foods of autumn should be warm and moist. It’s advisable to begin fall with higher quantities of bitter and astringent foods, but as the season progresses, it’s wise to increase consumption of heavier, more grounding foods, such as ghee, grains, and root veggies (O’Donnell, 2015). Also, if you do not currently practice abhyanga, fall is the perfect time to start as abhyanga is a prime practice for managing vata dosha in the fall.

3. Regular Routine

Another key feature of vata dosha is irregularity and mobility. Vata is that which moves, meaning it is the force behind all movements of the body and mind (Frawley, 2013). Vata dosha is essential because it is responsible for the beating of our hearts, the pumping of our blood, the movement of our thoughts, and the transit of food through the digestive tract. Movement is necessary and healthy. However, too much movement is problematic. Practically speaking, when vata becomes excessive, this manifests as feeling nervous or ungrounded, difficulty sitting still, trouble quieting the mind, and issues such as restless sleep, rapid heartbeat, irregular digestion, and erratic bowel habits.

The solution is regularity and grounding routines. For strong vata types, this is easier said than done. Yet, the more regularity you can bring into your life, especially during vata season, the greater the odds of facing the cool, dark months of fall and winter with strength and resilience. Here are a few ways to incorporate grounding routines into your life.

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn | Herbal Academy | As fall approaches, here are three tips that those with a predominant vata dosha can follow to maintain balance.

  • Go to bed and arise at the same time every day. Establishing good sleep hygiene and regular sleep routines will go a long way toward boosting emotional outlook and immune health.
  • Eat meals at the same time daily or within the same one hour time frame. Recall that excess vata dosha is related to irregular digestion and elimination. Ayurveda considers improper digestion to be the root of all diseases, so maintaining optimal digestive health through proper food choices and regular eating habits is key in overall wellness and longevity.
  • Be consistent in your daily self-care practices. For example, commit to doing abhyanga daily, even if it is just for 3-5 minutes.
  • Be regular in your exercise habits. This doesn’t mean that you need to do the same exercise daily. However, create a weekly schedule and stick to it. Have a buddy to hold you accountable if necessary.

If you are someone who thrives on spontaneity, you may be reading the above list of routines and thinking boring, boring, boring. Or, for the routine-loving pitta and kapha types, you may be gaining further justification for your habitual ways. Whatever your stance on routine is, it is generally helpful for everyone to have anchoring practices in their day.

This doesn’t mean that every day needs to be Groundhog Day, eating the same meals, and greeting your neighbors at the exact same time. However, simple practices are tremendous in creating a sense of stability and grounding. That sense of centeredness translates into a more balanced physical functioning and ultimately greater ease and peace of mind, especially for those managing vata dosha. Also, the healthier your body and mind, the more fit you will be for facing the challenges of life and for embarking on the grand adventures of fall, winter, and beyond!

3 Tips on Managing Vata Dosha During Autumn | Herbal Academy | As fall approaches, here are three tips that those with a predominant vata dosha can follow to maintain balance.

REFERENCES

Dass, V. (2013). Ayurvedic herbology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Frawley, D. (2000). Ayurvedic healing: A comprehensive guide. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

O’Donnell, K. (2015). The everyday Ayurveda cookbook. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications, Inc.

Ayurvedic Guide to Building Digestive Power

If you consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner, don’t be surprised if she asks you a hundred and one questions about the state of your digestive system—no matter what brought you into her office! Regardless of where your imbalances manifest, Ayurveda places incredible emphasis on the state of digestion, also known as agni.

According to the Ayurvedic paradigm, a digestive imbalance is considered to be the root cause of most illness (Frawley, 2000). Conversely, a strong and balanced digestive system puts you at much greater odds for attaining and maintaining optimal health. This article will explore Ayurvedic methods for supporting digestive health, and ultimately, building digestive power.  

How Hot Does Your Fire Burn?

To begin, it may be helpful to outline why Ayurveda places so much emphasis on digestion. Our digestion is our processing system for almost all of our nourishment. Of course, some nourishment is received via the air, and our skin has its own absorption as well. But, as we all know, one cannot live for long without food or drink. Furthermore, though it is wonderful to have food and liquids of high-quality, if we can’t make use of that nourishment through good digestion, it does us little good. Taking this one step further, strong digestion builds healthy blood, and healthy blood is carried all throughout our bodies, giving rise to healthy organs. Thus, our gut is the first portal of nourishment and addressing the digestive system, or regulating agni, is the foundational approach to most diseases (Frawley, 2000).

The state of digestion is classified into four major categories in Ayurveda:

  • mandagni (low digestive fire),
  • tikshnagni (high digestive fire),
  • vishmagni (variable digestive fire), and
  • the elusive unicorn of Ayurveda: samagni (perfectly balanced digestion) (Frawley, 2000).

It is rare (but not impossible) to find perfect equanimity in digestion. Signs of healthy digestion include, but are not limited to:

  • only a very thin coating on the tongue,
  • pleasant breath and body odor,
  • good energy,
  • healthy circulation,
  • regular daily bowel movements, and
  • a healthy appetite for meals (Frawley, 2000).

It is quite common for agni (the digestive fire) to be imbalanced in one direction or another. This article will primarily explore methods for building digestive power, which is appropriate in instances of mandagni (low digestive fire), and sometimes, in cases of vishmagni (variable digestive fire).

Signs That Your Digestion Needs Building

In general, weak digestion is an expression of kapha dosha. Those with a kapha constitution are more prone to slow or sluggish digestion. However, anyone can experience mandagni. Furthermore, late winter and spring is the time of year ruled by kapha, so you may find your digestive power flagging a bit at that time of year in particular.

For vatas, the digestive power is often variable. At times, vata’s intense hunger may need calming down; at other times it can use a little agni boost. So, these guidelines may be helpful for those with variable digestion as well. Pittas, on the other hand, tend to have a very powerful and warm digestive system. A pitta digestive imbalance is characterized by intense hunger, burning indigestion, and perhaps diarrhea. Therefore, these guidelines are less suitable for pitta types or those with a pitta digestive imbalance.

If you are really perplexed about the condition of your agni, it is always wise to consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner. However, these are some general signs of low digestive fire:

  • poor appetite,
  • tendency to gain weight even when eating very little,
  • a thick coating on the tongue,
  • feeling heavy or sleepy after eating,
  • foul breath and body odor,
  • excess mucus and congestion, and
  • frequent colds and flu (Frawley, 2000).

How You Eat Is As Important As What You Eat

There are classifications of foods and herbs that are particularly effective at building digestive power, which I will enumerate later in this article. However, before digging into the details of what goes onto your plate, it is well worth considering how you take in your food.

These are some basic guidelines for cultivating healthy eating habits. All of these guidelines are outlined in the Caraka Samhita, one of Ayurveda’s most renowned classical texts. Like many classical texts, it is a bit unclear exactly who wrote it, however, it is one of the fundamental pieces of Ayurvedic literature.

1. Eat the Proper Quantity

It is important to eat neither too little nor too much. Being undernourished will ultimately weaken all the bodily tissues and will cause any number of vata imbalances. However, eating too much will dampen the digestive fire and will likely lead to excess weight and sluggish digestion.

You may wonder how to tell when enough is enough. The Caraka Samhita leaves us a clue: “The amount of food which, without disturbing the equilibrium, gets digested as well as metabolized, in proper time, is to be regarded as the proper quantity” (Sharma & Dash, 2014, Vol I: p.106).

This may sound a bit obscure to most readers. One modern interpretation, and one that I personally use, is the 75% rule. The 75% rule states that you should not fill your belly with food and liquid beyond 75% full. Of course, there is no way to exactly measure this. It is a felt sense. However, I  recommend letting the burp be your guide. If you are eating your meal slowly enough to pay attention, there will typically be a place in your meal where you have a small burp. The next time you sit down for a meal, see if you can detect the burp. If you detect it, put your fork down, and observe if you end up at a nice 75% mark — the Goldilocks principle of satiety!

Eating just the right amount of food will prevent feelings of heaviness after meals and will allow you to digest your food more efficiently, thus preserving the strength of your agni.

2. Eat in a Peaceful Setting Without Distraction

Mindfulness has become a buzzword these days, but there is a lot to be said about being aware while we are eating, especially when it comes to building digestive power. In modern times, this means unplugging from technology during meals. It also means not working while eating and engaging in only pleasant and light-hearted conversation at meal times. The Caraka Samhita takes a strong stance on this by suggesting, “One should not talk or laugh or be unmindful while taking in food” (Sharma & Dash, Vol II).

While the position described in the Caraka Samhita is rather austere, we can learn from these ancient teachings and use meals as a time to be quiet, to be reflective, and to simply enjoy the wonderful nourishment in front of us. Of course, there is something to be said for enjoying a pleasant meal with friends and family. However, as an Ayurvedic practitioner, I advise keeping conversations light-hearted, as well as steering clear of business lunches, when possible, which distract us from savoring our food.

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3. Eat at a Moderate Pace

Interestingly enough, the Caraka Samhita advises not eating too fast as well as not eating too slow, this affects one’s ability to properly taste and enjoy his/her meal. (Sharma & Dash, Vol II). Furthermore, on eating too slowly is problematic, as the food will become cold and digestive irregularities may result (Sharma & Dash, Vol. II). One helpful rule of thumb is to put the fork down between bites. I find that this greatly assists in eating at a moderate pace.

4. Do Not Eat Until the Prior Meal Has Been Digested

For most, this means waiting at least three hours between meals and snacks. This is also where the concept of true hunger comes into play. Many Americans are accustomed to frequent snacking. However, from the Ayurvedic standpoint, eating too frequently dampens agni and will inhibit building digestive power. Speaking metaphorically, you want to give the fire a chance to burn its fuel before piling on more fodder. The Caraka Samhita clearly explains that eating too soon after the last meal will cause all the doshas to become aggravated, as the partially digested food will mix with the new food and cause a clogging of physical channels.

Also, the Ayurvedic standpoint here is that allowing enough time between meals stimulates the agni, helps the body clear ama (toxins), sharpens the mind, and restores the balance of the doshas (Palanisamy, 2015).

There are a number of other guidelines for healthy eating listed in the Caraka Samhita as well as contemporary Ayurvedic texts. However, the four listed above cover quite a bit of territory and are an excellent place to begin. Once you have mastered those, a couple of other guidelines are to have mostly warm and moist foods and also to take no more than a half cup of warm water with meals. Ice water, especially with meals, is contraindicated as Ayurveda teaches that it will weaken the agni.

The latter guidelines are based on an understanding of the nature of agni. Since agni is warm and fiery by nature, to boost agni and ignite that fire, it is ideal to choose foods that mimic the nature of agni. Warm and moist foods are considered to be easier to digest and to have a more encouraging effect on the agni. Thus, when building digestive power, it is wise to eat moderately, eat with awareness and gratitude, and focus on warm, moist, cooked foods (Svoboda, 2010).

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Rasa For Building Digestive Power

The word rasa has many meanings in Sanskrit. One of its meanings essentially translates to taste, and more specifically, the taste of food when it first hits the tongue (Lad & Lad, 2009).

There are six main tastes according to Ayurveda:

  1. sweet,
  2. sour,
  3. salty,
  4. bitter,
  5. pungent, and
  6. astringent.

For building digestive power, the pungent, sour, and salty tastes are best (Sharma & Dash, Vol 2). This does not mean that if you are trying to increase agni you will exclusively eat these foods. However, it is wise to emphasize foods with the pungent, sour, and salty tastes with some regularity if this is your aim.

The pungent taste is especially good for increasing agni short-term, whereas the sour taste is best for increasing agni long-term. The salty taste is helpful for stimulating appetite — giving food good flavor, and like the pungent and sour tastes, it has a warming energy, which inherently stimulates agni.

Examples of the pungent taste include chile, onion, mustard, radish, and garlic. The pungent taste is excellent for stimulating agni and for burning up excess kapha, which may manifest in the form of mucus, watery secretions, or a thick tongue coating. Kapha types may use the pungent taste liberally, vatas are best off taking it in small doses, and pittas should minimize hot, spicy food as it is intensely aggravating to pitta dosha (Morningstar, 1995).

The sour taste is found in foods such as vinegar, yogurt, cheese, citrus, and pickles. This taste stimulates salivation, as well as the agni, which is why it is helpful to have a small amount of pickles or chutney along with your meals. However, just like the pungent taste, too much of the sour taste will aggravate pitta and may cause a mild inflammation of the gut (Morningstar, 1995). However, if your digestive power is weak, you can likely benefit from a bit more of the sour taste. Keep in mind that, small amounts frequently taken with meals are better than consuming large amounts of vinegar and pickles at once.

The salty taste is found in rock salt and sea salt, as well as sea vegetables (Morningstar, 1995). Again, it is wise to not eat huge amounts of the salty taste, but if you are looking to boost agni, having a bit of salt with your meals on a regular basis will stimulate the digestive fire. Another interesting fact about salt is that it is quite grounding, and thus beneficial for vata dosha (Morningstar, 1995).

There is one more aspect of working with taste, agni, and the doshas, that is important to understand. Though the pungent, sour, and salty tastes have an overall stimulating effect on agni, one must always consider individual constitution. For example, if someone has low digestive fire and also a very strong kapha constitution, the pungent taste may be suggested in liberal amounts. However, it would be unwise to recommend that this person take in large amounts of the salty and sour tastes, as those tastes drastically increase kapha dosha. As always in Ayurveda, protocols are tailored to the individual. In this instance, the pungent taste would be recommended along with plenty of bitter and astringent foods, as the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes all pacify kapha dosha.

Conversely, someone of a vata constitution who has weak agni would benefit from ample amounts of the sweet and sour tastes, and smaller amounts of the pungent taste. The salty and sour tastes pacify vata with their warm, moist, and heavy nature. Too much hot, spicy food is overly drying and stimulating for vata dosha, and would thus be recommended in smaller amounts. For pitta dosha, the aim is generally to cool the digestive fires, so the sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes are best.

Spices To Light Your Digestive Fire

Finally, spices are crucial when building digestive power. While the list of beneficial spices is long, here are a few ideas to get you inspired.

An Ayurvedic Guide to Building Digestive Power | Herbal Academy | Come join us as we explore Ayurvedic methods for improving digestive health naturally, and ultimately, building digestive power.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Ginger is one of the most versatile and potent digestive spices. For my vata clients, I recommend fresh ginger tea. For kapha clients, dry ginger is best. This can be taken as a tea, in cooking, and even in capsule form. Ginger has a pungent and sweet taste, a heating energy, and depending on whether it is fresh or dried, either a nourishing or purifying effect on the body. (The fresh root is nourishing, whereas the dried root is purifying (Dass, 2013).) One easy way to take fresh ginger as a digestive is to make thin slices of the root, squeeze a bit of lemon or lime on top, add a pinch of salt, and simply chew before meals. This is a sure way to give the agni a little head start at mealtime.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel is special in that it stimulates agni without aggravating pitta dosha. People of a pitta nature generally have an inherently robust digestion, but even pittas can use an agni boost from time to time. Fennel is the perfect choice. Fennel has a sweet and slightly pungent taste, a cool energy, and an overall nourishing effect on the body (Dass, 2013).

Since it is sweet and nourishing, fennel is also an excellent choice for those of vata constitution (Dass, 2013). Dried and powdered fennel makes a lovely tea. Also, chewing on a few dry roasted fennel seeds after meals is a wonderful way to take in this pleasant and effective digestive spice.

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Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)

If you are looking for a heavy hitter, black pepper is a great choice. Black pepper is ideal for kapha dosha and those with a particularly sluggish digestion. This is because black pepper has a pungent taste, a heating energy, and a purifying effect on the body (Dass, 2013). These spicy little peppercorns are excellent for stimulating agni and helping the body to burn up ama (metabolic wastes and/or undigested food matter). Adding ground black pepper to your veggie curries and soups is an easy way to weave a little Piper nigrum into your daily meals. Also, black pepper is part of the potent digestive trifecta known as Trikatu, which consists of equal parts dry ginger, black pepper, and pippali (Piper longum). Trikatu is one of the premier herb blends used in Ayurveda for boosting agni.

If you are building digestive power, you may use spices generously in cooking. However, it is helpful to be aware of the energetics of the spices and how they affect your dosha so you can make the best choices. Some other excellent digestive spices include cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), cumin (Cuminum cyminum), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), and fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum).

Taking It All In

If building digestive power is your aim, it is wise to consider how you eat, what you eat, and the appropriate use of spices and seasonings. Ayurveda is not one-size-fits-all, so there are general guidelines that we can all follow for strengthening agni. Yet, one must always consider the constitution of the individual and tailor food choices and spices that are balancing and harmonizing.

On the whole, the pungent, sour, and salty tastes are best for stimulating agni, as well as foods that are warm, moist, and light. Also, we can all benefit from greater mindfulness around our eating. So, a great place to start for everyone is with the guidelines for healthy eating outlined in this article, remembering that how you eat is as important as what you eat.

An Ayurvedic Guide to Building Digestive Power | Herbal Academy | Come join us as we explore Ayurvedic methods for improving digestive health naturally, and ultimately, building digestive power.

REFERENCES

Dash, B. & Sharma, R.K. (2014). Caraka Samhita (Vols. 1 & 2). Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office.

Dass, V. (2013). Ayurvedic herbology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Frawley, D. (2000). Ayurvedic healing. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Lad, U. & Lad, V. (2009). Ayurvedic cooking for self-healing. Albuquerque, NM: The Ayurvedic Press.

Svoboda, R. (1999). Prakriti: your ayurvedic constitution. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Morningstar, A. (1995). Ayurvedic cooking for westerners. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Nourishing the Blood: TCM and Ayurvedic Perspectives

Nourishing the Blood: TCM and Ayurvedic Perspectives | Herbal Academy | Do you know that deficient and/or stagnant blood is behind so many maladies? Learn how nourishing the blood can amend and prevent so many problems.

Blood isn’t just platelets and plasma; it is our vitality. Blood carries the story of our ancestry. It is essential, and it is everywhere! Both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda share a recognition that blood operates within the larger and deeper context of our being. Both these ancient systems know that blood is vital and symbolic. It is both physical and archetypical, and carries meaning beyond its movement through capillaries, veins, and arteries. In thinking about the circulatory system and the blood that enlivens it, it is vital to understand this bodily system not just for its individual components and physical function, but for its significance on a primal, symbolic level.

In my own yoga and Ayurveda practices, I have personally become more motivated to better understand the pivotal role of blood and circulation. I am fascinated by how an imbalance in blood and circulation can be intimately linked to so many other health imbalances. Since blood is all-pervasive, it follows that improving the quality of one’s blood and circulation can assist in managing and preventing a vast array of physical, emotional, and psychological imbalances. The more I learn, the more I see how deficient and/or stagnant blood is behind so many maladies. By properly moving and nourishing the blood, one can potentially ameliorate and prevent so many problems.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective: An Interview With Dr. Morris

One person I knew I wanted to interview on this subject is Dr. William Morris, PhD, DAOM, RH(AHG). Dr. Morris has decades of clinical and academic experience in Chinese medicine. He is the President of 33 Publishing, and the former President, now faculty member of AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine in Austin, TX. I was delighted that Dr. Morris was willing to offer a bit of his time to speak on the subject of nourishing the blood. This is a synopsis of our conversation. The answers given are paraphrased from our conversation.

Nourishing the Blood: TCM and Ayurvedic Perspectives | Herbal Academy | Did you know that deficient and/or stagnant blood is behind so many maladies? Learn how nourishing the blood can amend and prevent so many problems.

Q: What is blood deficiency?

A: There are two common types of blood deficiency: low circulatory volume and low iron, as in cases of anemia. Low blood volume and deficient iron may or may not exist together.

Q: How do you detect blood deficiency? What are the signs?

A: There are a host of ramifications when the blood is low. One might see a sign or symptom, such as fainting, dizziness, and a weak, thin pulse. Some signs on the tongue are a pale tongue, pale lower eyelids, shortness of breath, and palpitations (a sensation of the heart beating in the chest or head). Deficient blood may also affect the intestinal tract, causing dry stools. One may also experience aches and malaise due to blood not moving effectively through the joints. Weak self-esteem, nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia may also be symptomatic of blood deficiency. There needs to be a confluence of signs based on what the practitioner sees and the client experiences to determine blood deficiency.

Q: What are some causes of blood deficiency?

A: There may be an inability to absorb nutrients, a loss of blood, or an inability to produce healthy blood cells. Genetic patterning, constitutional weakness, and weakness of organs and tissues can also cause blood deficiency. Our sources of nourishment are air, food, and our innate energetic capacity. If there is a compromise to any of these, then the vitality of the blood may be compromised. Digestion is also important. If someone is malnourished or not absorbing food properly, this will affect the state of the blood.

Nourishing the Blood: TCM and Ayurvedic Perspectives | Herbal Academy | Did you know that deficient and/or stagnant blood is behind so many maladies? Learn how nourishing the blood can amend and prevent so many problems.

Q: How do you work with blood deficiency?

A: A classic Traditional Chinese Medicine remedy is Four Things Soup. This formula moves the blood in order to create new blood. The herb dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is also classic for moving and nourishing the blood. It is important to understand that blood deficiencies can be local and/or systemic. If there is inadequate blood supply due to stress and constriction, dong quai would be indicated.

Diet and digestion must also be considered. I ask clients what their current diet consists of. Also, you need to find out if there is some type of accumulation and stagnation in the gut that is causing deficiency. Food stagnation causes impeded blood flow. If there is accumulation and stagnation, then eating less, eating lighter foods, and eating sprouts and other enzymatically rich foods would be indicated. Sprouted grains are useful, as is hawthorn berry (Crataegus oxycantha), which is an enzymatic agent. Inadequate exercise is another common cause of blood stasis.

If there is a weak stomach pulse and weakness in digestion along with blood deficiency, herbs that boost chi in combination with herbs that move blood would be indicated. Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) and ginseng (Panax ginseng) are helpful. Root veggies, daikon, yam, and chi tonics, such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) would also be indicated. Since chi is the commander of blood, one needs to strengthen the chi in order to produce blood. A classic formula for building blood and chi is dong quai boost blood decoction, which consists of ten times the amount of astragalus (Astragalus mongolicus) as dong quai. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) and peony (Paeonia) are also helpful for assisting in absorption and engaging the gut tract in its ability to generate nourishment. Also, cinnamon is vasodilatory. Cinnamon is diaphoretic, meaning it helps to dilate and open channels, and thus pull fluid into the vascular system.

Nourishing the Blood: TCM and Ayurvedic Perspectives | Herbal Academy | Did you know that deficient and/or stagnant blood is behind so many maladies? Learn how nourishing the blood can amend and prevent so many problems.

Q: How else do you address blood deficiency with diet?

A: Protein is important so this is a challenge for vegans and vegetarians. They need to solve the protein problem. Protein is hydrophilic. The way that it pulls fluids quickly increases circulatory volume. Anyone with blood deficiency needs good, clean protein that is digestible. Molasses on a cooked breakfast cereal grain is good for blood building. We want to ‘eat to taste’ in that your food should taste good and leave you feeling good after the meal. Furthermore, a tight stomach pulse means the patient is tense when they eat. Tension while eating will interfere with digestion.

Q: If blood deficiency goes unchecked, what are the potential risks?

A: To this, Dr. Morris responded with the comment, “That’s an interesting question.” He then posed this query: “What are the long-term ramifications of low self-esteem?” The long-term effects of blood deficiency relate to the long-term effects of low self-esteem, which relates to what we perceive as possible. Also, the connective tissue will not receive sufficient nourishment. There may be a compromise in terms of cognition, as well as fatigue. Fatigue affects one’s capacity to engage in all aspects of life. Fertility may also be compromised.

YIN AND YANG

Some final notes from Dr. Morris that I found particularly compelling were the relationship that he described between yin and yang, and how this relates to working with the blood. Blood deficiency will often result in excessive coldness. However, if someone is cold, Dr. Morris explained that you don’t necessarily want to give them exclusively warming herbs. Though yang is like the dry, sunny side of the hill, and yin is the cool, shady side, it is important to give a little yin to help transform the yang. Thus, herbs and foods that promote yin may be taken along with yang-promoting herbs and foods. Even if yang needs building, yin is needed to transform the yang.

Also, Dr. Morris greatly emphasized the archetypal significance of blood. He commented that blood is ceremonial. It relates to ritual and ancestry. When blood is depleted, there is a strong impact on the psyche.

Furthermore, as an Ayurvedic practitioner with limited knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine myself, I noted how similar the TCM and Ayurvedic approaches are. Though some of the herbal formulas may differ slightly, there is a shared approach in understanding the underlying cause of blood deficiency, as well as emphasis placed on digestive functioning and how we receive nourishment.

To learn more about Dr. Morris’s work, you can check out his books, such as TCM Case Studies: Dermatology, Transformation: Treating Trauma with Acupuncture and Herbs, and upcoming Cycles in Medical Astrology: Revolutionary Tools for the Practitioner. You can also learn more about his work at www.pulsediagnosis.com.

(Dr. William Morris, personal communication, February 15, 2018).

Ayurveda And Nourishing The Blood: A Conversation With Leah Kaplan, CAS

Nourishing the Blood: TCM and Ayurvedic Perspectives | Herbal Academy | Did you know that deficient and/or stagnant blood is behind so many maladies? Learn how nourishing the blood can amend and prevent so many problems.

To examine the Ayurvedic approach for understanding and working with blood deficiency, I had the pleasure of speaking with Leah Kaplan, Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. Leah is a former Intern Supervisor with the California College of Ayurveda and also served as an Ayurvedic Consultant for the NuPower Yoga Nutrition Program. She currently runs her own private practice, Thunderbolt Ayurveda in Petaluma, CA and sees clients in person as well as worldwide over Skype. This is a summary of our conversation. Her answers are paraphrased from our conversation.

Q: How do you detect imbalances related to the blood and/or circulatory system?

A: One of the signs is cold hands and feet whether or not the rest of the body has enough heat. Chronic fatigue is also a symptom. This indicates a lack of tejas. (Tejas is the purest form of pitta. Healthy tejas is expressed as a good sense of discrimination and a healthy level of zest and fire). If the skin looks pale and lacks luster, this indicates an insufficiency in the blood.

When there is heat in the rest of the body, but the hands and feet are cold, this may indicate that blood is trapped in the liver.

When I see people who have cold extremities but heat in the rest of body, I work with the situation like there is heat available, but it is trapped in the liver. One of the many functions of the liver is blood cleansing. The liver may be sluggish or backlogged, so to speak. In this case you need to give herbal, dietary, and lifestyle support to move the blood and free the liver.

One way to help stimulate a sluggish liver is to take about 2 ounces of aloe juice with ½ teaspoon turmeric 2x/day. This is a gentle liver cleanse. The practitioner could then add a liver tea to the protocol to get a stronger effect, such as a combination of rose (Rosa rugosa), hops (Humulus lupulus), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), and burdock (Arctium lappa). In this case one would start with one cup of tea per day, and gradually increase to three cups per day. The practitioner could decide to use the Ayurvedic herb kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa) as well if a stronger effect is needed.

Ayurvedically, we always start with digestion. Look for bloating, gas, and any signs of imbalanced agni. Start there. If you don’t start there, blood cannot be formed.

Nourishing the Blood: TCM and Ayurvedic Perspectives | Herbal Academy | Did you know that deficient and/or stagnant blood is behind so many maladies? Learn how nourishing the blood can amend and prevent so many problems.

Q: What are some helpful foods for building the blood?

A: Dates soaked in ghee with spices are great for building energy. Also, blood-colored foods such as beets and pomegranate juice are helpful. In some cases, iron supplements are appropriate. (Leah mentioned Gaia Plant Force Liquid Iron as a brand that she has worked and likes, because it is vegetarian and non-constipative).

If there is overall dryness and depletion, work with building ojas, which translates as ‘vigor’ or ‘prime energy of the body’ (Frawley, 2000). Healthy ojas gives rise to a strong immune system and an overall sense of contentment and resilience. In this case, add more juice and water to the diet. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.), shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), and other demulcents are also indicated to help build blood volume. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) is a good blood mover. The client may take cinnamon in capsule form, anywhere from 2-10 caps per day depending on the needs and constitution of the client.

Q: What are some causes of blood deficiency and/or circulatory problems?

A: Blood deficiency usually relates to a pitta or vata blood imbalance. Some factors to consider are: does the diet have nutritional holes and is the client overly dry, revealing a vata vitiation? Dryness can be expressed on all levels…a lack of ‘juice’ in one’s life as well as dry tissues. Circulation and the health of the blood is key to every part of the body. A lack of oxygen can lead to arthritis, edema, and a number of issues. If there is blood deficiency, the fatigue will only get worse over time. One measure of the state of vitality is when the client exercises, do they feel better or worse? If s/he feels more tired after exercising, then s/he doesn’t have the circulation to support that activity and the blood needs to be nourished.

Also, the practitioner may look at menstrual history. Has the menses been heavy for a long time? This can result in blood depletion.

Q: What are signs of improved blood balance?

A: When the initial symptoms of blood deficiency and/or stagnation are no longer present. Some indicators are consistent energy day-to-day, a healthy menstrual cycle, and absence of any heat imbalance (e.g., cold hands and feet and heat in other parts of the body).

Q: In Ayurveda, there is something called ojas, which is the most subtle form of kapha, and gives rise to an overall sense of contentment and vitality. How do you as a practitioner differentiate between blood deficiency and low ojas?

A: Ojas is the essence of pure kapha at its highest state. Blood is really related to pitta dosha. Are we looking to calm, build, or balance the fire element? Or are we looking to build kapha? However, the vitality of the blood will be necessary in building ojas. In this way the two are linked.

(Leah Kaplan, personal communication, February 20, 2018).

Closing Thoughts

My conversations with both Dr. Morris and Leah Kaplan, CAS, reminded me of the great wisdom and depth of knowledge encased in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. I was delighted by the perspectives that both practitioners offered in terms of viewing the problem of blood deficiency on the causal level, such as addressing digestion, absorption, menstrual patterns, and sources of nourishment. It is quite interesting that both traditions address the psychological ramifications of blood health. Vibrant, healthy blood isn’t just about the physical constituents. It correlates to our self-esteem, vitality, juiciness, and zest for life.

We cannot ignore the quality of our blood. It is essential on all levels and pervades all aspects of our body and being. Fortunately, through these deep traditions, we have tools for understanding, nourishing, and balancing our blood, our life juice, and thus our very ability to live a vibrant life.

Nourishing the Blood: TCM and Ayurvedic Perspectives | Herbal Academy | Did you know that deficient and/or stagnant blood is behind so many maladies? Learn how nourishing the blood can amend and prevent so many problems.

REFERENCES

Frawley, D. (2000). Ayurvedic healing: A comprehensive guide. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin: Lotus Press

Introduction to Ayurveda: What’s My Dosha?

Introduction to Ayurveda: What's My Dosha? | Herbal Academy | Are you mystified by Ayurveda concepts, or perhaps this is the very first time you are learning about them? Here's an introduction to Ayurveda to help you!

Ayurveda and the terms vata, pitta, and kapha are slowing making their way into alternative health lexicons. However, many readers may still be mystified by these concepts, or perhaps this is the very first time you are learning about these terms. This post is intended to provide you with a basic overview.

However, it is wise to keep in mind that Ayurveda, like yoga and all the ancient traditions, is an ocean of wisdom that is the product of thousands of years of practice, study, and observation. My hope here is to give you a peek into the wealth of wisdom that Ayurveda has to offer.

The Stuff Of Which We’re Made

Ayurveda and yoga philosophy all share the five element paradigm of physiology. This paradigm states that all things in nature, including you, me, the foods that we eat, and all that we take in through our five senses—are comprised of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. These elements exist in a very real way, and they can also be viewed as metaphors, with each element representing certain qualities.

Ether is in many ways the most important element because it is the great connector—the element that holds all the others. In many ways, it is also the most difficult to grasp. Similarly, a person who possesses a lot of the ether element can be a little hard to pin down at times. Ether represents connection, spaciousness, and possibility. Someone who is etheric is someone who is dreamy and imaginative. However, when an etheric person is put under pressure, they may simply disappear (i.e., shirk the work or responsibility rather than facing it head-on).

Air is the principle of motion. Someone who possesses a lot of the air element is likely to be bubbly, enthusiastic, and favorable to change and movement.

Introduction to Ayurveda: What's My Dosha? | Herbal Academy | Are you mystified by Ayurveda concepts, or perhaps this is the very first time you are learning about them? Here's an introduction to Ayurveda to help you!

Fire represents light, heat, and transformation. Fire is the predominant element in the pitta dosha, which I will explain momentarily.

Water is the concept of receptivity and flow. It describes our ability to be receptive, compassionate, and to flow with the changes of life.

Lastly, earth represents solidity and stability. A person with a lot of the earth element in their constitution will likely be quite methodical, stable, and reliable.

Meet The Three Doshas: Vata, Pitta, Kapha

These five elements meld together in various combinations to form the three doshas, known as vata, pitta, and kapha. Air and ether combine to make vata dosha. Fire and water unite to make pitta dosha. Earth and water merge to make kapha dosha.

Dosha means, ‘fault,’ or ‘to cause harm.’ Doshas are inherently neither good nor bad. However, when a dosha becomes excessive, the result is some form of imbalance—physical or emotional. Ayurveda considers disease to be the result of living out of harmony with nature—our nature as well as the natural world in which we live.However, to live in harmony with our nature, we must first understand what our unique nature or constitution is.

Everyone is made up of a one-of-a-kind balance of the three doshas. This is their prakruti. Some people predominate very strongly in one prakruti, or one dosha. Others have a dual prakruti, meaning that two of the doshas show up very strongly in that individual. Lastly, and most rare, is someone who is tridoshic, which means they possess an equal balance of all three doshas.

Now a little more on how vata, pitta, and kapha doshas present in individuals.

The Bumblebee

Vata, being made of air and ether, is dry, light, cold, rough, and mobile in nature. These qualities manifest in a vata’s physiology and psychology. Those with a predominant vata nature tend to be light of frame, with delicate features, and a tendency for dry skin. They also tend to enjoy movement, creative pursuits, and travel.

When a vata type is balanced, he or she will be enthusiastic, creative, and adaptable. However, when vata becomes excessive, symptoms include dry skin, nervousness, insomnia, and possibly constipation. Vata types are likened to a bumble bee in that they are light, quick, and tend not to stay in one place for too long.

Introduction to Ayurveda: What's My Dosha? | Herbal Academy | Are you mystified by Ayurveda concepts, or perhaps this is the very first time you are learning about them? Here's an introduction to Ayurveda to help you!

The Bull

Pitta consists of water and fire. This dosha is predominantly fiery in nature. The qualities of pitta dosha include sharp, hot, oily, and intense. Therefore, pittas tend to have a warmer complexion, robust circulation, angular features, and intense appetites.

When pittas are balanced, they are disciplined, logical, and can make strong teachers and leaders. They also tend to be quite driven and can become hypercritical and impatient when the flames of pitta are running high. Other symptoms of excessive heat, be they psychological or physiological (i.e., rashes, acne, inflammation), are considered to be manifestations of excessive pitta. Pitta types are likened to a bull or a tiger in that they are fierce and determined.

The Turtle

Kapha is comprised of earth and water, and thus reflects the qualities of those elements. These include heavy, dense, moist, cool, and slow. Strong kapha types have larger, rounded features, a voluptuous or solid build, large eyes, thick hair, and strong bones.

Some of the positive attributes of kapha are patience, loyalty, compassion, as well as being methodical and even-keeled. Vitiated (excessive) kapha presents as  symptoms such as lethargy, excess weight gain, water retention, and excess mucus. Kapha types are likened to a turtle in that they are slow, steady, and peaceful.

Introduction to Ayurveda: What's My Dosha? | Herbal Academy | Are you mystified by Ayurveda concepts, or perhaps this is the very first time you are learning about them? Here's an introduction to Ayurveda to help you!

Your Constitution, Then and Now

Typically when someone asks, “what’s your dosha?” they are referring to your prakruti or your original constitution. Ayurveda teaches that this unique balance of the doshas is fixed and does not change throughout your lifetime.

However, of perhaps greater importance, is your vikruti. Your vikruti is your current balance of the three doshas and can fluctuate day to day, month to month, and certainly through different phases of life.

It is important to understand both your prakruti and vikruti because this will provide you with immense and profound guidance regarding the foods, herbs, spices, and lifestyle practices that are most balancing to you.

It is important to have a consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner to get an accurate determination of your prakruti and vikruti. The intake process is extensive and thorough and takes into account short term and long term patterns. However, to get a glimpse, you can take various online quizzes such as this one provided by Maharishi Ayurveda or you can consult with the quizzes found in reputable Ayurvedic books, such as David Frawley’s Ayurvedic Healing or Dr. Vasant Lad and Usha Lad’s Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing.

Harmony Equals Health

Overall, the important truth to remember is that harmony equals health and disharmony equals disease.

When we live in a way that is balancing to our prakruti and vikruti, the result is health. When we make choices that aggravate our dosha, especially when those decisions are made repeatedly over time, the result is ill health.

Lastly, Ayurveda teaches that your body has an amazing capacity to self-heal. Your body is continually seeking homeostasis. Ayurveda is the practice of giving your body the tools it needs to heal itself. As Dr. David Frawley (2000) teaches, “We must ever seek greater life, light, and love because this is the nature of the universe itself” (p. 8).

Introduction to Ayurveda: What's My Dosha? | Herbal Academy | Are you mystified by Ayurveda concepts, or perhaps this is the very first time you are learning about them? Here's an introduction to Ayurveda to help you!

REFERENCES

Frawley, D. (2000). Ayurvedic healing. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Halpern, M. (2012). Principles of ayurvedic medicine. Nevada City, CA: CA College of Ayurveda.

Lad, U. & V. (2009). Ayurvedic cooking for self-healing. Albuquerque, NM: The Ayurvedic Press.

Find It and Grind It: The Medicinal Power of Common Kitchen Spices

‘Tis the season for heavier eating in New England. Roasts, root veggies, soups, and stews take center stage in keeping us warm for the cold months ahead. But it’s during the holiday months in particular our natural instinct to “pack it on” can go array and leave us feeling bloated, constipated, and foggy in head.  

Ayurvedic medicine uses a pantheon of botanical remedies in healing and a large part of its daily practice takes place right in your kitchen. Whether it’s a root, a fruit, a seed, or a leaf, Ayurveda has a use for it. Actually, Ayurveda probably has a few uses for it! Cook your veggies, grains, legumes, or meat with any combination of these and stoke your agni (digestive fire). Here are my five “top guns” in my spice rack and why you should have them too.  Continue reading “Find It and Grind It: The Medicinal Power of Common Kitchen Spices”

7 Tips from Nature for Keeping Healthy this Fall

Ayurveda: the science of life. Not everyone is familiar with the term, but that doesn’t discredit the physical and mental benefits that can accompany Ayurvedic practices. Ayurveda is an ancient holistic science — dating back at least 5,000 years — that focuses on finding harmony with one’s environment.

It’s not hard to find the goodness in Ayurveda; it can be achieved by anyone interested in bettering mental or physical balance. Really, it’s just a matter of changing your ways to best align with your natural surroundings. Think about the summer heat, for example. This climate is best paired with iced beverages or cool, juicy melons. Hot surroundings and cooling consumables — see the balance? Continue reading “7 Tips from Nature for Keeping Healthy this Fall”