SleepIf you have trouble sleeping, you may want to stay awake for a little longer and read this. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 30% of the general population have difficulties with sleep. And if you are one of those people, you know how disruptive a lack of sleep can be.
According to Ayurveda, there are three main bioenergies: vata, pitta, and kapha. All people have a mixture of these energies: vata is the energy of movement, pitta is the energy of digestion, and kapha is the energy of structure and cohesion. Each person’s physical and mental constitution has a predominance of one of two of these energies. It’s rare that a person is perfectly balanced.
Sleep disorders tend to affect people who have a predominance of vata and pitta. Here are some ways you can get your sleep issue to quiet down if you happen to be vata, pitta, or vata-pitta constitution. Kapha constitutions rarely have trouble falling asleep, unless you happen to have aggravated your vata or pitta energy.
Here are 11 ways to get better sleep between the sheets.
  1. Routine. Stick to a regular routine. Get up at the same time every day and go to sleep around the same time, preferably early to rise, early to bed, unless your work schedule dictates otherwise. Keep mealtimes around the same time every day. Routine helps to balance the vata energy by bringing a sense of stability into life.
  2. Avoid stimulation in the evening. Too much movement, TV, computer use at night will keep the vata energy active and awake. If you really want to get some Zzz’s, minimize your computer and TV time, and definitely don’t fall asleep watching TV or don’t watch news on terror attacks before retiring. It will only activate your fears. Make sure to get your exercise in a few hours before bed. Yes, it’s essential to exercise, but you don’t really need to train for the Ironman at 11pm.
  3. Massage every day. In Ayurveda, abyhanga is massage and everyone can do a self massage on themselves, particularly before bed. Use oily lubrication with sesame oil if you are vata, or coconut oil if you are pitta, and ghee for both doshas can settle the overactive energy. Massage the soles of your feet with ghee, your tummy, and the space in between your eyebrows. Wear socks if you are concerned about oil on the bed. Vata and touch go hand in hand. Touch is essential for bringing that active energy down a notch. And if you like, try to do an oil massage with sesame or coconut oil on your head. Your nervous system will thank you. Use a towel on your pillow and keep the oil on your hair overnight. Shampoo in the morning.Massage
  4. Eat dinner early. If you have a tendency toward excess acid, gastric reflux esophageal disease (GERD), ulcers, heartburn, or you just love to eat tomatoes and pasta and cheese at night, you may experience that excess pitta (fire) moving back up towards your esophagus. It doesn’t feel good. And Tums and Maolox are only trying to balance the acid with something alkaline, not really getting to the root of the problem. Eat dinner early. Avoid spicy foods. Go for a slow walk after. Your food will stay down – where it belongs.
  5. Avoid sour, fermented foods if you have a pitta temperament. Ok. So, this one is a little more Ayurvedic-speak. The best thing is if you are a type A personality who has a tendency towards getting angry and upset, avoid any fiery sour and fermented foods such as tomatoes, soy sauce, chili peppers, etc. These which will increase the fire, bring up the acid, and cause some gas in your stomach. Not to mention, they will make you feel irritable and annoyed, plus hot at night. Just don’t do it.
  6. Take a warm bath and throw in some Epsom salt – it’s cheap! Forget the Vogue $75 remedy. Just go to the drugstore, put some epsom salts in your warm bath, and relax. Epsom salts have magnesium which is a smooth muscle relaxant and can help those aches and pains and cramps.
  7. Block out the light and sounds. The eyes which do everything all day to help you see are one of the organs of pitta (fire and light). Wear an eye mask to bed. Turn off the lights. Save on electricity as well by dimming the lights at night or perhaps use some candles…. but cautiously and blow out before sleep! Ear plugs as well will help block out noise – the ears are an organ of vata… so quiet time is a good thing for sleep.
  8. Put some organic almond oil in your ears and eyes. Ok. Yes, it sounds strange, but again, the oily lubrication will calm down your nerves and your vata. Only do this right before bed because you won’t be able to see much after putting a drop or two of oil in your eyes. Yes, things will be blurry. It’s oil, but after you lay down, your nervous system will CALM DOWN. And this is just what you need when you want to sleep. If you wear contacts – don’t put oil in your eyes with contacts in your eyes. Your contacts will be ruined. Remove the contact lens. Almond oil balances all the doshas. And when you put the oil in your ears, just a few drops are good, use a cotton ball to soak up the excess.
  9. Stay peaceful during the day. Anger, annoyance, and other mental problems will only follow you to bed and your dreams. Your chest will tighten up. You may feel upset and you will only do what anyone does when they are upset – obsess over the situation over and over. Forget about it, as they say in Brooklyn… or is it Fuggedabout it.3683431099_deae7288c1_m
  10. Take up a reduced-stress-lifestyle. Catch a yoga class from time to time. Meditate by sitting still every day for 15-20 minutes. OK, even three minutes helps…when you close your eyes, and just focus on the present moment without judgment. Get a massage. Try acupuncture. Lay on the ground. Be still. Spend a lot of time in savasana: practice corpse pose. Spend some time in nature which is super grounding. Look at the stars and sky. Breathe. Learn alternate nostril breathing from a certified yoga teacher to balance the ida (cool/moon/female/left nostril) and pingala (hot/sun/male/right nostril) energies.
  11. Come for an Ayurvedic consultation with a professional doctor. Ayurveda is an ancient science and sometimes you really just need some health guidance. Maybe you really ARE eating all the wrong foods. Maybe you did have too many kale cold smoothies and your vata is way sky high. Perhaps your colon is constipated and your vata energy is imbalanced. Ayurveda has many herbal formulas and herbs to help ground your vata energy or soothe the pitta in you. Jatamansi, nutmeg, ghee, rose, valerian root, ashwaghanda, jyotishmati, sandalwood, and other herbs in the proper ratios will bring down the energy, and keep it right where it belongs – in bed.
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You know that post. You see something on Facebook, and you’re like what?

Ginger for indigestion? Well, that depends.

Ginger Root, An Ayurvedic herb

Fresh Ginger Root

One thing about Ayurveda and herbal medicine is that it depends…  

One of the first things is to gather enough data.

Data involves subjective and objective information. Gather objective data, such as blood reports or vital signs such as heart rate, breathing/respiratory rate, blood pressure, temperature and pain.

Ask the patient what is happening within their body – this is a subjective telling of the situation. Find out patient history, family history. Data also includes environmental situation: the place, climate, situation, timing. In addition, a current physical examination is needed.

During an Ayurvedic consultation, an Ayurvedic Doctor will first look at the patient (sanskrit: darshanam). Second, the Ayurvedic Doctor will ask questions about physical, mental, and social health (sanskrit: parshanam). Third,  the Ayurvedic Doctor will feel the patient’s pulse and take other vital signs (sanskrit: sparshanam). The doctor will conduct a pulse analysis, eye examination, tongue analysis and perhaps a few more things. From this data, the Ayurvedic practitioner will ask the patient some questions.

For example, “Please tell me about your indigestion. Are you having bloating? What kinds of foods are you eating? Spicy? Eating late? How long has this been happening? Is there a family history of indigestion, gastric reflux, digestive issues?”

In the case of indigestion or gastric reflux, this common digestive problem could be a pitta issue: essentially this means too much heat or acid in the body. Especially now that summer is here, a pitta person who has eaten too many spicy and fiery foods (chili peppers, black pepper, kimchi, tomatoes, tomato sauce, fermented foods, alcohol, vinegar, coffee, fried foods, sour foods) may develop some acid reflux, which is essentially stomach acid backing up into the esophagus.

Chili peppers

Chili peppers increase heat in the body.

Pachak pitta, present in the stomach, backs up into the esophagus.  Symptoms could be pressure or burning. The important part is to see a medical doctor or Ayurvedic physician or other qualified practitioner. The symptoms of gastric reflux could also be a heart issue. These things are best left to the professionals. Again, data is needed. When talking in Ayurvedic terms, is it too much pitta, not enough kapha or just too much pitta and too much vata?

In Ayurveda, herbal medicine is given to treat an individual, rather than a disease process. 

The pitta dosha or constitution describes a person who mostly has the fire and water elements. This person, with a medium build frame, has a body which is often hot. A pitta person may be prone to allergies, rashes, gastric reflux (GERD), fits of anger, burning urination issues such as cystitis, migraines, and many other “hot” inflammatory problems. Pitta People are often focused, intelligent, driven leaders. The downside of pitta is that this same concentrated “fire” can also manifest as anger. Keep in mind that most people are usually a combination of vata, pitta, kapha – it’s not common that the person is only vata, only pitta, or only kapha.

So, back to the original question? Is ginger good for indigestion? Well, ginger can be good for digestion as it’s stimulates gastric fire and it is very good for nausea, that feeling of queasy stomach and upward moving wind. It also balances the vata element. But too much ginger is the summer will add to the heat issue. Ginger used alone could make the issue worse.

The reason is fresh ginger is a warm pungent (has elements of fire and earth) rhizome and it will increase acid reflux or GERD because of it’s warming and stimulating qualities. Dry ginger is even more heating than fresh ginger because the water element has “dried” up or left.

It’s best for a pitta person to avoid using too much ginger in the hot summer months. The bottom line is hot + hot + hot = even more hot.

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What is pain?

You know it, you’ve felt it, you’ve had it. But, what is it? If you have ever had the experience of going to an emergency room with pain, the nurse or doctor asked you to rate your pain using a number scale. Is it a 0 meaning no pain, or is 10 being the most pain you ever had? Describe it’s location, what does it feel like? Does it move? Radiate? You probably thought to yourself, it hurts!

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Like a slippery thing, pain is hard to grasp.

In Ayurveda, where there is pain, there is vayu. Vayu can be translated loosely as wind, and vayu is a general term for the combination of two elements:  air and space. When air and space combine, they create vayu, usually referred to as vata. According to the Charak Samhita, vayu is “life, strength, and sustainer of creatures.” If vayu moves unimpeded, a person lives a healthy life and without problems. It is responsible for movement, and it has qualities of being mobile, light, cold, rough, clear, subtle, and dry. The best analogy is wind. You can feel it, but you can’t see it – you can only see the results of its action.

This vayu in the body is of five types and has different movements such as upward, downward, circular, and inward. If you are a yoga teacher, you have heard of these vayus: prana vayu, udana vayu, samana vayu, apana vayu, and vyana vayu. When vayu is disturbed, it can create many problems, eighty different health problems as mentioned in Chapter 20 in the Sutrasthana. Therefore, it’s important to keep one’s winds or vayus in balance. Depending on where vata or vayu (used as synonyms) is imbalanced, it manifests as different health conditions: stiffness in joints, limping, heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, numbness, neuropathy, piercing pain, convulsions, exhaustion, constipation, and many other problems. All of these conditions listed here will cause a person pain: physical and mental pain.

Things that can disturb vata include injury, improper foods, excessive movements, fear, fasting, rough, cold, little food, light food, and improper detoxification (juice fasting, colonics, etc. if they don’t agree with your body type).

To balance a vitiated (disturbed) dosha (constitution), or to remedy an overabundance of wind in the body, Ayurveda suggests that oily, heavy, unctuous substances are used.  Herbs and oils with specific properties and energies balance the wind. Think of a windbreaker keeping you protected from the wind.

So, it you have any ailments listed above, it’s possible that your vayus are out of balance. Herbs, diet and nutrition, massage, meditation, relaxation, warmth, light yoga, and breathing exercises have been known to balance vata. (Meditation, breathing exercises, etc. done improperly can also imbalance vata).

Ashwagandha is one of the best herbs for balancing vata, and it is a root powder which helps the nervous system and stress. (Roots in general help to balance vata).

Warming and pungent herbs such as ginger, black pepper, pippali (long pepper), also called trikatu, and a full daily body massage with sesame oil help to “ground” the air and space elements. Other vata balancing herbs are great for insomnia, depression, and other mental worries and stress. Oil enemas are one of the best ways to pacify or reduce an overabundance of vata. If you have knee pain or back pain, janu basti or kati basti using medicated oils can bring your vayu under control alleviating the source of the pain.

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Massage and touch and oil helps to balance vata. Try giving yourself a self-massage everyday to relieve stress and anxiety.

It’s best to have a consultation with a qualified or experienced practitioner before trying any therapies. Trikatu, for example, can balance vata, but also irritate a person with a pitta constitution, so solving one problem and creating another can happen if you use a remedy which is not for your body and mind.

Quote taken from the Charak Samhita p. 461, 2nd volume: Chikitsasthanam. PV Sharma translation

Photo Credit for Pain Photo

Photo Credit  for Massage Photo

 

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What is Ama? 

Ama (pronounced aamaa) is a kind of toxin (free radical) which is a residue of our nutrition due to poor digestive fire or other habits. This residue can stagnate or accumulate in our body channels creating disease.

Symptoms of ama present in our body:

Weakness, laziness, irritability, stress, loss of appetite, bloating after eating, heartburn, gas formation in intestinal tract, constipation or diarrhea, bad breath, strong odors, coated tongue, turbid urine, thick white coating on the tongue, sluggish, body aches and pains, lack of energy, fatigue, low immunity, frequent colds, recurrent infections, weight gain, skin breakouts, gassiness, stinky stool, foggy thinking, unable to focus, generally unmotivated in life.

Modern diagnostics signs of ama: high triglycerides, atherosclerosis, late-onset diabetes, high blood sugar levels, some forms of depression, rheumatoid factor, candida, high liver enzymes, gallstones, kidney stones, allergies

Toxin

What causes ama? 

Once this undigested matter accumulates in the body the digestive functions become weak and this leads to a weakened immune system. Ama is primarily due to low agni and from food that isn’t being digested properly. Agni is a sanskrit word that is derived from the same root as the latin word ‘ignite’. A strong agni is very important as it is the strong fire of our agni that has the ability to digest everything we eat and burn up any ama in our system. So, if our agni is weak, our fire will not be strong enough for proper digestion. Foods we don’t fully digest will form ama.

 The main causes of ama are: 

low digestive fire, low cellular/tissue fire, waste accumulation, environmental pollution, and negative thoughts

Ways toxins and ama are created in our body:

  • poor diet
  • eating too much in the evening
  • not making lunch the main meal
  • ice-cold drinks and cold foods
  • old, stale and packaged foods
  • overeating
  • eating too fast
  • not paying attention while eating (watching TV, reading, checking emails)
  • eating while emotionally upset
  • caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs
  • stressful lifestyle
  • irregular daily routine
  • not moving your body regularly
  • not meditating regularly

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Ways to reduce ama

  • Proper breathing
  • Proper drinking
  • Proper eating
  • Eating warm and freshly cooked foods that are light and easy to digest and suitable for the person’s body type and the season
  • Eating slowly and chewing well
  • Eating your main meal at noon (when your digestive fire is at its peak)
  • Eat three meals at the same time every day
  • Avoid eating late at night
  • Going to bed early and rising at 6 am
  • Sipping hot water throughout the day (heat transforms the ama and the liquids help it out of the body)
  • Use of warm spices such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne and black pepper
  • Avoiding veggies from the nightshade family (tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplants, potatoes)
  • Take herbal medicine such as Trikatu and Triphala and aloe vera juice
  • Deep breathing
  • Sweating
  • Having a regular daily routine
  • Massages
  • Seasonal cleanses
  • Proper sleep

A balanced diet, lifestyle, and exercise routine are important places to begin. You can also do a whole body cleanse a few times a year.

Warning: You should not detox without first going to see an Ayurvedic practitioner.

Photo Credit: Toxins

Photo Credit: Inhale Exhale

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Ayurvedic Detox

Now that spring is approaching, you may have read about many ways to detox your body. You may have read about juice fasts or fermented foods or the master cleanse (lemon juice, cayenne pepper, maple syrup). You may be trying to cut out certain foods altogether; for example, eating a gluten free diet, or cutting out sodas. All of these ways of detoxing the body may be good, or they can be harmful.

Ayurveda is an ancient way of living that goes back more than 5,000 to India. The ancient sages discovered this science of life, and wrote down this information for us, and passed it down from teacher to student. Ayurveda is a tried and true method of bringing proper results. Ayurvedic detox is a way of eliminating excess from your body, whether it is sodium, sugar, fat, or other toxins.

In Ayurveda, detoxing is a way of eliminating toxins from the body. Toxins are called ama. This ama can build-up in the body and cause many problems. Ama (pronounced aamaa) is a kind of toxin (free radicals) which is a residue of our nutrition due to poor digestive fire. This residue can stagnate or accumulate in our body channels creating different kinds of diseases. When our body has disease, it means the three bio energies of vatalam, pittalam, shleslam (vata, pitta, kapha) are blocked in a particular area and ama builds up. Another name for ama is free radicals. You may have heard of antioxidants. Antioxidants combine with these free radicals to minimize cellular damage. It is believed that free radicals lead to aging and other health issues.

Detox as per Ayurveda

With all these detoxes, which one is best for you? Ayurveda never agrees with an extreme way of detoxing. Extreme is always harmful; any kind of drastic cleansing is not good because it imbalances our three doshas. The body needs vitamins and minerals and if you detox improperly, vitamins and minerals come out of the body. In Ayurveda, even the excretions such as feces, urine, sweat are integral to the body. If these wastes are eliminated in drastic ways, it will cause damage to your body. For example if you have too much vomiting, you could throw off the pH balance, or cause some ulceration in your body.

If you detox your body properly, you can live a long life without any diseases, without any troubles. What happens if you don’t detox your body? If you don’t detox properly, then you will have many health troubles, and these stresses lead to the shortness of your life. Detoxing increases the quality of life and the length of life. Allowing ama to accumulate decreases the quality of life (wellness and health) and the lifespan.

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