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Tulsi, Tulasi, or Holy Basil is a wonderfully fragrant plant considered sacred, even an earthly manifestation of the Great Mother. It has many uses in your medicine chest: it helps relieve fever by inducing sweating (though in lung infections with high Pitta, combine with other cooling herbs as Tulsi has an overall heating action), boosts digestive fire and thus enhances digestion (and combined with ginger, fennel, and/or cardamom helps with flatulence and malabsorption), it clears mucus (kapha) from the lungs and can increase lung capacity. It increases prana (life energy), helps move apana (the action of prana to move downwards and outwards) in its proper direction as well as move excess Vata (air and space element) through the intestines and calms the digestive tract. It can even help reduce weight, blood sugar, and total cholesterol levels.

Make a tea from the leaves to reduce tension headaches from high Vata (which manifests as anxiety) and congestive headaches from high Kapha (which manifests as excess mucus). Sweeten with honey to help with decongestion.

I was gifted a live Tulsi plant at my graduation from Kripalu School of Ayurveda – starting as a small (about 3″ tall) plant, it has grown to about a foot tall and bushed out considerably – I like to make a tea from a few of its leaves combined with mint that has taken over a corner of my yard and sometimes fresh grated ginger (sweetened with honey or raw sugar). Having moved it from its small pot to a larger one, it seems to be sprouting some babies (I have it outside, so I will have to observe if they are in fact baby Tulsi or some other seed that blew in). I hope I can keep this wonderful plant growing through Maryland’s winter so I can continue to enjoy its heavenly scent and divine flavor….

fiery roses

fire!

Summer solstice – the sun has reached its most northern point in the sky and days are longest. Heat is building in the atmosphere and if we all still lived in harmony with nature, heat would be building in us; but air conditioning keeps us cool, iced drinks cools us more, cold foods….

Yet, all this cold doesn’t keep us cool when we go back outside in the heat and may even aggravate heat further. Pitta, nature’s fire, has its place in the universe and in us. The cycle of the seasons ensures continuation of the cycle of life. In our bodies pitta manifests as agni, the digestive fire. Too much as we become angry, hot-tempered, with acid indigestion or reflux, itchy skin eruptions, and rashes. Too little and we can’t fully digest our food. In nature, if it were winter all the time seeds could not germinate and grow. In us if our agni grows cold we will be unable to properly digest our food.

So how do we keep cool during hot summer months? By learning about the foods Mother Nature provides for us during the season that balance heat naturally – sweet, bitter, and astringent foods like all the fresh greens coming from our local organic farms, fruits (excepting sour ones), sweet grains like rice, oats, wheat, and corn; dairy (except for cultured dairy which can cause problems), and cooling spices like coriander, cumin, fennel, mint, and turmeric.

Now is a good time to eat more like a vegetarian as your digestive fire is better able to deal with raw or lightly cooked foods (save the heavy, difficult to digest meats for cooler weather and winter, when you need to build bulk). And protect your agni by avoiding ice cold food and drink. You can even use coconut oil as your massage oil or moisturizer, drink coconut water to rehydrate (better tasting than those nasty sports drinks), and spritz yourself with a rose water spray.

Keep agni protected (not too little, not too much) and you will be rewarded with a survivable summer. Let it go out and when winter comes the fire that should keep you warm won’t be there to protect you; build it too high with spicy foods and you may burn out!

The mist on the lake
rises to greet the morning.
The world comes alive!

The philosophy of Ayurveda teaches that it is important to your health to rise before dawn; when all is quiet outside, the mind can be quiet inside. Brahma Muhurta roughly translates as “time of Universal Consciousness (Brahma)”. It’s the best time for spiritual practices such as meditation, yoga and qigong. By practicing before you get caught up in your daily activities you can establish yourself in the calm and thus avoid allowing others’ agitation affect you.

Getting up early doesn’t have to be painful but does require getting to sleep early enough to allow for 7 – 9 hours of rest. You may have to Tivo your favorite late night shows or give up your attachment to them so you can keep your mind open to the new experience of getting in touch with your deepest self. Try adapting the following basic daily routine to your own needs for at least one month and then assess if your energy is increased, your mind is calmer, and your body more limber and balanced.

Awaken between 4 – 6 am. Eliminate wastes (ideally, you should have a bowel movement when you get up – within 1/2 hour of waking; if you don’t, you may have too much dryness in the colon or your routine is too chaotic, or your diet needs to be adjusted). If eliminating early is difficult, or if you see a thick whitish coating on your tongue, drink a cup of hot water to facilitate a bowel movement.

Brush your teeth, take your warm shower, and rub some warm sesame oil into your entire body (you may also rub the oil in before your shower, then brush teeth, etc, before showering off the excess – no soap! it’s supposed to be absorbed…); use your neti pot to rinse pollen and dirt out of your nose, and rub a little sesame oil in your nostrils to keep dirt and pollen out!

Do your spiritual practice, as long as you have to devote to it – as little as ten minutes per day can give you huge benefits over time!

Leave enough time to make yourself a warm, nourishing breakfast – some eggs poached over fresh veggies, cooked steel cut oats…. Concentrate on the sensations of your meal rather than watching TV or reading the paper. Avoid eating too fast or chewing too little – sit down and enjoy!

Have your lunch at midday – between 11 – 2 pm, when the sun is highest in the sky, or when you feel hungry. If you don’t have the time to make a healthful meal for yourself choose wisely from what is available commercially. Avoid highly processed “foods”. At the same time, don’t make the mistake of eating too little at lunch or you will eat too much at dinner or snack on whatever you can get your hands on in the afternoon. If you have time, you can take a short walk after eating so you assimilate your food better. Make a note if you start to feel sleepy after eating – you may have difficulty digesting some foods and the brain pulls energy from your waking mind when the body needs more energy to digest.

When you are ready for your dinner, again make it a warm nourishing one made from fresh ingredients. Meals do not have to be elaborate; simple ingredients prepared with love (and perhaps some wonderful spices like coriander, turmeric, and cumin to enhance flavor while improving digestion) can provide a wealth of nutrition in a short preparation time. Be sure to give yourself enough time to digest your meal fully before winding down for the evening. If you wish to get to bed between 10 – 11 pm give yourself 2 hours for digestion and one hour for winding down (that means turn off the TV, computer, music, etc that can agitate the mind and make it difficult to fall asleep easily).

If you need to eliminate a few unnecessary things in the process of building this new routine, do so – if you still miss them one month later you may be able to find a better time to fit them in (I like to watch The Daily Show, but no longer watch it at 11 pm – there are re-runs during the day and it’s available online anytime!). If these things you’ve eliminated give you a bit more time for more important things, great!

But most important is whether you notice this new routine increases your “happiness quotient” overall – give up something good to make room for something better and find that true contentment lies within you. Awaken it!

Know how deep it is
When you jump in the river
so you are not lost…

wave rolls in

Do you see sharp rocks?
Is there an undercurrent
that would drag you down?

Knowledge is power,
Compassion is protection
for the soul’s journey.

Dr. Vasant Lad taught this past weekend at the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, demonstrating how he evaluates clients and helps them to understand their underlying energetic imbalances which drive their physical, emotional, and spiritual issues. His grasp of this ancient science is comprehensive, covering the practical and poetic. Each day we began by attempting to follow his beautiful Sanskrit chanting, we listened to how gently and respectfully he drew out sensitive information from the volunteers who were looking for healing, and we marveled at how many ways he could find to explain the Ayurvedic perspective on how each person’s current condition came to express itself as well as how he or she could find balance and maintain it.

As the KSA 4 class of Ayurveda nears its conclusion (but our education will not!) we are beginning to find our way towards our own unique integrations of what we have learned with what we already know. But in a way, this ancient knowledge is already inside our deepest selves, we are simply learning how to access our innate intelligence in order to help others do the same.

To begin your journey, look for the Ayurvedic Natural Lifestyle group on Facebook, and become a fan of The Well-Seasoned Life (also on Facebook).

the great blizzard of 2010

a view out my side door....

Spring is coming (I keep hoping, since I have about another ton of snow to move from my yard) and you may wish to think about “cleansing” your body in preparation. Your winter diet should be a bit heavier and oilier to ground your mind, moisten your skin, and lubricate your joints but the warmer weather will begin to liquify excess “kapha”, the arrangement of the five great elements in which earth and water elements predominate. If you don’t change your eating habits you will risk gaining and holding onto excess weight and you may risk having a tougher time with seasonal allergies, especially if your nature (prakriti) is kapha dominant.

Our bodies need water but the water element has qualities of coldness and heaviness, just like kapha. Ayurveda recommends that you drink your water warm as cold foods and fluids can weaken your digestive fire (agni). The classics contain an additional recommendation for water which changes its nature, making it lighter and changing its potency (virya) from cold (sheeta) to warm (ushna).

The recipe follows the same method used for making medicinal decoctions; you take x amount of water and bring it to a boil over medium heat (no nuking!) and cook it until the volume is decreased by half, ie 4 cups of water boil down to 2 cups of water. Once this is done you have “ushnodaka”, or warm (boiled) water which is good for cleansing. Be sure to drink it within 24 hours, like all medicines (and foods) in ayurveda you want to consume everything fresh! You won’t need to re-heat the water after it cools as its nature is now warm.

This ushnodaka (ushna, warm; odaka, water) can be the first step in a mini panchakarma (5 actions) which you can perform at the juncture of the seasons. Over the course of one day, you would take the following steps:
Dipana/Pachana: protecting and stoking your digestive fire
Snehana: self massage with warm oil which is appropriate for your nature (sesame for vata, sunflower for pitta, mustard for kapha)
Swedana: sweating, which can be done using vigorous exercise or by setting up a humidifier in a closed room such as your shower.
Then comes your Karma (action); warm oil basti (enema) removes excess vata from the colon, virechana (purging with herbs; you may also use milk, triphala, or castor oil) removes excess pitta from the small intestine, vamana (vomiting after drinking large quantities of salt water; I know, bleah) removes excess kapha from the stomach. If this part really doesn’t appeal to you, do the other parts and eat lightly before, during, and after.

A light diet would consist of things like kitchari (basmati rice and split mung dal). If you were to do the full mini-pk, you would have rice water that day and kitchari the second day when hungry.

In general, you would remove excess kapha in winter/spring, excess pitta in summer/fall, and excess vata in fall/winter. In this way you can avoid experiencing the maladies associated with accumulation and aggravation of the doshas (vata/pitta/kapha) such as constipation, gas and bloating, extremely dry skin, cracking joints, excess mucus, sinus infections, acid reflux, weight gain, and more!

If you aren’t sure what you need to remove or need more guidance, make an appointment with your friendly neighborhood Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant for advice. We will be happy to help you on your journey to natural health.

During the blizzard of 2010

The back-to-back blizzards that shut down much of the East Coast present a wonderful opportunity to solidify your personal Yoga practice; if you have a long term regular comprehensive routine, perhaps you’ve noticed that it has helped with your energy, your strength, and your recovery from the massive amounts of repetitive work required to move up to 3 feet of the white stuff from sidewalks and driveways. At least we took some time off from shoveling to rest while the second storm worked its magic (at least, I did!).

If you took time off from your practice instead, you may be noticing the strain; while Yoga won’t prevent muscle aches and pains from overuse, lack of it may make those pains a lot worse. Here’s a simple, effective practice to do in the mornings, as well as some lifestyle tips that may help you recover more quickly.

When you awaken in the morning, do the usual stuff: pee, poop, brush teeth, shower…. If you have difficulty moving your bowels try drinking a cup of warm water (warm enough to make tea with). If your skin tends to be very dry in winter, if you have a bottle of sesame oil handy take it into the shower with you to warm and afterwards thoroughly rub some of it into your skin (start at your feet and work up your legs, then do your arms working from wrist to shoulder, then rub some into your belly using circular motions from the right side up and over under your ribs and then down the left side. Don’t forget your back, shoulders, and neck!). If you feel dry in your nasal passages, purchase a neti pot and neti salt (a very fine grained salt with no added iodine or anti-caking agents) and begin to use it; regular jala neti will not only lubricate your nasal passages but rinse out mucus and any dust, pollens, molds and fungi that stick to it. You can then put a little sesame oil on your little fingers to rub up your nose, which then helps keep new contaminants out.

Now you are fully ready for practice! Do as much or as little as you need; you only need to practice enough to remove stiffness and soreness from your body. Later, with regular practice, you will find that your capacity is increasing and you can then add to your routine. We will shortly begin uploading video routines to our new virtual Yoga studio, The Well-Seasoned Life at http://www.harmonyswell.com/anglesyoga; we will have free content as well as the opportunity to sign up for access to more personalized content.

First, clear the stagnation and stiffness from your joints. Begin by circling your ankles; you may do this standing or seated but remember to be gentle and relaxed, gradually increasing range of motion if you have any restrictions to movement. Be sure to circle in both directions.

Next, focus on your neck where it joins the head. Pretend you are making circles with your nose against a fogged up mirror. Start with small circles and only increase the size of your circle if there is no pain, clicking, or “crunchiness” in your neck. Do the same number of circles to both directions.

Now work on your shoulders; make small gentle shrugs in each direction avoiding pain and crunchiness.

With your wrists, bring your palms together and lace all of your fingers together. Touch your forearms together and bring your elbows up to the level of your shoulders. Start sliding your forearms up and down against each other, making your wrists bend to one side and then the other. Once this motion is established, add a little turn to the wrists so you make a figure 8 circle.

Now take a wide stance with your feet (not too wide). Swing your arms from one side to the other, allowing your torso to turn with them; try not to twist your hips too much, but turn your head to look over each shoulder and feel your spine begin to loosen up. Be gentle and do as many swings as you can, the more you do the more your spine opens up!

You can now pretend you are using a hula hoop; keep your feet planted and imagine that your head is stuck to the ceiling. Begin making circles with your hips, emphasizing the lubrication of your hip sockets.

Lastly, try making a wavelike motion of your spine beginning with the tailbone tucking under and slowly rolling up your spine with the head coming up last before dropping down and beginning again. Don’t worry if you don’t get this right away; it takes much practice as well as internal awareness of each part of your spinal column. You can leave this part out if things get too frustrating and wait for the video!

When you are finished, be sure to eat a healthy breakfast; cooked cereal like steel cut oats, or scrambled eggs, something warm and nourishing. Avoid eating and drinking cold foods and drinks so your digestive fire remains strong and able to help you assimilate the nutrients you need to rebuild your muscles. You never know when the next SnowPocalypse will occur!

One of the most potent and versatile foods in Ayurvedic cooking is ghee, made by cooking high quality butter over a low flame until the proteins and sugars cook out and water evaporates. The pure fat is left behind, fragrant and delicious; it doesn’t need to be refrigerated as the fat is fully saturated and thus cannot become rancid. Properly made ghee tastes better as it ages.

Ghee is used not only in daily cooking, helping to convey the wonderful flavors of any spices used, but is considered a vehicle for delivering medicinal herbs to every cell in the body. As the body needs fat for lubrication of the joints, moisturizing the skin from the inside, and building and maintaining the structure of the cells themselves, ghee is a perfect food from the Sacred Cow, the representative of the Divine Mother Herself, the understanding that the Creator of the Universe provides for us everything we need to maintain vibrant health the way a mother provides for her children.

Making ghee can also be a metaphor for our own lives. We put ourselves to the test (or the universe does it for us), refining and purifying our bodies and minds so that we can become the vehicle for nourishing others’ journeys. If we push ourselves too hard we will burn out and others will not find us “palatable”. If we don’t strive enough we may hold onto memories, impressions, or habits that fester and prevent us from accomplishing our full potential. With patience and full attention we can cook ourselves just enough so that the impurities are removed (still nutritious but having served their purpose) and just the Divine Healing Presence remains.

Use organic unsalted butter (if you can get raw milk butter it’s even better); cook it over a low to medium flame in a stainless steel or other high quality pot. Listen to the interesting sounds it makes as it cooks, watch the foam rise to the surface and eventually sink down to the bottom. When things quiet down and the liquid begins to turn brown, turn off the heat and allow it to cool before pouring out the ghee into a clean jar (use a strainer to make sure the sediment doesn’t end up in it).

Mix some brown sugar, raw sugar, or maple sugar and cinnamon into the sediment and spread it on toast – it’s quite nutritious and tasty! And once your ghee cools you can put the lid on the jar and either store it for a while or begin using it right away…

While these are not substitutes for needed medical care, Western doctors are not well versed in dietary and herbal means of supporting us as our immune systems fight off invaders. Many of us are looking to reduce or even eliminate dangerous over the counter and prescription drugs from our lives, and the following home remedies may make us more comfortable with fewer (or no) side effects:

STARVE A FEVER! Often, fever reduces digestive fire (agni), so if you or you little “patient” are not hungry don’t try to eat – it will not be digested well and may may you even less comfortable. A great rule even if you are not sick is to only eat when you are hungry!

MAKE/EAT KITCHARI! (once you are hungry) Simple to make, easy to digest, high in protein, kitchari is a staple of the traditional cleansing diet and is made of various combinations of grains and beans or legumes. The easiest to digest is made of basmati rice and split mung dal but you can use any rice or grain plus whole mung or lentils. If you think the beans will be too difficult, make just the rice until it is well tolerated then make the full recipe:
1 cup rice, 1 cup split mung dal, 1 small handful cilantro leaves, chopped, 6 cups water.
If you can, soak the mung dal overnight or at least for a few hours to aid in digestibility. Wash the rice and mung twice using plenty of water, then add to your six cups with the cilantro and bring to a boil, boiling 5 minutes; turn heat to low, cover (leave the lid slightly ajar) and cook another 25 – 30 minutes.
If this seems too bland but is well tolerated, you can begin adding cooked vegetables to it, sauteed in ghee with turmeric, coriander, cumin, and add a little salt to taste.

DRINK WARM TEAS/AVOID ICED/COLD DRINKS! When you are ill, your digestive fire (agni) is usually low; protect it and stoke it and your increased agni will help you “eat” the bad bugs. Simple and delicious teas:
for fever: equal parts of lemongrass, tulsi (holy basil), and fennel; use 1 tsp of the mixture in 1 cup of boiling water, steep for 10 minutes, strain and drink. This will make you sweat which will help reduce the fever.
you can also use 2 parts each of coriander and cinnamon and 1 part ginger; steep 1 tsp of the mixture in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes.
Or, equal amounts of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds; 1 tsp steeped in 1 cup water 10 minutes as above.

For a high fever you can make a bowl a cool water, dip 2 cloths in it and place one over the forehead and one over the navel, repeating as necessary. But if the fever is above 104 (adults), 101 (adults over 60), lasts over 3 days or is accompanied by a stiff neck or severe headache seek medical attention. Any fever in an infant or in a person with a chronic illness like heart disease, diabetes, or respiratory disease should be treated by a doctor.

The most important thing to do before you or your family get sick is to take good care of yourselves through a proper diet (avoid processed foods, too many leftovers or very old leftovers, refined sugars, fake anything, GMO anything) and regular exercise. To ward off susceptibility to illness requires all of your tissues to be well formed and your natural immunity tended. If your digestion tends to be weak (you get gas, constipation, diarrhea) you may want to eat probiotic rich foods such as natural yogurt (not the high sugared type – freshly made plain yogurt is best), kefir (ditto), kimchee, kombucha tea, raw milk, and other old fashioned foods. Be sure to adopt and maintain a regular schedule for eating (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and rising and retiring (traditionally, get up just before the sun and get to bed by 10 – 11 pm), and exercising. Avoid overdoing things and rest more when your body or brain say to!

Awaken your own natural cellular intelligence and while you may not enjoy perfect health, any illness you do experience should be milder and of shorter duration!

Peel and dice one acorn squash, peel and chop a piece of fresh ginger, chop one small jalapeno pepper (discard the seeds); saute in a little sesame oil with cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, turmeric, and cumin until almost tender. Add your favorite broth and 1 tablespoon of sorghum syrup and simmer 15 – 20 minutes then put in a blender until smooth (if it’s very thick, add more broth or a little water). Yummy as is, or add back to your saute pan after sauteing your favorite veggies (I just used one patty pan squash, some sweet red pepper, shallots). A hint of sweet, a touch of zing, warm and soothing, with texture from the veggies…. YUMMY!

Ya know the phrase “garbage in garbage out?” It’s true in more ways than the obvious. When we eat junk food the end result is ill health – high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart attacks, I’m sure you can think of a few more…

When we eat healthy food this nourishes us on many levels, not just the physical ones. When you hear the phrase “food as medicine” you may think of herbal supplements, but food itself and the act of preparing it and serving it to your loved ones is also medicine for your soul (secret ingredient = love!).

Some foods may be healthier for one person and not be so good for another – what is good for a Kapha-dominant individual may dry out Vata and burn up Pitta. But some things are common in all Ayurvedic diets – food must be fresh and freshly prepared. It is not recommended to eat leftovers, processed foods are a big no no, and just say no to nuking (microwaving food usually overcooks it). Depending on your climate and culture, your traditional dishes may include lacto-fermented veggies, some high fat things (don’t be afraid of fat – you need it to lubricate your joints, keep your skin smooth, and to feel full! Just don’t eat processed fats…).

These traditional methods of cooking and preserving foods were developed specifically to provide nutrient dense meals in harsher times – in the cold white north, the frozen outdoors provided the fridge, while the dry desert was the perfect dehydrator…. And when the rains fell and the world became green, the abundance of quickly growing things allowed for all to “detox” their livers by eating lower fat higher fiber meals.

So this spring and summer, shift to a diet high in natural leafy greens, fruits, and whatever veggies are in season and be rewarded with a nice naturally clean colon, the primary therapeutic site for excess Vata, as you Push Out Organic Produce!

August 2017
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