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Ayurvedic Herbs

Ayurvedic herbs not only work at a cellular level to treat and balance your body/mind consitution or dosha, they also have an effect at a psycho-spiritual level.

I work with the following herbs in my Ayurvedic practice:

Rose Water – rose petals treat and calm the heart, nerves and lift the spirits.  They have an affinity for the blood, have a certain astringency that reduces inflammation and stops sweating.  Rose water helps to balance irregularities in the menstrual cycle, is useful for nervous depression and anxiety and clears heartburn, acidity and inflammation from the digestive tract.  Very useful to calm inflamed skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and itching.

Chywanaprash – ‘The Elixir of Life’ – the primary action of Chywanaprash is to increase resistance to infectious diseases, to build haemoglobin and white blood cells.  It is especially good for the lungs as it nourishes the mucus membranes and helps to clear phlegm. It strengthens vata (energy) and increases ojas (enthusiasm for life).  It is a superb remedy to include as part of a programme to facilitate recovery from illness and stress.

Ashwaghanda – a tonic herb that benefits the central nervous system, energy levels and reproductive system.  Very beneficial in all conditions caused by stress, useful post-convalescence, as a pain killer and anti-inflammatory to treat arthritis and is useful to strengthen the lungs.  Ashwaghanda is a tonic herb for both the male and female reproductive systems and is an adaptogen.

Triphala – is a key part of all programmes of health maintenance as it is used to purify and nourish the colon helping to treat sluggishness, constipation, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, indigestion.  It can also help to heal ulcers, inflammations, and general dysbiois in the gastro intestinal tract.  When there are signs of toxicity in the blood manifesting as skin inflammations, acne and boils, Triphala is used to detoxify the whole system.

Trikatu – the three spices formula (ginger, black pepper & long pepper), is a warming and stimulating herb for colder weather.  It is effective in the treatment of a sluggish digestive system with bloating, abdominal pain and flatulence; also helps in conditions of poor assimilation due to low enzyme secretions. Its heating properties rejuvenate the lungs effectively treating colds with nasal or sinus congestion, coughs or wheezing with sticky white phlegm.  Where there is slow metabolism with low energy and lowered immunity, Trikatu can be part of a treatment strategy and is also helpful in boosting circulation and warming the body.

Shatavari – a beneficial tonic herb for the female hormonal and menstrual cycle to regulate, clear inflammation and boost fertility.  Very useful to treat various menopausal symptoms and is an adaptogen.

Gotu Kola – famous for its brain enhancing properties, it also benefits circualtion and skin quality.  It is used in conditions of stress and emotional turbulence as it relaxes the central nervous system.  It improves concentration, memory and alertness.  It is the specific herb to treat inflammatory conditions of the skin.  Also used to treat arthritis, gout and joint inflammation – clearing toxins and increasing circulation.

Amalaki – a nourishing fruit that is an immune tonic, high in vitamin C, benefits the heart and blood, is an anti-inflammatory and a mild laxative.  Especially useful in inflammatory conditions of the intestines and can help to stop intestinal bleeding.  It is a very effective liver cleanser high in anti-oxidant properties.  Useful for general debility and weakness and for recovery post-illness.

Neem – a renowned anti-bacterial herb useful for intestinal and skin inflammations.  Supports metabolism and regulates blood-sugar levels.  Also useful in high fever.

Gokshura – is the tonic for the kidneys.  It clears water stagnation anywhere in the body as well as urinary and kidney infections.  Helps to dissolve kidney stones and relieves symptomatic pain.

Please let me know if you would like further information regarding any of the herbs.

“health brings happiness”             Ayurvedic proverb

Natural Wisdom for Summer Living

“To be one with nature again is vital – it allows inner and outer nature to blend, healing a separation that never existed in the first place.”    Deepak Chopra

Summer is usually a time of improved health and expanded awareness: there are more daylight hours and warmer weather which inspires us to spend more time outside connecting with nature.  Each season brings with it certain positive qualities and certain challenges to our system. As with all Ayurvedic principles we just have to observe nature and notice the change in the qualities of the air, the light, the temperature and the weather so that we intuitively know how to live each moment harmoniously. Just watching and feeling nature is a practice of awareness and meditation.

The fire element increases in the summer: there is more warmth, dryness and lightness.  Hence summer is naturally a time of calming and cooling pitta.

Fire qualities: Light, warm, dry, penetrating, sharp, transformative, subtle, ascending, expansive.

Fire anatomy: Pitta can build up in the digestive system (acid reflux), liver (indigestion), eyes (sensitivity to light), skin (inflammations), joints (arthritis) and heart at this time of year.  Be aware of any imbalances in these parts of your body.

Fire physiology: Sight, digestion, appetite, metabolism, nutrient assimilation and body temperature are all affected by the increased warmth of summer.  Be aware of any changes in these systems of your body.

Psychic fire: Manipura chakra – situated behind the navel at the solar plexus and related to ambition, gain, wealth, achievement, goals, drive, direction, power, thought and counter-thought – this chakra can be stimulated by the natural increase in the solar energy and fire element.  Be aware of mind states that are critical, judgemental, angry and reactive.

Yogic summer: This is a good time to apply the wise teachings of Swami Satyananda Saraswati by becoming aware of and practicing discernment (viveka) and non-attachment (vairagya). By being more discerning, we are choosing what is best for us and not just following the perpetual likes and dislikes of our mind. By letting go we can start to become free from the pleasure and pain of our experiences and move towards acceptance, an open heart and living in the precious present moment.

Suggested Summer routine:

  • Start your morning with a dash of Aloe Vera juice (50ml) in a class of warm water, this will help to flush heat toxins from your liver.
  • Then massage yourself with room temperature coconut oil which nourishes and clears any heat from your skin. Shower off with luke warm water.
  • Walk or stand with bare feet on a cool dewy lawn for a calming and centred start to your meditation practice or simply to connect with nature’s beauty.
  • Start your yoga practice with some cooling and calming Sheetali pranayama– this is an especially calming and soothing breathing practice where you roll your tongue into a tube then draw the in breath through this tube and breathe out through your nostrils. You can feel the cool air chilling you out!
  • As we have seen pitta can accumulate in your digestive system especially the liver and small intestine. Do some abdominal stretching and twisting exercises to help clear pitta from your belly. Try Trikonasna (triangle series), Bhujangasana (cobra), Matsyanasna (fish), Matsyendrasana (twist), Ushtrasana (camel) to massage pitta out of the intestines. As pitta can also accumulate in the eyes, via the liver, try doing a range of eye exercises to relax the eyes and increase circulation that can carry away any excess heat.
  • If you are already a bit of a pitta prone person (hot-headed!) it is important to not do too many inverted poses as these bring heat up into your head.
  • After yoga anoint yourself with some fragrant sandalwood or rose oil. Place a drop on your third eye, throat and navel to keep these centres of awareness cool, calm and collected.
  • Your diet in the summer can consist of sweet (grains), bitter (salads/leafy greens), astringent (pulses) flavours and be light and easy to digest.
  • A light nourishing breakfast of a fruit, seed and nut smoothie will sustain your energy levels through the morning.  Add a pinch of saffron for flavour and cooling energy.
  • Eating lunch around noon when the sun is at its zenith is best. Try kicharee as a cooling nutritive meal.  Add a teaspoon of ghee or hemp seed oil at the end with some grated fresh coconut. Eat it with cucumber raita as a delicious condiment.  Green salad is ok at lunchtime.
  • For supper have a light meal of basmati rice, sprouted mung beans and green leafy vegetables.  Best to avoid salad at night as it will aggravte vata.
  • In the summer it is best to also avoid all dark meats such as beef, lamb and pork as well as citrus fruits, tomato, garlic, onion, salt and sour dairy products as these all increase pitta.
  • A good way of flushing pitta out of the body is via the bowel; Ayurveda recommends Amla herbal remedy as a mild laxative.
  • When you are thirst try drinking cool herbal teas of peppermint, licorice, fennel and chamomile.
  • It’s important to watch out for pitta?emotions arising such as criticism, being judgmental, irritation and anger. If you feel a bit ‘hot under your collar’ a good trick is to hold a glass of water in your mouth as the water cools your pitta and keeps you quiet!
  • Before you go to bed, especially if it has been a hot day, rub the soles of your feet with coconut or castor oil to bring all the heat down to your feet.
  • Wash your face in organic rose water and spray it in your bedroom. It is helpful to fill your home and bedroom with fragrant roses and jasmine in the summer.
  • Best to go to bed before 11pm as pitta peaks at around 12 midnight.  If you sleep on your right side then ida nadi in the left nostril is activated and guarantees you a blissful nights rest.

As with all your yogic practice, the only rule is that there are no rules! Adjust your daily lifestyle and practice to the changes in the weather and to how you are feeling. Trust your intuition to help maintain the balance of your doshas. Learn to appreciate how the changes in how you are feeling relate to how the dosha changes in you!

For a nutrition and lifestyle consultation or any further information please contact me on wendy@wise-living.co.za and 011 781 4797 or 072 800 4982.

 

Natural Wisdom for Spring Living

“Every impulse of intelligence in our awareness starts its journey from the source of life as love, and nothing else.”  Deepak Chopra

As we welcome the unfolding wonders of Spring with warmer weather, rains that nourish the earth, the return of animals and the growth of plants from their Winter hibernation, we also undergo an internal transformation. According to Charaka, a great Ayurvedic authority, 7 days before and after the Spring Equinox is the transition time to slowly make changes necessary to effortlessly and healthily welcome in the new season on all levels. The Spring Equinox is the 22nd September.

Nature teaches us that space contains infinite potential and is the seed of all creation. So from the space, quiet and rest of the Winter, comes the potential for rebirth and new possibilities of the Spring. I invite you to take a few moments now to reflect on what seeds you wish to plant this Spring? They could be seeds pertaining to your health, to personal transformation and growth, to birthing a new relationship or career… the possibilities are endless… the seeds of Spring are yours for the planting.

According to Ayurveda, Spring time is Kapha dosha (earth & water constitution) predominant time, which brings the qualities that are heavy, cold, dull, liquid, dense, slimy, and oily. Although this simple list doesn’t seem to offer much information, it is actually quite informative. These qualities have accumulated through the Winter (another Kapha time) so following the Ayurvedic principle of “like increases like” we adopt the opposite qualities of hot, dry, sharp and light to treat any imbalance.

We are all familiar with Spring allergies, congestion, sinusitis and excess mucus. This is nature’s way of melting away our inner “cold”.  So now is the time to melt away that which has built up in the winter and clear excess heaviness and toxicity so that we may feel light, refreshed and renewed.

Suggested Spring Routine:

  • Start to wake up 30 minutes before sunrise. Kapha time begins around 6am.  So as not to increase Kapha qualities in the body, it’s important to be up and moving before the sun rises to help move toxins and stagnant lymph that have accumulated overnight.
  • Morning routine can include: warm lemon and/or ginger water upon waking, abhyanga (self massage) with warm sesame seed oil before your shower, skin brushing (twice a week) and a brisk early morning walk!
  • Clean up your diet: just as we Spring clean our homes it’s time to Spring clean our inner home. Avoid heavy and dulling foods like excess dairy, wheat, oily and cold foods.  Continue to eat warming and astringent foods and spice them up with cloves, ginger, cumin, mustard seeds and black pepper.  Green juicing is a great way to detox the liver and cells.
  • Enjoy some type of dynamic daily exercise. The best way to move excess heaviness and stagnation is to move the lymph and blood that circulate throughout the body.
  • Slowly energize your Yoga practice with more challenging asanas which focus on the chest and stimulating breathing practices.
  • Meditation helps to digest the events of the day on a mental and emotional level allowing you to enjoy the precious present moment.  Daily practice is a profound way to help clear the ‘clutter’ from your life.

For a nutrition and lifestyle consultation or any further information please contact me on wendy@wise-living.co.za and 072 800 4982.

Natural Wisdom for Winter Living

‘Wisdom is knowing the difference between the habitual demands made by the mind and the simple demands of the body.’                Dr H S Kasture

During winter the earth’s energy is withdrawn back into herself. It is a time of rest, storing and preparation. Rest from the bounty of the autumnal harvest and preparation for the vitality of the coming spring. This is a time of being grounded, internalised and still. The weather is cold and dry – qualities that aggravate both the vata (ether & air elements = dryness & anxiety) and kapha (earth & water elements = phlegm & heaviness) doshas (body/mind constitutions).

How we live each day is key to Ayurvedic living. Ayurveda is really the art of moment to moment living in accordance with our unique nature and Mother Nature. The awareness of how we need to live to be optimally healthy needs constant adjustment. This is can be challenging because of our routines, commitments, desires and attachments.  Ayurveda recommends different lifestyles according to age, sex, climate, time of day and time of year.

Suggested Daily Routine – Dinacharya:

  • Sleeping late in winter is fine – rise with the sun around 6:30am.
  • Hold some warm sesame oil in your mouth for a few minutes. This sounds strange but it has a wonderfully nourishing effect on the mouth, strengthens the teeth and stops bleeding and receding gums.
  • Massage yourself with warm sesame oil. Sesame oil is energetically warming and can be beneficial to every constitution at this time of year. This can offset the seasonal tendency of cold and aching joints.
  • Rinse the oil off in a hot shower.
  • Drink a cup of warm water to which you can add fresh grated root ginger. This relaxes the digestive system, enkindles the appetite and encourages a healthy bowel movement.
  • Dynamic exercise during the cold months is most beneficial.  Enjoy a brisk early morning walk, or vigorous yoga asana and breathing practices.
  • Your winter diet can consist of warm cooked foods that are mildly spicy, slightly salty and nourishing. The digestive fire is usually stronger in winter as the colder weather constricts the surface of the body and pushes the heat back in to the centre of the digestive system.
  • Breakfast can be a bowl of porridge oats, barley or rice. Add some cinnamon, cloves and honey. Honey is heating and drying which helps to clear mucus.
  • Lunch and supper can be wholesome meals avoiding too many cold, wet and damp foods that are excessively sweet or from the fridge or freezer – root vegetable soups, casseroles and grains. Drink spicy teas throughout the day.
  • Increase your omega 3 oil intake during the cold and dry winter months.  Every single cellular function in the body needs quality omega oils (3,6,9).  Nuts and seeds, as well as flaxseed oil are good sources of essential fatty acids.
  • If you are easily disturbed by the cold of winter then you may benefit from taking the herb Trikatu. This is a mixture of ginger, black pepper and long pepper – it will help blow away colds, coughs, poor circulation and post-nasal drips.  It burns toxins and stimulates digestion and aids nutrient assimilation.  Please let me know if you would like to order Trikatu.
  • After a day of hard work settle in for a relaxing evening. Ayurveda suggests that an occasional glass of warming wine may be beneficial in winter to encourage circulation and stimulate digestion!
  • Then it’s off to bed with a delicious glass of hot spicy milk. Nutmeg is a very calming herb that promotes sound sleep and can be added to your milk.

What a deliciously rejuvenating day! Keep warm and active this Winter, keep your vata in check and enjoy the Winter calm.

For more information and to book a Nutrition & Lifestyle appointment , call Wendy on 072 800 4982 or email wendy@wise-living.co.za

Natural Wisdom for Autumn Living

“The food body is the most tangible form connecting us to Consciousness.”  Maya Tiwari

Become aware of the changes that are occurring in nature: you can hear the gusts of wind blowing through the trees. You can feel the slight drop in temperature and the increased dryness of the air.  You can see the changing colours of the leaves drying on the trees.  You can taste the ripeness of the seasonal fruits and smell the richness of the earth.

Autumn is a time when the Air element (vayu) is predominant; there is more lightness, dryness and coolness; and ‘the winds of change’ can blow more erratically. These qualities in nature have a tendency to aggravate vata which is the dosha primarily associated with the nervous system.

Vata also regulates the levels of moisture in the body, how relaxed we feel and how well we digest food. So Autumn is a time to balance vata by following practices and lifestyle regimes that help reduce symptoms of wind, dryness and indecisive behaviour.

Vata can build up in the lungs, nervous system, brain, large intestine, hair, nails, bones, skin and hands. This can cause dry skin, constipation and increased anxiety, which may result in nervousness and insomnia.

Vata is increased by pungent, astringent and bitter flavours that are found in very hot spices, too much black tea and raw salads; by excessive busyness and rushing; by fear and insecurity; by going to bed after 11pm.

Suggested Autumn Routine

  • Rise early with the sun when the world is still and calm.
  • Flush your system with a mug of root ginger tea.
  • Hold a little warm sesame oil in your mouth for a few minutes.  This is very nourishing to the mouth, strengthens teeth and helps to stop bleeding and receding gums.
  • Massage yourself with warm sesame oil.  This helps to combat dryness, joint cracking and stiff muscles.  Rinse off in a warm shower.  Place a drop of oil in your nostrils and ears.
  • Start your yoga practice with some alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana).  Nadi shodhana helps to purify the channels of toxins, especially vata toxins, which accumulate from tension.  Breathing helps us to relax, and more importantly, it helps to relax the constriction in the subtle channels.
  • Practice asana that is grounding, opening to the hips, relaxing and slow using steady breathing.  All inverted poses where the head is below the waist helps to move apana vayu down, all twists help to regulate samana vayu in the colon, slow sun salutation with breaths in each pose and lots of shavasana (corpse pose).
  • Your autumnal diet can consist of warming foods that are sweet, mildly spicy, sour and salty as these flavours increase moisture and encourage feeling nourished and grounded.
  • Breakfast can be a small bowl of porridge: oats, rice or quinoa that can be flavoured with ginger, cinnamon or cardamom and a little maple syrup.
  • For lunch and supper have more nourishing foods such as steamed vegetables and a grain that is flavoured with turmeric, coriander and cumin, root vegetable soups or kicharee.
  • Avoid too much raw salad, cold drinks, ice, beans, fermented foods and yeast as they cause gas and may unsettle your digestion.
  • If you are easily affected by the changes in the autumn season and suffer from vata imbalanced symptoms such as insomnia, erratic digestion, constipation and anxiety then the most famous Ayurvedic herbal remedy is Ashwagandha.  It is great for calming and strengthening, as well as boosting energy levels.  You can take it morning and evening and it is a wonderful herb to enhance stability and strength in your yoga practice.
  • At the end of your busy day make yourself a cup of organic milk gently boiled with a pinch of nutmeg or cardamom.
  • Oil your feet and lower belly with warm sesame seed oil and settle in for a blissful night’s sleep!

For a nutrition and lifestyle consultation or any further information please contact me on wendy@wise-living.co.za and 011 781 4797or 072 800 4982

Kapha Dosha

“Vata, pitta and kapha move in the whole body producing good or ill effects upon the entire system according to their normal or provoked states.  Their normal state is balanced (prakriti) and their abnormal state is imbalanced (vikriti).”

In this article we conclude the series on Ayurveda by exploring the Kapha Dosha.

KAPHA DOSHA

Kapha is a combination of the earth and water elements and is the principle of growth and protection.  It is the substance that provides our nourishment and makes up the bulk of the body’s structure, the bones, muscles, tissues and cells as well as the body fluids.  It is responsible for supporting and holding the structures of the body together and also provides our emotional support in life.  It gives rise to emotional calm and endurance and allows us to feel love, compassion, devotion, patience and forgiveness.  It gives us a sense of well being.  Its main site in the body is the stomach.  It is also found in the chest, throat, head, pancreas, lymph, fat, nose and tongue.  It relates to phlegm/mucus in the body and helps smelling and tasting.

Kapha types are grounded, emotionally and physically strong and resilient, placid, kind and thoughtful.  They don’t like change or the unpredictable aspects of life and may have a tendency to be lazy, ‘couch potatoes’.  Exerting themselves does often, not come naturally, although vigorous exercise can make them feel very good and healthy.

Physically Kapha types have the biggest and strongest builds of all three types.  They tend to have large bones, broad shoulders and big muscles and have a tendency to put on weight easily.  Their hair is thick and lustrous, their eyes calm, large and moist, their lips are full and their teeth strong and even.  They sleep heavily and love to lie in the morning.  Their skin is usually cool to the touch, they don’t tend to mind extremes of weather but their symptoms like colds and mucus congestion are often worse in cold, damp, winter weather.

If you have excess Kapha you may feel slow, heavy, lethargic and you will have a tendency to retain water and put on weight.  Emotionally you may feel complacent, greedy, materialistic and possessive.  There may be a tendency to be stubborn, obstinate and narrow minded.  Excess Kapha can lead to stagnation in the tissues, cellulite, mucus congestion, breathing problems, sleepiness, low thyroid function, poor digestion and sluggish bowels.

The most important spiritual challenge for Kapha people is to overcome the tendency for inertia and complacency.  Learning how to use their groundedness and their tendency for material life to support and sustain an active spiritual life is the culmination of this spiritual challenge.

TO RECAP

  • Large frame, heavy bones
  • Big muscles
  • Prone to overweight
  • Thick oily skin and hair
  • Large clear eyes
  • Tendency to over sleep
  • Slow, tend to be lazy and inactive
  • Resistant to change
  • Calm, forgiving and compassionate
  • Slow to learn and slow to forget
  • Symptoms worse in cold, damp weather
  • Slow and methodical rhythms

 HOW TO NOURISH AND BALANCE YOUR PERSONAL RHYTHMS

The Ayurvedic principle of ‘like increases like’ helps us nourish our individual rhythms and achieve balance in our lives.

According to this principle, we are nourished by the qualities that are not innate to our individual dosha.  We should avoid the intake of things that are like our own qualities and increase the intake of things that are unlike our qualities.

Kapha dosha is a combination of earth and water elements and is therefore nourished by ether, air and fire.

Kapha’s slow and methodical rhythms are balanced by qualities of stimulation and letting go.

Kapha is aggravated by sweet, sour and salty tastes (as they increase moisture), at the beginning of a meal, morning (6 – 10am) and evening (6 – 10pm), by greed and possessiveness, in winter, by a cold, heavy and wet natured diet, in childhood, from a damp and cold climate, sleeping in the day, lack of movement and laziness.  Because like attracts like there is a natural tendency to be attracted to these!

As Kapha is slow, damp and heavy it is aggravated by these tendencies.  It is best balanced by their opposites – increase movement, activity, light diet, warm environment, less oils/fats, more dry foods and environments:

  • Engage in stimulating physical exercise and yoga practice every day
  • Embrace new and invigorating experiences
  • Rise with the sun
  • Eat wholesome, light, warm, pungent and stimulating foods
  • Avoid cold, oily, rich and excessively sour or salty foods
  • Drink hot water and spicy teas – chai, cinnamon, cardamom
  • Protect yourself against cold, damp and wet environments
  • More giving, sharing and letting go
  • Stimulating and deep massage with drying oils – mustard seed

 Conclusion

An imbalance of the doshas is a sign of lack of health, vitality and enjoyment.  Specifically, it manifests as a flow from one dosha to the next.  Imbalance in Vata creates misunderstanding and misinterprets the situation, then moves to Pitta that criticizes and judges, then moves to Kapha to attach your own point of view and increase the strength of the ego.

When all three qualities are most balanced, the result is optimal health on many levels:

Vata – relaxation of the body

Pitta – fire in the belly

Kapha – warm loving heart

“Life is light which is also love.  We must ever seek greater life, light and love,
because this is the nature of the Universe itself.”

In the previous article we looked at Pitta Dosha. I trust you have enjoyed this series on Ayurveda and feel that you have learnt something about yourself and life.  Stay present and keep on observing and learning from nature!

Pitta Dosha

“It is the opinion of the wise that if an action produces a bad result, now or later, one should not perform it”.                                                                                                                                                                    Charaka Samhita

What have you learnt from observing the elements, their qualities and how you experience them?  What did it reveal to you about yourself and about the changing seasons of life?

In this article we explore the Pitta Dosha in greater detail.

PITTA DOSHA

Pitta is made up of the fire and water elements.  This contradictory combination is really complimentary.  Pitta exists as water or oil in the body which protects the tissues from the destructive aspect fire.  Pitta is the principle of transformation and heat so Pitta is responsible for all chemical and metabolic conversions in the body that create energy and heat.  All Pitta’s processes involve digestion or cooking, including the cooking of thoughts into theories in the mind.  It governs our mental digestion, our capacity to perceive reality and understand things as they are, our judgment, discrimination, willpower, enthusiasm and joy, competition and courage.  In the body Pitta governs our appetite, digestion and metabolism of nutrients, thirst, body heat and colour, the luster of the skin, the shine of the hair and the light in the eyes.  Its main site in the body is in the small intestines and is also found in the eyes, blood, sweat, glands, stomach and lymph.

Physically Pitta people tend to be medium build and weight, with attractive, well proportioned figures.  Their eyes are medium size, shiny bright and can be sensitive to sunlight and irritants and become red easily.  Their skin tends to be warm to the touch, sensitive to heat, sunlight and irritants and prone to rashes and pimples.  Pitta types blush easily or flush with anger or from drinking alcohol.  They sweat easily, even in cold weather and never seem to feel the cold.  They have fine, often straight and oily hair which turns gray early.  Pitta men often go bald at a young age.  Pitta people have good appetites and love eating.  They hate to miss meals and when hungry can be irritable and weak.  Their digestion is good and their bowels efficient but if they get hot, agitated or angry or eat too many hot spicy or fried foods (which they love!) they can suffer from indigestion, heartburn or diarrhea.  They are quite methodical, organised, they can be rather obsessive about time and tend to be perfectionists.  Pitta types are naturally intelligent, quite fiery, they can be domineering, intolerant and don’t suffer fools gladly.

Hot weather, getting overheated by vigorous exercise, hot spicy food and red meats can all increase Pitta.  If your Pitta is high you may feel hot, irritable, angry, overly critical and competitive and there is a tendency to be a workaholic.  High Pitta causes inflammatory problems, skin conditions, excessive hunger and thirst, burning sensations in the body and difficulty sleeping.

The most important spiritual challenge for Pitta people is to learn how to transform their tendency for anger and irritability into a feeling of calm and love as well as expressing their emotions in a harmless non-judgmental way.  To awaken and express unconditional love is the culmination of this spiritual challenge.

TO RECAP

  • Medium build and weight
  • Regular features
  • Smooth skin, often with moles and freckles which burns easily
  • Good, regular appetite, but not prone to gaining weight easily
  • Thin hair which falls out easily and goes grey early.  Men are pone to baldness
  • Profuse perspiration
  • Highly intelligent
  • Tendency to be irritable, angry, intolerant and judgmental
  • Decisiveness and leadership qualities
  • Dislikes intense heat, symptoms often worse in hot weather or if over heated
  • Fast and decisive rhythms

HOW TO NOURISH AND BALANCE YOUR PERSONAL RHYTHMS

The Ayurvedic principle of ‘like increases like’ helps us nourish our individual rhythms and achieve balance in our lives.

According to this principle, we are nourished by the qualities that are not innate to our individual dosha.  We should avoid the intake of things that are like our own qualities and increase the intake of things that are unlike our qualities.

Pitta Dosha is a combination of fire and water elements and is therefore nourished by ether, air and earth. 

Pitta’s fast and decisive rhythms are balanced by qualities of moderation and calmness.

Pitta is aggravated by pungent, salty and sour flavours (as they increase heat), in the middle of a meal, at midday (10am – 2pm) and at midnight (10pm – 2am), by anger and irritation, repressed emotions, in summer, from adolescence to middle age, from excessive ambition, a hot and damp climate.  Because like attracts like there is a natural tendency to be attracted to these!

As Pitta is hot, oily and intense it is aggravated by these tendencies.  It is best balanced by their opposites – cooling, calm, loving, compassionate, moderation:

  • Rise with the sun and go to bed by 10pm
  • Plan activities ahead to avoid time pressure
  • Maintain projects and activities that create ease
  • Practice more compassionate meditation and uncompetitive yoga practices
  • Eat wholesome, moderately cool or warm, substantial and calming foods that are sweet, bitter and astringent in flavour
  • Avoid hot, spicy, oily, salty, fermented foods as well as the use of stimulants
  • Cooling drinks – rose water, peppermint , coriander
  • Avoid hot, humid and stressful environments
  • Embrace serenity and calmness
  • Calming massage with light oils – almond, coconut, sunflower

HOW TO BALANCE PITTA WITH YOGA

The practice of a creative sequence of asanas that stimulates you enough to feel alert yet not so stimulated as to become hot.  Mild perspiration is good.  You should feel the stretch in asana practice, but not the burn!  In this way you feel warmed, not over stimulated.  Pranayamas like Bhastrika (bellows breath using equal force on both inhalation and exhalation) are beneficial to gently stimulate heat in the naval and Sheetali (cooling breath) is useful to calm the mind and cool excessive heat in both body and mind.

In the previous article we looked at Vata Dosha. In the next article we will explore the Kapha Dosha which is a combination of the water and earth elements.  Please continue to deepen your awareness of the elements and how they manifest in your body and mind!

Vata Dosha

‘All creatures believe that everything is done for the sake of happiness.  A wise person has the world as their teacher’                                                                  Vaghabata’s Heart of Medicine 6th CE

How was your month of noticing the elements, their qualities and how you experience them?  What did it reveal to you about yourself and about life?

Quick recap on the PANCMAHABHUTA – the Five Great Elements

  • Ether means space and allows for communication between one part of the body and another.
  • Air is movement, direction and change stirring all creation into life.
  • Fire means light and heat, and governs all transformation in the body.
  • Water is liquidity or flowing motion, the water of life that gives cohesiveness and holds everything together.
  • Earth means matter, solidity or stability; it gives the body form and substance.

This month we explore the Vata Dosha in more detail.

VATA DOSHA

Vata is a combination of ether and air and is the principle of movement.  Vata is our life force (Prana), the energizing force for the entire body which controls all movement:  the blinking of the eyes, the heart beat, breathing in and out, the carrying of messages throughout the nervous system, all movements involved with digestion and elimination, the circulation of blood and lymph.  Vata is also responsible for the movement of ideas in the mind, creativity, spiritual aspiration and comprehension.  Its main site in the body is the colon.  It is also found in the bladder, thighs, ears and bones.  Vata, being the principle of movement can go out of balance on its own.  Without Vata, the other doshas are inert.

Like the wind, Vata people are changeable with irregularities featuring strongly in their physical and emotional make-up.  They can be very tall or very short, with a narrow frame and slight build.  They may have crooked teeth or irregular eyes, or their nose may not be straight. Their weight can change quickly and when stressed they can loose weight easily.  They tend to have prominent bones and joints that often crack.  Their appetite is variable, sometimes they are ravenous, other times they have no appetite at all.  They tend to feel the cold with poor circulation, and any symptoms they have tend to be worse in the cold weather.  They love warmth and sunshine!  Because they are so active and use up so much energy Vata types tend to become dried out, and get dry skin and hair.  With their erratic digestion they can suffer from wind, bloating and discomfort and tend to be prone to bowel problems like constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.  Vata types are active and restless and find it hard to relax.

Their sleep tends to be light and easily disturbed and they easily suffer from insomnia.  They can easily get over-stimulated and drive themselves beyond their energy resources.  Vigorous exercise like running and aerobics will aggravate their symptoms even though they may temporarily feel better from it.  Gentle exercise like yoga or Tai chi is much more suitable and they need to learn to relax.  They are prone to poor memory, lack of concentration, fear and anxiety and can suffer from nervous problems like disorientation, tremors, panic attacks and depression.

When in balance Vata people are bright, enthusiastic, creative, full of new ideas and initiative, idealistic and visionary.  They think fast and love travel, change and being with other people.

The most important spiritual challenge for Vata people is to learn how to balance their energy and lifestyle.  Stability allows Vatas to manifest their vision.

TO RECAP

  • A thin frame
  • Tend to be underweight or lose weight when under stress
  • Rough, dry skin which can crack easily
  • Eats irregularly and quickly
  • Erratic appetite
  • Erratic memory, takes things in quickly and forgets easily
  • Prone to anxiety, fear
  • Light sleeper, prone to insomnia
  • Active, restless, thinks and does things quickly
  • Difficult to sustain energy, concentration, activity
  • Changeable mood, intense feelings
  • Feels the cold, dislikes the wind.  Symptoms are worse in cold weather
  • Dreams of running, jumping, flying, often fearful

HOW TO NOURISH AND BALANCE YOUR PERSONAL RHYTHMS

The Ayurvedic principle of ‘like increases like’ helps us nourish our individual rhythms and achieve balance in our lives.

According to this principle, we are nourished by the qualities that are not innate to our individual dosha.  We should avoid the intake of things that are like our own qualities and increase the intake of things that are unlike our qualities.

Vata dosha is a combination of ether and air elements and is therefore nourished by fire, water and earth.

Vata’s quick and irregular rhythms are balanced by qualities of consistency, moistness, heaviness and smoothness.

Vata is aggravated by astringent, bitter and pungent tastes (as they all increase dryness), at the end of a meal, early morning (2 – 6am) and early evening (2 – 6pm), by fear and insecurity, in early autumn and spring, at the latter stage of life, by excessive movement, by dry and cold climates, by going to bed after 11pm.  Because like attracts like there is a natural tendency to be attracted to these!

  • Maintain a steady daily routine around eating and sleeping habits
  • Choose activities that create ease and allow yourself enough time to complete them
  • Slow down and take ample rest
  • Learn relaxation techniques and calm yoga practices
  • Eat wholesome, fresh, warm, moist and grounding foods that are sweet, salty and sour in flavour
  • Drink soft and warm teas – fennel, ginger, liquorice
  • Protect yourself from cold, damp and wet environments
  • Embrace warmth, love and security to help build self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Warm oil massages with sesame oil

In the previous article we looked at an overview of Ayurveda and the 5 Elements. In the next article we will explore the Pitta Dosha which is a combination of the fire and water elements.

Please continue to deepen your awareness of the elements and how they manifest in your body and mind!

Ayurveda & the 5 Elements

“It is called Ayurveda because it is the knowledge that teaches us which substances, qualities and actions are beneficial or harmful to life.”                                               Charaka Samhita, the earliest Ayurvedic text, 150BCE – 100CE

What is Ayurveda?

Translated as the ‘Science of Life’, Ayurveda teaches us a way of living with insight and balance that is in harmony with our individual nature and Mother nature.  It is the medical system from India which includes aspects of philosophy, mythology, nutrition, massage, herbal therapy, yoga as well as spiritual teachings and practices.  As well as treating illness, Ayurveda focuses on preventing disease and maximising vitality.  Without health, we cannot pursue or enjoy our life purpose!

When I first discovered the wonders and wisdom of Ayurveda, I found the vastness of its knowledge slightly intimidating.  I realised that I needed to understand the basic principles in order to apply its practical teachings.  The key to this understanding is the five elements, the pancmahabhurta.  By studying nature and learning about the qualities of the elements, we can then develop a deeper understanding of our unique body/mind constitution or dosha.

In this article, we explore the elements, the building blocks of nature and of the three doshas namely Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

According to Ayurveda, everything in the Universe is composed of the 5 elements – ether, air, fire, water and earth.  The human body is also composed of these 5 elements, so the body is a reflection of the greater Universe – it is a microcosm of the macrocosm.

What is a Dosha?

There are three primary life forces or subtle energies that come from the five elements.  They are known as doshasVata, Pitta and Kapha are responsible for all the physical and mental functions in the body.  When our doshas are cared for and in balance they maintain our health and well-being.  When there is a build up of the dosha, imbalance arises and we become unwell.  Each of us is unique, born with our own distinct individual constitution or balance of the three doshas.  This balance determines our physical body, our emotional and mental traits and our tendency to certain health problems.

We generally have a predominance of one or two of the doshas.  This is largely determined when we are conceived and depends on our parents’ constitution, their physical and emotional state at the time of conception and of course Karma.  The characteristics of our dominant dosha will be most noticeable in our make-up and remember we all have all three doshas and all five elements in our being, just in varying degrees.

THE PANCMAHABHUTA:  The Five Great Elements

The natural world is comprised of building blocks that move from the subtle to the gross, from ether to earth.  These ‘bricks’ are known as the ‘five great elements’ (pancmahabhuta) or ‘that-ness’ (tattwa) and are Ether/space; Air/motion, Fire/heat, Water/fluid and Earth/solid.

These elements combine in different proportions to make up the material universe and form the basis of the doshas.  They also form the basis that determines tastes and properties of herbs and foods.  These five elements are closely associated with states of matter.

AKASA:  Ether (Space)

Quality – expansive, light, without temperature, infinite and all-encompassing.
It is the potential – space creates the place for life to take place.
It is subtle – ether can’t be seen or felt, but you can become aware of space!
It is the spaces in our communication – the pauses.
It is the spaces in the body – every cell, spaces between nerve fibres, cranial spaces, nostrils and sinuses, lungs as well as the thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities.
Ether relates to the sense of sound and the ear.  Sound is carried on the ether.

VAYU:  Air (Motion)

Quality – like the wind, light, mobile, rough, dry, cold, erratic, stimulating and dispersing.
It is the principle of movement and change stirring all of creation into life.
It is responsible for all the other elements.
In the body it moves everything, creating life and relates to prana, the vital life force.
It is responsible for creative energy in the mind – the imagination.
Too much air is depleting as it moves the prana out.
An imbalance manifests in the body as palpitations, flatulence and constipation.
Too much movement in the nervous system creates anxiety and restlessness.
Air relates to the sense of touch, the nerves and the skin.  Sensation travels through the skin and nerves just as you can feel the wind on your skin.

TEJAS:  Fire (Heat)

Quality – hot, sharp, penetrating, luminous, ascending and dispersing.
Fire governs all transformation in the body.
It is high energy and manifests as passion, anger, aggression and action.
It is responsible for mental, emotional and physical digestion.
It is the light of the mind – intelligence; and the brightness of the body – colour.
Too much heat in the body increases light and colour which results in inflammation.
Fire relates to the sense of sight and the eyes.  Light and perception travel through the eyes due to the metabolic activity of light sensitive photons in the eyes.

JALA:  Water (Fluid)

Quality – liquid, fluid, heavy, wet, lubricating, cool, cohesive and dense.
The water of life that holds everything together.
75% of the body consists of water.
It eases movement in the body, lubricates and protects.
It is the mucus, synovial fluid, saliva, tears, cerebral spinal fluid and sweat.
It provides nourishment and hydration to the body.
Imbalance manifests as emotionally watery, lacking in substance and easily manipulated.
Water relates to the sense of taste and the tongue.  Flavours and tastes are only perceivable when the tongue is wet.

PRITHVI:  Earth (Solid)

Quality – thick, dense, solid, heavy, stable/static and grounded.
It gives the body form and substance.
It is responsible for growth and nourishment.
It relates to the physical structures of the body – bones, tissues and muscles.
Earth element provides emotional stability, calmness and dependability.
Too much earth manifests as dullness, stubbornness and complacency.
Earth relates to the sense of smell and the nose.  Earthy and dense objects give off smells.

The Pancmahabhuta are the building blocks of the Universe and of us!

In the next article we  explore the Vata Dosha which is a combination of the Ether and Air elements.  During the coming days, I invite you to become aware of the elements, their qualities and how you experience them in yourself.  In this way you start to discover your unique body/mind constitution!

“Nowhere on earth is there any creature which is immortal.  Yet, although death is unavoidable, a person may avoid many diseases… health brings happiness.”                                                                      13th century Ayurvedic proverb