Did you know that very, very few people in India have Alzheimer’s? They believe this is because they eat a lot of foods with turmeric. Turmeric is a base spice of curry. Americans don’t have an organic diet of curry or turmeric. You can get the same benefit from a turmeric supplement.
ORGANIC INDIA Blog
Ayurveda is a 5,000 year-old system that incorporates physical health, psychology, spirituality, diet and just about every other aspect of life into a highly organized matrix that effectively summarizes an individual’s mental and physical makeup and current state.
In very basic terms, Ayurveda is about balance. If you get irritable in hot, humid weather, Ayurveda provides many possible remedies, ranging from cooling herbs and food to meditation (cooling the mind), yoga and even the color of clothing and your surroundings.
A day in the life of a traditional Ayurvedic practitioner might include a morning routine involving self massage with oils, meditation, preparing a fresh breakfast, yoga and other activities. Food should be prepared fresh for every meal, and should not be rushed or cooked with a poor mental attitude.
Each individual will likely have their own diet, made up of foods that balance their individual constitution. For example, people who despise hot weather should avoid hot, spicy foods.
If you’re starting to think this is a lot to undertake, you’re right! So where to start?
I intend to use this blog to chronicle my efforts to incorporate Ayurveda into my (somewhat) typical Western lifestyle as much as possible. My wife and I work full time, we have a seven year-old son and are just as busy as anyone with after-school activities, housework, raising our child and everything else that comes with a 21st century American life. Neither my wife or son are undertaking this journey with me, making it more difficult.
Am I really supposed to freshly prepare individual meals for each family member? And wake up an hour earlier? And how do I know which herbs and foods to consume? In short, how can this ancient and powerful healing system be integrated into the life of a typical 21st century Western household?
In my next post, I’ll talk about my beginnings and how I’ve managed to assimilate these changes. In the meantime, if you have questions, thoughts or concerns please feel free to share them. I would love to see this evolve as a discussion for all of us to learn from.
The first step in anyone’s Ayurvedic journey is determining their dosha, an Ayurvedic term that refers to an individual’s constitution. There are three doshas: Vata, pitta and kapha. Some people are a combination of two or more doshas, but in most cases one is predominant. Each dosha is made up of two elements. Understanding these elements (air, fire, water and earth) provides insight into our individual inclinations and faults.
The vata dosha is characterized by a thin frame, delicate and dry skin, and a propensity for warm environments. People with vata dosha tend to be quick thinkers and make friends easily. The space and air elements combine to form the vata dosha.
The pitta dosha manifests as a medium frame, warm fair or ruddy skin, and thin hair that may gray prematurely. Pittas maintain an air of ambition, and their speech is quick and to the point. Pittas dislike hot, humid environments. The air and fire elements form the pitta dosha.
The kapha dosha often results in a large frame with padded joints and thick wavy hair. Kapha people are stable and calm, but dislike cool, damp weather. Earth and water make up the kapha dosha.
There are a number of online dosha quizzes that will give you a general idea of your constitution. I opted to consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner, as they can perform a much more accurate analysis. At the end of the questions, we determined that I am mostly pitta.
Now, let’s see what roles these pitta elements (fire and water) play in my life. This is very logical and in most cases makes perfect sense. With fire as a dominant element in my makeup, I despise hot weather and drinks. With water in the pitta mix as well, hot AND humid weather is doubly difficult for me to tolerate.
Likewise, when I become stressed or anxious the best medicine is meditation, which cools and calms the mind. Typical of my dosha, I love being outdoors- especially high in the nearby Rocky Mountains, where the air is cool and dry- the exact opposites of pitta (fire and water).
The aspects of fire also play a part in emotions. When exposed to too much heat (either hot weather or a “hot” situation, like being verbally attacked), my body responds with MORE heat in the form of anger, intolerance, frustration and annoyance- common signs of imbalanced pitta.
Knowing that I am prone to these imbalances is a tremendous advantage in every aspect of life. I am much more aware of when I need to cool off (on all levels), so I can apply remedies before reaching a breaking point. As a practicing Mahayana Buddhist, I use this knowledge to warn me when my speech and actions might be tending toward something less than compassionate.
While this knowledge is only the tip of the iceberg, it provides a wealth of information that helps me live more harmoniously and consciously. Everyone should know this stuff about themselves, but modern medicine lacks the tools and knowledge. This is where conscious living becomes an active decision- you have to seek out and use this information for yourself.
Last weekend ORGANIC INDIA attended the Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park, CO. Part of our offering was a 15-minute Ayurvedic consultation with Prashanti De Jager, our Emissary of Education. Over the course of this weekend, Prashanti taught me how to read my pulse. While the subtleties of Ayurvedic pulse diagnosis are complex, the basics are fairly straightforward. Pulse diagnosis at this level gives a snapshot of the current status of the body and mind.
The first factor I learned to look for is the status of the doshas. Pulse diagnosis uses the index, middle and ring fingers. Each finger represents one dosha: the index finger reads vata; the middle finger reads pitta; and the ring finger reads kapha. The fingers are placed on the inside of the right wrist, using firm, even pressure. The pulse will likely be felt in one finger more than the others, showing which dosha is predominant at the moment.
The second factor is a bit more subtle and requires developing some sensitivity. This involves feeling the quality of the pulse in an almost musical way. The heartbeat can be thought of as a drum. For vatta, the pulse may feel wispy and light, like a drummer using brushes on a cymbal. For pitta, the pulse is more like a snare drum- sharp and staccato. For kapha, it is more of a fluid undulation, like a soft bass drum.
As I played with this technique over the course of the weekend, I was surprised to see how accurately my pulse reflected my current state.
I generally feel a bit anxious in crowded interior spaces, like the vendor hall at the conference. At the busiest time, I noticed a vata predominance in my pulse- something I would not have expected. However, anxiety is often a result of imbalanced vata, and in this case made perfect sense. Anxiety for me often manifests as an inability to concentrate, which is also a classic sign of imbalanced vata. Once I knew vata was imbalanced, I was able to balance it by drinking a cup of hot tea. The warmth of the tea decreases vata, as does drinking liquids and hydrating. Soon after, my vata pulse was a bit more balanced.
Throughout the course of a day, I noticed subtle changes in my pulse, from more vata in the morning to pitta in the afternoon and finally to kapha in the evening. This reflects the vata characteristics of morning- cool, clear and dry; the pitta characteristics of afternoon- hot and bright; and the kapha characteristics of night- cold, heavy and slow.
On the final night of the conference, musician Krishna Das played a concert. His music is a Western blend of traditional chants with Indian melodies and beats. Many of the songs focused on devotion to various deities in the Hindu pantheon, and are based on ancient, sacred chants. As I relaxed into the music, I took a pulse reading. To my surprise, all three fingers picked up a solid, even pulse, telling me that the three doshas were in perfect balance.
While the technique is interesting to learn and certainly a fascinating vehicle to self awareness, the learning for me came from noticing how all sorts of stimuli affected my pulse. Indeed, anything we can perceive contains Ayurvedic properties, from music and food to conversation and environmental conditions. This simple technique can open doors of awareness and point us in the direction of true wellness. Of course, the best way to learn is through an Ayurvedic practitioner. If there isn’t one near you, Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad provides enough instruction to use pulse diagnosis at this level.
Diet plays a huge role in Ayurveda, but most of the recipes online and in books require lots of prep time and may not be palatable to the capricious taste buds of a young child. In my house, my wife and 7-year old son aren’t intentionally undertaking Ayurvedic diets. My wife and I also share the cooking, and I can’t ask her to spend hours preparing a meal that only one of us might like.
So I’ve decided to start making changes where I can. Most of the time, we eat breakfast and lunch separately, so that seemed like a good place to start.
Previously, my breakfast consisted of a bowl of cereal with skim milk. My main issue with breakfast is that it has to be fast, as my wife and I both work and need to get our son to the bus stop every morning.
After researching breakfast options for pitta, I settled on trying oatmeal with raisins. Now, steel cut oats are the best- but they take far too long to cook. Instant oatmeal is on the other end of the spectrum- fast, but less nutritious and also expensive. So I settled on organic quick oats, which take under two minutes in the microwave. I add a handful of organic raisins, and it’s delicious! So for the sake of three or four extra minutes in the morning, I’ve switched to a very healthy meal that is also perfect for pitta. As an added bonus, organic quick oats in bulk are actually cheaper than cereal with milk!
My lunch requirements are along the same lines. It has to be easy to bring to work, and not take too much time to prepare beforehand. I combed through a number of Ayurvedic websites and cookbooks with many options, and decided to try kichari (also spelled kichadi). Kichari is a traditional Indian dish made with basmati rice and split yellow mung beans (also called split mung dal), along with ghee (clarified butter), spices and often vegetables. There are hundreds of recipes for kichari all over the internet. The trick is finding one that tastes good and works with your particular dosha.
I found one in particular called “Cooling Kichadi” from The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar. While I’d love to share the recipe, I have to respect the author’s copyright. I highly recommend the book, which can be found on Amazon and is relatively inexpensive. There are fantastic sections on Ayurvedic nutrition as well.
So basically I use this recipe and double it, making about 10 servings. I put half in a glass bowl with lid and take it to work, and freeze the rest for the next week. It takes about 2 hours to make, but most of that is simmer time and in the end I’ve made two weeks of lunches. I usually take a piece of fruit for an afternoon snack, and add whatever herbs and vegetables I feel like to the kichari to keep things interesting.
Now, a “perfect” Ayurvedic meal is one prepared fresh, with love, care and mindfulness. I know freezing and microwaving are not the best options, but it’s how I can make this work.
There are several really great things about kichari. It’s very inexpensive to make, and it is highly sattvic- meaning the food is clean, wholesome and pure. Sattvic foods are easy to digest, leave us feeling refreshed and do not encumber the mind with heaviness or fatigue. You can also easily modify a kichari recipe by substituting tastes that are more appropriate for your dosha.
Now for the really good news. After talking about these changes with my doctor, I began this diet about three months ago. I’ve noticed markedly more energy in the afternoon, which is something I’ve always struggled with. But the best benefits I’ve seen came after my yearly physical exam. I’ve dropped ten pounds, decreased my blood sugar 30 points, and decreased bad cholesterol by 20 points. And overall I feel wonderful!
These changes don’t have to be hard or complicated. Once you start, it gets easier to keep improving in other areas. I strongly encourage everyone to do some research on Ayurvedic diets and talk about it with your doctor. Then make one small change at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed. The benefits are priceless.
In Part 1 I detailed my breakfast and lunch routine. Dinners are a bit more complicated though. As I mentioned, my wife and young son aren’t changing their diets with me, at least not intentionally; and we’ve got about 30 minutes to get dinner on the table each night, so cooking two separate meals is out of the question.
My wife and I share the cooking responsibilities, so we each cook 3 or 4 nights per week. That means there are only three or four meals I’ll eat each week that aren’t specifically designed around a Pitta diet. Fortunately, with a bit of forethought it’s pretty easy to compensate or adjust.
Ayurveda is all about balance, and taking ownership of the foods we eat and understanding how they work are the keys here. When my son gets his favorite spaghetti with red sauce and garlic bread dinner, I have several options.
FIrst, I can eat it, even though tomatoes and garlic can be problematic for Pitta. The best thing about a consistent diet is that occassional deviations don’t derail the entire effort. Unlike a typical weight-loss diet, we’re not talking calories or grams of fat. This is more about how our bodies react to different foods, and by knowing that tomatoes and garlic will aggravate me I can compensate, perhaps with a cup of Tulsi Peppermint Tea after dinner, or a spoonful of Chyawanprash.
Second, I can change up the meal a bit. If I plan ahead, I can ask my wife to leave my spaghetti and bread plain. Then I’ll add some Ginger Miso Pesto to the pasta and spread some ghee on the bread. Similar substitutions can be made for just about anything, and I’ve learned to keep a stock of these items on hand.
I’m finding it much easier to relate to and live with an Ayurvedic diet for just these reasons. I was a bodybuilder for a number of years, and always felt the need for rigorous control over what I ate. While choking down plain brown rice and boiled chicken breast, I would pine for warm bread and butter.
With Ayurveda though, I’m finding that the foods that I’m drawn to are the foods my body and mind are calling for. After adjusting for a couple of weeks, there is no dichotomy between what the diet says I should eat and what I crave. As an example, I’ve always loved butter – the real stuff, on warm homemade bread. Butter is considered one of the worst foods you can eat by most bodybuilders. Ghee, though, is entirely different. I’ve been using it regularly for the past year, and have seen sharp declines in my weight, cholesterol and blood sugar.
For me, the first trick is learning to REALLY listen to my body. This includes pulse diagnosis, so I can check in with myself throughout the day. I also know the telltale symptoms of unbalanced Pitta to watch for, and how to compensate. With these tools, it’s been very easy to begin making these changes.
Ever had a nuclear reaction in your house? I hadn’t either, until I lost my temper last week. After six years of meditation and with a good understanding of my pitta tendencies, you’d think I’d be able to see these things coming, but no.
My normal workday mostly involves sitting at a computer. I listen to soft, ambient electronic music that soothes and is not distracting. My office window faces west, and I have a wonderful view of the Rocky Mountain foothills and, right now, lots of beautiful fall foliage. Most days, I do 20 minutes of walking meditation after a lunch of kichari.
As an environmentally-conscious company, we keep the thermostat a bit low so it tends to be cool here as well, and most of us prefer to work without the flourescent overhead lights on. All in all, I’ve unconsciously created a very pitta-friendly work environment.
About two weeks ago I completely lost my cool. I was home after a long day at work and totally came unglued. I started shouting and throwing things, looking for some way to vent this unexplained blast of temper. After cooling down, I started chastising myself. After all, I’m a Buddhist, I take care of myself, eat well, and am generally thought of as stable and even-keeled. So what the heck happened?
As my Buddhist training teaches, I questioned “Where did this emotion come from?” Strangely, I couldn’t pinpoint any way in which I was resisting or striving, so it had to ignorance. I finally came up with a theory which makes perfect sense.
That particular day was the second of two all-day meetings at work. As I went through what transpired over those days, everything I noted was about as aggravating to pitta as could be. The conference room was hot and stuffy, with no windows and flourescent lights. We had lunch delivered, and ate spicy burritos while we worked. Despite a few short breaks, we were in that room for about 9 hours each day. Immediately after work I had to run home and back out again, which meant a very quick, rushed meal of microwaved leftovers. I then sat in a hot auditorium for two hours with 100 rowdy Cub Scouts. When I came home, I just exploded.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, this is a result of the gunas at work. There are three gunas- sattva, raja and tamas. Satva means purity. An object is sattvic if it purifies its surrounding, while a sattvic person always works for the benefit of the world. From a Buddhist perspective, this would equate to a Bodhisattva (Bodhi means enlightenment; note the sattva suffix). Raja is motion and energy, and is the engine behind the other two gunas. Tamas means darkness, form and solidity. A tamasic existence would be characterized by laziness, fault-finding, irresponsibility, etc. When balanced, the doshas move toward sattva. When aggravated, they become tamasic.
Tamasic pitta often results in fiery outbursts, anger, irritability and violence. Sounds familiar. Had I paid attention, I might have noticed pitta becoming tamasic throughout the day. Next time, I’ll plan ahead and take some Tulsi capsules to help with processing stress and insist on a lunch break. As far as being a Buddhist practitioner with a bad temper, well, this is why they call it practice.
I recently visited an Ayurvedic doctor who said my wife is my guru. This took me off guard a bit, but when I thought about it I realized he was absolutely right. That got me thinking “Why is it so hard to really love the people we love the most?”
For a few years now I’ve claimed my 7-year old son is my guru. He has a quick laugh and easy disposition, lives completely in the moment, and takes every day as it comes. Most of that comes from ignorance- he hasn’t really contemplated mortality, impermanence or suffering because he hasn’t faced much of that yet. But he does provide a glimpse into a mind unfettered by neuroses and anxiety; and he certainly sees the world with open curiosity. But mostly what he’s shown me is the capacity for love. I really had no idea that it was possible to love as much as I love him, and in that sense he’s given me a deeply profound teaching. Dharma indeed.
I explained this to the doctor, who responded with “Yes, but that’s easy.”
I had to admit, he was right again. We’re hardwired to love our children. We can’t help it. Even as babies, they carry a scent that makes us want to hold them close. They’re cute, funny, and remind us of ourselves in so many ways. And they’re entirely dependent on us. However, at this age anyway, they are also almost entirely incapable of hurting us emotionally. Maybe that’s part of why we love them so deeply- we know it’s a safe bet. Statistically they will outlive us, will be dependent on us for a decade or more, and will show us their deepest fears.
In contrast, our spouses, partners, parents and siblings do have the potential to hurt us, deeply. A child who betrays our trust causes worry only because they were likely doing something dangerous- not a very big threat to us as individuals. On the other hand, a spouse who violates our trust can crush us.
We often find it easier to open completely to absolute strangers than our own spouse. In the same way, strangers don’t have the capacity to hurt us because they don’t know us. They don’t know how to push our buttons. It’s at home that the real challenge faces us.
So what’s standing in the way? Isn’t this the person I promised “to love and cherish forever” in front of all our friends and family?
Asking myself these questions, I find I’m turning over 17 years of two people’s samsaric junk. My insecurities and fears are all tangled up with hers in a big hopeless knot. Tugging on one end only makes the knot tighter. How am I supposed to sort all this out?
The real answer is to just drop it. Drop the concepts of “me” and “her” completely. There is no knot because there is no “me” and “her.” The past is really just a bunch of memories, obscured and distorted by layer upon layer of ego’s commentary. I can’t think of how often we’ve argued over who remembers a particular event correctly. Really, neither of us do!
It all seems to easy from a logical perspective. Just open completely, right there on the spot. No holding back, even on the most carefully guarded insecurities. This is where I am inspired by the unwavering courage of the “warrior” motif. Hinduism has Arjuna while Buddhism has the Dharmapalas. This courage can only be founded on absolute certainty in our basic goodness.
Little by little, as I dig deeper into the nature of my own mind, courage does begin to surface. The first step is the hardest, as the maxim goes.
Last week I could tell it was coming. It started with a ringing in my ears, then a scratchy throat. The warning signs of an impending cold were hard to miss. Immediately I started my usual immunity-boosting regimen: Chyawanprash for a huge vitamin C boost, Tulsi (Holy Basil) in capsules and Tulsi Lemon Ginger Tea. Ginger is a warming herb, and has traditionally been used as an expectorant. Despite my best efforts, things got worse and I woke up the next day with sinus congestion, a terrible cough and a skull-splitting headache.
I quickly began my second line of defenses:
This is a traditional Ayurvedic remedy for congestion, and involves irrigating the sinus cavities with warm water and salt. Personally I use just under ½ tsp. of sea salt per cup of body-temperature water, and I also add a tea made from turmeric powder. Turmeric does two things: As an anti-inflammatory, it allows the cavities to drain properly; and it also provides anti-bacterial and anti-viral support. Typically I do this first thing in the morning and again in the evening.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Vinegar naturally, and almost immediately, thins mucus. I mix 2 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar with 8 oz. of water and simply drink it. Within minutes I can feel my chest congestion loosen, and my nasal passages open. Coughs become much more productive, and blowing my nose actually starts to accomplish something.
Hot and Spicy
To further loosen chest and sinus congestion, I make a thick broth of cayenne pepper, turmeric, honey and a little water. The amount of cayenne pepper is totally up to you. Personally I have strong digestion and can tolerate extremely spicy foods, so I’m pretty aggressive with the amount. Cayenne pepper reduces sore throat pain and is also a very effective expectorant.
I save my used tea bags in a mesh muslin bag. You can find these at homebrew supply shops. They are made for steeping hops but work great for herbal baths as well. Then toss the muslin bag, with the tea bags inside, into the bath and let it steep. When I have a cold, I’ll also add eucalyptus essential oil, which helps to clear sinus congestion.
Personally, I take turmeric in capsules and in my meals every day. The benefits it offers to a cold sufferer would certainly entice me to add it to my diet if I wasn’t taking it.
I’ve had pneumonia before, and take every precaution I can to help my respiratory system when I’m ill. Our Breathe Free Formula contains Vibhitaki fruit- an excellent expectorant, along with three other herbs that help rejuvenate and restore respiratory function.
I’ve previously discussed all of these remedies with my doctor, and I recommend anyone else do the same. Our plant allies can provide us with so much healing!
Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.
We get a lot of questions about our herbs, many along the lines of “will Herb X cure my cancer?” or “I have diabetes- what should I take for it?” The truth is, we can’t tell you. We are actually prohibited by law. No matter that Herb X has been used for 5,000 years to treat cancer or diabetes.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) prohibits us from making claims that our products can prevent, treat or cure any disease. So, for example, we can’t tell you that Herb X can be used to treat arthritis, even if it’s been used in India for thousands of years to do exactly that. In fact, we can’t even mention a specific disease in conjunction with Herb X. In order to make that claim, Herb X would have to be registered with the FDA as a “drug.” But this avenue is closed too, as DSHEA classifies botanicals as “dietary supplements” rather than “drugs.”
Here’s another example, actually a true story. We know a medical doctor who contracted Disease Y (which I can’t name even here), which can lead to the failure of a very important internal organ. After exhausting all that conventional medicine had to offer, she began exploring alternative medicine. She began taking one of our supplements (which I can’t name here), and within months had restored herself to health. This doctor began using the supplement in her practice, and saw amazing results. Can we use her testimony? Nope.
What we CAN tell you about our herbs is how they affect structure/function. This means that we can tell you that Herb X “promotes healthy joint function by supporting healthy inflammation response.” But we can’t use words like “anti-inflammatory,” “anti-bacterial,” etc., because those words insinuate treating a condition.
DSHEA also leaves many open loopholes, which gives the FDA and FTC very wide latitude in enforcement. Basically, aside from a few absolute no-no’s, DSHEA gives the government the power to decide for themselves what constitutes an infraction. As an industry, the best that we can do is to monitor who is being fined for saying what, and avoid those practices. The upshot is that we have to err on the side of caution, which results in consumers not having the information they need.
These legal waters muddy very quickly, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to market herbal supplements when we can only hint at what they are capable of. DSHEA however, does not preclude our First Amendment rights. There are thousands of websites that list, in great detail, exactly what these herbs have been used for, the studies that have been done, and how to take them. As long as those websites aren’t selling or naming the product they’re talking about, DSHEA has no authority over them. Likewise, DSHEA has no authority over foreign companies. (Hint: We are ORGANIC INDIA USA, and sell products in North America. You may find another ORGANIC INDIA website that sells products in India, which would not be subjected to DSHEA regulations.)
What this means is that anyone interested in finding an herbal cure for a specific disease needs to do their own research. Google is your friend! We’ve also listed a number of associations that maintain current, scientific data on herbal medicine. So empower yourself to learn, and feel free to ask us questions! Just know that often, when we don’t answer a question it’s not because we can’t or don’t want to – it’s because it’s illegal.