Hoping April Showers and May Flowers are Here to Stay

My daughter, Amy, and her friend, Rose, on a rainy Spring day in NYC

My daughter, Amy, and her friend, Rose, on a rainy Spring day in NYC

Depending on where you live in the world there are certain months that have always been just plain WET. I grew up in Michigan and live in NYC where both climates are pretty similar. We always like to say “April showers bring May flowers” as we endure soggy rainy days (hopefully not too cold) with the promise of bright Spring blossoms just around the corner.

I recently returned from a week in the Arizona desert and wondered if they had a catchy phrase that exemplified April and May in the desert. During a morning hike with near perfect temperatures, a bright blue sky and blooming cacti wherever we looked, I asked our guide, Leslie, if there was such a phrase. She said “Not that I know of, but maybe we can make one up!” So she came up with “Oh, sweet, April! We know what’s coming next  (blistering heat).”

Sonoran Desert, April 2014

Sonoran Desert, April 2014

So, whether you are somewhere rainy and cold, or somewhere hot and dry dreaming of a rainy day, it’s as good a time as ever to ponder one of the five elements that are at the core of Ayurveda – water.

From a perspective of the doshas (the three bodily humors in Ayurveda that make up our constitution), Vata (air and ether) is the only dosha without the water element. Pitta dosha is comprised of fire and water and Kapha dosha is comprised of water and earth.

Kapha Season (late winter-spring) and Pitta Season (late spring-summer) are generally the wettest months for folks like me living in the Northern Hemisphere. Some months, like April, more so than others.

But have you noticed that the seasons aren’t as predictable as they used to be? Droughts are happening in areas where rain has always been, or rain that just won’t stop is leading to floods.

Spring has always been about rebirth and renewal. The plants and animals instinctively know this and we do too, but we seem to be losing that connection. And because we are losing our deep and instinctual connection with Mother Nature, we are wreaking havoc on all living things on our planet.

Last week I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended my first real activist meeting with the global online group Avaaz (means voice in many languages). For the past few years I have been fascinated by (and grateful for) this small but powerful group of activists who have successfully used the power of the Internet to unite the voices of millions around the globe and effect real change.

I’ve signed many petitions and donated money over the years to groups such as Avaaz. I’ve marched in rallies for causes near and dear to me. But I’ve never really become active in a serious way. So when I received a personal invitation to attend a small group meeting at Avaaz’s office in NYC I knew that I had to go.

It seemed that many of the people in the room have been doing this kind of thing for a while. I was quiet, mostly listening to what everyone else had to say. In typical fashion, all of my ideas started flowing the minute I was alone. But I did tell the group that at age 60, this was my first real activist meeting and they all applauded!

It was no coincidence that the topic we ended up focusing on was climate change, which had been weighing on my mind as I was writing my newsletter and thinking about water. In spite of all of the reading I’ve done on this subject and all of the documentaries I’ve watched, I was shocked to hear some of the bleak statistics and especially the rapid time frame in which the changes are occurring.

A great deal of the issue of climate change has to do, of course, with water. It’s a precious element that many of us take for granted.

We often forget that our bodies are comprised of roughly 60% water (varies depending on age and sex), and many of us are chronically dehydrated, leading to more imbalances than I can possibly list here.

Dr. Marc Halpern, the founder and President of the California College of Ayurveda has this to say on his website: “Water is the protector of the body. It provides the body with its most basic nourishment. Water protects against the dissolution of the ether element, the roughness and motion of the air element and the heat of the fire element. The water element soothes all pain and inflammation in the body.”

Water is the element associated with our second, or Sacral chakra (energy center in the body).This chakra represents our creativity, our sexuality, our relationships with others, and even our relationship with finances. Water is incredibly healing to all things related to the second chakra.

A shower, cleansing bath, or if you’re really lucky, the ocean, connects us to the water element in Mother Nature, nurturing and protecting us.

  • Water calms us and takes us back to our beginnings in the womb
  • Water cleanses our body, mind and spirit
  • Water nourishes every cell in our body

Last summer I experienced firsthand how the change in our climate is affecting us. I became quite sick from the intense heat and my body seemed unable to properly regulate its temperature. I struggled to stay hydrated. For the first time, I’m actually uneasy about what kind of summer we will have here in NYC this year.

I’ve been a city girl all of my life but in the past few years have developed such a deep and precious love and respect for Nature that sometimes it overwhelms me. I feel incredibly sad and yes, angry, at the arrogance of the human race and how we are destroying our planet – our home. When I see plastic bottles and bags floating in a river, I struggle to understand just how we became so irresponsible. I try to just do my part – not taking plastic bags, minimizing my own trash by composting, and picking up trash along the way.

My little eight-year-old niece, Jenna, came to visit last week with her family. Jenna and I were looking for fairies in the park :) and I told her that the fairies don’t like litter and that it upsets them that humans are so careless and disrespectful of our planet. Her mother just sent me a message that Jenna’s been picking up trash everywhere since she returned home. Hearing that made my day!

Looking for fairies in the park!

Looking for fairies in the park!

I don’t want my children and my nieces and nephews to live in a world where there are no more April showers to bring May flowers. Or trees to give us shade and oxygen. Oh, don’t even get me started on the trees! Or real food. I know a lot of you are Nature-lovers too and I would love to start a conversation about this topic.  If you’d like to join in, please leave a comment below!

Much love,
Barbara

P.S. Earth Day is April 22nd. What better day to start getting involved in helping to heal our beautiful planet! Here are some great resources for staying informed:

Avaaz
Greenpeace
Environmental Working Group
Food and Water Watch
Organic Consumers Association

Showtime just began airing a new program about climate change called Years of Living Dangerously which I highly recommend. You can watch the first episode which aired last Sunday online HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Ayurveda, Chakras, Change of Seasons, Doshas, General Wellness, Kapha, Nature, Pitta, Resources | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Loving Your Belly

Ganesh

Ganesh, the lovable Hindu deity with his rotund belly

Do you love your belly? Most people I know don’t think too kindly of their belly. Seems like we usually ignore it unless we’re trying to flatten and tighten it up, or when we’re clutching it in pain from digestive discomfort.

I used to have that kind of relationship with my belly until I was introduced to two similar modalities that gave me a whole new outlook on this vastly under-appreciated part of our body.

Here’s a description of both techniques by Dr. Gabrielle Francis, the Herban Alchemist.

Mayan Abdominal Massage

“This is an ancient massage technique practiced by the Curanderas and Healers of the Mayan culture in Belize, Guatemala. and Mexico. The purpose is to massage and reposition the uterus, ovaries, and other abdominal organs through an external and non-invasive treatment. The goal is to restore circulation of blood and nutrients into the regions and to allow the proper elimination of toxins. The Mayan Massage is essential for all issues related to the female reproductive tract and fertility.”

Chi Nei Tsang

“This is a healing modality with ancient Taoist Chinese origins. It literally means the Transformation of the Organ Chi. This is a technique that massages and aligns the energy of the organs and viscera to improve function of the digestion, respiration, circulation and more. It has a strong focus on the emotional charges that remain held in the organs and meridians causing disease and imbalances.”

I receive Mayan abdominal massage regularly from Dr. Francis. The first time she began probing my belly, she discovered that my uterus was quite tipped. No doctor had ever mentioned that fact to me and it explained so much about many of the gynecological  problems I had in the past. With gentle manipulation, she was able to reposition it.

Last year when I was attending a workshop in the desert outside of Tucson with my energy healing group, I experienced my first Chi Nei Tsang session. This was a completely new modality for me and I was open and curious. I had heard that it is a profound way of releasing stuck emotional energy from the body. When the massage therapist began she told me to feel free to ask any questions. For whatever reason, I blurted out “Where’s the spot for grief?” She looked up at me kind of startled and said “I’m on it right now.” I’ve always felt a strong intuitive connection with my body but that was freaky!

After the session I went to meet some good friends for dinner. As I sat there I began to feel as if a wave of sadness and depression had completely clouded over me. I didn’t want to be with my friends or listen to their conversation. I felt heavy, agitated and disconnected from them. I left the table immediately after dinner and went straight to my room. These feelings were with me throughout the evening, but when I awoke the next morning I felt clear, fresh and like the cloud had lifted and something old and sad had been released.

That incident pretty much answered any doubt I might have had about our emotions being connected to our belly. I have had a few more sessions since then, each with their own unique experience.

Let me also mention that these modalities are not just for women. Men can benefit just as greatly from both Mayan abdominal massage and Chi Nei Tsang.

People often refer to their stomach and belly as one and the same. But the stomach is only a small part of the belly. The belly also includes the small intestine, spleen, gallbladder, liver, kidneys, ureters, bladder and large intestine (colon). These vital organs of digestion and elimination are known as the viscera. We pay so little attention to this part of the body and yet digestion takes roughly 60% of our daily energy!

Approximately 90% of our serotonin (the happy hormone) resides in the gut which is now affectionately referred to as our “second brain”.

In addition to our organs of digestion and elimination, our reproductive organs are also housed in our belly. So you can see just how important this part of our body truly is and how beneficial it might be to nurture it.

Speaking of nurturing, our belly is where it all began. From our umbilical cord we received our first nourishment from our mother as well as eliminating waste products. Seems kind of odd that we pay so little attention to it now.

The energy centers of the second and third chakras are both associated with the belly. The second (sexual or sacral) chakra is located below the navel and is associated with our emotional relationship with others and our creativity. The third (solar plexus) chakra is  about our sense of self. For more complete information on the chakras, click HERE  to download a free chakra chart.

While diet and exercise might help you get a flat belly, more often than not there’s an emotional component that needs addressing. A big belly is a warning sign, in fact, that there’s a lot going on with your emotional body. It’s often a sign of high cortisol levels and stress and therefore takes some deeper work than just cutting calories or running a marathon.

After my partner died almost three years ago, I started to put on weight like I had never before in my life. I noticed it particularly in my belly. I hadn’t changed my diet or my exercise routine. I eventually decided that it was “grief weight” and I finally relaxed about it, realizing that my body needed to feel more grounded. For two years it hung around and then it just started to fall away as my grief began to lessen. Of course I had a lot of help from some gifted bodyworkers and energy healers along the way, but for the most part my body/mind/spirit needed to go through this process.

Methods such as Mayan abdominal massage and Chi Nei Tsang are wonderful treatments and highly beneficial, but there is much that we can do for ourselves without needing outside help.

Laying hands on the body where there is pain or discomfort has always been an ancient form of healing. We do it naturally as parents with our children but forget about doing it ourselves. The more you start to tune in to your body and hear its messages, the more you will be able to respond in a self-healing fashion. Laying hands on your belly can help you establish a loving and healing relationship with it. My favorite time to tune into my belly is in the morning before I get out of bed or in the evening prior to sleep.

You can simply rest your hands on your belly or gently move them around in an intuitive fashion. Be sure to incorporate your breath, and the self-healing potential will be all the greater. Gentle, deep breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth (I like to make a hissing sound on the exhale, like a whistling tea kettle) will aid in the release of stuck toxins – both physical and emotional.

If you would like to deepen the practice to fully reconnect with your belly, I highly recommend the book “Unwinding the Belly: Healing with Gentle Touch” by Allison Post and Stephen Cavaliere.

So, love your belly and I’ll bet it will reward you with better digestion and emotional health. How is your relationship with your belly? I’d love it if you would share your thoughts here!

Much love,
Barbara

P.S. For more information on Mayan abdominal massage click HERE.
For more information on Chi Nei Tsang click HERE.

Posted in Breathing, Colon Health, Constipation, Digestion, Digestive Health, General Wellness, Grief, Self-Care, Stress | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Being Still (Can Be the Hardest Thing of All)

Book of Awakening“Being Alive Takes Time” — Mark Nepo

Each morning I sit with my cup of tea and read the daily entry from “The Book of Awakening” by Mark Nepo. I am in awe each day as his words strike a chord, gently nudging me to reflect on my life. Like Oprah, I have bought many copies of the book to give to friends since discovering it (Not quite the thousands that she has given away!) in hopes that it will touch them in the way it has touched me.

Today’s entry was about devoting enough time to each feeling that comes upon us, rather than charging ahead, leaving it dangling. Mark says:

“I am always surprised at the aftereffect of being moved deeply by something. I can be hurt or disappointed or feel the warmth of being loved or the gentle sway of being temporarily left, and then I’m ready to chew on something else, seldom allowing for the feelings to digest completely. In fact, I’ve come to see that much of my confusion in life comes from giving my attention to the next thing too soon, and then wrapping new experience in the remnants of feeling that are not finished with me.”

Can’t we all relate to this? Even as I sat drinking in his words, I noticed my mind trying to race ahead to thoughts of exercise, showering, breakfast and work. Just as we race from task to task, we race from one feeling to the next. I had to glue myself down and be in the moment rather than jump up and start writing this post.

We live in a culture where thinking and doing and accomplishing are revered. Multitasking is worn like a badge of honor by those who can do it and envied by those who can’t. But not allowing ourselves that necessary moment of reflection, of letting our feelings wash over us and inhabit us, robs us of the very essence of our existence. We need to give proper time and attention to these feelings (the good ones and the bad) so that we can feel them fully, process them and move forward without leaving them unattended, or even worse – buried. We often don’t let ourselves feel the joy or the sorrow as it needs to be felt.

I had the opportunity today to practice this. While washing the dishes my mind wandered to the date and the fact that it would have been my 40th wedding anniversary, had I still been married. I was married for thirty years and have been divorced now for ten, although it certainly doesn’t seem that long. So many emotions started to surface and had I not read Mark’s words this morning, I might have pushed my emotions down and just kept on washing dishes. But I really took them all in – the good and the bad – and let them just be. I allowed the memories to resurface and sit with me for awhile. It can be an act of courage to take on these emotions, some that have wounded us so deeply, but the rewards are immense and after some time I felt so much lighter. I let myself feel.

It almost seems impossible for many of us to sit and reflect with a cup of tea and not have the television on or be staring at a computer screen, or even reading a book, for that matter. But I can say with certainty that in those moments where I allow myself to be fully present, something magical happens. The air becomes still, even the busy sounds of the city in the background become muted and I am in that space where being alone is golden. And it is in that space where you let yourself feel that deep healing can occur.

Of course, better yet would be to drink that cup of tea without reading a book. If you know about the benevolent and cherished Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, then you surely have heard him talk about mindfulness.

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”

I fall short of these practices each and every day. But I recognize the power that they hold,  and so each day I try to get a little bit closer to achieving the peace that comes with them. One day at a time…

Much love,
Barbara

Posted in General Wellness, Recommended Reading, Self-Care | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Surviving March: Cleansing Your Internal and External World

MarchMarch is a bit of a sorry and dreaded month for those living in areas where late winter is upon us. Soggy, cold, damp and gloomy–sometimes rainy and sometimes snowy–you can feel it in your bones. Oh, and don’t forget the wind. March roars in like a lion as they say, and out like a lamb. It’s such a transitory month.

I daresay not many of us are fond of March-unless perhaps it’s your birth month or you live in a temperate climate. Those of us in the Northeast are often desperate for it to end and it’s the month when many lucky travelers head south for some well-needed sunshine and Vitamin D.

Our hibernating time is coming to a close and some of us are ready to burst forth with stored energy and fresh ideas from the winter. Looking for a silver lining, I’ve decided that this is the perfect month for clearing out both internal and external clutter. Call it pre-spring cleaning. Gloomy March gives us a few weeks to tackle some things that have been crying for attention. Think inner and outer world. Mind/body/spirit AND your clothes closet and relationships!

The more I study Ayurveda and practice its principles, the more in tune I become with the seasons. I think this is the first March in my life where I haven’t dreaded its arrival but rather looked upon it as a valuable month to do some internal and external house cleaning.

Soon the weather will change and tempt us outdoors to play. Our lives will become more active and we can take advantage of this last bit of winter down time to clear out that which is weighing us down – both literally and figuratively. Here are some suggestions to make the most of this dreary month:

Cleansing

Ten years ago I had never heard of the concept of cleansing. For many of us, cleansing meant soaping up our bodies during our daily shower or bath. But over the past several years, the topic of dietary cleansing has become absolutely front and center. Juice cleanses, liver flushing and the Master Cleanse have all become household words. But probably the most ancient and effective method of cleansing and rejuvenation began thousands of years ago with the Ayurvedic practice from India known as panchakarma.

Originally intended for royalty to promote longevity, panchakarma (means five actions) is still widely practiced in India and has gained popularity in the West. Panchakarma is usually done over a two to three week period and should be done under the supervision of an Ayurvedic doctor to insure that the cleanse is safe and effective for your particular constitution. People who have undergone panchakarma will attest that the healing effects are profound.

March/April and September are the months generally chosen for this type of deep cleansing, but it can be done at other times during the year, as well. I highly recommend looking into panchakarma treatment if you are dealing with serious health issues, especially those of a chronic nature.

But because cleansing for most of us is something we need to ease ourselves into, I wanted to focus today on sharing some easy tips that you can do yourself to help clean your system of toxins, give your digestion a rest, and reset your digestive fire.

Begin by eliminating troublesome foods and other substances.

  • Take a week to wean yourself off of foods and other substances you know are your weaknesses, aka addictions – coffee, caffeinated tea, chocolate, soda, junk food, alcohol, recreational drugs/tobacco, etc. A friendly tip – get them out of your house and go slowly – especially with coffee.
  • Eliminate foods that are mucus-forming such as sugar, meat, dairy, wheat and eggs.

BeetsAdd more cleansing foods to your diet. Certain foods are excellent at helping to move congested, sluggish lymph and support the vital organs, especially the liver and gallbladder. The right foods will also help to cleanse our circulatory system which is often limping along after a winter of indulging in sweets and fatty food. Some good choices are:

  • Beets and carrots–cooked or juiced
  • Apples–stewed, raw or juiced
  • Leafy greens (bitter) like dandelion, kale, arugula, collard greens, spinach, etc.
  • Lemons, limes and grapefruits
  • Healthy fats like ghee, virgin coconut oil and cold pressed olive oil
  • Gluten-free whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and millet
  • Spices like turmeric, cumin, fennel and coriander

Properly hydrate. One of the main reasons we cleanse is to reset our digestive fire which can become sluggish and weak due to toxic overload and undigested food (called ama in Ayurveda). Truly good health is impossible without a well-functioning digestive system and dehydration is a big reason many of us have weak digestion. Some tips for proper hydration are:

  • Avoid cold liquids. They literally put out the digestive fire.
  • Sip warm/hot water and non-caffeinated herbal teas consistently throughout the day rather than chugging down glassfuls of water. It is a much more efficient way to hydrate and also helps clear toxins from our system. Ideally, sip a bit of hot water each half hour. I set my phone timer to remind me and now it’s a habit.
  • Vata types generally have the most problem staying hydrated, no matter how much water they drink. A pinch of sea salt in warm water can help with this.
  • Read this great article on hydration.
  • Kapha types tend to retain too much water and should be careful not to drink voluminous amounts of water.
  • Drink a glass of warm water with lemon, lime and/or fresh ginger a half hour before your meals to hydrate the stomach and produce enough hydrochloric acid to digest your food.
  • Avoid drinking liquids with meals, except for sipping a bit of herbal tea. And drinking liquids directly after a meal will make digestion even more difficult.

Follow a regular meal routine. Our bodies like routine and our digestive fire depends on regularity.

  • Eat a light breakfast between 7-8 a.m. Vata types need a little more protein. Kaphas can get away with no breakfast or just a little fruit if they’re not hungry.
  • Eat your biggest meal between noon and 1:00 p.m. Our digestive fire is strongest at this time of day.
  • Eat a light dinner around 5:30-6:00 p.m.
  • Avoid snacking after dinner. You will be completing a mini fast each night if you follow this simple suggestion.

Remember, cleansing is not just about what we eat or don’t eat. Here are a few tips for clearing out mind clutter, emotional baggage and our environment:

  • Focus on eliminating negative thoughts and actions.
  • Journal, journal, journal those thoughts! It’s an effective way of moving them out of the body/mind.
  • Get bodywork! This is an excellent time for massage, acupuncture, energy healing, craniosacral, chi nei tsang, etc. Stuck energy needs to get worked out of the body before disease sets in. I love Ayurvedic abhyanga massage which is both detoxifying, calming, and centered around your particular dosha. You can find out which services I offer HERE.
  • Check out The Emotion Code.
  • Clear your surrounding of unnecessary clutter. We all know how good that makes us feel and how much clarity it gives us.
  • Clear your life of unnecessary toxic relationships.
  • Let there be light! If you’re living in a cold gloomy climate right now and can’t hop a plane to Florida, invest in a light box and optimize your Vitamin D3 levels. Oral supplementation is not always effective if your liver is particularly toxic. Here is a transdermal cream form of Vitamin D3 that you might like to try.

A word about the doshas:

Vata is the most sensitive of the doshas and care should be taken not to attempt too intense of a cleanse. Rather than balancing the dosha, a harsh cleanse can easily drive Vata even more out of balance. It is the dosha of depletion and so Vata types should primarily focus on calming, nurturing and rejuvenating the dosha, rather than cleansing. Juice fasts are generally not the best type of cleanse for Vata types because they are cold, light and dry – all unbalancing. See my latest post which explains the concept of the gunas. Vata types like myself are likely raring to go and bursting with fresh ideas after the long challenging Vata Season.

Pitta types usually have the easiest time cleansing, especially in the spring when the weather is still cool. They have lots of internal heat and generally very strong digestive fires. Pitta types are also the ones who do best with green juices because of their cooling nature.

Kapha types are the ones who will need encouragement from their Vata and Pitta loved ones to even consider a cleanse, although they are the ones who benefit the most because of their often sluggish metabolism. March is a very difficult month for Kapha types (please read my article on Kapha Season) and depression is a real problem at this time. They would much rather bury themselves under the covers for a couple of months than get up and get moving. Kapha types generally have both internal and external sluggishness which is especially prevalent at this time.

Of course, most of us are dual-dosha types and should put our emphasis on whichever dosha is dominant during a particular season.

Hang in there!

First and foremost, when doing any type of a cleanse, listen to your own body. Start with baby steps, perhaps just by assessing whether you’re chronically dehydrated or not, or by eliminating the habit of snacking in the evening. If you overdue it, especially your first time around, you may do more harm than good. Consulting with an Ayurvedic practitioner is always a good idea to help you figure out your particular needs based on your constitution. I’m happy to be that person or happy to help you find someone else.

Unfortunately, we live in a toxic world now with a food system that does little to help us stay healthy. It’s up to us as individuals to make smart choices for ourselves and our children.

Ayurveda is all about common sense and feeling into the wisdom of your own body. This is how our ancestors lived and thrived for generations. Ayurveda is not some complicated restrictive system of medicine only for academics. It is our birthright and the knowledge that it brings is part of our ancestral memory. Tap into it and you will be amazed!

Much love,
Barbara

Some great resources to help motivate and support you.

Banyan Botanicals Ayurvedic Cleanse E-Book
Zrii Purify Program Guide
The Easy Way to Stop Smoking By Allen Carr (It really works!)

Are you unsure of your Ayurvedic constitution? Click HERE  to take a simple quiz.

Need a little help getting back in balance? Sign up for a consultation via phone or Skype (or come see me in person in NYC!) Consultations are 20% off when you sign up during the month of March. Contact me HERE and mention coupon code KAPHA SEASON. First time consultations only.

Posted in Ayurveda, Beets, Change of Seasons, Detoxifying, Digestion, Digestive Health, Doshas, General Wellness, Kapha, Kapha, Nutrition, Pitta, Self-Care, Vata, Vata-Pitta, Wise Earth Ayurveda | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Less is More: Ayurveda and the Art of Moderation

herbsI remember many years ago a friend telling me she had started eating two tablespoons of chia seeds each day, an amount that is commonly recommended on many health websites. Chia seeds are very rich in Omega 3 essential fatty acids and have a host of other health benefits.

But according to Ayurveda, my friend is considered very Vata. Vata types tend to be dry overall, inside and outside, and often suffer from constipation. One of the health benefits of chia seeds is helping regulate elimination, but chia seeds soak up water like a sponge and will draw water from the body along the digestive tract (if not soaked beforehand). So, imagine what that does to a person whose colon already tends towards dryness.

On the other hand, someone with a Kapha constitution might not need to worry as much because Kapha types often have an excess of water in their system.

This is a perfect example of why we need to be more in tune with our own body and not just follow the crowd, no matter how health-conscious they are!

And more is not always better, or, as the saying goes, less is more. One of the greatest lessons I learned studying Ayurveda with Maya Tiwari, was to be prudent with the use of herbs. We know how dangerous it is to be taking multiple prescription drugs, but we think nothing of chugging down handfuls of herbal supplements on a daily basis for months, or even years, at a time. Yes, herbs are food, but just like certain foods have contraindications for people, so do herbs, and an easy-does-it approach always works best. Sometimes just a pinch of an herb is more than enough to do the trick.

Ideally, we should only take one or two herbal remedies at a time, and let our body give us signals as to whether or not they are working for us. Three months is a typical amount of time that Ayurvedic practitioners give their patients when recommending herbs. The whole point is to give the body a little jump start back towards balance where it can take over on its own. If nothing else, give your body a mini-rest from supplements/herbs one day a week. And be patient! It can take the body years to find itself in a state of dis-ease and it can take many months to bring it back to good health.

This is a really hard concept for many of us – Vata and Pitta types especially – who tend to pile on new things to try and are impatient for results. A Kapha type, on the other hand, might be more cautious, or inclined not to try anything at all!

I am guilty as charged here. As a Vata-Pitta type, I eagerly take on the role of human guinea pig and will try anything, often getting trapped in a situation where I don’t know what is or what isn’t working because I have too many things going on at once.

Ayurveda is all about balance and one of its most important principles is that of the gunas. The Sanskrit word guna means quality or attribute. (Note: I am not referring here to the three gunas  in Yoga known as Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. That is a conversation for another day.)

The twenty gunas in Ayurveda I have listed below are ten pairs of opposite qualities that apply to everything in Nature, including us. They can be applied to the five elements (air, ether, fire, water and earth) the doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), our food and environment, and even our emotions. The gunas are as follows:

  • Cold and Hot
  • Heavy and Light
  • Smooth/Slimy and Rough
  • Dull and Sharp/Pungent
  • Dense and Liquid
  • Oily and Dry
  • Static and Mobile
  • Soft and Hard
  • Gross and Subtle
  • Transparent and Opaque

There are actually many more gunas in Ayurveda, but these twenty are the most widely considered.

If you learn nothing else from Ayurveda, reflect upon the gunas. They give us vital clues about the state of our health. By paying close attention to these qualities in how we feel, what we eat, and what environment we’re in, we can target an imbalance and work to change it ourselves.

Here’s an example: Do you eat too many hot, spicy foods? Do you always run hot – in your body and in your emotions? Feel like a pressure cooker sometimes? Chances are your liver is overtaxed and a possible area of weakness in your body. Recognizing this, you can begin to eat more cooling foods, avoid heating foods, stay out of the heat, cool your emotions through meditation, breathing exercises, walking in the moonlight, and even avoiding confrontational situations in the heat of the day.

Does this sound vaguely like I am describing a Pitta-type personality? That is because each dosha has specific gunas which are associated with it.

The gunas of the doshas are:

Vata: cold, dry, light, rough, subtle, mobile, transparent, astringent
Pitta: pungent, hot, slightly oily, liquid, mobile, light, sharp
Kapha: heavy, dull, oily, cold, liquid, smooth/slimy, static, gross, opaque/cloudy

Gunas that are opposite each other will be pacifying to a dosha, while gunas that are close in nature will aggravate the dosha.

The six tastes according to Ayurveda (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent) also come into play here.

Vata: Bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes will increase Vata and cause an imbalance because they are cooling and drying. Sweet, sour and salty tastes will help pacify Vata and bring it back into balance. Of course I don’t mean candy and potato chips will balance Vata! Sweet, sour and salty healthy foods such as sweet fruits, vegetables and grains, sour pickles and sea salt or seaweed are Vata-pacifying. Worth noting, however, than any food in excess will aggravate Vata dosha. Oh, you have no ideas how much I love potato chips…

Pitta: Pungent, sour and salty tastes will increase Pitta dosha while bitter, sweet and astringent will help pacify Pitta. This is why Pitta types do so well eating a lot of greens (including green juices), which tend to be bitter and astringent.

Kapha: Sour, sweet and salty tastes increase Kapha, while bitter, astringent and pungent decrease Kapha. All spices (except salt), green leafy vegetables and most legumes are some good Kapha food choices.

Remember that less is more and there can always be too much of a good thing. And variety is the spice of life! Don’t get stuck thinking that you have to religiously follow a dosha-specific list to practice Ayurveda.

Just because your constitution is Vata doesn’t mean you can’t ever have popcorn because it’s drying. Eat it occasionally, if you like, with lots of melted ghee or coconut oil on it! :) Or stay away from it when you’re feeling dehydrated and unbalanced. True Ayurveda is being in tune with your body and mind and giving it what it needs to stay healthy. Of course, this will fluctuate from day to day, season to season, year to year. Be flexible and have fun listening to your body. It really can talk to you!

By the way, my friend didn’t need to stop eating chia seeds altogether. Maybe she was digesting them just fine. Maybe she has enough Pitta or Kapha in her constitution that she doesn’t suffer from typical Vata dryness and constipation. Or perhaps she hydrates herself really well.  Maybe she could start out with a 1/2 tsp. of chia seeds and see how her body handles them. Soaking chia seeds in water first is crucial – it allows them to absorb the water before they enter your system so there’s less chance of added dehydration.

The lesson here is to start out slow, using less and pay close attention to how your body is reacting to a new food, herb, or even environment. Let me know how you do!

Much love,
Barbara

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