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Acceptance

In both Yogic philosophy and practice, developing equanimity of mind is central to the practice of meditation. Through our practice we can observe that the mind is either constantly attracted towards the objects of the senses, or it has aversion to them. Everything is being weighed on the scales of pleasure and pain, lose and gain, good or bad and so on, and a great deal of energy is spent seeking pleasurable experiences, while avoiding others that are painful. If we become too attached to something, we may no longer even enjoy that which we have obtained because we start to fear of losing it. This clouds the joy of experiencing life as it is. One of my teachers puts it like this, “we eat the banana of pleasure, only to slip on the peel of pain.” The slip isn’t in the experiencing something, but the attachment to it in the mind. In our constant search for comfort, or a sense of safety, it is easy to mistake the temporary satisfaction felt by having certain experiences for the true lasting contentment that is our very nature. My guru uses the analogy here or a thirsty man mistaking a mirage in the dessert for water.

When we seek the view of a mountain vista, or to stand on the shores of the sea and look out into the vast expanse of water, we are in a very real sense, seeking that infinite peace within. Humanity is constantly in search for this, and people of all shapes and sizes search in the cathedral of nature for the spiritual union, even if they don’t realize it. The joy felt in such surroundings is nature’s way of wooing us back to the present moment. The point I want to make here is that this peaceful, contented feeling we get when we behold something beautiful is really whelming up from within, rather than being something is added to us, that makes us feel this way. Remembering this in the heat of passion, joy or bliss is an important piece of wisdom that the yogis share with us.

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In the world of duality, we experience both side of the coin, so rejecting and avoiding pain only perpetuates it. Of coarse, this is easy stuff to talk about, but when the rubber hits the road it is another story all together. So how can we learn to loosen the grip of our attachments to the way we would like things to be and learn accept the way things as they are? Well, according to the yogis, it is only by persistent and unbroken practice in every moment of life, not just sitting, but in all of our daily activities. When we seek knowledge of our true nature, we must apply ourselves to that task and no matter how you slice it, life presents us with the opportunity to practice. We are not trying to force this process, but rather open, and relax into it, but this takes practice and constant remembering. If we are already established in the deep peace, the need for practice doesn’t arise, and no theoretical explanation is needed, one simply is. Many yogis I have come to respect teach that such a one has already gone through the needed practice. If you feel that there is more to yourself than the fluctuating thoughts in the mind, or you have a deep sense of longing and yearning for inner peace, this is a good signal that practice is the right medicine for your ills.

We may not consider ourselves to be on a spiritual path, but the path of life is a practice, if we choose to view it that way. Those that consciously take up the path of sadhana, or regular practice, have chosen to place a greater amount of life energy towards this inner investigation. The great yogi, Ramana Maharishi, would often say that the one simple and fundamental truth is that we are all having an experience of the “I” or a sense of “being alive.” We may not know who we are, why we are here, or how we can to be, but here we are experiencing life in the world. If we seek to penetrate beyond the temporary manifestations and experiences of life, and peek behind the veil, we can practice meditation to train the mind, until quieting the mind becomes as natural as walking and breathing. When we go about the day to day, try to remember that the contentment that settles the spirit is not something gained from outside oneself, from anyone or anything. That being said, the practice of yoga is not a form of escapism, where we live on an isolated island within oneself. Let life offer a helping hand, it is a priceless gift to be loved by another and share the gift of being. The freedom of yoga, or union, that I am speaking of here is the freedom to love, to taste, to touch, and experience life more fully, without being hindered by the self generating pain of attachment that binds us to the memories of past and our worries of the future.  It is also a freedom from the self-criticism and for the aversion to the way we perceive ourselves. We are not broken and we don’t have to fix ourselves either. This process is one of deeper and deeper surrendering and self-love.

The one teachings of my guru that has stayed with me more than almost anything else he every wrote on his chalkboard is “peace comes when we accept life as it is.”

Life undoubtedly will present us with many challenges, but it seems that over time, we learn to accept things. The resiliency of spirit somehow gives us the ability to accept almost anything, in time. When we make an effort to show up everyday to practice meditation, we are training ourselves in a deeper way, to accept things as they are, in that moment, no matter how we feel. Meditation is an act of deep surrender that spreads out into all aspects of our life. Conversely, what arises during practice, often relates to our dealings in day-to-day life, one reflecting the others.

At times we may feel enthusiastic about sitting for meditation, and at other times we may feel like it is the last thing we want to do with ourselves. In my practice, when I’m distracted and preoccupied with the daily list of things to do, I make a note of what it is that needs attending to afterwards, and then resolve myself to the practice as earnestly as I can by saying to myself, “There is plenty of time for all of “that,” after “this.”

Often the mind will make every excuse in the book to not take the precious time out to sit. This is precisely where our practice of meditation can really start bearing fruit. When the river of emotion is swollen and ready to breach its banks, if we can bring ourselves to the meditation cushion, withdrawing the mind away from the pulls of the world, we are in a sense strengthening the muscle of dharana (concentration.)

Over the past 23 years of practicing meditation, I have become less interested in what will be gained by this process. I am less concerned with what I am getting out of it. At first, it is natural to yearn for some release from the tumult of the mind, from our struggles and suffering, but over the months and years, it has become apparent to me that practice has been of tremendous benefit in my daily life. Many meditators I have met over the years have shared with me a similar sentiment about the value of practice. It may not be an easy journey we are on, and at times it seems that we are dragged into the abyss against our will, kicking and screaming. The waters of mystery tempted us to the edge, and we couldn’t resist dipping our curious toe into the water, and whoosh, we are pulled in.

My guru often says, “fake it till you make it,” to students that complain about how distracted their minds get while attempting to meditate. What I feel he is trying to convey by this comment is that when we maintain a regular practice, making a concerted effort to sit still, calm the breath, and gently and persistently redirect the mind back to the present moment, the murky water of our mind will eventually settle.   Another point he makes is that each time we sit to meditate, it is like adding a thread to a rope, which over time gets thicker and stronger, until we can climb quickly into the stillness of meditation; into the clear sky behind the clouds our thoughts. This process may take time, even years, so it’s helpful to balance our effort with softness; remembering that where we are trying to get to is closer than our own skin. It may be helpful to reflect on the truth that there is nothing to attain that we don’t already possess in our heart.  There is no perfect technique, posture or practice that can enhance the changeless, pure consciousness that is the source our own breath.

It is the restlessness of the mind that keeps our true nature obscured, and the very act of practice is a willingness to turn within to uncover the truth of our being. When we stabilize the mind through meditation, day after day, the muscle of concentration is strengthened, and the gaps between the thoughts become larger and more spacious. This can happen for just a moment, but these moments can have tangible affects own our being. When we become become less interesting in the endless chatter, the thoughts the mind become like a distant roar of a crowd and the mind soon becomes merged into the object of our meditation. This object can be a thought, such as “I Am,” or one of the many the names or forms of God or Great Spirit.

In my experience, the one thing that I can say for certain is that the practice never leaves me alone for long. If I try to shake it off, and just hovers around like a horsefly, until it can again land on my shoulder again. The impressions formed in meditative states have a way of resurfacing in all aspects of our lives, coaxing us ever closer to our true Self.

soham

Ajapa meditation is the practice of reciting a mantra internally, as a mental repetition. One of the most well known mantras used for practicing Ajapa is the  So Hum mantra. This mantra is as ancient as the breath itself, since it is the sound that the breath makes as it moves in and out of the body. It is the first and most constant expression of the Self within. A new born baby chants this mantra as it takes its first breath. The seed syllable “So” represents the pure I-sense, that Self, God or pure consciousness, and “Hum” represents am-ness, or the sense of being. “So Hum” is often translated as I Am He, but I prefer I Am That, or That I am. It can also be recited as Hum Sah, and when put together as one mantra it is So Hum-Hum Sah, which is similar in meaning as I Am That I Am. So Ham Hum Sah is a good mantra to say internally or externally for protection and releasing fear or trauma.

Traditionally, there are many methods for chanting So Hum. A good practice to start with is to simply recite the mantra internally as you breathe deeply and slowly. When you inhale, slowly and mentally chant the sound “So” and visualize the breath coming in through the nostrils and moving down through the chest and coming to rest just behind the navel. After a brief pause, slowly exhale and mentally say “Hum” as the breath comes back up through the body and out just past the tip of the nostrils, again pause briefly. As your mind becomes concentrated, your breath will  slow down and become more shallow. Keep repeating the mantra in this way, as if the breath itself is making the sound of the mantra. When your practice deepens, the visualization of the breath may fall away and just the sound of the mantra will remain. Throughout this practice, it is helpful to reflect, from time to time, on the meaning and vibration of the mantra. Ultimately, the mind will come to reside in the meaning “I Am That,” That pure, infinite, consciousness. The practice of Ajapa eventually leads the aspirant to heart of the mantra and Self realization.

If visualization doesn’t feel comfortable or natural, then simply breathe in and out while repeating the mantra, reflecting on the meaning and feeling the power and vibration of the mantra. If the mind stops the chanting, enters stillness, then just abide in that. If you notice that the mind is starts following thoughts, and creating stories, gently redirect the mind back to the practice.

It is helpful to keep the body relaxed and as still and comfortable as possible while doing Ajapa meditation. Lastly, my guru Baba Hari Dass has expressed that chanting So Ham helps to purity the subtle body, while Hum Sah is more purifying to the physical body. The practice I have shared here can be done either way. The key is to practice it regularly.

Benefits of Healthy Fats in the Diet

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Ayurveda has long proclaimed the benefits of adding healthy fats into the daily diet. Fats are associated with kapha dosha; the bodily humor comprised of the earth and water element and governs the structural and lubricating energy of the body. Healthy fats are deeply nourishing to the bodily tissues and help to loosen metabolic waste products from the deep tissues, organs and channels, thus aiding in their elimination.

Cell membranes are comprised mainly of fatty acids, and their integrity is crucial for the free flow of nutrition and removal of waste products. A healthy cell structure enables clear cell-to-cell communication, which is essential for maintaining health and the prevention of diseases such as cancer and autoimmune diseases, where this communication is greatly broken down. So in this way, the right amount of healthy fats can help to keep the lines of cellular communication open and flowing freely.

In Ayurveda, this cellular communication is associated with prana, the vital life force energy.  The spark of intelligence that guides prana is associated with tejas, the subtle essence of pitta dosha, and the pathways in which this communication takes place in the field of kapha. To go deeper here, the myelin sheath, the insulating layer that forms around the nerves, is made up of kapha, in the form of fats and proteins. The myelin insulates the nerves and allows the impulses to move quickly and efficiently. If the myelin becomes damaged due to excess movement of vata, or deranged pitta, it can lead to demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Here, healthy fats can help to calm vata, pacify pitta and nourish and protect kapha dosha.

Adding the right amount of healthy fats into our diet has both cleansing and rejuvenating effects. For thousands of years Ayurveda has known about this and has encouraged eating healthy fats, such as ghee, for nourishment and prior to Panchakarma, cleansing and rejuvenation therapy to lubricate the bodily tissues, thus loosen toxins to be expelled from the system.  In deficient conditions bone marrow broths are also used to build the strength back up and to protect and nourish the nervous system. Conversely, if our diet contains trans fats, rancid and over cooked oils, or conventionally raised and grain feed animals, it contributes to the degradation of the fluidity and permeability of the cell membrane.

 Omega 3 Fatty Acid

In recent years, the awareness of the benefits of healthy fats in the daily diet has increased. The most notable are essential fatty acids, or EFAs especially from Omega-3. Aspects of these oils are not produced by the body, and must be obtained from the food we eat.  We already tend to get enough of Omega 6 & 9 already, so it is important to that we get more Omega-3 from sources including high quality fish oil, walnuts, flax seeds, soy beans, pumpkin seeds, and dark leafy greens and so on.  There are also some very good Omega 3 oil supplements in both fish and vegetarian form. Omega-3 has shown to support the immune system and metabolism, regulate cholesterol, and enhance the joints, eyes, bones and nerve tissue. Along with a holistic approach it may also aid in the treatment of mental and emotional conditions such as mood swings, depression, ADHA, and bipolar disorder. Omega 3’s anti-inflammatory and immune supportive properties make is a useful addition in the treatment of asthma, arthritis and degenerative and autoimmune diseases.

Fat Got a Bad Rape

Unfortunately, fat got a bad reputation in the 80 and 90’s and people where encouraged to eat low fat diets, but unhealthy fats still made their way into the daily diet in the form of trans fat and partially hydrogenated oils. In fact, he standard American diet is still loaded with trans fat and poor quality saturated fats. It is important to note that not all fat is bad for the body. In fact, saturated fat from coconut, avocado, nuts and ghee (clarified butter) is quite nourishing for the body.

Ghee ~ The Nectar of the Gods

Ghee (clarified butter) has a full spectrum of short, medium and long chain fatty acids, both unsaturated and saturated. Ghee made from the butter of healthy, organic, grass fed cows is naturally lactose free and a rich source of Omega 3 & 9 essential fatty acids, anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins such as E, A D, and K.

Ayurveda often uses ghee as an anupana, a substance that is taken along with other herbs to enhance their absorption and direction into the body. When we cook food in ghee, it enhances the flavor, improves agni (digestive fire), and increases the absorption of nutrients. Lightly sautéing culinary spices in ghee is a good way to improve digestion and nourish the system, especially in the fall and winter months, when the body experiences more dryness as a result of increased vata dosha. Ghee is also considered sattwic, or pure, and can be added to meat soups to help balance meats tamasic, or inert qualities.

 

Health benefits of ghee:

Improves digestion and absorption

Nourishes the bodily tissues, especially the nerves

Lubricates, cleanses and protects the channels

Improves complexion

Increases immunity

Reduces inflammation

Improves mental function

Improves the eyesight

And much, much more

Fat Sources to Avoid:

Grain fed beef

Meat from non-organic and conventionally raised sources

Non-organic, non-free range eggs

Homogenized  dairy products

Deep fried foods

Refined cooing oils

Rancid nuts and seeds (taste them first)

Lard

Farmed fish

Donuts

Conventional brand cookies, crackers and breads (many contain partially hydrogenated oil)

Ice cream (unless its your birthday J)

Medhya Rasayana – Mental Rejuvenation

In Ayurveda, herbs that rejuvenate the mind and nervous system are known as medhya rasayanas. In Western herbalism, many of these herbs are classified as nervines. Medhya rasayana herbs help to calm the mind, relax the body, and even replenish and regenerate the nervous system. These herbs are great allies against the oxidizing effects of stress and the depletion of our vital energy and immunity. Some are heavy, grounding and sedating like valerian, hops, poppy or kava kava. Others are still calming, yet have lighter energy such as passion flower, gotu kola or skullcap. Nourishing tonic herbs, most notably ashwagandha, also have calming qualities, but can also provide strength and energy where and when needed.

Herbs are Broad Spectrum

It can often be hard to make a clear distinction between one category of herbs and another, since a single herb can possess several actions. For instance, I have frequently given laxative herbs to promote intestinal cleansing, and the person will report back that they are sleeping better and thinking clearer. This shows the connection between our digestive function, the mind, immune system and so on, because all our bodily systems work as a whole.

For example, herbs that clear excess heat and toxins from the liver like bhringraj (eclipta alba), brahmi (gotu kola and bacopa monnieri) also have properties that are seen to improve mental function. Others like dandelion leaf of punarnava help to clear heat from the liver as well as through the urinary system. So when creating an herbal blend, you might select a few herbs that not only target the nervous system, but also improve digestion, elimination, and so on.

Agni (Digestive Fire) and the MInd

Before I talk further about herbs help the mind and nervous system, lets take a closer look at the concept of agni, digestive fire. The main type of agni is situated in the stomach as jathara agni, and is responsible for breaking down the food stuff into the food precursors (ahara rasa). Agni is also present in the liver as bhuta agni, the digestive energy that breaks down the five elements in our food, making them usable in the formation of the bodily tissues. There are also specialized forms of agni present in every tissue and cell in the body. When any of the various aspects of agni are out of balance, ama (metabolic wastes) can accumulate in the body. As ama accumulates in the body, it disrupts the function of the internal organs and can greatly effect how we feel on a mental and emotional level.

Liver and Emotions

If the liver becomes toxic, it can cause emotional instability and leave one feeling irritable and agitated. The liver is a major filter for toxins, and when it is clogged or sluggish, symptoms might include diminished desires and zest for life, brain fog, moodiness, anger, poor digestion, weight gain and fatigue.

To gain the most benefit from mental rejuvenative herbs, it helps to first cleanse impurities from the liver and blood. Many of these liver specific herbs are also great rejuvenators to the mind. One of my favorite nervines herbs for this is gotu kola, which has gentle blood purifying as well and nervine properties.. Others include bhringraj (eclipta alba), jatamansi, and skullcap. Stronger liver cleansers include neem, milk thistle, Oregon grape root, barberry, yellow dock and shanka pushpi can also be employed for a deeper cleansing action.

Some herbs that assist liver energy are also nourishing tonics. I especially like these herbs for ongoing care. Herbs like shatavari and ashwagandha help to gently cleanse the liver and blood, while also acting as nutritive tonics to the bodily tissues. If someone is weak or deficient, but still needs some liver support, I often use herbs like shatavari, gotu kola, red clover, or burdock root. Licorice root is also sweet, nourishing, and anti-inflammatory.

Getting Organ Specific

We can also use herbs that have a specific affinity to a particular organ to help release mental and emotional stress form that area. For example, if there is deep-seated grief and sadness in the lungs, herbs like as tulsi or vacha (calamus root), both having decongestant as well as nervine properties, can aid in releasing the trapped emotions. This approach can also be used for any organ. For the heart we can use Hawthorne berry, arjuna, or pushkarmool (elecampane) to warm and open the heart center along with herbs that increase our awareness of what surfaces from the unconscious mind. Below are a few formulas that act on specific organs and their related emotional energies.

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Heart Opening Formula:

Hawthorne berry 3 parts

Arjuna                    2 parts

Brahmi                    3 parts

Cardamom             ½ part

Cinnamon               1 part

Lung Opening Formula:

Tulsi               3 parts

Vacha (Calamus)        2 parts

Fennel           2 part

Mint-              1 part

Ginger            1 part

Liver Calming

Burdock root     4 parts

Red clover         2 parts

Gotu kola           3 parts

Skullcap             3 parts

Oats straw         3 parts

Chamomile        2 parts

Rose petals       1 part

The above formulas are just simple ways we can explore with mental rejuvenative and other supportive herbs to direct there energy. You can start with these formulas or create your own, by adding herbs to suit your individual needs.

Seasonal Effects on Immunity

In Ayurveda, the fall season is related to vata dosha, the bodily humor comprised of air and ether element.  During this time, vata becomes increasingly unstable as the cold, dry, and erratic qualities increased in the environment. This can be observed in cold, windy, and shifting whether, as well as in the drying up of leaves and plants. From the winter until early spring, kapha dosha, the earth and water humor, increases and can causes damp, heavy, and stagnating qualities to accumulate in the body. One of the most immunologically vulnerable times is during the change of season, especially from warm to cold whether. Here, it is important to follow healthy habits to protect your immune system.

Below are some helpful tips to help prevent getting in the weeks leading up to fall or winter.

Tips for prevention:

  • Dress warm and cover your chest and neck in cold weather.
  • Drink a glass of warm lemon water first thing in the morning.
  • Drink sufficient of water throughout the day.
  • Avoid damp forming foods, such as excess dairy products, sweets, baked goodies, cold foods and drinks.
  • Avoid eating cane sugar when possible.
  • Get plenty of rest, and avoid staying up late.
  • Get daily exercise, everyday.
  • Taking 1000-2000 mg. of high quality Vitamin C daily
  • Adding herbs and spices like turmeric, fresh ginger and raw garlic to your food.
  • Infuse citrus essential oils in you living space.

Tips for Treating the Common Colds and flu.

  • Stay hydrated by drinking water, or herbal teas (room temperature or warm)
  • Eat warm soupy foods, light broths, and steamed vegetables.
  • Eat according to you appetite, no more no less.
  • Avoid grains, breads, sweets, fried, and heavy foods.
  • Avoid concentrated/bottled fruit juices.
  • Rest, Rest Rest.
  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom if the air is dry.

Herbal Allies

Below is a list of common Western and Ayurvedic herbs that can be helpful for colds, flus and related complaints.

Tulsi Tea

This is one of my favorite herbs for supporting respiratory health. It has an affinity to the lungs, and sinuses, and also helps to reduce fever. It tastes so good that children will gladly drink it with a little honey. I like making a big batch to have on hand throughout the day. Drinking a hot cup of tulsi tea before going to sleep is a good way to induce sweating to bring down a fever. Prepare by adding 1 rounded tsp. of tulsi per 1 cup of hot water and infuse for 15-20 minutes.

Mullein

This herb is great for helping to relieve inflamed mucous membranes and decongest the lungs and sinuses. It works particularly well when there is yellowish to green mucous, due to heat and infection.  To prepare add 1 heaping Tbsp. Mullein per 1 cup of hot water, infuse 15-30 minutes.

Echinacea

This is good herb for treating respiratory tract infections and to give a powerful boost the immune system. Takes 60-90 drops of the liquid extract 3-4 times per day during the acute phase.  A few drops of the liquid extract can be taken straight on the tongue and swallowed to sooth a sore throat and to prevent strep. It has an almost numbing effect on the throat, but it can sort of take your breath away for a few minutes.

Elderberry

Taking 1 tsp size doses of elderberry extract (or capsule form) every few hours during acute on-set can help to resolve a cold of flu more quickly.  For general prevention it can be taken in larger doses of 1 Tbsp. twice daily. Elder flowers can also be made as an infusion to help lower fever.

Turmeric gargle

Turmeric is a strong antimicrobial and can be prepared as a warm gargle to treat sore or strep throat. Add 1 tsp. turmeric and ½ tsp sea salt into a cup of warm water and gargle as often as desired.

Fresh ginger

Ginger tea is a useful diaphoretic and helps to relieve fever by inducing sweating. For this it combines well with herbs like tulsi, boneset, and yarrow. Ginger also helps to support the digestive fire, which can tend to dwindle when ill.

Boneset

This is one of the best herbs for reducing fever and associated body aches.

Andrographis (Kalmegh)

It is an effective antiviral and antibacterial herbs that helps to fight infection fever and flu. It has a cold action and is good for reducing even high fevers.

Wild cherry Bark

Often made into a cough syrup, this herb is good for the later stages of bronchitis to relieve spasmodic coughs as the mucus is breaking up and tickling the bronchials. Planetary Formulas makes a good cough syrup from this herb called “Old Indian Wild Cherry Cough Syrup.”

Osha root

This herb is one of my favorites for decongesting the lungs. Here it combines well with cooling expectorant like horehound, licorice root and mullein.

Neem

Neem is powerful in fighting sinus and bronchial infection, as well as in reducing fevers. It is a good substitute for this more endangered plant goldenseal.

Garlic

Fresh Garlic is one one of the strongest antibiotic herbs. It can be chopped well and sprinkled on food to make eat easier to palate. It can also be crushed and mixed with honey to clear phlegm from the respiratory tract. Take 1-3 cloves per day.

Also check out my new book Ayurvedic Herbology East & West.

There is no doubt that low libido is a serious concern nowadays, as it is made obvious by the increasing amount of erectile dysfunction drugs surfacing on the market. Yet the conventional approach of these drugs tends to focus on providing a quick fix without looking at the bigger picture and finding the root cause of the problem. Another concern related to male reproductive health is sterility. Ayurveda can certainly help us get a deeper understanding of these complex issues and deal with them in a holistic manner with the use of herbs along with diet and lifestyle guidelines. A unique aspect of this approach is that it aims to resolve the underlying factors that caused the imbalance in the first place.

Low libido can manifest as a lack of sexual energy or desire, as sexual debility or as the inability to perform properly. Symptoms of sexual debility may include lack of interest, erectile weakness, premature ejaculation, nocturnal emission and spermatorrhea, or the involuntary discharge of semen. Male sterility is a condition where the quality or quantity of the semen is low or altogether absent. This problem can easily go undetected, as it doesn’t necessarily affect the sexual desire.

All these symptoms are clearly expressing that one of the most powerful energies in the body is depleted, and this can be basically related to factors including lifestyle and dietary choices, habits, level of daily stress, family history, parents’ habits, and genetics. To understand how Ayurveda and Ayurvedic herbs can help to promote healthy sexual energy, we need to take a look at how it can become compromised in the first place.

Lifestyle Aspects of Poor Sexual Energy

There are innumerable causes relating to the lack of sexual urges and abilities These include poor diet and inappropriate food combining, overuse of bitter, astringent, salty, sour or spicy foods, emotional strain, improper fasting, old age, genetic factors, suppression of urges, excessive exercise and bicycling. Other important factors seen in clinical practice associated with low libido are general stress, overwork, substance abuse, improper diet and lifestyle, financial worries and troubled relationships, and using sex as one of the main outlets for stress and tension. Skillfully improving the diet and reducing stress through methods such as regular yoga, meditation, nature walks, and other creative means can help clients respond better to herbal treatment and improve their symptoms faster.

In the case of sterility the same factors can certainly play into the imbalance, although there are other aspects to consider that may not be related to the strength of one’s sexual appetite. For instance, Ayurveda recommends that men avoid over heating the testicles with excessively hot baths and prolonged use of sauna (without protecting with a cool, damp cloth), as well as wearing tight underwear and sitting all day, especially with the legs together on a chair. Too much heating tastes like salty, sour and pungent can also over heat the body, as well as over consumption of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol. It has also been observed that extensive use of extremely bitter herbs like neem can decrease the sperm count and the libido.

Other Causative Factors of Poor Sexual Energy

If a couple has been actively trying to conceive for over a year without results, it may be helpful to check with a doctor to rule out other possible causes of male sterility, such as varicocele, a pitta related condition caused by increased blood flow and temperature around the testicles and vas deferens, or hydrocele, a kapha related disorder where excess fluid builds up around the testicles. Other causes may include chronic infection of the prostate, endocrine disorders, anatomical defects causing retrograde ejaculation, and pharmaceutical drugs.

Dhatus and Doshas Involved

From an Ayurvedic perspective, male sexual energy arises from shukra dhatu, the male reproductive tissue. Within this dhatu lays the great potential energy for procreation as well as the fuel for mental focus, concentration, and creativity. Since shukra is the last of all bodily tissues to become fully nourished through the process of digestion, it makes good sense to consider how the diet affects the overall reproductive health. Better eating habits that include stimulating and digestive herbs such as fennel, cumin, fenugreek, and cardamom can greatly contribute to the nourishment of shukra dhatu.

If there is a high level of ama (toxins) present in the system, then some degree of cleansing may also be indicated before addressing the rejuvenation of the reproductive tissue directly. Even ashwagandha, one of Ayurveda’s best reproductive herbs can still fall short if there are too many obstacles in its way.

An important consideration in the treatment of poor reproductive health is the role of the doshas in its causative factors. Low sexual energy is often associated with an aggravation of vata dosha. Vata’s dry, light, cold, rough, erratic, and astringent qualities are opposite to that of shukra, which tends to be more kapha-like in nature. Here a warming tonic herb such as ashwagandha is the best to increase the quality and quantity of shukra.

Excess pitta can also play into the picture due to its hot and sharp qualities, which can overheat and burn shukra and even cause burning upon ejaculation. In this case, cooling herbs like shatavari or bala are good choices to nourish, cool and protect this delicate tissue.

Kapha predominant individuals tend to be the least prone to sterility, but can often experience symptoms of low or obstructed sexual energy and fluids, often associated with conditions such as obesity, congestive disorders, mental dullness and lethargy. In some cases kapha types produce excess shukra, which tends to accumulate as unstable, unripe dhatu and can cause preoccupation with sexual desire. Since many tonic herbs are heavy, sweet and oily (and tend to diminish agni and increase ama), they may aggravate kapha, so it’s best to combine them with light, warming and stimulating herbs such as ginger, cardamom, fenugreek and pippali.

Ayurvedic Vajikarana and Shukrala Herbs

Once any possible causes and contributing factors have been determined, as well as the prakruti and vikruti of the person, then the best herbs and supportive measures can be selected to suit the individual needs. In Ayurvedic pharmacology there is a special group of rasayana herbs, classified as vajikarana, that help to nourish and stimulate the sexual organs and tissues, as well as to promote beauty and sex appeal. Further classifications of herbs that aid in increasing spermatogenesis are referred to as shukrala.

In Sanskrit vaji means “horse” and karana means “power,” to convey the idea of the power or strength of a horse. The closest common Western term for herbs in this category would be aphrodisiacs. Yet because vajikarana herbs nourish the reproductive tissue, they also help to increase ojas, which is the essence of all bodily tissues that can be transformed into spiritual energy.

Vajikarana herbs can act as stimulants, tonics or both. Stimulants are typically heating and rajasic like damiana, fenugreek garlic, and onion. They help to decrease kapha and have more of an invigorating action on the sexual organs. Tonics, whether warming or cooling, are more nourishing and help to restore the overall quality and quantity of the tissues. Some herbs possess both stimulating and rejuvenating properties, such as shilajit, garlic, fenugreek, and ashwagandha.

Common Ayurvedic Tonic Herbs For Male Reproductive Health

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

In Sanskrit, ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” due to the strong odor of the fresh root, which resembles that of horse urine. It is also considered to bestow the sexual vitality of a horse and is often used in cases of sterility and infertility. Being one of the best male rejuvenating tonic herbs, it promotes spermatogenesis, blood flow and tone to the reproductive organs and regulates hormonal function. It is commonly used to relieve conditions such as spermatorrhea, impotence, premature ejaculation, nocturnal emission and enlarged prostate.

Its grounding and deeply nourishing qualities make it one of the best vata pacifying medicines. Due to its warming energy, it can provoke pitta when used in excess. This is especially true when prepared as a tincture, although the powdered herb used in combination with cooling vajikarana herbs such as shatavari, bala, licorice or vidari is fairly neutral. Ashwagandha has anabolic properties and increases the tone and strength of the muscles. Because it helps to combat stress, relax the body and mind, and fortify all the dhatus, it is a perfect herb for targeting many of the contributing factors associated with depleted sexual energy.

In my experience it is a fairly gentle herb with a wide range of uses and one of the most common vata pratyanika herbs. Some key signs and symptoms to look for when considering this herb are generalized low libido, stress, low mental or physical energy, depletion, insomnia, hyperactivity, nervousness, anxiety, worry and depression.

One of the most effective and simple ways to use this herb is to boil 1 teaspoon of the powdered root in a cup of raw unhomogenized cow’s milk for several minutes, sweeten with raw sugar or honey and take before going to bed or first thing in the morning. Those who don’t drink milk can use fresh almond milk or just plain hot water. I personally use this herb in formulation or along with other compounds more than just by itself for most conditions.

It is commonly used in combination with shilajit in male tonic formulas, which should be used with caution by pitta and vata folks or those with excess heat in the body. If kapha is involved in the imbalance, then it is best used along with stimulating spices such as pippali, ginger, cardamom, or fenugreek.

Ashwagandha plays a key role in several traditional compounds that are quite useful to enhance virility, including Ashwagandhadi churna and Ashwagandhadi lehya, a tasty herbal jam that is taken twice daily in doses of 1 to 2 teaspoons along with warm milk or water. Also, ashwagandharishta, an herbal wine preparation that is great for sexual debility as well as afflictions of the mind and nervous system, in doses of 20 to 30 ml twice daily. A moderate dose of the powdered herb ranges from 2 to 6 grams, 2 to 3 times daily.

Due to its sattwic quality, ashwagandha has long been used by the yogis of India to increase shukra/arthava dhatu and transform it into ojas, thus promoting spiritual energy and enhancing meditative power. Since mental rejuvenation is vital for overall health, ashwagandha is also one of the most valuable medhya rasayana herbs in Ayurveda, and it combines well with other medhya rasayana herbs such as brahmi (gotu kola or bacopa monniera), shanka pushpi and vacha.

 Kapikacchu (Mucuna pruriens)

This is perhaps one of my personal favorite vajikarana herbs for men, second to ashwagandha, which is its frequent partner in male supportive formulas. It has a sweet and bitter taste, and is quite heavy and oily. When used in moderation it is fairly tridoshic but is mainly used to balance vata and pitta, as it increases kapha and ama in excess.

Kapikacchu is often used along with gokshura for the treatment of spermatorrhea and as a potent aphrodisiac when prepared with other rejuvenating substances, including milk, ghee and honey. A simple milk decoction with these ingredients can serve as an alternative to some of the more elaborate preparations mentioned in the classic texts for increasing the sexual vigor and potency. Combined with diuretics like punarnava and gokshura, it is very effective in the treatment of enlarged prostate and edema. It also helps to buffer stress when used along with other vata balancing herbs like bala, ashwagandha and jatamansi. Typical doses of the powdered herb range from 1.5 to 6 grams. One should avoid it in cases of aggravated pitta or high ama, unless it is well formulated.

Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)

Although best known as one of the most important rejuvenating herbs for the female reproductive system, shatavari can also serve as a powerful male tonic. It has a bittersweet taste, is cooling and purifying to the liver and blood, and it helps to target pitta at its main site in the small intestine. When treating male sterility, shatavari is useful to balance heating herbs and foods that are commonly used to improve sperm count like ashwagandha, garlic and onion.

It prevents excess pitta from burning and depleting the sperm and, due to its heavy, moistening and nourishing properties, it is also a useful herb for vata, especially when combined with other vajikaranas like ashwagandha or bala. In much the same way as ashwagandha, it can be prepared as a milk decoction in doses of 3 to 6 grams, or taken alone or in combination with other appropriate herbs.

For addressing any emotional components that may be associated with libido issues, shatavari combines well with cooling nervine herbs like brahmi (gotu kola) and skullcap for pitta related emotions like anger and irritability. If there is more nervousness, worry or anxiety, then it is best combined with calming and grounding herbs like jatamansi, ashwagandha, or tagara. When there is a need for shatavari but there is a concern with excess kapha or ama, then it is best mixed with warming herbs like pippali or ginger.

Because the state of the digestion is of vital importance in restoring and maintaining health, it is good to note that shatavari is also one of the best herbs for balancing pitta in its main sites, the small intestine. It is used to reduce acidity and inflammation, sooth mucous membranes, and promote elimination due to its mild laxative and cooling diuretic properties.

Shatavari is clearly one of best pitta pratyanika herbs and can serve as a chief herb in formulas for many pitta and pitta-vata related conditions. Some good indicators for using shatavari include general fatigue, low sexual energy, stress, irritability, inflammation, hyperacidity, urinary tract infections, and burning sensations. A typical dose of shatavari is 2 to 6 grams of the powdered herb, 2 to 3 times daily. One should avoid taking this herb in cases of high kapha and ama, or respiratory or sinus congestion.

Since the Ayurvedic approach is very individualized and holistic, the herbs selected for a formula and their proportions will vary depending upon the individuals needs. So let’s say an individual with a pitta predominant constitution presents symptoms of low libido, as well as other complaints such as heartburn, sharp appetite, hypoglycemia, sustained irritability, redness of the eyes and loose stools. Here a formula could use 4 parts shatavari to support the pitta prakruti and vikruti, rejuvenate and protect the reproductive tissues, relieve excess hot and sour qualities of pitta in the stomach, and calm and even neutralize the digestive fire. A supporting herb like vidari could also be added in 3 parts to bolster the sexual and physical energy, further balance pitta in the blood, liver, and GI track, and to help to bulk the stool. To calm the mind, 3 parts gotu kola could be added. Last but not least, 2 parts licorice to help to relieve symptoms of hypoglycemia, support sexual energy and relieve pitta in the intestines and harmonize the formula overall. Such a compound could be taken in doses of 1/2 to 1 tsp. hot or cold infusion, 2 to 3 times daily.

Bala (Sida cordifolia)

Bala means “strength” in Sanskrit, and it is one of the best rejuvenative tonic herbs for vata and pitta. It has a sweet taste, heavy and oily qualities, which may increase kapha when used in excess, and is mildly cooling. As most true rasayana herbs, it nourishes and strengthens all the bodily tissues, especially the plasma, muscle, nerve, marrow and reproductive tissue. Being one of the best anti-vata herbs in Ayurveda, it helps to correct disorders related to deficiency of the body and mind. It plays a leading role in the treatment of balakshaya or chronic fatigue, and can be used when there is exhausted physical or mental strength.

Bala has a tonifying action upon both the male and female reproductive systems, promotes spermatogenesis and fertility, and is very effective in restoring sexual stamina.

Taken internally as well as massaging bala oil or ashwagandha bala tailam onto the penis can significantly improve its tone and help prevent premature ejaculation. For supporting the health of the prostate gland it can be combined with herbs such as gokshura, saw palmetto, ashwagandha, vidari kandha and kapikacchu. A typical dose ranges from 2 to 6 grams, 2 to 3 times daily.

Vidari kandha (Ipomoea digitata)

This starchy tuber is effective in promoting spermatogenesis and works fast when taken as a milk decoction. It is fairly tridoshic when used in moderation and, like ashwagandha, it is lighter for kapha types than shatavari and bala. To treat enlarged prostate it can be combined with kapikacchu or saw palmetto.

It is sweet and cooling, and it promotes ojas and muscle tone and coordination. Vidari is useful for sexual debility associated with nervous tension and adrenal stress. Here it can be used in formulation with herbs including Siberian ginseng, gokshura, licorice and ashwagandha.

The uses of this herb far extend this brief overview, but it is worth mentioning that it is a good alternative if shatavari is either too cooling or heavy, or when ashwagandha may be too warming. It falls right between the two and is of great value as both a vata and pitta pratyanika herb. A typical dose ranges from 2 to 6 grams, 2 to 3 times daily.

Shilajit (Asphaltum, mineral pitch)

Shilajit increases virility and sexual stamina, while maintaining the normal tone of the genital organs. Many vajikarana herbs have an anabolic effect and increase kapha, whereas shilajit with its pungent taste and heating energy invigorates, stimulates and scrapes excess kapha from the body.

In the case of kapha constitutions or kapha related reproductive imbalances, it is commonly combined with ashwagandha. It can also be used with diuretics such as punarnava to further reduce kapha via the kidneys, or warming stimulants that improve digestion, burn ama and refresh the mind and senses, like ajwan, ginger, pippali or the compound trikatu. For enlarged prostate, it combines well with gokshuradi guggulu, ashwagandha, saw palmetto, punarnava or vidhari.

I recommend using shilajit with other herbs or traditional preparations in doses from 250 to 500 mg twice daily. Precaution should be taken when using shilajit in cases of high pitta or vata due to its heating and scraping action, and during pregnancy.

Pippali (Piper longum)

With the exception of shilajit, most of the herbs mentioned in this article tend to increase kapha, so pippali makes a nice addition to formulas containing these herbs, since it is a rejuvenating herb with a warming, stimulating and kapha reducing action.

Pippali is heating, but its oily quality prevents it from becoming too drying to vata and its sweet post digestive effect makes it more pitta friendly than other hot spices and herbs when used in small amounts. Combined with ashwagandha, it helps to promote blood flow to the reproductive organs.

The primary ways we receive prana is through our breath, water and food. Pippali increases prana agni, thus raising the life energy and expelling impurities via the breath. It also kindles jathara and dhatu agni, and improves digestion, absorption and assimilation. Thus it is a key herb for rejuvenation and is used for a wide variety of digestive, respiratory and arthritic disorders. The typical dosage is 1 to 3 parts in complex formulas, or 250 mg to 1.5 grams. One should avoid using pippali in high pitta or inflammatory conditions.

Choosing the Right Herbs

When selecting vajikarana herbs to best suit an individual’s needs it is helpful to first gather as much knowledge regarding the person’s prakruti and vikruti, as well as the characteristics of their condition, the involvement of doshas, tissues, channels and organs, qualitative characteristics of the condition, medical history, contributing factors, strength of digestion, and levels of ama present, as well as their emotional state. This can certainly help to develop a strategy for selecting herbs that will resonate best with the client.

For instance, ashwagandha targets vata at its root and is famous for bolstering sexual energy, but how? By relieving stress, improving muscle tone, calming the mind and nerves, promoting sound sleep, replenishing adrenal energy and stimulating blood flow. There is no wonder how such an herb is perfect for pacifying vata at many levels and how it might support sexual and reproductive health on many levels.

Understanding the dynamic properties of herbs in the light of Ayurvedic principles can help us to choose relatively small amount of herbs to cover the most ground possible. Sometimes even just one herb, if it is well suited to the individual, can be very effective. Another important point to keep in mind is that many rejuvenating tonic herbs are heavy, oily, and hard to digest for those with low agni or high ama. Some individuals will develop gas, bloating or even constipation from such herbs. Here it is important to strengthen agni and cleanse ama before giving heavy herbs, or to combine them with light, warming and stimulating herbs like cardamom, ginger or pippali to make them easier to digest. Alcohol extracts and Ayurvedic medicated wines (arishtas and asavas) like ashwagandharishta or balaristha can help to lighten the properties of sweet, heavy and oily herbs a bit and make them easier to digest because they enter almost immediately into the blood stream.

Cultivating Our Sexual Energy

It is natural for our sex drive to diminish as a result of the aging process, but we can conserve our vital energy and retain our sexual capacities by maintaining a balanced diet and lifestyle, and by taking vajikarana herbs and foods. When choosing herbs to deal with male concerns, it is important to be aware of the various factors that may be contributing to the imbalance in the first place and eliminate those obstacles, whether emotional, dietary, or otherwise.

From a yogic perspective, sexual energy is a powerful force that can be redirected to fuel spiritual practices. It is worth noting that the lack of sexual desire is not always an indicator of low sexual energy, but may also be a sign of spiritual development and contentment.

Moderating sex to once or twice a month can be a powerful way to prevent depletion of reproductive fluids and to allow the body ample time to replenish shukra dhatu. Observing restraint along with pranayama (yogic breathing), asana (postures) and a sattwic (pure) diet, can help to breed contentment in the mind and increase ojas, the vital life essence, which is the by-product of shukra.

Conserving energy, both sexually and otherwise, can help maintain health and promote immunity, healing and peace of mind. This includes pacing ourselves in our daily life, decreasing stress factors, and taking time out to rest, relax and play, as well as giving ourselves time alone or in nature to reflect on how we feel deep inside and resolve any emotional issues. This along with an appropriate diet and the support of Ayurvedic herbs and healthy routines can most certainly uproot any male reproductive health concerns.

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