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The further we have strayed from the simple village life of our ancestors, the more we have moved away from the comfort of a close knit community, spending time in nature, experiencing the darkness of night, the bright shining stars or seeing the sun rise over the trees as the morning mist evaporates into the blue sky.

IMG_0088As we live in our modern world, we can make it a ritual and practice to re-establish a deeper connection by taking regular walks in nature, growing a small garden, exercising daily to off set the more sedentary life of excessive driving and office work. We can choose to walk rather than drive, if possible, or to go for walks alone or with friends and family. Preparing home cooked, healthy and nourishing food more than eating out. Taking time out from our daily duties to relax and enjoy life beyond our work, worries of health, concerns for the endless problems of the world around us. These can revitalize us and allow us to remain inspired when we engage life. We have heard these things in many books, podcast and magazine articles, yet it is so easy to overlook them, to think that someday life will afford us the time and leisure to do them.

Reflect on ways you know you would like to change in a positive way. Consider deeply how you can make the time in you life to partake in these things while you have the life to do it, and remember how good it felt when you did do these things. Health has less to do with medicines and supplements as it does in the life affirming activities that we yearn for on a deep level. When we combine healthy diet with lifestyle we will find that our healing response quickens. One of my mentors Roy EugeneDavis often says “read some, meditate more.” We can apply this idea to healing as well. We can live fully, engaging in healthy, life affirming activities more than searching for health only at the doctors office and on the internet. These things play an important part in health, no doubt, but they can’t substitute for a life well lived. Live well

 

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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.

13Tulsi13

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.

http://www.amazon.com/Ayurvedic-Herbology-East-West-Medicinal/dp/0940985071