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Archive for November, 2013

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.

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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

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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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Panchakarma ~ Detoxification & Rejuvenation

by Vishnu Dass

Ayurveda, the ancient “Science of Life,” is one of the oldest forms of health care in the world. It is a holistic science that places great emphasis on prevention and aims at bringing about and maintaining harmony of body, mind, and consciousness. It encompasses diet and lifestyle guidelines, herbal formulas and preparations, yoga and meditation practices, as well as various therapies that support and enhance individual Ayurvedic programs.

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Ayurveda defines health as the state where every aspect of our being is working properly and in harmony with all its other aspects. That is, the digestive fire (agni) is in a balanced condition; the three doshasvata, pitta and kapha— are in equilibrium according to the individual constitution; waste products (malas) are produced and eliminated normally; and the mind, senses, and consciousness are working harmoniously together. When the balance of any of these systems is disturbed, the disease process begins.

Basically, any aggravation of the doshas affects agni (the digestive fire) and produces toxins or ama. Other factors play a role in the formation of ama, as well. Some of these factors are poor digestion of food, improper food combinations and choices, poor drinking water, pollution, pesticides in food, emotional and physical stress or trauma, and so on. These toxins accumulate and spread throughout the body and eventually deposit themselves into the deeper tissues, organs or channels, creating dysfunction and disease.

One of the most unique aspects of Ayurveda is its cleansing and rejuvenation program known as Panchakarma. Panch means “five” and karma means “action.” Panchakarma consists of five therapeutic actions or treatments that are specific methods to safely and effectively remove ama (toxins) from different areas of the body without damaging or weakening the system.

Panchakarma is very unique in that it is tailored to meet each individual’s needs according to their constitution and doshic imbalances. The therapies involved in this program work to loosen ama (toxins) from the deep tissues in order to be removed through the body’s natural channels of elimination. Before one undertakes the process of Panchakarma, a skilled Ayurvedic clinician must assess one’s weaknesses and determine one’s constitution and current state of doshas, as well as which tissues, channels and organs are involved in the imbalance and need to be addressed. Then the clinician can design a program specific to one’s needs.

There are three phases of Panchakarma: The preliminary therapies, called Purvakarma; the five main therapies of Panchakarma (vamana, nasya, virechan, raktamokshana and basti); and post-treatment procedures called Paschatkarma. Both pre- and post-Panchakarma therapies are essential to the success and long lasting effects of the Panchakarma program.

Purvakarma therapies serve to prepare the body to get rid of stored ama (toxins). Snehana (oleation) is the first step of Purvakarma and it consists of saturating the body with herbal or medicated oils: Abyantar snehana, or internal oleation with ghee or medicated oil, helps loosen ama and move it from deeper tissues into the GI tract where Panchakarma’s main therapies can eliminate it. External oleation is called Abhyanga (or bahya snehana) and it consists of vigorous massage over the whole body with medicated oils. The choice of oils depends on the particular needs and dosha imbalance of the individual.

Once the massage is completed, swedana (literally “sweat”) is performed. The main objective of this therapy is to dilate the channels so that the removal of ama can be more easily achieved. There are several swedana treatments that can also be used as adjunct therapies during Panchakarma, but the two most commonly used are nadi swedana and bashpa swedana. Nadi swedana is a localized application of steam with herbal decoctions and medicated oils. It usually focuses on specific areas of the body, such as sore joints or muscles, to improve mobility and reduce pain. Bashpa swedana applies steam evenly to the whole body (with the exception of the head) with the use of a sweat box. This method is used to further detoxify the body after abhyanga. It is usually followed by herbal plasters and poultices called lepa to help draw toxins out of the pores of the skin.

Lastly, Purvakarma uses shirodhara. It is thought in Ayurveda that deep relaxation provides an environment where deeply rooted imbalances can be overcome and where it is easier to restore the harmony and functional integrity of the doshas. Shirodhara is a subtle and profound treatment that consists in pouring warm oil in a slow, steady stream on the forehead. It pacifies vata dosha, calms and nourishes the central nervous system, promoting relaxation and tranquility, and improves mental clarity and comprehension.

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The basic idea behind the function of Purvakarma therapies can be understood with the following analogy. Suppose you oil a bowl thoroughly and then pour honey into it. The honey cannot stick to the bowl because the slippery quality of the oil does not allow it to. So the honey can be poured out of the bowl much more easily than if the bowl hadn’t been oiled. Ama has the same sticky quality as honey, and so it moves easily after the body has been thoroughly oiled and relaxed with Purvakarma therapies.

After snehana, swedana and shirodhara have been performed, ama is back in the GI tract and can be removed from it with the main Panchakarma therapies: Vamana, nasya, virechan, raktamokshana and basti. Each of these therapies promote the removal of ama through the normal channels of elimination, either moving it upward, downward or through the periphery (skin). The Ayurvedic clinician will assess the imbalances and decide which therapies should be emphasized, depending on which doshas, tissues and organs are involved, and where has ama lodged in the body.

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Vamana (therapeutic emesis) and nasya (nasal administration of medicated oils and herbal preparations) usually relate to kapha; virechan (therapeutic purgation) and raktamokshana (therapeutic withdrawal of blood) relate to pitta, and basti (therapeutic herbal enema) relates to vata. So, for example, in the case of a person with a kapha imbalance, or excess ama in a kapha site, vamana and nasya will be emphasized to remove excess kapha.

Vamana should not be associated with nausea and sickness. The preparation for vamana with the use of herbs makes it a smooth and painless process that can restore balance and help with serious kapha conditions, such as lung problems, diabetes mellitus and more. Nasya removes ama from the nasal passages, ears and eyes, and cleanses and opens the channels of the head, improving oxygenation of the brain.

Virechan is a natural, herb-induced purging process that mainly cleanses the small intestine and pitta related organs (such as the liver and gall bladder), and removes ama and excess pitta from the body, balancing all metabolic functions. Raktamokshana is used to remove excess pitta-related ama from the blood, for certain blood-related and skin conditions.

Basti is probably the most powerful of all five karmas. It consists of introducing medicated oily substances into the colon to be retained and absorbed by the whole body. Its goal is the purification and rejuvenation of the colon, because the colon is linked to all the other organs and tissues of the body. The colon is an important organ for the absorption of nutrients; it is the primary receptacle for waste elimination; and it is the seat of vata dosha, which is the mover of the other doshas and thus of all physiological activity. Therefore, since it balances and nurtures vata dosha, basti karma has a wide-ranging influence in the body and affects all the doshas, channels and tissues.

Common enemas and colonics can help cleanse the colon, but the main difference is that they do not nourish the tissues and they only remove what is present in the colon. Enemas are temporary and localized, and according to Ayurveda, repeated flushing of water with colonic therapy may weaken the mucous membrane and dry the colon, further disrupting the eliminative function of vata. When basti karma is used in conjunction with Purvakarma therapies, it does more than just cleanse the colon. It helps nourish all tissues and remove toxins from the whole body. In other words, basti removes the ama from the whole body that has been brought to the colon by Purvakarma.

Individual Panchakarma programs can be as short as a week and as long as a month or even longer in some cases. During this time, clients are advised to put aside the usual preoccupations with work and family and devote themselves to rest as much as possible, both physically and mentally. They should surround themselves with a warm, comfortable and pleasant environment, reduce sensory input and avoid experiences that provoke strong emotions. It is also advised to meditate and do specific yoga postures, if so desired. This is an essential aspect of Panchakarma, since it will help the detoxification process go deeper.

The diet prescribed during and after treatment is also a key element in this therapy. Heavy food interferes with the cleansing process, so it is advised to eat small amounts of kitchari (a nourishing and cleansing porridge made with mung beans, basmati rice, medicinal spices and clarified butter or ghee) to provide the body with enough nutrition to keep it strong, as well as to keep the digestive fire kindled throughout the process.

According to Ayurveda, it is not enough to simply abstain from food to obtain the maximum benefits of a cleansing program. In fact, Ayurveda discourages long term fasting because the sudden onslaught of ama that can flood the system from fasting for more than a few days is often too drastic and can damage the tissues, weaken the digestion and have long term health repercussions. Plus, just fasting does not necessarily insure that the toxins that are deeply deposited will be removed. This is why Panchakarma lubricates and prepares the body for the removal of ama. Furthermore, it focuses on the individual doshic imbalances and uses herbs and herbal preparations to support and enhance the cleansing process.

The set of procedures that follow the main therapies of Panchakarma, called Paschatkarma, are aimed at assisting the body in the re-establishment of healthy metabolic system and immunity. If these post-treatment procedures are neglected, the digestion may not normalize and the production of ama would continue. So, after the program is over, it is advised to keep eating light, nourishing foods, such as mung dal soup and rice and to gradually add vegetables and other foods. It is recommended to slowly and gradually return to regular activities to avoid taxing the nervous system, because the body is in a sensitive, somewhat vulnerable state after treatment.

The lifestyle program that should be adopted at this time to support the treatment is called dinacharya, or daily routine. The Ayurvedic clinician can give specific guidelines for dinacharya as well as other seasonal guidelines and recommendations. He can also provide rasayanas, which consist of herbal and mineral preparations with specific rejuvenating effects on body and mind. Rasayanas increase the vitality and energy of the person, nourish and rejuvenate the entire organism, and thus are an important part of the Paschatkarma procedures.

Finally, it is worth mentioning here that because vata dosha (the energy of movement) initiates and drives all physiological movements, including that of the other doshas, it is considered in Ayurveda to be the main player in all of the body’s processes. So, managing the functioning of vata is one of the main objectives in Panchakarma and is a good preventative measure in our daily life. For this reason, with the exception of internal oleation, any of the Ayurvedic therapies mentioned here can be used individually or in combination as a vata management program called Rasayana Day Spa, at our clinic Blue Lotus Ayurveda.

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GLOSSARY OF TERMS

 

Agni Fire element, digestive fire.
Agni dipana Increases digestive fire.
Ahamkara Sense of separate self or ego. Literally, “I former.”
Alochaka Pitta Sub-type of pitta which governs visual perception.
Alterative Blood purifying substances that gradually restores healthy bodily functions.
Ama Toxic residue of improperly digested food that can become the source of disease.
Ama pachana Promotes digestion and the destruction of toxins
Amenorrhea Absence or suppression of menstruation.
Anabolic Constructive or building phase of metabolism.
Analgesic A substance that relieves pain.
Anthelmintic Destroying and dispelling parasites (including bacteria, yeasts and fungus).
Antibacterial Inhibits or destroys bacteria.
Antibiotic Inhibits or destroys bacteria and other microorganisms.
Antiemetic A substance that prevents or relieves nausea and vomiting.
Antifungal A substance that prevents and inhibits the growth of fungi.
Antipyretic Dispels heat and reduces fever.
Antispasmodic Relieves muscle spasms and cramping.
Antiviral A substance that inhibits viruses.
Anupana A Substance that serves as a medium of intake for herbs, such as honey, aloe vera juice, etc.
Apana Vayu Downward moving sub-type of vata, responsible for elimination of waste products, gas, menstruation and child birth.
Aphrodisiac Substances that stimulate and/or revitalize the reproductive system.
Arishta/Asava Traditional medicated herbal wines used in Ayurveda.
Aromatic Herbs containing volatile, essential oils that aid digestion and relieve gas.
Artava Female reproductive tissue.
Asthi dhatu Bone tissue.
Astringent Substances that firm tissues and reduce discharges and secretions.
Avalambaka Kapha A sub-type of kapha located in the chest region, mainly in the lungs.
Ayurveda “Science of Life.” The ancient medical system of India.
Basti Therapeutic enema, one of the five main cleansing measures of Panchakarma.
Bhasma Incinerated and purified substance such as a mineral, gem, shell, coral, etc., with potent healing properties.
Bhedaniya Substances that break down accumulated tissues and waste products.
Bhrajaka pitta A subtype of pitta located in the in the skin and governs complexion.
Bhutagni Digestive fire located in the liver that governs the metabolism of the five elements.
Bodhaka kapha A subtype of kapha located in the mouth and tongue and is responsible for taste and digestion.
Buddhi Intellect (individual form).
Carminative A substance that relieves gas and promotes digestion and peristalsis.
Catabolic Destructive phase of metabolism.
Cathartic Strong laxatives that cause powerful evacuation.
Charaka Author of the ancient Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita.
Chikitsa Therapy or treatment.
Cholagogue Promotes flow of bile from the gall bladder.
Cystitis Inflammation of the urinary bladder.
Demulcent Soothes, protects and nurtures internal membranes.
Dhatu The seven main bodily tissues.
Dhatu agni Specialized digestive fires located in the membranes of each of the seven bodily tissues.
Diaphoretic Induces sweating and increases the release of toxins through the skin.
Diuretic Promotes kidney and bladder activity and increases urination.
Dosha Three basic energetic principles, which determine individual constitution.
Drastic A strong laxative.
Dysmenorrhea Painful or difficult menstruation.
Dyspnea Difficulty in breath, often associated with respiratory and cardiac disease.
Edema Swelling caused by fluid retention in the bodily tissues.
Emetic A substance that inducing vomiting.
Emmenagogue A substance that aids in promoting and regulating menstruation.
Emollient Soothes, softens and protects the skin.
Enteritis Inflammation of the small intestine.
Expectorant A substance that encourages the clearing of phlegm from the lungs and throat.
Galactagogue A substance that promotes the secretion of breast milk.
Gastritis Inflammation of the stomach.
Ghee Clarified butter.
Guna Attributes, modes of nature that influence creation.
Hematemesis Vomiting blood.
Hemoptysis Spitting up blood from the lungs.
Hemostaic A type of astringent that stops bleeding and internal hemorrhaging.
Kapha One of three basic energetic principles composed of water and earth.
Kledaka kapha A subtype of kapha located mainly in the stomach, which is associated with gastric and other mucous membrane.
Kundalini Serpent like spiritual energy that rises from below the base of the spine when awakened.
Laxative Substances that promote mild bowel movements.
Lechaniya Scraping or reducing action.
Lithotriptic A substance that dissolves and dispels gall bladder and urinary stones and gravel.
Mahat Cosmic mind, cosmic consciousness.
Majja dhatu Nervous tissue, bone marrow.
Mala Bodily waste products.
Malabsorption Abnormality in the absorption of nutrients across the intestinal tract.
Mamsa dhatu Muscle tissue.
Manas Recording or conditioned mind.
Mandagni Slow or sluggish digestive fire.
Mantra Sacred sounds, sacred syllables.
Meda dhatu Adipose tissue.
Menorrhagia Excess menstrual bleeding.
Nasya Administration of medication through the nose.
Nephritis Inflammation of the kidney.
Nervine Substances that improve the function of the nervous system; may be stimulants or sedatives.
Nirama Without toxins.
Nutritive tonic Increases weight and strength and nourishes all the bodily tissues.
Ojas Refined essence of all bodily tissues, which maintains immunity, strength and vitality.
Pachaka pitta Subtype of pitta located in the stomach region governing digestion.
Pachana Digestion; that which promotes digestion
Panchakarma Five cleansing measures for eliminating ama and dosha from the body (emesis, purgation, enema, bloodletting and nasal medications).
Pitta One of three basic energetic principles composed of fire and water.
Prabhava The special potency or action of a substance that cannot be explained by the logic of its taste, energy or post digestive effect.
Prakruti Eternal principle of matter, primordial energy of creation.
Prana Vital life force, a subtype of vata governing inward movement.
Pranayama Expansion of vital energy (prana), a term commonly used for yogic breathing practices.
Purgative A strong laxative that often causes multiple loose bowel movements.
Purusha The eternal Self, pure consciousness.
Rajas Active principle.
Rakta dhatu Blood tissue.
Ranjaka pitta A subtype of pitta rooted in the liver and spleen and is responsible the color and formation of blood.
Rasa Taste; plasma.
Rasa dhatu Plasma, lymph, white blood cells.
Rasayana Rejuvenation, rejuvenating therapies and substances.
Rejuvenative Prevents decay, slows the aging process and revitalizes the organs.
Rhinitis Sinus inflammation.
Rishis An enlightened seer or sage.
Sadhaka pitta A subtype of pitta located in the brain and heart responsible for mental and higher mind functions.
Sama With toxins.
Sama agni Balanced digestive fire.
Samana vayu A subtype of vata present in the small intestine and navel region that governs the digestive system.
Samkhya The System of Indian philosophy, which deals with cosmic evolution.
Sattwic Purity, clarity, light, essence.
Sedative A substance that calms or tranquilizes.
Sedative Calms or tranquilizes.
Shakti Divine creative energy, cosmic feminine energy.
Shleshaka kapha A subtype of kapha present in the joints, which provides lubrication and freedom of movement.
Shukra Sexual fluid.
Spermatorrhea Abnormal loss of semen without ejaculation.
Srotas Bodily channels or pathways.
Stimulant Improves physical and mental function, increases heat and circulation, dispels chills, and strengthens digestion and metabolism.
Stomachic A substance that strengthens stomach function
Suppuration Pus formation and discharge.
Tamas Inertia, darkness, stability.
Tarpaka kapha A subtype of kapha associated with the white matter of the brain, cerebral spinal fluid and protective membranes in the nervous system.
Tejas Superfine essence of pitta, flame of intelligence in the body.
Tikshna agni Sharp digestion, excessive appetite.
Tikta Bitter taste.
Tinnitis Ringing in the ear.
Tridoshic Balance of the three doshas, balancing to all three doshas.
Udana A subtype of vata that governs speech, energy, will power and exhalation
Urticaria A skin condition characterized by itching or hives.
Vajikarana A substances that enhance sexual energy and function.
Vasodilator A substance that causes relaxation of the blood vessels.
Vata One of three basic energetic principles composed of air and space.
Vedas Ancient scriptures of India.
Vikruti Disease, deviation from nature, imbalanced state of the doshas.
Vipaka Post-digestive effect.
Virya Energy of a substance such as heating and cooling.
Vulnerary A substance that heals wounds and prevents infection by stimulating cell regeneration.
Vyana vayu A subtype of vata governing the circulatory system and the movement of the musculoskeletal system.
Yoga Union with God, the practical science of self or god realization
 

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