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Archive for the ‘Ayurveda and the MInd’ Category

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.

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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.

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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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The Flame of Intelligence

From an ayurvedic perspective, all that we take in through the five senses is processed into a meaningful experience by sadhaka agni, the flame on intelligence in the mind. Pitta dosha, the bodily humor made up primarily of fire and water, has 5 subtypes relating to various sites and functions of the body. Sadhaka pitta is one these subtypes relating to the brain and higher mind function. Pitta is the container of agni, (fire) and this specialized sadhaka agni is responsible for good comprehension, discrimination, learning, and wisdom.

Just as food and water are processed by the gastric fire (jathara agni), the agni that governs mental and high mind functions transforms the “food of the senses” into a meaningful life experience. When an experience is not fully processed, it can cause mental residue, similar to the toxins that accumulate in the GI tract as a result of poor digestion of food. These unresolved thoughts feelings and emotions are often referred to as psychic or mental ama.

For example, if we experience a trauma from abuse or an accident, or we are involved in an unhealthy relationship that is causing us emotional pain, these experiences are not only felt in the mind, but also within every cell of our being. If we don’t come to terms with these thoughts, feelings and emotions, they can tend to linger, and in a sense crystalize within the tissues of our body. My teacher, Dr. Vasant Lad often says, “the issues reside in the tissues.” I have seen in my own life and with those I have had the honor to work with clinically, that deep healing comes when unresolved psychic ama is release into the light of pure awareness. Again Dr. Lad says,“when we observe our thoughts and emotions, they eventually blossoms into pure love.” This can come like rays of sunshine, bliss, tears, the surfacing of old memories, desires and tendencies. When we become conscious in this way, rather than causing further impressions of pain and suffering, they are transformed into a deeper self-knowledge and wisdom that further nourishes our soul.

These unresolved experiences are frequently being brought into the light through our daily life experience and practices, especially if we are sensitive to what life is constantly sharing with us. We can also utilize tools such as herbal treatments, Panchakarma (cleansing and rejuvenation therapy), meditation, mantra, yogic exercises, psychotherapy, prayer, and energy work.

In the ayurvedic theory of body constitution, an imbalance in the dosha can also cause emotional imbalances to manifest. For instance, pitta imbalances can cause feelings of anger, this could be from inappropriate diet, lifestyle or seasonal factors. Likewise for vata imbalances causing emotions such as anxiety, or kapha imbalances creating grief, and attachment. Here we might treat the dosha as another way of addressing the emotional state. Often Ayurveda takes everything into consideration and comes at it in a multi-faceted way.

Herbs for the Mind

Here I would like to talk specifically about how herbal medicine can help with healing the mind. The channel of the mind is known as manovaha srotas. It’s marga, or pathway, runs though the entire body, to every cell. In yoga philosophy this is referred to as the manomaya kosha, the sheath of the mind.

There are many herbs that have profound effect on the manovaha srotas that are classified as medhya rasayanas. In Western herbology they fall under the category of Nervines. Medhya herbs help to rejuvenate the mind, and senses, increase memory, relax and replenish the nervous system and help to free the flow of prana (vital energy) within the mind. It is often hard to determine why a plant has a specific affinity to certain organs and tissues with biochemistry alone, but we do know through the time-tested wisdom of Ayurvedic energetics, that herbs can dramatically shift our consciousness.

Herbs like brahmi (gotu kola & bacopa), skullcap, and bhringaraj (eclipta alba) help to clearing excess pitta, in the form of heat from the liver and blood, thus calming volatile emotions of anger and generalized irritability. Some herbs affect the heart, like Hawthorne berry, elecampane or arjuna. They work to support healthy heart function, but can also help to open the heart in an emotional and spiritual way. When I see clients that have a lot of emotional pain, but they are not aware of why they hurt emotionally, or how to get in touch with that part of themselves. Here I might use herbs that open the heart like arjuna, along with herbs that increase conscious awareness, like calamus, tulsi, or gotu kola. This is an entirely different way of looking at the use of herbs.

For instance, we might use an herb that acts directly on the lungs, like osha root, which is decongesting, and helps fight viruses and infection, but it can also help to open the emotional body through its potent aromatic energy. Osha is a very spiritually cleansing herb. Some Native Americans used it in sweat lodges while praying and offering to purify physically and emotionally.

Herbs and Emotions

Ayurveda also see a relationship that certain emotions have a tendency to affect certain organs. For instance, vata related emotions such as anxiety and worry tend to become lodged in the colon; fear in the kidneys; and Pitta types of emotions like anger and irritability to the liver; and hatred to the gallbladder. Deep-seated grief and sadness get lodged in the heart and lungs.

This is not to say that emotions and their effects are limited to only these ideas, but if we look closely at the body and how it responds to how we are feeling, we can see for ourselves. Emotions circulate in the system, and can migrate from one area to another, until it is brought out into the light of our awareness and fully assimilated. Our body is designed to first assimilate, before it can release what is not useful to our life energy.

Examples of Medhya Rasayanas (nervines) herbs: Gotu Kola & Bacopa monnieri, jatamansi, skullcap, avena, shankapushpi, calamus, ashwagandha, chamomile, st. john’s wort.

Herb specific to organs:

Heart herbs: Elecampane (pushkarmula), arjuna, hawthorne berry, cardamom, rose, ashwagandha.

Lungs herbs: Pippali, osha root, licorice, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, calamus root, mullein.

Kidneys/Adrenals: Gokshura, brahmi (gotu kola & bacopa monnieri), licorice.

Liver: Brahmi, bhringraj (eclipta alba), milk thistle, kutki, shankapushpi, rose.

Spleen: (See liver herbs).

Pancreas: Turmeric, shardunika, neem, bayberry, barberry, tulsi.

Colon: Triphala, haritaki, sesame oil (enema).

Dosha Specific:

Vata: Ashwagandha, bala, vidari- kandha, calamus, dashamula compound, saraswati churna, haritaki.

Pitta: Shatavari, guduchi, burdock root, brahmi, rose, bhringraj, amalaki.

Kapha: Gokshura, calamus, trikatu, punarnava, bibhitaki.

Choosing the Right Herbs

Herbs can be selected to address dosha imbalances, specific conditions, and the organs and relating channels and tissues that are affected. If we are not aware of any emotional imbalances, we can just make note if any emotions that surface during the normal course of treatment of any condition. Sometimes emotional content will come up and pass, leaving one feeling more refreshed than before. If there is a psychosomatic aspect to a condition, herbs used to treat at the physical level also act on the emotional and mental body level. The separation of the physical, mental, and emotional bodies is only a mental construct, in realty all koshas (sheaths) exist as an integral whole.

Be Well!

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