If you've come to see me, or any ayurvedic practitioner or doctor, you've probably been told to add mung dal to your food library. Why, what is so special about mung dal? First of all, a dal is a split lentil or bean. Often the outer hull is taken off, and then the inside is split in two halves. Since the outer hull is all fiber, a dal is easier to digest than a bean, and as you probably have understood, Ayurveda is all about favoring digestion when choosing which foods to eat. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't eat fiber. A healthy diet has a large amount of fresh vegetables and fruits and those are full of fiber. Sometimes, depending on your belly, it is better to not choose the whole grain or the whole lentil/bean, because they might push the amount of fiber to the point where your belly starts to protest and produces a lot of gas. If you know this about yourself, then give dal a try. You might also choose white rice over brown rice. It's true, white rice doesn't have as much nutrition as brown rice. But if you're not digesting your brown rice well, as in getting gas, then you probably are not absorbing all those nutrients anyway.
Don't apply this to your bread. Bread was something that was developed by early humans to make the grasses and grains that were growing all around, and that were great sources of nutrients, more digestible. They gathered the seeds and ground them into powder. Mixed the powder with water and shaped it into patties or other shapes and cooked these on a fire. This evolved into what we know as bread. When the whole grains are ground into flour they are easier to digest. A lot of the work our teeth, stomach and intestines would have to do is already done. So bread is a great way, if you choose the right kind, to get a lot of nutrition in a compact package. More about bread later....
Back to mung dal. There are so many kinds of dal, why do we like mung dal so much?
Mung beans have been very popular in South and South East Asia for many centuries. In India they're mostly eaten as dal, because it is light, easy to digest, rather bland, which makes them a great tridoshic food, and especially good for pitta, and it is a high quality protein. So when you are not well, cleansing, or for women going through menstruation or menopause, or when you have poor digestion, it is important to eat light foods to not overburden your body and create indigestion. During these times the body's systems are functioning at less than optimally, so the digestive fire is also low. Eating a light diet is important. The blandness of mung dal and the fact that it cooks so fast, make it a great recovery food. It can be made very tasty by cooking it with spices and herbs according to your dosha, but eating it simple and bland can be very restoring and calming for your body and mind. Cooked together with Basmati rice, and spices, vegetables and ghee it makes a tasty, simple one-pot meal that is a complete protein, called kitcheree.
It is not a local food, but there just isn't anything like it, for restoring an overburdened body. And mung beans are grown in the US these days.
by Simone de Winter
Owner and practitioner at Marin Ayurveda in Marin County, California.
Practicing and teaching Ayurveda for 11 years.
In ayurveda's ancient texbooks there may be no mention of the word cancer, but there are many references to the growth of masses, tumors, malignancy, with Sanskrit names like, apachi, gulma, granthi and arbuda. Cancer is a disease in which certain of our bodies' cells develop defects, caused by a mutation in their DNA. These mutant cells, dependent on several factors, like the strength of the immune system, and pathogens, sometimes duplicate at enormous speed, causing growths, tumors, that are adversarial to the body's tissues. Not all cancers produce tumors. Some - leukemia - cause rapid cell growth in the bone marrow or blood. In metastasis, cancer cells multiply and travel through blood and the lymph system to the rest of the body.
Conventional medicine treats cancer as a focal disease with local symptoms. Ayurveda sees the whole body-mind as a system, and recognizes that the malfunctioning of this system can lead to cancer. Ayurveda treats the whole individual.
According to ayurveda cancer involves all three doshas - vata, pitta and kapha, it is tridoshic disease. But the root of the cancer may be either in vata, pitta, or kapha, and consequently it is disease of vata, disease of pitta, or disease of kapha, and the treatment will be accordingly. Also the tissue in which the cancer is found, will ask for different herbal treatment, so there really is no one way to treat cancer in the ayurvedic system. Specific herbal formulations and therapies will be directed towards the cancer, but it doesn't stop there. The therapeutic approach is prophylactic, palliative, curative and supportive. Ayurveda offers a lifestyle of prevention; it can soothe symptoms through lifestyle, dietary and herbal adjustments; it can cure, especially when the cancer is in earlier stages, offering powerful internal and external herbal applications in conjunction with dietary and lifestyle adjustments; and it can support conventional medical treatment, and counteract its side effects.
Ayurveda sees the fundamental cause of tumor, or uncontrolled cell, growth to be a build-up of pathogens, toxins, in the organism. This then leads to deficiency in the immune system. If we consider the immune system our protection against external pathogens, we can see the weakened immunity as a "giving up or a giving in", since, as Dr. Robert Svoboda says so poignantly, "the hallmark of cancer is the rebellion of cells against the organism's self-identity", our body is allowing cellular mutiny to take over. The causes are poor lifestyle choices, wrong diet, stress and anxiety, poor sleep, mental/emotional incoherency, overuse of stimulants, intoxicants, chemical drugs, and nowadays, exposure to environmental toxins. Ayurveda uses the word ama for this toxic build-up in the organism. It is partly self-generated, by poorly digesting all that we ingest, and choosing industrial foods that are already full of ama, like pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, preservatives, and packaged in xeno-estrogenic plastics. But even the most beautiful organically grown, free-range, grass-fed foods can turn into ama if the digestive system cannot properly digest, absorb the nutrients and eliminate the waste products. It is this ama, that confuses the immune system, makes it overwork. Then it will tire and give into the fast-growing ama that is cancer.
The mental-emotional component of the weakening immunity is addressed nowadays by physicians like Dr. Lawrence LeShan, Christiane Northrup, Wayne Dyer and many more. The experience they have working with cancer patients is that they see that same "giving in or giving up", and they will encourage and guide their patients to use the cancer as a "Turning Point, to take charge of their lives and bodies and gently coax the cancer into remission.
Understanding the cancer as being either caused by excess vata, pitta or kapha, outlines a specific disease development, based on a person's inherent constitutional tendencies, and specific lifestyle and dietary choices. Vata, being composed of space and air, will bring a different etiology from kapha, being composed of water and earth, or pitta, made up of fire and water. They come with their own digestive disturbances, dietary preferences, behaviors and mental-emotional tendencies. All leading to the same manifestation of cancer, but with specific characteristics.
Strengthening of the immune system, healthy lifestyle, diet, appropriate exercise and as Deepak Chopra suggests, "access to the Divine consciousness within, through yogic and meditative disciplines, can correct the wrong information that triggers uncontrollable cell multiplication, and cure cancer from the quantum level of the body". Ayurveda, the medical system and "science of life", offers many internal and external herbal and metal-based medications to help remove cellular overgrowth.
by: Simone de Winter, MA, certified ayurvedic specialist
Over twenty years ago I started practicing yoga. I followed an inner voice while I was lying on the floor after a workout in the gym. I didn't like the gym. I loved yoga. Soon I was taking up to five classes per week. I loved learning to tune into the subtleties of alignment, to feel separate muscle groups and learn how to move them. I loved using my breath to bring my mind all the way with my body and my movement. I wouldn't notice anybody else in class. I learned a lot about my body and how to use yoga to make it feel better.
When I did a teacher training the the whole system of yoga opened up to me. I learned about the different philosophies and how they can bring more control of your mind. So I sat my first meditation retreat. It was very revealing of how the body, mind, and emotions feed into each other, and was not easy. I noticed the deep inner freedom I felt after sitting and watching my impulses for days at a time, instead of following my impulses day after day. I remember sitting outside in the sun, and feeling the sun's rays on my body and hearing the insect wings buzz, and it brought such deep satisfaction.
I loved the increasing subtlety of my "yoga" practice, and the emphasis changed from asana/postures to breathing and meditation.
Then I went to Ayurveda school in 2001, and studied even more ancient Indian science. This time it was the medical side. I learned that anything that we put or allow into our bodies - and that includes any sensorial impression - mental or emotional experience, needs to be digested and properly assimilated, in order to serve us. A healthy digestion makes for good health. I learned that "like increases like", and that "opposites balance". I learned that one man's food and herbal medicine is another's poison. And I learned about the cycles of nature, and that changing your lifestyle in order to flow with those cycles, really makes you feel better.
The ability to tune into subtlety increased again, this time extending to the chemistry of foods in my body, what it feels like to be 'acidic', and how 'vata' feels, and 'pitta' and 'kapha'. And the realization came that everything can be "yoga" practice. That I am not a bad yogi if I don't do any official "practice" during the day, but that if I do what I do with an awareness of how I do it and how it affects me and others, I am always practicing. Ofcourse I can sharpen my intuition, my mind, the tuning into subtlety, of myself and of others, with official practice, so I still do that too, just not as religiously, or maybe dogmatically. And when I practice I'm taking time out of my day to do things, yoga and meditation, to make my body and nervous system feel better. I'm taking good care of myself, I'm practicing preventative medicine.
Over the years I have found that having these ancient Indian practices in my life is empowering more than anything. It's given me a way to return to a balanced state, no matter what life throws at me.
I feel deep gratitude when I walk this path...
Panchakarma is an ancient ritual of detoxification and rejuvenation. As an essential part of Ayurveda’s mandala of healing practices, it invites deep renewal, activates cellular intelligence, and optimizes metabolic functions.
Ayurveda understands the microcosm of the physical body/mind to function in the same way as the great macrocosm of nature. Because of that it considers the natural elements, and their interplay – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space – as the basis of life. Their interweaving within the body-mind, and the environment, generates three main patterns of energy transformation called doshas: vata – expressing the predominance of air and space, pitta – fire and water, and kapha – earth and water.
Each dosha has a primary site in the body: kapha, in the stomach; pitta, in the small intestines; and vata, in the colon/large intestine. Whenever doshic imbalance occurs, their excess tends to accumulate in these corresponding organs, causing specific symptoms or discomfort, leading to disease. Imbalances often result from undigested food, emotions or mental activities, stressful lifestyle, injuries, external factors, and/or genetic weakness.
Also the accumulation of toxins, or ama (the Ayurvedic term) in the body, is a cause of disease symptoms. This ama can come from external sources such as the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers we ingest through our foods; to airborne pollutants like industrial waste, car exhaust and smoke; from exotoxins, secreted by bacteria; and from prescription medications. But the human body can create its own ama as well, by not properly digesting the food that is consumed, and the ensuing improper break-down of internal metabolic waste products. The way we know that we have an accumulation of ama in our bodies is from having a thick, white or colored, coating on the tongue, from having unpleasant body odor, from a feeling of sluggishness and fatigue, fogginess in the brain, headaches and many disease symptoms. Combined with an accumulation of certain doshas, this ama can lead to all kinds of disease symptoms, often determined by genetic weakness.
Ideally the human body will digest all it ingests perfectly, and detoxify itself through the liver and gallbladder, kidneys, and large intestine. But the increasing amount of toxins in our environment, the stress we deal with combined with our diet and lifestyle, often overwhelm the individual's digestion and detoxification ability.
Panchakarma is a way to remove ama and bring the doshas back into balance, and since stress is such a large contributor to imbalance, this all happens in the context of deep relaxation. Panchakarma is applied while receiving hot oil massage and other treatments, followed by a steam application. This has the multiple function of liquefying ama, improving blood and lymphatic circulation so that toxins/ama are mobilized from the deeper tissues into the digestive system from where they will be eliminated, while at the same time bringing the body and mind into a deep state of rest and letting go.
Most of the external toxins that enter our body are fat (lipid)-soluble, and if the liver is unable (because of above mentioned factors) to break them down, they deposit in tissues all over the body. The preparation process of panchakarma consists of "internal oleation", the process of ingesting ghee or a vegetable oil in increasing amounts for a series of days. Then a non-fat diet consisting of only natural, easy to digest, foods will be taken. This moves toxins to your lymphatic system and will bring your body into fat metabolism mode. You start burning fat cells, which is where most of the toxins hide out. So fat-soluble toxins/ama are liquefied (as mentioned above) and then removed from the body through the process of panchakarma.
Panchakarma literally means “five actions” and involves five eliminatory treatments to remove toxins from the body and restore energy flow throughout the organ systems and tissues:
Since these eliminatory treatments will leave the body with some "empty spaces" from where the toxins used to be, it is important of fill up these "spaces" with good, strengthening foods and herbs, so that you come out of the whole process of panchakarma strong and with a healthy immunity. So after elimination there is a rejuvenation phase in which activity level, food intake, digestive strength, are all slowly built back up again, and during which strengthening foods and herbs are ingested.
During the panchakarma process it is highly recommended to refrain from external stimuli, such as socializing, television watching, computer, movies, books. Journaling and expressing through drawing or simple art projects are wonderful ways to support this process of elimination of toxins, since it brings an opportunity to let go of mental-emotional toxins as well.
Panchakarma leaves you feeling clear and energized, deeply rested and rejuvenated. It is a beautiful component of a healthy and natural lifestyle.
Please respond to this blog with any comments of your own panchakarma experience.
This dark time of year tends to make us more reflective, and I recently found myself reflecting on time passing and the energies of the different seasons. I was remembering a radio interview I heard years ago, where a scientist of some kind was talking about his teacher and mentor who at 96 had still been fully productive. He had asked his mentor how it was possible that at his age he was still so full of life and engaged. The man had answered that throughout his life he had never related to chronological time, but only to cyclical time. That really resonated with me and I remembered that when I had two little children and was very engaged with them, I used to forget my age. When people asked me, I always had to count back to my birthday. Cyclical time for me also is much more meaningful than chronological time. The phases of the moon, the passing of the seasons and the ripening of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the time of life. Now that I live close to the water, there is the reality of the tidal cycles as well, and how that is connected to the lunar cycle.
I realized that this is the way Ayurveda relates to life as well, and that it continuously reminds us to live according to these cycles. Since it considers the macrocosm and the microcosm to be the same, only in a different manifestation, it is clear that nature's cycles also are found in how our bodies function. Ofcourse Ayurveda relates to this in the language of vata, pitta and kapha, and we see these energies cycling through the day, the seasons and life in general.
For example the window of time between 10 and 2 is considered pitta time. Since pitta mostly represents the element of fire, this window of time during the day is a good time to eat. The fire in the belly is strong at this time. At night this is the time when people get their second wind when they stay up late. Suddenly there is a lot of focus, and energy to get things done, again a way that fire manifests itself - in the mind this time. The recommendation is to go to bed before this time, so that you don't get caught in a second wind. What really needs to happen during these nightly hours is for the liver to go through its cycle of detoxing the blood. Staying up late and putting in mental and physical energy, takes away from this important physiological task. So here we go again, nature's cycles... we should go to bed when nature goes to bed. A little later in the summer, a little earlier in winter. And it's okay to sleep a little more in winter, it's dark out!
Winter, at least the beginning of this season, is vata season. Vata represents the element of air, or wind, which is always moving, is cold, and dries things out. This is the time of year when we feel cold and easily dehydrated. We deal with emotions like fear and anxiety. So the best thing to do is to take real good care of yourself through eating a very nourishing diet, by getting enough sleep, by oiling your skin, by slowing down in general. Each season has its own characteristics, and dosha, and because of that a different way in which to treat ourselves.
The doshas also show up in the time of life. For example childhood, up until puberty, is kapha time of life. Kapha has the energies of earth and water. And when we bring these two together there is growth. Seeds sprouting into plants and blooming into beautiful flowers. This is children's job, growing up and flowering into beautiful mature people. They need lots of water and earth, in the form of nourishing food and loving care, to do this.
To go back to where I started... Ayurveda reminds us to live in cyclical time, not chronological time. We move through vata, pitta and kapha cycles all the time. Reminding ourselves of this reality, makes us take care of ourselves differently. Honoring the cycles of life and death and life again, keeps us young and healthy and always rejuvenating our body and mind.
Ayurveda, the “science” (from ayur) of “living” (veda), is a system of medicine that was developed in ancient India. It recognizes that all of the physiological and psychological functioning of the individual, is the same as the workings of the larger environment, or nature. This makes it holistic, connecting humans to the greater rhythms of nature, understanding that all in nature are subject to the same forces and fluctuations. It offers a clear, simple, and elegant theoretical framework from which to explore life, health, disease, balance and imbalance.
The language that Ayurveda uses to work with this understanding is that of the five great elements – panchamahabhutas in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. These five great elements are Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space (or Ether). Everything in the natural world is made up of these five elements. During the formation of the theory of Ayurveda they were combined into the three basic energies of life, the doshas. Often they are considered bodily humors, showing the relationship with ancient Greek medicine, the direct ancestor of our modern medicine. These three doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata combines the elements of air and ether, Pitta of fire and a little bit of water, and Kapha combines water and earth. Since the meaning of the Sanskrit word “dosha” is “defect, blemish, weak point, damage, fault”, the doshas, as the energies they are, need to be managed and kept in balance, since when out of balance they are the cause of disorder and disease. The combination of the three doshas in different proportions is what the entirety of creation is made up of, both the psychophysiology of humanity, as well as the natural world, so anything can be classified in terms of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Ayurveda is slowly making its way into the Western world. Originally India-based spiritual groups such as the Transcendental Meditation movement, headed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ guru, made the introduction. Now there are schools all over the US and Europe, offering an education in Ayurveda and producing generations of Ayurvedic practitioners, who offer help in staying and getting healthy, or as is more Ayurvedically appropriate, “live a balanced life”.
There are many ways in which Ayurveda can contribute, and already contributes to healthcare and life in general.
Learning about your Ayurvedic constitution, level of imbalance, and how to treat these, is a very valuable addition to anyone’s life, relationship and possibly to a society at large.