Are you looking forward to summer? Being a little less scheduled? Maybe you’ve planned a camping trip, or a vacation abroad. And you’ll probably want to enjoy a fourth of July picnic, and some visits to the beach or the pool. Ayurveda has some great suggestions for keeping you well in summer.
Ayurveda, the healing Science of Life from ancient India, teaches us to follow the rhythms of nature. Its understanding about life is that nature around us, and nature within us, all function in the same way. So when we synchronize our routines with nature’s rhythms we tend to feel better. Our bodies function better, we have more energy, we feel “in flow”.
A little background
Ayurveda recognizes three subtle energies that fluctuate throughout nature’s rhythms. They each have their own properties, bringing certain qualities to the time of day, the season, or to someone’s physiology and psychology.
These energies are Vata - which is cold, light, mobile, dry - Pitta – which is hot, sharp, penetrating, mobile – and Kapha – which is cool, heavy, damp, and stable. As one of these energies dominates, we want to balance their qualities by applying opposing qualities. One of Ayurveda’s basic tenets is that “like increases like”, and “opposites balance”. Think of a fiery, temperamental and intense person you know, and how much a spicy meal with red wine will make this person even more irritable and overheated? Wouldn’t you want to tell them to go cool down? To go outside in the cool air and take a breath, or to go for a cooling swim in the ocean? That would be a good example of “opposites balance”.
Summer is Pitta Season
The focus of this article is on Pitta, since the summer is Pitta season, when the energy of fire is strong. And when the energy of fire is strong around us, it also is strong in us. Pitta’s qualities are that it is hot, sharp, penetrating, and dispersive and can easily cause overheating, faintness, headaches, skin rashes, diarrhea, irritation, and reactivity. You might recognize some of these from summers past. Following are some tips for keeping cool, so that you can enjoy the pleasures of summer.
By Simone de Winter
Owner of Marin Ayurveda
For many centuries ayurveda has maintained a healthy relationship with copper. It is among the most important metals present in the ayurvedic understanding of the human constitution and ayurvedic applications involving copper include potable water storage, trace mineral supplementation, and building yantras for focused intention.
Copper has been a part of human history for thousands of years, perhaps longer than any other metal. Historical evidence indicates that copper was the first metal to be used meaningfully by ancient people about 8,000 years ago and it was the first purified metal about 5,000 years ago.
The similarly ancient roots of ayurveda also reach back several thousand years and as such, ayurveda's applications involving copper are some of the first examples of preventative natural health practices, and might be the very first example of supplementing the human diet with trace minerals.
So what are the beneficial properties of copper that have been a part of ayurveda for so many years? The most widely recognized and most important of these properties is that copper is naturally hygienic. Modern science refers to this property as the - oligodynamic effect - the naturally toxic effect of some metals on bacteria.
Simply stated, germs are quickly denatured when they contact a surface made from copper, silver, and a number of other metals. Copper's potential for this effect is very strong and these deadly results on bacteria extend as far as the most resilient bacteria such as MRSA - drug-resistant staph. Disease-causing bacteria which now survive many of the traditional antibiotic treatments that doctors use to eliminate them are efficiently destroyed by a simple contact with a copper surface.
More than water safety, copper provides additional benefits that are found in relationship that ayurveda has with copper. Copper is a necessary ingredient in all life - not only in human beings but in plants, animals and microorganisms. It is involved in many important processes throughout the body. Using a copper vessel to store drinking water provides a small supplement of dietary copper as trace amounts of copper are picked up naturally by the water stored in the copper container.
Ayurveda identifies copper as an important contributor to the health of our skin, hair, digestive processes, and in our body's healing capacity. An ayurvedic practitioner might see poor hair or skin as a signal of a deficiency in copper, and ayurveda might recommend copper for anemia, skin conditions, or gastritis.
Likewise, copper is recognized by modern science as an important mineral in countless bodily functions. It is a strong anti-inflammatory which assists in recovery from injuries. It helps keep our hair and skin healthy, it helps the nervous system transmit sensory information, it is important in reducing fat storage by efficiently converting food into usable energy. The similarities between ancient and modern understanding of copper's role in human health are indeed remarkable, and just one of many examples of ayurveda's ancient wisdom being corroborated by modern science.
There is nothing complicated about incorporating a copper drinking vessel into your life. Large copper vases are traditionally used in India to store quantities of potable water for groups or families, and then poured into smaller containers for meals and individual use. Some people use a simple copper cup or a 'kalash", a miniature vase.
Copper vessels have come a long way over many years. The traditional copper jug, or kalash, is still a common container for storing large amounts of potable water. Copper cups, and more recently copper mugs, have gained popularity in homes and in restaurants. Copper water bottles like https://coppervedics.com - CopperVedics have adopted a more modern design and can keep water inside without leaking, making them suitable for personal drinking water containers outside the home.
Filling a copper container before sleeping and drinking the water the next morning is the most simple and straightforward way to incorporate a copper water vessel into your daily routine. The water tastes fresh and clean, not metallic, and provides a healthy supplementation of copper in your daily diet.
Nathan Platt came across copper water bottles at an ayurvedic seminar during his time traveling through India. The concept of using copper to create a water bottle was as fascinating as it was foreign. His interest in the ayurvedic benefits of using copper to store potable drinking water inspired him to create CopperVedics, a line of water bottles with aesthetics and mobility in mind.
These dark days before the winter solstice, offer a great opportunity to spend time at home, with ourselves, reflecting, looking at deeper meaning in our lives… Leading a meaningful life is something we all strive for. “Meaning in Life” is an increasingly poignant subject in our Western world these days. Our young people seem to find their meaning in extremisms, like joining the Jihad of the muslim people, or shooting at groups of innocent people out of rage.
Yoga and meaning in life
Yogic philosphy offers a wonderful paradigm to help us ponder the meaning in our lives in the purusharthas - the four pillars of a yogic life. They are a blueprint for living skillfully, as they offer the fulfillment of the objectives of human birth. Purusha is the Self as it aligns with universal consciousness. Artha means “objective” or “purpose”, so purushartha means “for the purpose of the higher Self”, and suggests that we live our lives in a way as to support our inner growth, to align ourselves with the universal unfolding of life. In this way of living we are aligning our microcosm with the universal macrocosm, we are fulfilling our individual and soul’s purpose.
The four purusharthas are dharma - duty, artha – wealth, kama – pleasure, and moksha – liberation. As a person pursues these four goals, they point to an evolution of the individual self and bring a balanced and holistically satisfying life.
Dharma – duty
Dharma means ‘duty’, ‘ethics’, ‘work’, ‘law’, so largely relates to our work, our job, our profession, but also includes the duties to our family, and our society at large. It is that which gives order to life, which makes us get up in the morning and do what needs to be done. And it is the universal law and ethics that make us distinguish “right” from “wrong”. Dharma underlies our human existence and guides our choices.
Our own individual dharma unfolds through our birth, our karma, our specific talents and the choices we make. It can be someone’s calling to be a doctor, a teacher, a poet, a priest, a president, but for others there isn’t such a clear calling and they still have dharma. For parents it is their dharma to raise the children well, as citizens of the US it is our dharma to pay taxes. Working a job is a way to take care of family, to sustain our selves, and to meet the obligations of participating in society. Dharma informs the other purusharthas, it is within its frame that we pursue wealth and pleasure, not as means to themselves, although some are of the belief that artha comes first.
Artha - wealth
Artha is defined as “material wealth”, “abundance”. It does not mean the endless pursuit of more material comfort. But it does mean having the means, which includes material objects, but also good health and education, to live skillfully, which will look differently depending on one’s dharma. Pursuing prosperity is often considered to be the wrong focus when trying to live a yogic life, but being continually worried about how to fulfill the basic human needs and that being the focus of life, does not leave space for higher pursuits. Having the right kind of wealth to be able to play our roles, to fulfill dharma, is foundational for a life well lived. You need a good car to drive your family around. People tend to not feel good about them selves when they can’t meet the basics. Artha makes us examine our values in life. Do I have enough? Are my acquisitions giving me joy, or are they causing me worries? Am I content with what I have? Am I afraid to have more? Our relationship with artha should be a relaxed one that makes us feel good about ourselves within the context of our dharma.
Kama – pleasure
Kama is about fulfilling our desires. Desire for beauty, sensuality, art, intimacy, power, and anything that can bring us pleasure. It is the purushartha that can get us in trouble the easiest, since it can lead to overindulgence, addiction, greed, laziness and many more human vices. As a counterpart of dharma it is a necessary and good part of our human experience, because we experience pleasure when we do the right thing. When we share love, when we provide a good meal, when we finish a job, when we give sensual pleasure to our partner (the kama sutra is an ancient scripture dedicated to this pursuit) we tend to feel good about ourselves, there is a mutual experience of pleasure and well-being. As yogis we distinguish between pleasures that are nourishing for the soul, and those that leave us feeling empty. Good questions to ask are: Am I happy? What do I care about the most? Are my pleasures supporting my soul’s purpose, or am I supporting a bad habit?
Moksha – liberation
The ultimate goal of the purusharthas is freedom - inner freedom from our reactions and perceptions that make us unhappy. Moksha also is the complete liberation from samsara, the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation. It means achieving nirvana, the end of suffering. A life fully lived, through dharma, artha and kama, offers us all the opportunities we need to free ourselves from mental and emotional constraints. Not circumstantially free, but choosing to experience our freedom and choice in every given moment. This simple act of choosing to see our freedom gives meaning to everything in life, to dharma, to artha, to kama. Yoga gives us many practices to help us come to this realization.
A meaningful life
The purusharthas are the pillars of a fulfilling life. To experience “meaning” their continuous consideration, and the balance between them (not too much of one, and not enough of another) is key. They are a prescription for a conscious life and embracing them makes life rich and worth loving.
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.
"Rejuvenation" is something that Ayurveda is famous for. It means "practical reversal of the aging process". It is one of the eight specialized branches of the practice of Ayurveda: 'Rasayana'. It deals with the maintenance of health. Rasa means juice or fluid, it is the vital fluid that we extract from the food we eat. It brings nourishment, it carries off toxins, it enhances our immunity, it looks a lot like what modern physiology calls lymph and plasma.
So Rasayana/Rejuvenation is the way to restore and maintain the fluids, the juiciness in our bodies. It restores our health and vitality, and in that way, our youth. Rasayana therapy is any herb, food, or therapy that restores youth, or heals imbalance. If taken or done in the right way it will keep you young and active, or restores this youthfullness, both physically, as well as mentally.
Rasayana therapy can be an ongoing practice in adopting an Ayurvedic lifestyle, and taking Rasayana herbal formulations that rejuvenate different organ systems, such as chyavanprash, brahmi, triphala, and shilajit.
Rasayana therapy also can be going on retreat to receive special treatments with oils, herbs and foods. A dedicated time for healing and rejuvenating the body/mind.
By functioning according to nature’s clock we go with the flow of the universe. We’re not swimming upstream by separating ourselves from the natural flow of waking and sleeping, sunlight and darkness. Ayurveda suggests a daily routine, dinacharya, and a seasonal routine, rutucharya, that follows this natural flow. And it uses the simple laws of nature to balance the adverse effects of the passing of time and choices we make, understanding that:
Some elements of a Rejuvenating lifestyle are
Thousands of years ago the therapies of panchakarma and kaya kalpa were designed for the kings and queens, who wanted to live forever and never be old. They were isolated from their regular lifestyles so that they could rest and meditate. They were given special foods and plant preparations. Hot oil and herbal treatments were administered. They were purified and detoxed and then given pure, nourishing, harmonizing and health-building foods to rejuvenate them on a deep cellular level.
Nowadays we can all be kings and queens, by going on a retreat, doing panchakarma, doing a rejuvenating cleanse... and by applying Ayurvedic lifestyle principles. An Ayurvedic lifestyle is a way of treating ourselves that maximizes our bodies' self-healing capacities. Ayurveda teaches us to get out of our own way, and to learn to flow with the energies of nature. Regular rejuvenation/deep cellular detox is part of that lifestyle.
by Simone de Winter
Certified Ayurvedic Specialist and
owner of Marin Ayurveda
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