A-Z of Ayurvedic Remedies
by Caroline Robertson & Rama Prasad
Acne- whether cystic, teenage or rosacea - involves an increase in pitta or kapha. Sluggish elimination and poor liver function contribute to it (weak agni). This results in an accumulation of toxins (ama) in the blood stream and the lymphatic system, that then overflows through the skin’s pores. Externally one can avoid harsh, heating or chemical products. See the section on Ayurvedic beauty for external products.
Internally herbs help to eliminate toxins, purify blood and clear lymphatic congestion. Some to consider using regularly include turmeric, aloe vera juice, chlorophyll, picrorrhiza, manjishtha, neem and triphala.
Foods that aggravate pitta and kapha tend to increase acne. To achieve a clear complexion avoid excess oil, sugar, salt, chilli, garlic, tomatoes, caffeine, citrus fruits, alcohol, nuts, red meat, yeast and dairy products.
Favour a diet that is rich in natural chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals. This includes plenty of leafy green vegetables, ripe fruits, grains such as barley, pure water, seeds, and herbal teas such as fennel and chamomile.
Exercise accelerates the cleansing process by improving circulation and elimination. Try cooling sports such as swimming in fresh water, yoga, Qi-gong, fast walking and cycling at a cool time. Daily self massage is a wonderful way not only to cultivate self acceptance and awareness but to improve the skin’s texture and lustre. Issues of low self-esteem and anxiety often underlie chronic acne. To uproot emotional causes practice positive affirmations, visualisations and meditation- focussing on your ideal physical, emotional and spiritual state.
Sarah was a 23-year-old pitta constitution with cystic acne on her face and upper body. It worsened one week before her period and when under stress. Her diet included a chocolate and frequent orange juice. Exercise involved jogging at lunch under the noon sun. Sarah followed a pitta reducing regime, which entailed cooling herbs such as aloe vera juice and manjishtha along with primrose oil and shatavari powder to balance her hormones.
She also went on a diet high in herbal teas and low in heating foods such as tomatoes, chocolate, citrus fruits, alcohol and red meat. Instead of jogging she took up yoga which included a cooling yogic breathing-sheetkari. Psychologically, Sarah realised her acne acted as a ‘mask’, which gave her an excuse to avoid social gatherings. Low self-esteem was gradually overcome by building a positive self-image through affirmations and visualisations.
Treatment of arthritis varies according to the type suffered. Vata arthritis tends to strike suddenly with shifting sharp pains and accompanying cracking or popping of the joints. Pitta arthritis usually involves more burning, redness and nerve inflammation. Kapha predominant arthritis generally has swelling, coldness and improves with movement.
All types can often be linked to poor digestion and a sedentary or overactive lifestyle. A therapeutic approach includes digestive tonics such as triphala, anti-inflammatory Indian myrhh preparations, pain-killing anti bacterials such as Indian frankinsence, circulatory stimulants including ginger and externally lubricating strengthening oils such as castor, mahanarayana and punarnavadi for swelling.
A nutrition plan for arthritis is tailored according to the individual’s doshic imbalance. For example someone with a burning, red, throbbing pittta arthritis would be wise to follow a pitta diet. All doshas should avoid certain foods are linked to the inflammation and pain associated with all types. Ayurveda advises avoidance of sour foods, yoghurt, tamarind, vinegar, pickles, citrus fruits, red meat and vegetables from the nightshade family- potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and capsicum. Sugar, cold foods and fried foods are also not recommended.
Moving the joints every day through their full range will prevent the demineralisation associated with osteoporosis and the settling of stagnant toxins associated with rheumatoid and non-rheumatoid arthritis. Specific yoga postures and symmetrical swimming or aqua aerobics helps to mobilise the toxins settled in the joints. Exposure to cold and damp weather should be minimised as it can often aggravate pain. Daily oil massage and in some cases steam therapy may give relief.
John suffered from mal-absorption for 4 years. He started to get pains in his finger joints during winter. John was advised to rub warm castor and ginger oil into his painful joints and to take a combination called mahayoggaraja guggulu, containing Indian myrhh. John had poor circulation, which improved with regular walking, self-massage and cinnamon/ginger tea. He was given a herbal combination of celery seed concentrate, Indian frankinsense, long pepper and nut grass to stabilise digestive function. Reducing salt, alcohol, red meat and nightshade vegetables contributed to John’s marked improvement after 9 weeks.
Ayurveda traces the cause of asthma back to inherited respiratory weakness or acquired digestive insufficiency. Extreme fear and suppression of emotions are also related to the asthmatic syndrome. People with asthma tend to suffer from accumulated toxins in the stomach and accumulated phlegm in the chest.
This sticky environment provides a fertile environment for allergens to take seed and triggers a hypersensitive reaction in the mucuos membranes- an asthma attack. In order to prevent these incidents the digestive and respiratory tract must be cleansed and fortified. This is done by identifying and avoiding allergens such as specific foods, dust, mould and pollens until the body is strong enough to expel them before the it over-reacts to their presence. The body is then purified through treatments such as therapeutic vomiting, nasal cleansing and herbs such as licorice, triphala, garlic, senna and long pepper.
The specific herbs vary according to the individual’s doshic imbalance. Strengthening breathing exercises (yogic pranayama) and herbal combinations are then given to promote broncho-dialation, mucous expectoration and to build up the body’s immunity so the mucous membranes are no longer hypersensitive.
Herbal combinations for this include trikatu (long pepper, pepper and ginger), sitopaladi churna (cinnamon, bamboo manna, long pepper, cardamom and rock sugar), Vasarishtam, which consists largely of the bronchodialator vasa (Adhatoda vasica) and licorice. Herbs to strengthen the immune system to prevent further asthma attacks include chyavanaprasham, agasthya rasayana and kushmanda rasayana.
Regular aerobic exercise such as swimming is an effective way to manage asthma. Steam inhalation with essential oils of wintergreen, frankincense or rasnadi powder followed by salt water nasal cleansing (jala neti) and the application of a few drops of warm ghee up the nostrils can reduce the nasal passage way’s hyper-sensitivity.
Applying warm mustard seed oil or a camphor based heating oil to the front and back of the chest daily can stimulate broncho-dilation and accelerate the expulsion of toxins.
Supervised yogic breathing exercises relax muscular and mental tension thereby reducing the severity of an attack or preventing it altogether. Removing allergens from the home and diet until resistance has built up is essential. Food allergies commonly associated with asthma include shellfish, mushrooms, peanuts, dairy products, meat, msg, cola, chocolate and wine. Allergens in the home include dust mites in carpet or curtains, mould in bathrooms and kitchens and animal hair. Since colds often precede bronchial asthma, exposure to cold damp weather should be avoided.
Jasmine was an overweight 9-year-old with a kapha constitution, experiencing breathlessness and asthma attacks every fortnight for the past two years. She was worse in winter and when she caught a cold. Jasmine was put on a kapha pacifying diet with particular emphasis in reducing dairy products, meat and oils. She started swimming bilateral freestyle for 20 minutes daily and yogic breathing exercises. Since Jasmine was often constipated she was advised to take 1 tsp of triphaladi powder daily (triphala plus licorice).
A combination of equal parts trikatu and sitopaladi was also given three times daily. For acute attacks Jasmine took a small dose of Euphorbia hirta (Queensland asthma week) and vasa which effectively dilated the bronchiols. Within 5 months Jasmine had gone off conventional medication and over the following 4 years only suffered an average of one mild asthma attack a year.
Boils are sign of impure blood, poor immunity, excess heat and compromised liver function. Ayurveda resolves boils by prescribing a cooling and cleansing diet along with blood-purifying, antibacterial herbs. External poultices help to draw out the infection, reduce pain and promote scarless healing. Antibacterial herbs to cleanse the blood include neem leaf powder or decoction, aloe vera juice, Indian myrhh, sarasparilla, turmeric, shatavari and triphala. Western echinacea and Swedish bitters are also excellent blood purifiers. A poultice of linseed meal soaked in a warm infusion of neem, sandalwood and turmeric is brilliant for drawing out the pus, disinfecting the area and reducing inflammation.
Boils can easily spread and even multiply into painful carbuncle clusters if squeezed prematurely or if one neglects to disinfect them regularly. Always disinfect clothes, bed sheets and materials that have touched the boil. Keep the boil well coated in antiseptic cream such as neem seed oil, dilute tea tree oil or turmeric cream.
The diet to reduce boils should suit the individual’s doshic imbalance whilst pacifying pitta. Heating, fermenting and acidic foods such as yoghurt, alcohol, red meat, tomatoes, chillis, onions, garlic, pickles, vinegar, yeast, sugar and sour fruits are avoided. Coolants such as water, cucumber juice or fresh coconut water flush out the impurities. Stay out of strong sun, avoiding hot showers. Check blood sugar level for underlying diabetes.
Joshua was a 16-year-old pitta type with a boil under his right. His blood sugar level was high and he got drunk every weekend. Joshua took a combination of neem, turmeric, Gymnema sylvestre and fenugreek to stabilise his blood sugar levels. Daily doses of aloe vera juice and sarasparilla were given to cool and purify the blood. A poultice of linseed meal, sandalwood, neem powder and turmeric was applied to draw out the infection. Once the head had burst an ointment of comfrey was applied to heal the area.
Persistent vague symptoms such as tiredness, coated tongue, flatulence, itching anus or vagina and skin conditions can all indicate of an overproliferation of candida albicans fungi. Ayurveda sees Candida as ama accumulation and takes a three pronged management approach - namely, to kill and starve the candida and to restore the healthy intestinal flora and immune system. To eliminate the candida anti fungals such as neem, Indian myrhh, manjishtha and triphala are highly effective. Externally antifungals such as neem oil and tea tree oil are useful.
For vaginal thrush dip an unbleached tampon in a mix of pure unsweetened yoghurt and a little tea tree or neem oil. Insert a fresh one every night for three consecutive nights. Western herbs such as pau d’arco, calendula and golden seal are also invaluable antifungals. Supporting the remaining healthy flora and immune function employs the application of herbs such as Indian ginseng, garlic, shatavari, picrorrhiza and mineral bhasmas according the individual’s requirements.
Diet modification plays an essential role in a candida management. Fungus’ or fermenting foods is to be temporarily withdrawn. These include alcohol, sugar, fruits, tempeh, mushrooms, soya sauce, cheese, yeast, honey, maple syrup, malt and caffeine. Nutrition can include plenty of high fibre, nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, wholegrains, culinary herbs and herbal teas.
As it is easily transmitted during intercourse condoms should always be used. During menses women should prefer pads to bleached tampons which can trigger a reaction. Lactobacillus acidophilus yoghurt or powder can be taked at room temperature daily. Antibiotics and the contraceptive pill can easily aggravate the problem so should be avoided.
Carmen was a 32-year-old vata constitution with a chronic case of candida. Carmen was put on the anti-candida diet and asked to drink lots of pau d’arco tea throughout the day. By applying calendula and neem oil externally the itchiness around the groin and leucorrhea subsided. Internally she was given a combination of triphala, neem and hing to take twice daily. To strengthen the digestive and reproductive system she was later put on a combination of shatavari and acidophilus until her energy was restored.
High cholesterol and pathologically low cholesterol are both considered health threats by Ayurveda. Since only 25% of our cholesterol comes from our diet, understanding of our own cholesterol production, emulsification, distribution and storage processes is an important concern. Research has shown that those with high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) are more likely to be highly reactive to stress or to have poor liver or gall bladder function.
The stress response triggers the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline, which consist primarily of cholesterol. Therefore the more stress experienced-the more cholesterol the body has to make. Hence stress management techniques are pivotal to lowering high cholesterol. When fat or cholesterol enters an ama filled body the cholesterol is more likely to clog the system and eventually go rancid(oxidize).
Saturated fat from processed foods and cholesterol from animal products is more likely to illicit this rancid reaction. This may be why indigenous cultures with diets high in antioxidants vitamin A,C, E, Zinc and bioflavonoids generally have a low incidence of choleserol related diseases. Ayurveda treats high cholesterol or low cholesterol by maximising the digestion, giving a dosha-specific diet, teaching stress management with yoga or meditation and supplementing with herbs. Ayurveda’s top herbs for high cholesterol are garlic, triphala guggulu, long pepper, vidanga, manjishtha and punarnava. Those with extremely low cholesterol are advised to take ghee-based tonics such as ashwagandadhi lehyam.
Kapha people are more prone to high cholesterol because of their tendency to retain fat more so than the other body-types. However the driving ambition of pittas can create stress in their lives thus elevating the body’s cholesterol production.
A diet low in cholesterol foods including dairy products, meat, saturated fats, margarine, sunflower oil, caffeine, fried foods and alcohol can help to prevent cholesterol excess. Pittas would be wise to set aside unstructured leisure time and practice meditation also taking up a relaxing, uncompetitive exercise.
Foods that can keep LDL cholesterol levels at bay include oats, barley, corn, canola oil, flax seed oil, olive oil, fruit juice (especially grape, grapefruit, apple and orange), millet, lecithin, quinoa, garlic, beans, almonds, walnuts, carrots, strawberries and other foods rich in vitamins A, C, E, carotenoids, and zinc. Smoking, alcohol, deep fried foods, saturated fats and red meat should be restricted from the diet.
Norm was a 42-year-old journalist with high cholesterol. He smoked 8 cigarettes a day, drank 14 beers a week and rarely exercised. With the looming threat of heart disease to act as an impetus, Norm agreed to quit smoking, take up football and substitute the beers for 1 glass of wine daily. He also reduced his dairy product and red meat intake to twice weekly. After three months on a kapha pacifying diet Norm actually started to enjoy fresh juices, salads and hearty whole-grain cereals.
Practicing a yogic relaxation technique called Yoga Nidra three times a week left him feeling much calmer. Taking a herbal formula called triphala guggulu along with a tincture of hawthorn berries, a cholesterol lowering herb, Norm’s cholesterol had returned to a healthy level within 4 months.
Since chronic fatigue constitutes a constellation of non-specific symptoms treatment varies greatly from patient to patient. Chronic fatigue is much more than feeling fatigued- it generally involves chronic pain, loss of mental capacities, deep depression and digestive disturbances. From an Ayurvedic perspective chronic fatigue is due to depleted ojas, the immunity and vitality that arises from a balanced body and mind.
The body is depleted because it is busy fighting an internal battle against undigested mental or physical toxins or unresolved infections. Without the energy reserves to expend on otherwise normal physiological or mental processes, a chronic fatigue sufferer are unable to cope with everyday challenges. As chronic fatigue syndrome is commonly related to a vata or kapha imbalance general advice for balancing these is relevent. Initially a diet and herbs are given to purify the organs and channels. Purificatory practices known as panchakarma, involving treatments such as enemas or medicated vomiting may be appropriate also. This is followed by herbs, gentle exercise and meditation to rekindle the digestion, immunity and to nurture a positive attitude.
To integrate this new healthy pattern into the mind/body, rejuvenating body therapies using herbalised oils along with internal tonifying herbs are considered the icing on the cake. The mistake some natural therapists make is that they try to build up the body’s strength and immunity without eliminating the underlying hotbed of ama. This may give short-term relief but inevitably fails as the toxins gradually wear down the body again.
Ayurveda talks about disease resulting from the overuse, under-use or misuse of the body. This is particularly evident in chronic fatigue syndrome. Elite athletes, workaholics and perfectionists have a higher incidence of chronic fatigue syndrome due to the syndrome of overuse (ati-yoga). Without sufficient recuperation the mind/body goes on strike, unable to function even at a minimal level. To reinstate equilibrium the pendulum may have to swing to a phase of inactivity for a short time.
By exploring new avenues for developing creativity, relationships, an inner serenity the condition can become a blessing in disguise. It is also a time to be gentle and nurturing to the body rather than a thankless taskmaster. Self massage, yoga nidra relaxation, meditation, cooking wholesome meals, connecting with nature and enjoyable exercise or hobbies can all prove helpful. The diet should be as pure and light to digest as possible.
Vegetable juices, steamed vegetables, soups, casseroles, digestive spices and wholegrains suited to the body type are supportive to the cleansing and reparative process. Eliminate chemicals from the home and workplace and choose organic, chemical-free foods, drinks, cleaning agents and paints
Gretchen was a Vata constitution mother of two. She was also a nurse and a marathon runner. Gretchen contracted glandular fever yet continued her busy schedule until she finally broke down. Aching all over, feverish and bedridden for months Gretchen felt her old active life slipping away.
In a desperate effort for self-preservation the body had enforced minimal activity. Gretchen was advised to undergo a purificatory and strengthening panchakarma regime. In conjunction with daily massage and oil therapies she was administered cleansing anti-viral herbs such as cat’s claw, long pepper, Solanum santocarpum, guduchi and echinacea. A series of herbalised oil enemas followed by digestive herbs were then given. Gentle yoga, Qi-gong and walking were practiced daily. She strictly adhered to the nutrition plan of fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, digestive spices and culinary herbs.
Avoiding processed or preserved foods. After Gretchen’s digestion returned to normal, the fever went and her strength increased Gretchen was prescribed adrenal tonic herbs including withania, licorice and brahmi. After 5 months on treatment Gretchen was able to return to life at a more modified, relaxed pace. To keep her immune system strong she now takes chyavanaprash jam daily.
Poor peripheral circulation is an affliction that vata and kapha have a greater tendency towards. Ginger, clove, gotu cola, cinnamon and brahmi are just some of the warm infusions that will fire the ciculatory system. Adding pungent spices to meals such as ginger, pepper, cayenne, green chili and paprika is another invaluable way to combat icy extremities. With vata, sometimes poor circulation is accompanied by anaemia and low blood pressure. In this case tonics that are high in iron such as red grapes and cerebro-vascular stimulants such as brahmi and gingko biloba are useful.
Warming your body with a daily self-massage is one of the best ways to optimise circulation. Vata body types can use warm sesame oil, kapha types- mustard oil, and pitta types -almond or jojoba oil. Adding a little cinnamon, juniper, rosemary or ginger essential oil to the base will increase its warming potency. Wearing warming colours such as shades of red, brown, orange, yellow and black can help to conserve body heat. Practicing half an hour of exercise daily that promotes sweat and increases the heart rate is another way to warm up the body. To prevent and treat varicose veins or spider veins apply witchhazel lotion to the area and elevate the legs for 2o minutes daily.
Shaemus was a 53-year-old with constantly cold hands and feet. He was also suffering from memory loss and hemorrhoids. Shaemus was asked to walk at a brisk pace, for 30 minutes daily. He also started to give himself a warm oil massage for five minutes daily with sesame oil. In the evening he had a bath with cinnamon essential oil. Daily intake of trikatu (black pepper, long pepper and ginger) started to improve his circulation and memory within a week. A combination of brahmi and gingko biloba was later introduced to improve his memory. He also massaged his scalp with warm brahmi oil twice a week. Because hot spices may have aggravated his hemorrhoids these weren’t added to his diet. External application of witchhazel lotion on Shaemus’ hemorrhoids shrunk them.
Recurrent cold sores are a symptom of low immune function, a hypersensitive nervous system and unbalanced pitta or vata. To prevent an outbreak protect the lips with an aloe vera, tea tree oil and vitamin E lip balm, reduce foods high in L-arginine (see next paragraph) and manage stress levels before getting overwhelmed. Herbs to take which help to clear the virus from the body include Hypericum perfoliatum, neem, Indian myrhh, aloe vera juice, echinacea and solanum santocarpum. During an outbreak cold ice on the area for 30 minutes can reduce severity. Apply a mixture of neem, aloe gel and ghee to accelerate healing.
Enjoy foods high in lysine and zinc including brewers yeast, bean sprouts, fruits, vegetables, sunflower seeds and pumpkinseeds. Foods high in the amino acid L-arginine can exacerbate an attack so should be avoided. These include chocolate, gelatine, chicken, wheatgerm, peanuts, rye, corn, barley, soybeans, walnuts, cashews and carob. Regular meditation or guided relaxation can help to thwart an outbreak related to stress. Keep the immune system and nervous system strong with daily self-massage and herbs appropriate to the individual constitution.
As herpes is highly contagious and can cause blindness if it affects the eyes be careful to thoroughly disinfect hands or instruments that contact the area.
Karen was a 24-year-old who suffered from herpes outbreaks for the past year. She noticed they were worse during times of stress and when her nutrition was poor. Karen also suffered recurrent urinary tract infections- another sign of pitta imbalance. After following a pitta reducing diet that was low in L-arginine and high in lysine Karen found her outbreaks were less frequent. She also took triphala powder and aloe vera juice before bed to purify the blood and keep her immune system strong. Taking up mantra meditation Karen was less vulnerable to stress and mood fluctuations.
The common cold is a classic example of how the body can undergo a progressive imbalance in all the doshas over a short time. The sequence of a cold is that the body is exposed to stress, change, wind or cold. This creates a vata disturbance, which manifests as tiredness, restlessness, unusual pains, reduced appetite and loss of enthusiasm. Then the pitta phase sets in with fever, sweating and an irritated feeling in the throat, nose or eyes. As the cold progresses, kapha becomes dominant with copious mucus, lethargy and self-pity.
Whatever stage a cold is at there are plenty of effective Ayurvedic home remedies at hand. Holy basil is an excellent antibacterial, antiviral during all phases. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and licorice help to warm the body and soothe the mucous membranes while long pepper, pepper, ginger and lemongrass aid mucus expectoration. Turmeric, fenugreek and garlic help to purify the lymphatics and dry up mucus.
Keeping warm and well rested is the best way to support inner healing powers to conquer a cold. The head, neck and feet are the most important areas to keep warm at all times. Frequent sips of warm tea with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, holy basil, ginger and honey is usually very effective. Inhalation with tea tree, wintergreen, camphor or eucalyptus essential oil helps to liquify and expel the mucus whilst disinfecting the respiratory passageways.
A nasal cleansing yogic technique jala neti assists in further flushing out nasal mucus. Nasal drops of warm ghee, sesame oil or traditional anu thailam help to relieve vata sinusitis symptoms. Rubbing warm mustard seed oil on the chest and back can take the chill out of the body along with a warm epsom salts bath with heating essential oils such as ginger.
Fleur kept getting a runny nose and achy muscles. She was given a diet to suit her kapha constitution along with trikatu (long pepper, pepper an ginger) and daily inhalation with wintergreen essential oil.
Kaphas tend to get constipation due to lack of muscle tone and accumulation of toxins. Herbs that tone the intestine such as triphala and dandelion are suited for this along with garlic, which contains an intestinal wall stimulant-allicin. Vata’s constipation is more likely to be triggered by dehydration, a change in routine such as when travelling or stress. Lubricating laxatives such as flaxseed oil, castor oil or prune juice are very effective in remedying vata constipation. Though pittas are least likely to suffer constipation-when they do it is often linked to inflammation or poor liver and gall bladder function. Cooling liver tonics such as aloe vera juice, senna and dandelion generally re-establish the elimination flow. Inceasing fibre to bulk the intestine with psyllium husks is something all types may benefit from.
The golden rules to bowel harmony can be summarised by the three f’s- fluid, fibre and fitness. Plenty of warm fluids and liquid foods help to flush out undigested waste material- especially important during airplane flights, exercise, cold windy weather and hot temperatures. Conversely- dry, baked, fried or dehydrated foods in excess clog up the gastro-intestinal tract. Mixing warm water with an adjunct such as chamomile helps it to absorb into the deeper tissues. Fibre stimulates the intestinal peristalsis innvolved in a bowel motion. Good sources of fibre include bran, fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains. Fitness promotes healthy muscle tone and function, bringing toxins to the bowel and flushing them out. Excessive tension in the abdominals however can lead to a spastic colon, which disturbs elimination. To prevent this one can squat and massage the abdomen in a clockwise direction.
Emily was a 17-year-old vata constitution who had intermittent constipation. She had a very low fibre diet and rarely drank more than 2 cups of tea a day. She was asked to eliminate white flour, white rice, dairy products and red meat from her diet. The bulk of Emily’s meals consisted of brown rice, bean and vegetable casseroles with digestive spices and at least 6 cups of chamomile, licorice or fennel tea. Emily practiced a yogic colon cleanse called Shanka Prakshalana once a month for 4 months and took triphala.
Chronic sore throats can be due to lymphatic congestion, causing infected tonsils. This is treated by gargling with antibacterial combinations including tea tree, eucalyptus, golden seal, holy basil, cardamom, ginger, pepper, red sage, rock salt, turmeric, glycerine or honey. To cleanse the lymphatics internally fenugreek tea, garlic oil, thyme tincture and vasa are all excellent options. A dry, irritating cough may be due to an allergic reaction. In this herbs that cleanse, soothe and strengthen the respiratory tract are indicated.
These include coriander seeds, black cumin seeds and Justicia beddomito name a few. When the cough is productive with thick mucous strong regular herbs can be taken to prevent it from progressing to a serious infection. Such herbs would include expectorants such as ginger, long pepper and pepper; anti-tussinves such as vasa, licorice, holy basil, cumin, purified camphor and palm sugar. To soothe the inflamed membranes demulcent herbs such as marshmallow and warm milk may be taken in the latter stages.
To preserve prana vata (air lifeforce) keep talking to a minimum. Regulate airflow through gentle yogic breathing (pranayama) and steam inhalation with antibacterial essential oils such as tea tree. To reduce kapha remove foods such as rice, dairy, cold and raw foods from the menu. Heavy foods such as potatoes, bananas and red meat can be reduced. Plenty of warm herbal honeyed teas such as a cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, peppercorn chai helps to dry up mucous and eliminate the underlying pathogen.
Simon was a kapha constitution who suffered from coughs an average of twice yearly, which could cause bronchial asthma. He took sitopaladi powder which consists of cinnamon, cardamom, long pepper, palm sugar and bamboo manna as well as 3 cups of ginger, licorice, holy basil and honey tea a day. Once the mucous had loosened and bronchioles were opened he underwent supervised yogic vomiting once a week for 6 weeks. This quickly expelled the accumulated mucus in the stomach, which was the origin of the problem. He later took trikatu (long pepper, ginger and black pepper) at any sign of sluggish digestion.
Cuts, bites, stings
There is a complete branch of Ayurveda specialising in the treatment of venomous bites and stings called Visha chikitsa. However here we will deal with less lethal bites and stings that can be safely treated at home. A traditional remedy for fresh cuts to stop bleeding and promote healing is a paste of turmeric powder and honey. Dust area with the powder and once the bleeding has settled apply a thin layer of honey. Organic honey such as manuka or tea tree has extra strong antibacterial properties. For stings or bites apply the juice of coriander leaves and holy basil leaves. Neem seed oil can be applied to bites and stings later to keep infections at bay. Aloe vera gel and rosehip oil is excellent for promoting scarless healing in the later phase. A paste of ghee, honey, black sesame seeds and pure cow’s urine is a traditional remedy to disinfect and reduce the pain of cuts, bites and stings
To prevent bites, cuts or stings from getting infected blood purifying herbs such as aloe vera, neem, turmeric and manjishtha can be taken internally. Neem is said to deter insects from biting or stinging when taken internally and applied externally. Once the damage has been done- substances to boost the immune system and promote healing are advised.
Herbs with immuno-stimulant properties include gooseberries, shatavari, aswhagandha and guduchi. To reduce itching chickweed and shirisha are excellent herbs.
A 12-year-old boy cut his finger while playing with a pocket knife. After washing the wound in dilute tea tree oil and hot water it was dusted with a combination of turmeric and sandalwood powder. This was applied daily with a little ghee then covered by light gauze. After 3 days healing had progressed and aloe vera with rose hip oil was smoothed on the area twice daily to ensure a scar didn’t form.
Cysts, fribroids in the uterus
Growths such as ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids are indicative of a blockage of vata and a reflex accumulation of kapha and toxins in the bodily channels. To restore balance and proper elimination Ayurveda initially ensures that the digestion is at optimal function. Then herbs are given to balance the body’s hormone levels.
A common combination prescribed is called Sapthasaram kashayam. This is a mix of 7 herbs including ginger, castor root, bael roots and punarnava. It is very effective for dissolving and expelling growths. Warm castor oil poultices are also placed over the uterine region along with daily self-massage.
Since hormones consist mainly of cholesterol, when the liver is weak, hormones are not broken down and tend to accumulate in the body-resulting in growths. Hence, where applicable liver herbs are given to support the body’s detoxification process.
Women are encouraged to honor their body’s messages by adjusting their lifestyle during the menstrual cycle. In order to appreciate and facilitate the purification process of menstruation during the first three days exercise is kept to a minimum, sufficient sleep is advised, sex is to be avoided and pads are prefered to tampons in order to encourage an unobstructed flow. Heavy or oily foods, which increase eostrogen and prostoglandin 2 synthesis in the body, are reduced. These foods include meat and eggs. Other restricted items include sugar, salt, tea, coffee, soft drinks, fried foods, chocolate, cold foods and recreational drugs. Daily self-massage and warm epsom salts baths with clary sage essential oil are often helpful. A special series of yoga postures for the female reproductive system can be practiced throughout the month.
Cassandra was a 35-year-old single woman with a history of 2 miscarriages. When investigating the cause 3 large fibroids were discovered on the uterus. She was advised to go on a low estrogen diet and to use warm castor oil packs on the lower abdomen daily. Given a combination of hing and saptasaram decoction Cassandra’s fibroids began to reduce after three months.
“The darkest hour is before the dawn”
It has been said that an unexamined life is a life not worth living. Though a serious and debilitating condition, the underlying value of depression is that it offers space for existential enquiry. Time to process and reflect on the past and integrate it into the present in a way, which will enrich the future. Whether the depression is reactive (due to circumstances or events) or endogenous (as a result of internal biochemistry) the best approach is to strengthen the mind.
This can be done through herbs and behavioural psychotherapy. Ayurveda often employs rejuvenative herbs such as ashwagandha, shatavari, holy basil, saffron and brahmi. These are often supplemented with tailored meditation practice and body therapies such as shirodhara to balance pituitary gland function. Stimulating music, colours and gems are also effective mood elevators.
To shift depression a shift in attitude is often required. One way to train the mind to cultivate a positive and optimistic outlook is to keep a daily dairy of the blessings experienced throughout the day. This takes the focus off negativities and onto everyday blessings that can be easily taken for granted. Setting small goals and achieving them helps one to gain the momentum and enthusiasm needed to move from the stagnant, introspective gear of depression. Often depressed people are simply unimpressed with life.
Inspirational reading, counseling and taking up a fun hobby can help one to regain lust for life. Exercise is particularly effective as it triggers the release of the natural pleasure chemicals- endorphins. Sufficient exposure to sunlight is essential to eliminate the possibility of depression induced by SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Substances that can aggravate depression include caffeine, alcohol, marijuana and nicotine.
Evan was a 40-year-old, who had suffered depression for sporadic periods throughout his life. Though he had felt an underlying pessimism about life this was further reinforced by recent job retrenchment. Evan was given a series of energising yoga exercises called the Five Tibetans and asked to walk in nature for 30 minutes daily while listening to a compilation tape of his favorite music. To support his adrenal and brain function he was given a herbal jam called Ashwagandadi lehyam and a series of shiro-dhara treatments. Psychotherapy sessions gave Evan a renewed sense of his career options, which led him to pursue his teenage dream of joining a jazz band. On the rare occasions when the blues progressed to the black cloud of depression Evan found group meditation sessions lifted him out of the slump.
Diarrhoea is the body’s attempt to expel indigestible matter. Substances may be indigestible due to a weak digestive fire or may be harmful as in the case of food or water infected with bacteria or parasites. Ayurveda believes that “plugging up” the system can make things worse, instead it aims to eradicate toxic matter (ama) whilst strengthening the digestion (agni).
At the initial phase a gentle bulking laxative such a psyllium husks may be given to promote complete expulsion of toxins. When this is achieved anti microbial herbs such as black walnut hulls, pomegranate rind, nut grass, grapefruit seed extract, kutaja and cloves may be prescribed. Then herbs to encourage the body to retain nutrients are given such as bael juice, nutmeg and charcoal tablets. Once the diarrhoea is controlled herbs to re-ignite the digestive fire are given which may include long pepper, cumin and ginger.
There is an Indian saying- “If you want an unwanted guest to leave then don’t feed them.” This is also the case with diarrhoea. Fasting from food is recommended as long as the person’s strength remains. If weakness sets in then stomachic and anti-diarhoeal foods such as rice soup with ginger powder and coriander leaves, pomegranate juice, unripe banana, grated cooked apple with nutmeg, guava, buttermilk and whey can be taken.
Most serious complications from diarrhoea arise due to dehydration. To prevent this, give plenty of this electrolyte-rich formula. For every bowel motion give 1 cup of room temperature water with 1/2 tsp of lemon juice, 1/4 tsp salt and 1 tsp honey.
When suffering from diarrhoea one should avoid hot water bathing, exposure to the sun, oil massage and exerting physical activity.
A 28-year-old lady suffered from acute diarrhoea after a trip to south east Asia. Initially she was given haritaki fruit to flush out the liver and colon, She then took a combination tincture of black walnut hulls, cloves, grapefruit seed extract, wormwood and kutaja. Her diet was restricted to rice soup with a pinch of nutmeg, coriander leaves and salt. She also took cooked apples and chamomile tea with honey.
Vata constitutions are particularly prone to dry skin, which gets worse in winter. Internal and external therapies are required to effect long term improvement. A small quantity of ghee can be taken with each meal. Alternatively ingesting the maximim dose of flaxseed oil or evening primrose oil daily improves the lustre of the skin. Herbs to aid the digestion will facilitate the absorption of lubricants through the skin layers. The appropriate herb for this depends on the individual’s doshic imbalance. Sufficient warm water mixed with a synergist such as herbal tea or fruit juice will also carry moisture to the deeper tissue layers.
Exercise to sweat to open the skin pores and to assist the proper circulation of skin nutrients. Dehydrating things to be avoided include baked food, dried fruits or vegetables, puffed grains, tea, coffee, carbonated drinks, diuretics, wind, exposure to the sun, hot water, hair dryers and airplane flights. To manage the condition externally try dry skin brushing to exfoliate off dead skin cells then warm oil should be applied to the whole body one hour before taking bath. Vata can use sesame oil, pitta- coconut oil and kapha can apply corn oil. Avoid chemical and alcohol based beauty products. Instead a moisturiser of rosehip oil or hempseed oil and a cucumber/rosewater toner can help to seal the skin’s moisture in. Ghee softens and moisturises chapped lips
Heather had chronic dry skin. Now 34, she had a vata imbalance, which was evident by the presence of obstinate constipation. She was asked to follow a vata pacifying diet that included plenty of ghee, warm liquid casseroles and at least 6 cups of herbal tea daily. Daily yoga exercise and sesame oil massage was diligently observed. She was also given 2 tsps of castor oil with 1 tsp of ginger juice to take before bed. After 10 days on this regime the castor oil was stopped and Heather was given a series of small oil enemas for three days. Her skin started to feel smoother and more lubricated after one month.
An external earache can eased with the use of antibacterial herbal drops. First steam the ear with hot water and a little tea tree oil. Then apply an antibiotic mix of garlic olive oil. This can be made by heating one tbs of olive oil and then adding 2 crushed garlic cloves to it. Put 4 drops in each ear, massaging the remaining oil around the outer ear. Mulleine oil drops for the earache is an excellent alternative to this. Another specialty Ayurvedic treatment for chronic ear problems such as glue ear is similar to the Hopi Indian’s ear candling technique. A cloth cigarette lined with ghee, turmeric and triphala is connected the ear by a tube. This opens the eustachian tubes and dries up accumulated toxins in the ear.
Seek medical assistance if symptoms persist.
As with all infections the immune system must be supported with purifying herbs and foods such as echinacea, gooseberry, turmeric, golden seal, neem and garlic. However these should be selected according to the individual’s doshic imbalance. Avoid touching the ear and try not to sleep on it. Swimming should be avoided until the infection has cleared. However compresses of warm water and a little tea tree oil can be pressed on the ear for relief. Take off earrings and reduce exposure to loud noises. A yogic breathing technique called bee’s breath (bhramari) is excellent to strengthen the ear canals.
Dominique was a 12-year-old boy who got an ear infection after swimming. With redness, pain and slight tinnitus he was at the acute inflammatory stage. His ear was steamed with a mix of hot water, triphala and turmeric. Then a traditional Ayurvedic garlic and calamus oil called vacha lasunadi was dropped into the ears. A cotton wad soaked in warm water and dilute tea tree oil was placed in the outer ear for 10 minutes three times a day.
When impurities accumulate in the gut and blood they may irritate the skin and nervous system as is the case with eczema. Whether the cause be allergic, emotional, fungal, bacterial or unknown, Ayurveda’s first tactic is to purify the gastro-intestinal tract and the blood. This is achieved with herbs such as manjishtam, neem, Indian sarasparilla, cassia fistula, picrorrhiza, turmeric and triphala. The nervous system may need tonifying with herbs such as kava kava, ashwagandha and brahmi. Once the internal channels are fortified external oils are used to soothe the skin. Coconut based oils with herbs reduce the inflammatory process as well as easing the itching and oozing often associated with exzema. Herbs such as cardamom, turmeric, triphala, manjishtha and neem are commonly used.
A diet rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins A, C and Zinc has been shown to assist in eczema. This can be obtained by taking flaxseed oil, seeds, yellow vegetables and non-acidic fruits. Foods that tend to aggravate eczema are dairy products, meat, sugar, acidic fruits, tomatoes, hot spices, yeast and alcohol. Since coriander leaves have natural anti-histamines adding it to vegetables is beneficial. Plenty of fluids such as licorice tea, chlorophyll and aloe vera juice can help to flush out the toxins.
Sasha was a 16-year-old girl who had suffered from eczema for the past five years. She had a vata pitta constitution and found the condition worsened under stress, with dairy foods and sugar and when she used soap. She was asked to stop using soap immediately and instead to use a bathing powder made from the herb shirisha. Sasha then went on a one week purification diet of suitable fruits, vegetables, juices and evening primrose oil. At the same time she took triphala nightly and aswagandha to reduce stress. Daily sessions of Yoga Nidra relaxation were advised followed by a relaxing 30 minute walk in shaded parkland.
Eye disorders can be due to an imbalance in vata, pitta or kapha. Vata disorders in the eye tend to lead to dryness, poor vision and degeneration such as retinal detachment and eyestrain. Pitta imbalances cause with burning, inflammation, yellow pus, redness and pterygiums. Kapha imbalances result in clouded vision, glaucoma, cataracts, thick pus and watery eyes. Ayurvedic eye treatment varies for each problem. One standard eye strengthening and purifying treatment is triphala eyewash. Eyebright infusion is another effective eye-bath.
Another therapy for vata and pitta is a technique called netra vasti. This is a procedure where a circular dam of urad flour dough is built around the reclining patient. The closed eyes are then filled with warm ghee or medicated oil. The eyes can be opened for a few minutes then closed. This strengthens the nerves and tissues of the eyes as well as enhancing intuition, relaxation and vision. A drop of pure castor oil in the eyes is also healing for vata and pitta eye diseases. As shatavari is high in vitamin A and gooseberry in vitamin C these strengthen the eye’s connective tissue integrity.
Cooling herbs such as coriander seeds and leaves, roses, sandalwood and fennel are also applicable. More than just a cosmetic- Indian eyeliner (kajal) is made of camphor and castor oil which improves the vision.
Ayurveda believes that the eyes are one of the first body parts to degenerate with age. Therefore it is vital to protect the eyes from chemicals, overstrain, sunlight and internal toxins. This can be achieved by wearing protective sunglasses whilst outside, keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from the television, using a glare reducing screen on your VDU to reduce eye strain, reading in good light and taking a break from focusing on one thing every 25 minutes. Yogic eye exercises are an excellent way to maintain clarity of vision. Trataka is another yogic technique involving candle gazing, which purifies the eyes and improves focus. Heat also increases degeneration of the eye’s connective tissue so avoid hot hair dryers, hot water on the face, alcohol based cosmetics around the eyes and heating foods. A diet, rich in antioxidants such as fresh fruit and vegetables also create strong eyes.
Irene was a 45-year-old pitta constitution suffering from short sightedness and sporadic conjunctivitis. Since her conjunctivitis worsened with chillis, tomatoes, vinegar and oil these foods were removed from her diet. To cool her overheated body she was asked to go on a pitta reducing diet, swim in cool water and take aloe vera juice daily. She used a triphala and turmeric eyewash daily and threw away old eye make-up to prevent re-infection. When she had the occasional relapse Irene found placing cotton wool soaked in cold coriander seed infusion over her eyes gave rapid relief.
Occasional flatulence is a natural bi-product of digestion. However chronic and excessive wind is a painful and embarrassing indicator that the digestion is deranged.
To tackle the problem Ayurveda has an abundance of useful household herbs. To increase digestive enzymes herbs such as ginger, piper longum, garlic and asafoetida are invaluable. Mild laxative herbs such as triphala and castor oil help to clear out fermenting intestinal toxins. Herbal oil enemas (vastis) are another effective way of cleansing the colon. Specific carminative culinary herbs and spices are Ayurveda’s specialty. Add the following to meals to reduce gas- cumin, cardamom, fennel, coriander, ajawan and ginger. Charcoal and peppermint tablets give temporary relief in extreme cases.
Since flatulence is most commonly due to excess vata in the colon, a vata pacifying diet and regime is often indicated. Vata increases as a result of stress, anxiety, dehydration, exhaustion, flying, irregular meals and in cold windy weather. To reduce the impact of these influences meals should be taken in a relaxed way with less talking and more chewing. Daily abdomenal massage with warm sesame oil and exercises to strengthen and stretch the abdominal and back muscles can help. Gaseous foods or those that easily ferment should be minimised-especially at night. These include nuts, beans, soya milk, red meat, cabbage, raw vegetables, yeast, alcohol, sugar, milk and carbonated drinks.
Mark suffered from gas ever since a bout of giardia 3 years ago. A powder mix called Hinguvachadi (see asafoetida home remedies) helped to reduce the gas. Mark also took a clove and wormwood tincture to eradicate any lingering intestinal bugs. A cleansing diet of vegetables, grains and digestive spices gave the digestion a chance to clear out built up toxins. Mark then had a series of five oil enemas and maintained his recovery with liver herbs including dandelion root tea and garlic.
Fever occurs when the body needs to combust toxins. It also strikes when the body is free of toxins but is weak or overheated, as in sunstroke. In the initial phase of fever with toxins Ayurveda promotes sweat and bowel motions to help remove heat and ama from the body. Sweating can be induced by keeping the patient warm or with herbs such as ginger, cinnamon, catnip, chamomile, coriander, thyme, cloves and holy basil. If the patient’s fever is dangerously high then this approach may aggravate the situation, especially in pitta body types. The fever victim will instinctively desire what feels right. The next step is to cool the system with substances such as sandalwood, guduchi, feverfew, white willow bark, ginger, boneset, bitter herbs, red grapes, coriander seeds, coriander leaves, holy basil and rice soup.
Chronic low-grade fevers are a sign that the body is too weak to heal itself. The immune system may be oversensitive to a normal range of pathogens, lacking the inner energy reserves to accomodate them. The message is to rest, relax and rejuvenate the drained body and mind. Tonifying herbs such as ashwagandha, shatavari and echinacea along with a light and nourishing diet help to re-establish homoeostasis. Dry accupressure massage (marma chikitsa) or medicated oil massage can also help. Late nights, travel, exerting exercise and exposure to heat or environmental extremes will only make things worse. Conversely yoga nidra relaxation or very gentle yoga can trigger inner healing mechanisms.
Fiona was a 29-year-old life-guard with a fever for no apparent reason. She also suffered from peptic ulcers with reflux. Fiona took two weeks off beach watch duty and an indoor post. This was give her body and chance to cool down. Heating items were restricted from her diet such as tomatoes, salt, chillis, onions, garlic, red meat, fish, alcohol, citrus fruits and vinegar. She also took cabbage juice, slippery elm and shatavari for her acidic digestion. A cooling, laxative juice from coriander leaves a pinch of sandalwood powder and 10 mls of aloe vera juice stabilised her temperature within one week.
There are almost as many causes of headaches as there are people who suffer from them. Half the cure is in understanding the cause. The main elemental imbalance is evident by the presenting symptoms.
With vata headaches the pain is sudden and fluctuating. It often moves around the head and may be accompanied by restlessness, dry mouth, irritability and fatigue.
Pitta headaches often involve a raise in temperature, redness, throbbing, sweating and a feeling of frustration.
Headaches of a kapha origin commonly present with a congested feeling in the sinuses and a heaviness of the head.
Vata headaches may be due to constipation, poor spine alignment, tempero-mandibular joint problems, dehydration, muscle tension, intestinal gas, malnutrition, low blood pressure, low blood sugar or anxiety.
Pitta headaches can be linked to liver disorders, anemia, impure blood, overexposure to the sun, heating foods and drinks or suppressed anger.
Kapha headaches can sometimes be traced to overeating, excess sleeping, mucus accumulation in the stomach or sinuses and depression.
For vata headaches herbalised oil massage, nasal drops, oil enemas and consistent rehydration are key remedies. Useful herbs include dasamoola (10 roots combination), iron rich ashwagandha, castor oil as a laxative and western nervine herbs such as vervain, valerian, skullcap, white willow bark or wood bettony.
Pitta headaches can be treated with cooling herbs such as cumin, coriander, sandalwood, aloe vera, gentian, triphala, fennel and cooling essential oils such as lavender, gardenia, jasmine and sandalwood. A specialised Ayurvedic therapy for pitta headaches is where tender coconut water or cool milk is poured continuously over the forehead for at least 40 minutes (ksheeradhara).
Since kapha’s are often very congested they respond to supervised steam inhalation, vomiting therapy and nasal irrigation combined with fasting to dry up mucus and toxins. Beneficial warming and stimulating herbs include trikatu (long pepper, pepper and ginger powder), fenugreek, garlic, golden seal or a traditional combination called sitopaladi powder (bamboo manna, cane sugar, long pepper, cardamom and cinnamon).
If headaches are linked to eyestrain follow the regimes advised in the eye disorders section. If there is a correlation with the menstrual cycle see the premenstrual syndrome section.
There are some simple preventative and management techniques for headaches irrespective of the cause, which is not always identifiable. As soon as you feel a headache coming on take at least four cups of warm tea. Vervain or scullcap for pitta, valerian for vata and ginger for kapha. A paste of fresh ginger and ghee paste on the forehead for vata or alternatively nutmeg powder and warm water for vata or ginger and water for kapha helps to subdue the pain. Lying down in a cool dark room and sleeping or doing a guided relaxation tape can relieve the pain totally in some cases. The diet should be as simple as possible, avoiding fatty, oily, sugary, preserved or heavy foods such as nuts, meat and dairy.
Caffeine, alcohol, chocolate and preservatives are just a few of the hundreds of possible dietary triggers. An allergy test may help to identify specific triggers. Massage of the head, neck, shoulders and feet with warm sesame oil for vata, coconut oil for pitta and corn oil for kapha can dissipate causative tension. Simple yoga stretches and alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana) also helps to relax tense muscles. Understanding one’s emotional state preceding the headache can shed light on psychological origins of the condition. One can then address this through a prefered mind/body technique such as neuro-linguistic programming, meditation or psychotherapy.
Kirtida was a 28-year-old with a pitta constitution. She suffered intermittent headaches since childhood. She found that they were worse when she suppressed anger and during the summer heat. Kirtida was put on a pitta pacifying diet and asked to drink at least one litter of cooling mint and vervain tea daily. She was also given a series of Ksheera-dhara treatments (cool milk on forehead) and asked to meditate daily for 15 minutes morning and evening. Daily self massage with coconut and a little lavender oil was advised to cool and relax the body. Kirtida also took a combination of aloe vera juice, neem, gentian and turmeric to purify her liver and blood.
Almost everyone suffers from various degrees of indigestion over a lifetime. Overeating, eating incompatible foods, eating at the wrong time or in a stressed state can all contribute to indigestion. As with all conditions, the disease symtpoms vary according to the dosha involved.
Vata indigestion often manifests as excessive gas, alternating diarrhoea and constipation, grey toxins on the tongue, an irregular appetite and craving for stimulants such as sugar and caffeine.
Pitta indigestion generally innvolves burning acidity or reflux in the stomach, an insatiable appetite, a tendency to diarrhoea and yellow toxins on the tongue.
Kapha indigestion presents with extreme heaviness in the stomach or oesophagus, lack of appetite, fatty stools and lethargy after meals, weight gain and a whitish tongue coating. A simple indigestion remedy for all body-types is a slice of ginger, a pinch of rock salt, a pinch of long pepper (optional) with a squeeze of lime-juice on top. Chew this 5-10 minutes before a meal to stoke up the digestive fire for complete digestion.
Vata indigestion is aided by warming carminative herbs such as asafoetida, garlic, ginger, long pepper, ajawan seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg and bay leaves.
Pitta indigestion requires cooling carminatives and bitter tonics such as coriander, cumin, fennel, peppermint, nut grass, licorice, gentian, brahmi, shatavari, arrowroot, bala, gooseberry and slippery elm.
Kapha indigestion benefits from stimulating and warming herbs including ginger, garlic, pepper, long pepper, Indian mhyrr, turmeric, cayenne, paprika, green chillis, mustard seeds and fenugreek.
Ayurveda expands on the saying “we are what we eat” by adding that we are when, why, where and how we eat. Though indigestion is sometimes due to hereditary organ weaknesses it is generally self-inflicted and perpetuated by poor eating habits. To optimise digestion try the following tips. Eat meals at around the same time daily, though only eat if hungry. Avoid eating at least two hours prior to sleep and one hour prior to exercise. Minimise talking and especially emotional discussions during meals. Don’t drink cold water directly before, with or after meals. Chew each mouthful at least 15 times. Sip warm ginger tea with meal. Eat according to your body-type whilst observing the way you feel after various foods. Try to take fresh food rather than leftovers. If you are overeating think about what you are really hungry for. If you are undereating try to inject some variety and tantilising flavours into your diet. Enjoy a warm peppermint, fennel or cumin and coriander seed tea 30 minutes after a meal.
Benjamin was a vata-pitta constitution with chronic flatulence and stomachache. At 25 years he had recently taken a course of antibiotics for a stomachache but it only got worse. He started to improve as soon as he was put on a vata balancing diet and a herbal combination with asafoetida, long pepper, fennel and ginger. Benjamin also started to eat with minimal conversation and in a relaxed, slow manner. He took a light protein-free dinner before 6.30 PM. Taking a room temperature lassi (water, yoghurt and cumin powder drink) after meals helped to reestablish healthy gastro-intestinal flora. Before bed Ben took 2 tsps of castor oil and ginger juice for one week to alleviate excess air and ether in the intestines.
Vajikarana is the branch of Ayurveda dedicated to helping couples conceive healthy progeny.
Since reproductive fluids-the sperm and ovum- are considered the cream of all metabolic processes then infertility is an indication of problems in other areas of the body. Tests for male infertility are less invasive and more conclusive than for females so it is wise to check these first. Male infertility, can be caused by an abnormal erection, blocked vas deferens or epididymis, poor sperm motility or quality, a deficiency of lack of vit A, B complex, E, Zinc, Magnesium, protein, fatty acids, amino acids an accumulation of toxins such as cadmium from cigarettes, or high cholesterol blocking the penis’ arteries. Herbs for male potency include gota cola, saw palmetto, damiana, sarsaparilla, oats, ginseng, urad dal, licorice, suassuria lappa, garlic, amalaki, bala, long pepper, lotus seeds, ghee, milk, almond milk, onion, palm sugar, Tribulus terrestris and cloves. Women’s infertility is often more difficult to diagnose.
Possible causes include pelvic congestion, poor quality of ovum (especially after 45years), stress, fears, cysts, endometriosis and fibroids. Aftereffects of contraception, STDs, over or under nutrition, drug side effects, old age A study spanning from 1987-1998 also showed that women who were underweight or overweight had a 60% deceased chance of conception, even on IVF. Natural fertility tonics are chaste tres, false unicorn root, dong quai, squaw vine, ginger, blue cohosh, wild yam, black sesame seeds, aloe vera, black haw, cumin seeds, dill seeds, nettles, saffron, shatavari, fennal, urad dal and wild yam. With stubborn infertility Ayurveda suggests the couple undergo a series of purification treatments known as panchakarma, usually involving oil enemas.
You don’t need to know the cause of infertility to optimise nutrition, reduce stress, take herbal fertility tonics and regain hormonal harmony. Both women and men need to regulate their natural biorhythms to ensure that all elements are in synch with their hormonal cycle. This can be done by sleeping with the moonlight shining in the room, eating according to the body’s requirements with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, seeds and grains, taking time for self nurturing through yoga and self massage and avoiding any drugs or foods that may decrease fertility.
Massaging the penis and the area between the scrotum and anus with warm sesame oil can help to unblock tubes and bring nutrition to the area. Women can observe the guidance given in menstrual discomfort to regulate the menses. Try to see the time for conception as a sacred moment for a new soul to enter the world. A natural fertility management practitioner will help you to determine the peak fertility times and an astrologer will assess the most auspicious time for union. The man can abstain from ejaculation for 1 month before conception to strengthen sperm count. On the day of conception light, nourishing and cooling foods can be taken.
The Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita says the best position is for the women to lie on her back with the man on top, the women wrapping her legs around the man.
Jane and Dillon had unsuccessfully tried to concieve for 2 years. They were very busy and active people. Tests showed that Dillon’s sperm count was fine but he had low motility. He was advised to wear boxers and reduce the rigorous exercise routine as it was depleting his vitality. Dillon was also put on a Zinc, B complex and Vitamin A supplement along with a herbal fertility jam called Ashwagandadhi lehyam. Jane received counseling to discuss her fear of having a child. She doubted her ability to sacrifice her time and ambitions for a child. After some discussion she realised that the birth of a child didn’t mean death to her career. She was also given bach flowers and regular massage to reduce her stress levels. After 4 months on a rejuvenating diet and herbs they conceived whilst on an island holiday.
Sleep is a sanctuary where the mind and body can regenerate after the wear and tear of the day. Sleeplessness or poor quality sleep effects every aspect one’s life. Generally as a result of vata or pitta imbalance, long term sleep deprivation leads to body ache, premature aging, emotional instability, memory loss, fatigue, poor coordination, confusion, and apathy. Sleep deprived people are a danger to themselves and others especially in situations such as driving and operating machinery. Ayurveda uses general nervous system tonics to ground and relax vata type isomniacs. Useful herbs include nutmeg with warm milk, ashwagandha, valerian root, hops, skullcap, passion flower, kava kava, holy basil, Indian myrrh, lady’s slipper, Indian frankincense Pitta type insomnia, which presents with more body heat and mental agitation is treated with cooling nervines such as chamomile, gotu cola, sandalwood, hypericum, vervain and poppy seeds. Ayurvedic body therapies for insomnia include shiro-dhara with buffalo’s milk plus gooseberry and a crown chakra bath called shiro-vasti. (see body therapies.)
Visiting a sleep lab for assessment can sometimes accurately pinpint the problem. Common stimulants that may disturb sleep are to be avoided. These include caffeine, sugar, nicotine, chocolate, coca cola, salt, amphetamine drugs, alcohol and high tyramine foods such as smoked meats, chocolate, spinach, eggplant, wine and cheese.
Foods high in tryptophan help to produce the serotonin, which induces sleep, Vitamin B and C are essential for this conversion. Tryptophan containing foods include milk, potatoes with skin, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, roasted pumpkin and turnips. Deficiencies in manganese, potassium, calcium, zinc and iron can cause restlessness. Ayurveda uses mineral bhasmas to restore these. Try to wind down in the evening by engaging in a relaxing hobby rather than working, discussing heavy topics of doing strenuous exercise.
Exercise during the day however can promote the body’s willingness to rest. A light dinner at least two hours before bed will minimise indigestion-related insomnia. Applying brahmi oil on the head and warm sesame oil on the feet can sedate the nervous system. Also try a warm bath with sedative essential oils suited to your dosha such as lavender, chamomile, ylang ylang, clary sage, frankincense, rose otto or vetivert.
Daily meditation or yogic brahmari breath before bed can help to quiet an overactive mind, often an underlying cause of insomnia. If you can’t sleep it is still important to rest the body by doing a guided relaxation or listening to soothing music. Try to make the bedroom quiet, dark and comfortable with the head of the bed facing any direction except north and away from power points. Make realistic expectations of the day otherwise you can feel restless due to incomplete tasks.
Stephan was a 30-year-old vata constitution who suffered from insomnia since he was 16. His constant fatigue and apathetic attitude turned simple tasks into a huge effort. Stephan revealed that he was extremely stressed since breaking up with his girlfriend as a teenager. His sleep patterns were further disturbed by years of all night music gigs. Stephan was given a series of shiro-dhara treatments where warm herbalised oil was poured over his forehead. This balances the pituitary gland function, which in turn reduces stress and promotes serotonin production. He was also given a tonic of ghee and ashwagandha called Ashwagandadhi lehyam to fortify his adrenals and nervous system. Following a regime of daily yoga, self-massage, swimming and meditation as well as going to bed at the same time daily helped to balance his biorhythms.
When the liver is weak the whole body suffers as unwanted toxins are retained and desireable nutrients are not absorbed. Though generally the bane of pitta predominant constitutions, liver disease can strike anyone who contracts an infection such as hepatitis or anybody who neglects their diet, exercise and takes drugs, alcohol or is exposed to environmental pollutants. Ayurveda restores liver function with a three-step approach. Firstly one must remove toxins from the diet and environment. The second strategy is to flush accumulated toxins from the deeper tissues. The final phase is where the liver and other digestive organs are regenerated with herbs. Prime herbs for liver problems include dandelion root, st mary’s thistle, senna, gentian, piccrorhiza, burdock, red clover, barberry, golden seal, echinacea. garlic, raasna, bhringaraja, turmeric and guduchi.
By relieving the liver of its load it can then channel more energy into removing accumulated toxins and restoring cellular function. This is best achieved by going on a fruit or vegetable fast for three to seven days. Specific foods for the liver include daikon (white radish), beet root, celery, dandelion root, aloe vera, chlorophyll, bitter melon, bitter lettuces, ginger and ash gourd. Check your body-type diet chart to make sure they are suitable. After the purification diet avoid fats, oils, processed foods, refined flour, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, drugs, sugar, salt, red meat and food that isn’t organic. Essential vitamins, minerals and protein are poorly absorbed with liver dysfunction so supplementation is often advisable. Fat soluble vitamins B complex, A, D, E and K and amino acids are the most common deficiencies.
John was a 44-year-old pitta constitution with liver cirrhosis, resulting from 15 years of alcoholism. John had stopped drinking with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous but the damage was done. Since he had little appetite it was easy for him to go on a vegetable juice fast for 5 days. He was also given a herbal decoction, from neem, piccrorhiza, turmeric, gota cola, brahmi, licorice, guduchi and sandalwood along with St. Mary’s thistle tablets. By strictly following the pitta pacifying diet and regimes as well as dealing with suppressed anger (sometimes linked to liver disorders) John was on the road to recovery.
Ayurveda explains that memory retention is governed by kapha, information assimilation is ruled by pitta and memory retrieval is connected with vata. Vata body-types grasp concepts quickly and forget them just as rapidly, pitta is fast to comprehend and remembers well, kapha is slow to understand but knowledge is retained for a long time. Ayurveda uses herbs, diet, meditation and body therapies to nourish and stabilise brain activity. Time-tested brain boosters include ashwagandha, ginseng, cayenne, brahmi, calamus, shankapuspi, gingko biloba, holy basil, bhringaraja, gotu cola, gooseberry, milk and ghee, nasya, brahmi oil applied to the head and saraswatam powder (a combination of ten memory enhancing herbs.)
A serene mind is like a still lake, drop something in and it creates a deep rippling impression. Whereas a stressed mind is like a choppy ocean, too distracted to register extra activity. This is why we often forget vital information when under stress as the brain is overloaded and preoccupied. Ayurveda recommends meditation or guided relaxation to still the hyperactive mind. Brain function is also impaired by poor cerebro-vascular circulation. This can be improved with aerobic exercise and daily cranial massage with coconut or brahmi oil. Brain foods include, tapioca, spinach, almonds, pure ghee and cows milk. Toxic and oxidizing substances such as aluminium, mercury, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, rancid fats and environmental pollutants can damage brain function and destroy brain cells. Nutrients shown to aid the memory are coenzyme Q10, essential fatty acids, Vitamin B12 and iron.
A 58-year-old vata-pitta constitution, Al started to forget little things like where he left his car keys and the names of friends. Simultaneously he was experiencing stress as he was reluctantly due to retire in the near future. Al was given brahmi and bhringaraja oil to apply to his head daily. He also took a combination of brahmi, gota cola and Gingko biloba with warm ghee and cow’s milk to aid its absorption. Counseling helped Al to see the positive side to retirement as he wrote down his future aspirations including places to see, hobbies to pursue and freelance writing projects to work on.
Daily Qi-gong helped Al to relax and clear his mind of stressful self-talk. He also reduced his alcohol intake, which had become excessive. As a result of these adjustments Al’s memory gradually began to improve.
With a positive perspective menopause can be welcomed as a natural metamorphosis rather than a disease. While some view it as a dreaded ending, Ayurveda sees it as a ‘meaningful pause’ before the beginning of a liberating new phase. A time where a women’s wisdom comes to fruition so she can share the wealth of her experience. Many women make a smooth transition into menopause, happy to say goodbye to the cramps, bleeding and mood fluctuations associated with the hormonal cycle. This is especially the case with healthy, fit women and those from cultures where age is valued. Menopause can also cause fibroids to shrink and relieve endometriosis. For others however challenges arise at this time due to doshic imbalances.
Hot flashes, tiredness, moodiness, dryness and weight gain are some common symptoms. The risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and high cholesterol also increases after menopause. If this were solely due to low estrogen all women would get these symptoms, which isn’t the case. Women with pre-existing doshic imbalances and an accumulation of metabolic toxins (ama) are the ones that experience menopausal difficulties. Ayurveda then takes an individualised approach to menopause according to the elemental imbalance responsible. Regular purification regimes (panchakarma), exercise and a wholefood diet before menopause are the best safeguard against later menopausal discomfort. Herbs to balance hormones include rose flowers, shatavari, fennel, licorice, lotus seeds, cumin, wild yam, red clover, punarnava, alfalfa, flax seed oil, Dong quai and Siberian ginseng, sage and castor root. Supervised vaginal douches(uttara vasti) with oil or infusions of neem, triphala, aloe vera can help to cleanse the uterus.
Effective menopause strategies depend on whether there is a vata, pitta or kapha imbalance. Vata menopausal symptoms include dryness, insomnia, osteoporosis and anxiety. Pitta problems are heavy bleeding, impatience, hot flashes and acne rosacea. Kapha symptoms may involve weight gain, water retention, depression, raised cholesterol and fatigue. These can be tackled by following the appropriate diet for the affected dosha. Following Ayurvedic daily regimes such as self-massage, yoga and meditation can help the body to maintain a natural homeostasis.
Hormone replacement therapy is an option for women who are in a high-risk category for osteoporosis, heart disease and high cholesterol. It should be an educated choice made with the awareness of possible side effects such as breast cancer, gall bladder disease, weight gain and raised blood pressure. Natural plant hormones combined with purification therapies are often sufficient to support the body through a smooth and healthy transition. Foods and supplements, which can assist the process, include vitamins a, b, c, e and calcium, magnesium and zinc. The mineral boron boosts eostrogen levels and is present in almonds, hazelnuts, grapes, dates, peaches, honey, apples, pears and soybeans. Greens such as cabbage, brussel sprouts and broccolli are also oestrogenic and antioxidant.
Bernadette started to skip periods at 53. She was a vata-pitta constitution with high blood pressure. After one year her periods stopped completely and she started to get hot flashes, dry skin and hair as well as feeling irritable often. Following a vata and pitta pacifying diet helped to stabilise her symptoms. She also practiced self-massage, meditation and yoga or swimming daily. Bernadette thrived on a combination of licorice, shatavari, dong quai and castor roots in a ghee medium. Sage tea helped to soothe the hot flashes. She was advised to check her bone density and triglycerides annually.
Ayurveda offers some practical tips to handle the monthly menses so it doesn’t cramp one’s style. The average 450 periods a women experiences in a lifetime are seen as a valuable purification of the blood and the uterus. A healthy menstrual cycle is dependant on the proper function of the endocrine glands to stimulate hormone secretion and the liver and gastro-intestinal tract to break down and elliminate them. Effective herbs for cramps include cramp bark, asafoitida, wild yam, kava kava, valerian, raspberry leaf, aloe vera gel and ginger. Castor oil taken before periods are due can help to ease congestive pain. Heavy periods are reduced with anti-pitta liver and uterine tonics like shatavari, licorice, coriander, punarnava, musta and ashwagandha.
Riding nature’s rhythms allows one to ride the monthly red wave with ease. Try to go with the flow by cultivating healthy habits throughout the month. Regulate sleep, daily self-massage, regular exercise and a positive attitude all help. Avoid the following foods - animal fats, alcohol, eggs, sugar, salt, yellow cheese, tea, coffee, soft drinks, fried foods, chocolate, cold foods and drinks and recreational drugs. Helpful foods include monounsaturated cold pressed oils, seeds, fresh, fruit, vegetables, split mung dal and whole grains. Try to reduce activity and stress for the first three days, enjoy a light and liquid diet, avoid strenuous exercise, abstain from sex and prefer sanitary pads to tampons as this facilitates a more complete flow. Baths in soothing essential oils such as chamomile, geranium, rosemary, fennel and sweet marjoram can reduce cramps. Abdominal castor oil packs on the stomach can also relieve pain. Helpful supplementation for some includes vitamins a, c, e, b complex, bioflavonoids and minerals iron and zinc.
26-year-old Natalie experienced painful periods and constipation for the past year. Natalie’s GP advised her to go on the contraceptive pill but she was afraid of the increased long term risk of side effects such as breast cancer, liver tumors, skin pigmentation and weight gain. Instead she adjusted her diet and took a tea of cramp bark, castor roots, fennel and shatavari one week before periods. Magnesium, Calcium, B6 and Zinc were also taken to help normalise muscle contractions.
People predisposed to migraine attacks tend to be sensitive to particular stimuli. As with headaches the key is to identify the trigger and avoid it wherever possible. Bright lights, sun, smells, suppressed emotions, food allergens, chemical sensitivity are just some of the possible exacerbating factors. Premenstrual migraines are possibly due to an increased fluid retention in the brain is another common cause. As it is an extremely painful condition Ayurveda may resort to an extreme cure called rakta-moksha or bloodletting. This relieves the pressure in the cranial blood vessels and removes impure blood from the area particularly where pitta is aggravated. It is perfectly safe, pain-free and extremely effective when performed by a qualified Ayurvedic surgeon.
To increase one’s resistance to triggers and to subdue the vata and pitta root of many migraines internal medicines are prescribed. Common ones include, milk, ghee, saffron, sandalwood, valerian, urad dal, feverfew, wood bettony, white willow bark and crataeva religiosa.
Allergy testing can help to isolate the cause of migraines. Common allergens to be wary of include chocolate, citrus, caffeine, cheese, red wine, food preservative, msg, peanuts, wheat, smoked meats, yeast, food colorings, benzoic acid, wine and the contraceptive pill. Since heat can often aggravate a migraine it is best to wear sunglasses and a hat if exposed to the sun but it is better to avoid the midday sunlight if possible. At the initial sign of a migraine massage the head with sesame oil, retire to a quiet and dark room and pull the earlobes down whilst yawning to release blood vessel pressure. Inducing vomiting with warm salty water can give instant relief in some cases. A few drop of warm ghee up the nostrils may help with vata predominant migraines.
Rob was sick of feeling sick. He experienced feverish migraines for 3 continuous days every month for the past 6 years. Pulse diagnosis identified the liver as the root cause. He was given liver herbs dandelion root, punarnava and chitraka along with panchakarma purification therapies to cleanse toxins from the liver.
From an ayurvedic perspective, osteoporosis is a vata condition, with the bones becoming porous due to an excess of air and ether and a decrease in earth. Though this can occur at any age for both males and females, it is most common in vata constitution women after menopause. Other things that increase the likelihood of osteoporosis include eating disorders, malnutrition, poor digestion, lack of exercise, alcohol, aluminium, cigarettes, carbonated drinks, high salt, protein and sugar intake and steroid use. Prevention is better than cure in this case as once bone degeneration has occurred, regaining it can be a slow and gradual progress. In the meantime the body is more vulnerable to fractures and joint diseases.
To prevent osteoporosis Ayurveda guides a person to keep their doshas in balance with an appropriate diet and a vata-pacifying regime. Herbs to facilitate mineral circulation and deposition into the bones are applied such as ginger, long pepper and cinnamon, provided they are suitable for the body-type. Phytoestogenic herbs used to help postmenopausal women to retain minerals include red clover, alfalfa, parsley, sage, aniseed, fennel, sarasparilla, licorice, false unicorn root, ladies slipper, wild yam, peony, black cohosh and passionflower. Herbs that are high in natural minerals can help. Some of these are horsetail and Cissus quadrangularis (colloquially known as “chain of bones.”) The most effective approach is exercise, diet and oil therapies, discussed in the following section.
The best way to prevent osteoporosis is to do weight bearing exercise such as brisk walking, yoga, pump classes or low impact aerobics forty minutes four times a week. The vital time to do this is before 30 years old, when the bone continues to gain density. Once osteoporosis has set in exercise must be gentle at first to prevent fractures. Start with aquaerobics before progressing to cycling then walking. The regimes to regulate the menstrual cycle mentioned in PMS should be observed as women have a higher rate of osteoporosis when they miss periods frequently through their life. Mineral rich foods should also be included in the diet such as sesame seeds, figs, mustard greens, turnip, bok choy, kale, broccoli, almonds, brazilnuts, hazelnuts, figs and prunes.
As boron prevents calcium and magnesium loss foods high in this also assist in osteoporosis prevention. High boron foods include apples, grapes, pears, peaches, soybeans, molasses and honey. Fresh fruit, vegetables and beans rich in vitamins a, d, e, k, b complex are also important for bone integrity. Vegetarians have a lower incidence of osteoporosis as meat is high in protein and acid which promotes the excretion of calcium. Milk and milk products may not be a reliable source of bone calcium as the Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus ration increases serum calcium yet decreases bone calcium via a natural acid buffering mechanism. Daily oil massage with calcium rich sesame oil is essential to prevent or treat osteoporosis. Ayurveda has devised several strengthening herbalised oils for this purpose with herbs such as bala, ginger, urad dal and goats milk.
Lavinia underwent early menopause at 42years. Since her bone density tests were a concern she was considering taking hormone replacement therapy. Once started however, this cannot be stopped as the bone density can drastically plummet. So instead Lavinia decided to go on some oestrogenic herbs such as red clover, black cohosh and sage. Her usual hectic lifestyle was modified by adding daily self-massage, guided relaxation and a 30-minute walk daily. Lavinia followed a diet that was high in minerals and vitamins, avoiding caffeine, sugar, salt, carbonated drinks and excess red meat. She drank plenty of soya milk and licorice tea to keep her hormones balanced.
Ayurveda believes that a healthy weight is achieved when a person is healthy. There are no artificial standards for an ideal weight: height ratio. People with a kapha constitution will naturally be a little heavier as a result of their slower metabolism making them gain weight easily and loose it slowly. Weight gain isn’t always healthy however as it may indicate water retention, hypothyroidism or ama accumulation. Whatever the cause, the focus should be on loosing waste rather than weight. An ideal weight is where a person can access their optimal stamina, fitness and health. The weight of a waif-like model may be perfectly natural and effortless for a vata-type constitution but is dangerously depleting for a kapha or pitta constitution. Carrying a bit of extra weight can promote greater longevity, providing a reserve to help counter the vata years of old age. For examples look to the gracefully aging voluptuous Jaqueline Bisset, Joan Collins and Sophia Loren- all heavier Kapha types.
Along with diet, exercise and mental attitude, Ayurveda has some powerful fat and toxin reducing herbs to facilitate weight loss. These include triphala (amalaki, bhibitaki and haritaki), Indian myrhh, vidanga, turmeric, fenugreek, ginger, asana and Acacia catechu.
Overeating and under-exercising are the simple reason behind most weight gain. Food can be abused as a tool to push down uncomfortable emotions. Pitta body-types tend to overeat to suppress feelings of stress or frustration. Vata constitutions use food as a diversion from anxiety and fear. Kapha types commonly eat for comfort or as a love substitute when lonely, depressed or bored. The best way to overcome this automatic behaviour is to be conscious of the underlying emotional hunger that is being masked by physical hunger. Awareness before and during eating by chewing well, breathing, remaining silent and eating away from diversions such as television help one to focus on the body and mind’s response to the process. Avoiding snacking and eating a regular light breakfast, a substantial lunch and an early dinner assist the body to digest food efficiently. Try to get variety from food including all six tastes- sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent. Seeking alternative sources of energy and pleasure helps one to cultivate a taste for life rather than trying to get it solely from food. Walking on the earth, soaking up some sun, breathing in ocean air and pursuing an engrossing hobby can all help one to reduce the dependence on food for vitality and stimulation.
A liquid juice or vegetable fast one day a week can aid the liquefaction and elimination of toxins from the system. It can also help to normalise the metabolism and appetite.
A kapha diet is suitable for simple cases of weight gain. This suggests avoidance of animal fat, deep fried, sugar, dairy, alcohol, nuts and eating out.
Items that support weight loss includes light, warm, bitter, pungent and astringent foods. Some example of these are apples, pears, pomegranates, cranberries, honey, beans, barley, corn, millet, buckwheat, rye, spices (except salt), asparagus, eggplant, green leafy vegetables, celery and sprouts.
Drinking warm herbal teas with honey can help to cleanse the channels and allay hunger. Pranayama breathing also stimulates proper digestion, assimilation and elimination of meals.
Dawn was a kapha body type and felt comfortable with her larger athletic build. Over the past year however she had gained weight and felt sluggish and bloated. Dawn followed a kapha reducing diet and took triphala guggulu before bed (a combination of ginger, gooseberry, haritaki, bhibitaki and Indian myhrr.) She also overcame long term depression by joining the local water polo team and creating closer friendships.
Within 2 months Dawn was happy to reach her target weight and felt more energetic.
Women’s cyclical nature is a constant reminder of their connection with nature’s cycles, allowing them to regularly flush out mental and physical impurities and enjoy richly varied moods throughout the month. Research shows that during ovulation women are more outgoing, creative and energetic and whilst menstruating they are more introverted, hypersensitive and intuitive. It is during this transition between ovulation and menstruation that premenstrual syndrome tends to peak. The degree of PMS depends on the level of metabolic toxins (ama), organ weaknesses and hormone imbalances in the body. The symptoms vary according to the dosha affected. Vata PMS tends to manifest as anxiety, lower back pain, insomnia, restlessness, constipation, gas with abdominal bloating and fluctuating energy. Pitta PMS may present with more anger, hunger, impatience, headaches, diarrhoea, skin outbreaks and sweating. Kapha PMS often involves depression weight gain, fluid retention, tender breasts, leucorrhoea and sluggish digestion. It is best to follow the diet for the relevant doshic imbalance along with specific herbs. Herbs for vata PMS include nervine tonics such as ashwagandha, st. john’s wort, Indian myrrh and evening primrose oil. Herbs for pitta PMS are vervain, nutgrass, aloe vera, passion flower, licorice, brahmi and shatavari. Kapha PMS herbs are dandelion root, false unicorn root, dong quai and ginger.
By improving the quality of life, the quality of the periods will also improve. As explained previously, the periods are interdependent on all other biological mechanisms making them inextricably reliant on the balance of all other bodily systems. A regulated, self-nourishing routine will help to harmonise the daily rhythms of our lives which then stabilises the monthly menses. Healthy nutrition, sleep, exercise, rest and recreation throughout the month will significantly reduce PMS symptoms. Foods to restrict include refined flour, sugar, caffeine, chocolate, cola, fried foods, animal fats and eggs. Supportive foods are seeds, whole grains, dates, fresh vegetables and fruit, apricots, split mung dal soup, fennel, black strap molasses, licorice, cumin and chamomile tea.
Self-massage helps to calm the nervous system and promotes the flow of hormones out of the body. Essential oils that can help with PMS are chamomile, lavender, geranium, rosemary, clary sage, rose otto, sandalwood, lotus, fennel, vetivert, jasmine and ginger.
Reducing ones work and social schedule at this time relieves the body and mind of extra stress. Yoga postures for periods and guided relaxation are also highly beneficial.
Ursula suffered from Kapha type PMS for a few days every month. She felt bloated, depressed and retained water. Ursula followed a kapha diet with the specific PMS restrictions. She also took an infusion of dandelion root, ginger, long pepper, pepper and cumin. A tincture of Dong quai helped with the depression and B complex with extra b6 reduced the water retention. Baths with epson salts and myrh essential oil also reduced bloating. For an energy boost she would also occasionally take panax ginseng.
Psoriasis is more commonly developed by those with a pitta constitution. It involves an increased production of skin cells which relates to pitta’s speedy metabolism. Though psoriasis’ exact medical cause is unknown, Ayurveda links it to poor metabolism of fats and proteins which results in blood impurities struggling to escape through the skin. If the liver is strong however the impurities will be effectively broken down and eliminated. Therefore Ayurvedic treatment focuses on bitter blood purifiers and liver tonics such as neem, turmeric, sarasparilla, aloe vera, manjishtha, Indian myrrh, dandelion and gotu cola. To ease the itching and remove scaliness coconut based oils with herbs such as chickweed, cardamom and dantapala. A body therapy called takra-dhara is very effective for removing heat and reducing stress. It entails the continuous pouring of herbalised buttermilk over the forehead.
Though obstinant, psoriasis can go into remission fairly rapidly. Food to omit includes yoghurt, meat, eggs, chillis, cayenne, paprika, garlic, onions, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, nicotine, refined flours, tomatoes and citrus fruits. This cools the body and reduces skin cell hyperactivity. Daily swimming in salt water and exposing the area to UV sunlight can help. However always wear a protective sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. Placing green clay on the affected areas for 20 minutes daily then washing off with cold water draws toxins from the subcutaneous layer. A diet rich in Vit A, B complex, C, D, essential fatty acids, zinc, magnesium and calcium is beneficial. Since stress aggravates psoriasis it is important to cultivate a stress management technique such as meditation, guided relaxation or tai chi.
Jason was a 37-year-old pitta constitution who had suffered from psoriasis on the scalp and face since a teenager. He was a given and chickweed, sandalwood and coconut based shampoo to clear the scalp scales and itching. He applied coconut and evening primrose oil to his face. The biggest dietary change was to give up alcohol. He was happy to shave his head temporarily and go for a daily swim in the sea. After 3 weeks of this regime Jason’s psoriasis was clearer than it had ever been.
Sinusitis or Hayfever
Hayfever is predominantly caused by a vata and kapha imbalance. Vata aggravation leads to hyper-sensitivity of the capillary membranes and the resultant swelling and mucus results from accumulated kapha. A hayfever sufferer has a weak and overactive auto immune system due to toxins coating the channels. This creates a fertile field for allergens to flourish in. The Ayurvedic approach is to cleanse the membranes, balance the immune response and strengthen the membrane’s resistance. Cleansing is done with practices such as supervised vomiting (vamana), nasal irrigation with warm salty water (jala-neti), eye baths and eye drops. Colon cleansing is also important using herbs such as triphala, castor oil or senna. The immune response can be pacified with herbs such as coriander leaves, shirisha, turmeric, black cumin, fenugreek, holy basil, golden seal and echinacea. To fortify membranes there are excellent Ayurvedic nasal drops called Anu thailam, containing 28 herbs, goats milk and sesame oil. Alternatively warm ghee can be dropped in the nostrils.
To overcome hayfever the irritant should be identified and eliminated. However sometimes the irritant isn’t obvious or it is impossible to avoid-unless you live in a bubble. Some ways you can reduce common household allergens is to cover mattresses, steam clean or remove carpets, avoid curtains, keep pets outside, don’t keep fresh flowers, clean mould from the bathroom regularly and use chemical free cleaners. Food allergies are another trigger for hayfever. Common foods include nuts, dairy, shellfish, processed food, red wine and refined flours. Foods that act as natural anti-histamines and channel dialators can be taken. These include onions, garlic, licorice, chili, horseradish, coriander leaf and parsley.
Joel was a 31-year-old hayfever sufferer with a vata constitution. He was noticeably worse in spring and after dairy products. He prepared the coriander chutney described in coriander home remedies and took it daily with lunch. Joel also practiced nasal irrigation and used anu nasal drops every morning. A combination of these strategies coupled with the elimination of dairy from his diet made a marked improvement on his symptoms.
Stress and hypertension
Faced with physical or emotional challenges our natural instinct is to react with the flight, fright or fight response. This reaction is possible through the secretion of stress hormones from the adrenal glands such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. Periods of prolonged stress can cause a syndrome called ‘adrenal exhaustion’ - a vata imbalance resulting from the exessive secretion of stress hormones. This makes a person hypersensitive to stress, as they don’t have the reserves to respond effectively anymore, a dilemma experienced by many sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Ayurveda teaches that humans are different from animals in that we can rationalise situations rather than automatically reacting at the whim of baser instincts such as fear or anger. By viewing challenges from a positive perspective rather than always feeling threatened we can alleviate most stresses. Welcoming every challenge as an opportunity to learn and deepen one’s character makes every experience enriching. This requires faith that in the long term whatever happens to us is for a meaningful and beneficial purpose, allowing us to relinquish ultimate control of others or situations. Working as if everything depended on us but feeling like everything depends on the divine forces allows a kind of active detachment that greatly relieves stress. As the saying goes “for peace of mind, resign as the general manager of the universe.” While cultivating this new perspective Ayurveda offers herbs to manage the hypertension, nervous debility and anxiety often associated with stress. These include arjuna, snake root, chamomile, vervain, valerian, ashwagandha, ginseng, hawthorn berry, brahmi, licorice and garlic.
Ayurveda excels in teaching ways to diffuse and avoid stress. We can reduce stress by keeping daily goals realistic, managing money sensibly, looking after our health, limiting exposure to the news and sharing burdens with a loving partner. A relaxed body is the gateway to a serene mind. Whenever stress starts to mount take three deep breaths whilst mentally saying- ”calm”, relax the shoulders and facial muscles and keep a tranquil expression. This body language actually triggers the release of relaxing and pleasurable neurotransmitters throughout the body, reducing stress accumulation. To make this level of relaxation readily accessible daily self massage meditation, yogic breathing) pranayama, Qi-gong, yoga, chanting or prayers are invaluable. Pleasurable music is perfect for soothing the nervous system. Warm baths with epsom salts and calming essential oils such as lavender or chamomile help to release physical tension.
Renting a funny or sad video or reading a book can help us to have a good laugh or cry which often releases pent up stress.
George was a pitta constitution, type A personality corporate executive. He was suffering from stress that resulted in high blood pressure, headaches and psoriasis. He also had a volatile temper that created havoc at work and home. Since George hadn’t taken a holiday in 6 years that was the first prescription. Instead of medication he was interested in meditation so he went to a yoga retreat in a beautiful location where he could receive lots of massage, exercise and meditation instruction. This 2 weeks sojourn was just what George needed to change his perspective on life. He decided to reduce his working hours and spend more leisure time with his family and friends. To keep his blood pressure under control George cut out drinking alcohol and stimulants such as sugar, salt, caffeine and nicotine.
Urinary Tract Infection- Cystitis
Ayurveda sees cystitis as a sign that the body is acidic or toxic. Bacteria or fungus proliferates in an ama-filled body resulting in the burning, itchiness and pain of a urinary tract infection. Pitta constitutions are more predisposed to this condition with their increased tendency to acidity and inflammation. In conjunction with an alkaline diet, there are powerful antibacterial herbs to eliminate the infection. These include uva ursi, buchu, sandalwood, Indian myrrh, couchgrass, gokshura, calendula, golden seal and neem. Herbs to soothe and strengthen the urinary tract often used are cornsilk, dandelion root, marshmallow, alfalfa, horsetail, bala and shatavari. An infusion of equal parts fennel, coriander and cumin seeds can be very effective as well.
Try triphala, senna or slippery elm bark powder to flush out acidic digestion.
Since urinary tract infections thrive in excessive heat, management involves protection from the sun, a pitta pacifying diet and luke warm rather than hot baths. Specific foods that can help alkalise the system include barley water, coconut water, cranberry juice, rice and almonds. Wash the area with tea tree soap or very dilute tea tree oil water after going to the toilet rather than using toilet paper, which can spread the infection. Condoms, sex, synthetic underwear and tampons can all aggravate cystitis. A hip-bath in juniper, lavender and a little tea tree essential oil can ease the burning. Supplements such as calcium ascorbate, echinacea, zinc and B complex will assist the immune system to eliminate the infection.
Anna had acidic reflux and recurrent cystitis over the past three months. As she was a pitta constitution she was advised to follow the pitta pacifying diet- particularly avoiding acidic fruits, tomatoes, chillis, red meat, alcohol and vinegar. She took triphala nightly and a combination of bala, shatavari and slippery elm powders three times a day. Drinking 1 liter of an infusion of corn silk, buchu, uva ursi and barley water for a week her cystitis and reflux disappeared.
Since worms are a common occurrence in India they have developed very potent remedies to treat these irritating infestations. The herbal remedies are all bitter blood purifiers, which are sometimes difficult to feed to children, though the powder can be placed in capsules. Another alternative to herbs is homoeopathic Cina, which is usually very effective. Herbs administered for worms include garlic, neem, vidanga, onions, grapefruit seed extract, black walnut hulls, wormwood, pomegranate bark and cloves. When worms have settled in the liver then liver herbs such as picrorrhiza, gentian and turmeric are used. To completely cleanse the body of worms a laxative such as triphala or castor oil should be taken for a minimum of three consecutive days.
Sweet and sour foods create a sticky internal environment that worms love to settle in. Therefore to evict the worms reduce sweet and sour foods such as sugar, refined carbohydrates and citrus fruits and replace them with plenty of green leafy vegetables, and seeds. Sesame seeds and pumpkinseeds are specific medicine for tapeworms. Grated carrot is effective against thread-worms and papaya seeds or the sap from an unripe fruit is used to treat round worms. Pomegranate juice offers excellent protection against all worms. Avoid the common sources of infection such as livestock, meat, seafood, dirt and sand by going vegetarian, (especially when travelling) and wearing shoes and gloves when in the garden. As worms can cause malnutrition all major vitamins and minerals along with acidophilus powder should be supplemented until digestive strength is regained.
Gopal was a 6-year-old boy who loved to play trucks in the sand pit, unfortunately so did the hookworms! He was given 3 neem leaves a day and vegie capsules with vidanga and cloves in them. After 2 weeks on this treatment he was given a small dose of triphala to flush the worms out.
Please contact your health professional for any help. This page is for information only.