Thursday, July 22, 2010
We are constantly asking ourselves the perennial questions in Life. Why are we here? What are we here for? What is the meaning of life? Short of answering these questions there is one thing that becomes abundantly clear as you walk through your experience in life. We have the ability to become better, healthier and happier human beings. We are built with the capacity to develop ourselves psychologically, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Once you discover this truth it almost becomes a responsibility to help and develop yourself. So the questions remains – how do I do it. What are the steps that I need to take to become a better, happier and healthier human being.
Ayurveda is the most ancient and comprehensive healing system in the world. Dating back almost 4 to 5 thousand years ago, Ayurveda blossomed as a natural healing system and still remains a holistic healing system that can bring many benefits to our lives. The beauty of Ayurveda can be found in its understanding of the human being as a mind, body, spirit complex. It would seem obvious that we are not just bodies but are actually a combination of mind, body, and spirit but in our health care system we treat ourselves as if we were only a body. We prescribe pharmaceuticals to treat our bodily diseases and we leave it at that. We recommend exercise and a healthy diet – that is where we typically end the health recommendations. In Ayurveda, health goes far beyond that. To begin with, the human being is treated as an individual who is composed of a unique body constitution. This body constitution is determined by what elements are present within the body or to what degree these elements are present within us. Depending on these factors you begin to balance these components to bring harmony and wellness. It is of no surprise then when we remember the words of the western father of medicine: Hippocrates:
“The natural forces within us and the true healers of disease”
From this perspective Ayurveda looks to heal the individual completely. It utilizes a very thorough understanding of Nutrition which determines the optimal foods to eat, the right times to consume food for proper digestion, and the right state of mind to develop when consuming our foods. Furthermore, Ayurveda also heals by incorporating natural herbs and natural herb combinations. A comprehensive understanding of herbs is presented give the ways of consumption, the combination of herbs, the preparation of herbal formula and the times to consume along with the mental framework as well. You learn to work with natural oils. A full spectrum of natural oils is presented through Ayurveda and how to apply these oils in different ways to Marma points which are very similar to meridian points in acupuncture. Ayurveda also has a recommendation in terms of the mental aspects of the human being. The comprehension of mental patterns becomes important, developing presence and consciousness of the moment or of the present moment becomes an important aspect of life for Ayurveda. The capacity to develop the power of attention which is the basis for meditative practices and other spiritual practices that we see run through many traditions. There are no secrets here. We know that many different cultural and religious traditions use rosaries, malas, repetitive prayers, chanting, meditation or dancing to harness the power of attention or to concentrate the being on one single point. This concentration and emptying of thought patterns allows you to concentrate on the present moment of being. This state helps to develop inner peace, tranquility an objective perspective on life and many other benefits. Ayurveda also incorporates training in meditation for well-being and health. Even further, Ayurveda incorporates Pranayama or the science of breath which teaches you how many different techniques to harness the power of breathing more completely. Current studies show that the average American only uses about 26 percent of their lung capacity. Through Ayurvedic principles you are taught how to breathe better and fuller breaths and how to nourish your organs through breathing among many other benefits. Ayurveda also looks to incorporate the science of Yoga which is a complementary science and even has postures designated for each particular body constitution.
In essence, Ayurveda offers a system of natural healing that is very complete both in terms of its treatments and also in its understanding of the human being. It offers a vision of healing for curing disease, for preventative health and ultimately for spiritual liberation. Ayurveda offers timeless principles for healing and well being.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
In accordance with Ayurvedic teachings, upkeep of the skin is an important aspect of maintaining health. While the aura represents our body’s first level of protection from disease, and the immune system represents the third level of protection, the skin, along with the digestive system, composes the body’s second level of protection. This is due to the fact that both come in contact with foreign objects and represent the physical barriers separating the internal from the external. Bodily wastes are excreted both through the skin and through the gut. Sweating is one of the body’s ways of excreting Mala. If the amount of waste in the body surpasses the ability of the excretory organs to remove them, then excess waste is directed outward through the skin. Therefore, the skin and the digestive tract are closely related. The state of the skin improves when the state of the digestive tract improves and vice versa. (Svoboda, 95)
It is important that the skin is kept healthy and strong in order to keep the body balanced and disease free. The skin is an organ that absorbs anything applied topically. Therefore, it is very important never to apply anything to the skin that contains chemicals. By taking into account each individual person’s unique body constitution, Ayurveda provides clear recommendations and routines regarding how to best care for the skin and promote health.
II. Anatomy of the Skin
Color, texture, temperature and other qualities of the skin vary depending on an individual’s Prakriti or unique body constitution. Each individual’s Prakriti is made up of varying levels of the three Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Those whose constitution is dominated by Vata Dosha (air and ether) tend to have skin that is darker (darker than those of the same racial/ethnic group), or tan easily and rarely burn. Their skin is generally cold, dry and may have a grayish cast to it. They may suffer from eczema, dry skin or psoriasis. Individuals with predominant Pitta Dosha (fire and water) in their constitution may have reddish, pink or coppery colored skin. Their skin is usually warm to the touch and delicate. Pitta predominant skin is often irritable and prone to rashes and acne. Their skin may wrinkle early. They have a high volume of blood beneath the skin and usually blush quite easily. The hair on their skin is usually very fine and pale. Kapha Dosha (water and earth) predominant people have a tendency towards pale, smooth skin than may be oily. Their skin tends to be cooler, thick and have a moderate amount of hair on the skin. The coolness of Kapha allows them to easily withstand moderate amounts of sun exposure. (Svoboda, 34)
The skin is associated with the sense of touch. The sense of touch is associated with the air element. Therefore, the skin is closely related to Vata and is prone to Vata. Pitta is also closely related to the skin. Bhrajaka Pitta is the subdosha that is associated with the skin. Bhrajaka Pitta is situated within the skin (Murthy, Pandey, 32) and presides over the color and luster of the skin, linking it closely to the western concept of melanin. Bhrajaka Pitta controls the absorption of sunlight into the body as well as the sweat glands (however actual sweat itself is a Mala of Meda Dhatu). It serves as a barrier between the external and internal world and also maintains blood flow and body temperature. The skin itself is an Upadhatu of Mamsa Dhatu, therefore, Mamsa Dhatu is also associated with the skin as it is responsible for keeping the skin smooth. Rakta Dhatu, associated with the blood, is also closely related to the skin, as many skin disorders are caused by vitiated blood. Healthy, glowing and lustrous skin is usually a sign of healthy Dhatus in general. (KAA 102)
There are seven layers or levles of skin according to Ayurveda and each layer is associated with a specific Dhatu. For example, the surface layer of the skin is connected to Rasa Dhatu. The second layer is associated with Rakta Dhatu. The third layer, which is also the subcutaneous tissue, is directly connected to Mamsa Dhatu. Each subsequent layer is connected to each Dhatu in the same sequence of Dhatus that digested food travels through (from grossest to subtlest) in the process of subtle digestion. However, all layers of skin (except for the topmost layer) can be grouped together as the Upadhatu of Mamsa Dhatu. (Lad, “Textbook of Ayurveda” 125).
On a subtle level, the skin is also related to the functions of the mind. The skin is associated with the Anahata Chakra or the heart chakra. The literal translation for Anahata is unstruck sound. Ahahata Chakra is the heart center Chakra and it rules the sense organ of touch and the skin, which is the organ of action associated with touch, along with the hands. (KAA 103, 33) Skin is connected to the emotions through Prana as the skin breathes Prana (Lad, “Textbook of Ayurveda” 65). A person’s emotions are displayed through the skin; for example the skin may become flushed when angry, pale when anxious, etc.
III. Ayurvedic Skin Care and Prevention
Ayurveda focuses a great deal on prevention, which is the easiest, most painless and cost effective way to health. Through proper diet, exercise (both physical and mental) and daily and seasonal routines, a person can effectively prevent the vast majority of disorders. Depending upon the individual Prakriti, age and mental state, different types of diet, exercise and routine are recommended. For example, a person with Vata dominant Prakriti should emphasize salty, sour and sweet foods that are warm, moist, stable and smooth. They should focus on consistency when it comes to eating, sleeping and exercise. Due to the fact that Vata is comprised of Ether and Air, a person with high Vata must strive to incorporate foods, thoughts, actions, etc. that are grounding, warm and stabilizing into their life. People with high Kapha need action, variability, lightness and heat, while those with Pitta dominance need cooling, dullness and sweetness. Time of year, stage in life and time of day should also be taken into consideration, as the seasons, phases of the life cycle and hours of the day are dominated by the Doshas as well. Through a comprehensive understanding of Prakriti, a healthy diet and routine may be established for an individual to maintain health and keep the body disease free. This section examines some simple practices to incorporate into the daily routine to prevent disease and promote skin health while taking into consideration individual Prakriti. Section VI introduces some Ayurvedic herbs that are particularly helpful to the skin.
Abhyanga is a daily skin treatment to strengthen, nourish and moisturize not just the skin, but all of the Dhatus. The skin is highly prone to Vata conditions, so performing a daily routine of Abhyanga can help to reduce Vata and is especially helpful under Vata-aggravating conditions. Abhyanga strengthens the body and muscles, smoothes the skin, and improves the sense of touch. Abhyanga also helps the body become more resistant to injuries and strenuous physical activity, and reduces the effects of old age on the body (Verma, 86). Abhyanga involves massaging the skin with warm oil 15-30 minutes before bathing. As the oil soaks through each layer of skin, the corresponding Dhatu is nourished and lubricated by the oil. Oil should be applied in the direction of the hair growth and massaged into the skin towards the heart. Special attention should be paid to massaging the joints, scalp, and soles of the feet. Massaging the head with oil helps to strengthen the hair follicles as well as the bones in the skull. It helps to sharpen the sense organs and memory and promotes sound sleep. Massaging the soles of the feet improves vision and increases stamina. (KAA 105, 16) If time does not allow for a full body oil massage, a mini-massage is better than no massage, concentrating on the head and soles of the feet (Chopra, 209).
Different oils are recommended to help balance different body constitutions. For example, coconut oil is recommended for Pitta Dosha predominant people, because of it’s cooling nature. Sesame oil is helpful for people with high levels of Vata because it is lubricating and warming. The use of mustard seed oil for Abhyanga is encouraged for those with Kapha dominance because of its inherent heating quality. It is important to take into account the season and life stage of a person as well. A Kapha dominant person in the Kapha period of their life (infancy to puberty) and in the Kapha season (late winter to early spring), may not benefit as much from Abhyanga, if they already have too much oil, liquid and heaviness (Kapha is aggravated). A good alternative for this individual would be an herbal powder rub that is drying as opposed to lubricating.
Herbal Skin Rub
Applying an herbal powder to the skin has some of the same effects of Abhyanga such as pacifying Vata Dosha and cleansing the body. In addition, this practice helps to reduce both Kapha Dosha and Meda Dhatu, reduces body odor and prevents blemishes. A dry herbal rub will stimulate circulation. Herbal powder application to the skin improves stamina and the function of Bhrajaka Pitta. Sandalwood powder is an excellent powder to use for herbal skin rubs. (KAA 105, 17)
Cleansing the Skin
Another reason to perform Abhyanga daily is to counteract the drying effects of soap. Soap can alternatively be lathered between the palms and mixed with oil before applying to the body while bathing. As an alternative to soap, milk may be used to cleanse the skin and will not cause dryness. Another option is to use clay, barley flour or chickpea flour to cleanse the skin and soak up any oils or sweat. If Abhyanga has not been performed before bathing, oil can be mixed with chickpea or barley flour along with a pinch of tumeric and enough water to make a paste. This mixture can be applied to the skin. It serves as something like a full body mask if the mixture is left to dry and then washed off with water. Warm or cool water may be used to bathe, but not water that is overly hot or cold. It is also important to never use hot water on the head or face. The body can withstand a higher temperature of water than the head. Hot water applied to the head weakens the sense organs and loosens the hair follicles (Svoboda, 102). Also, the heating quality is intrinsic to the Sahasrara Chakra (the crown chakra), so hot water is not necessary. The best time to bathe is in the morning because morning is the best time to remove all of the Dhatu Malas in the body that have formed over night. (KAA 105, 17)
According to Dr. Vasant Lad, “The face is the mirror of the mind. The lines and wrinkles in your face are revealing. If disorder and disease are present, they will be indicated on the face” (“Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing,” 62). The health of the body’s organs is reflected in the face, lips, tongue and eyes (Lad, “Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing,” 64). Also, the face is home to the Panchagyanendriyas or 5 sense organs (ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose). Therefore, proper care of the face is and important aspect of maintaining ones health. This paper will focus on skin care, and proper care of the facial skin as well. A healthy complexion is the sign of balanced Dhatus and Doshas. Listed below are some ayurvedic facial recipes.
? Milk-skin (the creamy layer of fresh milk that forms after it has been boiled) may be mixed with almond powder for an effective facial mask (Verma, 86). This is a good way to cleanse the face and avoid the drying properties of soap.
? In order to improve the complexion, an Ayurvedic facial pack may be applied. Mix equal proportions of Amalaki, Manjishtha and Sandalwood. Add this mixture to milk for dry skin or to water for oily skin. Make a paste out of the mixture and apply to the face. Leave the paste on for 10-15 minutes before washing off (Anjali, Herbology Lecture).
IV. Exposure to the Sun and Skin Care
The sun effects each person’s skin differently depending on the body constitution as well as the complexion. The complexion is based on genetics from a particular racial or ethnic group, as well as the three Doshas. Individuals who are Vata predominant can best withstand sun exposure. They tend to tan easily and rarely burn. In fact, those with high Vata need more heat to help balance their bodies, and they usually enjoy sunshine a great deal. Those with Pitta dominant constitutions naturally are hot, and therefore, they are not able to withstand much sun exposure. They tend to burn easily, may suffer from sun allergy, and may acquire freckles or moles from sun exposure. Kapha predominant people will tan evenly from being exposed to moderate amounts of sun. They are naturally cold but do not require as much sun as those with Vata predominant Prakriti. (Svoboda, 34)
Complexion also plays a major role in an individual’s need and ability for sun exposure. It takes a person with darker skin longer to absorb Vitamin D from the sun compared to a person with fair skin. People with very fair skin should avoid extensive sun exposure, particularly during times of day when the sun is strong (typically around noon depending upon proximity to the Earth’s Equator). It is best for those who burn easily to cover up with loose white cotton clothing and a hat or umbrella when exposed to bright sun. Shea Butter and Cocoa Butter also provide some natural protection from the sun. Sunscreen is not recommended because of the harmful chemicals it contains. These chemicals are absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream, affecting the Dhatus. (Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, Ayurvedic Foundations Lecture)
V. Treatment of Common Skin Conditions
Many skin problems are most commonly associated with aggravated Pitta. Herpes, jaundice and inflammation are a few conditions listed as part of the forty innumerable disorders of Pitta by Caraka (Verma, 47). This section of this paper provides some ayurvedic herbal remedies to common skin problems.
Acne is oftentimes a sign of aggravated Pitta, specifically Bhrajaka Pitta. However, aggravated Kapha may cause acne as well. During puberty, acne is common due to the fact that the individual is changing from the Kapha stage of life (birth to puberty) to the Pitta stage of life (puberty to menopause). Young people who have Pitta predominant Prakriti may suffer from acne more than those who have higher levels of Kapha or Vata. Depending on the diagnosis, a Dosha balancing diet along with Panchakarma may likely be all that is necessary to treat acne. A half-cup of aloe vera juice can be consumed twice a day to help clear up acne. Although aloe vera is cooling, it does not aggravate Kapha due to the fact that it acts as an expectorant. Aloe vera is balancing to all the Doshas. (Lad, “Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing” 130) It is important to find out if the acne is related to menstruation. If not, blood-purifying herbs that are bitter and astringent may be used both internally and externally (Dr. Manisha Krishangar, Conference Call). Also, anti-inflammatory herbs are helpful. Following is an herbal topical treatment for acne.
? Combine equal parts turmeric and sandalwood powder. Add water to make a paste and apply to the effected areas externally. (Lad, “Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing,” 157)
Eczema and Dry Skin
Dry skin and eczema are typically problems related to Vata aggravation. Performing Abhyanga daily will greatly reduce these issues. Also, eating a Vata pacifying diet with plenty of natural oils such as ghee will greatly reduce problems of this nature. Taking a bath with licorice tea water is helpful with soothing eczema.
? Apply fresh aloe vera gel directly to the burn, a pinch of turmeric may be added. (Lad, “Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing,” 158)
? Apply Manjishtha ghee directly to the burn (KAA 106, 29).
Insect Bites and Stings
? Drink cilantro juice and apply sandalwood paste directly to the bite or sting (Lad, “Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing,” 160)
? Drink a coriander tea made of one teaspoon of coriander seeds to 1 cup of water. It is also helpful to apply the pulp of cilantro leaves directly to the rash. (Lad, “Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing,” 161)
? Make a paste of Nagarmotha powder and apply to rash (KAA 106, 29).
? Apply cooked onions made into a paste directly to the boil. This will bring the boil to a head. Alternatively, one can combine equal parts of ginger powder and turmeric and apply directly to the affected area. ((Lad, “Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing,” 157)
VI. Ayurvedic Herbs Promoting Skin Health (KAA 106, 22-30)
Amla: Amla is especially pacifying to Pitta by has the ability to pacify all Doshas. It is helpful for many skin problems including blemishes and acne. Amla improves the complexion overall.
Ginger: Ginger is helpful for treating skin diseases caused by an aggravation of Kapha. Ginger also purifies the blood, which is a major component of clearing up many types of skin disorders. Because of its heating quality, it should not be used or only used very carefully for skin issues related to Pitta.
Guggulu: Guggulu is an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and disinfectant among other qualities. These qualities make it helpful for skin conditions caused by Vata or Kapha aggravation. Guggulu increases Pitta, so it should not be used for skin conditions caused by Pitta exacerbation.
Haritaki: This herb helps with elimination and is mainly astringent. It helps with alleviating swelling and prevents the accumulation of pus in the skin.
Manjishtha: Manjishtha effectively decreases Vata, Pitta and Kapha. It is one of the best blood purifiers, and is especially useful for treating acne, blemishes, blisters and skin infections.
Neem: Neem is a blood purifier and an anti-bacterial. To clear up skin infections, neem leaves may be added to bathwater. Neem can help treat itching, dermatitis, eczema and scabies.
Prevention through proper diet, daily routine, along with physical and mental exercise such as yoga and meditation is the path to health. Taking good care of the skin is an important preventative measure, contributing to increased health for the entire body. It represents just one aspect of preventative care that has immeasurable positive effects on the body. Healthy, glowing skin and a good complexion also has a healthy effect on the mind, as it increases confidence and self-assurance. As one of the body’s major natural layers of defense from the external world, taking proper care of the skin essential to health.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
"The body is a mandala. If you look into it you see a source of endless revelation. Without embodiment there is no foundation for enlightenment"
-Dr. Tsampa Ngawang
Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open -B.K.S. Iyengar
Mountain pose teaches us, literally, how to stand on our own two feet.... teaching us to root ourselves into the earth.... Our bodies become a connection between heaven and earth. ~Carol Krucoff
Yoga is a spiritual practice. Of course, you can practice yoga strictly for its physical benefits, but that's a bit like traveling to a foreign country known for its native cuisine and eating at the nearest McDonald's the whole time. A yoga practice fully nourishes by aligning our bodies, minds, and spirits, and to foc...us solely on the physical practice is to miss a profound opportunity." R.Pacheco
We do not see things as they are. You see them as you are. When you look, you see reflections of your being. When you listen, you hear echoes of yourself. If you don't like something about what you see and hear, no point in smashing the mirror, change who you are becoming. -Anonymous
If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values - that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.
-Mother Teresa :)
Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.
He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
All my life I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower wherever the flower would grow in thought and mind.
To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
It isn't until you come to a spiritual understanding of who you are - not necessarily a religious feeling, but deep down, the spirit within - that you can begin to take control.
Within each of us lies the power of our consent to health and to sickness,
to riches and to poverty, to freedom and to slavery.
It is we who control these things and not another.
The first step in the acquisition of wisdom is silence, the second listening, the third memory, the fourth practice, the fifth teaching others.
-Solomon Ibn Gabriol
The point is not to pay back kindness but to pass it on. – Julia Alvarez
We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection -Dalai Lama
Peace begins with a smile.
“The goal of
mankind is knowledge ... Now this knowledge is inherent in man. No
knowledge comes from outside: it is all inside. What we say a man
'knows', should, in strict psychological language, be what he
'discovers' or 'unveils'; what man 'learns' is really what he discovers
...by taking the cover off his own soul, which is a mine of infinite
knowledge.” Swami Vivekananda
Friday, July 16, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I’ve been told that my first breath came with a scream as the doctor held me by the ankles and slapped my bottom. From that moment forward breathing seemed such an easy and ordinary thing I have hardly even thought about it.
The most simple of truths seem to always be the most profound and life altering. Breathing, though a simple act we will continue doing whether we think about it or not and will continue doing even when we try not to do it, when we pay attention to it and elevate it to a sincere practice and even an art form, brings us the richness, purity, depth and breadth of life’s experiences. We can say that how we breathe actually defines the quality of our lives. All cultures have recognized this in different ways. The opera singer, the aboriginal didgeridoo, the philharmonic orchestra, pearl divers, and the list can go on…
Through the breath the laboring mother feels the rhythm that allows for the infant to ease into the world. Through the breath the hunter steadies his aim to meet his mark. Through the breath the flutist expresses his soul to the enjoyment of others with his music. Through the breath we can bring about balance within our body and mind which allows for optimal health. Through the diligent practice of working with the breath the Yogi realizes enlightenment.
How we breathe determines our quality of life, and according to some, how long we live as well . The act of breathing could be likened to the churning of the Celestial Ocean of Consciousness. Purusha and Prakriti churn together allowing us to maintain a physical form to experience life as we know it. The evidence for this is that when we stop breathing Purusha and Prakriti again separate and we perish. Our first breath and our last breath determine our lifespan and one can find the dates documented for posterity on our tombstone.
So with the humble experience of breathing for over forty eight years I will hopefully be able to bring you a little insight as to how we can balance our lives and maybe even bring us to a greater realization of our place in the scheme of things or at least learn to breathe a little bit easier.
What Is Prana?
Prana can be considered the life force, life energy, or chi. This is the stuff that energizes our cells and receptors beyond just oxygen and a few other gaseous elements. Prana is difficult to describe since the English language is not designed to consider, let alone articulate such concepts. Maybe “God activated air” or “electrified ions of universal love”, or “no prana, no life”?
Imagine standing on a busy city street corner with buses going by and high rises all around, flashing lights, signs, many loud noises and afflicting smells all of this dominating your senses, now take in a big deep full breath… …do you even want too? Just the thought of it makes you want to keep your chest drawn in tight or have a fit of coughing! Now imagine sitting on a big rock covered in moss in the forest next to a gently babbling brook, you can feel the green speckled sun shining on your face, your eyes are closed as a warm breeze caresses your cheeks, now take in a big deep full breath… …feel the difference? This is Prana.
It seems a bit odd to attempt to recount the history of the breath but here goes. It is all about rhythm. Back to the churning of the Celestial Ocean of Consciousness, back and forth, the action of churning is the rhythm of respiration; the simplest single celled forms of life are recognized because of this simple rhythmical act. In with the new and out with the old. And most critically in with the Prana and out with the mala .
We can’t rightly speak of “history” when the breath brings us unequivocally to the moment as every exhalation and inhalation in the Now is a death and rebirth, when the space between each breath brings us squarely facing the place/space of No Time which has not ever changed, which knows nothing, and certainly knows nothing of history. The macro holographic experience of time as a chronological sequence simply does not exist within the context of conscious breathing (pranayama). So we can speak of the “history” of breath within the development of breathing styles or formulated thoughts about it throughout time.
Patanjali was a great sage who lived around 200 BCE and is attributed to having compiled the Yoga Sutras which is a foundational text of what we now speak of as RajaYoga. Though brief, the Yoga Sutras are an enormously influential work on yoga philosophy and practice. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras contain four chapters or books (Sanskrit pada), with 196 sutras (threads or aphorisms). Pranayama is discussed within the second chapter as one of the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga. Following is a fairly literal translation of the last 10 sutras of the second book which describes the importance of pranayama:
46. Right poise must be firm and without strain.
47. Right poise is to be gained by steady and temperate effort, and by setting the heart upon the everlasting.
48 The fruit of right poise is the strength to resist the shocks of infatuation or sorrow.
49. When this is gained, there follows the right guidance of the life-currents, the control of the incoming and outgoing breath.
50. The life-current is either outward, or inward, or balanced; it is regulated according to place, time, number; it is prolonged and subtle.
51. The fourth degree transcends external and internal objects.
52. Thereby is worn away the veil which covers up the light.
53. Thence comes the mind's power to hold itself in the light.
54. The right Withdrawal is the disengaging of the powers from entanglement in outer things, as the psychic nature has been withdrawn and stilled.
55. Thereupon follows perfect mastery over the powers .
I believe that all of the ancient lessons were in the form of sutras for the convenience of memorization by the student. As these began to be preserved through the written word, there have become inumerable interpretations, treatices, and expounding upons. It may be possible that Patanjali has received the credit souly due to his insight in writing down what had been passed from generation to generation for eons. So we can’t say how far back in time this science has been practiced.
Pranayama is life force energy control (prana=life energy, yama=control). Breathing is the medium used to achieve this goal. The mind and life force are correlated to the breath. Through regulating the breathing and practicing awareness on it, one learns to control prana. There are many different kinds of pranayama, each with specific goals. All pranayama ultimately works towards the awakening of the kundalini shakti at the muladhara chakra . The awakening of kundalini energy and its ascent to the crown chakra is the final goal of Raja Yoga. This is a path to liberation of atachment of the material world also refered to as moksha.
Pranayama should not be considered simply as breathing exercises. Pranayama influences the flow of energy and nervous system balance in the body and mind. Pranayama provides methods where the life force is activated and regulated to attain a higher state of energy and awareness.
The mystic practices pranayama in the context of an ascetic lifestyle, which frees nervous energy for intuitive purposes.
Sankara Saranam, Ontology and Pranayama
Many different methods or exercises are described differently by many different teachers. Before we describe a few of the breaths most practiced today lets look at the fundamental physiology and function of the pranic and respiratory systems.
Chakras and Nadis
This is an image depicting the seven primary Chakras and the three most essential Nadis.
Chakras are centers of spiritual energy. They are located in the astral body, but they also have corresponding centers in the physical body. They can be seen by clairvoyant eyes. They loosely correspond to certain plexuses in the physical body. These important Chakras (from bottom to top) are: Muladhara at the anus; Svadhishthana at the genital organ; Manipura at navel; Anahata at the heart; Visudha at the throat and Ajna at the space between the two eyebrows. The seventh Chakra is known as Sahasrara, located at the top of the head.
Nadis are astral tubes made up of astral matter that carry the Pranic currents. They also can only be seen by the astral eyes. They are not the nerves. They are 72,000 in number. Ida, Pingala and Sushumna are the most vital ones. Sushumna is the most important of all.
Ida is the left channel, is white, feminine, cold and represents the moon. It originates in Muladhara and ends up at the left nostril. Pingala is the right channel is red, masculie, hot and represents the sun. It also originates in Muladhara but it runs up to the right nostril. Sushumna is the central channel and runs up the body from just below Muladhara chakra to Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head. These channels carry prana to the entire body, activating the life force of our entire living system.
The respiratory system allows for our breath and the assimilation of the air element. It draws oxygen and other gases in as well as prana with the diaphragm into the lungs.
The diaphragm is the strong wall of muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. By moving downward, it creates suction to draw in air and expand the lungs. It has been found that in general most people do not use this muscle properly and thus are starving themselves of air and prana. Pranayama focuses on learning to fully utilize this muscle and through stillness of the mind learn to control the breath.
Preparing the spine through yoga for pranayama is very important and allows for air and prana to flow freely to all aspects of our being. It also assists in our ability to comfortably sit still without distractions. The primary purpose of the postures (asanas) is to lengthen, flex, extend, bend, twist and compress the spine. This increases the flexibility of the spine and the capacity for us to receive air and prana.
All pranayama begins with breathing properly by fully engaging the diaphragm. When the diaphragm muscle contracts, it pulls the bottom of the lungs downward, causing them to fill, while the ribs flare outward to the sides. The chest and abdominal muscles are not used in diaphragmatic breathing. Conscious diaphragmatic breathing is extremely relaxing to the autonomic nervous system. The chest should not be moving perceptibly or the belly. The expansion should be more lateral in the ribcage. The breath should not be noisy or unsteady. This practice should be done sitting cross legged or upright in a firm chair, with spine erect, back, neck and head aligned, and the shoulders relaxed. Most usually the hands will be palms up resting on the knees or in the lap.
The length of the inhalation, the pause and the exhalation is now to be considered. This will strengthen the diaphragm and steady the breath which in turn steadies the mind. The time ratio of inhalation, retention and then exhalation is that of 1: 4: 2. So if the duration of the inbreath is 2 seconds the retention of that breath should be 8 seconds and then the outbreath will be of 4 seconds. Then one expands the time span as they gain strength and mastery. The precautions for the practice is to stay within your own level of comfort. Once this breath is mastered then one can work with the other forms of breathing.
Like I said before there are many styles or forms of breathing exercises. Even ones with the same names are practiced differently by different teachers. Following are a few of the most widely practiced breaths.
Anuloma Viloma or Nadi Shodhanam
Ones natural breathing cycle constitutes the air flowing freely through the left nostril for about an hour and then it flows freely through the right nostril for about an hour. This cycling occurs without effort in a balanced individual. The ida and pingala are activated equally. The nadi shodhanam breathing sequence reinforces this natural cycling and brings balance.
To begin with sit comfortably as described before and with the right hand up by your face place the thumb against the right nostril to gently hold it closed. The forefinger can rest on the forehead between the brows and the other fingers prepared to close the left nostril. We then breathe in a deep, slow and steady breath through the left nostril, open the right nostril and close the left and then exhale through the right nostril. Now we breath in through the right nostril, open the left, close the right and exhale again but this time through the left nostril. This is considered one cycle. Dr. Lad recommends ten cycles with a rest and then ten more cycles.
Bhastrika or Bellows Breath
This breath is described as like a bellows you inhale and exhale with equal volume and force. This is a very active breath and can produce a lot of heat. When practicing this breath you should begin with just twenty breaths, rest and then 20 more. Work up to one hundred at a time but rest before continuing if there is any dizziness. According to Sri Swami Sivananda this breath should end with the deepest possible inhalation, suspended breath for as long as is comfortable and then a complete, slow and steady exhalation. In this manner one should only do ten to twenty breaths for each round or cycle and do as many as three cycles in one sitting. Again never allow yourself to get dizzy. This is a powerful breath and should not be overdone. He goes on to say that the practitioner will never suffer from any disease and will always be healthy .
Bhramari or Bumble Bee Breath
This breath is done sitting upright with the eyes closed, the thumbs up against the ears gently pressing them closed, the rest of the fingers spread across the face above the eyes, over the cheekbones, with the pinkies resting on the jaw bones. Take in a long deep breath and exhale slowly while humming. When done correctly you will only be able to hear the humming in your head and feel a refreshing buzzing all around your sinuses and brain. My experience of this breath is that it clears the sinuses and the mind.
There are a multitude of breathing exercises within the practice of pranayama that allow for many amazing results. Reports of being able to live on only prana for an indefinite period of time have been given. Once the Kundalini is awakened and rises up sushumi then all sorts of seemingly supernatural feats can be accomplished.
Levitation and many psychic powers can be attained. These all become mere parlor tricks compared to the peace and liberation experienced by the yogi who masters pranayama. The gift of the adept is their presence, the level at which they vibrate raises the consciousness of everyone else in which they come into contact.
Anyone wanting to practice pranayama should do so with pure intentions. This practice amplifies the primary law of Ayurveda, in which like increases like. Practicing each step and not proceeding until the first step is mastered and working directly with a teacher is the safest. Always listening to and following your body, mind and spirits greatest good.
Monday, July 12, 2010
What do we mean when we say “You should be more open minded”? Do we in fact mean that we should not instantly judge something from our own perspective but instead take some time to evaluate, test, and contemplate what it is that we are judging? I believe that this is exactly what we mean. We should not instantly reject something because it seems religious or mystical. We should approach all cultural systems with as much objectivity as we possibly can. We should also not avoid or discredit things that we simply do not understand. Having an open mind is a virtue and it can allow us to learn from many different cultures that have spent centuries defining themselves and their healing systems. They have learned throughout history of what will work and what does not work. It is not enough to discredit these healing systems because they are old or ancient. They have withstood the test of time and they have also proved to be invaluable to some individuals in terms of healing and nurturing. Our best approach is to learn about these holistic systems and find out for ourselves if they are sciences that actually work.
The Holistic Healing system of Ayurveda is historically the most ancient and the most comprehensive. Dating back at least four thousand years, this healing system was developed by spiritually developed individuals. The Vedic civilization is also responsible for the system of Yoga with all of its branches of wisdom. Both Yoga and Ayurveda are complete holistic systems that bring nature to the forefront when curing and preventing disease. Ayurveda looks at the uniqueness of each individual and treats the person according to many factors including the mental, physical and spiritual components of each. The person is treated according to his or her body constitution or to the degree that the elements are present in that individual patient. Ayurveda holds that everything in the Universe is composed of combinations or degrees of each major element (Air, Water, Fire, Ether). These elements translate into their combinations which are interpreted as the three biological humors or Doshas (Kapha, Pitta, Vatta). Further, each person is treated according to the presence and degrees of these elements in their body relative to balancing these humors in the body. Moreover, the individual is looked at in his or her unique lifestyle and psychological situation. Important aspects of the life of the individual like Nutrition, Digestion, Herbs, Natural Oils, Meditation, Yoga and Massage become paramount to the treatment of patients in Ayurveda. These aspects of life are treated directly with the patient. The patient is asked to evaluate their health from all aspects ranging from the mental and the spiritual to the physical. These important aspects in an individuals’ health are very important and should be taken into account when trying to heal a person. A doctor cannot merely suggest some herbs and send the patient to heal or get better. Instead, an Ayurvedic Doctor is trained to look at the complete multi-faceted life of the individual and make recommendations on their health in terms of Nutrition, Exercises, Herbal recommendations, Yoga Therapy, and lifestyle changes. For each category Ayurveda has detailed recommendations according to each persons’ body constitution and necessity. The full wisdom of Ayurveda includes a different understanding of Anatomy and Physiology along with their corresponding methods of treatment.
We are all prone to discredit things that we do not understand. It is quite simply much easier to judge something before fully understanding it. For most of us, this is our usual reaction. We use all of the conditioning which we have in our education and choose it as the only perspective on life. After all – it is ours and we identify completely with our opinions for the most part. To be wise, to have an open mind requires us to move beyond these opinions and to at least keep in mind that others have experienced life in a different way than we have and their experience may contribute to our overall understanding of the same. That is to say, not only is it important to try to understand other cultures to have a more universal understanding of ourselves but it is also important to at least give some of these systems a fair shake. We can look at the science of Yoga and how it has literally transformed lives and healed individuals in the United States. The art of Yoga has taken some time to be understood and accepted in the world. Today, we see more than ten million practicing Yogis worldwide who have been able to incorporate some of these holistic practices. You may begin by trying Yoga or by learning the art of Ayurveda. Beginning in this path or any other one with sincerity and resolve will make your path much easier to walk. What do you have to lose? These systems work within nature and nothing they prescribe is processed or artificial. We now know how much damage we have done to ourselves with these synthetic and conventional methods of healing. So keep an open mind and you will see how life can smile at you.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
The term Ayurveda is usually interpreted as the science of life. Indeed it is. But it may be better understood as the science for life. You know that the term Ayurveda is a compound word consisting of two Sanskrit words Ayus and Veda, the former means life and the latter means knowledge or science. The word Veda is from the root vid which has four meanings. The first meaning is ‘knowledge’. Another meaning is ‘to get’. Yet another meaning is ‘to be’. The fourth meaning is ‘to find’ or ‘discover’. Accordingly there are four meanings for the term Ayurveda. They are
1. The knowledge or science of life.
2. That which provides life – or from which you can get life.
3. That which has life – or where life is present.
4. That which discovers life.
All these meanings are relevant in the case of Ayurveda. It is the knowledge of life, it provides us life, it contains life or information about life and it discloses the intricacies of life. Of them the first meaning is the most appropriate.
When we say that Ayurveda is the science of life, it is equivalent to biology because biology also means the same. (Bios = life; logos = knowledge). But anyone with a primary knowledge of Ayurveda will vouch that Ayurveda is not biology. Biology is a descriptive science whereas Ayurveda is both descriptive and normative. It dictates the norms of proper life. It teaches us how to live. All medical sciences teach us about life and how to live. Essentially any medical science is part of biology. Medical science is an applied science whereas biology is a pure science.
Under the popular concept of today we cannot equate Ayurveda to Medicine though Ayurveda also is a system of medicine. There are many other medical systems too. Hence for all practical purposes the term Ayurveda has a limited meaning today and it is only one among the various medical systems.
The purpose of Ayurveda is to preserve and augment the health of the healthy and attempt the cure of the diseases of the sick. Thus Ayurveda is a science which fights against diseases. Why should we fight against diseases? We have to do so to preserve life because diseases tamper life and deprive life off its quality. They even destroy life. There is a constant war going on between life and disease and in this war Ayurveda is at the side of life and is warring for life. Hence Ayurveda is the science for life.
If Ayurveda is for life, for what type of life it is? Oh! All lives are not the same. There is happy life and unhappy life. There is benevolent life and malevolent life. Which type of life should we aspire to? Surely we should aspire to have a happy and benevolent life. Such a life will satisfy us and others.
Ayurveda is not only for the doctors. It is advised for those who desire to live. It has nothing to do with those who want to die. Hence euthanasia is not in the agenda of Ayurveda. Till the last breath of the patient, the attempt of Ayurveda will be to save life and in this task Ayurveda will never leave any stone unturned. Surely, Ayurveda is a science for life.
Ayurveda fights for life with all of the natural healing components. In Ayurveda, we see healing in terms of mind, body, and spirit. The Science uses every possible method in terms of healing the body as in the practice of Yoga, recommendations on exercise, the use of natural herbs, and the applications of natural oils. In terms of healing the mind Ayurveda recommends meditation, chanting, and its own philosophy as to what comprises the mind and how we can better be in control of our mental processes. In terms of the spirit Ayurveda has lengthy recommendations on how to heal your spirit. Essentially, the recommendations come from four main paths to spiritual development as seen in yoga: action (karma), intellect (Jnana), devotion (Bhakti), and (Raja) the science of physical and mental control. One must always be aware of doing the right action. Selfless acts of compassion are the perfect example for the exercise of action in spiritual development. Doing a good act and not expecting anything in return is the key for this type of spiritual development. Furthermore, the spirit is also expected to be developed in the intellectual contemplation of ourselves. This exercise allows you to contemplate within your reasoning all of the principles of the philosophy of the Vedas and find your place within the Universe and existence. Even further there is devotion or the emotional commitment of worship. This science allows for emotional devotion to the Unifying principle of existence through practices like prayer and chant. Finally there is the full science of physical and mental control. This last part is a complete training on how to control your mental and physical processes. Yoga becomes paramount for this physical development and discipline becomes a key in the exercise of mental control.
In summary, we can see that Ayurveda and Yoga have so much to offer us in terms of healing. One can appreciate how much healing Yoga is bringing to the West and how much Ayurveda can also bring in the future. Once you try Ayurveda you will see how your life will benefit with these natural healing principles. There is no good reason not to try these principles and apply them to your life experience. What do you have to lose? Absolutely nothing. The use of natural herbs and oils in Ayurveda does not cause side effects or any negative effects in your body. So what are you waiting for? Begin to apply the principles of Ayurveda into your life today. You will thank yourself for this in the short term and in the long term.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Wisdom from the Ancients
Vyaadhiksamatvam vyaadhibalavirodhitvam vyadyutpadapratibandhakatvamiti yavat. (Charaka samhita, Sutrasthana, 28:7)
Immunity is the ability of the body to overcome and resist disease.
-Charaka: 600 BCE
The ancient science of life, “Ayurveda”, addresses the art of healing in a holistic manner. The concept of immunity in Ayurveda is explained as Vyaadhikshamatva, literally translated ‘forgiveness to disease” which arises out of robust health.
Ayurveda firmly believes that for man to lead a healthy life, his lifestyle has to be in perfect harmony with Nature. The equilibrium or homeostasis of the supporting elements of human body and mind is Dhaatusaamya which is immunity. Diseases occur due to disruption of this delicate balance of the individuals Doshas (bio-energies) and Dhatus (tissues).
Western medicine uses pro-host therapy to bolster immunity through administration of vaccines such as Polio vaccine and BCG vaccine etc. There are several limitations to this type of medication which also includes side effects.
Nutrition and digestive capacity play a major role in building immunity. Improper diet and unhealthy lifestyle leads to improperly metabolized foods that accumulate in the body due to poor agni (digestive fire) and result in the accumulation of ama (toxins). This detrimental ama becomes the foundation for infection by krimi (pathogens). These toxins provide a favorable condition for pathogens to infect and proliferate. Hence, a simple remedial measure will be to eliminate such conditions that provide a congenial environment for infestation.
Ayurveda analogies this reasoning to that of a seed dependent on soil. Unless a seed (infection) is sown in a fertile soil (body containing toxin), it will never propagate, just like the fire fails to ignite in the absence of air.
Another essential quality for a healthy life is Ojas - the optimal functioning of all tissues in the body. Thus, by definition, Ojas is health and the lack of it, illness.
Several factors including improper food, accumulation of ama, stress, life-style cause the depletion of Ojas. This is manifested by the imbalance of Doshas and thereby proclivity to disease. Immunity is the process of restoring this equilibrium. Ayurveda, however, attributes the source of immunity to a person’s Sahaja (genetic inheritance), Kalaja (seasons, time and age) and Yuktikruta (acquired immunity).
Rectifying the Yuktikruta where immunity that can be acquired or strengthened follows the precepts of Vyayama, Satmya and Rasayana.
1. Vyayama – Exercise - It enhances digestion, tissue metabolism and immunity.
2. Satmya - Adaptability - The concept of Satmya involves the drug, diet or conduct which, owing to habitual use develops adaptability and loses its initial stress value. Ref: Encyclopedia of Indian Medicine, Clinical Examination and Diagnostic Methods, Vol. 3, Prf. S K Ramachandra Rao,Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, 2005
3. Rasayanas – Elixir - Brahmi, Guduchi, Amlaki, Ashwagandha, among others, are used in Ayurveda as tonic ingredients to promote good health. These ingredients are either given singly or in their combination and are safe for long use. Besides strengthening immunity, these preparation help in combating many common aliments from seasonal flu to chronic diseases such as diabetics, arthritis and others!
The ancient texts of Ayurveda, Charaka Samhita, Sarngadhara Samhita and such list several recipes to improve immunity. The rationale behind these recipes revolve around the elimination of ama, improvement of digestion to curtail further production of ama, and ingredients that enhance the resistive strength of the body or balavarthanam.
While herbs such as Triphala and Trikatu contribute to the elimination of ama and enhance digestive capabilities, Guduchi Tinospora cordifolia and Aswagandha - Withania somnifera improve immune resistance to infections
The texts prescribe several recipes such as Amrutottaram Kashayam, Indukantham Kashayam, Sudarshana choornam, Pipalyasavam, Dasamoolarishtam, Dasamooladhi kwath etc, that may be administered as a preventive and curative treatments to infections including viral outbreaks.
It is only fair to trust the wisdom of our ancients who have carefully compiled routines and practices that preserve health. It is this wisdom that provides remedies to restore health in times of infectious outbreaks such as the Swine Flu pandemic that threatens us today.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Today heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and around the world. Some experts believe that nearly half of the U.S. population will die prematurely because of this disease (Shneider, Fields, 2006). Heart disease claims more lifes per year than any other chronic illness and the future holds dire news for the more chronic symptoms associated with heart disease: cholesterol, high blood pressure, hypertension, and obesity. Obesity, in particular will only increase occurrences of heart disease as individuals unfortunately at a younger age now are only making the job of their heart more difficult with above average weight gain and poor diet.
Heart disease accounts for nearly half of all deaths in the developed world and 25% deaths in the developing world. The increases in obesity, diabetes, and other risk factors within the younger generations have also led some to draw concern towards how we're going to care for such a future patient popluation.
And there is not one population that is not affected by heart disease. Amongst women, heart disease is the number one killer. Not cancer, heart disase. In fact, amongst women there are twice as many deaths due to heart disease than all cancers combined (Trader, 2009). And more women die from heart disease per year than men, so this is definitely not a gender specific issue. However, it is worth mentioning that men and women often exhibit different symptoms of heart disease: Men often complain of specific locations In the body: the chest, an arm that feels tight, Irregular; whereas women often complain of much more "general", "overall" feelings of lousiness-type symptoms.
In regards to age: the youth obesity rate in United States has tripled since 1980, and according to the figures from government, 32 percent of United States children are overweight and 16 percent are obese. (Hock, 2009). In 2006, heart disease is projected to cost more than $258 billion, including health care services, medications, and lost productivity. (hock, 2009). So, the increasing rates of obesity in today’s youth further highlight that heart disease is not going to be a short-term problem.
The options left to heart disease patients from the more conventional perspective are essentially, drugs and/or surgery. What’s missing in conventional medicine and/or approaches to heart disease is the understanding that the body heals itself, naturally. There is an underlying balance of the body: mind/body/spirit that has been disrupted and healing involves allowing the body to re-balance itself and heal. Ayurveda attempts to uncover the inner pharmacy within our body to heal itself rather than to look for external solutions in drugs and surgery.
HOW THE HEART WORKS
To first have a clear understanding and description of not only heart disease but what the heart is functioned to do for us in the first place is important. The heart's primary function, or better said the role of the circulatory system is to feed the approximately 60,000 billion cells in your body (Schneider, Fields, 2006). The flow of blood through the entire network of 60,000 miles of arteries and veins takes not more than an astounding 90 seconds. The body requires the constant workings of the heart, to continually feed the cells of the body to do what they're supposed to do. Bottomline: No heart, no life.
The heart is a pump made of muscle and “pumps” 2000 gallons of blood through your circulatory system everyday! But of course the heart is not alone in the circulatory sytem, as the entire “tubing” of the system is made of arteries, veins, and capillaries that carry the blood to and from the heart to the infinite places in your body. The network is expansive to say the least. There is also an “electrical” system of sorts that triggers each contraction of the heart which are coordinated by tiny fibers within the heart muscle itself.
There are 2 sides to the heart. The right side receives oxygen-depleted blood from the body, sends it to the lungs, then back through the left side of the heart, where it is then pumped out to nourish the rest of the body. On each side are two chambers, an upper chamber, or atrium which receives the blood and the lower chamber, the ventricle, which pumps blood out through the arteries to the rest of the body. The right ventricle only pumps blood to the lungs via the pulmonary artery, whereas the left ventricle pumps blood to the entire body via the aorta artery. The blood, of course, is returned back to the heart via veins. The entire network of veins and arteries is approximately 60,000 miles in hypothetical length. The first arteries that branch off of the aorta artery, are the 2 coronary arteries, left and right. It is these arteries that the relies upon to feed itself the necessary nutrients and oxygen the heart itself needs to operate. It is blockage in one of these arteries that is the most common cause of heart disease. Heart attacks, angina pectoris, heart failure, or sudden cardiac arrest originate in this fashion via atherosclerosis.
HEART DISEASE, WHAT IT IS
Coronary Heart Disease, which is the blocking of these coronary heart arteries, the heart’s lifeline to the nutrients and oxygen it needs to work. (Shneider, Fields, 2006). Artheroclosis is the the main culprit as it involves a gradual hardening of the coronary arteries that provide the heart with the nutrients and energy it needs to live, and keep us alive as a result.
Atherosclerosis is a slow, complex disease in which fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery. This build-up, also known as plaque, can lead to heart attack and stroke. As Atherclsoiss develops in the inner arteries around the heart, the risk for heart attack increases as the arteries are clogged, hardened and otherwise unable to transport the necessary nutrients and oxygen the heart needs.
The western lifestyle diet has exacerbated this with its sweet and salty food, animal fats and fried food makes one prone to heart attacks. The sedentary and sluggish lifestyle, the lack of proper exercise, physical or emotional trauma, congenital or hereditary factors, suppressed emotions or excess strain and anxiety are cited as other causes for the high incidence of heart disease in the West.
Of course, hypertension, which is high blood pressure which can be caused either by too much fluid in the blood vessels or by narrowing of the blood vessels plays a tremendously damaging role in the progress of heart disease. High blood pressure is usually defined as blood pressure greater than 140/90 that fails to come down regardless of your activity. When blood pressure is too high and remains that way, arterial walls become weakened and more prone to atherosclerosis (a build-up of fatty substances on the inner walls of the arteries). The heart must then work harder to try to pump oxygenated blood through the clogged arteries. The clogged arteries are also more prone to blood clots that can block the flow of blood entirely. Consistent high blood pressure causes the heart to work harder than it should and can damage the coronary arteries over the long term.
So heart disease is when our heart doesn’t get enough nutrient-rich blood. The arteries which feed the heart, the same away arteries feed other parts of the body, when they become hardened, inelastic a chronic condition can occur whereby the ability of those arteries to deliver and pump that blood is diminished. Ultimately, cutting off nutrients to various parts of the heart which if are not treated immediately can lead to death. Heart disease can become a chronic condition because often we don’t know when trouble has been developing, often over many years. The condition known as atherosclerosis causes our arteries to harden as cholesterol, fat, and other substances build up in the artery walls; blockage can result in a heart attack. If not “fixed” by surgery or medical interventions (such as bypass, angioplasty, or medication), the condition will worsen, which can lead to disability or death.. Certainly a large portion of our population are in the dark as to how to empower themselves through a "balanced" diet and general know-how when it comes to allowing ourselves to rest our hearts, liteally. This is where and how Ayurveda can play a critical role in our fight against heart disease
Some of the more popular Ayurvedic supplements include, Amalaki, The amalaki fruit has been shown to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties amalaki has also shown in a human study to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood in both people who had normal cholesterol levels as well as people who had high cholesterol. (Mishra et al 1981).
There are so many herbs and formulations, too many to mention for sure, but listed here are a few of the recommended herbal medicine useful in heart disease.
Arjun (terminalia arjuna); Garlic (Allium Sativum); Ashwagandha, (Withania somnifera); Bramhi (Hydrotyle Asiatica/Centella Asiatica ) ; Guduchi (tinospora cardifolia; Tulasi (ocimum sanctum); Yestimadhu (glycyrrhiza glabra) ; Kutki (picrorhiza kurro guggul (Commiphora mukul), a traditional Ayurvedic medication used to treat high cholesterol. It lowers cholesterol by blocking the production of cholesterol in the liver. Similarly, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum) seeds can decrease low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as, increase high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Ayurvedic medicine is to prevent diseases before they occur. And this is one area where we must reverse our conventional wisdom on heart disease. If we begin to educate the public about how the heart works, etc. we can begin to educate the public about how to maintain “heart” healthy diet and lifestyle.. Daily, even hour to hour, gauged activity of healthy diet, meditation and sleep. This will give us each as individuals the tools, the means, the knowledge to on a day to day basis reduce their risk of artherclosis, and/or ultimate heart disease. How can you alleviate, ease and/or de-stress your heart now. Do it now and then integrate into your daily routine. Much of this, Ayurvedically, involves following a Dosha-specific diet which I won't bother attempting to reproduce here, but its importance cannot be overestimated.
Studies have already suggested that Ayurveda may be particularly effective at reducing the risk of heart disease. For example, a recent study found that this traditional Indian medicine helped reduce plaque and reverse the thickening of artery walls known as atherosclerosis in both healthy adults as well as adults at high risk for heart disease. The future ought to have more studies around the benefits of ayurveda in combatting heart disease.
THE AYURVEDIC HEART
Ayurvedic treatments incorporate and address the whole person, body, mind and spirit. Ayurvedically, of course, a practitioner would address client’s said heart disease through the understanding of the client’s predominant dosha. There are, however, more specific treatments aimed at a general population and treatment of heart disease:
I believe that when we actually perceive the truth of how/what the circulatory system does for us, we will be able to be more cognizant and thus capable of living a healthy heart lifestyle. I believe Ayurveda is crucial for those embattled by heart disease, but also extremely useful for anyone interested in more balanced health.
In Ayurveda, the heart is the most vital organ. It is the seat of prana, ojas, and Atman, the true or Divine Self. Western medicine, even culture, views the brain as the ulimate center of control in the human body. Ayurveda, however, considers the heart as the seat of human consciousness, as it reflects who really are, and how we really feel. Heart disease reflects the deep-seated issues of memory, feeling and consciousness. That is why many emotional problems usually play a key role in heart disease and should always be considered when treating heart disease. The heart is viewed as an organ of emotion, so emotional triggers and stressors should always be considered, such as problems at work or in relationships. Many proponents of Ayurveda claim that Western countries suffer the most from heart disease because of our focus on achievements at the expense of relationships. This, in turn, leads to heart break, isolation and loneliness.
The Raj Institute in Iowa offers a Cardiovascular disease program which treats the entire individual, consistent with ayurvedic teachings, and addresses three essential components of this disease: the clogging of the vessels with cholesterol and plaque, due to pressure and free radical activity; a loss of vessel well thickness; and artherthoclosis.
Cardiovascular disease has many components to it, but the main aspect of the disorder is a physical deterioration of the structure of cardiovascular vessel walls.
So, what are some of the Ayurvedic treatments? At the Raj Institute in Iowa, for the cardiovascular treatment program they follow nutritional guidelines, how to combat stress, as well as, encompasses herbal massages in line with client's dosha. Other Ayurvedic treatments for stress and overall relaxation are often considered for patients with heart disease. Much of it does center around emotions, feelings, and issues such as fear or even hostility. These types of practices and treatments are practiced in many Ayurvedic clinics around the world.
Dr. David Simon, neurologist and co-founder, Chopra Center, La Jolla, California on the use of ayurveda as an alternative treatment for heart disease spoke of
hypertension is related to perception of stress in the environment and that it's a natural, built-in, evolutionary response. "When we're perceiving a stressful challenge in life, that we activate the system by increasing the heart rate, by increasing the blood pressure, by increasing the breathing response, by sending out stress hormones in the body." All of which, over time, lead to increased risk of high blood pressure so we must learn to reduce our stimulatory response to situations In life. Like we learn in Yoga, how we react to situations, with breath.
I believe it’s critical for the general population to understand that heart disease allows and deserves for the heart to rest, to heal. It is like the baseball pitcher who must wait, rest out a few games before he is ready to pitch again. His arm, his/her muscles must heal and recuperate before they are asked to perform at peak performance again. So, the question must become how does one introduce rest to the cardiovascular system on a daily basis?
Yet how do we heal a muscle/organ that is constantly and persistently being used to keep us alive? But Ayurveda's contribution to Ayurveda also involves how it deals with regaining "balance" and attaining health, before it is "disease". Heart disease is a now problem. Later might be too late. Your heart has been beating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An organ that works so unceasingly hard for you deserves the proper attention and care. The most beneficial attention you can give your heart is meditation.
The benefits of meditation upon the effects of heart disease cannot be overestimated. Coronary Heart Disease patients underwent a sixteen week trial period of incorporating the practice of Transcendental Meditation into their activities. For comparison, a second group of patients in the study received health instruction. The study found that patients learning meditation had ower blood pressure, improved fasting blood glucose and insulin levels, and greater stability of autonomic nervous system functions. Other forms of meditation probably have similar benefits.
So, teaching people how to manage stress, both day-to-day stress and the providing underlying meditation and relaxation techniques are really key to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. There are even studies which have shown that people who have a heart attack and are in a coronary care unit, who listen to soothing music will have less irregular heartbeats. There's actually been a study that looked at men whose beds either faced the parking lot or a park. And if your visual stimulation was more soothing and natural, you'd get out of the hospital sooner than if you were looking into a congested urban scene.
And one of the other really important risk factors, which is just beginning to really be acknowledged, is whether or not a person is carrying hostility. If you look at all the risk factors, still the most important predictor of sudden cardiac death, particularly in a younger person between late 40s and 60s, is how high they're carrying hostility in their lives. And so we really focus on what people need to do to reduce that sense that the world is their enemy. Shifting that internal dialogue from one of hostility to one of increasing acceptance, creativity, playfulness, really can have a profound impact on reducing our risk for cardiovascular disease.
One thing that separates Ayurveda apart from conventional wisdom is the continual focus on the “present”, particularly in terms of thoughts, emotions, staying centered on the present and not worrying about the future and/or complaining of the past. It has been said in class and I can think of no better example that the heart literally operates in the present and the more our thoughts, feelings, anxieties revolve around what it can not control, this physiological disruption can prove very detrimental to those with heart disease. Ayurveda, at the very least, is a gift of showing us how to truly accept the gift of the present, and give our heart a break.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Autism Speaks offers a straightforward definition of Autism as “a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges.”
Although each individual exhibits varying forms of Autism (hence the “spectrum” of Autistic diagnoses), some groups of symptoms and behaviors are commonly associated with the disease. Catherine Lord, Director of the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center, offers the following answers about Autism Spectrum diagnoses:
ASDs are defined by difficulty in three areas of behaviors: 1) reciprocal social interaction, 2) communication and 3) repetition and insistence on sameness. Exactly how an individual is impacted across these three areas varies greatly. There is no one behavior that is present in all individuals with ASDs or that would rule out ASDs in every person. Many, but not all, individuals with ASD have language delays. Some individuals with ASD, but not all, have lifelong language disorders. Some, but not all, individuals with ASD also have mental retardation that affects development of nonverbal problem-solving, everyday self-care (e.g., dressing; academics) and language.
Within the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder (sometimes known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders or PDD), there are a number of subtypes that are associated with different levels of severity in different areas.
Autism is the disorder that has received the most study and has been recognized for the longest time. It is defined by the presence of difficulties in each of the three areas listed above (social deficits, communication problems and repetitive or restricted behaviors), with onset in at least one area by age 3 years. It may or may not be associated with language delays or mental retardation.
Asperger Syndrome is a form of ASD that is often identified later (e.g., after age 3, usually after age 5) and is associated with the social symptoms of autism and some repetitive interests or behaviors, but not with language delay or mental retardation. Many parents and professionals use this term with older and/or more verbally fluent individuals with autism because they feel it is less stigmatizing.
Rett Syndrome and Child Disintegrative Disorder are both very rare, severe forms of ASD that have particular patterns of onset, and, in the case of Rett Syndrome, a specific genetic basis.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a form of ASD used to describe individuals who meet criteria for autism in terms of social difficulties but not in both communication and restricted, repetitive behaviors. It can also be used for children who do not have clearly defined difficulties under age 3 or later. This term is often used by professionals when they are not quite sure of a diagnosis or when the symptoms are mild. Several epidemiological studies have reported that as many or more children have PDD-NOS or less clear symptoms as have classic autism. The difficulties of children and adults with Asperger Syndrome or PDD-NOS are similar, and milder than those of individuals with autism, suggesting that these distinctions are fairly arbitrary and should not be used to limit services or benefits.
Mari D. is a beginning Yoga student at the studio where I teach and work as the studio assistant. I received a phone call from her asking about private Yoga classes for her son, Finn, who had been diagnosed years earlier with PDD. Later, I received a book, beautifully and lovingly created for teachers and caregivers, all about Finn and his situation, his development, diagnosis, and likes and dislikes. In speaking further with Mari, she shared that the family had moved to Seattle from Houston in order for Finn to participate in therapeutic programs offered in this area that they could not find in Houston.
I was inspired by his parents’ dedication to giving Finn every opportunity to thrive and develop into the bright and lovely boy he naturally is.
Mari had heard that Yoga was an appropriate therapy for ASD. The sole text I was able to locate on Yoga and ASD is an inspiring book about the journey of Yoga practicing mother and her son who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, Yoga for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents and Caregivers by Dion E. Betts and Stacey W. Betts.
The Betts explain about Yoga and ASDs in the introduction to their book:
The physical symptoms of ASDs, while seemingly slight, may drastically impair wellbeing and health. These children need an appropriate and enjoyable physical program. The practice of yoga assists individuals with both strength and balance. The poses improve strength in the large muscles of the body and may increase the tone of the muscles. Yoga poses may also help to improve balance by helping your child become aware of the placement of his or her legs and feet in relations to the rest of the body. The resulting muscle strength and balance control may improve coordination. When the poses are practiced consistently, your child will feel more comfortable in his or her body, which can carry over into other areas of their life.
Another prevalent feature of children with ASDs is that they have many sensory issues. For example, they are often extremely sensitive to bright lights. These children also cannot tolerate loud noise. The taste, texture, and smell of food may present a problem to them . . . Some children, when presented with such stimuli, become upset and agitated. This behavior may cause your child’s peers to view him or her as different. These behaviors may lead to social isolation and feelings of loneliness.
Yoga may address and decrease these sensory problems in several ways. First, the physical practice of yoga soothes the nervous system. Yoga provides poses of flowing movements that allow energy to be released from the body. As your child goes through the movements of the yoga program, his or her body will become soothed and anxiety will lessen. By practicing poses, an over burdened sensory system is calmed and quieted. Moreover, the physical poses offer a non-competitive physical activity that releases pent-up energy. By practicing yoga, your child will have a respite from his or her usual experience of a sensory overloaded body.
Practicing yoga may help a child feel more at peace with his or her body. Once your child is calmer and more focused, he or she may be able to concentrate better on learning social skills.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Those who understand see themselves in all,
and all, in themselves.
We're afraid of losing what we have,
whether it's our life or our possessions and property.
But this fear evaporates when we understand
that our life stories and the history of the world
were written by the same hand.
Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains,
at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers,
at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars;
and they pass by themselves with out wondering.
There are so many wizards of the computer,
stock market, test tube, and spectator sport,
but so few of the art of life.
Miracles happen, not in opposition to nature,
but in opposition to what we know of nature.
We are not human beings learning to be spiritual;
we are spiritual beings learning to be human.
Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.
When we see everyone is a part of us,
that any criticism we make is self-criticism,
we will extend to ourselves an unconditional love
that will light the world.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
Our own pulse beats in every stranger's throat.
When you want something,
all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
Life is meant to be extraodinary,
our bodies are meant to be vital,
and like a candle, burn brightly until their final moment.
Within each of us lies the power of our consent to health and to sickness,
to riches and to poverty, to freedom and to slavery.
It is we who control these things and not another.
Everything in this world has a hidden meaning...
People, animals, trees, stars are all hieroglyphics...
We think they are really only people, animals, trees, stars.
It is only years later... that some of us understand.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Ashwagandha is a very popular herb used in Ayurveda. This herb helps to improve the body's ability to maintain physical effort and helps the body to deal with stress and anxiety. This revitalizing herb helps maintain the proper nourishment of tissues, particularly muscles and bones, while supporting the proper function of adrenals and the reproductive system.
Ashwagandha has been used as an herbal remedy for hundreds of years. It has many applications, and has been used by Native Americans and Africans to treat inflammation, fevers, and to protect against infection or illness. It has also been used to boost the immune system, improve memory, and to promote overall wellness.
Ashwagandha has many beneficial elements, including flavonoids and members of the withanolide class. Numerous modern studies have found that ashwagandha shows great promise for being effective in reducing inflammation, decreasing stress, increasing mental activity, invigorating the body, and as an antioxidant.
Ashwagandha With a nia somnifera
Ashva = Horse, gandha = smell, Gives energy like a horse
Part used: root
Guna: Light, Moist
Rasa: Sweet, Bitter, Astringent Vipaka: Sweet Virya: Heating (ushana)
Effect on Dosha: decreases Vata and Kapha, increases Pitta and Ama if taken in excess
Main Action: Aphrodisiac, sedative, rasayana, antiaging, nervine, analgesic
• Local – paste on enlarged lymph glands, oil in vata diseases
• Infertility, sexual or general debility, low sperm count, low vitality
• Useful for pregnant women for strengthening the uterus and the fetus
• Promotes sleep, used in stress, anxiety, nerve pain, muscle pain, overwork, emaciation, insomnia, nerve tonic
• Arthritis, sciatica, rheumatism, MS, paralysis
• Respiratory – Cough, Asthma, migraine headache
• Juice of Ashvagandha leaves is used as ear drops in ear discharge
• Builds Dhatus, especially mamsa and shukra
• Used in debilitating diseases, improves immunity
Forms used – Decoction, arishta, powder, ghrita, avaleha
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Anyone who believes that anything can be suited to everyone is a great fool, because medicine is practised not on mankind in general, but on every individual in particular. ~Henri de Mondeville
Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food. ~Hippocrates
When diet is wrong medicine is of no use.
When diet is correct medicine is of no need.
A physician is obligated to consider more than a diseased organ, more even than the whole man - he must view the man in his world. ~Harvey Cushing
Happiness for me is largely a matter of digestion. ~Lin Yutang
Foolish the doctor who despises the knowledge acquired by the ancients. ~Hippocrates
He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skill of the physician. ~Chinese Proverb
Let nothing which can be treated by diet be treated by other means. ~Maimonides
The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease. ~Thomas Edison
Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of creating and maintaining positive health by preventing the imbalances that lead to disease.
Ayurveda accomplishes this by taking into consideration the unique constitution of each individual as well as their environment. Therefore we are fed not only by food but also by the sights, sounds and emotions we experience. By establishing balance on a spiritual, emotional, intellectual, behavioral, physical, familial, social and environmental level individuals are able to maintain and preserve positive health for a potential lifespan of 120 years. For the purpose of this paper I am going to focus on the food we eat and how it affects our health.
All natural things (this includes all plants, minerals and animals) are composed of different combinations of the five elements; ether, air, fire, water, earth. The knowledge of this elemental makeup allows us to restore imbalances by using foods and herbs with the opposite qualities of the imbalance. Because herbs are whole foods they contain passive ingredients that balance the active ingredients reducing the side effects that are produced by taking synthetic medicines.
“No disease can be cured unless supplemented by the right diet. About 90% of disease can be prevented by the right diet alone.” C. Edward Coop
Our health depends on how we digest the food we intake. The tissues of our bodies are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. The foods we eat must be broken down into their 5 basic elements and transformed into new tissues. By eating fresh seasonal foods that compliment our age and body constitution at the proper times in a proper environment we support our bodies ability to stay healthy.
Eating food not only nourishes the body but also nourishes the soul and mind.
Healthy food is the most basic need for human survival, health and social stability. Food choices not only directly influence the health of eaters, but food choices profoundly influence the health of the planet. Healthy soil is central to all living things – all plants depend on the soil-food web for their nutrition and all animals and humans depend on healthy plants for their nutrition. In order for humans to absorb minerals they must first be linked with some form of carbon and reduced to angstrom size minerals which we can then absorb intracellularly. Some science shows that sea solids can work in this fashion to restore the depleted mineral balance found in most or our soil due to erosion and improper farming practices. Soil erosion has reduced nutrient bioavailability in plants showing a dramatic decrease in nutrients in conventionally raised food in America since 1940. A 40 year study conducted by an American Dr. Maynard Murray focusing on the deletion of minerals from America’s topsoil showed that plants grown with re-hydrated sea solids provided plants with a full spectrum of 92 minerals. These plants became impervious to disease even when deliberately exposed. The animals that ate these plants also became resistant to disease. Under the Himalayan mountain range lies an ancient evaporated sea which contains this same mineral spectrum in a much more pure state than now available from our polluted oceans.
Science proves that healthy soil grows healthy food and that healthy food nourishes healthy people and healthy people live in healthy communities. Primarily ingesting fruits grains and vegetables lowers the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and could prevent at least 20% of all cancer.
Every time a chemical nutrient is added or subtracted from a food the natural balance is disrupted. When the synergy of all five elements (panchamahabutas) is disrupted, thousands of years of biological programming is thrown out of balance. The eventual result of this is an early onset of chronic degenerative disease.
In the last century modern society has radically changed lifestyle and the source and preparation of food. Many people depend largely on conveniently packaged and processed foods that have dramatically altered the ability to receive whole nutrition. The alteration of the amounts of fat, sodium and carbohydrates in processed food as well as the use of artificial fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics in food production has affected the nourishment we receive from the foods we eat. Diet-related chronic diseases are of epidemic proportions. Seven of the top ten causes of death are linked to diet. Fresh organically raised food contains prana, the vitality that gives us life. Highly processed food does not carry this prana and as a result we do not receive the vitality necessary to rebuild our tissues in the healthiest manner. Presently, 90% of foods Americans purchase every year are processed foods. In 2006 alone, 2800 new candies, desserts, ice cream, and snacks were introduced to the marketplace compared to just 230 new fruit and vegetable products. Given this information you might ask why people have not changed their habits. Part of the reason may be that this information is not widely broadcast. Another reason according the Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine explains that meat and cheese, as well as sugar and chocolate, contain opiate-like substances that keep people hooked – and unhealthy.
Foods grown with chemicals and pesticides take in these qualities and redeliver them to us throughout our digestive process. Genetically modified food has had the basic structure and balance altered which has serious effects on our ability to achieve and maintain health-preserving balance. Over time these chemical substances bio-accumulate and contribute to our systems ability to create disease. Adding synthetic fertilizers herbicides and pesticides to the foods we grow upsets the natural balance and harmony of said food, the earth it is grown in and the humans who consume it. The natural rhythm of the plants metabolism is disrupted and as a result the plants fail to absorb the often times few valuable minerals still available in our topsoil. In addition most commercially grown produce has not been allowed to ripen in the field which means its nutrient value is lessened because of incomplete development. When we eat less vital plants we become less vital and more prone to disease. The same rush through production stimulated by artificial fertilizers, growth hormones and genetic engineering results in the plants themselves having less resistance to disease and pests requiring more use of pesticides and herbicides. These poisons seep into the plant via the surface and root system and become part of the cellular structure of the plant. Because pesticides bio-accumulate higher up the food chain, food such as milk, meat and eggs increase exposure to pesticides as they accumulate in fat cells.
The effects of ingesting individual pesticides in the quantities that appear on produce are unknown. In the EPA’s effort to protect the public from the effects of eating foods that have been treated with pesticides they have set tolerances of the amounts that may legally remain in or on the food and animal feed. These tolerances have been set by, analyzing foods as they are harvested, processed, marketed, and prepared. EPA also requires a battery of toxicity tests on lab animals to determine a pesticide’s potential for causing adverse health effects such as cancer, birth defects, and adverse effects on the nervous system or other organs. As a result of these tests the EPA established a Reference Dose indicating the level that EPA judges an individual could be exposed to on a daily basis for a lifetime with minimal probability of experiencing any adverse effect. Recently the EPA has recognized that the diets of infants and children may differ substantially from those of adults and these guidelines may allow them to be exposed to proportionately more pesticides. Given these guidelines were established one chemical at a time and that most conventionally raised produce has more than one chemical found in the end product has caused some people to question whether these guidelines are sufficient to protect our health. Pesticides can be toxic to humans and animals. Seven of the most toxic chemical compounds know to man are approved for use as pesticides in the production of food. These toxins are referred to as Persistent Organic Pollutants. They are called persistent because they can not easily be removed from the environment. Pesticides are generally referred to as broad-spectrum, narrow-spectrum and systemic. The systemic pesticides are taken up by the plants absorption system and occur throughout the plant. They work by poisoning the pollen and nectar of the flowers of the plant and as a result not only kill pests but also kill needed pollinators like butterflies and bees. The systemic poisoning of plant flowers has killed scores of bees. In the winter of 2006/2007 we lost 25% of bee colonies. Bees play a vital role in the perpetuation and of plant cycles and evolution. While systemic pesticide use has not officially been blamed for the loss of bee colonies no once can rightly say they have been good for bees. Pesticides seem to pose one of the greatest risks to our health and environment. Studies have begun to show that even pesticide exposure in allowed limits can have neurological effects on developing fetuses. Common pesticides used in homes and lawns are now being shown in medical research to accelerate aging of the immune ands nervous system resulting in serious health problems years after exposure. Some agriculture pesticides are not required to be tested for subtle neurological effects (i.e. memory, depressions, behavior) – child-learning disorders – pregnancy developmental studies and immune system effects (i.e. lower white blood cell counts, increased infection rates and autoimmunity). The U.S. National Academy of Science concluded in a report on diet and cancer that “there is no epidemiological evidence to suggest that pesticides individually make a greater contribution to the risk of human cancer” but they also concluded that “the possibility that they may act synergistically and thereby create a greater carcinogenic risk cannot be excluded. There is evidence that farm workers exposed to high levels of pesticides have higher incidences of cancer and an increase in genetic damage was observed in Danish greenhouse workers handling plants treated with any of 50 different compounds. The U.S. EPA ranks pesticide residues among the top three environmental cancer risks.
A US study showed rural mid-western men with high amounts of the pesticide diazanon and the herbicides alachlor and atrazine in their urine are far more likely to have abnormal (diluted, deformed and sluggish) sperm.
A study by Belgian toxicologist Dr. Charles Charlier in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that women diagnosed with breast cancer were six to nine times more likely to have the pesticide DDT in their bloodstream compared to women who did not have breast cancer.
A landmark paper published in 1998 by Elizabeth Guillette and collegues using anthropological and standard pediatric assessments of children to asses the impact of pesticide residues from food and the environment on their health. She compared children in two nearby isolated villages in Mexico, one in which pesticides were routinely used in their farming practices, and one in which they were not used. Everything else in these two villages was the same, genes, lifestyles, diet, climate, culture etc. To assess the children’s cognitive development she measured eye-hand coordination, short-term memory, and the ability to draw a person. These are standard anthropological assessment tools.
What she found was an impaired cognitive development in the children of the village that routinely used pesticides, as demonstrated by these efforts by four and five year olds to
draw a person. The drawings on the left are by four and five year olds from the village where pesticides are not used, while those no the right are by children of the same age from the village in the valley where children are exposed to pesticide residues in their diet, homes and environment.
For over 20 years there have been studies showing the increased risk of many diseases such as cancer, weakened immune system, allergies, neurotoxicity, hyperactivity in children, brain allergies, endocrine disruption, decreased mental clarity and poor concentration. The cumulative effect of widespread, chronic, low-level exposure to multiple pesticides is only partially understood.
According to the U.S. EPA's 2002 list of impaired water bodies, over 635 miles of river
and streams in the Central Valley of California, including the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and Delta, are so polluted by agricultural pesticides that they are unsafe for uses such as fishing, swimming, and drinking.
Farm runoff that reaches the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers contaminates drinking water supplies for millions of Californians in the Central Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California.
Pesticides, pathogens, nitrates and salts have been detected in drinking water sources for at least 46 California counties. The Department of Pesticide Regulation detected pesticides in 96% of Central Valley locations tested, and over half of these detections exceeded unsafe levels for aquatic life and drinking water consumption.
California uses 20% of the pesticides use in America so it is fair to predict that the other 80% being used is increasing toxicity to some level.
Perhaps the amazing fact is that many of the studies showing the dangers of ingesting and inhaling pesticides were completed twenty years ago in the 1980’s, yet in the 1990’s pesticide use increased.
Could these toxic effects of conventional farming in America be responsible for the citizens of America walking around in a state of semi-consciousness? Why else would we or our government allow or tolerate farming practices that contribute so heavily to growing foods that contribute so readily to disease?
The best way to limit chronic poisoning from pesticides is to eat organic fruits and vegetables.
For the same 20 years studies have wavered back and forth over whether there is additional nutrition in organic food. Arguments have risen up as to whether studies were unbiased and truly scientific. There is much evidence showing sometimes they were not. A study called the Firman Bear Report conducted at Rutgers University found organic food much richer in minerals than “commercial produce”. In their study organic tomatoes had 5 times more calcium, 12 times more magnesium, 3 times more potassium and 8 times more manganese, 600% more organic sodium which does not affect blood pressure like table salt and 1900 times more iron.
A study at UC Davis by Dr. Maria Amodio and Dr. Adel Kader show organically grown kiwis had significantly higher level of vitamin C and polyphenols. “All the main mineral constituents were more concentrated in the organic kiwi fruit, which also had higher ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and total polyphenol content, resulting in higher antioxidant activity.
A French study showed similar polyphenol results in tomatoes, peaches and apples.
A 2001 report by Britain’s Soil Association looked at 400 nutritional research studies and concluded food grown organically had more minerals and vitamins.
Dr. Katherine Tucker director of the nutritional epidemiology program at Tufts University in Boston stresses that lower levels of minerals in food is a cause for concern. Magnesium, calcium and other minerals are very important for proper nutrition. She recommends eating unprocessed foods, meat from free-range animals, and grains, fruits and vegetables grown organically or at least using more natural farming methods. .
If there is a positive side to this perhaps it is that Americans are becoming better educated and increasing numbers of people are seeing the benefit in purchasing food directly from the farmers who grow it and are taking the time to prepare and cook it using slow traditional methods. This is demonstrated in the fact that after a century of decline, the number of small farms has increased 20% in the past six years. A study recently published in the American Journal of Agriculture Economics surveyed nearly 500 people and found food shoppers were willing to pay more for locally grown food. Their reasons for doing so were better food quality, better taste and freshness. This trend can be largely attributed to the work done by chef Alice Waters who started the “Slow Food Movement” in California in the 1970’s. She argues that “real food” is grown by people who take care of the land, and who refrain from using herbicides and pesticides. Real food is food that is grown for taste, and is grown in a way that pays people a good wage for their work rather than being grown at somebody else’s expense.
Sustainability means meeting present needs without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In order to do this we must take into account the harm still being done to the soil and water by conventional agriculture and the people who live on food raised in that manner.
Ayurveda understands the connection between an individualized whole food diet and optimal health in human beings and the planet. It is my hope that with the spread of the knowledge of Ayurveda citizens across the globe will embrace sustainable and conscious eating and growing practices.
As a result our health and spiritual well-being will improve along with the health and spiritual well-being of our planet Earth.