Combating back pain with Ayurveda

indian ayurvedic oil body massageFrom shoulder aches and pains to chronic repetitive strain conditions such as sciatica, back pain has affected many of us through numerous causative factors. Back pain or ‘kati shoola’ as it is known in Ayurveda is a common condition where the one or more dosha becomes imbalanced, and of these, vata (air + space element) would be commonly responsible.

Back pain could be of varying types and caused by various factors Incorrect posture, external or sports injury, trauma or RSI will result in a degeneration of tissues (bone, muscle and connective tissue) with a rise of vata resulting in intense pain.

The increase of dry, rough and cold qualities of vata is another cause of emaciation and degeneration of bone and connective tissue leading to osteoporosis as the space element in the pores become increased in size, as vata needs to travel resulting in pain of a cutting or numb nature or as pins and needles.

Blockages in the channels of the body (veins, arteries, lymph etc) increases vata and not allowing vata to flow naturally and is forced to other spacial areas, creating again pain. The involvement of Pitta and kapha dosha are often cause complexities.

Doshic imbalance ranges from increased vata caused by stress, old age, lack of quality sleep, over-exercising, excessive intake of foods such as chickpeas, sprouts, tea coffee, alcohol, exposure to cold climates, drinks. Increased pitta dosha due to over exposure to the sun, hot and spicy, non-veg and acidic foods. Kapha increase due to day sleep, lack of exercise, intake of sweet cold foods such as yoghurt, ice-cream, fruit juices, dairy. These causative factors coupled with influencing factors of age, climate, occupation, digestive capacity can lead to doshic imbalance.

The first line of treatment would firstly be to remove the causative factors. Then physical Ayurvedic treatments to alleviate the back pain would carefully administered depended of type of pain. For example, lower back and neck pain can be effectively treated by kati basti (a pool of warm medicated oil). Pinda Sweda (hot herbal poultice) used with medicated oils to alleviate the vata out of the tissues. A simple abhyanga with specially selected medicated oils can help to alleviate back pain. In deep seated conditions vata would be eliminated through the administration of enemas, since the seat of vata resides in the colon.

Useful internal herbs to balance the dosha and condition would also be used as well as suggested back-bending yoga postures such as bhujangasana, khandarasana, surya namaskar all used with yogic breathing to heal through prana.

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Traditional Ayurvedic Technique Now Fashionably known as ‘Oil Pulling’

Ayurvedic Oil Pulling

Ayurvedic Oil Pulling

This ancient traditional technique of Ayurveda know as ‘gandusha’ has been recently commonly brought to light  as Oil Pulling. A practice which has been a health ritual in India for over 5000 years.

As the oil is retained in the mouth, it mixes with the saliva becoming thinner in consistency and white in colour. This subtly draws toxins from the local area and the blood by the enzymatic stimulation and lipophilic action, collecting all the accumulated fat soluble toxins ready for expulsion beyond in the mouth and beyond. If the oil is still yellow it could indicate that the pulling needs to be done for longer. Cured sesame is widely used in Ayuveda for this and numerous other treatments for it therapeutic actions on the body.

The Benefits

The health benefits for using this technique are plentiful. Here are a few of to get you thinking:

  • Brilliant for oral healthcare, preventing gum disease, cavities, firmly rooted teeth, heals bleeding gums, prevents sensitivity of the teeth and tooth aches.
  • Keeps breath freshen by removing local toxins
  • Pulls toxins and removed mucous from the mouth, throat and head
  • Improved taste and digestive metabolism
  • prevents dryness in mouth & throat
  • Invokes a clearer mind, reduces headaches
  • Helps keep sinuses clear and healthy
  • Strengthens jaw and voice

Try it for yourself:

Do this technique in the morning before Breakfast and on empty stomach.

After brushing teeth, and using a tongue scrapper. Take a table spoon or body temperature cured sesame oil or coconut oil. Retain in the mouth swooshing gently from side to side for 10-12 minutes and then expel the oil. Simple, easy, inexpensive, harmless and effective.

please note: this used should not be swallowed as it has become laced with toxins

Reference: Charaka Samhita. Ch 5. V78 -80 (Ayurvedic classical text)

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Neem (azadiracta indica) – The Ayurvedic Friend for Skin Health

neemParts used: leaves, flowers, bark & roots

Energetics: bitter, cool, pungent, -PK +V

Neem is a fast-growing tree that can reach up to heights of 50 feet, growing in many parts of India and the subcontinent, with the ability to withstand very high temperatures and low rainfall. In Ayurveda it is known as sarva roga nivarini,  translating as ‘the curer of all ailments’, indicating its vast healing benefits. The most commonly used part of the neem tree are its dried leaves which are very bitter in nature.

The anti fungal and anti viral and powerful blood purification and properties of neem makes it a key ingredient for remedies of skin conditions and curing diabetes. It was also found to be effectively used to cure diseases like malaria, insect bites, nausea, vomiting, rheumatism, jaundice, obesity, arthritis, hair loss, urinary tract problems and parasites.

With its powerful detoxification properties, neem cools fevers and clears the toxins involved in many inflammatory skin diseases (especially burning). It has the qualities to pacify all doshas, however cautions needs to be applied in conditions of colds and debilitation.

One of the reknowned uses for Neem is the prevention of tooth decay & gum disease. Neem twigs and leaves have been used for thousands of years in India by millions of people to brush their teeth and to promote oral hygiene.

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The Ayurvedic Perspective of Gastritis

Gastritis, otherwise known as urdhvaga amlapitta in ayurveda is an inflammatory condition of the mucous membrane and glands of the stomach. Pitta types are more prone to this conditions and it is a vitiation of the pitta dosha where stomach acids such as Hydrochloric acid and other digestive enzymes secreted by the stomach become inflamed and results in the increase of these liquid secretions leading to indigestion and symptoms such as, loss of appetite, nausea, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, abdominal pain, heartburn coated tongue, foul breath, increased salivation, sour belching, irritable bowels.

The typical root causes could include, excessive intake of alcohol, strong tea/coffee, sauces, vinegars, anger, worry, grief, strong drugs such as NA

In managing and treating this condition it is advised to avoid the causative factors such as alcohol, spicy and sour foods, fried foods, yoghurts, pickles, chutneys, chocolate, caffeine, smoking, stress, aspirin. Do increase intake of boiled milk, vitamin C (not from oranges), rice and dahl, kitchari, ghee, bitter gourd, pomegranate, barley, wheat, honey.

A panca karma approach would consider a purgation treatment to eliminate the excess pitta dosha out if the body. In terms of herbs there are various options depending on the type of condition that prevails and these can include simple herbs such as yasti madhu (liquorice), Shatavari (asparagus racemosus) and Amla (Emblica officinalis) amongst other specialist compounds.

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The wonders of Tulasi (holy basil),

botanical name: Ocimum Sanctum

holy basil

Tulasi – holy basil

Tulasi, cultivated in India for thousands of years for its religious and medicinal purposes is an aromatic leafy plant. Of the two types, rama and shyam tulasi, the latter is considered to contain more medicinal properties. Ancient Ayurvedic seers, including charaka recognised tulasi as the ‘elixir of life’.

Of the plant, the leaf is most commonly used for its heath benefits, although the whole plant including the stem, roots, flowers and seeds have various medicinal properties. Tulasi can be taken in a variety of forms including fresh and dried leaf tea, fresh green leaves, alcohol tinctures, medicated ghee and used in external body treatments in herbal poultices and pastes.

Rich in vitamin A, C and minerals such as zinc, calcium, iron, chlorophyll and other phytochemicals, this pillar in Ayurvedic herbology enhances digestion, absorption and general health and well-being with positive effects on the mind and body. Tulasi is commonly used to treat various conditions from coughs, colds, flu, headaches, arthritis, ear ache, rheumatism, fever, allergies, intestinal parasites, insect bites as well as being a key herb in formulations used in treatment for conditions of the heart, blood, liver, kidneys, throat and metabolism to name but a few.

As a powerful adaptogen, holy basil has the capacity to enhance the body’s natural adaptability to physical, mental and emotional stress and various stress-related degenerative disorders.

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Insight into ayurvedic food combining

Ayurvedic Incompatible Foods

Ayurvedic Incompatible Foods

Unlike the traditional view of a balanced diet consisting of basic food groups, such as dairy, grains, fats, meats, fruit and veg. Ayurveda suggests an approach for correct diet based on the individual’s doshic constitution (vata, pitta, kapha). Every food has its own taste (rasa), a heating or cooling energy (virya) and post-digestive effect (vipaka). When we combine food that consist of different tastes, energy and post-digestive effect, the digestive fire (agni) gets disturbed, slows down and start producing toxins in the system.

Not only can incompatible foods remain in the stomach for several hours, combining foods improperly can cause indigestion, fermentation, putrefaction and gas formation. If prolonged it can lead to toxemia and lead to various other diseases.

When foods are eaten correctly or separately they can aid digestion. eating bananas with milk; egg with fish; radishes with milk, bananas or raisins; lemon with yoghurt; melons with any other foods; raw foods with cooked foods; fruits and grains, are some examples of incompatible foods.

What happens when we eat for example melon and milk? Well milk has a laxative effect and requires more time to digest and melon is a diurectic. The digestive enzymes required to digest melons cause the milk to curdle due to the sourness. This type of constant digestive confusion can be the cause of many diseases, especially related to respiratory or skin conditions.

An Ayurvedic practitioner will be able to offer suitable dietary guidance considering nutritional value, constitution, seasons, age and any disease condition. The key to all of this is to start slowly, one thing at a time such as beginning with separating fruits from other foods.

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New Year, New Ayurvedic Outlook

Ayurvedic Herbal TeasSo we are well into the new year and so many of us made a resolution to start a ‘detox’, lose the holiday weight, stop drinking and get back into the gym. How many of us actually last past the first few weeks or even the first few days? So many people fail to complete a detoxifcation cleanse in January as it does not fit in with their lifestyle, they are not mentally prepared and lets face it, there’s still plenty of indulgences lurking in the cupboards. But do not fear all is not doom and gloom, changing diets drastically during the winter months is not conducive to our overall health and according to Ayurveda the ideal time to go through a detoxification programme is in Spring time, so plenty of time to plan and prepare.

Ayurvedic advocates following a seasonal regime to support our well being, we are in the hemanta and shishira months (December to March) and our Agni (digestive fire) is at its strongest during these months, hence the tendency to feel increased hunger. The quest to lose weight can have an adverse affect on our metabolism at this time as we starve our body of essential nutrients.

Without radical dieting, we can adopt methods to pacify winter ailments such as fatigue, mental confusion, digestive problems, aches, pains and persistent cold while giving ourselves time to prepare for a deeper cleanse and weight loss in a more suitable season. Winter is essentially a vata and kapha period and a vata pacifying diet is most suitable.

  • Avoid the causative factors such as refined sugars, fried, leftover or cold foods saturated fats, and heavy dairy.
  • Eat foods that are naturally sweet, sour and salty by taste to help pacify vata dosha, such as soups, stews, hot teas and stewed fruits.
  • Favour foods that are wholesome and easy to digest including, carrots, tomatoes, figs, dates, cane sugar, nuts, seeds, seasonal root vegetables, wheat, gram flour, rice barley, rye, milk products, edible oils such as ghee and olive oil
  • Immunity is connected to digestion and when digestion is strong then immunity is robust, so drink warm/hot water and digestion enhancing spices such as ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom and cinnamon. Strengthen your immune system with chywanprash, a jam packed full of immune boosting herbs.
  • Good news, Ayurveda says that a glass of warmed red wine can be and beneficial in winter, you can warm with cinnamon, cardamom, clove, ginger, fennel, nutmeg and black pepper
  • Opt for regular massage and hot or steam bath
  • Arise at 7am and take plenty of exercise to keep lymph moving and prevent congestion,
  • sexual activity is encouraged
  • Wear warm clothing of cottons, silks and wools.
  • Take exposure to sun when possible
  • Engage in calming meditation

Following a more natural regime will ensure that the body is able to cope with a detox and expel the toxins out of the body more effectively. Consult a practitioner for one to one guidance on your constitution and a personalised detox plan for the Spring.

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A Sattvic Diet – cleaner, fresher, purer, energetic food choices

Ayurvedic foods & spicesWhat is Sattvic Diet?

Ayurveda is the ancient science of life dating back over 5000 years and within this science, food choices and eating habits were outlined to benefit all humans according to their constitution (body type). According to ayurveda, a sattvic diet is the most conducive diet for living a naturally balanced life and to keep our minds clear, happy and peaceful and of course free from diseases.

Modern preparation of food uses numerous refining processes, chemical and additives that increase shelf life. These processes deplete our foods of their ‘life-force’ and over time have a negative impact on our digestion and health.

Sattvic foods are nutritious vegetarian foods that enhance our vitality by developing the tissues of our body and thus ‘ojas’ that increases our resistance to disease. We are essentially trying to raise our vibration by making purer food choices.

According to ayurveda, fresh foods are best, which have a balance of all the six tastes, consumed in moderate portions in a relaxed environment.

Benefits of a sattvic diet?

  • Create clarity in the channels of the body
  • Increase flow of ‘prana’ – our life force
  • Vegetarian therefore lighter and easier for the digestion
  • Organic unprocessed foods that are not chemical laden (pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, irradiation ) or rich in salts and sugars
  • Foods prepared with love, increases its energetic quality
  • Seasonal vegetables are conducive to natural rhythms of our bodies
  • Natural whole foods have more active enzymes to assist bodily functions and prevent diseases.
  • A sattvic diet is an integral part of working towards self-improvement and intellectual and spiritual pursuits
  • A sattvic diet will help maintain a positive disposition and you will exude sattvic qualities in your character such as generosity, kindness, openness, laughter, compassion and forgiveness.

Sattva, rajas & tamas – the energy of food

Everything on earth has a quality or ‘guna’ e.g. hot/cold/dry/unctuous/rough/smooth etc and anything we perceive through our sense (sound, sight, taste, smell, touch) can be categorised to be sattvic, rajasic or tamasic.

‘Saatvic’ foods have a pure and fresh energy that keep the mind light and clear. These foods include sprouted whole grains, fresh fruit, land and sea vegetables, pure fruit juices, nut and seed, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouted seeds, honey, and herb teas, ghee and fresh milk. Sattvic foods tend not to disturb the stomach at all.

Whereas rajasic foods have the quality that can stimulate excess fire, aggression, passion, these include foods that are very hot, bitter, sour, dry, or salty. Hot peppers, garlic, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, vinegar, leeks, chocolates, caffeinated drink are examples.

Tamasic foods can create dullness, heaviness and inertia such as: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, mushrooms, leftover or cold foods and often potatoes.

However, in every day life functions some rajas and tamas qualities are still required for action of our goals/day to day functioning and inaction to induce sleep or relaxation respectively. Rajasic and tamasic foods would only be purposely chosen in cases of various medical conditions.

Preferred food choice examples:

Fruits: Apples, kiwi, prunes, Apricots, tangerines, bananas, lychee, pomegranate, cantaloupe, mango, papaya, cherries, melons, nectarines, cranberry, honeydew, oranges, grapefruit, watermelon, pineapples, grapes, peaches, plums, guava, pears, persimmon.

Vegetables: Artichokes, lettuce, beets, greens, asparagus, daikon, fennel, parsnips, bok choy, peas, broccoli, green beans, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, lima beans, carrot, turnips.

Sprouted Whole Grains: Amaranth, spelt, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, quinoa, basmati rice, oatmeal.

Oils: Olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower.

Legumes: most lentils, mung, yellow split peas, chickpeas, aduki beans.

Spices: Coriander, basil, cumin, nutmeg, fennel seed, parsley, cardamom, fenugreek, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, saffron.

Nut/Seed: Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, coconuts, pine nuts, walnuts.

Milk: Seed milk, hemp milk, almond or other nut milk, organic cows milk, buttermilk, natural set yoghurt.

Sweeteners: Cane juice, raw honey, jaggery, fruit juices.