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February 26, 2017

Ayurveda and Digestion

Ayurveda is one of the world's oldest holistic healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India and is often considered the “sister science” to yoga. The belief and workings of it differ from Western medicine, in that it believes that its purpose is to keep the body healthy, rather than just be able to treat illness. Good health depends on a delicate balance between mind, body, and spirit. This balance is developed through treating each body as a whole sum of parts, and treating through the mind, body and spirit. The mind and body are interconnected and treated with respect to the effect they each have on each other. One of the central concepts of Ayurveda is the concept that our vitality begins with a healthy digestive process - or that our demise begins in the intestines.

Adding spices for digestion

One way we can get our clients out of digestive ruts is to encourage them to add spices into their cooking, or to drink herbal teas. I think that this is one of the greatest practical everyday gifts that we get from studying Ayurveda. I find that my clients really like knowing that they can go to their cupboard or to a regular grocery store and find ingredients that help them feel better. If our clients come from certain ethnic backgrounds, they might already have knowledge of many spices. When we use spices and herbs therapeutically, we need to use them proactively when we first begin to feel symptoms. I find that many people wait until they are very sick before they start to help themselves feel better. The subtle healing that comes from a change in food habits can actually be dramatic in effect if applied to symptoms when they first appear.
An essential first step in this healing, gradual or dramatic, is the mindfulness developed by an exercise or yoga practice. In keeping with the spirit of mindfulness, we need our clients to be mindful of how they feel after they begin adding these herbs and spices into their diet. Quantity can make a difference. For instance, too much ginger, instead of relieving nausea, can exacerbate it. I am careful to take some of the warming herbs early in the day because if I eat them later in the day, I find that they make me too hot at night. Someone who is regularly cold at night, though, might feel better if they had some ginger tea before they went to bed. “Cold wet” foods like tofu and dairy (yogurt, cheese, milk, ice cream) feel better in me if I add some warming spices like ginger or cardamom. It would be great if you could talk to your clients from your own personal experience. Here are a few of my favorite herbs, and the ways that I use them as digestive aids:

Ginger is a warming herb. It can be added to both savory and sweet dishes. It can be used internally or externally, but be careful to keep it away from the eyes. You can buy it fresh, pickled or powdered. Add it to vegetables, tofu, juices, tea, and desserts. Add fresh grated or powdered ginger to a carrier (lotion or oil) and rub it on sore muscles. Many studies have been done on the medicinal qualities of ginger, and it has been used for thousands of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic cooking and healing. If I have sore muscles, joint pain, aches from eating too much sugar, or if I feel like I am getting sick, a nice dose of ginger in carrot/vegetable juice or soup can make me feel better almost instantly. Ginger ale made with mineral water and grated/juiced ginger, and ginger shots made with tropical juice and a generous portion of grated/juiced ginger are two of my personal staples.

Turmeric is a warming herb. I have seen it sold as a one-a-day. Its curative properties are many. It is frequently added to curries, and brings a beautiful yellow color to food. My kids used to make a turmeric tea for themselves when they didn’t feel well - even when they were quite young. I went through a period of having a lot of inflammation. I was running both a dance and a yoga business and going through a divorce. I wasn’t able to stop my muscles from being sore and I was getting sick very often: I was chronically inflamed. I took turmeric in pill form during that time, slowed down and eventually got out of that pain/illness cycle. Many people feel that its properties are enhanced by using it with black pepper.

Peppermint is a cooling digestive herb. Peppermint herbal tea is available in most coffee houses. I like to use it in the evening because it doesn’t heat me up. Adding warm milk and sweetener makes it into a nurturing, relaxing beverage. It can be added to salads, grain dishes and desserts.

Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and clove are all warming. Although these spices differ in their other properties, they all are digestive and can be used in desserts, cereal, sweet potatoes, dips, soups and teas. You can find them (along with others great spices) in Chai.

Anise, licorice and fennel are three herbs that taste alike, and all aid in digestion. Anise cookies are an Italian favorite. You can chew on a teaspoon of dried fennel or anise after a meal. Sometime health food stores have licorice bark sticks.

Cilantro, parsley, and basil can be used fresh or dried. Add to all savory dishes, dips and salads. Pestos are a great way to consume a large quantity of these herbs; replacing the cheese in the recipe with lemon and salt can make vegan pesto. Cilantro is thought to be a cooling herb, while parsley and basil are warming. My experience of parsley is that it isn’t a warming herb. I can eat it or make a tea at night and it doesn’t make me hot.

Cayenne pepper is super warming. Besides using it in cooking, a tea made of cayenne pepper and lemon can warm up a deep internal chill.

Ayurveda may be a 3,000 year old science, but it has amazing abilities to help us in our everyday life. To become healthier, happier and more balanced.

Practical Yoga Therapy by Nancy Candea C-IAYT, E-RYT 500
www.nancycandea.com
www.internationalyogatherapyinstitute.com

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