Medicate and Thrive:

Cannabis is potent medicine. As with all good things cannabis use requires a balance of conscious attention and intelligent action.

Here’s how to get the most healing out of your medicine:

  • Natural. Always choose outdoor grown and organic varieties for the best long-term medication.

  • Move! Use your medicine to experience your body and the world more deeply rather than as a way to check out. Stretch, do yoga, go for a walk, garden, wrestle, play stickball !

  • Freshness counts! Get your food at the farmer’s markets, bulk bins, produce aisle, and restaurants that cook fresh daily! Avoid anything bagged, boxed, frozen, canned, dehydrated, 3-day left-overs etc.

  • Schedule! Eat lunch and dinner at the same time every day (1pm and 7 pm are ideal) to keep digestion strong, avoid energy & weight fluctuations, minimise spacey forgetfulness, and even insomnia.

  • Hydrate! Cannabis is drying, eroding to tissues & rough so use healthy liquids and oils to keep you juicy and flexible.

    • Good Oil (ghee, butter, coconut oil!) helps avoid cravings for bad foods.  Massage your skin with oil (raw sesame) before showers to protect skin, help sleep, digest better, and be more grounded.

    • Thirsty? Drink cooling juice: pomegranate, aloe, licorice, & grape for dry mouth & as a healthy way to satisfy sweet cravings. Hot tea: ginger, tulsi, or rose refresh and keep digestion strong.

Milk (whole, organic, unhomogenized) balances cannabis’ dry heat and tissue depletion. Always drink milk warm with spices: ginger, clove, cinnamon. Nutmeg will help with sleep.

Cannabis and Ayurveda

canna tea.jpg

What every patient should know about healing with cannabis

Here in California (pre legalization) we refer to using marijuana euphemistically with words like: medicate or heal. For instance you might say: ‘ I always keep my medicine with me; I never know when I might need to heal’ or  ‘The brownies in the fridge are medicated’. It is a bit of a joke for those that use marijuana recreationally and dead serious for people who use marijuana to manage symptoms of medical conditions. The reality of marijuana as medicine is an interesting one and considering how widespread marijuana use is, worth consideration from an alternative health perspective.

The legitimacy that marijuana currently enjoys is due to the medical marijuana movement and is both heartening and discouraging to those of us who practice healing sciences. As an ayurveda practitioner\marijuana grower I met at an ayurveda conference said: ‘Marijuana is a gateway medicine to holistic, especially herbal, medicine!’. My clinical practice, consultations with patients of a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco, and personal experience indicate this is a ‘medicine’ that needs some management to actualize its healing potential and justify the medical nomenclature.

Ayurveda says: Everything that exists can be medicine.

Cannabis is no exception. It is considered the least problematic of the ‘intoxicant’ substances; a poison which can be used to great benefit by humans.

It is in the tradition of the great texts of ayurveda to approach complex and appealing substances first with pages of glowing praise followed by so many warnings and restrictions that only the most intrepid would not be daunted. This is the pattern I will follow in this article.

Vijaya: The Conqueror

Sanskrit synonyms for cannabis imply its potency for transformation:  "soother of grief," "the sky flyer," "the poor man's heaven" , vijaya or victory in conquest, and a dozen other glowing euphemisms. Cannabis Sativa is indigenous to India; the earliest known cultivation dated 900BC.

The positive qualities of marijuana facilitate conversation, encourage social relationships, support physical awareness, highlight a deep enjoyment of life, and elevate social contact, art, and pleasure above other (perhaps less important) pursuits. These characteristics allows cannabis to be very effective where depression and isolation are primary concerns. As is testified to by the prevalence of cannabis in poorer communities all over the world cannabis proffers grace to living in adverse circumstances.

Today in India cannabis is used in spiritual practice and rituals, taken as a sacrament on specific holidays, for use on an ascetic path, as a training aid to wrestlers, and until the last century, quite broadly used medically and recreationally by various levels of society. Cannabis is found in over 80 traditional Ayurvedic formulas, several of which are available in pharmacies in India today. It is effective for pain, digestive disorders, dysentery, sexual prowess, and a dozen other medical uses known to ancient ayurveda.

The qualities inherent in the herb are responsible for its actions in the body include: heating (ushna), drying (ruksha), and astringent (kshaya--due to it’s bitter taste). It penetrates the tissues quickly (tikshna) and has the quality of lightness (laghu).  

  • Heat increases digestive ability and relaxes the tissues to relieve pain and anxiety. But heat can also cause trouble with the blood and liver with long-term effects seen also on skin and connective tissue integrity.

  • Dry and astringent qualities can benefit glaucoma, swelling, and diabetes symptoms, but lead to constipation and dehydration of the skin (and other organs).

  • Dry, hot and penetrating qualities have a long-term negative impact on our reproductive tissue (shukra dhatu) and vitality (Ojas in ayurvedia-ese) —especially diminishing energy levels, ability to heal, and reproductive strength (yes; that means sexual depletion). Overuse can lead to dry, weak, brittle tissues that are no longer are able to do their jobs.

  • Holding (grahi) is a quality that helps the body hold onto nourishment and increases assimilation (useful for IBS etc). This holding quality effects sexual performance in men by delaying orgasm, but at the same time cannabis increases sexual awareness and drive. Perhaps this complex effect on sexuality is due to another quality that encourages the proper flow of liquids in the body (atisara).

  • The qualities of ‘drunkenness’ (madam) and distortions of sense perceptions (moham) are noted.

  • Cannabis is also known to enhance the actions of the herbs it is used with.

Contemporary use extends the list of things that can be treated with cannabis to things like support during chemo treatment, relief from seizures, sleep problems, and PTSD. Weekly I hear of new ways that cannabis can be applied to the ills of the modern world. I find that those who are medicating for physical problems often take a proactive approach to their medicine. They regulate when and how they medicate, and with what sorts of flower strains, concentrates or edibles.

The Bad and the Ugly

In balance-based traditions like ayurveda, benefits must be supported by proper use. The stronger a medicine the more dramatically its qualities affect the body. Cannabis is strong medicine;  it is considered a poison. Cannabis can be hard to manage medically and is not for everyone. Wise use is based on moderation, processing and delivery methods, and staying alert to its effects both good and bad.

What is not mentioned in the ancient texts is that the cannabis plant is seductive compared to other herbs. Cannabis is enjoyable and compelling in ways that stop the patient from heeding negative effects. A Materia Medica of Indian herbalism published in 1941  does warn of the long- term effects of cannabis use. It is noted that it will lead to indigestion, tissue depletion, ‘melancholia and impotence.   In large doses it first produces mental exaltation, intoxication, a sense of double consciousness and finally loss of memory, gloommess (sic) etc.’  (THE INDIAN MATERIA MEDICA WITH AYURVEDIC, UNANI-Tibbi, Siddha, allopathic, homeopathic, naturopathic & HOME REMEDIES. 1941. R.N. Chopra.)

Unwanted effects that I’ve seen in my practice (with chronic users) include problems arising from the blood (and other tissues) being depleted by the drying, penetrating heat and inherent instability of the herb. Symptoms you might look for include: reddish and dry skin, skin problems (either long term or temporary sensitivity to irritants), varicose veins, easy bruising, and thinness of skin.  On a mental level over-sensitivity to stimulus and consequent irritability and stubbornness indicate that Rasa Dhatu is affected. Memory and focus are well known victims to long term use. Sleep and digestive problems can be well managed with cannabis; but can be exacerbated by it too. These symptoms of mis-use can be seen in the short term and are reversible with proper use and herbs, diet and lifestyle that balalces these qualities. Long term implications will vary along these lines based on the strengths and weaknesses in individual patients.

Many of these symptoms are made worse by smoking as the qualities of smoke are heating, penetrating, drying etc. Healthy edible forms of cannabis are a good choice. With classical Indian use of cannabis the herb (in many instances the whole plant and not just the high intensity flowers that we now use) is processed first in water for 24 hours, dried, then ‘decarbed’ in ghee (fried gently). The herb is then used (as with all Ayurvedic herbs) in formulas that balance the nature of marijuana have been used successfully over many generations. Even when used for recreational or spiritual purposes (rather than strictly medical) the herb is taken with other herbs or foods to make it more assimilable and less damaging to the body.

Extensive use will increase doshas or organizing principles of the body (especially Vata & Pitta). There is an easily seen effect of erosion of all tissues (dhatus) when used chronically. In combination these actions will have problematic long-term implications. All sorts of disorders can manifest when the doshas are increased and the tissues are weakened.

Beyond the effects of cannabis on the body are its effects on the mind. There are 3 characteristics of the mind in Ayurveda: tamas (delusion and lethargy), rajas (over-activity), and sattwa (calm, clear awareness). Cannabis increases tamas and rajas when not used properly and ‘clogs’ the mind. This is generally not a permanent condition and can be corrected if you follow a healthy protocol with use.

I urge strong caution to those with mental health challenges or a history of mental health problems in the family. I have seen too many tragedies in this regard. However I strongly feel that proper and moderate use can have great benefits for some mental health challenges like mild depression (esp based on isolation and social disease), ADHD and related issues. There is increasing evidence that Asperger’s symptoms can be made more manageable with correct use.

Forms used:

Cannabis is taken in 3 different forms in India. As the attitude towards cannabis has fluctuated greatly over time in India (largely due to Muslim and British colonizers) these definitions have morphed over the years depending on what is ‘legal’ and what is available.  Bhang is generally leaves cured in a specific way and typically boiled with milk and spices. Chara is resin, akin to kif or hash. Gangha is flowers, usually taken for pleasure but also made into many different medicines. Seeds and roots are used in some formulations as well. It is good to remember that these forms of cannabis are far less potent than what is easily available in the US either on the street or in state licensed dispensaries.

How to Medicate for health:

I have cross-pollinated my Ayurvedic knowledge of cannabis with a harm-reduction philosophy and this has lead me to develop a basic guideline to healthy(er) use.  This guide is helpful for those who are medicating regularly for physical complaints, to take the place of more dangerous drugs (both over the counter and illicit), or as a stress relieving measure.

How to Medicate:

Balance cannabis with other herbs and foods which have qualities and actions opposite to marijuana. Focus on cooling, moistening, stable, nourishing, mind and Ojas supporting foods and herbs. Avoid ingredients that are too heavy for you to digest. As always, eat what is freshly prepared, cooked, and enjoyed with love and pleasure.

  • Always choose outdoor grown and organic varieties for the best long-term medication. Indoor grown plants are usually full of chemicals and have limited medicinal use.

  • Modest Edibles are best. Medicinal use of cannabis in Ayurveda is always in edible form and often made into a confection. Our body most sustainably processes things that we eat and digest. Keep an eye out for organic healthy edibles or make them yourself.

  • Milk balances the negative qualities of cannabis quite effectively and counters the tamasic (lethargic)  and rajasic (aggressive) qualities with the sweet, conscious, alert quality of a Satvic mental  state.

    • Traditionally bhang is made by boiling leaves in milk with dates, sugar, saffron, cardamom, rose petals, and almond meal. Yum!

  • Ghee (clarified butter) is used in the traditional purification of cannabis. The freshly dried herb is fried lightly in ghee to bring out it’s healing properties. Ghee is the ideal oil: it increases your ability to digest and assimilate nourishment, it supports vitality and reproductive health, it keeps your tissues strong, cool (balances the burning heat of cannabis), protects the eyes and skin, and will give you an appealing glow! In my opinion no one should use cannabis and not have ghee regularly in their diet.

  • Satisfy cravings with grounding, nourishing, and moistening foods: Rice, oatmeal, raisins (counter dryness and constipation) and dates (supports reproductive health), fresh baked breads, cooked veggies, limited meat, and no fast food (or canned, bottled, frozen, dehydrated, microwaved, or left-over foods). The hot, dry, light quality of cannabis is balanced by the grounding, cooling and moistening effect of naturally sweet things like milk, dates, or sweet potatoes. When the munchies strike they tell us something about what our body needs; just remember to give it the healthiest version available!

  • Spices with cooling digestive qualities help your body get the most from what you eat and enhance the experience of eating. Try: cumin, coriander, fennel, cilantro, turmeric, anise, saffron, rose.

  • If you must smoke:  grind your cannabis with a pinch of powdered herbs like fennel, vacha (calamus), sandalwood, jasmine, saffron, licorice, jatamousi (indian spikenard), sasparilla (American or Indian) etc. Western herbs to try are mullein, catnip, or mugwort.

  • Pomegranate Juice is perfect for medicating. It quenches thirst and refreshes but is also great for the digestion and removes waste liquids from the tissues. It is especially good for people who tend to get swollen or bloated or have any history of parasites. Natural grape juice is also a good choice to help you stay hydrated.

  • Coconut water (ideally from an actual coconut) is best for people who’s digestion is strong and perfect for athletes or those who work with their body.

  • Licorice or Fennel Tea is cooling, soothing, softening to the body, great for your blood and skin.

I got the flu last week. Despite being somewhat ashamed of myself for not taking better care of myself before I got sick, 

I was interested in the opportunity to experience ill health from the inside out. This is oddly refreshing for Ayurveda practitioners. Relying on the wisdom of Ayurvedic science is reassuringly efficient when treating the flu.

Last flu season I wrote this article about Ayurveda's take on Fever and how to care for yourself when you've come down with it.


Treating Fever (in a nutshell):

  • Stop.
    • Stop working and running around.  Take a nap. 
    • Stop eating. If you have been sick for a few days and are weak and tired some rice broth is good: Boil for 30 min: 1 T rice, 1 C water, pinch of salt, squeeze of lemon, cumin, coriander. 
  • Drink. Drink boiled water or tea when you are thirsty. Ginger tea is easy. Coriander & fennel will help resurrect your digestion & help you stay cool. 
  • Stay warm. Unless dangerously hot - forcing the fever down will make reoccurrence more likely.

Read more here...

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Seems everyone has been sick in the last few weeks. Largely due to our bodies trying to adjust to the gyrations of the weather.

The best way to recover more quickly from a bout of the common cold or flu is to think of it as an unplanned 'cleanse'. If you treat it like this then you will be less likely to get sick (or more likely to get less sick) the next time the cold comes around.

During cleanses and colds reduce the amount or variety of foods (and stimulus in general) so that your body can do what it is trying to do more deeply and more quickly; detoxify and reset. Allowing the self-cleaning and self-righting tendencies of the body to act will strengthen your long term health. Conversely  suppressing your body's need to detoxify will lead to ever increasing cycles of illness (ever wonder why ordinarily immune systems get weaker and diseases get stronger as we grow older?).

Yusha is a light soup (more like a broth) that is so easy to digest that it doesn't interrupt the cleaning process and yet is rich and tasty enough to be satisfying. Yusha is a food that is also a medicine with the qualities of the herbs, spices and ingredients that you add. There are hundreds of recipes in the Ayurvedic texts for different yushas used in specific diseases (see below).  But in general yusha improves digestion and helps in toxin elimination, it is especially good for weight loss and when there is swelling. I have seen it very successfully used as a 'meal replacement' (one or 2 meals a day) over a period of time for weight loss. Plus it is very easy to make.

Green-Mung-Bean

Green-Mung-Bean

Basic Yusha recipe:

  • 1T green, unpeeled whole or split mung beans
  • 6 cups of water.

Boil until the beans are quite soft. (pressure cooker 15 min; stove top 40 min; all day in a slow cooker so it is ready when you arrive home). The liquid from mung beans will be a faintly opalescent milky color. You can strain the cooked beans out or leave them in.

Add to taste: 

  • Salt and Pepper
  • a dab of ghee
  • a squeeze of lemon.

Drink as much as you desire.

 Variations:

  • Head colds & congestion:  use 1T kullatha (horse gram) instead of mung, or make regular mung yusha but add a splash of wine while it cooks.
  • Headaches and other diseases of the head add: a table spoon each of unhulled barley & rice
  • Pain that moves (vataja) add: pink salt and black pepper
  • Diabetes, headcolds, fevers, lack of interest in food, cough, hiccup  asthma, obesity, throat diseases add: mullaka (fresh daikon radish) 1pt radish to 3 pts Mung.
  • My favorite is called 'Saptamukthik Yusha' Yusha made of 7 things. It is effectively used in diabetes, reducing all the doshas, localized swellings, fever, for people who have been injured, joint pain related to poor digestion, for cleansing the throat, mouth, and heart, cough, pain (in the stomach), asthma. Make yusha with 6 cups water and 1tsp each of:  Kullatha/horse gram, unhulled barley, jujube, mung beans, radish, dry ginger, coriander
  • Any type of bleeding:  1t each mung bean & red lentil & chana/chick peas & mooth bean, 6C water, ghee, cumin, pink salt
  • Make up your own! I know someone who is fond of making it with Adzuki beans.
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That is what they say. It is true; Ayurveda recommends against too many vegetables in your diet. It seems crazy. Especially right now with all the fantastic end of summer produce available to us. It seems entirely counter intuitive via our modern view of nutrition. What were the Reshis thinking when they said this?!?

brocch '12 garden

brocch '12 garden

The explanation, as told by very learned teachers, includes several considerations. First on a practical level what is being indicated here is just that you don’t prioritize veggies over other foods. Meals should be composed first of grain and protein (meat or beans or dairy) with veggies there for a bit of flavor and texture. But why?

  • When considering what should be eaten regularly the most important thing is digestibility or bio-availability. This is almost diametrically opposed the the modern science perspective that is based on chemical (vitamin, mineral) potency. There are many things with lots of vitamins and minerals in them that we do not eat. Like trees and rocks. If we want to preserve the longevity of our bodies we can’t ask them to do things that they are not capable of. Our bodies are not able to access the nutrients in trees and rocks and asking them to will not have a good long term effect.  This is why when you see an Ayurveda practitioner they will often ask you to stick to simple digestible foods and avoid nutritional supplements-- at least until it is clear what you are able to digest. Most veggies are hard to digest. Green leafies for instance are best consumed by critters with 4 stomachs. Despite all their nutrients they have components which human digestive tracts can’t process. Eating a lot of them will bog down the digestion (amongst other things). Eating them cooked with good oils and spices will make them more easily assimilable. Here is how to do it (again thanks to Saveur magazine): Haak Kashmiri Collard Greens. Yum!
  • Like increases like. If our main intention is to strengthen and preserve our bodies so that we can live comfortably a long time then we are working to embody the quality of sthira or stability. Things that have sthira have long lives, take a long time to mature, last a long time, and create these qualities when consumed. Foods with ample sthira quality include grains, beans, meats, ghee. Most vegetables take less long to mature and decompose much faster (except meat perhaps). Within any category of food the items that take longer to mature are better for the body than those that mature quickly, for instance rice that grows in 60 days is better than that which matures in 30 days. Beef is better than veal. Veggies like sweet potatoes, beets, squash are preferable to leafy greens and sprouts.
squash '12 garden

squash '12 garden

  • Vegetables that are preferred for a long healthy life:
    • Various kinds of squash and gourds, both summer and winter variety. Often you can find these in ‘ethnic’ stores: Opo, snake gourd, tinda, winter melon...
    • Okra & eggplant are especially good for calming Vata.
    • Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli (cook with ginger, mint, coriander, cumin, hing, onion etc to make more digestible.)
    • Daikon radish -- cooked of course
    • Yam-- especially one called Surasa or elephant foot yam-- tastes like a potato but even starchier.

There are specific veggies which are known to cause special issues when consumed by humans:

tomato '12 garden

tomato '12 garden

Tomatoes: Ubiquitous and troublesome, they are abhishandhi, which means they increase doshas and secretions and trap them in the body. This causes  blockages. The blockages then damage ‘plasma’, ‘blood ‘and ‘marrow’ tissues leading to all sorts of things including swelling, skin problems, and joint pain. 

Potatoes: They are guru / heavy and kshay / astringent; they create blockages in the gut that can cause bloating, constipation, ‘beer gut’ type of protruding abdomen, heartburn, restricted breathing, heart problems and other problems that arise from the proper flow of things getting blocked up.

Green Leafy veggies: Krumi (or parasites, candida, amoeba, lice, molds, fungi and lots of other mysterious symptoms) are related to eating an excess amount of these. It is very commonly seen here in the US where so many people try to live on salads and green drinks. Cooked greens are also culprits but at least are easy to digest.

Mushrooms: Live on dead stuff. They are thought to have a tamasic or dark and lethargic effect on the body and mind. They increase the doshas; vata pitta kapha. This is bad.

Sprouts ( sprouted grain etc) are  foods to keep to a minimum. Partially because babies are not nutritious because they lack the quality of sthira or stability. But also because they are neither seed nor plant, the body doesn’t know what to do with them. Their use is responsible for eye problems in case you are wondering and quickly aging tissues.

 What every patient should know about healing with cannabis...

Ayurveda knows that anything that exists in the physical world can be used as medicine. Cannabis is no exception. It is found in over 80 traditional healing formulas, several of which are easily available in pharmacies in India. Cannabis is used in spiritual practice in some sects, as an element in rituals, taken as a sacrament on specific holidays, and for regular use by spiritual adherents. Cannabis is considered the least problematic of the ‘intoxicant’ substances; a poison / visha which can be used to great benefit by humans. Sativa is indigenous to India with the earliest known cultivation dated 900BC. Until the 1980’s it was sold in government run shops both for medicinal and recreational purposes. Sanskrit calls cannabis: "soother of grief," "the sky flyer," "the poor man's heaven."

Within Ayurveda is a vast body of established knowledge:

  • how cannabis works
  • what it can be used for
  • long-term and short-term effects
  • how to use it so that it does not cause any problems in the body or mind.

For thousands of years Ayurveda has compiled information on how to use cannabis as a medicine and how to treat the effects of over-use. There is knowledge relating to growing the most powerful (chemically, medicinally, & spiritually) plants that includes specific planting techniques, fertilization with ayurvedic formulas, and chanting over plants. The main use of cannabis (phala shruti or ‘fruits of use’) is for serious digestive disorders like IBS or Crone’s where the tissues are weakened so the body is not able to assimilate food (classically known as grahani). Related disorders that are effectively treated are: abdominal pain, indigestion, diarrhea. Some cannabis formulas are designed to enhance reproductive health. Currently cannabis is used widely to counter the symptoms of old age: body aches, lack of hunger etc. Additionally it may be used in a variety of vyadhis or ayurvedic diseases where pain is a main component. It is also occasionally used for mental health (convulsions, possibly asperger’s and autism), especially by encouraging sleep and countering stress response. It is extremely important to remember that cannabis is never used alone in Ayurveda but always balanced by other herbs and foods. It is a powerful substance and needs to be treated with the respect that any powerful substance is treated with. It is said that there are no side-effects to Ayurvedic medicines. This implies that medicines are correctly chosen, taken in the proper quantity, and for the proper duration. When taken inappropriately the effects of the medicines will create imbalance. Cannabis is never used alone in India, but mixed with other herbs that balance out its less desirable effects. The following info will help you use cannabis wisely for your health.

Qualities of Cannabis: The qualities cannabis promotes : heat, dryness, and astringency. It is also quickly penetrates the tissues and has the quality of lightness. It is considered to ‘increase vibrations’ which is why its use enhances music appreciation and it is used to increase the potency of mantras and chanting. It is also known to enhance actions of the herbs it is used with. Extensive use will increase all 3 doshas or organizing principals of the body (Vata, Pitta and Kapha). This is a bad effect and will have problematic long-term implications. All sorts of disorders can manifest. So it is smart to balance your medication out as much as possible.

  • Heat increases digestive ability and relaxes the tissues that in turn relieves pain and anxiety. But heat can also cause trouble with the blood and liver with long-term effects on skin and connective tissue.
  • Dry and astringent qualities can benefit glaucoma, swelling, maybe diabetes symptoms, but lead to constipation and dehydration of the skin (and other organs).
  • Dry, hot and penetrating qualities have a long-term negative impact on our reproductive tissue (shukra dhatu) and vitality (Ojas in ayurvedia-ese) —especially diminishing energy levels, ability to heal, and reproductive (yes; that means sexual) strength. Overuse can lead to the depletion of the tissues to the point that they no longer are able to do their jobs.

Beyond the effects of cannabis on the body through are its effects on the mind. There are 3 characteristics of the mind in Ayurveda: tamas (delusion and lethargy), rajas (over-activity), and sattwa (calm, clear awareness). Cannabis increases tamas and rajas when not used properly and ‘clogs’ the mind. This is not a permanent condition and alleviated if you follow some protocol with use.

Forms used Cannabis is taken in 3 different forms in India. Bhang is leaves, either male or female, cured in a specific way and typically boiled with milk and spices. Chara is resin, akin to kif or hash. Gangha is flowers, usually taken for pleasure but also made into many different medicines. Seeds and roots are used in some formulations.

How to imbibe for health: Keep the qualities of cannabis in mind:  Focus on cooling, moistening, stable, and deeply nourishing foods, but avoid things that are too heavy. As always eat what is freshly prepared, cooked and eaten with love and pleasure.

  • Milk fits all these categories and additionally counters the tamasic l lethargic mental quality of cannabis.
    • Traditionally bhang is made by boiling leaves in milk with dates, sugar, saffron, cardomon, rose petals, and almond meal. Yum!
  • Ghee (clarified butter) is used in the traditional purification of cannabis. The freshly dried herb is fried lightly in ghee to bring out it’s healing properties. Ghee is the ideal oil: it increases your ability to digest and assimilate what you take in, it supports vitality and reproductive health, it keeps your tissues cool and balances the burning heat of cannabis, it protects the eyes and skin and will give you an appealing glow!
  • Satisfy cravings with grounding nourishing moistening foods: Rice (basmati is best), oatmeal, raisins (counter dryness and constipation) and Dates, fresh baked breads, cooked veggies, spices: cumin, coriander, fennel, cilantro, tumeric
  • Nuts can over-heat you and cause digestive problems. Have seeds instead: Sunflower, Pumpkin, Sesame
  • Gassy or bloated? use a pinch of hing / asophatida in your cooking.
  • Medicinal use of cannabis in Ayurveda is always edible and often made into a sweet—remember the heating, dry, light quality of cannabis is balanced by the grounding, cooling and moistening effect of sweet things like milk, dates, sweet potatoes.
  • When smoked cannabis is often chopped first with tiny amounts of herbs like vacha (calamus), sandalwood, jasmine, saffron etc. Other herbs to try are mullein, aloe, or mugwort.
  • Pomegranate Juice is perfect for medicating. It quenches thirst and refreshes but is also great for the digestion and removes waste liquids from the tissues. It is especially good for people who tend to get swollen or bloated or have any history of parasites.
  • Coconut water (ideally from an actual coconut) is great too-- best for people who’s digestion is already pretty strong and perfect for athletes or those who work with their body.
  • Licorice or Fennel Tea cooling, soothing, great for your blood and skin

References & Bibliography: A very comprehensive article on classical uses and comments: http://www.marijuanapassion.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-47534.html (cited July 8 2012) Much of the info contained here I gleaned from people at CannaPharmaca

Join me for a workshop series: 
The Science and Magic of Ayurveda 
An Introduction

  Part 1 of a 4 part series

Saturday June 16th 2pm-6pm

This first class in the series is a ‘deep’ overview of Ayurveda focused on introducing the science and illuminating Ayurveda's potential. Perfect for anyone who has heard of the Doshas-- vata, pitta, and kapha -- but is still not really sure what Ayurveda is or what it can do for you.
After this series you will be able to impress your friends with your sophisticated understanding of Ayurveda.
We will cover history and present day practice, purpose of Ayurveda (a long healthy happy life) and what it takes to actualize this potential.  Basic principles and everyday application will be taught so you can incorporate the benefits of Ayurveda into your life.
Remember: sickness is not healthy.
These workshops include yoga asana practice, handouts & Chai.
The Science and Magic of Ayurveda: 
Part 2 of 4: Using Universal qualities/gunas to find everyday balance. Saturday August 11th 2pm-6pm
Part 3 of 4: Daily and Seasonal Routine. Unlocking the keys to living in harmony with the earth. Saturday September 15th 2pm-6pm
Part 4 of 4: You are what you eat and other truths of manifesting health. Saturday October 13th 2pm-6pm
Individual Workshop: $40 Complete Series: $120
For more info and to sign up visit Purple Monkey Yoga
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Sanskrit and Science – the necessary links for propagation of Ayurveda in the west.

Dr.Vijayendra Murthy BAMS,MS, BNat,MPH

Ayurveda, by migrating to the west both as a knowledge system and a health care modality, reinvents itself repeatedly in multiple forms as Indian traditional medicine, spiritually based healing modality, natural health care, life style and wellbeing approaches. In its journey, Ayurveda’s identity has shifted from personal lifestyle approaches to a profession needing clear definitions, scope of practice and regulations. Currently, when traditional systems of health with ethnic origins are becoming part of the public debate in health care services, Ayurveda finds itself in a blurry state, as its application is unclear outside its cultural home ground of India, Sri lanka and Nepal. With in this context, we as representatives of Ayurveda are faced with the painful questions;

Is Ayurveda just part of the eco-journey of modern hippies? A trend, a health subculture- or is it a health care system that improves and restores health? Is there ground to the allocation by the medical community that Ayurveda in the west is pseudoscientific as it overly relies on controversial practices, which include implicating consciousness, or the soul’s faculties of projection and imagination in the healing process.

In this article I will explore the circumstances of Ayurveda’s presence in the west to cast light on the jump from a holistic health care system on the Indian subcontinent to an alternative movement in the west. This ethnological glimpse at Ayurveda’s status in the west can enable an outlook on the future of Ayurveda as a health care system. This is extremely important for safeguarding Ayurveda’s future as transplanting Ayurveda to the west should not result in mutilating its identity. In fact, the influences from western Ayurveda combined with eastern Ayurveda should enhance Ayurveda’s potential to be a holistic health care system irrespective of its cultural locations. I recommend that alongside scientific evaluation of Ayurveda’s efficacy and effectiveness for its presence in health care, embracing Sanskrit culture within western Ayurvedic thinking is paramount for a correct representation of Ayurveda.

Perceptions of Ayurveda as an ‘alternative’ approach to health In western countries, Ayurveda falls under the broad category of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). This can be demonstrated by examining the definition of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by O’Connor et al (1997, p. 49);

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a broad domain of healing resources that encompasses all health systems, modalities, and practices and their accompanying theories and beliefs, other than those intrinsic to the politically dominant health system of a particular society or culture in a given historical period. CAM includes all such practices and ideas self-defined by their users as preventing or treating illness or promoting health and well-being.

As in the description of CAM by O’Connor et al, Ayurveda equally accommodates a broad landscape of interpretations of holistic systems of health care and at the same time raises questions on the multiple manifestations of Ayurveda. The notion of being alternative in Ayurveda is subject to differences in perceptions ranging from ‘alternative’ as a cultural term to that of the technical definition of being ‘an alternative’ to conventional health care. Furthermore, due to the ongoing discussion on legislation and policies specific to the Ayurvedic modalities in Europe, the UK, USA and other developed economies, Ayurvedic education and practice is highly unregulated and poorly defined by the respective professional organizations. Besides this as well as the argumentation by professional associations for self-regulation of traditional and complementary and alternative medicine an array of technical definitions, political structures and subjective perceptions has accumulated and created a ‘quick sand’, on which Ayurveda’s representation is continually evolving.

 

Ayurveda as a counter culture

It has been widely accepted that Ayurveda’s adoption in the West was originally associated with alternative cultural movements such as Transcendental Meditation that was inspired by holistic and universal concepts in eastern philosophies. These sparked a sense of affinity towards eastern cultures and lifestyles. Yet Ayurvedic traditionalists think that due to the incompatibility between eastern and western philosophies, (Sankhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Vedanta) Ayurveda can hardly be explained through a western paradigm. During its history on the Indian subcontinent before its migration to the west, Ayurveda developed through the influences by a conglomerate of medical as well as social, cultural and  political movements. Although from a historic perspective, Ayurveda’s spread to western countries continues its incorporation of multi-cultural influences, there are apprehensions amongst Ayurvedic professionals regarding the authenticity of Ayurveda in western cultures. The exotic flair of many Ayurvedic practices combined with the circumstances of its arrival during an epoch of countercultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s in America and Europe, further feeds into these controversies, which go as far as criticizing Ayurveda as derailing from healthcare into pseudo-philosophical wellness counseling and Spa-practices. Affinity for concepts of holism, non violence and consciousness by western alternative and spiritually inclined movements, may explain the interest in Ayurveda in western societies but also raises questions regarding the role assigned to Ayurveda in a secular culture as a substitute for mysticism or religion. In as much as western post-modern passion for holism helps Ayurveda evolve in the west, it is necessary to connect to the original context of Ayurveda’s approach. This core of Ayurveda is based in the eternal dharma of Sanskrit culture the absence of which distorts Ayurveda.

 

Looking at holism through a reductionist prism

The dichotomy between western and eastern Ayurveda is one of a discourse between different epistemologies. The western reductionist model can be seen as what constitutes western explanations of Ayurvedic concepts and principles. The Cartesian reductionist system considers knowledge as the result of reducing material reality to its functional basic components. Synthetic eastern thought on the contrary, considers reality form a holistic, rather than analytic perspective. Knowledge in the eastern paradigm arises ultimately from the oneness of the knower and the known, whereas in westerns science the notion of objectivity is paramount which is obtained through separation between the observer and the observed. Many western adaptations of Ayurveda focus on principles, which, when translated in to modern terms, are often misunderstood or distorted. For example, the emphasis on Vata diet, Pitta diet and Kapha diet or teas for Vata, Pitta and Kapha are contrary to the holistic Ayurvedic explorations of properties of foods and spices. An Ayurvedic practitioner with eastern thinking would not see the need for labeling diets for Vata, Pitta and Kapha constitutions. Although Ayurveda is applied knowledge and therefore can take pragmatic routes for its delivery, the practitioner for her or his expertise in Ayurveda is required to see Ayurveda through its own prism. This can be facilitated through engagement with Sanskrit language, which when removed from an Ayurvedic practitioner’s mind distorts Ayurvedic thinking. While an Ayurvedic practitioner with an eastern mind can be an artist of healing, a practitioner of western mindset is forced to practice Ayurveda as a craftsman. This is because, thought structures are imbedded in language and language forms an essential part of culture. As Ayurveda is communicated through the medium of Sanskrit, unless one can be Sanskrit literate, the reductionist outlook limits one’s ability to be holistic as far as Ayurveda is concerned.

 

Need for a unified representation of Ayurveda

In addition to the challenges of deciphering Ayurveda in to western thought and western language, repackaging the healing tradition in the language of contemporary science is another ongoing reason for controversy. The rapid transnational growth of Ayurveda and its increasing application as an alternative therapy poses questions regarding its rigor as a health science. In addition, practicing Ayurveda in a commercialized setting can mean walking a fine line between translating Ayurveda for being understandable in the west while maintaining the lure of the exotic. In addition to being labeled traditional and ethnic, Ayurveda’s connotations as Natural health, Spiritual Healing, Wellbeing therapies, and New Age Ayurveda diverts Ayurveda’s application from being a health care modality. While Ayurvedic lifestyle practices can become a cornerstone in health maintenance, we must recognize that self-care is mostly private. Within a professional level, Ayurveda risks concerns regarding its accountability, if it cannot demonstrate its generalizability and transferability. For this to occur, there is a need for a unified representation of Ayurveda. This implies understanding Ayurveda’s original Sanskrit and modern scientific methods. Both of these are essential for competency in Ayurvedic practice. On the other hand, the current non-Sanskrit versions of Ayurveda and the non-health science approaches to Ayurveda delivered as Ayurvedic education and health services can produce Ayurvedic consumers but not necessarily Ayurvedic professionals. Although in the current democratic settings within capitalist societies, cherry picking knowledge and acquirement of skills may be possible, for the continued survival of a health care system such as Ayurveda, immersion in its original form, scientific enquiry and unified representation are essential. The multiplying diversified forms of representing Ayurveda and its simplification may eventually lead to Ayurveda’s disappearance as a holistic health care modality.

References

O'Connor, B., Calabrese, C., Cardena, E., Eisenberg, D., Fincher, J., Hufford, D., et al. (1997). Defining and describing complementary and alternative medicine. Alternative therapies, 3(2), 49-57.

 

 

 

chakra drawing

Recently I was at the conference of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) in Seattle. All the meals served were vegetarian, though most did not follow Ayurvedic principles (ahem...creamy tomato soup...?). There seems to be a bit of confusion over the consumption of meat in Ayurveda. Many believe it to be a standard principle. It is true that many Vaidyas (ayurvedic doctors) and practitioners are vegetarians due to their Hindu faith, following the precepts of Yoga, or modern medicine influenced ideas about health or concerns with environmental impact or the quality of meat supply or all of the above. There are no doubt plentiful reasons to follow a vegetarian diet.However, Ayurveda is not a vegetarian practice. Like neti pots, pranayama, and chakras-- vegetarianism is a concept that modern Ayurveda borrowed from Yoga or Hinduism. Ayurveda precedes Hinduism as we know it and traces it's roots into the Vedic world of 5000 years ago. Meat (and other animal products) were certainly eaten by those who could afford them, and are still used in Ayurvedic medicine and health-care. The qualities and uses of meat (everything from peacock to lion) are discussed in detail in the Samhitas.

In general meats are sweet by taste (earth and water element), energetically heating ,heavy (hard to digest) and oily (unctuous). Meat will reduce Vata, increase Kapha andPitta. Meat also increases shukra dhatu (reproductive vigor), increases strength, and increases urine (nope. can't explain that).

  • Ideally the meat we eat lives in the wild, or as wild as can be managed these days (ranch raised).
  • The best meats come from desert regions: goat, deer, rabbit, maybe ostrich. These meats are lean and dense-- indicating they are lighter to digest and yet very nourishing. As a fan of goats I will also say that they do not tolerate the kinds of chemicals, drugs, hormones that are found in other livestock. They just keel over and die rather than be polluted. So the goat you find in a Mexican or Halal market will be pretty healthy as a rule.
  • Animals that spend their time in swamps or water will be heavy and quickly lead to obesity, diabetes, and other Kapha disorders.This category includes pork and water buffalo.
  • Beef is heavy and when eaten by those with even slightly weak digestions will cause agni to be extinguished.
  • Chickens are stupid, and eating them will make you stupid (OK this is actually my personal feeling). Their meat is aphrodisiac, heavy to digest, and will lead to obesity. I have also heard chicken is tamasic-- leading to darkness and lethargy in the mind.
beautiful, smart, and delicious...

For those of us with meat-eating ancestry, who grew up with meat on the table, eating meat is satmya (what we are nourished by). We will feel better if we have some occasionally and if we find ourselves in a sick or weakened state meat broth is often just the right thing to rebuild strength.But please consider these statistics: in 1970 the average American ate a total of 168 pounds per year of Beef, Chicken, Pork, & Turkey. This was when the move towards vegetarianism was first coming on the scene. In 2005 the average  annual meat consumption per capita was 185 pounds. Lot of good that movement did in the face of Burger King.

We live on a world that can nary afford us to be wasteful of resources and meat production is immensely wasteful. Thank the gods that India is 80% vegetarian and China still thinks of meat more as a flavoring than anything else.

It is clear that being a responsible global citizen means we keep our meat consumption to a minimum. Hard core vegetarian politics have done nothing to slow the consumption of meat (the killing of animals for food) in the US.  I feel another tactic would work better.

  • Use meat in a way that respects your body and the lives of the animals that die for your nourishment.
  • Use meat as a medicine when weak
  • Have meat extra nourishment when doing a lot of physical work
  • Add meat as a minor element in dishes to add flavor (salt pork yum!)
  • Make meat a food for celebrations and special occasions, not everyday eating.
Source: http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Roas...

It's most certainly Spring. And I don't know about you but certainly in these days of warming, moist, overcast, wistful weather the desires of the body start to take precedence over other more sensible things.

Ayurveda has strong feelings about the urges of the body (urges of the mind are a different matter and definite more suspect). These natural urges are referred to collectively as vega and include: Hunger, Thirst, Belching, Farting, Coughing, Sneezing, Eliminating, Sleeping, Sexual needs, Emotional responses, and Vomiting. They are the messengers of your body's needs; listen to them. Forcing or repressing them can lead to all sorts of problems!

This is what you need to know about your urges:

  • They are never to be suppressed nor forced!.
  • They express the naturally occurring needs of the body.
  • Not obeying them disturbs the natural movements of vata, and vata out of whack causes all sorts of bad things!
  • Getting in touch with urges is getting in touch with the needs of your body– it will go a long way to developing intuition about what is good for you.

Here are some details;

  • Thirst – Ideally you should drink water only when you actually feel thirsty. Many people drink excess water because they are conditioned to drink constantly and don’t even know when they are actually thirsty. Drinking when you don’t need to leads to an increase in kapha and hampers digestion (making it inefficient and lazy). It might even contribute to diabetes and thyroid imbalances. Excess thirst should be seen as a sign of imbalance which needs to be fixed.
  • Hunger –  is felt whenever the body requires nourishment (and the previous food is digested). If you are not hungry don’t eat– if you do the food will rot rather than digest. If you miss a normal meal-time and are hungry – eat a small quantity food that is warm and a bit oily (like a cup of soup with buttered bread). Beware of false hunger which is really only boredom or cravings that trick you into feeling hunger. Real hunger can be judged when you are ready to eat food that you do not normally crave. If you don’t know; have a cup of warm water and see if you are still hungry.
  • Sleep – When the body requires rest the senses do not want to take in any more stimulation. Our sense must take a break and turn inward for at least 6 hours a day. The hours of sleep are important too; if you are not asleep at night your body’s subtle digestion or metabolism will get confused and excess tissues will form. Lack of sleep leads to body aches, mental haziness and poor judgments. If you are worried about your stress levels make sure you are getting enough sleep.
  • Gas –  As strange as it may seem, suppressing gas causes various kinds of diseases including anxiety, heart diseases, and diseases of the eyes. It is observed that sprouted beans, potatoes, some lentil dishes, irregularly timed meals, excess quantity of food, heavy foods, and even stress increase gas. Avoid these or take digestive herbs to help reduce gases, but don’t suppress it!
  • Bowel Movement - Suppression or forcing can give rise to headaches, cramps in legs, heart disease, hemorrhoids, all sorts of abdominal discomfort, and poor eye-sight. I have seen several people with a background of strict schooling when they were children who resisted the urge to go as permission to leave the classroom was difficult to get. They tend to struggle with constipation and digestive disorders later in life.
  • Urination- Of course frequency depends on quantity of liquid intake, nature of work, and atmospheric conditions (more sweat means less pee). Think about this if you suffer from urinary tract infections or renal calculus (as well as the symptoms mentioned from the suppression of gas and stool).            
  • Coughing –  Sneezing and hiccuping also fall into this catagory. Suppressing these impacts Prana. And we all know how bad that is…
  • Tears –  Grief or sorrow should be relieved with tears. But these sentiments are often suppressed leading to pain in the eyes, head, or even to a tumor. Sometimes a loss is so shocking that the person is unable to express the feelings. Counseling and sleep help release the emotions. Use of wine is also recommended as many cultures around the world know.
  • Nausea and Vomiting –  Whenever the body does not want to retain something in the stomach (could be food, kapha, or pitta) it tries to expel it out by vomiting. This is not a comfortable process and many people resist it. People with hyper-acidity often have nausea and are relieved after vomiting. Taking antacids is a form of suppression and can produce skin diseases. All the diseases that come from kapha and pitta accumulations can come from resisting nausea including hyper-acidity, skin disease, headaches, dizziness, and bleeding disorders.
  • Sexual urge –  This is an important urge. In an ideal world we would never go without sex and affection when we wanted it and never indulge unless we really felt desire. There are a few things that must be considered in this category: excessive masturbation, staying in unhealthy relationships, incomplete coitus used as a contraception. What will happen besides hairy palms? Seriously: the depletion of shukra dhatu (the tissue of creation and reproduction) leading to impotency, infertility, loss of courage, compassion or ability to rejuvenate (heal), physical strength, happiness, ability to feel pleasure. Not good stuff. Better cut it out….
  • Yawning, Burping, Sweating and Breathlessness from exertion are other urges people unknowingly resist because of social pressure and/or trying to be proper. Resisting these urges disturbs the natural direction of Vata and can cause many serious health issues.

What feeds your Body, feeds your Mind (& more subtle levels of Self too)

This may seem New-Age-y but the roots of these ideas are found in many traditional practices, like Ayurveda, where the underlying assumption is that all levels of our being reflect one another. In this video I talk with Stacy Vajta of Expanded Pathways and Elicia Woodford of Awakening360 about Candida, or Krumi, but every 'dis-ease' of mind needs to be healed by creating balance in the body and every dis-ease of the body is ultimately mirroring something going on in the subtle levels.

How do we work with this on a practical, at-home level? Notice how you feel when you eat, exercise, fall asleep. These emotional energetic states will determine how the food or experience you are taking in effects your body. If you eat that piece of cake with an attitude of reverence and calm appreciation it will have a very different effect on your body then if you eat it with a feeling of guilty shame or self loathing. Normal body processes are clearly impacted by our emotional states. This is why cultivating Sattwa, or calm alertness, is a life-long goal.

Towards this end we can:

  • Take foods and herbs that that calm the mind and avoid those that aggravate it.
  • Maintain regularity in our daily schedules. Both mind and body are soothed by knowing what comes next.
  • Have a regular meditation practice and cultivation of consciousness in everything we do and feel.
  • See a skilled energy worker to help through the rough spots (Contact Stacy at Expandedpathways.com)

How to eat for a calm mind:

The key is to avoid things which are either stimulating (creating an over active mind and eventual 'crash') or sedating (causing dullness).

  • Avoid anything with chemicals in it.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine and anything obviously mind altering.
  • Avoid Extreme Foods (super spicy, super intense flavors, lots of meat, garlic or onions).
  • Keep eggs, potatoes and mushrooms to a minimum.

Do eat what makes you feel satisfied:

  • Fragrant foods calm the mind.
  • Wheat, Milk, Almonds, Ghee. Keep in mind that foods that are calming are often heavy and nourishing. Have them in small doses-- 5 soaked almonds is a serving!
  • Freshly prepared foods will always make you feel better than anything left-over or stale.
  • Rose, basil or Tulasi, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, fresh ginger and turmeric
  • Fresh, organic, unpasteurized, un-homogenized whole milk, ideally raw, is best.
  • Drink milk warm, after bringing it to a boil. If it feels too heavy add some water.
  • Add a pinch of ginger, clove, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, saffron etc. These spices give your Agni (digestive fire) the extra umph it needs to digest.
  • Let milk be a meal or snack by itself. A cup of warm spiced milk is a great breakfast if you are not too hungry or want to lose weight. Also good before bed with nutmeg if you need help falling asleep.
  • Avoid having milk with anything salty—this includes cheese. Also don’t add salt to your oatmeal if you are having it with cream. Cream soups are also out.
  • Fish and milk are not advised as they compromise blood and brain tissues and lead to skin problems amongst other things.
  • Avoid having milk with anything sour—including sour fruit like strawberries.
  • Bananas and milk (or cream cheese …) will cause congestion and head colds. Keep this in mind when feeding children.
  • Fruits that do go with milk: dates, sweet mango, or raisin. Blend them with milk, a pinch of cardamom or a dash of rose water to make a delicious milkshake.

The easiest way to make sure you are drinking milk in the proper way is to have a warmed cup of milk with spices and maple syrup as your mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. It will keep you satisfied until your next meal and won’t make you sluggish.

Hot-n-Spicy Milk

  • 3 cups Whole Milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 4 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/4-inch thick slice fresh ginger
  • 3 bags Darjeeling tea or 3 tablespoons Darjeeling tea leaves (optional)
  • 1/4 cup raw sugar
  • 4 3x1/2-inch strips orange peel
  • Additional cinnamon sticks (optional)

Combine first 7 ingredients in medium saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add tea bags or leaves and remove saucepan from heat. Cover pan and let mixture steep 30 minutes.

Strain liquid into another saucepan. Add sugar to tea. Bring to simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves. Divide tea among 4 glasses. Garnish with orange peel strips and additional cinnamon sticks, if desired.

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tea

tea

Tiny cups of sweet, steaming, pink anantha siddha dugdha (sasparilla infused milk)  were served to us while studying in India. Memorably satisfying and oddly cooling in the sweltering mid-afternoon classroom. I still savor being able to drink milk regularly. I spent much of my pre-ayurveda adulthood avoiding milk after my mom concluded it was the cause of my childhood sicklyness. This is how we ended up raising goats; milk fresh from the farm didn’t have any adverse effects.

Ayurveda says that the best kind of milk to drink is so fresh it is still warm from the cow. Someday I will have a cow in my backyard. But until then I buy raw organic whole milk for several reasons: I trust it comes from healthy cows as the rules governing it's sale are quite strict. It also tastes better than other milk, perhaps due to happier cows. Finally and most importantly it is fresh.

Milk is a very important and precious food in Ayurveda. In this article I will discuss why so many people have problems digesting it and what you can do to avoid these problems both in terms of what kind of milk to drink and how to drink it.

What milk to drink and why... When the ayurvedic texts discuss milk it is it assumed to be fresh scalded cow milk unless otherwise mentioned. Raw milk is harder to digest and can encourage parasites. Milk is always scalded because heating anything makes it lighter to digest and last longer.

Despite the many great qualities of milk many health conscious people are turning away from milk. More and more people are noticing that they don’t feel great after having milk products. This is not an illusion. The milk we have commonly available to us is pretty toxic.

The main reason that store bought milk is so hard to digest is that is it old, over-processed, packaged in toxic containers, and comes from poorly treated, over-medicated cows. The first sin committed against the perfection of milk is pasteurization, a strange process which allows milk to be sold well past it’s prime. Fresh unpasteurized milk will last less than a week refrigerated and then it will sour, but still be edible. Pasteurization ensures that milk doesn't go bad like normal milk. So it can be sold when it is very old. Pasteurized milk typically has a shelf life of two to three weeks, ultra-pasteurized milk can last two to three months. You can't tell when it is too old to drink because it is so denatured that it doesn’t sour or curdle. Yuck. Pasteurization kills off the lactic acid bacilli which allow for the digestion of milk. Then we are compelled to purchase lactobacilli enhanced digestive supplements in order to compensate for this alteration.

Worse yet is homogenization (try to find unhomogenized milk, even organic!). Homogenization is the process that stops cream from separating from milk. It is done by putting immense amounts of pressure on the milk and squeezing it through tiny tubes so that the fat globules are pulverized into tiny bits.  What does this do to the milk? These tiny particles pass easily through the intestinal lining into the blood, bypassing normal digestive processes and overloading the body with proteins and hormones. Ayurvedically any time you add the samscara of pressure to a food you make it more guru or heavy and hard to digest. It might also be hypothesized that breaking the particles of fat into bits increases vata. This is somewhat congruent with what the raw milk people say about processed milk.

And this is without considering the way cows are raised and treated and fed and medicated. The information on this is all over so I won’t bother detailing it. Just buy organic milk that is as unprocessed as possible, or buy a cow.

Why to love milk... Milk is a vital and precious food in Ayurveda. It nourishes all tissues right down to the Ojas, the most subtle essence of our body/mind. Milk is cooling, calming, and balances Vata and Pitta. Ayurveda teaches that cow milk is the most sattvic (mentally calming) and nourishing of foods. It is a natural food for humans, satmya(accustomed to) from birth. It is an aphrodisiac and vitalizing to the productive and reproductive system so that both your sex drive and your offspring are strong. Milk is used in the treatment of many serious conditions like cancer and kidney failure. It easily counters insomnia and constipation. It is used to satisfy hunger and thirst when correcting obesity. Due to its sattvic quality milk leads to a sense of satisfaction and soothing useful in all sorts of dis-ease. Milk is considered to be good for the mind, essential for children, and is used to counter depression.

But milk is rich and heavy and it can create bloating and gas for weakened digestions. Some people will still have trouble with milk even when drinking good quality milk in the right ways. If your ancestors did not drink milk, or you were raised without it, your body may not have the intestinal bacteria needed to digest it easily. Still it is often possible for people who have sensitivities to milk to gradually reintroduce it into their diets if they follow the guidelines of proper milk consumption.

Goat milk is lighter than cow milk; great for loosing weight and easier to digest for people who are sensitive. Goat milk is used to treat tuberculosis and is the best to feed babies who are not able to breast feed. And goats don’t tolerate drugs very well so they are not as heavily medicated as commercial cows.

How to have milk... A main cause for the development of milk intolerance is consuming milk in ways that we shouldn't. Milk is a special food that needs to be treated in a special way. There are 3 main rules to milk consumption: drink milk warm, have milk by itself, and if you do want to eat something with it make sure it doesn’t contain salt, fish, or sour fruit.  Most of us adults have milk most commonly in lattes and cereal. Cold cereal with cold milk is likely to cause problems in the short run due to the cold and in the long run because of the salt that most cereals contain. Lattes are a fine way to drink milk- but do watch out for salt in that scone or bagel you have with it.

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Now that it is finally chilly our bodies are re-calibrating themselves to shorter days, cooler temperatures, more moisture in the air. Naturally we desire warmer, more sustaining, dryer, and even spicier foods to counter the qualities that are becoming dominant in the environment.

This is a perfect time to talk about cooked foods and Ayurveda's insistence on cooked food as the basis of human diet.

Think of a quintessential fall dinner: My choice would be a pile of caramel-y cubes of roasted veg: beets, sweet potato, winter squash. Generously glazed with ghee, redolent with rosemary and smokey salt. Roast meat aromatic with garlic. Silky soothing pumpkin soup. A pinch of bright arugula adding it's punchy bite. Fresh baked grainy bread. A perfectly ayurvedic meal.

Raw food has been all the rage for a few years now. Followers of Ayurveda (and Traditional Chinese Medicine amongst others) have been biding our time. We know that thousands of years of experience has verified that cooked foods are best for modern humans. Only time and experience will prove that raw diets are not sustaining long term. We are not surprised to see clients who eat a lot of raw foods showing signs of weak agni (digestive fire) in the short term and weak tissues, lack-luster physical processes and a tendency for parasites in the long term.

Ayurveda offers us a guideline for eating in a way that will support us for a long life. There are many things to take into account, but the first and most important is make sure that your food is ushna (hot).

Why eat food hot? Firstly because it sparks the agni (digestive fire) by its similar qualities. Agni transforms the food we eat through a process often likened to cooking. This process makes chemical nutrients into biologically available nutrients and heat is required to do this.

I once heard that for every degree under body temperature food takes an additional 10 minutes to digest. Cold and uncooked foods can lead us nowhere but to food rotting in our digestive tract. When agni is fiery we can digest just about anything. But sedentary modern lives mean that we all have digestive systems that need a little help. Interestingly this is one of the original challenges of Ayurveda. Ayurveda developed in a time when humans were just beginning to leave the forests and settle in cities. The huge shift to less healthy ‘civilized’ lifestyles necessitated new ways of preserving health. Consequently Ayurveda developed rules for living and eating for newly urban society and the insistence on cooked food starts here.

Secondly, hot food assists the pachan (digestive) process. Cooking begins the process that agni completes in the body. This is obvious in some foods but true of all: imagine eating a handful of raw rice and black beans. Even soaked they will be unpalatable and take a long time to digest (sprouting is another matter to be discussed later). If you were to eat them raw most of the nutrients will be lost in a human body as we are not designed to break down these substances (leave that to those who chew their cud). But when cooked beans and grain form a valuable food source; one which successfully supports the nutritional needs of most of humanity. The samscara (action which changes the qualities of a thing) of cooking adds agni (fire) to the food. Agni makes food lighter and in many cases dryer. Cooked food is therefore easier to digest. Different cooking techniques are different sanskaras and give food different qualities. Cooking beans & rice in liquid adds fire and water element and softens the food making it easier to break down. Roasting veg or meat in a hot oven adds lightness, heat, and dryness; perfect for balancing cool rainy weather or excess dampness or heaviness in the body.

Thirdly hot food sends Vata in the right direction (thereby calming it). Vata is a fantastic force that animates the body and makes everything happen. Vata moves in specific directions related to each of its jobs in the body. When Vata looses it's proper direction everything and anything can go wrong. A few examples of Vata losing it's direction: constipation, hiccups, asthma. Hot food ensures that vata does not lose it's way.

Lastly: Hot food reduces Kapha. Kapha is the physical stuff of the body supplying solidity and mass. It is what composes both healthy and excessive tissues. It can be responsible for blocking Vata when it is in excess. Think of a stuffy head: Kapha-mucous blocks Vata-breath leading to breathlessness or sneezing. Or constipation blocking the flow of vata’s movement and causing bloating and pain. Heat melts kapha and sends it on its way. So hot food will assist in the process of waste products passing out of the body and not hanging around causing problems. For this reason we always start the day with a cup of hot water.

None of this is to say that you should never eat raw foods nor that raw foods don’t have specific uses and benefits. Obviously there are few things better than a handful of freshly picked blueberries. My Mom’s process of healing herself from cancer involved a year of largely raw foods. She needed raw foods to scrape out all sorts of chemical and heat accumulation and other toxic buildup. My personal sense is that when you have been eating a lot of heavy meaty foods for a long time it feels really good to eat raw for a while. But remember that the last time humans ate a diet of mainly raw foods we were living very differently than we do today. Living outside and exercising constantly allowed out ancestors to digest pretty much anything. But as soon as they got the hang of fire they cooked their food. They knew that you can’t rely on raw food for lifelong nourishment.

Stay Tuned for More-- Eden

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Mung Beans with Coconut

Legumes, known collectively as dhal, are—along with rice—the staff of life in south India, providing protein in a vegetarian diet. This recipe uses mung dhal, which has a distinctively sweet, earthy flavor and, when hulled and split, a golden color. You can pick up these yellow mung beans (split and peeled) at any indian or asian grocery also Whole Foods and other health food stores usually have them. Curry leaves are important here; find them fresh at any Indian store.

Raw Mung 

  • 1 cup hulled, split mung dhal (green gram beans)
  • 3⁄4 cup finely grated fresh coconut or finely shredded dried unsweetened coconut
  • 1 fresh hot green chile (serrano or thai), stemmed and split lengthwise
  • 1⁄2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1⁄4 tsp. turmeric
  • 12 curry leaves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1⁄2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
  • 1 whole dried hot red chili

1. Put mung dhal in a large skillet, and toast over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until it turns golden and gives off a toasted aroma, 5–10 minutes. Transfer dhal to a strainer, and wash under cold running water to rinse off any excess dirt or dust, about 1 minute.

2. Put toasted dhal and 2 1⁄2 cups water in a medium saucepan, then bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until soft and most of the dhal has broken down to a thick, lumpy consistency, 25–35 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, grind coconut, green chiles, cumin seeds, turmeric, 6 of the curry leaves, and just enough water (about 1⁄3 cup) in the jar of an electric blender to make a moist, thick paste. Add coconut mixture and salt to cooked dhal in pan, and mix well, adding a few tbsp. of water if needed, until mixture has the texture of thick split-pea soup. Increase heat to medium, and cook until just heated through, about 3 minutes, then remove from heat.

4. Melt coconut oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat, add mustard seeds, and cook until they begin to pop; then carefully add red chile and remaining 6 curry leaves (the leaves will produce an explosive spatter when they hit the hot oil). After curry leaves sputter for a few seconds, add mixture to dhal, and mix well. Add salt to taste. SERVES 4–6

Cooked Mung 

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[caption id="attachment_477" align="alignleft" width="270" caption="dahl with curry leaves"][/caption]

Goat Curry!

This recipe employs a technique called bhoona, in which the meat, spices, and wet ingredients are stewed together until the mixture reduces and the main ingredient browns.

  • 9 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 lbs. bone-in goat shoulder, trimmed and cut into 4" pieces
  • 4 cups buttermilk or takra
  • 2 tbsp. amchoor (sour mango powder)
  • 1 tbsp. cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp. kashmiri red chili powder or paprika
  • 1 tsp. whole clove
  • 3 cups canola oil
  • 1  3" piece peeled ginger, julienned
  • Salt
  • 6 shallots, thinly sliced

Purée garlic and 1⁄3 cup water in a blender. Put garlic paste, goat, buttermilk, amchoor, cardamom, coriander, peppercorns, cumin, chili powder, cloves, 2⁄3 cup oil, ginger, and salt to taste into a pot; stir. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium. Boil gently, stirring and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until meat is tender, about 2 hours.

2. Heat remaining oil in a pot over medium heat until oil registers 325° on a deep-fry thermometer. Add shallots and cook, stirring constantly, until brown, 3–5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to a paper towel–lined plate. When cool, pulse shallots to a coarse paste in a spice grinder. Add shallots and 2 cups water to pot and cook, stirring, until goat is tender and beginning to brown and sauce is thickened,  about 45 minutes more. Season with salt. Serve with basmati rice, if you like.

SERVES 4 – 6 (both recipes adapted from my favorite cooking mag: Savour)

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Takra: Indian Style Buttermilk

Spiced, whisked and diluted yogurt is called Takra.  This process (or samskara) thoroughly transforms the qualities of yogurt into a

light, refreshing, and appetizing drink. Have a  cup after lunch to aid digestion and treat IBS-type symptoms. Takra controls vata and kapha, improves taste, counters diarrhea, hemorrhoids, bloating, and swelling.

  • ½ C fresh, whole milk yogurt
  • 3+ C cool water
  • Whisk for at least 3 minutes. The liquid should develop a light and somewhat astringent texture.

For a Savory & Digestive Takra: Pan toast til fragrant: 1 pinch each ground cumin, coriander, hing and add to freshly whisked Takra. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

For a Refreshing and Nourishing Sweet Takra: pan toast 1 pinch each: ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and add to freshly whisked Takra. Stir in 2t raw honey and a splash of rose water.

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Yogurt is a great place to start an exploration of controversial foods.

We’ve been told it’s good: nourishing, refreshing, good for digestion, better than other dairy products. It is also one of the most hyped foods around. There is more space dedicated to yogurt at the local grocery store than there is to milk and eggs combined.

yogurt and mint

I remember when yogurt was still considered hippie food or something that people who had travelled to Europe might try. It was vaguely understood to be healthy but generally distrusted by anyone with a solid American upbringing. Back then there was plain Dannon (or your mom could make it from goat milk.) A few years later there was Yoplait. Yogurt was beginning to be accepted, but kids still had to be bribed into having it with all sorts of colorful jams. In the last few years yogurt has become ‘woman's friend’ with it's low fat, sweet treat, bone-supporting, abdominal distress alleviating, yeast infection fighting qualities. It has amazingly escaped the trend against dairy and lactose. We instinctively feel that yogurt is a healthy choice.

Ayurveda has had plenty of opportunity to see what yogurt does to the body. In India dairy products are relied on heavily to provide richness and protein to the common vegetarian diet. Yogurt is thought to be healthy and especially cooling. It is eaten at every meal in traditional Indian cuisine. Ayurveda’s views on yogurt  highlight some of the differences between Indian cultural foods and the Ayurvedic diet.

So it is not surprising to me when people say “What!? No Yogurt?!” when I explain that Ayurveda has some serious reservations.

Ayurveda will admit yogurt has its benefits (anything can be a medicine). The classic texts say that yogurt improves the sense of taste and strengthens the body. It is good for children and is a specific treatment for some conditions like strengthening sexual vigor and treating diarrhea.

The tricky part is following the rules that you must in order to get the benefits of yogurt.   First, you must have a strong digestion to benefit from yogurt -- as it is actually quite hard to digest and has a tendency to ferment in the digestive tract. It must be freshly made and properly formed (thick and with a pronounced sour taste). To ensure the heavy, secretion forming qualities of yogurt don’t get the better of you make sure to eat it with one of the following: mung bean soup, honey, ghee (clarified butter) & rock sugar, or amalaki (a fruit common in India). Yogurt is best digested at lunchtime-- when your digestive abilities are naturally the strongest. Yogurt should never be eaten at night (or it will aggravate Kapha). It should not be cooked or eaten during very hot weather as it is already very heating. Also it is best not to have it everyday.

So what happens if you eat yogurt regularly and don’t follow these rules? Watch out for bleeding diseases (like nose bleeds), painful skin conditions, fever, anemia, or dizziness. These conditions are based on an accumulation of heat in the body which ‘cooks’  the blood tissues and aggravate Pitta. At the same time the sticky, heavy and slow-to-digest qualities of yogurt aggravate Kapha and can lead to accumulation of fat tissue,  increased swelling (water retention), tendency for infections, and constipation. . So if you have any of the above problems or a tendency towards yeast infections, diabetes, breathing problems, allergies, or slow digestion it is best to avoid yogurt altogether.

In summary, the Important points to keep in mind if you want to eat Yogurt:

  • Have it at lunch time when your digestion is strongest.
  • Eat it with honey, mung dahl soup, amalaki (a sour Indian fruit), or ghee and rock sugar. These ingredients have drying or anti-pitta properties which balance out the yogurt.
  • Have yogurt during dry weather to avoid the glue-y, sticky, mucous-y qualities of yogurt.
  • Try making Takra-- a light and refreshing yogurt drink-- and get the benefits of yogurt without the drawbacks.

Stay Tuned for More-- Eden EdenAyurveda.com

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It is obvious isn't it. Our bodies are affected by what we expose them to. This is common sense for most and an assumed understanding in ancient healing traditions. Now science has confirmed this as principle (even if your MD's practice is lagging behind). If little else is agreed upon by people interested in healthy living the rule of Cause and Effect is common ground. What is not so easy to agree on is what cause leads to what effect. Is butter good or bad? Milk or soy, meat or veggie.... how about the benefits (or harms) of sun exposure? The controversies are many and fluctuate depending on trends in the health world and what authority you put your faith in. It can be very confusing.

I found these controversies confusing too and this is part of what led me to study Ayurveda. The principal of cause and effect are the core of Ayurveda's sense of balance. These principals have not changed since it’s beginning at the dawn of civilization. They have been proven over and over again and are successfully applied to the most controversial health issues of our day.

The application of ayurvedic principals are not always easy to understand and I find myself repeatedly explaining certain ones, especially those that go against commonly held beliefs.  One response from people on hearing these ideas for the first time is a sense of relief and comfort, as if something they'd felt all along has been validated.  Another reaction is complete incredulity. Whatever your response I want to clear things up.

Over periodic emails I will discuss in ayurvedic terms some of the more hotly contested players in the drama of Good versus (relatively) Evil on the health front. Though fads are ever changing, I will address some of the most contentious and confusing issues including:  milk, wheat, honey, meat, fermented foods, yogurt, ghee and butter, raw foods (and juice!), sprouts, oils and fats, tomatoes, soy, potatoes, cheese,  kale (kale and more kale),  fiber, eating local vs. eating ancestral foods vs. tribal eating, supplements and micronutrients, grazing vs. 2 meal days (how and when to eat), nuts and seeds, coffee, white rice vs. brown rice, sweet things, sleep schedule, exercise, colonics, nutrient supplements, cleansing and fasting, allergies and whatever else might come up. There is much ground to cover.

The specifics of cause and effect and how they play out in our body, mind, and spirit are not always simple. Effects can be good or bad, can be seen in 5 minutes or in 20 years, or show up in the bodies of your children. Food can have an effect on the mind. Spirit can have an effect on the body.  You can balance one effect against another (i.e. run 5 miles every day and eat steak for lunch). Some people will get different effects based on what their tendencies, tolerances, and lifestyle are like. But you can never escape the effect.  Understanding cause and effect are instrumental to guiding your own health.

With each article I will focus on one debated subject and discuss the scope of it's effects on your body, how negative effects can be balanced and when a particular thing may be good for you, but not good for someone else. I will review the qualities, elements, short term and long term effects so that you can learn to apply these valuable tools in your own life.

Stay Tuned for More-- Eden