Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter is here!

Ayurveda takes in many factors when working to create health and wholeness in an individual. One that plays a major role is the seasons. While the seasons affect each of us differently, due to our own unique constitution, each one has particular qualities. Ayurveda uses both herbal treatements and simple lifestyle practices to remedy the effects of each season.
Late fall and early winter is the time of year when Vata is most aggravated. Fall is dry, light, cold, windy, rough, and empty- all qualities of Vata. We can see this in the blowing cold winter winds that are present in our environment, and the leafless trees. Vata is responsible for such things as; governing movement, circulation, thought process, and helps with digestion. Increased Vata can show up as anxiety, irregularity in the mind and digestion, or arthritis to name a few problems.
Late winter and early spring is the time of year when Kapha is most aggravated. Winter is cold, cloudy, heavy, slow, and damp- qualities of Kapha, though it shares some qualities with Vata. We can see this as the days become darker, longer, and colder. Kapha is directly linked to our weight, the fluids in the body, lubrication of joints, our immunity, and our mental sense of stability and wellbeing. When Kapha becomes out of balance it can lead to weight gain, lethargy, sluggish digestion, and becoming more susceptible to colds and flus.
Here are some simple things you can do every day to keep your Vata and Kapha in balance as we head into winter.
· The most important thing to keep Vata in balance is to stick to a routine. Being regular will go along way with keeping Vata in balance and keeping you calm and centered during the winter season.
· Exercise 5 times a week for 30 minutes or more. Do not increase your Vata by being too vigorous or moving too quickly. Help to keep Kapha in balance, which has the qualities of heavy, moist, and cold, by sweating moderately. Think steady controlled heat in your practice. This will help counteract the sluggish energy of Kapha.
· The main home of Vata is in the Colon, so any Yoga asanas that compress or stretch the colon are very useful. Practice all forward bends, especially Paschimottanasana. You can also practice spinals twists like Matsyendrasana. Practicing a moderate pace Surya Namaskar is good for controlling both Vata and Kapha.
· To control Kapha practice Yoga asanas that help to open the chest, stretch the front of the body, and relieve congestion. Danurasana, Ushtrasana, and Pranamasana are very useful. Also practice Kapalabhati or Bhastrika Pranayama to clear toxins out of the body, stimulate the digestive fires, and remove excess Kapha.
· Practice abhyanga, warm oil massage, every morning. It takes only a few minutes and is one of the best practices for controlling Vata. Primary Vata people should use warm oil like sesame, Pitta people a cooler oil like sunflower or coconut, and Kaphas can use corn oil. If possible the oil should be warmed-up, not hot.
· Practice Nadi Shodhana, it will help to balance out the Doshas in the body. A few minutes of practice will induce a deep state of relaxation and peace. It helps to relieve stress, bring mental clarity, and focus. It is a wonderful technique for people who are feeling stressed, anxious, or tired. It brings the Pranas into harmony and helps to balance Ida Nadi, the passive channel, and Pingala Nadi, the active channel.
· Fight the sluggish properties of Kapha by cooking with warm spices, as long as they don’t aggrevate your Pitta (fire), such as ginger, cumin, black pepper, mustard seed and hing.
· Share your life with friendly, warm, and loving people. They can bring great joy, light, and comfort as we go into the darkest part of the year.


Vajrasana, the thunderbolt pose, is an amazingly powerful pose and the base position for many other Yoga asanas. The word Vajra means thunderbolt, and also refers to Vajra Nadi-the energetic pathway that is directly connected with the genitounrinary system. Practice of Vajrasana and all related asanas are beneficial for the reproductive system, digestive system, and regulation of sexual energy. Anyone who is interested in dedicated study of Hatha Yoga or going beyond the beginning level of techniques should seek the guidance of a Guru or experienced Yoga educator. One should always practice under competent guidance, and never rush. Hatha Yoga has traditionally been taught one on one, and can not be learned through reading articles, it should be learned from a competent guide who can correct any mistakes or dangers that you might not be aware of. If you have not learned this practice from your Guru or a competent Yoga educator please do not attempt it.
Vajrasana Technique:
Kneel on the floor, the big toes are together with the feet spread apart.
The buttocks will be resting on the inside of the feet, the heels will be touching the sides of the hips.
The spine should be completely straight.
Hands will be either palms down on the legs or Bhairava Mudra. The hands and arms should be relaxed.
Close the eyes, and relax.
Breathe normally.
Your inner awareness comes to your belly button or Manipura Chakra.
Length of Practice:
Vajrasana can be practiced for extended periods of time. Hold the pose as long as it is comfortable. Vajrasana is used by both Muslims and Zen Buddhists for prayer and meditation, and can be held for extended periods by those that cannot sit in other meditation asanas. Try to practice Vajrasana for a few minutes before and after meals to stimulate digestion.
Practice notes:
If there is pain in the thighs or knees, began by separating the knees by a few inches. If there is still pain, place a folded blanket between the buttocks and the legs. If this is not enough, sit on a block or a cushion until the legs open up. If the ankles hurt from tightness, release the pose and stretch the ankles and then resume the posture again.
And, all the wonderful benefits:
Vajrasana stimulates our digestion and help us to fully digest all things come into our being; food, thoughts, and emotins. It is used in yogic therapy to treat digestive disorders, stomach problems, and ulcers. Vajrasana alters the flow of blood and nervous impulses to the entire pelvic region. It helps to strengthen the pelvic muscles and alleviate menstrual disorders. It stimulates Vajra Nadi, regulating our sexual energy, allowing us to engage in meditation and spiritual practices.
Bonus practice to bring balance to the breath and mind:
Check the flow of your breath and see what nostril is predominant. If the left side is dominant place the left big toe on top of the right big toe; if the right is dominant place the right big toe on top of the left big toe. The flow of breath in the nostrils is related to the flow of two of the major energy channels in the body Ida and Pingala Nadi. By balancing the breath you can bring peace to the mind.

Constitution and the Three Doshas

Each person possesses a unique constitution that is made up of a combination of the three Doshas called Prakriti. Every person has all three Doshas within them. Vata is our energy and our breath, Pitta is our warmth and transforms substances in our bodies, and Kapha makes up the flesh and secretions. The play of the Doshas and the five elements within us is the same as the play within the universe. The macrocosm is recreated in the microcosm of our body. What makes every person unique is that we all have a different proportion of the Doshas. Typically, one Doshas will dominate in a person and will show clearly in their physical appearance and mental constitution.
When individuals predominate in one Dosha, we could call this pure Vata, pure Pitta, or pure Kapha. Some people may have a dual constitution where two Doshas are more or less in equal proportions. Three different types of dual constitutions exist; Vatta-Pitta, Vata-Kapha, and Pitta-Kapha. There is also the rare type of Vatta-Pitta-Kapha. In total there are seven major types.
By looking at the constitution of an individual Ayurveda can go beyond the pure medical lines of treatment in the form of health education, lifestyle changes, and counseling to help establish full health and wellbeing. While each person will have a unique approach to their own health, Ayurveda’s aim can be summed up in this quote from the Sushruta Samhita, 15.38
sama dasah samagnis ca sama dhatu mala kriyah
prasannatmendriya manah svastha ityabhidhiyate
One who is established in Self, who has balanced the Doshas, balanced agni, properly formed dhatus, proper elimination of wastes, well functioning bodily processes, and whose mind, soul, and senses are full of bliss, is called a healthy person.

The following is a brief constitution test, that will examine aspects of the physical body; weight, frame, and complexion. There is also a mental constitution that another article will be written on. The list will help you to identify your predominate Dosha. Generally speaking, I believe most people can understand the basics of their Ayurvedic constitution. Consulting an Ayurvedic practioner is always helpful and will allow you to gain a deeper understanding of your own constitution. The Doshas tend to stay constant through our life, but factors like long-term illness or trauma can change it. When going through the list choose the one that has been constant through your life. For example, if you have had a thin frame your whole life except for the last year when you have gained weight, you should choose the thin frame (Vata) as that has been predominant.
Review the following list and circle the characteristics that describe you. Then, total the number circled in each column.

Vata Pitta Kapha
Tall or short, thin, slender, poorly developed, irregular
moderate physique, balanced
Stocky, short, big,
well developed, balanced
Low, hard to gain weight, lean, prominent bones, fat stored in midriff “spare tire”
Moderate, average weight, even fat on body
Heavy, tends towards Obesity, easy to gain weight
Dull, darkish, grayish
Red, ruddy, flushed, glowing
White, pale
Skin Texture
Dry, cold, cracked, rough,
veins are easy to see
Warm, moist, pink, irritable,
moles, freckles, acne
Thick, white, moist, smooth,cool, soft
Dry, scanty, rough, kinky
brown, wavy, frizzy
Moderate, fine,
early gray, bald, red
Thick, oily, wavy,
abundant, lustrous, brown or chocolate
Long, thin, small
Thin, long, small,
Moderate, ruddy,
Sharp features
Large, round, pale,
Small, wrinkled
Moderate, folds
Large, broad
Small, thin
Moderate, fine
Thick, bushy
Small, dry
Small, fine
Large, thick, firm
Small, dry, thin, dull, sunken, grey, violet, slate blue
Medium, easily inflamed, bothered, green, hazel, light blue
Wide, white, almond shaped, large, liquid
Thin, long, crooked, dry, deviated septum
Medium, moderate
Thick, big
Thin, small, dry, narrow
Medium, red
Thick, large, smooth
Teeth and Gums
Thin, dry, small, crooked, receding gums
Medium, sharp, soft, pink, gums bleed
Large, thick, white, healthy gums
Thin, long
Large, thick
Thin, small, flat,
hunched, bad posture
Broad, thick
Thin, small or long,
Little muscle
Large, developed
Thin, small, underdeveloped
Broad, large
Small, dry, cold, rough,
Medium, warm or hot, pink
Large, cool, firm
Thin, narrow, underdeveloped
Large, sturdy
Thin, short or long, prominent knees
Small, hard
Small, thin, rough, dry, long
Medium, soft
Large, hard, firm
Small, thin, cracking, dry, prone to injury
Medium, loose
Large, strong
Small, thin, dry, hard, brittle, dark, nail bitters
Medium, pink, soft, strong
Large, thick, symmetrical

Malas(wastes) and Agni(digestion)
Vata Pitta Kapha

Difficult, very little,
Profuse, yellow or red,
Moderate, whitish
Dry, hard, difficult, painful, gas, constipation
Loose, yellowish, prone to diarrhea, burning sensation,abundant
Moderate, solid,
pale, mucus in
body odor
No smell, little sweat
Abundant, hot,
strong smell
Moderate, pleasant smell, consistent
Erratic, weak, variable
Strong, sharp
Constant, low
Poor, erratic, cold hands and feet
Good, warm or hot
Good, steady, warm

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

The word nadi means channel and shodhana means cleansing or purification. Nadi Shodhana translates as the practice that purifies the energy channels of our body. While Nadi Shodhana is reputed to be a practice that can lead to spiritual awakening, it can also do amazing things for our mind and our body. It is recommended for those who are anxious, stressed, or engaged in mental work; and is a great way to end any Hatha Yoga session.
Hand Position:
Assume Nasagra Mudra by resting the index and middle finger of the right hand between the eyebrows, palm of the hand facing you. Both the hand and fingers should be relaxed. The ring finger is above the left nostril and the thumb is above the right. These two fingers will be used to control the flow of breath in the nostrils.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama Technique:
Sit in a comfortable meditation position, with the spine straight. Begin to relax the whole body by closing the eyes. Begin yogic breathing until the breath becomes stable and even. Assume Nasagra Mudra with you right hand. Relax your left hand on the knee in Jnana or Chin Mudra. Close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale in through the left nostril. Count the length of the inhale, 1,2,3,4,5; until you reach your full yet comfortable inhalation. Do not strain. That will be the count that you maintain through your practice.
Close the left nostril with the ring finger, release the thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through the right nostril to the same count as inhale 5,4,3,2,1.
Next, inhale through the right nostril, counting as you did before. At the end of the inhale, plug the right nostril and exhale through the left continuing the counting.
This is one full round of Nadi Shodhana. Inhaling left, exhaling right, inhaling right, exhaling left, creates a full round. Start by doing 10 rounds at a time or for 5 minutes. Slowly increase the amount of time you practice by adding one more minute every one to two weeks if there is no strain.
Note: If you are unable to breathe through the nose or one sinus is clogged you will not be able to do the practice. The air has to move without obstruction to perform the Pranayama. To clean the sinus, perform Jala Neti, nasal cleansing with water. Neti pots can be purchased at most pharmacies and Indian groceries, and the procedure is simple to perform. Ask an experienced Yoga educator for further information on Jala Neti and the technique.
Do not rush to lengthen of the inhale or exhale. After a week or two of practicing your count, you can begin to lengthen the ratio by one. Continue in this way increasing the count every few weeks until you reach 12:12. If there is ever any strain or discomfort reduce the count.
In the traditional Yoga texts there are numerous rules, regulations, and warnings for practicing Pranayamas. The most important point, found in every text, is to practice moderation and use common sense. Never strain, and never go beyond your capacity. The lungs are very delicate and can easily be damaged. Pranayamas also increase the flow and absorption of Prana, the life force-also known as Chi in Chinese medicine. This can have numerous effects on many different levels of our being. Anyone who is interested in dedicated study of Pranayamas or going beyond the beginning level of techniques should seek the guidance of a Guru or experienced Yoga educator. One should always practice under competent guidance, and never rush.
And, all the wonderful benefits:
Nadi Shodhana supplies the body with extra oxygen. With this extra oxygen, carbon dioxide is forced from the body and the blood is purified of impurities and toxins. The extra oxygen helps the brain to function at its best. A few minutes of practice will induce a deep state of relaxation and peace. It helps to relieve stress, bring mental clarity, and focus. It is a wonderful technique for people who are feeling stressed, anxious, or tired. It brings the Pranas into harmony and helps to balance Ida Nadi, the passive channel, and Pingala Nadi, the active channel. One of the central focuses of Hatha Yoga is to balance Ida and Pingala Nadi so that Prana can flow into the central channel, Sushumna Nadi, which leads to deep states of meditation and spiritual awakening.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Five Great Elements and the Three Doshas

Pancha MahaBhutas
The great seers of Ayurveda, the Rishis, expounded the theory of Pancha MahaBhutas, or the five great elements. The five great elements consist of Akasha (Space), Vayu (Air), Tejas (Fire) Apas (Water) and Prithvi (Earth). The Rishis used this theory to explain how all internal and external forces work together and are linked together in the Universe. These Rishis perceived that the world originally existed in an unmanifested state. From the unmanifested state came the cosmic vibration of Om. From this soundless, subtle, vibration the element of Akasha or Space became present in the Universe. Through this medium of Space the element of movement known as Vayu or Air came into being. Through movement and friction, heat was created forming light and the element of Tejas or Fire. When the heat began to dissolve elements it formed the element of Apas or Water. As this element solidified it became Prithvi, or The Earth Element. Through this process the element of Ether allowed all of the other elements to come into existence.
The five basic elements exist in all matter. In fact, another definition for Pancha MahaBhutas is the Five Great States of Material Existence. All five elements originated in the great cosmic consciousness of the Universe and all five are present in all matters of the Universe. Having an understanding of the Pancha MahaBhutas will help us to better understand the building blocks of the world that we live in, and help us to make more
informed choices for how we live our life and how we practice.
The Space element (Akasha) is the idea of connectedness and spaciousness. In the body, Space represents all the cavities and empty spaces of the body. In the mind it represents our consciousness.
The Air element (Vayu) is the idea of motion. In the body, Air represents all movement of nerves, breath, and limbs. In the mind it is the power behind our thoughts.
The Fire element (Tejas) is the idea of light, heat, and transformation. In the body, Fire represents all digestion and transformation. In the mind it represents perception and intelligence.
The Water element (Apas) is the concept of flow and liquidity. In the body, Water represents all the liquids of the body. In the mind it represents loving and compassionate thoughts and emotions.
The Earth element (Prithvi) is the concept of solidity. In the body, Earth represents our physical body. In the mind it represents stability.
Tridoshic Theory
According to Ayurveda, the entire universe is a play between the five great elements. These elements are further broken down into three groups of energies that are present in everyone and everything. These three groups are called the Doshas. The word Dosha literally means faulty or to cause harm, but the Doshas only cause harm when out of balance. In a healthy state the Doshas are what maintain good health and guide the body in normal function and processes. These three Doshas are known as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Vata Dosha is primarily composed of Ether and Air. It is the principle that is responsible for all movement in the body. It governs our breathing, moves nutrients and wastes, retrieves previous data from our memories, stores new thoughts, and controls muscle and tissue movement. Its primary attributes are that it is dry, cold, and light. When in balance, Vata promotes creativity and adaptability. When out of balance, it produces fear, anxiety, and abnormal movements of all sorts. An excess of Vata in our environment can be thought of as a windy fall day.
Pitta Dosha is primarily composed of Fire and a small amount of Water. It is the principle that is responsible for digestion, absorption, assimilation, and metabolism. Its primary attributes are hot, light, and moist. When in balance, Pitta promotes understanding, intelligence, and right judgment. When out of balance, Pitta shows up as anger, jealousy, hatred, inflammatory disorders, and skin and blood disorders. To think of Pitta in our environment imagine eating really spicy Thai food, or being out in the Sun at noon on a hot summer day.
Kapha Dosha is primarily composed of Water and Earth. Kapha is what holds us together. It is the principle that is responsible for the form of the body, lubricating joints, moisture in the skin, and helps to maintain our immunity. Its primary attributes are heavy, cold, and moist. In balance, Kapha shows up as love, calmness, and stability. When out of balance, Kapha leads to attachment, greed, controlling nature, and congestive disorders. To think of Kapha in our environment imagine a cold and wet winter’s day.
It’s easy to look at these basic principles and find a way to apply them to your life. Here are a few examples. If you notice you are feeling anxious and fearful, it might not be a good idea to take an aerobics class where you move constantly to loud music for an hour. Anxiety and fear are traits of Vata, which is composed of Space and Air. Adding more Space and Air to your life might make the situation worse. An easy remedy for anxiety is to do Yogic Asana that are gentle and held for a longer period of time to calm the Vata and reestablish your Earth and Water element. Or, imagine a hot summer day and you are felling angry or irritated. Do you think this would be a good time to go and eat some spicy food? Fire added to Fire just makes more heat. One more example, wintertime is Kapha time, it’s cold, moist, and heavy. If you were trying to balance your excess Kapha qualities this would be the time for your spicy dinner and hot fast aerobic classes.
The following is a list of the classical attributes of each Dosha. See if you can find the connection and how to apply this amazing gift of knowledge to your life.
Cold, dry, light, subtle, flowing, mobile, sharp, hard, rough, and clear.
Hot, moist, light, subtle, flowing, mobile, sharp, soft, smooth, and clear.
Cold, moist, heavy, gross, dense, static, dull, soft, smooth, and cloudy.
Om Namah Shivaya

Intro to Ayurveda

The word Ayurveda comes from Sanskrit, the oldest written language on Earth. The term has two roots Ayuh, which means life, and Veda, which means knowledge. Therefore, the term Ayurveda means the knowledge of life. This knowledge was passed onto us by the great seers, the Rishis, and is more than a mere understanding of facts but is a direct perception of the ultimate truth. This is truth in both the subtle and the gross, as the system addresses the body, mind, and soul. Ayurveda is both a medical system and a philosophical system that has been passed down for thousands of years.
Ayurveda is based on the Shad Darshan, the Six Philosophies of Life, teachings from the ancient scriptures of India. These scriptures, which some say are over 10,000 years old, are called the Vedas. There are four main Vedas: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, and Samaveda. The Vedas are some of the oldest bodies of written knowledge known to humans.
There are also secondary texts called the Upa-Vedas, Ayurvedic teachings are a part of these secondary texts. One must understand that the Vedic tradition is one of pure knowledge and understanding revealed by the Rishis. This is knowledge that came from meditation and the hearts of sages. The Rishis teachings were originally passed down orally from teacher to student. The first Ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita, was written around 400 B.C.
The six systems of Indian philosophy, the Shad Darshan, are Sankhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, Yoga, and Vedanta. The six systems represent ways of orientating ourselves with the world around us, or six views of life. These are the six systems that Ayurveda utilizes to help people heal and live in balance. Three of these systems, Sankhya, Nyaya, and Vaisheshaka, deal with understanding our experience in the physical world that we live in-our external reality. The systems are based on logical reasoning, cause and effect, and understanding how the physical universe functions and came into being.
The systems of Yoga, Mimamsa, and Vedanta are based on finding an understanding of our inner reality. Their focus is on our spiritual evolution and how we can obtain our highest spiritual self. All six of these philosophies have as a base the desire to alleviate pain and suffering, which is common for all human beings.
The Ayurvedic approach concentrates on finding the balance in life that is correct for us. Each individual has a unique Constitution and therefore has their own individual path to full health and spiritual enlightenment. Ayurveda is unique because it incorporates medicine, life style changes, and spiritual practice into one system that can bring us back to balance and into compete wholeness.
A famous Vedic prayer encompasses the idea of Ayurveda:
Lead me from darkness into light
Lead me from untruth into truth
Lead me from mortality to immortality.