Ayurveda for modern living

World on fire

World on fire: Our pitta dominant world

We all agree that the problems on our beleaguered planet are escalating – our very climate is changing, society is breaking down, and people’s health and well being is suffering. Just what is happening? What has gone so very wrong?

Ayurvedic thinkers generally agree that the planet is becoming increasingly pitta-dominant, as the element becomes stronger in western culture, and western culture, especially capitalism spreads also to the developing world.

“In today’s world, pitta is usually the dosha most commonly out of balance because the world has an overabundance of agni at this time.  Electromagnetic radiation, acidic food and water, toxins in our environment, and a high-pressure lifestyle, that includes a lack of adequate sleep, all contribute to the increase of pitta in the physiology.”

http://199.124.60.15/pages/Charak-Course-Pitta-Dosha.html

Similarly, the Hopi Native Americans believe that the west was originally given the principle of fire to explore and develop, but this has fast became problematic. This modern day pitta overload equates to their idea of Koyannisqatsi or ‘life out of balance’.

http://www.crystalinks.com/hopi2.html

Pitta loves the principles of achievement and competition. These are fast becoming the primary guiding principles for everyone these days, to the detriment of human relationships, our health and well being, and our environment. Our ideal person is held up as the ultimate pitta – fiercely intelligent, competitive, powerful and efficient. There is competition for jobs, competition between companies, competition for people to be busier, more important and more wealthy than their neighbours. There is competition for money, land, for oil, for markets, causing widespread wars and civil strife.

Efficiency, another pitta goal, is becoming the be-all-end-all of everything. Even in things where efficiency should not belong – such as in human interactions. The care of our very young children (the kapha life stage) and very old people (the vata stage) is becoming increasingly more commercialised. Underpaid strangers are providing ‘care’ for large groups of these vulnerable people, so that their families can continue to participate ‘efficiently’ in the economy. Children and the elderly are missing out on real care and love from their own families. This crass heartless commercialisation is creeping into every facet of our lives.

We are all forced to use pitta substances to survive the pace of this life. Meat, alcohol and coffee play a dominant part in our diets. We drink coffee throughout the week to maintain productivity at work, smoke cigarettes to combat the stress, then down alcohol all weekend to forget our hellishly busy weeks. We kill animals en masse in factory farms for meat to eat every night, making a fetish of animal flesh as a symbol of our power over nature.

It is the dominant principle of pitta that has led us to create atomic energy, computers, the internet, tv, cars, mobile phones.  The entire western economy runs off the combustible energy of petrol and oil. We stare at screens, we burn petrol for our cars, oil for our plastic, nuclear energy for our power.

If we even think about the term ‘global warming’, it is clear there is too much heat in our world, too much pitta. Temperatures are starting to soar when they shouldn’t. Ice caps are melting. Typhoons are becoming super-typhoons over warm seas. There is rain and flooding in deserts. Everything is becoming acidified, including our oceans and our own bodies.

So what is the answer?

It is clear that everything is unbalanced by too much pitta. The only remedy for this is to introduce and nurture the principles of vata and kapha in our lives. We need the wisdom and creative thinking of vata back, as well as the loving calmness and reflectivity of kapha. Vata and kapha need a voice again. Vata and kapha people are being fast becoming marginalised from society, or forced to act like pittas. I see it all the time. Their particular strengths need to be acknowledged again. The balance needs to be restored. Things need to cool down and slow down. We all need to relax more, think more, and think of new, better ways to live our lives. Before it is too late.

Sources

http://absolutelyayurveda.wordpress.com/tag/capitalism-and-stress/

http://www.ayurvedacollege.com/articles/drhalpern/Ayurveda_Service_Enlightenment

http://www.vedicsociety.org/pitta-is-the-most-challenging-dosha-to-treat-a-338.html

http://www.crystalinks.com/hopi2.html

What’s your dharma, baby?

dharma wheel

Dharma wheel

What’s your dharma, baby?

What is a dharma anyway?

Does it have anything to do with that tv show, Dharma and Greg?

The concept of Dharma is a complicated but important one. It is one of main goals of life, according to ayurveda and hindu/buddhist philosophy. It has actually got a lot to do with one of western preoccupations – self-actualising, or finding the perfect activity that fits our unique talents and personality.

The word ‘dharma’ means right path or livelihood, doing what we are meant to be doing in life. For some of us, that might mean motherhood, for others making art, for others being a company CEO, for others a dog groomer. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long it brings a sense of deep satisfaction to our lives, and serves to make us and everyone around us happy.

According to ayurveda, when we have found our dharma (and many people don’t), it will actually increase our prana, and make us healthy and happy. If we live out of our dharma, our prana will decrease and feelings of well-being will disappear. That internal gauge will tell you if you have found your dharma or not.

Ayurveda says that living according to one’s dharma is not at all a selfish thing. It is necessary to uphold the natural order of things. It is to do with how we contribute to society and interact, so that the world can function properly. If we don’t find our correct path, we will not do things properly and be unhappy and unhealthy. Society will fail to work and gradually wind down. If mothers don’t want to be mothers, and everyone is trapped in a soul-destroying job, and governments are corrupt, the very basis of society will be weakened. Therefore we owe it to society to find our dharma:

“The opposite of dharma is ‘a-dharma.’ What this means is obvious. If children fail to obey parents, if parents do not train and discipline children, if the police misuse their power and fail to protect, if the head of state fails to act in the interest of the nation, then adharma exists, and when there is too much adharma, there will be a break down of the family, society or the nation. The nation, the community, the family and even individuals cannot prosper when too much adharma reigns. There is a saying, “Protect dharma and dharma will protect you.”

http://www.sanskrit.org/www/Hindu%20Primer/dharma.html

However, your dharma doesn’t always have to be the way you support yourself, your job. People in the west seem to expect their job to be their dharma. In this troubled economy, it is not always possible or realistic. For example, my dharma, I’m pretty sure, is writing, yet copywriting jobs are few and far between, and competition is fierce. So I find other ways to support myself – and just write for fun anyway. It’s the only to stay sane. Having an income, therefore, is considered a separate goal of life called artha. It can just be seen as a means or security to support your dharma.

If you can combine your dharma and artha in one activity, then well done you!

Sources:

http://www.ayurvedacollege.com/articles/drhalpern/dharma

http://wisdom-magazine.com/Article.aspx/920/

http://www.chopra.com/community/online-library/terms/dharma

How to banish the frizzies

images

If you’re like me, and shampoo the living sh#$ out of your hair, leaving it a dry frizzy mess, there is an ayurvedic solution at hand.

I find that I need to shampoo my hair every day, because otherwise my scalp gets very congested and itchy, but the slightest amount of conditioner just leaves it looking greasy and lank. It’s hard to win the war against an attack of the vata frizzies. My vata hair just ends up extremely dry and frizzy, which just gets exacerbated in any breeze, or if I blow dry it.

Lucky I have just the ayurvedic remedy to add life and moisture back to my hair. It’s basically just an overnight deep-conditioning oil treatment that you can wash out in the morning, leaving your hair silky smooth again. An all-natural conditioner, if you will.

It’s pretty simple, but effective. Basically, warm up oil (see below for the particular oil that will suit your hair) in a bowl over hot water in a sink. Massage gently and thoroughly into scalp and hair. Leave in overnight (or for at least 30 minutes). Cover with a towel or plastic bag. Wash out with shampoo.

The oil massage will relax your scalp and you. It will clean your hair, without stripping it, and add moisture back to your hair.

Tip:

Try and leave some of the oil in your hair. If your hair is very dry like mine, it will protect it from drying out over the day. I find that the sun, wind and air conditioning make my hair drier and drier over the day, to the point where it is almost standing up by itself by night time! A light coating of coconut oil should prevent this from happening. If you accidentally wash out all the oil, during the day you can rub a very very small amount of coconut oil (not too much or it’ll get greasy!) over your hair to stick down those frizzies.

What oil to use with different doshas

What dosha you are will influence which particular oil will work best for your hair:

Vata

If you are a vata, like me with thin, dry frizzy hair:

  • Use almond or sesame oil (heating, moisturising)
  • Treat your hair 2 or 3 times a week
  • Do not shampoo your hair too much as the harsh chemicals will strip your hair
  • Try not to blow dry, leave to dry naturally

Pitta

If you are a pitta, with fair/red hair which is prone to greying or falling out:

  • Use coconut oil (cooling)
  • Add rosemary to combat greyness

Kapha

If you are a kapha with oily, thick dark hair:

  • Use mustard oil or olive oil (purifying, heating).

You’ll soon be on your way to beautiful silky hair!

Sources:

http://venuschild.tumblr.com/post/4298746303/home-remedy-the-ayurvedic-secret-for-gorgeous-hair

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7612/why-you-should-put-down-that-conditioner-and-use-coconut-oil-instead.html

Are we in Kali Yuga?

Kali Yuga

The world may not have ended in 2012, but we have to admit these are strange days for the world, with the global financial crisis, global warming, increased natural disasters, and increasing stress and social upheaval. In the Hindu culture, it is believed this is happening because we are in a bad period of time called the Kali Yuga.

Time as cyclical

Hindu culture does not subscribe to the western idea of constant progress, that we are evolving over time by gaining better scientific knowledge. Instead, it is believed that time is cyclical and governed by four distinct periods called yugas. Ancient Greeks and Buddhists also had a similar belief system.

At the start of the whole cycle, man is closest to spirituality and the gods: life is perfect and moral, people are healthy, there is no sickness and lifespans are very long. This is the age of gods and goddesses of mythology. Over millenia, things gradually degenerate and become more materialistic and immoral, until the whole system collapses and has to start all over again.

We may believe we are evolving, but it is really just progress in scientific knowledge and the focus is on purely material matters, causing a degeneration of our original spiritual wisdom. In previous more evolved ages, the spirit was used to control the material anyway, we had no need for something as base as science. It is believed that we are currently in the last phase of the cycle, Kali Yuga, where things are winding down totally.

The four yugas

time1

The four yugas in the cycle are:

Satya Yuga – Golden Age, Age of Wisdom

Treta Yuga – Silver Age, Age of Ritual

Dvapara Yuga – Bronze Age, Age of Doubt

Kali Yuga – Iron Age, Age of Conflict

What is Kali Yuga?

Kali Yuga, our present stage of the cycle, is known as the Age of Conflict, in which war, torture and conflict are prevalent. It is also known as the Iron Age – as the planet Mars, god of war is dominant. During this time there is increasing chaos, flux and change. There is great spiritual degeneration during this time – people turn their backs on religion and morality. Marriages and families break up constantly, promiscuity is rife, drinks and drugs are widely used, and language and music becomes simple and unsophisticated.

During Kali Yuga there is a hardening of the spirit, a materialisation in all senses of the word. People become preoccupied with their physical bodies and attractiveness, rather than the quality of their character and souls. They will have insatiable greed for material objects. This will be an extremely hard time for people with principles and morality. It is argued that a very simple spirituality, such as Bhakti yoga, which involves chanting, service to others and love, will be needed to ride the period out and maintain sanity.

So what will happen at the end of Kali Yuga?

It is believed that Kali Yuga started in 3102 BCE and will last for 432,000 years, but the exact timing is widely disputed. At the end of this time, it believed that the universe will be destroyed, along with our physical bodies. This will release human bodies from the material to the spiritual, and we will once again become spiritual beings in a Golden Age.

I made through it through Kali Yuga and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

I made through it through Kali Yuga and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kali_Yuga

http://vedabase.net/sb/12/2/

http://www.mother-god.com/kali-yuga.html

http://www.halexandria.org/dward030.htm

http://hinduism.about.com/od/basics/a/fouryugas.htm

Native American trackers grew their hair long, believing it helped their tracking abilities.

Is our hair really an extension of our nervous system?

I just read an interesting article on Native American trackers during the Vietnam War who lost their special abilities when their long hair was cut off. They reported losing the abilities to sense subtle changes in the environment, as well as their intuitive abilities.

It has been theorised by the scientists involved in the study that our hair (on the head, face and body) is an external part of the nervous system, and play an important part in helping us ‘sense’ what is happening around us:

“Hair is an extension of the nervous system, it can be correctly seen as exteriorized nerves, a type of highly-evolved ‘feelers’ or ‘antennae’ that transmit vast amounts of important information to the brainstem, the limbic system, and the neocortex. When hair is cut, receiving and sending transmissions to and from the environment are greatly hampered. This results in ‘numbing-out’.”

Intuitively this seems right, that our hair and nervous systems are intimately linked. When we sense danger, our hair will rise up on our necks and scalps. In the animal kingdom, dogs’ hackles rise when they are scared and preparing for an attack, and cat’s whiskers give them a lot of information about their environment, even in the dark. Conversely what is happening in our nervous system can effect our hair’s condition. Our hair can turn grey or even fall out when we have a big shock.

Ayurveda and the hair-nervous system connection

Ayurveda believes that there is a strong link between hair and the nervous system. Hair is seen as being a secondary vital tissue closely linked to both marrow and the central nervous system. The condition of the hair can show the state of balance of a person’s nervous system. Very dry, wild hair can be a sign of a vata imbalance, which also causes anxiety. Prematurely grey hair or balding are a sign of pitta imbalance, or high stress or anger. Interestingly, gray or silver hairs are not seen as problematic (unless premature) as they are supposed to increase energy and nutrients in the body to compensate for age. Calm kaphas will often have luxuriously full and thick hair.

Leaving hair to grow long as nature intended is seen as the ideal in Ayurveda. Hair is meant to be left to grow as long as is genetically possible, which will be different for everyone. It is believed that hair, as well as skin, absorbs solar energy (in the form of phosphorous, vitamin D and calcium), so must be kept long to maximise this. The natural oils in hair help with the absorption of vitamin D, which is important for the health of our central nervous system. We should be drying our hair in the sun to absorb the vitamin D, rather than using hairdryers. Additionally it is believed that if hair is continually cut, it needs lots of extra energy and nutrients to grow the hair, taking it from the body.

Ayurveda recommends tying the hair up on the top of the head during the day to better absorb solar energy, and being combed down with a wooden comb at night. Instead of cutting hair to remove split ends, the daily oiling of hair is recommended.

Hair as the receptor of subtle energies

But more than this, Ayurveda (and Kundalini yoga) sees the hair as absorbing and transmitting more subtle energies than that, acting as a sort of antennae for the energetic world around us. This relates to the loss of psychic abilities in the Native American trackers.

The hair is seen as an extension of the Shushumna, the etheric spine, acting as ‘antennae’ that take in prana, or the universal life force, increasing our vitality and intuition. When we cut our hair, we cut these antennaes off, depriving ourselves of energy and psychic abilities. The antennae take 3 years to reform, requiring lots of energy from our bodies to grow.

Long hair and culture

The ancient and native peoples all knew about this link between long hair, health and spirituality. They never cut their hair voluntarily. Short hair was a universal sign of slavery or defeat, a loss of power and identity. People would only cut their hair for mourning purposes, to retreat from the world (such as nuns) or for hygiene (such as in armies). It is a way of blocking out the energies of the world. Even Victorian women would let their hair grow as long as possible, tying it up in elaborate hair styles to keep it out of the way. It is only in modern times that both men and women cut their hair short on a regular basis, changing the lengths according to trends.

Rishi with long knotted hair

Rishi with long knotted hair

Many religions of the world recommend leaving hair to grow long to increase sensitivity and overall spirituality. The hair is an important part of our connection to our environment. The rishis of India leave their hair to grow long, knotting it up on the crown of their head in a rishi knot, or joora.

Many other religious groups never cut their hair as part of their beliefs, including Sikhs and Exclusive Brethren. They wear turbans or head scarves to keep the hair tidy and in order, as tangled hair is seen as tangling the energies received into the body.

Perhaps there is some truth in the Sampson and Delilah story after all, where Sampson loses all his power when Delilah cuts off his hair.

Sources:

http://www.kundalini-yoga-info.com/hair-beard-turbans.html

http://www.banyanbotanicals.com/nl/409.html

Vata and the artist

I’ve just been thinking about all my favourite singers and realised that most of them have curly, unruly, (originally) dark hair. Maybe that is the styling they get, or maybe it is to do with the genre of music I like, but I think it’s interesting, especially as it relates to the vata dosha.

As the (sort-of) proud owner of a messy, brown crop of curls that has a mind of its own, I have heard from childhood that somehow is very ‘artistic’ to have curls. I would scowl as a child at this, what had someone’s hair to do with what they were good at? Stoopid adults. All I wanted was for manageable, docile, shiny blonde hair like all the other girls.

Then I learnt about ayurveda and the doshas. Apparently vata-type people have a lot of dryness and air in their temperaments and that extends to their hair which is often dry, curly or wavy, dark and wild. My hair and wind combined seem to create the most amazing afro hair-art, even though I am totally European!

Vata people are also supposed to be creative and spiritual in temperament, so it makes sense that a good proportion of artists out there have the wild vata look (unless powerful hair straighteners get involved).

Consider these vata singers:

Image

I have recently had a big painful crack at the side of my mouth – thinking it was some nutritional deficiency of some kind, as Western medicine would have you think. Indeed, Wikipedia says it is a condition called Angular chellitis and is caused by zinc deficiency, anemia or an infection. But what causes it really?

My Indian friend said it is caused by excess pitta drying out my system and causing this fissure on my mouth. Sure enough, I’ve been drinking too much coffee for summer and started a new job recently. Also, the tip of my nose is sore and red, and I have red spots appearing again from the overacidity in my body.

According to Ayurveda Questions & Answers, cracks on the side of the mouth are related to the rasa dhatu, or blood plasma, drying out, due to the heat of excess pitta. The California College of Ayurveda also says that, “It is easiest to observe the mucous membranes by looking inside the mouth, at the lips, or at the eyes. If the membranes are dry, red or inflamed or if the lips are cracked, then rasa dhatu is depleted”.

A common sense approach to curing this would be to curb pitta by eliminating the coffee from my day and making sure I cool down frequently with things like coconut water, cucumbers, and lots of rest and relaxation.

According to the California College of Ayurveda article: “taking juice is the best way to replenish rasa. Rasa is also replenished through the intake of sap-type fluids such as maple syrup and agave nectar. Thus, herbal teas that are sweetened with these substances are much better than water alone in rebuilding rasa dhatu”.

So I have been making sure to have lots of freshly squeezed juices in my week, and the crack seems to be on its way out. Stay cool everyone!

As a side note, my friend makes an incredibly yummy fresh juice by whizzing whole limes and lemons in a blender with lots of water and sugar, then straining it all. It makes a refreshing and frothy lemon and lime bitter drink – perfect for cooling down after a hot day.

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