Improve Immunity and Vitality with Ojas—Your Body’s Secret Weapon Against Disease

Last week we discussed how Ayurveda considers good digestion to be central to maintaining health and vitality. We also discussed how poor digestion could lead to a build-up of toxins (called ama) throughout the body.

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Today I want to touch on another product of digestion: ama’s opposite: ojas. When our digestion is strong and is capable of thoroughly digesting the food that we eat, a state of balance is created in our entire mind/body system. As digestion improves it creates more of a subtle substance called ojas.

Ojas is the finest product of digestion and brings a healthy glow to the skin. It nourishes the experience of bliss in the mind and body. According to the original texts of Ayurveda, the Charaka Samhita, when the quality of ojas diminishes too much, life itself is threatened. The more ojas we have in our body, the more our health, immunity from disease and sense of well-being increase.

Ojas is also said to stand as the “lamp at the door” between consciousness and matter, connecting them and thus assuring that the sequence of intelligence is expressed properly in the body. Ojas is said to be the most important biochemical substance mediating the influence of consciousness on the body.

All Ayurvedic treatments and recommendations are designed to increase the abundance of ojas and to avoid reducing ojas. both aspects are considered central to restoring health and preventing illness. Foundational for increasing ojas is good digestion and balanced diet.

WHAT INCREASES OJAS, BESIDES GOOD DIGESTION?

Food

There are some foods that directly increase ojas, while others decrease it.Foods that increase ojas (providing that you are properly digesting them) are milk, ghee, and rice.

Food should be fresh and organic.

Preparation and eating of food

Food taken in an atmosphere of warmth, upliftment and congeniality increases ojas.

Behavior

Positivity in feelings, speech and behavior are said to increase ojas. Love, joy, and appreciation produce more ojas and, therefore, better immunity. This ties in well with the current findings in mind/body medicine and may provide a way of understanding such findings.

Panchakarma

Ayurvedic purification therapies remove impurities from the channels of circulation in the body. This is said to improve the cells’ ability to take up and receive ojas, thus helping rejuvenation the body.

WHAT DECREASES OJAS?

Negative emotions

Stress, hurrying, and excessive exercise

Staying up too late

Overexposure to wind and sun

Injury or trauma to the body

Alcoholic beverages

For more information on Panchakarma, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:

WWW.THERAJ.COM

Winter Skin Care: Ayurveda Tips for a Glowing Complexion

This week we are reposting one of our most-read posts… 

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If you are familiar with Ayurveda, you are familiar with the concept that everything in life — including our bodies, the food that we eat, and the environment around us — is composed of the three “doshas”; Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  These qualities, or principles of nature, each have their own fundamental traits. Vata, the principle of movement, is the ruling dosha for the late fall and winter seasons. These months are marked by the same qualities that characterize Vata: coldness, dryness, lightness, and movement.

During the winter many notice a tendency toward dryness, constipation, anxiety and insomnia — all Vata imbalances that can take their toll on our skin.  Luckily, through the understanding of Ayurvedic principles, we can take steps to pacify Vata and keep our skin balanced and glowing throughout the winter months.

Washing the Face

At any time of the year it is important to be gentle when washing the face, as it is easy to aggravate vata, which can promote dryness and wrinkles. Favor body-temperature water over hot water. Avoid using soaps with chemical additives. For most skin types, sweet almond oil is a good lubricant to use after washing to help protect the skin. Sweet almond oil is also healthy way to remove make-up before washing. A luxurious option for keeping skin lubricated in the winter is to bathe the face with milk. Whole, organic milk is ideal. The tiny, nutritious molecules of milk can be easily be absorbed by our skin without clogging the pores. Heat the milk to body temperature (not too hot) before applying.

Ten Vata-Reducing Tips to Promote Glowing Skin

  1. Drink plenty of warm, pure water throughout the day to both purify the body and stay well hydrated.
  2. Ideally, enjoy organic, freshly cooked meals, using healthy oils such as olive oil and ghee. Remember, you want to counter the influence of Vata, which is characterized as light, dry and cold. Healthy oils in winter are our friends.
  3. Eat your main meal at noon.
  4. Avoid packaged, frozen, canned and processed foods, which are difficult to digest and often include harmful additives.
  5. Favor Vata-pacifying foods such as avocados, pumpkins, carrots, beets, asparagus, bananas, lemons, mangoes, peaches, quinoa, basmati rice, wheat, almonds, sesame seeds, boiled milk, and ghee. Nuts and seeds provide healthy oils that are good for skin and hair. Eat more foods with sweet, sour, and salty tastes and less of those with bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes.  Don’t forget that Ayurveda recommends having some amounts of all six tastes with every meal. Otherwise the body can develop food cravings. Ayurvedic spice mixes or “churnas” can help you make sure that you get all six tastes.
  6. Avoid dry, raw foods, especially salads and raw vegetables.
  7. Use a humidifier at night, especially if you have forced air heating.
  8. Oil Up! Before your morning bath, give yourself a gentle self-massage with sesame oil. Those who tend toward pitta imbalances may prefer sweet almond oil or olive oil or coconut oil. The oil helps to pull out toxins from the skin and also leaves a protective layer between your skin and the harsh winter environment. Don’t feel like you have to remove the oil with soap. Soap is essentially oil and fat combined with salt. A good scrub with a luffa or body brush after your morning oil massage is really all you need.
  9. Go to bed early and try to get eight hours of sleep. The most effective means of pacifying Vata is to increase rest.
  10. Learn to meditate.  The Raj Ayurveda Health Center recommends the Transcendental Meditation program (TM) to complement their in-residence Ayurvedic treatment packages. An imbalance of Vata can lead to an overactive mind, worry, anxiety and insomnia. Over 350 published research studies on the TM technique have documented a wide range of benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, improved health and brain function, and increased self-actualization.

For more information on Vata-pacifying skin care products, herbal formulas to improve skin or digestion please contact the herb room at The Raj. Ideally a visit to an Ayurvedic expert in your area will help to more precisely determine which supplements, diet recommendations and life-style tips would benefit your individual mind/body make-up.

Learn more at:

www.theraj.com

Can Ayurveda Panchakarma Treatments Cure Disease?

The Ayurveda approach to disease and disorders focuses on boosting the overall immune system and restoring balance to the physiolgoy. One of the key approaches is through Panchakarma, the traditional purification therapies of Ayurveda. Panchakarma effectively eliminates toxins from the body and helps eliminate imbalances. It is recommended for healthy individuals as well as for those showing symptoms of various disorders.

According to Ayurveda, our physiology is made up of doshas (functional elements), dhatus (structural elements) and malas (waste products). The three doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. (Read our blog on Understanding the Doshas if you are unfamiliar with this concept.) The three doshas are responsible for specific functions in our body and their balance is foundational to our health — whereas a loss of balance is known to contribute to disease and disorders.

The traditional detoxification therapies of Ayurveda, called Panchakarma, are designed to help to bring these doshas back to their natural balance, thus restoring health and vitality.

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Three Stages of Panchakarma:

Stage one: During the first phase of Panchakarma, the body and the internal system is prepared for the elimination of toxins. This process is marked by 1) oliation: purifying the body by administering various oils both internally and externally, and 2) sudation: preparing the sweat glands to expel the toxins through sweat.

Oliation begins a week before your actual treatment program and continues through your course of therapies. The home routine is created specifically to support your individual doshic balance and state of health. Most people follow a low-fat diet during this time, while ingesting varying amounts of ghee and/or herbs.

Stage two: Stage two involves the elimination process. This stage is added during your treatment program. Most people who undergo Panchakarma are prescribed “basti” treatments. Basti is an Ayurvedic treatment in which medicated oils and herbal preparations are introduced as an enema in order to flush toxins from the intestinal tract. Bastis offer more healing benefits than simply evacuating the colon. The medicinal effects of herbs given in this manner are able to penetrate the deeper tissues of the physiology, including the bones. Bastis are extremely effective in balancing Vata dosha. Because Vata dosha is the first dosha to go out of balance and tends to create problems with the other doshas, balancing Vata is key to bringing balance to the physiology as a whole.

Stage three: Adopting a healthy routine. Removing toxins is not a magical solution that will keep you healthy for life. During your stay at The Raj, you will be given recommendations for changes in diet and lifestyle that will help you to maintain balance and support a healthy immune system. Understanding the Ayurvedic principles of daily routine and diet according to the seasons and your doshic balance, and understanding how to maintain a strong digestion are all key to keeping your mind/body system at its strongest.

Over the years we have seen guests arrive at The Raj with numerous concerns ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes, MS, migraines, asthma, arthritis and more. And again and again, we receive letters weeks after guests’ departures telling us how their symptoms have improved. Did Panchakarma “cure” these disorders? Not at all. What Panchakarma did was to remove the toxins and imbalances that were blocking the natural ability of the body to heal itself. If you support your immune system, your immune system will support you.

For more information on Panchakarma, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:

www.theraj.com

How To Reduce and Manage Stress—a Key Tool for Healthy Living

Life, by nature, can be unpredictable and, therefore, stressful. If we are lucky, the stress we experience is a short-lived. Too often, however, situations occur that keep us stressed for days, weeks, or even months. This experience of unrelenting stress can cause significant damage to our health, mind and emotions. If you go to the Internet, you’ll find pages and pages of articles and research studies linking stress to ill health.

Stress Creates a Super-highway for Spreading Cancer

Depression and Chronic Stress Accelerate Aging

Moderate to High Stress Leads to Higher Mortality Rate

Mild Stress Linked to Long-Term Disability

Stress Can Control Our Genes

Chronic Stress May Cause Long-Lasting Epigenetic Changes

Chronic Stress Predisposes Brain to Mental Illness

Stress: Yes It Really Can Trigger a Heart Attack

Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity

Clearly if we are interested in staying healthy, stress management should be one of our top priorities.

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Let’s take a look at the mechanisms of the stress response. Stress is described as “any physical, emotional, social, economic or other factor that requires a response to change.” Since it has been said that ” change is the only constant in life”, if stress is associated with change, it can also be considered a constant. Luckily the human body is brilliantly designed to react to stress. It does so by activating the secretion of the hormone cortisol. This initiates a beautiful cascade of physiological responses that allows us to deal with immediate danger or challenge.

When the adrenal gland releases cortisol into the body, the hormone “turns off” many of our normal physiological mechanisms while “turning on” many temporary mechanisms. This is the source of the “fight or flight” response. Ideally once the emergency situation has been resolved, our metabolic functions go back to their normal functioning. But if we are under constant stress the adrenal gland does not get a signal to stop producing cortisol. The long-term production of cortisol can severely compromise our health and permanently alter our metabolic process.

Results of Long-Term Stress

Some of the documented results of long-term stress include:

  1. Weakened immune response leading to heightened vulnerability to infection
  2. Memory loss: excess cortisol can overwhelm the hippocampus and actually cause atrophy. Studies of the elderly have indicated that those with elevated cortisol levels display significant memory loss resulting from hippocampus damage. Luckily the damage incurred is usually reversible.
  3. Shortening of telomeres. The link between memory loss and stress may in some part be due to shortened telmeres. The telomere is the outermost part of the chromosome. As we age, telomeres shorten. Research has shown that oxidative stress and inflammation accelerates this shortening. Shorter telomere length has recently been associated with cortisol levels indicative of exposure to chronic stress. If its telomeres get too short, a cell may die. Shortened telomere length has been associated with risks for dementia and mortality, and may be a marker of biological aging, according to a new study.
  4. An increase in abdominal fat. Researchers at Yale University found slender women who had high cortisol also had more abdominal fat. Abdominal, or visceral, fat is a key player in a variety of health problems Visceral fat has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.
  5. Systemic inflammation. Researchers have found that chronic stress changes gene activity of immune cells before they enter the bloodstream so that they’re ready to fight infection or trauma — even when there is no infection or trauma to fight. This leads to increased inflammation in the body. Problematically, systemic inflammation is known to cause elevated cortisol levels. Thus chronic stress can create a vicious cycle wherein the cortisol and inflammation basically feed each other. Chronic inflammation has been linked with a range of conditions such as heart disease, depression and even cancer.

Stress-Busters

While we may not be able to eliminate the stress in our lives, we can take measures to give the body the relief from stress that it needs in order to stay healthy.

  1. Decrease consumption of caffeine and alcohol, both of which impact cortisol levels
  2. Go to bed by 10:00. Your body needs sleep. Getting six hours or less over time can significantly increase cortisol levels. It takes a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep to give your body enough time to recover from the stresses of the day before.
  3. Practice a stress reduction technique. Research has shown that the Transcendental Meditation technique (TM) can lower cortisol levels. The lowering is even greater in those who practice TM regularly. In fact, the longer people practice TM, the more pronounced is the effect. TM was also found to decrease the time it took for the body return to normal functioning following stressful stimuli. This is significant because high cortisol levels can actually create a self-perpetuating loop by disrupting the delicate feedback balance that tells the brain to stop releasing cortisol.Researchers concluded that the Transcendental Meditation technique gives the body a reprieve from experiencing stress, and as a result, the body is able to respond more normally to stress stimuli of short duration.
  4. Schedule a week of Panchakarma treatments. Multiple studies have shown that massage therapy can lower cortisol levels, increase dopamine and serotonin (our happy, feel-good hormones), and lower excitatory hormones like norepinephrine and epinephrine. A week of luxurious in-residence treatments can provide a much-needed break from the day-to-day pressures at work and home.

More Stress-Busting Recommendations

  • Get more spinach in your diet.  Spinach has magnesium, which help balance your body’s production of cortisol.
  • Eat more citrus fruits.  Research has shown that citrus fruits like oranges and kiwis have high content of vitamin C, which help slow the production of cortisol.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough healthy omega-3 oils in your diet.  These healthy fats not only inhibit inflammation, but also help lower cortisol levels and reduce stress.
  • Get some Holy Basil in your diet!  This tasty herb is an adaptogen herb, which is a unique class of healing plants that help reduce the production of stress related hormones.
  • Research has shown that zinc helps inhibit the production of cortisol.  Vegetarians can get zinc from cashews, pumpkin seeds, spinach and beans.
  • Good news! Dark chocolate has high levels of anti-oxidants that help decrease inflammation and slow the secretion of cortisol.  Just make sure that it’s at least 70% dark chocolate.

Arming ourselves with an understanding of the stress response and minimizing the impact of stress on our minds and bodies is one of the keys to maintaining balanced health. This is why any responsible health program must include stress reduction techniques. Learn more about Panachkarma treatments and learning the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique at The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa:

www.theraj.com

Reducing Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis with Ayurveda

Many health experts, including well-known natural health care advocate Dr. Andrew Weil, have observed that symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) respond well to changes in diet and lifestyle, stress reduction, and mind/body techniques.

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Modern medicine describes MS as a slow progression of patches of demyelization of the brain and spinal chord. However, pinpointing what triggers the disease still eludes Western medical experts.

Balancing Vata

According to Ayurveda, Vata dosha is the aspect of biological intelligence that controls all movement in the body, including the overall level of balance and activation of the nervous system. MS is seen as a classic Vata imbalance. Many of the conditions and symptoms of Vata imbalance correspond with symptoms often associated with MS:  insomnia, headaches, pain, anxiety and fear, fatigue, poor digestion, dry or rough skin, constipation and heightened sensitivity.

Traditional Ayurvedic recommendations to help balance Vata can aid in the natural healing process for those with MS.

  1. Favor fresh, organic cooked foods, including lots of cooked vegetables
  2. Drink warm liquids — but avoid caffeinated beverages. Sipping hot water throughout the day is highly recommended
  3. Avoid cold drinks and raw foods.  Add ghee to your meals to counter-balance dryness.
  4. Go to bed early, preferably by 10 pm. Get plenty of rest.
  5. Avoid strenuous exercise. Walking and swimming and yoga are best for those with Vata aggravation.
  6. Avoid processed foods, eat your main meal at noon and eat lighter means at night to improve digestion.

Remove Toxins and Strengthen Immunity

The build up of plaque around affected nerves with accompanying inflammation that is seen in MS is a classic example of impurities building up in tissues and disrupting delicate tissue biochemistry. At The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, foundational to Ayurveda programs for MS is Panchakarma, a series of Ayurvedic treatments that help remove impurities from the bodily tissues. The program also includes individualized dietary recommendations to pacify Vata and improve digestion, thus helping to reduce the further accumulation of impurities.

Modern medicine postulates that infection by a latent virus may possibly cause MS. As a result, immune function-enhancing therapies are often used to combat the illness. The fundamental goal of Panchakarma treatments are to strengthen the body’s own healing mechanisms by removing toxins and impurities that block the natural flow of intelligence in the body.

Under the guidance of trained Ayurveda experts Panchakarma treatments, the introduction of yoga and meditation, and individualized dietary and lifestyle changes create a natural approach to MS that can offer relief to symptoms of MS as well as support long-term remission.

For more information on Ayurvedic treatment programs for MS at The Raj Ayurveda Health Center and to read testimonials and case studies of those who have participated in this natural approach to MS relief, please visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa:

http://www.theraj.com

How to Get More Energy from Your Food

Looking for more energy? Perhaps you should consider what fuel you are using to keep your body running. Let’s consider this from an Ayurvedic perspective: are you giving yourself enough prana?

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Understanding Prana

Prana is the principle of energy responsible for giving life to and maintaining the body. Prana is the vital energy present in fresh vegetables and fruits, in the pure air that we breathe and the fresh water that we drink. According to Ayurveda, one of the reasons for eating is to take in prana. Therefore we always want to choose foods that are high in this lively energy.

What does it mean when we ask if a food has prana. We are basically asking, “Is it alive?” Does this food contain vitamins, minerals, enzymes and nutrients that can nourish my body? Or is this food the nutritional equivalent of eating cardboard? The fresher the food, the more nutrients it will provide to nourish your body and the more enzymes will be available to help break down the food in order to fully absorb those nutrients. Eating the freshest foods possible will give us the biggest energy boost.

Avoid Processed Food

Processed foods that can sit on a shelf for years are an obvious example of “dead food”. What Prana or “life force” means should be obvious to anyone who has watched vegetables wilt, lose their color and go bad. Processed food, overly refined flours and sugars, and frozen and canned foods (which are prepared long before the time of consumption) contain less vital qualities to nourish the body. They are also harder to digest. These foods simply can not give us the same level of nutrients as foods brimming with prana, This loss of prana is also why Ayurveda discourages eating leftovers or foods that have been sitting around for too long.

Buy Local

The time between a vegetable being picked and appearing on your plate determines the quality and quantity of prana that you will be receiving from your meal. An intuitive sense of this is one of the numerous forces behind the growth of the “buy local” and “farm to table” movements. Locate the local farmers market near to your home and indentify the sellers there who grow organically. Obviously many climates prohibit buying fresh, local foods all year round, but during the months when they are available, these foods will provide optimal nourishment and energy.

Go Organic

When looking for foods rich in prana and life energy, you’ll want to make sure you consume organic foods. Organic foods have more prana than foods grown with chemical fertilizers and sprayed with pesticides. In addition, taking in these powerful chemicals puts a stress on your physiology and blocks its proper functioning. If your body has to work hard to purify the chemicals every time you eat, you’ll feel fatigued. Because many of the chemicals are fat-soluble, the toxins will build up in your system despite your body’s attempts to eliminate them. While the traditional detoxification treatments of Ayurveda (Panchakarma) have been shown to eliminate fat-soluble toxins from the body tissues, it is best to do one’s best not accumulate them in the first place.

To Cook or Not to Cook?

Raw food advocates point to prana as one reason to not cook foods. Ayurveda recommends lightly cooking most vegetables in order to make them more easy to digest. Unless you have a very strong digestion, you will actually get fewer nutrients from your vegetables if you eat them raw.

(see blog Getting The Most Out of Our Food)

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Pure Water

Drink pure, spring water instead of soda, coffee or tea. Water nourishes the body on a cellular level

We ingest all of life through our five senses: touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. Good health is dependent on our ability to fully metabolize all aspects of life, assimilating what is nourishing and expelling or eliminating that which is not. Through bad choices or through environmental factors that are beyond our control, we can easily metabolize impurities that create imbalances or ama (toxins)—which can then lead to the formation of chronic disorders.

Ayurveda offers the knowledge of how to live in harmony with nature. Ayurveda also offers healing modalities and regular seasonal routines to help restore balance and vitality when it has become lost. For more information on the healing treatments of Ayurveda, visit The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa website:

http://www.theraj.com

 

Holiday Travel Tips

Stock Photo

Every year about this time we put up a post on travel tips. This is a time of year when many are beginning to make travel plans, whether it is for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, or simply planning a January escape from snow and cold weather. Traveling during the late fall and winter has its challenges. When we travel at any time of the year, Vata dosha can get out of balance. But because this is the season when Vata is predominant in our environment, we need to be extra alert about maintaining balance. To stay in peak health while on long car or airplane trips, try these suggestions:

  1. Get plenty of rest. While Ayurveda usually cautions against day-time naps, you can indulge when you are traveling. One of the best ways to balance Vata is through rest. Practice the Transcendental Meditation technique to calm the mind and body. Meditation is a soothing option to watching movies if you are on a long flight.
  2. Try not to rush. Think ahead so that you are not frantically packing at the last minute. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and check in. If you are driving to your destination, don’t speed. Your physiology doesn’t need any extra pressure. Don’t start out your trip feeling frazzled.
  3. Drink plenty of warm fluids—more than you usually drink. One of the qualities of Vata is dryness. Avoid caffeinated drinks, (which will promote additional stimulation, thus aggravating Vata), sodas and alcohol. Bring a thermos of Vata Tea in your car or ask your flight attendant for hot water and then add your own tea bag. Avoid cold drinks and cold food.
  4. Avoid eating large quantities of food while you are in the air or traveling in the car. This is especially important when you are crossing time zones. It is better to eat your meal at the normal time after you arrive. If you are driving, bring a thermos of soup to enjoy along the way.
  5. Keep warm. Planes temperatures can be very chilly. Take a shawl with you so that you can protect your shoulders, neck and head if necessary.
  6. Adopt the local time as soon as you arrive. Resist the urge to nap. Reset your clock and then try to get up and go to bed at the same time as you would at home.
  7. Avoid Vata-aggravating foods such as salads, dried fruit and potato chips. Opt for warm, freshly cooked, soothing foods.
  8. Bring along some Ayurvedic massage oil so that you can give yourself an oil massage when you arrive at your destination. The warm oil (you can warm it by floating the bottle in hot water in your sink) and tactile stimulation will go a long way toward soothing Vata dosha. If you don’t have time for a full-body massage, try a quick foot massage. (Be sure to wrap the bottle of oil carefully so that it cannot leak into your luggage. Double bagging is recommended.)
  9. Bring some soothing aroma oils, such as lavender oil, geranium rose or jasmine. This can help settle your physiology along the way, as well as when you arrive at your destination. Plug-in aroma dispensers are great for hotel rooms. A bit of aroma oil on a cotton ball can produce calming effects in planes and automobiles.
  10. Schedule some Ayurveda spa treatments when you return home. Nasya can help with dryness in the nasal and sinus passages and can help address the Vata-aggravating influence of traveling, as well as protecting from airborne allergens and pollutants. Abhyanga (Ayurveda massage), Shirodhara (oil streamed across the forehead) and Swedana (herbalized steam therapy) are helpful treatments to help balance Vata after travel— and throughout the winter.
  11. Panchakarma treatment is the most significant Ayurvedic approach to both pacifying Vata and drawing out and eliminating impurities that have accumulated during your travels. If you indulge in foods you do not usually eat while you are away, the home-preparation diet and detoxification treatments of Panchakarma will get you back on a healthy routine for the rest of the winter.  Not only will this it will help you transition into spring with fewer allergies and colds, it can help you shed any extra pounds you’ve gained during the holidays.

For more information on scheduling Ayurveda massages and treatments, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:

www.theraj.com

 

 

“Early To Bed..” Really Can Make You Healthy, Wealthy and Wise (and Happy!)

According to Ayurveda, our potential for good health depends largely on how we live our day-to-day life. It is our patterns of eating, sleeping, exercise and what we do daily to rejuvenate ourselves that help determine whether we maintain vibrant health throughout our lifetime.

Ayurveda recognizes the importance of our relationship with the universe around us. We are a part of nature: if we live in accord with the laws that structure the world we live in, we can keep our mind/body system functioning efficiently with the least amount of wear and tear.

One key to living in tune with nature is the time that we go to bed and get up in the morning. There is a saying, “The day begins the night before.” Only by going to be early in the evening can we start the next day fully rested, having synchronized our individual rhythms with the circadian rhythms of the earth.

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Modern science is increasingly supporting the idea that sleep is the third pillar of health, along with good diet and exercise. It is a vital factor in increasing our wellbeing. A recent study showed that those who get less than 6 hours of sleep at night are 4 times more likely to catch a cold than those who get 7 or more. Researchers believe that sleep helps the immune system fight off infections. Sleep has been found to play an important part in regulating the levels of T-cells which fight off infection in our bodies.

When we go to bed is as important as how much sleep we get. Ayurveda recommends that we get to bed by 10 P.M. to gain the deepest level of healing and rejuvenation from our sleep. According to Ayurveda, during the four hours before 10 P.M., Kapha dosha is increasing in nature. This increase in Kapha enlivens the qualities of heaviness and dullness in our mind and body. If we head to bed during this time, we will fall asleep more quickly and experience deeper, less interrupted sleep.

After 10 P.M., Pitta dosha starts to become enlivened. The evening Pitta-cycle is involved in metabolic cleaning. The body needs to be inactive at this time so that the physiology can focus its intelligence and energy on metabolic cleansing and rejuvenation. When a person stays up past 10 P.M., there is often the experience of a “second wind”. This is an indication that Pitta dosha is no longer being directed internally for self-repair activities. Instead, the transformational nature of Pitta is flowing in a more manifest way, creating an increase in energy, creativity and, often, hunger. (This accounts for the infamous scourge of midnight snacking.)

While many busy adults feel that they are grabbing valuable “me” time in the late hours of the night, they are actually robbing their body of its built-in mechanism to recover from the day’s wear and tear. In the long run, night owls may find themselves with deep-seated sleep imbalances and ill health.

Ayurveda recommends waking up before 6 A.M, while the quality of Vata is lively. Because it is ideal not to be startled awake by alarms, the best way to spontaneously get up early—and feel rested— is to go to bed early.

The hours before 6 A.M. are hours when all of nature is waking up. This is the time that Vata dosha is predominate in the environment. When we start our day during Vata time it means that our mind and body will experience more of the qualities of balanced Vata throughout the day— increased energy, clarity, intelligence and alertness.

The longer we sleep past 6 A.M. the more we are asleep while Kapha is dominating the environment. If we sleep in until 7:30, for example, we are lying dull and dormant for 1 and 1/2 hours of Kapha time and we will wake up imbibed with those same heavy, dull qualities.

Many people find that they can think faster and concentrate more in the morning. Students who get up early in the morning have been shown to get better grades, which then impacts where they go to college and what jobs they get after school. Apparently morning people are better at anticipating problems and trying to solve them. They have been found to be more proactive.

Other studies have demonstrated that if you wake up early you will feel more positive and confident. Published research linked rising early and synchronizing one’s circadian cycle with the time the sun rises and sets to feeling happier than those who wake up late.

This simple adjustment in bedtime and rising-time in routine can make a huge impact on our health. If you are in need of extra “me” time, it is much better to go to bed by 10:00 PM and wake up an hour earlier in the morning. Early morning may, in fact, be the best time to work effectively during the day. Your brain will be rested and your nervous system will have abundant energy after a good night’s sleep

For more information on Ayurveda programs for insomnia, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:

www.theraj.com

Avoiding Back Pain in the Winter

Driving through my neighborhood this week I noticed many people preparing their homes and yards for winter. This alertness to the change of seasons also needs to extend to our own physiologies. As we head into the fall season it is very important to start taking measures to pacify Vata dosha. Vata controls all movement in the body and, not surprisingly, it is the first dosha to move out of balance. Late fall and winter are known as Vata season because they are marked by the same qualities that characterize Vata: cold, dry, and moving. As Vata increases in the environment it increases in our bodies.

back-pain

Vata imbalances include insomnia, aching joints, arthritis, back pain, constipation, high blood pressure and anxiety. All body types are vulnerable to Vata imbalance at this time of the year, but those whose body type is predominantly Vata need to be especially alert to staying in balance. Let’s look specifically at back and joint pain.

The Vata/Kapha Connection

One very common result of Vata imbalance is the sudden onset of back pain. Often it seems to come out of nowhere. You get out of bed in the morning or lean down to tie your shoe and suddenly find yourself immobilized.

In Ayurvedic terms, back pain is often the result of an initial imbalance of Vata dosha that goes on to create a Kapha imbalances. Lower back pain often appears in the fall and winter because this is the season when Vata predominates. This relationship of back pain to Vata also explains why Incidences of back and joint pain increase with age. According to Ayurveda, when we are 60 and over we enter the Vata time of life.  Thus it makes sense that Vata imbalances — and their resulting problems — appear more frequently during Vata season and during the Vata period of life.

In the case of back pain, the build up of Vata interferes with the ability of Kapha dosha to support and lubricate the spine. This increasing dryness further aggravates Vata, creating a vicious cycle leading to back pain, aches and stiffness in the joints, and constipation or difficulties with elimination.

Ama

Ama —toxins and impurities that accumulate in body—is another factor to be considered with back and joint pain. When Vata and Kapha are aggravated they “color” ama with their qualities, creating either a Vata-aggravated ama or a Kapha-aggravated ama. This ama can become lodged in the joints, blocking joint movement and interfering with the production of fluid lubricating the joints. This leads to cracking joints, stiffness, pain, loss of cartilage and overproduced bone growth at the joints resulting in osteoarthritis.

Treatment

Effective preventive treatment for chronic lower back pain should include regular stretching, such as yoga exercises. The traditional detoxification treatments of Ayurveda (Panchakarma) offered at The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa specialize in removing ama and impurities that have accumulated in the joints and tissues.  The treatments also help to balance Vata, allowing Kapha dosha to once again function normally.

Diet

If you are prone to lower back pain, avoid eating Vata-aggravating foods such as dry foods and raw vegetables. Also avoid root foods, which not only aggravate Vata but also have certain properties that can adversely affect joints. To reduce ama, avoid cheese, meat and heavy, fried, or processed foods. Eat your main meal at noon and take a lighter meal in the evening. Drink lots of warm or hot beverages, such as herbal teas (like licorice root and ginger teas) throughout the day. Avoid cold, iced drinks and food. This is the time of year to make sure you include ghee and olive oil in your foods, as the oil helps combat the dryness of the season.

Daily Oil Massage

Pacifying Vata is the key to keeping everything else in balance. A simple home oil massage each morning or evening can help soothe Vata and also help remove ama from the skin tissues.

Relax

Many people find that their back goes out when they are under stress. In a stressful situation the whole body can tighten, tense, and can easily go into muscle spasm, which can push vertebrae out of place. At The Raj, daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique is recommended to reduce stress, thereby reducing incidences of lower back problems.

For more information on Panchakarma treatments or Transcendental Meditation, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa web site:

www.theraj.com

WHEN We Eat Affects Weight and Insulin Levels

In Ayurveda there is a basic framework for health that you can’t escape. No matter what subject you are dealing with, whatever specific tips and recommendations might apply to that subject, there is always an underlying truth: live in tune with the cycles and laws of nature that apply to the rest of the world and your body will function in a better way. Because, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are a part of nature.

Ayurveda gives us a handy reference guide. It outlines the building blocks of life, Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and shows us how they relate to our individual physiologies and how the three doshas support various activities and functioning at different times of the day, different seasons of the year and different times of our life.

For the majority of man’s existence, it was natural to life a life in tune with these cycles. When it got dark, folks settled into their homes and headed to bed. When the sun came up, so did the population. The biggest meal was at noon because people had been working since sunrise and needed fuel to work the rest of the day. Now our lives are topsy turvey. We stay up until the wee hours, work through lunch and enjoy big family dinners at night. This throws all sorts of things out of balance.

There is now emerging evidence that people who consume the exact same diet in terms of calories, fats, carbohydrates, and protein may see big differences depending on how food is distributed during the day. When we eat affects weight control, blood sugar control, triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Researchers concluded that it is metabolically better to consume most of our carbohydrates and calories in the early part of the day, as opposed to consuming them in the evening.

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We know the Ayurveda take on this: it is basic Ayurveda 101. Eat your main meal at noon. Pitta is at its peak from 11:00 to 1:00 and thus the body is better able to transform and metabolize food during this time. In the evening the Pitta quality in our physiology is more subtle. It is meant to repair the body from the activity of the day rather than digest large amounts of food.

How does modern science explain this? They say that these results relate to our hypothalamus, the part of our brain that governs our “master biological clock,” also known as circadian rhythms. In response to different cues, most notably light and dark, the master clock regulates genes that produce the hormones, enzymes and cell receptors responsible for metabolizing and storing carbohydrates and fat.

In the early hours of the day, people are more sensitive to the effects of insulin, requiring less of this hormone in order to clear our blood of the sugar produced from our meal. At night, people are less sensitive to insulin, resulting in higher blood sugar levels, higher levels of insulin secreted and increased amounts of fat storage in response to higher carbohydrate meals.

Because insulin is an “anabolic” hormone, it promotes storage and retention, making it difficult for us to burn stored carbohydrates and fat for energy. Having chronically high levels of insulin circulating, therefore, can have an effect on our weight in the longer term.

This is why Ayurvedic programs for conditions such as diabetes and weight loss can be so successful. They recognizes the multifactorial nature of these conditions and offer a framework that covers all aspects of life, rather than considering parts in isolation. Our body is an ecosystem. We need to treat the body as in intelligent, self-interacting system, in which each aspect of our lives affects all the other parts.

For more information on Ayurvedic programs for diabetes and weight loss, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa:

www.theraj.com