Spring Ayurveda Health Tips

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Ayurveda cautions us to be especially alert during seasonal transitions because the body functions differently in each season. This is especially true in the transition from winter to spring—from Vata season to Kapha season. Late winter marks the transition time from Vata to Kapha. The frigid temperatures of January and February are behind us, the days are lengthening, giving more time for the sun to warm the earth, and nature is beginning to wake up.

As the temperatures rise, melting snow and ice, our environment and our physiology shift into a different mode of functioning. Moving from “hibernation mode” during which our bodies tend to store fat and crave heavier, Vata-pacifying foods, the body now begins to melt accumulated fat. If we have accumulated ama during the earlier months of winter, these toxins start getting released into the body’s micro-channels. This flood of toxins can compromise our immunity, opening the door to colds and flues. This excess of ama can also create joint problems and lead to sinus problems, asthma, bronchial infections, allergies and hay fever.

In addition to the build-up of ama, as the cold, wet qualities of Kapha increase in our environment, they also increase in our body. Kapha is what our body is made out of — our bodily fluids and our muscles, fat and bone. The main seat of Kapha is located in the chest, but we also find Kapha in the throat, sinuses, nose, stomach, joints, plasma, and also in secretions of the body, like mucus. Mucus has its function in protecting important tissue in the body. But an excess of mucus can lead to colds and other disorders. Because childhood is the Kapha time of life, during this season children may be especially vulnerable to producing excess mucus and experiencing upper respiratory illnesses. You can see why spring in a traditional time for cleansing and detoxing. The body is already in a natural detox mode and often needs our support.

Tips for Kapha Season  Diet:

Generally try to favor Kapha-pacifying foods such as bitter greens, beans and dals, and fruits such as apples, pomegranates. Continue to eat warm foods, but opt for lighter foods such as soups. Switch to grains such as barely, quinoa, couscous and millet. Avoid cold drinks and food, processed foods, fried foods, and heavy foods such as red meat and dairy.

Spices:

Adding pungent spices to your food will help increase your agni, or digestive fire, and help eliminate mucus and phlegm. Enjoy black pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, clove, and ginger. Try drinking ginger tea to help enliven your digestive fires. Also a glass of lukewarm water with ½ tsp of unheated honey first thing in the morning is a good combination. It not only helps warm the body but also digests all the toxins.

Exercise: One of the best ways to balance Kapha is to get exercise. Breaking a sweat by going for a brisk walk, run, or even using Swedna, or steam bath, can help relieve congestion and increase circulation. It’s important to choose the right exercise for your body type. If you have not been exercising regularly throughout the winter, start gently so as not to strain the physiology. Brisk daily walks and yoga postures are good for Vata types. More vigorous daily exercise is helpful for Kapha. Working up a sweat is during Kapha season, because it helps to boost agni, increase circulation and relieve congestion.

Sleep: Ideally, try to be in bed by 10:00 p.m so that you can wake up around 6:00 a.m. Try not to sleep into Kapha time (6:00 a.m. – 10:00 p,m.)

Oil Massage: Start the morning with an oil-massage followed by a warm bath. This will help to open the pores, and regulate your body’s internal thermostat. This is helpful in both Vata and Kapha season.

Panchakarma: This is also a great time for Panchakarma — the traditional purification treatments of Ayurveda. Panchakarma includes a full program of Ayurvedic massage, steam and heat treatments, and intestinal cleansing treatments, to rid your body of ama accumulated during the previous season. Panchakarma also helps to strengthen your agni, or digestive fire, in order to help prevent a build-up of ama in the future.

For more information on Panchakarma or consultations with an Ayurveda expert, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa

web site: www.theraj.com

Three Ayurveda Tips to Detox Environmental Toxins

images-2As we observed last week, whatever we take in through our five senses gets transformed into our own physiology—in essence, we metabolize our environment. Even if we buy only organic food and prepare it freshly each day, it is almost impossible to completely escape toxic exposure from plastics, pesticides and additives to our water and household products. The air we breathe, the rains that falls, often even the furniture we sit on, are all full of harmful chemicals.

Dangerous compounds like insecticides, PCB’s, heavy metals, benzene, dioxin, phthalates, pesticides, DDT metabolites, flame retardants, styrene, xylene and dichlorobenzene have routinely been found in blood and stool samples, not just in the US, but around the world.

Back in 2005, the American Red Cross took samples of fetal cord blood from 10 newborns and found a shocking 287 chemicals inside the samples, including dioxins, phthalates, pesticides, Teflon byproducts, mercury, lead, flame retardants, DDT (a pesticide that was banned in the us over 25 years ago, and many others.

This toxic burden has a high cost in terms of our health: these chemicals can lead to cancer, infertility, weight gain, severe inflammation, accelerated aging, liver damage, and more.

What can we do?

Yearly Panchakarma treatments

A study on the traditional Ayurveda detoxification treatments (Panchakarma) given at The Raj Ayurveda Health Center was published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in its September/October 2002. It showed that a 5-day program greatly reduced the levels of 14 important lipophilic (fat-soluble) toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in the body, chemicals which would otherwise remain in the body for a very long time.

This study represents a great breakthrough, being the first ever to find significant reductions in these harmful toxins in a short period of time. Lipophilic toxicants can cause hormone disruption, immune system suppression, reproductive disorders, and several types of cancer. While other methods of detoxification can target water-soluble toxicants, no other method of detox offers a timely and viable solution to the removal of these pervasive, disease-causing chemicals.

Daily home oil massage with warm sesame oil or olive oil (depending on your body type) can help modify the build up of chemicals in the system.

Add Turmeric to Your Diet

Turmeric used predominantly in Indian cuisine, has dozens of health benefits, including acting as a powerful, all-natural anti-inflammatory agent. Your liver acts as a natural detoxifier. Turmeric can assist your liver’s enzymes in flushing out toxins from your body.

A poor functioning liver can make your feel lethargic as it is responsible for the elimination of drugs, pesticides, and environmental chemicals from your body.

In addition to helping you maintain a healthy functioning liver, research indicates curcumin, a chemical found in turmeric may help  inflammation. Turmeric has been shown to help relieve pain in those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and who have painful swelling in the knees. Many diseases, such as colon cancer and other types of cancer, are now being traced to inflammation.

Curcumin is fat-soluble. Taking the essential ingredients of turmeric in pill-form does not allow for the full absorbtion of turmeric’s healing properties. The best way to use turmeric is to use it in cooking. Once you heat oil and add turmeric to it, it becomes completely bio-available to you.

Eat Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables contain a naturally occurring ingredient called 3,3′-Diindolylmethane or DIM for short. DIM is strongly anti-estrogenic, so it helps block xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are environmental toxins that mimic the effect of estrogen in cells, altering hormonal activity and creating estrogen dominant symptoms.

Xenoestrogens can lead to uterine fibroid tumors and fibrocystic breasts, glandular dysfunction, weight gain, inability to shed fat, hair loss and depression, lowered libido and impotency, to name just a few.

DIM not only wards of off bad estrogen, it also acts as an immunostimulant, naturally “boosting” your immune system —and research now indicates it had various potent cancer-fighting properties.GT0309_Grilled-Bok-Choy-Salad_s4x3

Make sure your daily diet includes broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and cabbage, brussels sprouts, swiss chard, arugula, collard greens, bok choy, kale, or watercress.

DIM is also fat-soluble.  You can enhance the absorption of these health-promoting vegetables by eating them with olive oil, ghee or organic butter.

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

www.theraj.com

 

 

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Your Sugar or Your Health?

The New Year is approaching and it’s time for that commitment to better life choices: the New Year’s Resolution.  I like the “fresh start” approach to a new year. A while ago I discovered a great recipe for success. I start the year with a week of Ayurveda detoxification treatments, known as Panchakarma, and pick one New Year’s resolution. The treatments remove imbalances that trigger food cravings and the resolution resets my thinking in one manageable area. It is a winning combination. This year my resolution is to cut down on my sugar intake.

Recently a London cardiologist was in the news saying sugar is so addictive it should be considered a danger to society and should be regulated like alcohol.  The biggest surprise in reading the story was the long list of health woes connected with eating too much sugar. I expected to hear about obesity and diabetes. But reading about the link to heart disease, dementia, liver damage and cancer was a shocker. It turns out that a sugary diet messes with a number of important hormone levels, chemicals and processes in the body.  Today I’m just going to look at two studies that inspired my resolution.

Sugar makes you depressed and lethargic

Most of us know that a high sugar intake signals the pancreas to produce large amounts of the hormone insulin, often causing a huge drop in energy after the initial “sugar high”.

But did you know that sugar blocks the action of orexins — neurotransmitters that regulate appetite, energy expenditure and wakefulness? (The most common form of narcolepsy is caused by a lack of orexin in the brain.)  High levels of orexin have been linked with happiness while low levels are linked to sadness and depression. The suppression of orexin cells has been associated with obesity because that chemical has the responsibility of telling the “good fat” in our bodies to burn calories. Blocking orexins can lead to dullness, depression, lethargy and obesity.

(The good news is that amino acids, or protein, “excite” orexin cells.  So by all means reach for almonds instead of a candy bar if you need a late afternoon energy boost.)

Sugar can addle your brain

Eating too much sugar can affect the brain in other ways.  A study released in 2013 looked at 248 brain scans of people aged 60 to 64 over a period of 4 years. All participants had blood sugar levels in the normal range at the start of the program. At the end of the four years it was discovered that those with the highest blood sugar levels had higher levels of shrinkage in the areas of the brain associated with memory and cognitive function. It is already established that type-2 diabetes is linked with dementia.

As I said, there is additional research linking sugar to heart disease, liver damage and cancer, but the information about sugar’s influence on the brain was enough to inspire my New Year’s resolution.

Alternative choices

Does this mean no sugar at all?  According to Ayurveda, sugar helps to balance Vata and Pitta. So my question is, how much sugar is okay and how much is too much?

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 a day for men. 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams. There are about 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can of Coke Classic. There are about 5 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving of Cherry Garcia ice cream and almost 7 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving of Haagen-Das raspberry sorbet. If a pie requires 1 cup of sugar, divided by eight that means about 12 teaspoons per slice.  In other words, 6 teaspoons doesn’t get you very far if you are in the habit of snacking on sugary foods.

Thankfully there are a few options for those of us with a sweet tooth. Stevia has zero calories and won’t cause a jump in your blood sugar. I have friends who are great fans of Xylitol, which is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in beets, corn and berries. Because it is only partially absorbed by the body, it has a lower glycemic index and only around 9 calories per teaspoon. Honey has a lower glycemic index than white or brown sugar. However, honey should never be used in baking as it ferments when heated and creates a sticky toxin that blocks the body’s channels.

Ultimately the best course of action is simply to get out of the habit of needing sweets. Ayurveda recommends hot milk to counter the urge for sweets. Milk is considered a “sweet taste” but also provides amino acids (exciting the orexin cells!) and classical texts say milk has the ability to nourish all the tissues in the body within 24 hours. Of course always boil your milk first to make it easier to digest.

Later on I will share additional research detailing more ways that an overload of sugar can take a toll on our health. There is certainly a growing pile of evidence out there! In the meantime I look forward to enjoying increasing energy and alertness as I transition into a healthier new year.

Visit The Raj to learn more about Ayurveda

www.theraj.com



Ayurveda Approach to Holiday Eating

Thanksgiving opens the flood gates to six weeks of family feasts and holiday treats. The ancient Indian health science of Ayurveda offers helpful tips on how to make your way though the holidays without gaining weight or over-eating.

Winter cravings

The increasingly colder days of fall bring with them an increase in “vata dosha” — the subtle energy in the body that governs movement. When vata dosha predominates, there is an increase in the dry, rough and cool qualities in the body.  This dryness can disturb various tissues and organs. Many people notice dry skin and lips. Dryness can also occur in the colon or large intestine, leading to constipation. Simultaneously you may find that you develop cravings for heavy, sweet and unctuous foods. This is simply your body’s attempt to balance the increase in vata by increasing kapha. Unfortunately, these heavier foods can also lead to poor digestion and to an accumulation of toxins over the winter, which could result allergies in the spring.

Holiday Eating Tips

The following tips can help you navigate the holiday festivities, pacifying vata dosha while avoiding the weight-gain often brought on by kapha-increasing foods.

1. At the start of the holiday season, consult an Ayurvedic expert to see if you have any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances. If these are left untended, you may find yourself at the mercy of cravings and compulsive eating.

2. When you first arrive at a gathering, request a cup of hot water. This will help to pacify vata and will help you avoid mindless eating. Additionally, people often mistake thirst for hunger. If you are well hydrated, you will feel less compulsion to eat. Drinking plain hot water throughout the day is a simple Ayurvedic secret for improved health.

3. Always sit down at a table to eat. Don’t eat if you are standing or moving.

4. Whenever you eat, give eating your full attention. Enjoy your food — even if you are eating something “naughty”! Eating mindlessly while you are doing something else does not allow you to properly taste, experience, or digest your food. As a result, even if you are full, you will feel unsatisfied and want to eat more later.

5. Learn about the six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Each taste satisfies a different need. Missing one or more of the tastes can result in cravings. Try to have all six tastes at each meal. If this sounds daunting, there are spice combinations (churnas) made specifically for this.

6. Favor warm, cooked foods. If you want to indulge in heavier foods, do so during the day, when your digestive “fire” is stronger. Try to keep evening meals light, favoring soups and cooked vegetables.

7. Try to take small portions. Ideally you should feel refreshed and energized after eating, not dull. Over-eating compromises digestion. When you overeat, even though you ingest more than you need, your body actually assimilates less. This can result in nutritional deficiencies, perpetuating cravings and the habit of overeating.

Eating with full attention and enjoyment improves digestion. It settles and strengthens your entire system. This can have far-reaching health benefits seemingly unrelated to nutrition.

If you find that you have over-indulged during the holidays, consider enjoying traditional Ayurvedic detoxification treatments, called Panchakarma, in January or February. The soothing oils used in the treatments help detoxify body fat and the recommended treatment diet is the perfect way to get back into healthy eating habits.

Learn more about Ayurveda treatments for weight gain and detoxification at The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa:

http://www.theraj.com