In February’s blog I described how wintery, cold weather causes our bodies to contract, inhibiting the flow of energy and fluids around the body and making it harder for the body to release toxins. Winter is a time for hibernation and storing our vital energy and we generally feel more sluggish in the colder months and less motivated to do things. Then, once the world around us has started to warm up and nature bursts into life again, it’s time for a spring cleanse. This is intended to clear the toxins from the winter and lay the foundations for enhanced health and wellbeing for the rest of the year. Detoxing involves reducing the amount of food you eat, eating light foods and avoiding heavy, hard to digest foods as we give our digestive systems a rest. Now following the detox it is time to replenish the system with nourishment.
Replenishment is vital after a detox and in the Ayurvedic tradition it is known as rasayana or rejuvenation. Its purpose is to increase ojas, a Sanskrit meaning energy, vitality, immunity, fertility, longevity and joie de vivre. Rasayana therapy helps to prevent the effects of early ageing on mind and body and increase our resistance to disease.
Rasayana therapy is particularly recommended for the elderly, pregnant women, after childbirth, for children, those who do hard and/or physically demanding work, those who are underweight or debilitated, during convalescence, for anaemia, for times of mental or emotional stress and for people suffering from nervous exhaustion. It is particularly good during autumn, to give us weight and strength to help endure the long cold winter.
Rasayana therapy is contraindicated in any condition associated with toxicity; obesity, colds, flu, congestive disorders, fevers, infectious diseases and allergies.
The Science of Rejuventation
The science of rejuvenation is ancient; for 5,000 years or more Ayurveda has provided guidance to enhance health and vitality and help slow down the ageing process. Any herb, diet or activity that enlivens body and mind and enhances immunity is considered rejuvenation therapy. Modern scientific evaluation of rejuvenate plants and others treatments used in Ayurveda have borne out the fact that rasayanas have the ability to protect our bodies against the ravages of age and damaging effects of the environment in which we live, by activating the hormonal and immune systems. According to Ayurveda, rasayanas bring about proper nourishment, growth and enhanced function of all tissues in the body.
Nourishing, tonic foods and herbs tend to be heavy and can be hard to digest, so the state of your digestion needs to be considered first. You can enliven your digestion by drinking plenty of herbal teas made from culinary herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, black cumin, basil, cinnamon, turmeric, peppermint, rosemary and oregano, as well as adding them daily to your cooking.
Kichari is a traditional recipe from India and although it is considered a cleansing food and is used to enliven the digestion and clear toxins from the system, it is also one of the best foods for rejuvenation. Ayurvedic physicians prescribe a kichari diet before, during and after panchakarma (a rejuvenative treatment that cleanses toxins stored in the tissues and restores balance in the body). It is light and nourishing, excellent when tired and a bit run down and can often be digested when other heavier foods can be hard to digest.
Nuts and seeds strengthen the nervous and reproductive systems, improve vitality and are excellent meat substitutes. Walnuts, pine nuts, coconut, black sesame seeds, sunflower, pumpkin, linseeds and chia seeds are all strengthening and nourishing and are best eaten after being soaked overnight or when ground, to aid their digestion. Nut butters such as almond and cashews are also good, though heavy.
Grains are strengthening but not as much as nuts and seeds. Oats and brown rice are said to be best.
Beans are also good meat substitutes but hard to digest and can be wind-provoking. Make sure to soak them first and then cook them with plenty of spices. Black gram, chick peas, mung beans and tofu are best.
The sweeter tasting fruits and vegetables including dates, raisins, figs, pomegranate and black grapes, okra, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, Jerusalem artichokes, onions cooked in ghee, can all help improve vitality.
Spices such as garlic, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and long pepper are warming and strengthening. They help to maintain good digestion and can improve energy especially when combined with oils such as ghee. Black pepper, cardamom, cloves, fennel, cumin, coriander, asafoetida and a little cayenne are good cooked in ghee with other tonic foods.
Ghee (clarified butter) is considered one of the best foods for restoring vitality and nourishing the nerves.
Salt: adequate salt is part of a tonifying diet, especially rock salt.
Recipe for Cleansing Kichari
According to Ayurveda, all healing begins with the digestive tract, and kichari can give it a much-needed rest from processing more heavy foods while still providing essential nutrients. The blend of rice and mung beans offers an array of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Its mixture of spices enkindles the digestive fire, which can be weakened by indigestible foods and wrong food combinations.
Heat 1-2 teaspoons of ghee in a pan. Add:
1-2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
1-2 teaspoons of black cumin seeds
1-2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon each of cardamom powder, clove powder and 3 bay leaves or curry leaves.
Cook for a couple of minutes until the seeds start to make a cracking noise. Add:
1/3 cup split yellow mung dal with 2/3 basmati rice (or other grain)
3-4 cups of water (a ratio of 1:3 or 1:4).
1-2 teaspoons of grated ginger
1 tsp each of organic turmeric, roasted cumin, coriander and salt.
Add seasonal vegetables such as spinach, carrots, peas, seaweeds or shitake mushrooms for an all-round healing, healthy and digestible meal. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer on low heat for approximately 25-30 minutes until soft.
Cook it on a very low heat in a covered saucepan and don’t stir, once all the ingredients are added. Add a teaspoon of ghee or hemp seed oil before eating. Serve with chopped coriander leaves and a relish of grated fresh ginger and lemon juice. Delicious!
The world of herbs is replete with amazing plants that nourish us, increase physical strength and stamina and enhance our immunity; as such they can enliven mind and body and help counter the effects of ageing. They include: gotu kola, shitake mushrooms, Siberian ginseng, shatavari, bacopa, amalaki, long pepper, bala, guduchi, ashwagandha, turmeric, Holy basil, aloe vera and the renowned formula Triphala. Many rasayana herbs have adaptogenic properties, meaning that they have the ability to enhance our resilience to stress whether it is physical in the shape of overwork, pollution, the use of alcohol and drugs for example, or emotional from grief, anxiety and so on. Many of these herbs also contain antioxidants, compounds which help to prevent free radical damage in the body that is related to the ageing process and the development of degenerative disease. It is well worth looking into their health and energy giving properties.
- Ashwagandha: Withania somnifera, Winter cherry (also known as Indian Ginseng)
- Shatavari: Asparagus racemosus, Wild asparagus
- Pippali: Piper longum, Long pepper
- Gotu kola: Centella asiatica, Brahmi
- Amalaki: Emblica officinalis, Indian Gooseberry
- Triphala (haritaki, amalaka and bibhitaki)
Rasayana oils have properties that go beyond the realm of physical healing. They are capable of healing deep emotions and improving the harmony of the mind. The renowned Ayurvedic doctor Vasant Lad says they contain a spiritual quality which helps to free us from attachment to the physical world and enable a deep connection with our inner self. Such oils include angelica, cedarwood, frankincense, geranium, ginger, jasmine, myrrh, rose, sandalwood, vetiver and gotu cola and these can be added to base oils such as sesame and coconut.
External application of oils nourishes the body through the skin and the effects of their nutrients extend to the bones and nerve tissues, by-passing the digestive tract. Oils tend to be heavy on the digestion, so it can be easier to absorb them through the skin than via the digestive tract; many oils can be used that would otherwise be hard to digest, such as sesame, almond, olive, coconut, avocado and medicated sesame oils. In Ayurveda, medicated oils are an essential part of rejuvenation and are made with tonic herbs such as ashwagandha, shatavari and bala.
Internal use of oils: ghee, butter, sesame oil, olive oil, almond oil and avocado oil can all be added to our diet. Medicated ghees used in Ayurveda contain tonic herbs whose strengthening properties are enhanced by being combined with the ghee. Ghee builds energy and immunity, sexual vitality and fertility. It nourishes the nervous system and calms the mind, increases fat and muscle tissues without being overly heavy. Gotu kola and ashwagandha ghee are best for the mind.
Lifestyle to re-energise Mind and Body
To increase your energy and vitality and replenish your system, Ayurveda recommends that you take care not to work or exercise excessively, you go to bed early and sleep as much as you need to. It is important to avoid over-stimulation from watching TV for long hours or spending too much time on the computer. It is advised that you practice pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) and do gentle exercise like yoga or Qi gong to build energy. Spending time in nature, maybe in a mountain cabin, by the sea, in a comfortable, peaceful place away from the stresses and strains of everyday life, is replenishing and revitalising.
There are many activities that promote health and happiness and are considered to have a nourishing effect on mind and body. They strengthen our life force by stimulating and enhancing positive emotions and experiences, which in turn promote the production of mood-elevating hormones. Uplifting emotions and a positive loving approach to life are qualities that can be engendered over time. The most important trigger of this process is the regular experience of our inner life through quiet times of reflection or meditation.
Ayurvedic texts give us a number of recommendations advising us to:
- Encourage positive emotions and experiences and not to give too much space to negative emotions such as anger, hostility, cynicism and indignation. If a negative feeling arises, try to let it go. Pure joy is the best recipe for eliminating mental toxicity!
- Choose to be with wise people who uplift and inspire you, and encourage you to strive for greater knowledge, wisdom, love and consideration of others, compassion and charity.
- Be truthful, but always speak the truth with kindness and compassion. Speaking the truth discourages thoughts and mental attitudes that can muddy the mind.
- Maintain personal integrity as this enhances our confidence, self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
- Maintain a clean, dignified and beautiful environment which will uplift and inspire you, creating positive emotions and a sense of comfort and wellbeing that is health- inducing.
- Be charitable and generous in all areas of life. Give time, knowledge, wisdom, advice and encouragement.
- Follow your own beliefs, devoting time for spiritual practices that feel right for you and provide a channel for love and devotion to flow. Sit quietly and watch the breath or choose your own kind of meditation or contemplation
- Do what you love to do such as singing, painting, watching nature and experience pure joy, as long as it is not hurting anyone else.
- Cook for your family with love and respect.
- Observing silence is very nourishing. Going out for a walk on your own, be aware of the birds, the trees and flowers.
I hope that you enjoy putting this into practice and feel energised and strengthened for the year ahead.
See you next month