What is Health?

According to Sushruta, who was an ancient Ayurvedic Indian physician, health is defined as:  

The one who is established in self, who has balanced doshas, balanced agni, properly formed dhatus, proper elimination of malas, properly functioning bodily processes, and whose mind, soul and senses are quiet and content is called a healthy person.

Ayurveda literally means the science of life. It is an ancient healing science that originated in India over 5000 years ago.  To be extremely basic, Ayurveda teaches us how to correct disturbances in the body through eating a seasonal diet, performing cleansing and rejuvenation treatments, getting exercise and practicing mindfulness all appropriate for your individual constitution.

The body and mind are controlled by the Doshas aka Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The Doshas are made up of the elements of Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.  Vata is the combination of Ether and Air which is the energy of movement. Pitta is the combination of Fire and Water which are important for digestion and metabolism. Kapha is Water and Earth, which give the body stability and strength.

Agni is our digestive fire to transform both food and information into energy. If we are lacking in appetite or feel that we are mentally cloudy, we need to work on our Agni through the use of herbs, the type of food that we eat and breathing exercises.

Dhatus are the tissues of the body and relate to plasma / lymph, red blood cells, muscle tissue, adipose tissue, bones, bone marrow, nervous tissue, connective tissue, reproductive tissue. The tissues of the body are created from the foods we eat. We have the ability to create healthy or weak tissue depending on the foods we eat and our mental state while eating. Poor quality food will create deficient tissue which is more likely to create a defective space within the body for disease to move in.

Malas are the waste products of the body – feces, urine and sweat

To maintain or correct health, daily routines known as Dinacharya (deena-char-e-ah) and seasonal routines known as Ritucharya (rit-u-char-e-ah) should be performed to both the body and the mind. Daily routines include proper rest, eating seasonally, performing exercise, and practicing mindfulness.

From a western perspective, if we are not presenting symptoms of illness, we are healthy. There is no consideration of the state of the mind – is it calm? Or emotional state – is the person truly happy and content?

Eating healthy foods and not exercising, or living in a destructive environment can also lead to disease.

Take time to reconnect to your body ~ mind ~ spirit to ensure that you are both physically and mentally healthy.

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Baby Steps to Better Nutrition

If I can give you one piece of advice on how to take back your health, I would recommend that you reduce eating “food like substances” that are manufactured and have an almost indefinite shelf life.  The extended shelf life of these products shorten your life.

Make a fist. Take a look at it. That is the size of your stomach. Your entire meal, including liquids should not be more than that size. Pay attention while filling your plate. If eating out, you can always bring home leftovers for another meal. We as a society have a problem with consuming too many calories, both at home and when dining out.                               

When grocery shopping, experiment with fresh seasonal produce and try something new each time you shop. This will keep you from getting bored from eating the same thing each week. Shop at your local farmer’s market. Ask the farmer what their favorite way is to prepare the vegetables that they are selling to give you some fresh ideas.

Experiment with different grains. Rice, quinoa, barley, millet, faro, bulgur, wheat berries, are just few of the favorites that are staples in my pantry to have on hand to create a base for many of the dishes that I make. When cooking grains, always cook more than you need for today’s meal. Leftover grains can be used to create a quick stir fry or added to a soup to give it more heartiness. In the summer, grains make a great base for salads. Add some finely chopped vegetables, fresh herbs and finish with a vinaigrette dressing – a simple yet satisfying meal on a hot summer’s day!

Explore the YouTube or Instagram channels of cooks who post interesting pictures and videos of the foods that they make. Watch cooking shows on PBS. Check out cookbooks from your local library. These are all free resources that only require your time to expand your creativity.

To build your confidence, take a cooking class. Check out your local college continuing education programs. Hire someone (like myself) to provide you with individual instruction so you can become a culinary alchemist. Through learning techniques and practicing, soon you will be able to create all sorts of yummy creations that will impress your friends and family!

Simple Satisfying Dal. Photo and recipe by Brenda.

Ah-Ah-Chooo!!!

Springtime, my favorite time of the year! Windows can be opened to allow the fresh air in and Mother Earth awakens with life and color. Suddenly, microscopic things are in the air to irritate my eyes and nose. Oh, but what to do????? I want to be in nature, but dread the itchy eyes and runny nose.

Like millions of Americans, I suffer from allergies. I am one of the lucky ones and only have spring allergies that go away once that initial growth burst settles down. I have unfortunate friends that are so allergic that they have to endure weekly allergy shots just to survive from spring through winter.

I do not do well with the over the counter remedies that are out there. Either they make me spacey or dry out my mucous membranes. Living in the high desert, I already have to deal with dryness in my daily life, so I do not need any medication that further sucks the moisture from my being!

What I find works best for me in allergy season is to treat my symptoms as if I had a cold. Warm ginger or mint tea sipped throughout the day, a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil on a wash cloth on the shower floor help open my sinuses. I will eat foods that are easier to digest such as clear soups or vegetable stews so that my body can focus on combating that pollen instead of having to divide its energy to also breaking down a heavy meal. 

To help combat the snot monster, I use a combination of herbs such as ginger (zingiber officinale), wild cherry (prunus serotina), long pepper (piper longum) and black pepper (piper nigrum). These herbs have a gentle drying effect and reduce the amount of mucus that I create during allergy season.

At some point a cough will develop from all of the post nasal drip and my lungs will get irritated. I love to use mullein (verbascum spp.)  for its mucolytic action (thins mucus) as well as being an expectorant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.

When my eyes start to feel irritated and inflamed, I will take chilled chamomile tea bags or a cold wet washcloth, place them on my eyes and enjoy that soothing cool. I have tried some eye washes made from various herbs with limited success and still have to rely on allergy eye drops to pacify my symptoms.

Find what herbs you are attracted to for your symptoms and see how they make you feel. Remember to shower off the pollen (including your hair!) after spending time outdoors so it doesn’t linger around your home.

Foothills, Albuquerque NM. Author’s photo

My allergies won’t hold me prisoner inside my home. Being in nature has so many benefits for our body and mind. It will brighten your mood, clear your mind and exercise your muscles. So, go get out there and discover some spring beauty!

I would love to hear what herbal remedies you are using to pacify the symptoms of your allergies.

Supplements versus Whole Foods – Pt 2

Photo credit pexels.com

As discussed in my previous post, your best bet to maintaining your health is to eat a whole food diet that covers as many colors of the rainbow to allow you to have all of your necessary nutrients.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates

Today I am going to go over some exceptions for when taking supplements or herbal remedies can be beneficial to balancing your health.

I am a firm believer in prevention and supplement daily with 1000 mg of time released vitamin C to help support my immune system. I also practice a daily routine to ensure that I go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. My food choices for the most part are whole foods which are organic and as close to the grower that I can get.

If you are a vegetarian or vegan you cannot get all of the essential B vitamins in your diet and it would be beneficial to take a complex B vitamin, preferably sublingually.  While there are a certain amount of B vitamins in whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, dark leafy greens and fruits, if you are not eating meats, eggs or dairy products you could be deficient in vitamin B12 which is essential for brain and nervous system functioning.

If you feel a cold coming on taking some echinacea, zinc and vitamin C are all helpful with lessening the severity of a cold and give your immunity a little boost. Having a strong immune system is a key to maintaining good health.

For sleeping trouble, you could benefit from sipping an herbal tea before going to bed of passionflower, lemon balm, valerian or chamomile to name a few anxiolytic and hypnotic herbs.  Caution should be taken with chamomile if you have a ragweed allergy as it could cause an adverse reaction within your body. When taking these herbs to get sleep, one should also investigate the underlying cause of insomnia and work to find ways to manage it and reset your internal circadian rhythm. 

Traveling can wreak havoc on our circadian rhythm for both sleep and digestion. When traveling sometime things get backed up and we can get uncomfortable. Relief can be found utilizing aloe vera, slippery elm or psyllium as a laxative to get things moving again. One should take caution with psyllium as this herb also helps with symptoms of diarrhea! If not consuming enough water while taking this herb, you could exacerbate your constipation instead of feeling better.

Herbs and supplements have their place in our lives, but should not be used as a crutch for poor dietary choices.

Supplements versus Whole Foods – Part 1

Photo by author

It is estimated that 75% of Americans take some type of supplement in the form of vitamins, minerals, specialty supplements, herbs / botanicals, sports nutrition or weight loss formulas. This is a $30.7 billion dollar industry that continues to grow as people try to retake control of their health.

Eating food with limited nutritional value and taking vitamins to balance poor foods choices is not a way to manage your health.

There is so much emphasis placed on key nutrients that consumers feel the need to take supplements to ensure that they are getting the proper nutrients.

In this post and my next one, I am hoping to simplify some information so that you can make a more informed decision as to whether or not you need to supplement your diet.

 “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”—Ayurvedic proverb

When we isolate a nutrient from the food, such as Magnesium (which is found in legumes, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and delicious dark chocolate to name a few sources) we lose the benefit of the fiber and other nutrients. The body has a harder time knowing what to do when you only give it a magnesium capsule. If you provide the body with foods that are rich in magnesium it can properly process and use it to fuel and nourish the body’s tissues.

Taking supplements has become a careless pastime of many people. Without understanding the maximum Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) that one should take in a day can lead to build up of that vitamin or mineral in the fatty tissue of the body’s organs, cause intestinal discomfort or just create really expensive urine!

Is taking supplements an easy out for better nutrition?

By taking supplements and relying on them to serve as nourishment for your bodily tissues you are depriving your body of being able to function as it is supposed to.  Supplements do not satiate the body’s need for good quality food.  

We have become a society that wants to rely on pills instead of taking back that beautiful connection that we use to have with food and being able to intuitively understand what our body needs to function efficiently.

Learn what foods are best for your constitution and condition you are trying to manage. Be present when preparing meals for yourself and your family. See if you can incorporate all the colors of the rainbow, almost a guaranteed way to ensure you are getting all of your vitamins and minerals naturally through whole food.

In my next post I will discuss when taking supplements for a short period of time or under certain circumstances can be helpful to maintain your health.