Keeping up with Brain Health

Your brain is a crazy boss of an organ. It weighs roughly 3 pounds; consists of a slight 2% of your weight, requires 20% of the body’s energy, and looks like a ball of cooked oatmeal. Together, the brain and the spinal cord interconnect and direct a bewildering amount of information.

Whether we view the brain as a switchboard for sensory input, an intricate computer system, or an utter miracle, it is undeniably one of the most amazing things science can begin to try and understand.

Brain health and mental health are intricately connected but they are not the same. The brain is a physical organ through which the mind works. The physical body is easy to observe, we can list its functions and location but we find it difficult to do the same for the mind. Without understanding the nature of the mind, it becomes challenging to approach. It eludes us, observation is our only tool.

By keeping the physical brain nourished, we are able to better understand the mind and who we really are; a magnificent machine full of vigor, vitality, love, consciousness and pure awareness.

To maintain optimal health, a daily routine is essential. Routine opens the door for profound changes in the body and mind by establishing balance to the brain and nervous system.

Here are some guidelines to look to incorporate in your routine. What resonates with you? Choose something, one thing.  Start slow and watch as your body-mind-spirit unfold into a blissful state of being.  

  1. Balance brain patterns through meditation.

    Through examination of brain wave activity in EEG’s, we observe brain waves that are irregularly too high or too low suggest problems with the cerebral cortical functions. During meditation, gamma brain waves which are associated with high levels of cognitive functioning, peak concentration and feelings of bliss are most active.  
  2. Practice Pranayama.

    Alternate nostril breathing works on the frontal lobe; it balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain, improves capillary circulation and gives an alert and attentive mind. By stimulating the left brain we activate masculine energies and by stimulating the right brain we activate feminine energies. By creating balance between the male and female, the sun and moon, the light and dark, the action and inaction we find ourselves at peace with the duality of existence. It is here where clarity resides.  
  3. Herb and Spice support:

    1. Triphala – a clogged colon leads to a clogged mind. Triphala is a gentle colon cleanser that will keep your system regular. When constipated, the mind becomes dull and lethargic, with diarrhea is stress, irritability, and anxiety can take over. Triphala can strike balance in the GI tract leaving you with perfect digestion.

    2. Ginger – the small intestine contains more than a hundred million nerve cells giving the GI tract its nickname as “the second brain”.  Our digestion responds to thoughts and emotions. If the brain senses stress, for example, it can signal to the gut immune cells to release chemicals leading to inflammation. Ginger help to regulate and stimulate your digestive strength. Healthy digestion and metabolism also maintain clear internal bodily channels that facilitate toxic free pathways for the nervous system to send nerve impulses.  

    3. Brahmi- used to reduce memory loss, improve understanding, regulate mood swings, and reduce overall stress and tension. 1/2 tsp of Brahmi oil in the nose improves concentration and attention span. 

    4. Ashwaghanda- supports the body’s ability to cope with stress. Ashwaghanda has been shown to support healthy brain cell activity in the face of free radicals. It is well known for its restorative, revitalizing, and strengthening properties. It helps build a stronger immune system, decreases cholesterol and balances blood sugar while providing relief from anxiety and depressio

  4. Nasya

    The nose is the door to the brain. Nasya or nose drops bring intelligence and nourish Prana, life force. Putting 3 to 5 drops of oil into each nostril in the morning helps to lubricate the nose, clean the sinuses, and improve mental clarity.
    1. For kapha: use calamus root oil

    2. Pitta: use Brahmi ghee, sunflower or coconut oil.

    3. Vata: use sesame oil or ghee

  5. Eat to promote mental fitness.

    Food can be classified into three categories; sattvic, rajasic and tamasic. Sattvic food nourishes the mind, promotes intelligence and balance, rajasic food nourishes the ego, creates energy and causes imbalance and tamasic food creates dullness, substance and inertia.  
    1. Tamasicovereating - meat, onions, garlic, scallions, leeks, chives, mushrooms, alcohol, eggplants, leftovers, fried food, canned food, frozen food

    2. Rajasic eating too quickly- coffee, caffeinated teas, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, spicy foods, salty foods

    3. Sattvic eating peacefully- vegetables, fruits, legumes, ghee, honey, nuts, whole grains, beans, rice, herbal tea

  6. Head massage

    Massage the scalp with oil before sleep. Just as the body benefits from massage, so does the brain. Massaging the scalp with Brahmi coconut oil before bed to promote intelligence,memory, cognition, alertness and encourage restfulness and deep relaxation allowing for tissue repair during sleep.
  7. Antioxidant Support

    The billions of cells in your brain require oxygen. The brain uses a large proportion of the body’s supply of oxygen. This makes us susceptible to oxidative damage from free-radicals that thrive on pollution, stress and chemicals. Overtime, this has a damaging effect on brain cells. Limit your exposure to pollutants and chemicals and load up on antioxidants like blueberries, cherries, raspberries, walnuts and prunes.

The mind is what the brain does. Balance between mind, body and consciousness unfolds inner happiness.

Happiness is not dependent on one single thing; happiness is pure beauty, pure love. The mind is not merely a function of the brain; the body itself is a crystallization of mental patterns. Breakdowns in physical bodily functioning have root in disturbed mental processes or improper sensual perception. That is to say that as we learn to balance the mind, the body will follow. When we are able to perpetuate physical changes, our mind sees its power and the process of self-realization begins. Ultimately, this is goal of brain health.

 

References

Bachmann, K. (2016, May/June). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and the Adult ADHD Brain: A Neuropsychotherapeutic Perspective. NCBI PubMed. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27445873

Frawley, D. (1997). Ayurveda and the mind: The healing of consciousness. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Lad, V. (2012). Textbook of Ayurveda. Albuquerque, NM: Ayurvedic Press.

Yoga and Ayurveda

 

Yoga and Ayurveda are two sides of the same coin. 

Both Ayurveda and yoga come from same school of thought called Samkhya philosophy. Ayurveda and yoga are both ancient healing systems that originated in India.

Yoga and Ayurveda speak the same language and have same goal, liberation, freedom from whatever holds us back; pain, emotional attachment, fear, materialism, depression, anxiety, anger ect.

“A Yogi who doesn’t know Ayurveda is half yogi and an Ayurvedic Physician who doesn't know Yoga is a half physician.” ~Vedic Saying

Connecting Yoga and Ayurveda

  1. Ayurveda helps in bringing strength, life, physical harmony and revitalization for the body to be healthy and strong. Yoga helps create better flow of prana (ie cellular communication), muscular flexibility and elasticity ultimately bringing inner peace and harmony at deeper level of consciousness. In a sense Ayurveda is kindergarten and Yoga is first grade
  2.  Bringing physical harmony with the help of Ayurveda allows us to do proper and complete yogic “exercise”, we will have good mental strength and clarity of thought process for better quality performance in yoga
  3.  Neither Yoga nor Ayurveda are a supplementary, they are complementary. They complete each other.
  4.  Ayurveda brings an understanding and harmony of the Self with macrocosm (in the form of the 5 elements, space air, fire, water and earth) and Yoga brings the connection to the Self (the microcosm). This is the first lesson Ayurveda teaches.  We are a microcosm of the macrocosm.
  5. If you start your journey with Ayurveda, it will lead you to the study of  Yoga. If you start your journey with Yoga you will seek the knowledge of Ayurveda to understand the body completely.
  6.  Wisdom is wholeness, it is a complete circle. It excludes none. It is expansion. With the study of Ayurveda you allow for expansion of the consciousness in yoga practice.

Every yogi should learn about body types (vata, pitta, kapha), Ayurvedic lifestyle and Ayurvedic cooking to create purity of consciousness and every good Ayurvedic physician has yoga as an integral part of their prescription for everyday well being at physical, mental and spiritual levels.

 

Stress Less

Too much stress zaps the joy out of living. Stress can be defined as a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from demanding circumstances. There is a lot of current research about the harmful effects of stress and its increase on the risk of everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease. While the jury is still out on exactly how stress affects human beings, we can all agree on one thing; too much stress is no fun.

In one form or another we are all seeking happiness, happiness is health.  When stress gets out of hand, it can spiral into a state of depression. Take a moment and think about a time when you were feeling sad, depressed or experiencing grief. Now see if you can separate your circumstances from your thoughts about your circumstances.

The realization that the feeling of depression does not come from our circumstances, rather it comes from our thoughts about our circumstances is liberating. Control is an important aspect of our psychological well-being. When we come to grips with the fact that we are powerless against our external world, we are empowered to take action on our internal world. We realize that within each of us resides a lasting state of bliss which is ever satisfying and does not diminish with age. Stress, tension, depression, and self-hatred prevent us from developing our good qualities and sharing them with others.  Happiness and love are at the core of our being, it’s our duty to uncover them.

An ayurvedic practitioner can tailor a stress-reduction, mood boosting plan to your individual needs but here is some advice that caters to all:

  1. Implement diaphragmatic breathing.

    This type of breathing activated the parasympathetic nervous system kick starting the body’s rest and digest mode. Breathe into the lower lobes of your lungs and lessen the harmful effects a chronic state of fight-or-flight response can have on your psychological state.
  2. Limit electronic usage

    Skip 10 minutes of scrolling through social media, flipping through TV stations, reading the news or even exercise and lie in Savasana for 10 minutes a day. Stretch out on your back in whatever way feels comfortable, heels together or feet apart, spread your arms, close your eyes and breath normally through the nose. This practice balances the nervous system and fosters a clear state of mind.
  3. Drink herbal teas

    Start the day with rooibos, tulsi tea or peppermint tea and end the day with chamomile, spearmint or lavender tea. Caffeine is a stimulant and increases the release of stress hormones. Stimulants will give an initial boost, perhaps lessening feelings of depression, but will leave a desire for more and feeling of sluggishness when the stimulant wears off.  Herbal teas (along with coconut juice, aloe juice, milk, pomegranate juice and sugar cane juice) are considered elixirs that are deeply refreshing, stress reducing, and bring about total rejuvenation.
  4. Practice stress relieving yoga postures.

    When you’re feeling stressed and depressed, sometimes getting to the yoga studio adds another thing to your to-do list. Try practicing yoga poses specifically indicated for stress. You can do them anywhere. Shoulderstand, spine twist, locust pose, lion pose, half tortoise pose, and plow pose are all great places to start. If you’re new to yoga, make sure to check with an experienced yoga instructor to avoid injury.
  5. Think your way through it.

    Our brains are different from the brain of a lion, tiger or bear because we have well developed frontal lobes that make us capable of insight. Identify areas of your life that are adding stress and see where you can make changes.  Use logic. When we take a moment to analyze stress, although hearts break wide open for countless reasons, if we are able to see that there is more to life than all of our problems, stress and depression vanish.  
  6. Stretch your jaw.

    Tension builds in the shoulders and jaw. It’s common to walk around with our teeth clenched and our shoulders contracted without realizing it. Take a moment and open and close your mouth a few times, do some shoulder rolls. This takes no time and immediately reduces muscle tension.
  7. Think positive.

    Negative thoughts are nine times more powerful than positive thoughts. Trying to operate with a negative attitude it like trying to drive a car with one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the break.  Change your mind.
  8. Improve Digestion.

    The digestive system is where stress lands first. A significant amount of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is especially active in transmitting impulses between nerve cells, and contributing to wellbeing and happiness. Add turmeric, ginger and black pepper to your diet in the kitchen or in the form of a supplement and improve metabolism, and help regulate the body’s production of important neurotransmitters like serotonin
  9. Help others.

    When we really feel sorry for ourselves, sincerely trying to help others is the best cure. Since we all have problems, when you are able to think of others, immediately you feel more expansive and empowered.
  10. Say yes.

    Love says yes to every thought, feeling and emotion. Love is all inclusive. Fear and anger say no. No means resistance and resistance breeds anger and fear. With fear and anger a person becomes stiff and rigid… To say yes means to surrender--to every thought, feeling and emotion. It means to let go, and letting go is a journey toward the heart. ” ~Dr. Vasant Lad

Changes in diet and lifestyle and implementation of herbal substances, teas and yoga postures are all helpful tools in reaching your ultimate goal of freedom from whatever holds you back from living in the present moment. When you take care of the physical body by living a healthy lifestyle, you will find it much easier to remain present. Living in the present moment gives space for you to fall in love with every moment of your life.

 

Let's Talk Inflammation

Pain, swelling, redness, heat; the four cardinal signs of inflammation. Sound familiar? At some point or another you’ve probably experienced all of these symptoms. A sprained ankle, a bug bite, some poison ivy. Inflammation is the body’s protective mechanism, it is our natural defense system. When it senses foreign invaders, like a splinter or indigestible food, it sets off a cascade of events to protect you. Inflammation is one of our main mechanisms for removing metabolic wastes, debris, damaged cells and foreign agents. It allows our system to ward off bacteria, fungi and viruses. Acute inflammation is necessary. It is a means for survival. It is the chronic inflammation that starts to get annoying.

When the body becomes chronically inflamed, it starts damaging healthy tissue. The fire that your body kicked on to fight against foreign agents never gets put out. The immune system shifts, starts working in overdrive and the inflammation runs rampant. Chronic inflammation contributes to a range of problems, none of which are enjoyable. Pain, achy joints, weight gain, lethargy, acne. The list goes on.

So let’s say you hear me loud and clear. You feel the symptoms; you are gaining weight and you don’t know why, you feel tired all the time, you have a ruddy complexion, your digestion is off and you can’t get through the day without your fix; candy, cookie, chocolate, caffeine, whatever your guilty pleasure. The causes of inflammation are all around you. And they find their root in your daily choices; in your grocery basket, in your relationships, and in your sleep and work habits. I’m afraid it’s true my friends, you are the cause. But hey, you are also the cure.

So now what? Ayurveda teaches, when diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.

Make a point to invest in your immune system. Learn to increase the efficiency of your inflammation response when it’s deemed necessary, and avoid the triggers causing chronic conditions. So, the good news and the bad news. The bad news is chronic inflammation is triggered by numerous factors, and most of us don’t even realize because many times it begins in our gut. We think, hey, in the grand scheme of things, what is a little constipation, bloating or gas? How bad can it really be? Or, more commonly, how easily can we ignore or suppress it? The good news is most inflammation triggers are within your control.  

Because many of us have inflammation in the gut and don’t even realize it, in order to reverse the cascade of events, we need to first heal the gut. Pay attention to the tiny discomforts and unroot them. Observe. Learn. Listen. Become aware. Let me provide you with some launching points.  Common food triggers include hydrogenated oils, processed sugar, alcohol, food additives, fried foods, animal fats and fast foods. Now I’m not saying never eat baked goods and cheeseburgers. I’m just saying eat (maybe eat less and less often), enjoy (because, why else?) and listen. You may find that the cheeseburger with fries isn’t as enjoyable when you see it planting seeds for inflammation.

Here are 7 tips to avoid inflammation:

  1. Breathe

    Boost your body’s parasympathetic activity. Learn to rest and digest. Identify the fight or flight response, and put it in it’s place. Give your body the chance to return to safety after an inflammation response. I practice Bikram Yoga, we do an asana, stress the body for a short period of time and then rest for 20 seconds. It is brilliant. The whole idea is to remind the body that the fire is necessary, but it must know its limit. When we allow it to run rampant, it becomes destructive to healthy tissue and leads to all too common autoimmune disorders.
  2. Meditate.

    Meditation is the first and last medicine. Time and time again meditation has been seen as effective pain reduction. When the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant, stress levels fall immediately, magically. With activation of the sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight response, that tells us to run from tigers and bears, takes blood from our digestive system and internal organs and sends it to our arms and legs so we can fight and run. All too often, the body remains in fight or flight and blood never returns to the internal organs so digestion results in discomfort.  
  3. Probiotics.

    Take a daily probiotic. This is a great way to start to shift your focus towards gut health. Flood your gut with healthy bacteria. A healthy gut is naturally rich in a diverse supply of microorganisms that help the body carry out its functions. Stress, poor food choices, antibiotics and pesticides are seen to diminish the diversity of healthy bacteria that grow in our gut. Keep your intestines diverse with helpful bugs and find a good quality probiotic to take daily. *Note this is especially important if you have just completed a round of antibiotics to repopulate the intestinal walls that have just been stripped of their good and bad bacteria.
  4. Turmeric.

    Cook with it, season with it, smear it on your face. Turmeric has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years to support healthy joints, liver function, intestinal health, bile flow, fat metabolism and even mental clarity. It’s active ingredient, curcumin is an antioxidant that provides the spice with it’s anti-inflammatory properties. It’s pungent, bitter flavor adds flavor and color to mundane dishes.   
  5. Food allergies.

    Experiment with unknown food allergies. Let me forewarn you, this one requires discipline, self-control and patience. Experiment with eliminating potential inflammation triggers from your diet for 3 weeks at a time. Then re-ad the foods and see how your body reacts. Think of yourself like a science experiment, changing only one food at a time so you can determine the culprit.
  6. Sleep.

    Sleep we give the body time to repair. Without good quality sleep acute inflammation can turn chronic. The immune system becomes compromised and stress levels rise. Not to mention when we are tired we are much more inclined to reach for fast, fatty, fried food and sugary, caffeinated drinks.  
  7. Move.

    The relationship between exercise and inflammation is far from straightforward. Any exercise, with the exception of walking, has the potential to cause inflammation. So, let us keep things simple. Just walk. Go for a short walk after meals. This helps promote digestion and increases metabolism. It helps assimilation of nutrients and can aid in weight loss. It helps avoid instances of overeating and feelings of heaviness and lethargy. It also allows time for you to feel the after effects of your meal.

Above all, pay attention to how you’re feeling. When you’re feeling off, there is a reason. There is also remedy. It just sometimes takes time to learn what that remedy is. Relax and learn. In healing, there is a sweet spot where the magic happens; perfect health is not just the absence of disease, but a state of total mind-body-spiritual bliss. I think it’s worth working for.

 

Keep your Cool in Summer Heat

During the summer season, the elements of Fire and Water run high. This is the time when we experience the hot, light, liquid, sharp, oily, and mobile qualities of the season and as the heat waves roll through and our air conditioning isn’t quite getting the job done we are more likely to feel irritable, frustrated, angry, impatient, jealous, and short-tempered.

Learning how to cope with seasonal changes is essential.

It's common to develop heartburn, acne, fever, skin rash, foul smelling sweat, headaches, and acidity during the summer season.

But  summer is a time for celebration! We should rejoice in longer days and the lighter workload instead of fretting over migraines and feelings of irritability. And with Ayurveda, we can learn to understand how to balance the increased Fire element and eliminate the bothersome effects of aggravated Pitta.

Ayurveda means “the knowledge of life,” and it’s through Ayurveda, we understand that there are five states of matter: Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. With the change of seasons, a change in the elements is evident in the environment we inhabit. We see leaves change, flowers bloom, and temperatures rise and fall.

As human beings, part of the same ecosystem, we too are greatly influenced by our external environment. The body must be able to adapt with each changing season to maintain balance. If we fail to adapt, we fail to fully thrive . . . and we may suffer the consequences physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Here are 7 useful tips to help you to keep your cool this summer.

1. Eat a Pitta pacifying diet by favoring sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes.

Nature provides us with cooling fruits in the summer season like watermelons, pomegranates, melons, and berries. Fresh, juicy fruits help to hydrate the body and increase urination and sweat production helping to eliminate excess heat from the system.

Vegetables like zucchini, cucumber, and broccoli keep the body nourished with vitamins and minerals; grains like rice and barley give us adequate energy and are easy to digest; and dairy products like ghee and milk are wonderful choices for providing the body with calcium to assist in nerve and muscle contraction.

Incorporate cooling herbs and spices into your dishes. Favor mint, cilantro, fennel, cardamom, turmeric, and coriander and limit spices like cayenne pepper, mustard seed, clove, garlic and oregano.

2. Avoid sour, salty, and pungent tastes.

Think twice about fermented foods like pickles and avoid excessive vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, and lemons. Eat lighter meals.

Digestive strength is lower in the summer so reduce consumption of meat and eggs as they are both heating and heavy on digestion.

3. Drink up! Staying hydrated can be difficult so get creative, mix it up!

Start your day with 4 oz. of aloe vera juice, or keep an aloe plant in your home and eat 1-2 inches of fresh aloe vera meat every morning. It's a little slimy and takes some getting used to, but man does it get the job done. 

Drink room temperature water, ice cold water can disrupt digestive strength.

Drink sweet fruit juices or sip on coconut water.

Prepare a drink made with a slice of lime, a spoonful of maple syrup, a bunch of fresh mint leaves, and a pinch of rock salt to maintain electrolyte balance.

In the evening, try this recipe 1-2 hours after dinner and before bed to promote immunity and vitality

1 cup unpasteurized or raw organic whole milk

10-15 organic almonds

2-3 chopped dates

1-2 tbsof coconut flakes

1 tsp turmeric

pinch of ginger, black pepper and cardamom

1 tsp ghee

Bring all ingredients to a boil and allow to cool. Add 1 tsp of honey and enjoy! 

4. Make coconut oil your friend internally and externally.

Before bed, massage the feet and scalp to balance the nervous system, lubricate the tissues, and sooth the mind inducing a sound, peaceful sleep. Cooking with coconut oil heals digestive discomfort associated with excess heat.

5. Exercise in the early morning or in the late evening. Avoid exercise in mid-day sun.

Swimming and water-based sports provide great relief. Enjoy a moonlit stroll to burn off feelings of anger, stress, and frustration.

6. Keep a bottle of rose water spray in your bag.

The eyes are closely related to the fire element and spraying or splashing rose water in your eyes will give immediate relief to burning eyes and temporal headaches.

7. Essential Oil Support 

Sandalwood, peppermint and lavender all have cooling properties. Place a couple of drops of oil in the palm of your hands and rub them together. Then gently cup your hands over your eyes and inhale deeply. Massage your head and scalp to promote self-love and relaxation. 

You can also place 10 drops of an essential oil in hot water and allow the scent to fill the room or use an aromatherapy diffuser. 

Smell is the most primitive sense. Information you take in through your sense of smell influences the quality of your thoughts and emotions. 

8. Give hugs . . . spread love.

Giving generously and lovingly helps to balance the sharp, intense, fiery qualities of Pitta dosha. Embrace a sweaty friend, donate to a local charity, perform a random act of kindness, it’s good for your health!