While Ayurvedic medicine is generally best tailored to the individual being treated and takes a level of skill to properly apply for the best results, many effective home remedies can be found in your kitchen cabinet or home garden as well. Ayurveda has a long tradition of being used in the home as a first means of healthcare and can empower you to take charge of your own health and that of your family. As patients become more familiar with Ayurveda, they often ask me about remedies for various conditions or health concerns they or their family members may have and I wanted to include a sample of some of the ones I turn to time and again. I’ll also ibe including some answers to interesting questions I get, check back here from time to time for more.
I often have no appetite for food and when I eat my digestion is poor. What home remedies can I use to assist these issues?
The concept of Agni, or digestive fire is extremely important in Ayurveda. The basis of how well your body can digest, absorb, and assimilate nutrients depends entirely on the proper functioning of your body’s Agni. Here are a few quick tips to help improve your appetite as well as the processes of digestion and elimination.
- Avoid cold beverages, particularly near or with your meals. This dampens the digestive ‘’fire’’ of your body. Instead have small sips of room temperature or warm water while eating.
- To stimulate the appetite, cut one quarter size piece of fresh ginger root and add to it a dash of salt and a squeeze of lime. Take this 20-30 minutes before eating and you should notice your appetite increase.
- Make a tea with equal parts cumin, coriander, and fennel (CCF tea). This tea aids in digestion and the absorption of nutrients from your food.
- Begin your day with a cup of warm water with a squeeze of lemon. This helps to stimulate the internal organs as well as peristalsis in the intestines. Over time this will assist the G.I. tract in developing regular rhythms of digestion and elimination.
- Avoid overeating. This simple suggestion is often the hardest to put into practice. It is also good to note that chewing your food well and eating in a quiet, and relaxed environment will aid the overall process.
- Cooking regularly with spices such as cumin, fennel, ginger, black pepper, turmeric, and cinnamon all will help to regulate and ease digestion.
According to Vastu Shastra (Vedic Feng Shui), is there a good direction that my bed should be facing?
Yes. If you have a particularly hard time sleeping, it is worth noting that the direction your bed faces will influence how restful your sleep is according to the science of Vastu Shastra (Vedic Feng Shui). There are many factors to take into account when determining the placement of objects in your room and house and Vastu is a deep and comprehensive study in itself. The direction your head points at night however may be the most important and easy to apply according to this system. Each direction will have a specific effect, but it is generally agreed that your head facing North is the least beneficial of the directions. Your head to the South is said to bring deep and contented sleep. Facing the East might provide for better learning, memory, and comprehension. Facing West will give good benefit as well as improve abilities to act and engage in the world. This is one quick fix I have seen good results with on numerous occasions.
Is Triphala OK to take long term for control of constipation or general bowel health, or will you create dependence?
Triphala is a wonderful for overallG.I. tract health. Its greatest strength with constipation particularly is that is does not create dependence as other laxatives tend to do. It is said to be a Rasayana (rejuvenative) for the colon and thus aids in its proper functioning as well as having a gentle laxative effect. I generally recommend regular use of Triphala with the occasional break of two weeks every 2-3 months. This seems to allow the body to “reset” so to speak, and patients find they respond much better with this occasional break. This also allows us to gauge the overall functioning of the G.I. tract without Triphala to determine its continued appropriateness. Taking Triphala at night before bed has more of a cleansing effect on the body as a whole and taking it first thing in the morning has a more laxative effect. Patients can choose when to take it based on their specific intentions. Its best to take Triphala away from other foods (particularly dairy) for best effect.
Short answer … there are many. Receiving marma therapy specific to your diagnosis is often the most helpful, but I will list a few of the more common ones here as they are easy to locate and effective in many cases regardless of cause.
Stomach upset — The most effective point I have found in my clinical experience is a point called Indrabasti (see picture) and one matching point just two inches distal to that. It is located in the center of the forearm, in the belly of the flexor carpi radialis muscle. Apply firm pressure with the thumb and slowly rotate in small, clockwise circles. You can hold for as long as comfortable and then switch and do the other arm. Repeat this process for up to 10 minutes or until discomfort subsides. I have personal experience with this particular point. While attending a conference I suddenly developed food poisoning from the meal served. I was unable to get up at that point do to being in the center of a completely full room. I applied firm pressure here until the speaker was finished and the room cleared 25 minutes later. This marma allowed me to get through the remainder of the talk until I had a chance to let the food come back up! I’m sure those sitting near me at the time would have also been happy had they known my dilema. This point is extremely useful for less acute conditions as well including morning sickness and nausea.
Kshipra — Kshipra is a very commonly used marma with a wide range of indications. Locate it in the spot where your thumb would touch during a handshake (see picture). This is the web of the first and second metacarpals. Best to find the most tender spot near this location. Any type of pain related to the head or face can benefit from its use. Headaches, particularly on the front of the head, temples, or behind the eye will find benefit with this marma. Toothache is also another commonly used indication and this marma can be used in conjunction with Indrabasti to treat upset stomach or nausea. Treat in the same way as described above for Indrabasti.
Ayurveda views everything as a microcosm/macrocosm relationship. The cycles of time are no different and each day can be broken up into smaller pieces to represent the varying ways our environments affect us. Our ability to understand this relationship and the particular energies present at a given time leads us to a more content and less stressful body and mind as we function with rather than against this natural flow. If we look at a clock and superimpose the doshic qualities correctly, we then can predict which actions, or lack of, are most appropriate for any given time.
As we can see here, 6a.m.- 10 a.m. is dominated by Kapha. This is an excellent time to rise and begin your day. Kapha gives your muscles the strength to function and engage in the days work. If you sleep through this time however, Kapha will dominate your body and mind and you may find it hard to get much done or think clearly. !0 am- 2 pm is when Pitta is at its peak. This fiery energy is best utilized by making lunch your main meal of the day when your capacities are at their peak. During sleep, this is when your liver function is at its peak cleansing your body and why it is best to be asleep at this time. Night owls and artists will find the increased Pitta energy making them sharper and more active during these hours. When you are overwhelmed by stress you may find yourself waking in the middle of the night, often between 1-3a.m. as your Pitta energy is peaking. 2p.m.- 6p.m. is dominated by Vata and thus is the perfect time for creative expression and mental exercise. The 4-5p.m. slump experienced by some may be a sign that your body’s reserves are depleted and that it’s time to reevaluate your energetic input and self care routines, This is Vata at work.
Each month during my menstrual cycle I experience pain, cramping, and fatigue. What are some remedies I can use to treat this?
Another commonly seen issue in the clinic is menstrual difficulties. There are various ways this can manifestand each of the three doshas can be the culprit or may be working together to create symptoms. Typically, Vata symptoms occur primarily before the onset of menstruation. There will be more prominentlow back pain, bloating, constipation, and cramping. Menstrual flow tends to be lighter in color and in lesser volume. Pitta menstrual problems often materialize as body tenderness, inflammation, and irritability. There is stagnation heat present and this may be noticed in menstrual output that is copious in volume or bright red in color. Kapha menstrual difficulties will often come later in the cycle. Menstrual flow may be clear or white in color, and one may notice more bloating and water retention in the body. The appetite will be low and there will be a general sense of lethargy present. These signs and symptoms can give one clues as to how to more specifically address their particular doshic picture. It can often be helpful in menstrual cases particularly to be evaluated by an Ayurvedic practitioner for more precise guidance. There are however many simple remedies than can be utilized and self evaluated to find the most effective one for you. The beginning of each month’s cycle is a good benchmark to see how a particular remedy is working for you. This is a process and takes some patience and dedication, but with persistence, you will gain relief.
- Ginger- A panacea if there ever was one. Take fresh ginger daily starting 3 days before menstruation and through day 1-3 of menstruation. This has natural pain relieving properties and helps move stagnation.
- Dry roast cumin seeds (just afew minutes to roast), and eat 2 teaspoons 3x/day to reduce gas, bloating, and pain.
- Eat 10-20 raspberries up to 3x/day will be helpful for discomfort and to regulate menstrual flow.
- Eat light, well cooked, and easy to digest foods throughout menstruation.
- Rest. This is extremely important, and often overlooked.
- Aloe Vera gel- Take I tablespoon with a pinch of black pepper, 3x.day starting one week before menstruation to prevent pain and regulate flow.
- A customized herbal formula from an Ayurvedic practitioner may also greatly benefit you
Insomnia is quite a chronic problem in today’s high paced world. We look at it primarily through the lens of Vata or Pitta. Our sleep habits can be seen as a set of patterns, and if those patterns aren’t kept moving in the proper direction we may come across problems. Depending on how chronic these patterns may be, we might expect a tougher time “turning the ship” back in the proper direction. It is very important to address none the less as sleep is our body’s primary means of rejuvenation and an important time for the internal organs to cleanse themselves.
- Think of good sleep as coming from setting patterns. The more we can do to support beneficial patterns around our sleeping schedule, the better chance we will have to set a consistent pattern of good sleep
- Shut off all electronics starting one hour before bed. You can read but keep the light source behind your head rather than in front as this can stimulate the frontal cortex and keep your brain more active.
- Get to bed by 10:00 p.m. Your body does the majority of its cleansing and rejuvenation between 10pm and 2 am. Even eight hours of sleep beginning later is not equivalent to this. This is also the time Pitta is most active as many night owls can attest to, they will get a second wind around this time and end up staying up until the early hours of the morning. Get to sleep before this.
- Bring one cup of milk just to a boil and add a big pinch of nutmeg. Drink 30 minutes to an hour before bed. For stronger effect substitute one clove of garlic in place of the nutmeg.
- Give yourself a 5-10 minute foot massage using sesame oil before bed. Put socks on afterward and leave on through the night for better effect. Use socks dedicated to this specifically as the oil tends to ruin them.
- Sitting quietly or meditating for 5-10 minutes, 30 minutes before bed, will also help initiate the sleep cycle.
- Taking 500 mg of the herb Ashwagandha, 3x/day for 2 -4 weeks should help correct your sleep pattern.
I’m getting ready to travel by plane, is there anything I can specifically do to keep from getting sick or feeling jet lagged and tired at my destination?
Traveling in general has a vitiating effect on our health. This in and of itself leaves us more susceptible to getting sick. Add to that being crammed into a small box of people sneezing and coughing for one to five hours and it’s no wonder many end up coming down with something. Traveling at high speeds, elevation changes, cold air, many interactions, time zone changes, and stress amongst other things can be lumped together under the banner of Vata provocation. This should tell us that one of the primary things we can do when traveling is to find ways to remain as calm as possible, stay relaxed in our bodies, keep warm, and assist our immune function before, during, and after any travel.
- Before leaving put a small amount of ghee or sesame oil on your pinky finger and gently rub it into each of your nasal passages. Give a couple strong inhalations through each nostril to help it travel deeper. This will protect your sinuses from getting dried out or from producing too much bacteria lovingmucus as well as providing a physical barrier to pathogens. It is also quite calming.
- Dress warmly and keep your neck covered, even if just light layering in warmer months.
- Refrain from drinking the cold beverages, or eating the light snacky foods often served on planes. Instead have plenty of warm water throughout your trip.
- Use the time on your flight to meditate, or rest.
- Take the herbs Ashwagandha and Brahmi, 500mg of each 3x/day starting two days before your trip and lasting through one day after your return.
- Give yourself a warm sesame oil massage the evening before you leave, this will ground Vata.
Winter and Spring are often the times when we begin to notice one by one those around us getting hit with a cold or flu and we cross our fingers that we won’t be next. A runny nose, stuffy nose,fever, chills, fatigue, and chest congestion are some of the more common signs and symptoms. As the saying goes, “The best defense is a good offense”. Ayurveda sees immunity as being just as much if not more about how your internal environment is holding up as it is about what virus or bacteria you might encounter in the world. At these times of year particularly, the more we can do to keep our immune system functioning at an optimal level and limit behaviors and foods that might inhibit our body’s ability to function well, the less likely it is that we will get sick in the first place. Prevention is much more preferable to maintenance. With the natural changing of the seasons, Ayurveda teaches that our bodies are more susceptible to illness and this is why it is also often recommended that we cleanse our bodies at these junctures. I often recommend patients begin taking the excellent Ayurvedic formula Triphala at these times. This simple, yet powerful formula has a gentle cleansing action as well as boosts the immune system and keeps you healthy through the seasonal change.
- In the case where we do end up getting sick, there are many things one can do to speed up our recovery and limit any discomfort.
- Most importantly is to rest and accept the process. There’s a tendency for some to want to rush through a cold/flu and over consume every possible remedy they’ve ever read about on the internet. Others might ignore they are sick and simply push through it without giving their body the adequate rest it needs to recover well. Just make it go away! This is understandable of course, but we need to accept the illness and allow it to run its course most efficiently and not drain more of our much needed resources during this time.
- Ideally eliminate your intake of dairy, sugar, alcohol, and fried foods. Giving your body easy to digest and well cooked foods at this time is critical both to clean out the toxins in your body as well keeping your strength up to get better quicker.
- Make ginger your new best friend. Making a tall thermos of fresh ginger tea (can sweeten with honey) in the morning and sipping it throughout the day will go a long way to help knock out any associated phlegm in the sinuses or chest, keep your agni strong, and help with nausea. It is also a renowned anti inflammatory and will enliven the senses. Fresh ginger is fairly tridoshic so can be used in Vata, Pitta,Kapha conditions.
- Tulsi and mint tea- Tulsi (Holy Basil) is very often used for prevention as well as treatment of colds, flus, and particularly helpful with Jvara (fever). I also like to add fresh turmeric to this. You can sweeten with honey if needed. Sip throughout the day.
- For a tasty medicinal mix-Equal parts cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger powder in hot water and steep.
- Take a warm bath with ⅓ cup of baking soda and ⅓ cup of Ginger powder. Not only soothing for the body, but this helps to expectorate phlegm, relax the muscles, and induce a light sweat to expel accumulated heat or cold. Take care to towel dry quickly afterwards and not allow the body to become too cold.
- Neti pot – This brilliant, simple device can save you much suffering with regular use. It will dislodge phlegm, soothe the sinuses, and treat any potential infection present. Some patients do well adding Grape seed extract as well for enhanced antibiotic effect if sinus infection is suspected.
- See your Ayurvedic practitioner for more specific practices or an individualized herbal formula if needed. If flu persists, see your primary care physician.