Ayurvedic Oil Pulling (aka Gandusha)

You may have heard about Oil Pulling; it’s become quite the new fashion in some circles! It’s something of an unusual practice, especially the first time you do it, but after trying it once, I was hooked! It gives the mouth not a feeling of freshness, but also has a soothing effect on the whole oral cavity.

Basically, it’s quite simple: swish some sesame or coconut oil around in your mouth for 10-15 minutes, and then spit it out! But coming from the ancient art of Ayurvedic cleansing, you can imagine there’s more to it than that!!

Oil pulling is an ancient, time-tested practice and part of one’s dinacharya (daily practices for health maintenance) in Ayurveda. Nasal cleansing (jal neti) is an example of dinacharya practice that is familiar to many of us from the yoga system. Many of the dinacharya involve oiling – self-massage with warm oil, the use of ghee in cooking, and lubrication of the nasal passages in the practice of nasya. As you know, oil is widely used in Ayurveda both to reduce the vata dosha, and to cleanse and to strengthen various tissues in the body – skin, ears, sinuses, and mouth.

As a cleansing agent, oil pulls toxins from the soft tissue in the mouth; it strengthens the teeth and gum tissue, and refreshes the breath. The practice can be done before or after brushing, flossing and tongue scraping, or you can swish while showering.

Method – How to Practice Oil Pulling

Sesame and coconut oil are the recommended choices of oil. Make sure the oil is organic, cold-pressed, and preferably raw or unrefined. Some practitioners advocate the use of a combination of sesame and coconut oil with a little added turmeric for the most reliable benefits.

Coconut oil has a cooling effect so is most appropriate in warm weather, but if you tend to be over-heated even in winter, feel free to use it then. Sesame oil is warming, so for most of us, it’s the best choice during the cooler seasons of the year.

As mentioned above, you can do this first thing in the morning, before or after brushing and flossing, or any time of day to freshen the breath!

Start by taking 1-2 teaspoons and swishing it gently through your teeth and around the mouth. You can then build up to 1-2 tablespoons as the muscles, nerves and blood vessels in the tongue build up strength. Swish and/or gargle the oil in the mouth for about 10-15 minutes.

Never swallow the oil! As it becomes more fluid, it is easier to swish. When you feel like spitting, do so, noticing the change in the color and texture of the oil. Then rinse your mouth well to flush toxins and bacteria from the area.

After this practice, drink a glass of warm water.

How it Works

Named for the cleansing effect that oils have when applied to the skin, this process uses lipophilic oils, meaning they attract other oils and fat soluble toxins, and act to pull them out from any surface where oil placed. This amazing property to chelate or pull toxins has been employed for centuries during classical Ayurvedic detoxification therapies, such as panch karma.

Over time, oil pulling firms up the gum tissue and removes acids and plaque from the teeth, according to clinical experience and studies. Also, it’s said to gradually whiten your teeth.

In a healthy mouth, certain microbes play a critical role in upper respiratory health, breath smell, healthy gums and teeth and the first immune response for the entire body.
Microbes that contribute to tooth decay and a harmful yeast bacteria seem to flourish in the mouth – particularly in the presence of sugars and starches. These bad bacteria and fungi, when allowed to flourish, can cause a number of health concerns throughout the body.

Oil pulling has been shown to create a saponification or detergent effect that deters bad bacteria and plaque, while supporting healthy gum tissue as a barrier against bacterial exposure to the bloodstream.

Dr. John Douillard has reported on studies that show oil pulling to affect the level of microbial activity in the mouth. He says that supporting a healthy microbial population in the mouth limits the proliferation of sulfur-producing bacteria that cause bad breath! Other studies show that neglected oral hygiene has been linked to poor cognitive function, and risk of heart and artery health concerns in the elderly.

Your New Mouthwash

Basically the proof is in the swishing. Give it a try tomorrow morning as part of your New Year’s resolutions and see what you think. And after a few weeks of regular practice, notice your fresher breath, your brighter smile and, perhaps, a whole new outlook on life! Happy swishing!

~Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.

Coconut oil photo by Sunny Mama (creative commons license)

Ayurveda, Yoga and You: Triphala – A Magic Formula for the Whole Body

balanceIt’s been said that if all you do is take triphala, eventually the body will return to a state of balance. And of course, balance is at the heart of Ayurveda – maintaining a balance of the doshas (bio-energies) and the dhatus (the bodily tissues).

Triphala is the classic blend of three (tri) fruits (phala). It’s known as an Ayurvedic essential for your medicine kit, whether traveling or at home. Triphala is comprised of three fruits – amalaki, haritaki, and bibhitaki – that grow on large tropical trees throughout India and other parts of Asia. The formula triphala is made up of the dried, powdered fruits – amalaki (Emblica officials or Phyllanthus embolic), haritaki (Terminalia chebula) and bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica). Each of the three herbs in the formula addresses or balances one of the three doshas.

Three Fruits

Amalaki, the Indian gooseberry, has high levels of bioavailable Vitamin C; the fresh fruit is unbelievably sour. Biting into one at Sri Ram Ashram, I was shocked that a fruit could be so sour! Amalaki is a cooling and rejuvenative for pitta dosha, helping to regulate blood sugar levels and inflammation; it’s one of the basic ingredients of Chaywanprash, a rejuvenative combination.

Bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica) grows throughout Asia, but is seldom eaten fresh. It is highly astringent and a bit drying, which helps counteract the watery and heavy kapha dosha. Its diuretic properties helps promote elimination of all kinds.

Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) specifically balances the airy, dry vata dosha. Also known as myrobalan, this nourishing fruit can be eaten as a food and is beloved for its therapeutic properties. Haritaki supports proper elimination and also has anti-inflammatory properties as well as immune-strengthening ones. Its anti-oxidant qualities help support the detoxification process.

Taken as a formula, there is a powerful synergy in how it affects the whole body. Triphala supports healthy bowel function, tonifying the entire eliminative tract. It also strengthens the immune system, helps stabilize healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and encourages detoxification of unhealthy wastes and the production of healthy microbes.

Even though triphala is composed of fruits, it is not considered a culinary herb. It’s recommended to take triphala separate from food, either 30 minutes before or two hours after eating. Triphala can be taken in a variety of ways: pressed into pills, poured into capsules, or taken as the dried powder.

Taking Triphala

When taken in pill or capsule form, be sure to include plenty of water. Begin with a minimum dosage shown on the bottle, and then notice what works for you, increasing or decreasing as needed.

Pay attention to your digestive system responds to triphala, particularly your elimination patterns. High levels of the pitta dosha can increase sensitivity to loose stools, while high levels of the vata dosha can increase constipation when taking triphala. Drink more water; also ensure that your diet includes adequate amounts of healthy oils.

The powdered herb can also be made into a hot tea and taken about an hour before bed. This is soothing for people with a predominately vata constitution, and activating for those with a lot of kapha in their make-up. Take about 1/4-1/2 tsp of triphala and mix with one-half cup of hot water. Stir well and drink. It is surely an acquired taste so drink it down quickly.

Another option is the cold infusion. Take 1/2 tsp of powdered triphala and mix with a glass of room temperature water. Let it sit overnight; then drink the triphala water in the morning, letting the herbs settle to the bottom. After drinking, fill the glass again with water, stir and let it sit all day. Take this water at night before bed (wait two hours after eating) or drink the following morning.

While drinking the cold infusion has beneficial systemic effects, a mouthwash of triphala is encouraged for Ayurvedic dental hygiene.

Yet another method is to mix with raw honey; make a paste with 1/4-1/2 tsp of powder. Since honey is warming, it is said to help activate some of the toxin-burning effects of triphala. Or mix with a paste of honey and ghee. Ayurvedic lore suggests using more honey than ghee if you are trying to encourage detoxification or lose weight and more ghee than honey is you are trying to build, rejuvenate, or gain weight.

Triphala can be taken regularly as an over-all health tonic. It has no harmful effects and is an amazing formula for our long-term health maintenance. One Ayurvedic practitioner told me he has taken it regularly for over 20 years. The magic of this triple formulation offers a powerful support for longevity, as well for overall strength and balance.

Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

“Balance” image by Mish Sukharev under the Flickr Creative Commons license

Ayurveda, Yoga & You: Maintaining an Even Keel

flickr-cc-constant-progressionMaintaining an Even Keel: Understanding our Mental Temperament

If you’ve ever tried to sail a boat, fly a kite, or surf the ocean waves, you have a sense of what it means to keep ‘an even keel.’ An ability to focus, to hold the mind steady in the moment, while also perceiving the ever-changing conditions, are essential in any sporting endeavor we choose. Holding the mental balance among the uncertain waves of life requires the same qualities: moment-to-moment attention, a willingness to make split-second adjustments, and a sense of light-heartedness that allows for playfulness in the midst of whatever comes.

Understanding our mental make-up can help us to maintain the balance that allows sattvic, or positive, qualities to emerge in our life. Looking at life through Ayurvedic eyes, we notice the continuous process of balancing the doshas (vata, pitta, kapha), which helps maintain our positive health during a long and active life. We get hungry; pitta goes up; we eat; pitta goes down. We get sleepy; kapha goes up; we sleep; kapha reduces (but increases when we oversleep!). We go dancing; we express our vata; we practice restorative yoga; vata goes down.

But Ayurveda also considers the balance of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas in a person’s constitutional make-up. These three cosmic or maha-gunas are the forces of nature that guide and direct all of creation. They also reflect in ourselves as mental qualities or mental doshas.

Sattva is the force of purity, of consciousness, of balance on the cosmic level. On the personal level, this force shows itself as inner peace, in a sense of contentment and tranquility, and in the ability to give and share love (both human and divine). The sattva quality is sometimes referred to as ‘the serene sage.’

Rajas is the cosmic force of passion and activity. Its nature is movement; it’s the energy of creation that vitalizes the serenity of sattva and challenges the static nature of tamas. As humans, a rajasic type will seek stimulation and satisfaction through the senses, indulging in sense pleasures. When out of balance, rajas manifests as ‘the mad-monkey mind.’

Tamas is the cosmic guna of stability, inertia. This is the force of cohesion that keeps planets in their orbits and suns in their galaxies. On the personal level, we see tamas expressed in the stability of our meditation seat, as well as in a state of withdrawal from the world (which can manifest negatively as depression). When out of balance, tamas may look like ‘the lazy log.’

Since we are living, sentient beings, these great cosmic are operating within us all the time. Rajas activates us; tamas slows us down. The cycles and rhythms of nature attest to the fact of this constant change, constantly monitoring and regulating the balance. So in learning to hold our mental/emotional balance, all three of these factors must be considered. When we are able to balance our rajasic and tamasic tendencies, sattva guna is able to manifest more fully. We can readily see that these mental doshas are a place where yoga and Ayurveda intersect.

In exploring and understanding our mental nature, let’s take a look at how the doshas and the maha-gunas intersect. See how many of your own characteristics show up in different columns!

Sattvic Qualities Rajasic Qualities Tamasic Qualities
Vata Creative, inspired, artistic, intuitive,clarity, lightness Nervous, anxious, fearful, worrisome, overactive Depressed, addicted, bogged down, confusion
Pitta Clear thinking, perceptive, focused, understanding Angry, passionate, resentful, judgmental, controlling Violent, vindictive, competitive, vengeful, aggressive, hurtful
Kapha Nurturing, generous, patient, forgiveness, compassionate, love Attached to things and people, stubborn Attached to pleasure and sense experience, lethargic, dull-minded 

Now, most all of us sense that thoughts exist in the mind, and feelings in the heart; we see thoughts and emotions as separate. In the Charaka Samhita, however, it is said, hridaye chetana sthanam, which means, “the seat of consciousness is in the heart.” The heart and the mind are intimately connected, because the heart is the seat of consciousness. From this perspective, even though the emotional heart feels and senses more in the realm of the body, emotions are actually processed through the mind.

How do we maintain a balanced approach to our life, enjoying the good times, and not surrendering to the negative emotions that can overwhelm us and derail our positive intentions to lead a virtuous life? Ayurveda teaches us that mild emotional imbalance can be counteracted with simple guidelines for creating a more profound connection between the heart, mind and consciousness.

One way we work toward this is to strive to increase sattva while reducing rajas and tamas. The practices of yoga help to support the sattvic qualities, keeping the mental doshas intact and serene. Our daily sadhana (whether it’s 10 minutes or 2 hours) helps to maintain the peaceful state of mind that maintains a balance between the rajasic and tamasic tendencies in our nature, and ultimately strengthens our sattvic nature until all we are is holding the bliss of the bodhisattva state. Sattva Buddhi (pure mind) – Bodhisattva –- mental peace.

Babaji often reminded us: Love, truth, peace, beauty, reality, God – all are the same. Developing these positive qualities within ourselves will help train the mind to keep the mental balance that nurtures and sustains our each and every moment. Wishing you success in each moment.

– pratibha

Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

“Sails” photo by Constant Progression via Flickr creative commons

Abhyanga: The Ayurvedic Art of Self-Massage

flickr-oil-foodistaThe summer months are the perfect time to experiment with abhyanga – the Ayurvedic art of oil massage. As we mentioned in last month’s column, abhyanga (self massage with warm oil) nourishes the skin, as well as soothes the nervous system, stimulates the circulation of blood and lymph, and enlivens the immune system. This nurturing practice also helps moisturize the body so it doesn’t dry out in the heat of the summer sun.

The way this works is that the warmth of summer heats up all of our bodily tissues, drawing moisture from each and every cell. We may not be aware of this at first, particularly kapha predominant people whose tissues contain more than average moisture. But the effects of dehydration can accumulate as the summer heat goes on and, especially for vata and pitta predominant people, can have a very damaging effect on the entire body. When the dry quality of vata accumulates during the warm summer months, it can then become aggravated when the autumn winds begin in late September or October. And then we become prone to vata disorders such as constipation, anxiety, and cracking joints.

To counteract this accumulation of vata dryness during the summer, abhyanga is the perfect antidote (along with the addition of aloe vera and cooling melons to your diet)!

Before we detail the process, let’s look at the properties of various oils you might choose. Sesame oil is used throughout India as a basic massage oil; it is heavy and warming, perfect for nourishing vata dosha. Coconut and sunflower oil are both cooling; they’re the best for balancing the pitta dosha. Kapha people may choose a light oil such as almond or may decide to massage without oil, simply massaging the skin directly.

Adding a bit of essential oil to your choice of base oil adds a delicious quality to the experience. Cooling rose, lavender and sandalwood oils are recommended for pitta. Frankincense, geranium rose and jasmine are calming for vata. Kapha predominants appreciate the warming and invigorating aromas of rosemary, eucalyptus and peppermint. Choose one oil to experiment with, one that feels most pleasing to you.

Abhyanga is best performed early in the morning, before showering. Fill a 2 oz. plastic bottle with your choice of oils, and heat it by placing it in a cup of warm/hot water for a few minutes. Choose a warm place for this practice, one where any excess oil will not damage carpet or furniture. Apply a small amount of oil to the whole body, beginning with the scalp. Massage the scalp slowly with firm pressure. After a minute or so, move down to your ears and face, using small circles.

Moving down to the arms, use circular strokes on the joints (shoulders, elbows and wrists) and long strokes on the upper and lower arms. Be sure to give each side equal time! Use circular strokes on the chest and stomach and upward strokes on the lower back. If you have a consenting companion, ask him or her to rub oil also into the upper back. Continuing on to the legs, again use long strokes on the long bones, and circular strokes on the joints.

You may wish to give special attention to the feet; working the acupressure points there can revitalize the whole body through reflexive action that connects to the internal organs. Apply oil to lubricate the whole foot; then massage each toe beginning with the pinkie all the way to the big toe, giving some loving attention to the space between the toes. Next massage the ball of the foot in a circular motion and complete the massage by circling the ankle joints with both hands in a clockwise motion.

Leave the oil on your skin for 10-15 minutes (or as long as possible). You may wish to do your teeth brushing or shaving while you wait for the oil to be absorbed. Now step into a warm shower. Use only as much soap as you actually need; the warm water will help draw the oil deep into the skin tissue. We want this oil to be absorbed, and not washed off with the soap. Towel dry and enjoy the rejuvenating effects of your self-massage.

This practice can be done daily, weekly, monthly, or occasionally – your choice. When you feel stressed, when you feel dried out, when you feel fatigued – whenever you find the time to include it in your daily routine, you’ll enjoy both the pleasure and the health benefits of this ancient practice.

Whether you massage the entire body massage or just the arms and legs, don’t rush. Take your time, focusing on feelings of love and support for this incredible body of ours. For decades, this body carries around our consciousness, our soul, our spirit in order that we can experience this extraordinary life and explore the process of liberation from our self-created dreams. When we’re able to appreciate this amazing life, we permeate ourselves with the qualities of acceptance, loving-kindness, and compassion which the world so crucially needs these days!

Happy oiling! Peace, ~pratibha

Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Image: Photo of Extra Virgin Olive Oil by Foodista courtesy of flickr creative commons

Ayurveda, Yoga & You: The Hot Belly Diet book review

Ayurveda, Yoga and You:
The Hot Belly Diet by Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar

hot-belly-diet-bookcoverDr. Suhas (as he is called by his students and colleagues) has sub-titled his new book “A 30-day Ayurvedic Plan to Reset your Metabolism, Lose Weight, and Restore your Body’s Natural Balance to Heal Itself.” And the magical diet plan he describes presents the time-honored Ayurvedic approach to diet and nutrition that is based upon sustaining a strong digestive fire. Babaji was asked myriad times over the years, “Babaji, what should I eat?” And one of his standard answers was “Eat what you can digest.” He was pointing to the fact that it’s the digesting that’s the crucial point, not so much the eating.

Dr. Suhas’ starting point, however is much broader in scope: “ . . . all roads to perfect health . . . begin with your mind-set, and your diet is the most important factor in creating that mentality. Food is information . . . it gives your body the fuel it needs . . . and helps generate the connection between what you think and do, and how you feel.” He encourages us to generate “the qualities of ‘self-referral,’ which means you’re connected to yourself in ways that allow you to optimize every aspect of yourself” . . . body-type, lifestyle, emotions, stress, relationships, and nature.

In the Foreword to “Hot Belly Diet,” Dr. Deepak Chopra presents the basic principle: “The digestive tract is the most critical system in the body, because it supplies the energy that allows cells to go through their life cycle, from birth to death, in a state of perfect balance. The key concept is agni, the digestive fire, which supplies vitality to the whole mind-body system when it is burning brightly and efficiently. Moreover, the quality of your metabolism – the process of converting food energy into bodily tissues – decides the quality and quantity of the life you experience. If you have a humming metabolism fueled by agni, you will slow down your body’s aging process and boost its overall health.”

In the hot belly diet described by Dr. Suhas, the basic idea is to re-kindle and sustain a balanced digestive fire that burns cleanly and brightly. He lays out a 30-day plan that is designed to change your whole approach to food and eating; it will reset not only your metabolism but your eating habits as well. It begins with 3-day preparation phase that detoxifies and lightens the load, so to speak. During this phase, we’ll be eliminating refined carbohydrates, red meat and full-fat dairy, white sugar, and alcohol.

The 23-day acceleration phase is firmly based in kitchari, a nourishing, easy to digest rice-dal (bean) combination that comes with endless variations. Kitchari is the main dish for lunch (and dinner if you choose), plus a non-creamy soup and steamed vegetables. Breakfast consists of either a super-food smoothie, oatmeal, or an egg-veggie scramble.

The final 4-day phase of the plan is called “Transform”, which he calls the ‘rest of your life phase,’ in which other foods are gradually re-introduced. The recipes in the Appendix give a hint about the possibilities: Kale Tabbouleh, Red Rhubarb Quinoa, Flaxseed Pesto on Spaghetti Squash, and Black Bean Tacos with Mango Salsa! Recipes for happy cooking . . . and eating!!

While the emphasis in Hot Belly Diet is on food and eating, Dr. Suhas also includes a discussion of ama (undigested food particles that clog the body’s channels), cravings, fasting, as well as guidelines for eating, the importance of warm beverages, optimal eating times, eating for your unique doshic balance.

Even if you’re not prepared for a 30-day dietary make-over, Dr. Suhas’ discussion of the Ayurvedic approach to eating . . . and digesting . . . make for fascinating reading. And most all of us can benefit from deepening our understanding of the invisible process of transformation that takes place within our bodies each and every day . . . from food to tissues & energy & the thoughts/emotions that comprise our life. Happy reading! Happy digesting!!

-Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Ayurveda, Yoga & You – Superfoods for your Body Type

Superfoods-DanZen-flickr-ccMaking healthy food choices often seems like a daunting task. So many things to choose from, and so many filled with sugar and fat! And, everyone seems to have a different philosophy of what and how to eat, so that our individual food choices seem to require a doctorate in food science! And then, we have to consider our dosha predominance, the season, the climate, our level of activity, our age! No wonder so many of us just give up and eat whatever’s put in front of us!

These days, the concept of superfoods is gaining popularity! So what makes a food a superfood? I’ve heard them described as “protein rich,” “powerful antioxidants,” with “densely packed nutrients.” A simply way to understand it is that superfoods give you more ‘bang for the buck,’ with no empty calories or quick-burning carbs.

Including some of these in your regular meals will provide a boost to the immune system, promote balanced digestion, increase energy levels, as well as build ojas and endurance. Here is a list of some of the superfoods to support your body type:

Vata: avocados, olive oil, nuts/seeds (flax, chia, hemp), quinoa, sweet potatoes, ghee.
Pitta: beets, kale, apples, seaweeds, kiwifruit, edamame, coconut oil.
Kapha: grapefruit, lemons, honey, pumpkin seeds, garlic.

And then there is the seasonal consideration! Following are some of the superfoods that are especially important to make a part of your wintertime meals.

Superfoods for Vata in Winter

Olive Oil
Vitally important for vata is a good source of oil, since vata tends to cold and dryness. Organic extra virgin olive oil is nutritious, hosting beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins E and K. Being anti-inflammatory, olive oil helps support the entire circulatory and nervous system; contemporary research suggests that olive oil works to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Olive oil is one of the most volatile oils and is best used fresh, rather as a cooking oil. Instead, olive oil can be added to a dish as a final ingredient, or at the table.

Avocados are a great source of digestible protein and balanced fats. Avocados provide healthy fats for optimal metabolism and brain function. Avocadoes nourish the skin by helping to maintain and rebuild collagen, and are also great for satisfying PMS-related cravings. Research suggests that eating one avocado a week can balance hormones, shed unwanted weight, and prevent cervical cancers.

Chia Seeds
Cultivated by the Aztec and Mayans in ancient times, chia is said to have been as important as maize as a food crop. Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds are also an excellent source of fiber and contain protein and minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
Emerging research suggests that including chia seeds may help improve cardiovascular risk factors such as lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. (See Chia Seed Pudding below.)

Superfoods for Pitta during Winter

Coconut Oil
Keeping our cool is especially important for pitta dosha. The therapeutic effects of cooling coconut oil are becoming well known these days. The lauric acid can kill bacteria, viruses and fungi, helping to stave off infections. Research studies show that coconut oil helps lower high cholesterol, which may translate to a reduced risk of heart disease. Studies also indicate that the fatty acids in coconut oil can help supply energy for the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients, thus relieving symptoms of brain disorders. The fatty acids can also reduce appetite and increase fat burning, which can help reduce body weight over the long term. Coconut oil appears to be especially effective in reducing abdominal fat, which lodges in the abdominal cavity and around organs.

Beets are one of the best sources of performance-enhancing nutrients. Beets as a regular part of our diet helps maintain a healthy blood pressure and improve delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells. Beets are very rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron and powerful antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid (ALA). All of these support healthy liver function and bile flow.
Despite the high sugar content, beets have actually been shown to help support healthy blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics.

Kale (and other dark leafy greens)
Kale is a mainstay for many of us! This alkaline and slightly bitter green leafy vegetable is nutrient dense and a versatile food in the kitchen; it lends itself well to salads, soups, smoothies, green juice, stir-fries, or steamed vegetable entries. Kale is 45 percent protein based on the total calorie content, and contains folate, which supports healthy cell growth and nourishes hair, skin, and nails.
When using greens like kale, you will want to break down the plant fibers by massaging the greens with lemon, olive oil, and salt to make them more digestible. And always insist on organic kale!

Superfoods for Kapha in Winter

Affectionately called “the stinking rose,” garlic is an amazing nutritional powerhouse that is rich in antioxidants and sulfur-compounds to support the immune system. According to Ayurveda, it is stimulating and can be too strong for everyday use. But garlic can be your first line of defense during cold-weather flu seasons and has many wonderful medicinal properties. A great source of manganese, selenium, vitamins B6 and C, in its raw state, garlic is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory, supporting the respiratory and circulatory systems by helping to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It is also a very thermogenic herb, cultivating our internal heat and metabolism.

Grapefruits are rich in vitamin C, which boosts immunity and promotes healthy circulation, which is so important for kaphas to help avoid stagnation and lethargy. Pink grapefruits are high in an antioxidant called lycopene, which has been shown to support prostate health. The pith or white part of the skin is high in constituents like diosmin, which has been shown to support vascular function and microcirculation, helping build strong veins.

Raw Organic Honey
Raw organic honey has a myriad of health benefits. In addition to being a mineral rich substitute for sugar and sweeteners, honey is also anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal and can either be consumed or used topically. It contains trace amounts of protein, vitamin c, calcium and iron, and fuels us with simple sugars and starches the body can recognize. A potent source of antioxidants and enzymes, raw honey actually boosts immunity and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels. Honey is warming which counteracts the cool nature of kapha, but must be used in moderation so as not to increase kapha’s earthy nature.

Bringing these powerful superfoods into your diet, especially in conjunction with Ayurveda’s wisdom of eating to pacify your predominant dosha, will help stabilize your every-day vitality through the winter, and will also help build immunity for the future, when we’ll want to be planting our spring garden, and frolicking in the summer sunshine! And do try the Chia Seed Pudding recipe below – a delicious way to start the day!



1 cup chia seeds
2 cups pure water
2 T maple syrup
Cinnamon to taste (optional)
Clove to taste (optional)
Nutmeg to taste (optional)
¼ chopped apple
¼ cup blueberries

Put the chia seeds in a bowl and soak. It takes about 10 minutes for the chia to absorb all the water, but leaving the water and chia to soak overnight is okay. Soaked chia alone is good for up to 2 weeks. When the chia is gelatinous, add the chopped fruit and any desired flavorings (sweetener, spices, fruit, etc.). Mix well and serve!
Note: In general, soak chia seeds in 9 to 12 times their volume of water. You can also make chia as a savory, salty, or spicy type of porridge. But the best taste is sweet. You can also try it with cinnamon extract, chai spices, or cacao nibs.

Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Photo of grapefruit by Dan Zen via Flickr Creative Commons license

Ayurveda, Yoga and You – Antidotes to Stress and Anxiety


A cup of chamomile tea can help to relieve stress

We’ve all heard that stress has a wearing effect on the nerves, the emotions, and even on the strength of our immune response. Relationship challenges, job insecurity, climate change, or simply waiting in line at the airport can trigger a stress response, sending debilitating hormones racing through our system. From a medical perspective, stress can trigger anything from allergies and asthma to headaches and indigestion.

Over time, the effect of too much stress can contribute to high cholesterol, ulcers, diabetes, obesity, and heart problems. From an Ayurvedic perspective, stress also disrupts the inner balance of the doshas – vata, pitta, kapha – the three forces that govern our health on a subtle level. Here are a few stress-reducing tips based on yogic and Ayurvedic principles that each of us can include in our daily life.

Self-massage with sesame oil is a time-tested way of bringing the force of vata into balance. Before you shower in the morning, warm 2-3 tablespoons of sesame oil and rub liberally into the body. Then do your usual morning routine: jal neti, oil pulling, teeth brushing, tongue-scrapping routine as you wait 10-15 minutes for the oil to be absorbed into the skin. Follow this with a nice warm shower that helps to drive the oil deeper into the tissues. The soothing effects of abhyanga will be felt all day long.

Meditation gives the mind a rest. Sit in a comfortable meditation posture with your head, neck, and spine aligned. Observe the natural flow of your breath. Then practice meditation as desired, either focusing the mind one-pointedly, or simply observing the flow of thoughts, while holding our attention in the present. Meditation helps us to connect with our true nature as peace or pure consciousness, a place where stress has no place.

Yoga Postures to Relieve Stress
Shoulderstand (sarvangasana), plow pose (halasana), half spinal twist (ardha matsyendrasana), locust pose (shalabhasana), and lion pose (simhasana) are all helpful to access and release any deep chronic stress patterns that may have slipped into our life.

Ayurvedic Herbals
Ayurveda offers a variety of herbal teas in its stress-busting team. Chamomile, of course, but also tulsi (also known as holy basil) and angelica all encourage a relaxed state of mind. Or mix equal amounts of brahmi, bhringaraj, jatamansi, and shanka pushpi. Steep 1/2 teaspoon of this mixture in 2 cups of hot water for 10 minutes. Drink 2 or 3 times throughout the day.

What is contentment?
When all mental demons subside,
then the mind sits in such a peaceful state as if it owns the whole world.
Contentment doesn’t come in a packet from outside;
it develops by accepting life and by working towards our self-development.
-Baba Hari Dass

Manage Your Mind
Be mindful when you become aware of stress slipping in. Notice if the stress you’re feeling is over something you can change, and something you can’t. If you can do something about it, then do it! If there’s nothing you can do, then accept it and move on. When stuck behind a truck waiting to make a left turn, as the traffic is rushing along on your right, there’s nothing much to do take a deep breath and relax! Dr. Lad suggests, “By staying in the present moment, you will fall in love with your life. Then anything that touches you—even stress, anger, anxiety—becomes meditation.”
Book II, verse 33 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras advises: “The mind becomes serene by the cultivation of feelings of love for the happy, compassion for the suffering, delight for the virtuous and indifference for the non-virtuous.” When we cultivate serenity, compassion, delight and indifference, there’s no room in the mind for anxiety and stress!

Emotional Release
Crying is a great stress reliever, especially if you have stored up sadness and grief. As the tears flow, let any unresolved emotions simply roll down your cheeks and out of your life. Laughter is good medicine, too. Even if you are angry or depressed, just begin chanting: ha ha hee hee ho ho. Soon, real laughter will come…and with it, a joyful release of tension all through the body. The practice of ujjayi breathing can also help release our long-held emotions.

Ginger-Baking-Soda Bath
A soothing hot bath is a relaxing way to end a stressful day. Adding one-third cup ginger and one-third cup baking soda, along with a dollop of sesame oil, has additional vata reducing effects. Ginger enhances circulation, while the baking soda helps to alkalinize the system; both help to balance the effects of external stressors. Put on some relaxing kirtan music while you soak. And prepare for a sound sleep.

Restorative Yoga
Practice shavasana (lying on the lap of mother earth pose) for 10-15 minutes each day. Visualize the muscles softening, melting into the floor. Let the breath be full and deep, breathing stress out with every exhalation. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system with the full yogic breath brings us to the resting/digesting state, releasing all the stressors inside and out. When you notice the mind wandering, bring it gently back to the breath. One student said recently that shavasana is like pressing the reset button on a computer; it brings us back to ourselves.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.


Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Photo of chamomile flowers by Chiot’s Run via Flickr Creative Commons license

Sweets without Sugar



Yum, cookies. Yum, ice cream. Yum, chocolate mousse. Yum, yum . . . sugar! How many times a day do you reach for some sugar? With your coffee or tea first thing in the morning? With your breakfast, as jam on your toast? For a mid-morning snack, as a sweet roll or donut? And at lunch, how often is sugar part of the menu? By mid-afternoon, are you ready for a protein bar with another 9 to 29 grams of sugar? And then for dinner . . . dessert . . . before-bed snack?

Many of us have tried kicking the sugar habit over the years; one person I know goes on a sugar fast every once in a while, and somehow it always creeps back into the diet. Especially during the winter season. Have you noticed how it starts around Halloween, with trick-or-treat candy; continues through the Thanksgiving/ Christmas/ Hanukkah/ holiday season; arises again for Valentine’s Day, and again at Easter in the early spring? Every holiday has come to be associated with sugar sweet treats. Our culture inundates us with sugar for nearly half the year!

Now in Ayurveda the sweet taste is considered one of six essential tastes that are part of a balanced diet. (The other tastes are sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent.) Sweet food is nourishing, building of tissue, cooling, energizing, and delicious. Babaji would always given the children one candy, telling the wary moms that ‘sugar helps build their bones.’ Natural sugars include milk and rice, as well as honey, molasses and maple syrup! We don’t often think of milk and rice as being “sweet,” but from our body’s point of view they are! And we need them to stay healthy . . . but only in balance with the rest of our diet.

For many of us, however, the sweet taste can also be addicting and that is where the trouble begins. When we encounter the “high fructose corn syrup” that is part of so much processed food these days, the body reacts by wanting more. Consumption of excess sugar is a contributing factors to many diseases that are rampant in our modern world – diabetes, heart disease, obesity, to name a few.

So here, for your nutritional and gustatory enjoyment, are a few sweet treat recipes, that contain only natural sugars: a kitchari sweetened with squash, carrots and raisins, a fruit crumble with natural fruit sugars, a chocolate dip made with spinach and sweetened with dates, and a protein bar based in almonds, coconut and milk sugar.



¾ c. basmati rice
¾ c. split mung beans
1 small delicata squash
1 c. chopped carrots
1 fennel bulb
1/3 c. cashew pieces
1/3 c. flame raisins
2 T. coconut oil
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom
1 tsp fennel seeds
¾ tsp coriander seeds
1 piece fresh ginger
Handful of flaked coconut (optional)
1 can coconut milk
½-1 bunch fresh basil

1. Sauté fennel, coriander seeds and fresh ginger in coconut oil, until seeds start to brown and pop.
2. Add the drained rice and beans, and sauté for a few minutes until rice and beans are fully saturated with ghee and spices, then stir in the cinnamon and cardamom powder.
3. Add the coconut milk plus 1 can of water, and bring to a boil.
4. After ten minutes or so, stirring occasionally, add the carrots, chopped squash, fennel, raisins, cashews and coconut flakes. Bring to a low boil, covered and stir occasionally.
5. Cook until rice, beans and veggies are tender and it has thickened to desired consistency.
6. Stir in freshly chopped basil just before serving.

Serves 4-8 for breakfast or lunch, particularly enjoyable in fall and winter.



4 cups fruit (apples, apricots, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches, pears, or mangos)
2 cups apple juice
¼ cup raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¾ teaspoon coriander powder
⅛ – ¼ teaspoon dry ginger powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2-4 teaspoons honey (optional) or apple concentrate
Topping: 1 cup fruit juice sweetened granola and 1 tablespoon shredded unsweetened coconut

Wash fruit. Berries can be used whole; other fruit chop into 1 inch pieces; measure. Pour apple juice into medium-sized saucepan; heat on medium. Put chopped fruit, raisins and cinnamon in juice in saucepan, cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Add coriander, ginger, lemon juice, and honey; stir. Spoon into individual serving bowls and top with granola and coconut. Serve hot or cooled. Thanks to the The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar.



2 cups baby spinach
1-½ cups vanilla soy, hemp or almond milk
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup dates, pitted
2 T natural non-alkalized cocoa powder
2/3 cup raw almonds
½ teaspoon alcohol-free vanilla extract

Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender. Blend until very smooth and creamy. Serve as a dip for fresh fruit such as strawberries, bananas, apples, orange sections, pears, apricots or pineapple.



2 cups almonds soaked over night, then dried
1/2 cup flax meal
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup nut butter
1/2 cup coconut oil (melted on low heat)
2 T maple syrup
Vanilla to taste

Process together almonds, flax, coconut into a course meal. Add the rest of ingredients. Press the mixture into a 9” by 13” pan (or 8” by 8” if you want it thicker). Refrigerate to firm the mixture. (Optional: Melt some dark chocolate, smooth over top and chill once again.) Cut into bars and enjoy!

Please remember that even with natural sweets, the guiding principle is moderation. Have enough to satisfy and share the rest with others! And make sure the other five tastes receive their rightful place in your balanced diet. Bon appétit!

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Cocoa powder image by Jayca

Dealing with the Dark Days

Candle-flickrCC-MIKI Yoshihito

Particularly in the northern latitudes where daylight can be as little as 6-8 hours during the winter months, the darkening days can often pose a challenge to our peace of mind. Then when the sky is cloudy, the wind whips up, and the rains pour down, our mind can so easily follow . . . down, down, down into the gloom of discouragement and discontent.

Ayurveda teaches us that our mind is the most powerful of healing tool that’s available to us. One of the most beneficial effects of a yoga meditation practice is that it trains the mind to deflect unwanted thoughts . . . and for most of us, the doom and gloom scenario is one that’s useful to deflect from our day-to-day consciousness. Meditation develops the light of awareness, no matter what form that meditation practice takes.

So here are a few practices from the Ayurvedic and Yogic traditions that can bring more light into our life:

  • Candle lighting – As soon as you arise, light a candle. Think of the oil in the butter lamps on the altar of a Tibetan Buddhist temple; these are often the only source of light and heat through the long dark days of winter. Candle light brings a magical quality to any time of day, but first thing in the morning, that living light reminds us of the light of the divine that dwells within each of us. Sleep time takes us deep, often into our subconscious wounds, and the candle light can help us make a smooth transition into our meditation practice. Evening is another perfect time for candle light, again bringing us the qualities of living light to the end of day.
  • Ghee – Ghee, also known as clarified butter, can be purchased at any natural food store, or you can make your own by slowly boiling unsalted butter until the water boils away and the milk solids sink to the bottom and rise to the top where they can be easily removed. One teaspoon ghee added to your grains or your soup allows the digestive fire to burn more brightly, enhancing the digestion both in the belly, the mind, and even down to the cellular level. A drop or two of ghee in the eyes is also a helpful method of keeping the eyes healthy.
  • Abhyanga – Oiling the body is another avenue to bringing more light into our lives. Self abhyanga with warm sesame oil before your morning shower nourishes this largest organ of elimination in the body, the skin. Sesame oil is warming and calming to the nerves. Keep the oil on while you brush your teeth and scrape your tongue, then take a warm shower to help drive the oil deeper into the tissues.
  • Light eating day – Once a week or so, take a light eating day. If you live in a sunny clime, you can actually spend time outside in the direct sunshine. That’s one way to eat light – taking sunlight directly into the skin. Whether the sky is clear or not, you can eat lightly by reducing your customary quantity of food by one-half. Or abstain from food for 24 hours; eat dinner one night and don’t eat again until the following dinner time. Either practice offers the digestive system a bit of a rest, and a time to catch up on its own cleansing practices!
  • Kapal Bhati – The next two practices come from the shat karma system of yoga. Kapal bhati, or skull shining, reduces excess kapha, clears impurities from the head, and brings a sense of lightness to the mind and spirit. Practice a series of quick and light exhales and inhales through both nostrils. Emphasize the exhale, letting the inhalation come as a natural reflex. After 20-30 of these quick, light breaths, exhale completely; rest a moment and repeat. Begin with 3 rounds of 30 exhalations each and increase gradually.
  • Tratak Meditation – Taking a comfortable meditation seat, place a lighted candle at eye level about arm’s length in front of you. Focus your gaze on the candle flame. Hold the gaze for as long as possible without blinking. After a few minutes, close our eyes and focus on the internal “after-image” in the mind’s eye. Focus on this internal gaze until it fades away. Repeat the process again if you wish. At the conclusion of your meditation, take a few moments to appreciate the effects. By the practice of tratak, sloth, laziness and heaviness are overcome.
  • Meditation on light at the heart center – Assume a comfortable meditation posture, and bring your attention to the center of the chest in the region of the heart. Visualize a bright golden-white light in the heart center. Allow the light to fill the region, and then expand in all direction, illuminating every cell of your body, every corner of your mind, your entire being. Visualize the light expanding infinitely in all directions. As you notice your mind wandering, return your attention gently to the light of the heart. Continue to focus the attention on the light at the heart center for the period of your meditation.

The act of remembering to bring light and goodness into our lives actually activates the healing process within our body-mind complex. The power of intention, directed toward positivity, will in itself bring light into our life. And keep in mind that in just a few weeks, the process reverses . . . the days will begin to lengthen, as we slowly move in the direction of springtime. All part of the great wheel of life! Peace to all beings.

– Pratibha

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Candle photo by Miki Yoshihito via Flickr Creative Commons.

Soup, Beautiful Soup – Recipes for Fall

Ayurveda has always stressed the importance of serving freshly cooked meals, using fresh ingredients, and cooking with a sense that we are feeding the divine within ourselves. To have the means and the skills to feed ourselves is such a blessing! And to be blessed with the abundance of a home garden from which to draw the ingredients, is a double treat. Even if your ingredients come from the local farmer’s market (or a nearby Costco!), do make sure they’re labeled ‘organic’. Better for you, better for the planet, and so much tastier!

The cool, windy qualities of fall may call us back to the kitchen, with visions of a hearty bowl of warming soup to share with our family during the darkening hours of evening. The soups below (when prepared with ghee) will also help bolster our digestive agni to help maintain the ojas, or vital immunity, during the coming days of winter.

Enjoy either of these soups with your favorite grain dish and an assortment of steamed greens! Nourishing and satisfying as you prepare for an evening relaxing with friends!

Butternut Squash & Carrot Soup

One of our favorite blended soups, this sweet and creamy dish is vata reducing, pitta balancing and, depending on how much you eat, can be kapha increasing! Serves 6-8.


  • 2 T ghee or olive oil
  • 1-cup leek or onion
  • 2 inch fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic (optional)
  • 4 cups soup stock (or water)
  • 2 cups cooked butternut squash (skin removed)
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 1 teaspoon (or cube) of vegetarian bouillon
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Steam or bake the butternut squash and mash it a bit.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chopped leeks (and garlic if used), and cook until leeks are translucent.
  3. Add soup stock (or water), squash, grated carrots, bouillon, and turmeric.
  4. Bring to a boil and cook until carrots and ginger are tender.
  5. When cool, transfer to a blender; blend briefly to desired consistency. Soup is intended to be thick and creamy, so add water only if necessary.
  6. Return soup to pan and heat to just below boiling. Season with salt, pepper and cinnamon to taste.
  7. Serve with a swirl of cream on top, or a sprinkle of parsley. And if you still like to indulge in wheat, some crusty French bread!

Thanksgiving Beans

This festive soup is from Dan Jason’s “The Whole Organic Food Book”. A sublime centerpiece for your Thanksgiving celebration, this dish is especially delicious if the main ingredients are fresh from the garden. Prepared with love, this soup is balancing for all three doshas. Serves 6-8.


  • 1-cup beans (lentil, adzuki, pinto, black-eyed peas are suggested)
  • 4 T olive oil or ghee
  • 4 medium onions (or 2 leeks), coarsely chopped
  • 2 T chopped garlic (optional)
  • 4-6 cups plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium sized winter squash, cooked
  • 1 T green, red, or jalapeno chili, finely chopped
  • 2 T orange rind, chopped
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 2 large tart apples, peeled, cored and cubed
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Soak the beans overnight or at least 4 hours. Heat to boiling in a large pot and simmer for 1 hour.
  2. Sauté the onions (or leeks, and garlic if used) in oil in a large skilled until golden. Stir in tomatoes, squash, peppers, orange rind, raisins and spices.
  3. Simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Stir in the drained beans and apples. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Serve with oven-roasted potatoes.

May your appetite be hearty, your pantry full to overflowing, and your heart attuned to sharing the abundance of this life.

– Pratibha

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Soup photo by Joana Mendes.