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