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Ayurveda on eating disorders

A lot has been going on. It’s hard to put in words, I have been re-writing this sentence several times now. Part of me wants to tell the whole story, another part doesn’t think it’s relevant for anyone but me (maybe that’s true, or maybe that’s just the part talking that is reluctant to show itself for what it is).

Waking my demons

The short version is: The circumstances in my life – less than two weeks away from unemployment, a long week at work coming up involving travel, and spiritual growth – have awoken an old demon: my eating disorder (binge-eating). It hasn’t been this bad since university, in some respects it’s even worse. For several weeks now it has been a daily struggle („struggle“ seems like a euphemism since I haven’t had much fight in me it seems), I have even gone and bought stuff I craved, which I never ever have done before.

Practical remedies for when you feel weak

I think I know what the underlying issue is here: and old karmic trauma, the memory of which I recently conjured when I made a wish. I do want to get into that at some point but right now I want to focus on the symptoms. For while I believe that my best chances of overcoming this self-destructive habit is by dealing with the issues I am trying to distract myself from with it, I also feel a need for something more hands-on, a lower obstacle. Because honestly: sometimes the advice „Well then just don’t give into these cravings, and you’ll find out what’s really the issue“ is just not practical. If it were easy, or if I felt that strong, I probably wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

This is the part I want to share with you not just because it helps me writing about these things but because I think that the information I came across this afternoon is helpful to anyone with an eating disorder/an unhealthy relationship to food (just out of curiosity, are there any people left who have a healthy one?).

An Ayurvedic approach to eating disorders

I remembered some of the Ayurveda books I read also mentioned eating disorders as symptoms of dosha imbalances (I wrote about Ayurveda and its terminology before, click on the category „Ayurveda“ or scroll down to the relevant links if you want to know more). So I tried to find books with an Ayurvedic perspective on eating disorders. Once again I am grateful for the internet, and people sharing their work there so generously. I found a very informative article (please note that all facts I’ll be stating are from that article, unless otherwise marked):

„Pathology of Eating Disorders From an Ayurvedic Perspective“ by Alakananda Devi

It uses a lot of Ayurveda terminology, so I am trying to make this a sort of easy to understand summary. I encourage you however to read the original article in any case. There are lots of cases to illustrate the technicalities, and also because I will (for obvious, selfish) reasons mostly be going into the things that pertain to my situation, since those caught my eye.

Some basic insights

Let’s start from the beginning:

  1. Eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia, overeating) are related to stress and/or food allergies.
  2. How we react to stress in our eating habits depends on our individual constitution (dosha – Vata, Pitta or Kapha).
  3. Bad choices regarding food may stem from lack of education (meaning: we just don’t know any better than to eat they way we were taught as children), and for some (especially Pitta) they are a way to cope with trauma.

I am a Pitta-Kapha (right now with a severe Kapha imbalance, I’d say). For me, just recognizing myself in a lot of the symptoms stated in this article helps. Heck, just reading that

  • Vata types are prone to anorexia/bulimia and tend to forget to eat,
  • Pitta cannot skip meals and has a tendency to sugar addiction,
  • Kapha easily puts on weight and is inclined to overeating

is huge! It takes away the feeling of personal guilt, and shifts the perspective to „This is how I as a Vata/Pitta/Kapha person react to stress, now let’s see what can be done about that“.

There is no „one size fits all“ solution

I have been praising Ayurveda for its individualistic approach in probably every article I wrote, and I find myself wanting to stress this crucial point once again: what is great about Ayurveda is that it does not claim to offer a universal solution. What is good for you always depends on who you are, therefore any „‚one size fits all‘ approach“, as Alakanda Devi puts it, is bound to set you up for failure. Unless, of course, you just happen to be the right person for the method but I’d prefer finding the right method for me …

Like increases like

Although there are no universal remedies, Ayurveda knows of certain universal principles. One of them is: like increases like. Often times like is also attracted to like, which is highly relevant when it comes to eating disorders. For according to Devis article, some eating disorders are the result of food allergies, and once recognized as such can be (relatively) easily cured.

For example, Kapha types are often (or more often than other types) allergic to wheat, gluten, and cow dairy. The „like increases like“ and „like is attracted to like“ explains why someone can be craving food that is actually bad for them. Various readings and nutrition experiments have led me – time and time again – to the conclusion that I am better off skipping sugar, dairy, and carbs (mainly wheat/gluten). Yet when I have cravings, I want ice-cream, cereal with lots of milk, and bread with cheese. Now I know why. (I kind of want to put sugar in a separate category because it seems like it works more like drug. Some say that refined sugar isn’t good for anyone, especially not the amounts we are used to consuming nowadays, others say that only certain people are more sensitive to its negative effects – either way, I’m it, I guess.) I know that cutting out the foods that are bad for me does not help with the psychological aspect of my eating disorder – but I imagine that for someone whose problems with eating are the result of an (undetected) food allergy, this information is really a big piece of the puzzle.

I think my Kapha is out of balance …

Even before I read this article I had been observing myself and recognizing certain tendencies which just seemed to have „excess Kapha“ written all over them:

  • I have been feeling very tired, pushing my getting-up time gradually to way into the Kapha or even Pitta phase of the day.
  • I have been feeling heavy, and at the same time craving foods with that exact quality (peanut butter with honey turned out to be my no. 1 poison, not to give you any ideas …), which made me feel even heavier – both principles, „like is attracted to like“, and „like increases like“ working at their utmost here.
  • My cravings and the binges have been at their worst at night, between 6 pm and 10 pm, which is the second Kapha cycle of the day (despite the knowledge of the different dosha cycles, I had not been able to connect the dots previous to reading Devi’s article, so thanks for that!).
  • I have been lazy, not exercising at all, basically the thought of physical labor could make me feel exhausted.

There is a lot more in that article but this seems like a good place to stop for now.

Now that I have realized all this, what am I to do with this?

First of all, like I mentioned in the beginning, just having this information and recognizing myself in the symptoms/cases described makes me feel like a weight has been lifted off me. Apart from dealing with the underlying issue, which may seem daunting and hard to grasp at times, there are „hard facts“. There are factors that contribute to me going on binges, and factors that can make it easier to withstand them. Those seem more tangible, easier to change, even when I don’t feel strong enough to deal with the big picture.

Once again, it’s the little things – baby steps.

Like being aware of the fact that it’s not necessarily just a question of willpower and discipline whether I can withstand cravings at night but that the Kapha dominance during these hours is a contributing factor. So I prepare myself for the risk, and find something to do to take my mind off of food – like writing this post.

I am reminded of the impact that sugar, wheat, and dairy have on me – not only on my physical well-being but also emotionally. This makes me feel motivated to try and make more deliberate choices about what I eat. I try to focus on what is good for me, and what I enjoy eating instead of thinking of it as „All the things I’m not allowed“. This is a tricky one since I am never oblivious as to whether what I eat is good for me or not …

Exercising helps reduce Kapha – as with everything, I am going to try and set the bar as low as possible, and raise it gradually (I tend to set my goals to high, get frustrated by failure, and respond by giving up completely). Going for an hour long walk every day seems do-able.

I want to try and see my cravings as something positive: after all, they are undeniable hints of something being awry. In my quest to find out my what my issues are, what it is that I am so afraid of to surface that I need to stuff it down with vast amounts of food, there is one fail-proof way of finding out: not giving in to the cravings, and seeing where that leads me. Like I said before, this is the hardest part.

I want to get better at asking for help. Both friends and the universe in my morning meditation.

Going to see to it that I get back to getting up early again.

More practical advice

Here’s another site with a few more hands-on things to do, e. g. different yogi techniques, which I want to try:

  • Sweet Ayurveda Treatment to Stop Emotional Eating & Lose Weight – I know I’ll feel silly doing this even when nobody’s around, but it’s worth a try, right?
  • Healthy Ayurveda Diet To Burn Fat & Lose Weight – OK, that title does not sound good, and I am not so sure about some of the advice but still, I’m definitely in need of some Kapha reduction.
  • 5 Healthy Weight Loss Tips from Ayurveda – More weight loss stuff. I am actually proud of myself for not even having tried hard to not make this the focus of this post (gee, that was a lot of negatives). And the fact that I am finally at a point where weight loss isn’t my main concern anymore (although claiming that it isn’t a concern at all would be a lie, sadly).
  • 6 Safe & Natural Weight Los Solutions – again, dumb title, not so sure about some of the advice (drinking hot water with honey? From what I understand honey has the same effect as sugar, so probably a red flag for me) but most of it sounds pretty good to me, especially the meditations and yoga exercises.
  • 11 Guidelines for eating healthy | Guide on how to eat right – This is straight up Ayurveda, you can probably find this in every book on the subject. I should print these out and put them up somewhere to remind myself. Very basic, very true – often times hard to abide by because we’ve overwritten this common sense (for that is really what this, or anything Ayurveda, is) with other rules.

Other relevant links

Ayurvedic Diet – A good overview

Ayurveda – Becoming your own expert

A Science of Sleep

Which is your dominant dosha?

What’s your morning routine?

Ginger – my best f(r)iend

After having had the most horrible stomach aches after pretty much every meal for two weeks now, I finally seem to have found the root of all evil: my beloved ginger!?

First off, yes, I am aware of the irony of me being on such a health trip, and at the same time not really taking any time to look into (or have someone look into) this problem. My stomach was burning after seemingly anything I ate, my digestion was a nightmare – yet I kind of didn’t do anything about it. I attributed this to the sudden changes in my lifestyle I’ve been making, and just hoped it would go away once my body would adjust. As the saying goes, it’s easier to see the splinter in other people’s eye than the log in your own. So maybe this was karma.

I just don’t like going to doctors, especially not here where you don’t even have a specific doctor you go to – you go to a so-called health center, and you’re assigned whoever happens to be on duty that day. Plus I get the impression that the medical practice here is very „traditionally western“. It seems to me that antibiotics are subscribed as if they were skittles. I am just not into that.

Yesterday however I started looking up doctors in town with an Ayurvedic background or a homeopathic one, willing to bite the bullet, and pay for a consultation outside the tax-funded mainstream health system. Then Peter and I had a heated discussion about my state, his concerns that I was downplaying it, etc. And somehow, I don’t remember exactly how, we realized that the number one food that I have increased my intake of since I got into Ayurveda was ginger. It suddenly dawned on me that all the times my stomach couldn’t tolerate a meal, I had added ginger, and I had done that with about anything since it’s supposed to be so good in so many respects.

Perfect example of how there really is no universally valid recommendation, that it always depends on the particular case. For now that I’ve come to this conclusion I suddenly have been able to see all the lines where it says in which cases not to eat ginger – and they were all the symptoms that I had, or rather: developed in a chain reaction after continuing to eat ginger (high metabolism/high Pitta, diarrhea, all that good stuff).

So, today I avoided ginger, drank peppermint tea in the morning to soothe the stomach – and I haven’t had problems all day. I guess I did get around consulting an expert this time after all, and became a little more of my own expert (not sure whether that really is the take home message from this ordeal though).

I did discover one quick remedy (or rather: Peter pointed me to it), which is obviously no solution for the actual problem but which helps the immediate symptoms, and sometimes that is needed: baking soda. Just dissolve about a tea spoon or so in a glas of water, and drink – works within minutes. Baking soda seems to be good for a lot of things, so I guess there is a post about it in the future …

What’s your morning routine?

Do you get up just in time to throw on some clothes, leave for work, and maybe grab some coffee on the way? Do you get up early so you can take your time and wake up slowly, read the paper, and eat breakfast at home? What does your morning look like?

I have always found myself in the category of people who hate to have to rush, even if that means sleeping less. A while ago, before I got into Ayurveda, I started meditating or doing different mudras (good when you – like me – have a hard time letting your thoughts go – mudras work whether you are able to focus or not). It hadn’t occurred to me that there are other rituals that could help start the day right.

This is the daily routine as presented by Ayurvedic physician Vasant Lad (which is the one you’ll find most in books or online – with minor variations in the details).

I am posting this article from the Nithyayoga-site because it goes a little more into detail regarding the oil pulling technique („Gargling“ in Lad’s article), which I find important. Also, I think that setting a positive intention, and thus: the tone of your day, might be a little more accessible than the prayer for some.Ayurveda knows of routines not only for the morning but for the entire day – the Dinacharya in Sanskrit. Just type the word into your search engine of choice, and you’ll find a bunch of sites giving you a variation of this.Now do I do all of this? Well, sort of but not to a t. I am a person who loves rituals, and to some extend feels lost without them, so naturally, as I read about Ayurveda, the idea of adopting a morning routine (and one for the evening) sounded appealing to me.These days I start my mornings:

  • early – I wake up between 4.30 and 6.30, depending on a variety of factors – usually around 5 or 6 (regardless of  whether I am working that day or not)
  • by drinking some room temperature water, sometimes with a little lemon and honey in it (Ayurvedic remedy if you have problems emptying your bowels in the morning)
  • going to the bathroom
  • boiling some water for tea and a nose cleanse – during the winter I often wake up with a stuffed nose, cleansing it with warm salt water helps
  • over the past few days I started doing some yoga before (I don’t have/take time for this on the days that I work)
  • meditating and doing mudras for about 30 minutes
  • oil-pulling/gargling for about 15-20 minutes
  • while I do that, I usually turn on the computer, check e-mails, start writing something
  • after I spit out the oil, I brush my teeth, wash my face and underarms – or I take a shower
  • when I do take a shower, I started combining this with a massage (again: if I have the time, so, not on working days, and not even on all days off)
  • I get dressed
  • drink some tea
  • and start writing

The order in which I do things does vary, I also skip some steps some days, when I am too impatient and anxious to actually start my day – working on that one. Like today, I brushed my teeth but never really washed the rest, and I am still not really dressed. Sometimes I just feel like I need to start writing first, and then after a while I’ll get back to finishing the morning routine. In reality, it often doesn’t happen then, and I never actually sit still for a while to contemplate the day I am about to begin. Kind of funny, that I manage to rush into the day even though I consciously follow a morning routine.

I am not ignorant (or I’d like to think at least not THAT ignorant), so I know that me having this kind of extensive morning ritual is largely thanks to me not having a full-time job, and my hours being spread over only two to three days per week. Also,  am guessing that not having kids might have something to do with it. Basically, I have the luxury of being able to use a lot of my time as I please.

I find this kind of morning routine very pleasant, energy-inducing, and thus: I find that it helps me make the most of my days. I can recommend it to anyone but I do wonder: is this realistic? Can anyone (who wants to) adopt such a routine? Is it just about setting priorities, and getting up early enough? Or does the world we live in today not really allow for paying so much attention to yourself? Will I still do this as a parent? Do those of you who are parents do this? What do your mornings look like?

Which is your dominant dosha?

Here comes some of that „basic Ayurveda stuff“ I have been meaning to write about. I have been using terms such as „Pitta“, „dosha“ and „dominant dosha“ without actually explaining them. Maybe you’ve looked them up yourself, maybe you just overread them.

The ten pairs of gunas

Ayurveda is much about qualities (gunas) of things, more precisely: keeping the balance of pairs of qualities. The Charaka Samhita, tells of twenty different qualities, or ten pairs of qualities (a pair consisting of two opposite qualities):

  1. heavy – light
  2. cold – warm
  3. oily – dry
  4. dull – sharp
  5. static – mobile
  6. soft – hard
  7. cloudy – clear
  8. smooth – rough
  9. dense – porous
  10. solid – liquid

Two basic rules

These qualities are used to describe especially food but also the different doshas, our environment, etc. When it comes to the relationship of the pairs, Ayurveda knows two basic rules:

  1. Like increases like.
  2. Opposites balance each other.

It is important to remember that everything is relative here: „hot“ can be „cold“ when compared to something even hotter, etc. Also: like is often drawn to like. This is the part where listening to your intuition gets a little tricky. For example, sometimes your body seems to be craving exactly what it actually has too much of.

Space, Air, Fire, Water, Earth – the five elements

These qualities can also be found in the five elements, that everything in the world consists of – according to Ayurveda:

  1. Space  – cloudiness
  2. Air – lightness, mobility, dryness
  3. Fire – warmth, lightness, sharpness, liquidity
  4. Water – cold, liquidity, softness, smoothness
  5. Earth – heaviness, density, stability

Vata, Pitta & Kapha – the three doshas

These five elements in turn make up the three vital energies (doshas) that are the foundation for all physical and mental processes in body and soul:

  1. Vata – consisting of air and space, air being the dominant element
  2. Pitta – consisting of fire and water, fire being dominant
  3. Kapha – consisting of water and earth, water being dominant

Click on the excerpts to get to the source and read a little more about each dosha:

„Vata is the principle of mobility that regulates all activity in the body. It is this energy that governs the movement of everything from our own thoughts to the food in our intestines. Vata is responsible for creativity, speech, inspiration, excitement, adventure, happiness and joy.“

„Pitta is the principle of combustion and integration. Pitta is responsible for the absorption and assimilation of foods, thoughts, experiences and emotions, and is signified by order, logic, and reason.“

„Kapha is the principal of structure and density. It is responsible for lubrication of joints, tissues and cells. Kapha is also the dosha of devotion, beauty, endurance, and peace.“

Do you recognize yourself in any of this? Maybe in more than one dosha? That’s what I like about Ayurveda: although it may at first seem like this is about filing people away into one of three neat little drawers – the system is actually quite complex, and helpful and easy to apply to yourself all at once.

Your dosha constitution – your finger print

According to this, yes, we all are a combination of only these three doshas. Yet, there are many possible combinations: some have one very clearly dominant dosha, others two (with one being dominant over the second), very few are evenly balanced. Yet, even individuals who have the same dominant dosha (combination) can be very different, for each dosha has many qualities, and we all express different aspects of each dosha, so it’s kind of like with finger prints: we all have them, yet no two people’s finger prints are the same.

Obviously, there is a lot more to learn about this than I can convey in a single blog entry. This is really more to give you an overview of what I find fascinating. If you’re hooked: Once again, I recommend Judith H. Morrison’s The Book of Ayurveda. Also, for the Swedes among you: Skapa din hälsa med Ayurveda by Maivor Stigengreen (available in German as Ayurveda: Die eigene Gesundheit stärken).

So what is the point of knowing your dosha(s)?
To put it simply knowing your nature is what it takes for you to be able to live according to that nature. Maybe you are so in tune with your intuition that you already do – then you don’t need any of this. This is just the irony: Ayurveda is actually a tool for following your intuition – which only those of us need who have forgotten/“over-written“ our ability to do just that. My guess is that there are many more like me who have been taught, and allowed others to teach them to obey somebody else’s rules rather than the signs their own body gives them. How many of us weren’t taught that everybody in the family eats at the same time, the same food? But what if we have different needs? The idea to make everyone equal is not a bad one. However, we are not all the same, so what’s really important isn’t „the same for everyone“ but creating the same opportunity for everyone to meet their individual needs.

Living in tune with your nature according to Ayurveda does not mean balancing out all three doshas so that you have exactly the same amount of each in you. Maintaining a balance means taking into account your personal dosha constitution and living according to it. This is nothing stable – your constituiton can change, and is dependent on factors such as environment, age, your particular situation in life (work environment, relationships, etc.). Everything is connected. Also, since like increases like, and like is often drawn to like, you will most likely develop imbalances in your dominant dosha(s).

Who are you?

Maybe you are curious now as to what your dominant dosha(s) might be, and whether you have any imbalances. Or maybe you just enjoy these kind of „personality tests“. Either way, here is a link to an online test. If you want to figure out whether you have any imbalances: take the test twice. Once answer according to your current situation, the second time answer according to what you would consider your normal state. The areas where you get different scores show you where your imbalance lies.

PS: This is a scheduled post by the way, like most everything today, Friday and Saturday will be. Contrary to what it may seem like, I am not a only a homemaker, I do have another job, one that society deems worthy of recognizing as such (= I get paid for that one). I have a weird schedule where I sometimes have long periods where I am off work, followed by days where I do nothing but work and sleep. So that’s that.

Quick home-made Ayurvedic herbal tea

The Ayurveda book that I like the most out of the bunch I picked up at the library is Judith H. Morrison’s The Book of Ayurveda. It gives a great overview over pretty much all aspects of life, has lots of info boxes and lists, which appeals to me.

I found a simple recipe for some herbal tea that is supposed to be good for those of us with a dominant Pitta dosha or excessive Pitta (over the past week’s reading I have realized that I have both right now, almost freakishly textbook definition thereof!).

So this is it: mix equal parts of fennel, cilantro and caraway seeds. Use one teaspoon per cup. Just boil some water and add. Done!

fennel, cilantro and caraway seeds

Due to the hot water the tea as such is obviously „hot“. But according to Ayurveda, the quality of the ingredients (the seeds) and therefore: the quality/effect of the tea is „cold“ or „cooling“. Ideal for me because I prefer drinking warm stuff but I really don’t need to pour any more gasoline on that Pitta fire right now!

Pitta-friendly tea

Recipe – ginger elixir

Not that there isn’t anything to write about – quite the contrary. I have been so busy that the days seem way too short without spending time by the computer (no offense!). And yes, I do plan on writing about all that stuff but for now I’ll just leave you with a recipe I tried out today so that I can get some more thing done out in the real world without abandoning the site after the first post

Ginger elixir

This ginger elixir …

… is upposed to be great for the immune system and to get digestion going. Use about one tablespoon in a glas of water, drink before lunch and dinner.

You need:

1 big piece of ginger (about the size of a fist)

4 lemons

2 lime

3 Tbs honey

2 dl water

10 black peppercorns

Cut up ginger into pieces, process with a juice maker (makes about 1 dl juice), or grate ginger and squeeze juice manually.

Squeeze lemons and lime. Combine juices, add honey, water and pepper.

Keep refridgerated.

(from: Yogamat by Anna Gidgård and Cecilia Davidsson)