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How To Use Ayurveda To Balance Your Hormones In A Way You Can Actually Stick To
In everyday conversations, we often blame things on our hormones, yet most people have only a vague idea of what these actually are. In short, hormones are chemical messengers our bodies produce through the glands in our endocrine system (i.e., thyroid, pancreas, testes, ovaries, etc.). These hormones have powerful effects on many of our bodies’ basic processes, from regulating hunger to influencing our reproductive systems. They affect our moods, our weight, our sleep patterns—you name it.
Not so incidentally, ayurveda (a 5,000-year-old holistic health system that originated in India) is concerned with all of these functions of our mind-body as well: Together, they amount to our overall well-being. Shijoe Mathew, M.D., a qualified ayurvedic doctor, tells us that these messengers form what ayurveda calls “Dhatu Agni” (or cellular fire), which categorises hormones and enzymes into groups by function, such as digestion or reproduction, rather than chemical classification like in modern medicine. It understands that “the control and functioning of each hormone in our body is regulated by an equal and opposite hormone produced from a completely different anatomical location,” according to Mathew, so unlike modern science, ayurveda seldom treats the affected gland alone.
Instead, the ayurvedic guidelines are concerned with overall balance. With the combined knowledge of ayurveda and your personal system, you can intuitively learn how to remedy any ills caused by both choices and situations out of your control. To use the wisdom of ayurveda to bring yourself into balance is not about a diet or a quick-fix solution—which is always the more popular approach in a time-poor, fast-moving world of instant gratification—but a lifestyle overhaul.
Instead of spot-treating the symptoms that arrive once we already feel ill or out of balance, through ayurveda we are able to recognise, read, and respond to our symptoms, or signals, from a 360-degree approach. “Treating the Dhatu Agni treats the issue by balancing the feedback mechanism, not by introducing more of a particular hormone externally,” Mathew says. “The effect of various foods and herbs on these functions are the basis of ayurvedic treatment, not their effect on a particular hormone.” Ayurveda offers us effective tools not only to begin to reverse problems, but even more helpfully, to avoid going off balance in any significant way in the first place. Prevention is better than cure.
‘To use the wisdom of ayurveda to bring yourself into balance is not about a diet or a quick-fix solution—which is always the more popular approach in a time-poor, fast-moving world of instant gratification—but a lifestyle overhaul’
Essentially, ayurveda teaches us that in order to regulate our hormones we need to bring balance into our lives—and that means mind, body, and spirit. We should understand our hormones do not go out of balance in a vacuum. They merely respond to our experiences: our relationships, emotions, reactions, thoughts, and environment. ‘Thought and experience create biology’. “Hormones will come into balance when our lives come into balance.”
In short, the West seeks to rebalance our hormones externally to promote well-being, but often addressing the symptom is a short-term fix, which may lead to further complications. As Mathew points out, “In the modern world, we are currently experiencing a lot of hormone dependency issues as it leaves less room for our system to learn and rebalance. Introducing a synthetic hormone might be a requirement in certain medical conditions, but it destroys the delicate feedback mechanism that helps the balance of hormones within our body.” On the other hand, the ayurvedic philosophy is a manual on how to assess ourselves holistically, how to look after ourselves properly, and how to troubleshoot if something goes wrong, thereby directly sorting the imbalances that lead to hormonal issues that often arise from leading a life out of balance. Mathew summarises, “Since the effect of the opposing hormones are not ignored in ayurvedic treatment methods, the body learns from the recovery process.”
So what can we do for ourselves? The first point of call is to rethink our attitude and lifestyle, coming back to nature: following the circadian rhythm of the Earth for restorative sleep, eating, breathing, and moving mindfully, while reducing excessive stimuli and hormone-disrupting blue light during the evenings and getting adequate daylight during the day. Then we need to look at what, how, and when we eat, as this has a huge bearing on our well-being and affects our agni, or digestive fire. Kindling our digestive fire is perhaps one of the most valuable things you can do to feel at your best. In practice, this also means privileging well-cooked foods made with fresh, local, seasonal, responsibly sourced ingredients and getting familiar with the combinations that can upset your stomach (e.g., dairy with fruit).
In a less global sense, balancing your hormones is necessarily related to both your natural and your current constitution, that is your dosha type in its resting state (prakriti) and your dosha type in your environment and individual circumstances (vikriti). Your dosha type is your ayurvedic mind-body type, which can be described through three doshas: vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth). Each dosha has a set of characteristics, and each person is made up of a unique combination of all three, typically with one dominant one. Feeling in balance is more of an awareness of the dominant doshas or your unique body type, and considering this uniqueness when making diet and lifestyle choices. For example, if you’re feeling stressed, stretched thin by the demands of your busy life, which are flighty vata characteristics, you should choose grounding foods and practices, like eating a warm bowl of soup or meditating. It is a very intuitive system; it just takes a bit of familiarisation.
If you feel an imbalance in a certain area of your life, the next thing to do is to look into remedies you can introduce at home and observe how they make you feel. Adaptogens, an ayurvedic remedy, are gaining traction in the West as a way to balance our hormones by adapting to your body and its needs and can help get us through a sticky patch while we get our lives in order. The important thing to note here again is that this isn’t the fix-all that we may want it to be, because holistic medicine is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but more a means of understanding yourself as complex, ever-changing, and one with the world. Start by researching adaptogens that might help you with something specific you’re experiencing. You could try shatavari tea for balancing pitta or supporting your reproductive system (including periods or menopause) or amla powder for a vitamin C boost or if you’re feeling dehydrated.
Finally, although it’s OK to take adaptogens in small doses of your own accord, it is always better to work with an ayurvedic doctor for specific tinctures and more potent herbal remedies. And if you’re feeling particularly out of whack, it may be time to consider a panchakarma (ayurvedic detox) in conjunction with a vaidya (practitioner). This is a faster route to unraveling the actions that have brought us out of balance than just integrating ayurveda slowly.
A Hormone-Balancing Ayurvedic Ritual For Every Time Of Day Work towards healthier habits with ayurvedic-inspired rituals that take 10 minutes or less. We know our hormones play a significant role in many aspects of our health, and we’re always looking for ways to balance them.…
How to Cleanse…the Ayurvedic Way Cleansing is a ritual practice steeped in tradition. While modern-day cleanses such as juice fasts or elimination diets abound, an Ayurvedic cleanse is anything but modern. Individuals have been following this cleanse for hundreds of years. While many options exist,…
5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Using Ayurveda To Heal Digestion
Ayurveda is gaining prominence in the mainstream, as yoga becomes increasingly popular, and fashionable eateries serve turmeric lattes (aka Golden Milk) and bliss balls (aka Ladoos). That said, many people in the West are still confused about this ancient philosophy and how to integrate it into their everyday. Since launching this site and talking to people about Ayurveda, I’ve found that people often have a lot of misunderstandings about what ayurveda actually is. Here are the top five myths, busted:
1. It’s a “woo-woo” fad…
Ayurveda is a health system that originated in India 5,000 years ago and is still used to prevent and cure disease in South Asia and around the world, keeping our minds, bodies, and spirits balanced. While Eastern medicine, including ayurveda, is often dismissed as “less serious” than Western science, it has stood the test of time, with tried-and-tested guidelines designed to treat each individual as a whole within their environment rather than treating symptoms alone, not looking at root causes. But mental, spiritual, and digestive health—central to Ayurveda—are now being explored further in the mainstream, and science is starting to measure the benefits of practices like meditation. Ayurvedic doctors, or vaidyas, go through intensive education and training, completing a bachelor of ayurvedic medicine and surgery, offered by several universities in India. It’s also interesting to know that some medical doctors train as vaidyas.
2. It’s impossible to integrate into a Western lifestyle…
Ayurveda is a nurturing, never punitive, system. The best way to integrate it into a Western lifestyle is in manageable increments, so it’s not so intimidating. Integrating a few principles slowly might feel like the right amount for you, or you might find you want to delve deeper. Ayurveda is an extremely personal “science of life,” so you can make it your own once you understand the basic principles. You could start by following the circadian rhythms of the Earth more closely, that is going to bed before 10 p.m., waking before 6 a.m. and eating your largest meal between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when your digestion is at its strongest—or you could add a meditation and/or yoga practice into your everyday.
As for the food, people often assume that ayurveda is clean, raw, and vegan. While many of the well-being trends that have become familiar today (e.g., herbal supplements, massage, almond milk…) are all aspects of ayurveda, it’s all about balance. So if you choose incompatible combinations or eat certain foods at unfavorable times, there are always additions, remedies, and substitutions you can use to make it more digestible. Ayurveda is primarily vegetarian, with a place for dairy foods, but meat is also understood as medicine, so for those who are undernourished or overstressed, slow-cooked meats in soups or stews are necessary. Flavour-wise, ayurveda is all about comforting, easy-to-make, and digestible food (favouring well-cooked over raw) filled with nature’s cabinet of herbs and spices, focusing on the six tastes (sweet, salty, etc.) to ensure you are getting a broad spectrum of nutrients. Food is to be eaten mindfully; that way you find even the subtlest dishes deliver rather than relying on rich, extreme-flavoured food made with only the palate in mind rather than digestion.
3. It’s a one-size-fits-all system…
In the West, we have a linear way of looking at things and putting everything into neat boxes. We did the same with ayurveda when more people in the West became aware of it in the 1960s. We missed a lot of the point, especially concerning the doshas; ayurveda understands that not only is every person unique but people and their environments constantly evolve depending on countless factors. That’s why looking at well-being in a more holistic way makes sense—one man’s medicine might be another’s poison. Ayurveda works intuitively, using our five senses to understand our needs rather than break things down into their chemical constituents. What this looks like in practice is the dosha system: Everyone and everything in the world is made up of a unique mix of three doshas, or energies, each of which has a dominant element: vata corresponds to air, kapha to earth, and pitta to fire. Each person has a certain mind-body type as their “natural state,” typically with one dominant dosha, but we each have a bit of all three, and each has the potential to be heightened depending on circumstance, which makes our “current state.” Ayurveda caters to each person according to their unique characteristics in a supportive and flexible way.
4. Ayurvedic cooking equals Indian cooking…
People often think that ayurveda equals Indian food. While ayurveda originated in India and therefore many traditional ayurvedic dishes are Indian (dal, kitchari…), ayurveda is a philosophy rather than a cuisine. Its principles can be applied to any dish. The goal is to prioritise foods that are digestible, avoiding combinations and methods that might upset your tummy. This, along with eating at the right times (according to the circadian rhythms), chewing well, and eating mindfully, is the ayurvedic diet. Once armed with this knowledge plus a practice of tuning into your needs, your choices might surprise those who’ve got you down as a “health food” eater. I’ve been known to raise eyebrows after turning down an organic cold brew Bulletproof coffee or hard-core green juice and ordering a risotto for breakfast instead, or opting for fish and chips over a raw prepacked salad at the airport!
5. It’s all about food/yoga/religion…
Ayurveda is a holistic system at its core. It’s a lifestyle, a philosophy, and a health system in one. Ayurveda is often introduced as the sister science to yoga, as a “diet,” or even as a spiritual philosophy, so it can mislead people into thinking that it can be reduced to these things. In reality, our food or the way we move our bodies are just starting points for living a good life. It starts with good digestion, but it leads to other benefits. Food may be crucial to ayurveda, but it’s as much about when, how, and with whom you eat as it is about what you eat: You won’t get the same benefits from your meal if you’re stressed, already full, or don’t like what you’re eating—same goes for everything in your life. In the same way that yoga is not just asanas, ayurveda is much more than food: It’s a wealth of knowledge, a language for the science of life. Being a yogi is putting that to use. Ayurveda and yoga are linked to spiritual practices and daily rituals, designed to keep us connected to nature.
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Your Liver Is Your Detox Organ. Here’s Why & How & Why You Need To Support It
We humans are alive because of brilliant biochemistry, and while each system of our body has its own unique function, they are all inextricably linked and work together to keep us alive and thriving. When one system goes awry, it often affects other seemingly unrelated aspects of our health. This is especially true when it comes to detox, which is one of the biggest factors of poor health.
With research starting to show the link between our increased toxin exposure and autoimmune conditions, it’s more important than ever for your body’s detoxification systems to be working properly. As your body’s largest organ, your liver is also the main detoxifier.
Why your liver is your detox organ…
Working in constant communication with your stomach, pancreas, gallbladder, and the rest of your digestive system, your liver is responsible for storing and converting nutrients from the foods we eat for our bodies to utilise. Through its role in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, your liver works to ensure that blood glucose levels are stabilised to prevent blood sugar imbalances and other metabolic problems. It works to filter out toxins from the foods you eat and environmental exposures as well as acting as a blood purifier, clearing out your blood of these impurities and only utilising the necessary nutrients. Needless to say, if your liver isn’t working well, your ability to detox is going to be greatly affected.
When your liver is overloaded with toxins, it creates a cascade of systemic chronic inflammation, which further affects your liver’s ability to rid itself of these toxins. It becomes a vicious cycle between toxin buildup and inflammation that can only be broken through limiting your toxin exposure and supporting your liver’s natural ability to detox.
Detox rituals that support your liver…
To be able to really boost your detox pathways and liver function, these targeted natural tools are my go-to for next-level liver and detox support:
1. Dandelion tea
Methylation is your body’s biochemical superhighway that controls your body’s ability to detox. B vitamins act as fuel for methylation and are found abundantly in dandelions. Brew up a cup of dandelion tea to support methylation and help support optimal liver function.
2. Milk thistle
This plant is one of the most well-researched natural remedies for treating liver problems and has been used for years to treat a number of different liver conditions, including hepatitis and alcoholic liver disease. Milk thistle aids in eliminating toxins that have built up in the liver in addition to helping restore liver cells that have been damaged from increased toxin exposure. You can take it in a supplement capsule or as a tea.
Garlic helps to activate liver detox enzymes that work to break down the toxins that enter your body in order to effectively eliminate them. Thankfully, garlic makes a delicious addition to almost any recipe, so don’t be afraid to load up while cooking your next meal!
4. Sulfuric vegetables
Vegetables such as broccoli, broccoli sprouts, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are considered sulfuric and contain the powerful antioxidant glutathione. This antioxidant is essential for activating phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification.
Beets are great for helping break down toxins through increasing enzyme activity so that your body can eliminate them quicker. I love roasting them as a side or adding them to a salad seasoned with garlic!
6. Red clover
This is one of my favorites for its ability to rid toxins from not only your liver but your spleen and lymphatic system as well. You can take it in capsule form or as an herbal tincture.
7. Burdock root
As a tea or supplement, this root does wonders for removing toxins, specifically heavy metals. With its natural diuretic properties, it works to flush out toxins by increasing fluid excretion as well as boosting your lymphatic system.
You don’t have to adopt all these rituals to support your liver, but by making yourself a cup of dandelion tea, adding garlic and beets to your next meal, or taking a red clover supplement, you can support your detox pathways going into 2019.
If you have any questions, please use the comment box below…
Please let me know how you get on ♥
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