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It’s that time of year. Cold and flu season has hit with a vengeance. My sister-in-law recently came down with strep throat – again. Many of my yoga students have missed class in the last few weeks with a bad case of something. It’s shaping up to be one of the worst flu seasons in recent history.

I’m a strong believer that the best way to treat a cold or the flu is to prevent it. In honor of the Super Bowl this weekend, we could say the best offense is a good defense.

Trying to get over the flu is FAR more uncomfortable than taking a few extra steps to stay healthy. We have so much power to strengthen our ability to fend off the predictable onslaught of winter bugs. Even those of us who haven’t come down with any symptoms are likely expending energy fighting off the variety of microorganisms currently in circulation, so taking some extra immune-boosting precautions can help all of us tremendously.

I hope my top “stay healthy” tips below will inspire you. (For additional inspiration, check out Dr. Aviva Romm’s great blog post on how her physician and herbalist colleagues treat the flu.)

1) Sleep. MORE. Make sure you are regularly getting 7-8 hours each night. This is critical right now. Sleep is your access point to your immune reserves. At the very first inkling that something is off, put down whatever you’re doing and go to bed, and sleep as much as your body will let you. Do it again the next night.

2) Neti Pot. Every night, cleanse your sinuses using a neti pot with a saline rinse to remove any airborne germs, pollutants, and allergens that you may have breathed in that day that are just waiting for a weak moment to pounce. It is recommended to use warm distilled or purified water and 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt (non-iodized). It is important to get the right amount of salt so that it doesn’t sting the nasal passages.

3) Nasya oil. In the morning, protect your nasal passages with a medicated nasya oil (my favorite “Super Nasya” is formulated by my teacher Dr. Vasant Lad and is available at Ayurveda.com/shop). Lay down with your head tipped back and drop 2-3 drops in each nostril and sniff. The medicated oil, infused with eucalyptus and other anti-bacterial herbs, lubricates the sensitive mucus membranes of the sinuses, improving their defensive filtering power.

4) Herbal support. If you interact with lots of people, or have children bringing home their classroom’s collection of microorganisms, consider taking an immune-boosting herbal formula for a short time. It is always best to consult your health care provider before taking an herbal supplement, especially if you are taking any prescription medications, since there may be unanticipated interactions. My favorite Ayurvedic immune herb is Kalmegh (Andrographis paniculata), which is the primary ingredient in Banyan Botanicals’ Immune Support Formula. Under its latin name, it’s turning up in many mainstream immune formulas – ask at your health food store or botanical medicine source. Elderberry syrup and yarrow tea are additional immune boosters.

5) Hot ginger tea. Keep your digestion moving by drinking copious amounts of warm ginger tea throughout the day, which kindles digestive agni and keeps you hydrated, two important factors in maintaining your body’s natural ability to fight off interlopers like bacteria and viruses.

6) Avoid cold and heavy foods. These are the foods that produce Ama (the sludgy side-effect of poor digestion that clogs up our immune response). Heavy kapha-genic foods that are taxing for the body to digest divert our healing energy in order to process them – foods like cheese, iced drinks, cold milk, yogurt, ice cream, and anything fried. Stick with fresh organic fruits and well-cooked vegetables, your favorite sick-day soup, or Ayurveda’s traditional easy-to-digest kitchari. This time of year, I’m eating kitchari a couple times a week!

7) Keep your head warm. Wear a hat, even if you’re only going out for a short time, or even if you’re tempted by the thought that “it’s not THAT cold.”  Kapha tends to gather in the head, and we don’t want to give it any invitation to accumulate there. Keep a scarf by the door and wear it over your throat and ears every time you go out.

(*Bonus Tip) Probiotics. If you have recently taken a course of antibiotics, be sure to stock back up on healthy intestinal flora by taking a high quality, multi-strain probiotic supplement.

Inauguration

Barack Obama

Martin-Luther-King-Jr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is easy for many of us to take for granted the second inauguration of President Obama today. The fact that this auspicious occasion happens to fall on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day underlines many reasons we should not. There is such satisfying symmetry in celebrating our black president’s reelection on this day.

Here in the U.S., there are four federal holidays honoring individual men. The other three so honored are of course George Washington, Christopher Columbus, and Jesus Christ. Imagine the conversation that might ensue should that celebrated foursome defy the boundaries of time and gather for a meal together. It is an interesting reflection of a country, with all our complexity and contradictions, to consider the heroes we collectively venerate.

Indeed President Obama’s ascent to the presidency, regardless of one’s personal political leanings, is a celebration of the conviction that race should not bar one from such office. However, Dr. King’s teachings on peace, his careful illumination of the path to end violence abroad and at home, is timely  – and as exceedingly difficult and PERSONAL today as it was then – or as it was centuries ago in the time of the Buddha.

May there be peace in our time, and may it begin in each of us.

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Never does hatred cease by hating in return;

Only through love can hatred come to an end.

Victory breeds hatred; the conquered dwell in sorrow and resentment.

They who give up all thought of victory or defeat

may be calm and live happily at peace.

Let us overcome violence by gentleness.

Let us overcome evil by good.

Let us overcome the miserly by liberality.

Let us overcome the liar by truth.

~The Buddha, Dhammapada

 

martin-luther-king-jr-famous-quotes

What you think on grows

At the beginning of every year, a sense of excitement and renewal seems to gather in the air around us. People speak of resolutions and new ways to design their lives. There is a resurgence of confidence that comes of believing we can wipe the slate clean, that we can give legs to new projects and bring them to life.

At the same time, the constant noise of modern life can easily drown out that impulse. The sheer quantity of messages around us creates perpetual mental overload, compounded by the fractured nature of the messages themselves as “sound bites” take precedence over more weighty communication. The mind in these conditions becomes not a place for germination and fruition of new ideas, but a traffic-jammed highway system.

To create an environment for big ideas and real personal development, peaceful focus is necessary. The mental faculty that is engaged in traffic control cannot possibly engage in meaningful integration of new input. First we must EDIT.

A common theme in public discourse at the new year is “Improve yourself,” or “New Year, New You.” Here’s a radical proposition: perhaps the “New You” we are craving is more like the Old You than we might think. The New You just has fewer distractions.

Intention is a powerful tool to facilitate such editing of the chaos around us. An intention serves as your north star and invites forward a particular focus at a particular time. By repeating your intention when you realize you have lost focus, you connect again to your vitality.

An intention is distinct from a goal or resolution. A goal becomes an item on a “to do” list, and if it never gets checked off, we may feel we have failed. An intention, by contrast, invites exploration. There is an inherent acknowledgement in an intention that we are not in control of the outcome – there is room for the mysterious to intervene.

You can set an intention for a certain event – a meeting at work, say, or a yoga class, or a family dinner – or you can set an intention for a specific period of time – a week, one day, or even a whole year.

An intention can take many forms – it could be a statement or phrase, it may be formed as a question, or it may be summed up in one word. For example, consider the influence any of the following intentions might have if you held it in your awareness during a tense board meeting:

  • “I intend to be open to differing opinions.”
  • “Relax the belly”
  • “Who can I admire and acknowledge during this meeting?
  • “Quiet Confidence”

As 2013 begins unfolding its new wings around us, it can be a powerful practice to craft an intention for your year. While New Year’s resolutions may bring forward our Pitta tendencies to judge or get rigidly practical, intentions call forth Vata’s creativity and Kapha’s compassion and acceptance of the unexpected.

Play around with different forms of intention. Questions inspire the brain to seek out the answer. Single words are inspiring in their simplicity. You’ll know you’re on to something when you feel excited or like a puzzle piece clicked into place. Write your intention on a sticky note and paste it in your car, on the bathroom mirror, in your datebook. Write it in secret places. When the busy noise of life around you builds to a roar, repeat it in your heart.

Remember, “where your attention goes, prana will follow.” Intentions help us direct our prana towards the vision we want to create. Let the waxing moon energy carry your intentions into expression as we embark on this new year.

Happy Ganesha Chaturthi!

Om gung Ganapataye namaha

Celebrated as Ganesha’s birthday, Ganesha “Chaturthi” (which literally means the fourth) refers to the fourth day after the new moon of the lunar month Bahdrapada, which usually falls around August-September. For me, this is a day to celebrate the grounding, strengthening qualities of this sweet divine energy, also known as Ganapati or Vinayaka.

The elephant-headed Ganesha is most well-known as that force that removes obstructions in our path. His commitment and steadiness make him the perfect ally in facing the challenges and fears that arise through the course of life. Associated with mula dhara, the root chakra, Ganesha helps build a strong foundation and is traditionally invoked at the beginning of any undertaking. He provides a sense of security and groundedness, yet with a spontaneity that comes of being well-rooted in one’s beliefs and responding to life from that clarity.

In India, it is customary to celebrate this day by taking a clay idol of Ganesha and, with prayers and mantras, cast it into a river. This morning, I went out to Town Lake and held my own Ganesha puja. I prayed for clarity, perseverance, and courage as I continue to find my way to be of service to the great teachings of Ayurveda and Yoga.

May the obstacles in all of our lives vanish as we connect firmly to our root beliefs.

Om ekadantam mahakayam lambodaram gajananam

Vighnanashakaram devam herambam pranamyaham.

“O single-tusked, great-bodied, big-bellied, elephant-faced

Remover of all obstacles and difficulties, I bow to thee.”

Take a cooling bath in a lake with friends

So here we are in the dog days of summer. As the heat and humidity reach their pinnacle in the world around us, so does Pitta within us. Have you felt any of the following signs of high Pitta recently?

  • Rashes or redness in the skin
  • Hot flashes
  • Impatience
  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Irritability over little things
  • Road rage
  • Inflammation

Pitta is easily elevated in anyone this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, but even more so for those who have a significant proportion of Pitta in their baseline constitution, or prakriti.

Here are some quick solutions to bring that inner fire down fast:

  1. Spritz pure rose water over your face and eyes for an instant cool-down
  2. Drink coconut water or cucumber water (soak a few organic cucumber slices in a cup of water overnight) – both help cool you from the inside out
  3. Avoid spicy salsas and chili peppers, as well as acidic foods like tomato sauce, kombucha and grapefruit
  4. Schedule regular “computer screen vacations” throughout your work day, and then soothe your eyes (an organ with high concentrations of pitta) by gazing at an image of nature, especially bodies of water, or simply “palming” the eyes to let them rest in darkness
  5. Instead of lemonade, which is heating due to the sour taste, drink limeade (it is lime’s prabhav or mysterious effect that it is cooling despite being sour)
  6. Practice sheetali pranayama: roll your tongue like a straw (or press the tip of your tongue against the back of your top teeth) and breathe in through the mouth so air rushes over the tongue, then breathe out through the nose. Wait for the next inhale to arise naturally so you don’t hyperventilate. Do 12 slow rounds, then sit quietly. (This is a great antidote when someone cuts you off in traffic!)
  7. Create a little space in your schedule – give yourself extra time to get to an appointment, or block off a half hour at the end of your work day to close up loose ends before starting your commute
  8. Wear cooling colors like green and blue
  9. Sit for five minutes of stillness in the morning simply observing the breath, bringing the mind back to the breath each time it wanders
  10. When the critical or judgmental mind starts talking in your head, say to yourself, “Ah, my Pitta must be high!” and wait for a cooler moment before sharing your thoughts.

With a little forethought, we can anticipate high Pitta and take steps in advance to pacify it. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Stop working so hard (in all arenas) and remember that summer CAN be an invitation to adventure and fun. Put your feet up and kick back, even for five minutes – your Pitta will thank you.

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Join me for a free webinar “Deepen Your Yoga with Ayurveda” on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7pm CDT (8pm EDT, 5pm PDT). Register and get more information here: http://ivyingram.com/free-webinars/

In a previous Foundations post, I described the main qualities of Kapha dosha (the energy of Earth and Water): heavy, slow, cool, oily, liquid, slippery/smooth, dense, soft, and stable.

In human beings, Kapha’s primary responsibility is creating structure, stability and lubrication. When Kapha is in balance (i.e., when it is maintained at the original baseline level set at an individual’s birth), then that person enjoys a sense of groundedness, stamina and compassion.

A two-toed sloth at the San Diego Zoo.

When Kapha dosha gets elevated, however, then excess mass or liquid can start to cause problems. Imbalances connected to the element of Water such as congestion, excess mucus, edema, and weight gain can occur, as can Earth element issues like cysts, tumors, gallstones, diabetes, and kidney stones.

In the mind and heart, excess Kapha can make a person feel lethargy, fatigue, “stuck in a rut,” a lack of clarity, or overly attached, greedy and possessive.

What causes Kapha dosha to elevate? Exposure to Kapha’s qualities (in the immediate environment around you, in foods consumed, or in the environment of the mind) will cause Kapha to rise in accordance with the law of “like increases like.”

Kapha-increasing foods are heavy, oily and sweet, like dairy, fried foods, meat, cake and ice cream. Cold and moist climates, iced drinks, sedentary lifestyles, napping during the day and sleeping in a soft bed can all increase Kapha.

Kapha is most present in the early years of childhood when our bodies are responsible for growth and building. Kapha is also high in the damp, wet season of Spring, when allergies often unleash a torrent of Kapha phlegm.

The best “medicine” for Kapha contains its opposite qualities: light, sharp, fast, warm, dry, rough, and mobile. It is of the utmost importance for Kapha types to engage in plenty of exercise and movement, avoid cold and heavy food, cook with ginger, chilis and black pepper, and cultivate devotion through chanting and yoga.

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Join me for a free webinar “Deepen Your Yoga with Ayurveda” on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7pm CDT (8pm EDT, 5pm PDT). Register and get more information here: http://ivyingram.com/free-webinars/

Earlier this week, I discovered I had a groupon that was about to expire for the restaurant Texas French Bread. It was late, and I was tired – but I was also hungry, so I hopped in the car. I generally eat dinner around 6, but due to a late meeting it was now 8:30 and I was becoming ravenous.

Upon entering the restaurant, I fell into a seat and exhaled. It had been a long and somewhat nerve-jangling day. After ordering, I turned my attention to the people nearby enjoying their food. I love watching people. Especially when I am eating out alone, I tend not to bring anything to read or do, and simply watch instead. There was a generous familiarity among the other diners that made it feel like I had walked in to a dinner party – people from different tables seemed to know each other, talking with each other in passing. The friendliness of the room was contagious.

I enjoyed a lovely meal, right down to the butterscotch pudding with salted caramel. It was a rare meal out for me which lent a celebratory feel to the evening that encouraged a sweet indulgence – and with the rapid pace I had been keeping up all day, I figured a little dose of heavy Kapha would be good for me.  (And it was!)

As I swallowed my last bites, I watched a portly man rise from a nearby table and sprinkle something from a zip-loc baggie around the floor in the middle of the dinning room. The complete lack of furtiveness in his movements seemed odd given that he was, in fact, sprinkling something around a public restaurant.

Then another man rose and took a seat at the (previously un-noticed by me) grand piano in the corner, and suddenly a vociferous stream of tango music catapulted across the room. Two couples rose smoothly from different tables and slid onto what I suddenly realized was a dance floor cleared in the middle of the room. My jaw hung slack as I looked around, feeling caught unaware in a musical or a Bollywood movie.

I watched the two couples slide across the floor with their controlled turns and fluid movements, each couple moving as one. The movements were slow and steady, smooth as if sliding on ice, and absolutely graceful. A low-profile version of tango, these dancers conveyed more elegance than drama, the portly sprinkler chief among them. As I admired their gravity and grace, I thought, “What a perfect expression of balanced Kapha.”

The occasional quick turn of a leg or foot prevented any dullness from settling in, yet the overriding impression was of calmness, stateliness. Each dancer seemed absorbed into their partner, a perfect illustration of the cleaving quality of oil (in contrast to water’s tendency to disperse). Their quiet grace was lovely and captivating.

So often, Kapha gets the short end of the stick in our culture. We tend to focus on its negative expressions, or the qualities of excess Kapha – lethargy, obesity, stuckness. The elegant dance of tango reminded me that every dosha has value and strengths to offer us, and from which we can benefit.

Those of us with a lot of Vata or Pitta in our baseline constitutions can particularly benefit from a Kapha-cultivating practice. Similar to tango, a slow, graceful practice like Quigong or Taichi also cultivates the qualities of Kapha in a balanced, life-affirming way. Stamina, fluidity and compassion are ample rewards.

Watching the couples spin and settle back into their velvety smoothness, I was sold. I wanted in, regardless of the fact that I don’t really know how to tango. I happily leapt up when one of the original dancers approached me, woman dining alone that I was, and invited me to dance.

Settling into the crook of his arm, letting him steer me through the swooping glides and firm stops, something in me turned and slid into place with a satisfied “click.” The conviviality of the crowd, the swirling smoothness of the dance, the sweetness of the meal – a perfect Kapha night.

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