Exploring Wisdom: Chant and Be Happy with Kirtan
Yoga is on fire in the West, and so it kirtan, or yogic chanting. Kirtan combines music and mantra — words and sounds that vibrate at the highest level of awareness. It is an effortless and joyful way to meditate. You simply let the music and mantra do the work for you.
Kirtan is a different kind of concert-going experience. It’s not so much a performance as it is a journey into the Self — through the practice of listening & singing. While singing along at a kirtan event, you can find your own voice and become one voice with those performing.
For those who find seated meditation difficult, a singing meditation can be just the ticket. Music bypasses the thinking mind, the worried mind, and goes straight to that part of the brain where the emotions reside. The musical meditation of kirtan soothes the nervous system, just like a yoga class. Both are easy and fun. Kirtan calms the mind without struggling to concentrate.
Because kirtan has its roots in India, many of the songs are sung in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, the language of mantra. Most often, a singer (kirtan wallah) leads the chant call-and-response style. She or he sings out a line and the audience sings it back. At other times songs are sung in unison. Kirtan is a bit like singing around a yogic campfire – creating feelings of oneness and joy.
As you sing with each other in a group, you may experience a deep connection with the musicians, the other group members and even yourself. This oneness and heart connection is one of the highest goals of yoga.
When the music stops, the mind is silent and calm. You are now ready for deeper meditation.
Kirtan: A Universal Language
Devotional singing does not belong to any one spiritual path. It is the universal language of Spirit, the song of the soul.
Christians around the world sing Amazing Grace and Amen (AUM-en) choruses. Buddhists chant OM Mani Padme Hoom (OM to the Jewel in the Lotus.) Here the “jewel” is the gem of loving kindness. It is found in the lotus flower of the heart. Those who follow the path of Shiva, the yogi’s yogi, chant OM Namah Shivaya — I honor the highest part of my-Self, the Supreme.
Many Sanskrit chants, like “Asato Ma Sat-ga-ma-ya” (“Lead Us From the Unreal to the Real”) and Lo-kah Sa-mas-tha Suk-hino Bha-van-tu, (“May All Beings Be Happy and Free”) are energized prayers, suitable for any sincere seeker.
Kirtan began in India centuries ago as a spiritual practice. It served as the layman’s way to connect with the Divine. The simple idea behind kirtan was to sing praise to the divine in its many forms.
Although it’s difficult to trace the history of an oral tradition like kirtan, some scholars believe it began as a popular spiritual practice during the bhakti (devotion) movement that began around the year 700 A.D. Devotional singing then spread like wildfire between the 12th and 17th centuries.
“Much of the kirtan explosion in America is inspired by what happened during that later time, and many of the songs we sing are inspired by music composed in that era,” says Russill Paul, author of The Yoga of Sound. “They used kirtan as a way to get in touch with God’s presence and showed everyday people that they could have the same levels of Self-realization and the same depths of mystical experience as a priest performing a sacred ritual or a yogi in deep meditation.”
Today many American kirtans tend to look and feel more like energized pop concerts than spiritual gatherings. Chants have evolved to include undercurrents of soul, rap, hip-hop, electronica, rock ‘n’ roll, and country. The distinctly American influence on traditional kirtan seems to be attracting crowds of people who wouldn’t typically find themselves hooked on yoga’s sacred chants.
In the last ten years, kirtan has become a phenomenon around the world. The new kirtan revolution has been led by Deva Premal, Krishna Das, Donna De Lory, Jai Uttal and many others. Some, like Bhagavan Das and Larissa Stow, sing with a fervor reminiscent of American gospel music.
In The Shambhala Guide to Yoga, scholar Georg Feuerstein wrote, “The path of bhakti (devotional) yoga is constant remembrance of the Divine. It is the way of the heart, intended to channel and purify emotions through singing, dancing, meditation, and other activities that can help us merge with the Beloved.”
Benefits of Chanting
Chanting is not only the most fun way to meditate (think kirtan karaoke), but, like laughter yoga, it is also good for your health.
Doctors at Cleveland University reported that the rhythmic tones involved in chanting release a cascade of naturally healing chemicals. Imagine feeling good naturally without a pill. They called it the NLE, or Neurolinguistic Effect. Yogis call it a type of samadhi, though usually a lesser samadhi, brought on by yogic chanting and breathing. The end result is a profound sense of peacefulness.
Chanting can be quite therapeutic — complementary medicine — for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and insomnia. French physician Dr. Alfred Tomatis wrote that chanting helps us to control our emotions and eliminate negative thoughts.Unlike Western psychiatry, chanting goes beyond the body-mind to the realm of Spirit. It results in feelings of oneness and connection.
There is a saint in India named Swami Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, a modern day swami who heads up the Siddha Yoga Centers around the world. She had this to say about the unique benefits of chanting:
At a certain point, ordinary words can no longer take us where we want to go. Through chanting, we use music and sacred mantras to enter into a dialogue with the divine. Chanting is a natural way to tune into the frequency of love. The vibrations emanating from Sanskrit chants have a tangible effect on our own inner being. The sweetness of chanting stills the mind, dissolves worries, and opens the heart. Chanting gives us direct access to the spiritual world, balances our subtle energy system (chakras) and allows for deeper meditation.
Kirtan, or devotional singing, is where yoga and spirituality come together. Krishna Das said that during satsang (company of truth), people gather together “to remember, to turn within and find their own inner path to the One. When we gather together to sing like this we are helping each other find our own paths.”
Start chanting today. Feel more connected with yourself, your Self and with each other.
Free Kirtan/Satsang Every Night
Kirtan happens nightly (7:30 – 8:15pm) at the Center and is a community gathering for all interested guests, staff and volunteers. All you need to bring is yourself. Singing is welcomed, however, if you prefer you can simply come along and soak in the atmosphere. Learn More
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Walking the Path: Why Ayurveda?
After practicing Western medicine (Allopathy) for 25 years, I became disappointed with many aspects of the culture surrounding it – namely, the lack of emphasis on prevention, and the over-reliance on prescription drugs.
At the time, I wasn’t aware of the system of optimal health from India that is all about prevention. It’s a system that uses natural herbs instead of synthetics, a system that incorporates yoga for healing the body and mind. It’s called Ayurveda, or “the knowledge of life.”
Over the next few years, I discovered the ways in which Ayurveda can be a more effective approach to health, especially when it comes to treating mental unrest like anxiety and stress. Much disease can be prevented as patients learn how to de-stress. The ultimate goal of Ayurveda is a healthy physical body, a calm (sattvic) mind, and a heart connection with Spirit.
Allopathy vs Ayurveda
Both Ayurveda and Allopathy (traditional Western medicine) have their place in health and healing. “Allo” means opposite, and “pathy” means disease. In allopathy, pharmaceutical drugs are prescribed that have opposite effects to the symptoms. Sometimes, allopathy can be life-saving. Examples include the epi-pen (epinephrine injection) for a life-threatening bee sting allergy (anaphylaxis), and antidotes, like Narcan, for opiate overdose.
However, Allopathy has its shortcomings. It often treats symptoms more than it cures disease. Anti-depressants like Zoloft are prescribed for depression, and Xanax for anxiety. While they may relieve symptoms, they do not offer a cure.
Unfortunately, these synthetic drugs come with long lists of side effects, and can actually affect brain chemistry. Prozac was given a black-box warning by the FDA, the strongest caution given before a drug is yanked from the shelf. Why? Prozac made some suicidal patients worse, especially those in the 18-25 year old age group.
Dr. Deepak Chopra put it bluntly: “I think it was just the fact that there is a lot of frustration when all you do is prescribe medication, you start to feel like a legalized drug pusher. That doesn’t mean that all prescriptions are useless, but it is true that 80 percent of all drugs prescribed today are of optional or marginal benefit.”
Why Ayurveda? Treat Root Causes, Not Symptoms
Ayurveda is, in many ways, opposite to the Western approach. According to Ayurvedic master Dr. David Frawley, deep seated anxieties must be be pulled out by their roots. Both Ayurveda and Yoga do so with yogic breath practices and the practice of mantra. These practices are yoga for your mind. Pranayama and mantra are at the core of the Happiness Program and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation, taught at the Art of Living Retreat Center.
All About Prevention
One answer to “Why Ayurveda” is its emphasis on prevention, or Sva-stha-vrit-ta.
Svasthavritta means “the protocols by which one can remain healthy.”
So much disease (heart attack, stroke, cancer) could be prevented by awareness of these Ayurvedic protocols:
• Treat organic fruits and veggies as medicine. You will be prescribed specific foods and healing spices based on your body-mind type, or dosha.
• Develop a healthy exercise pattern like Yoga or Tai Chi.
• Learn how to de-stress with mantra and pranayama (breath practices).
• Learn the principles of Ayurvedic detox. Put no junk food in your body and no junk food in your mind. Try an Ayurvedic cleanse with superfoods like kitchadi.
Connection With Spirit
Another thing I love about Ayurveda is how it addresses our connection to Spirit. Allopathy seems dry in comparison to the holistic healing traditions of the East, that are steeped in prayer and meditation.
Connection with Spirit is essential for complete health. Treating the body-mind without addressing Spirit leaves us dry, and often unhappy. Connection with Spirit helps us to realize our place in the Universe beyond time and space.
Of course, a spiritual path is a deeply personal decision. Dr. David Frawley tells us that spirituality is a big tent. He wrote that the Divine can be looked upon as a father, a mother, a brother or a friend — or as Nature, a saint, or the one divinity within us all: the higher Self.
In Your Hands
Take charge of your health today. Don’t wait until something breaks. See an Ayurvedic practitioner and discover your dosha (body-mind type). You will be then be prescribed a lifetime of better health: Svasthavritta — Ayurvedic essentials for staying healthy: right food, right exercise, right herbs, right sleep and right actions.
Don’t forget: many Ayurvedic treatments are also fun. Steam bath therapy sweats away toxins. Shirodhara (bliss oil therapy) can calm the mind and expand the awareness. Abhyanga, healing massage with medicated oils, can work wonders. For more info, contact the AOLRC Spa.
No Quick Fix
Ayurveda is not about the “quick fix” or taking pills. Ayurveda is about discovering the root causes of disease, then treating it. Root causes may be related to a toxic diet, a dysfunctional relationship, stress at work, or repetitive thoughts. Yoga, Ayurveda and a contemplative lifestyle, including self-inquiry, are the keys to success.
Choose Ayurveda to stay healthy and prevent illness. Choose Allopathy when it can be of benefit. These two approaches can be complementary, and not mutually exclusive.
Interested in learning more about the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.
Healing Mantras Workshops 2017
Have you or someone in your family experienced anxiety and depression? Do you feel sad or anxious despite prescription antidepressants and tranquilizers? Are you interested in alternative and complementary medicine? If so, please join me, Dr. Harrison Graves, for one of my weekend workshops in 2017: “Healing Mantras For Anxiety and Depression.”
High atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, at the Art of Living Retreat Center and Spa, I’ll be hosting four weekend Spa retreats in 2017 featuring healing mantras from the Yoga of Sound tradition.
Mantra and Ayurveda
Mantra Therapy is an important part of Ayurveda, the holistic medicine from India and the healing branch of yogic science. Sanskrit mantras, starting with OM, are sound formulas, packed with energy and intention. They have a profound effect on the body-mind. When these sound waves (mantras) are combined with thought waves (intentions), they become powerful tools for insight, healing, creativity and spiritual growth.
Ayurveda’s Holistic Alternative
The healing powers of Sanskrit chanting are just now being discovered in the Western world. Mantras use sound waves, sound energy, to heal our minds on the subconscious level, where the roots of our modern anxieties are found. These healing mantras are a powerful holistic alternative to prescription drugs when it comes to treating anxiety and depression.
According to Dr. David Frawley, mantras are “the most important part of the spiritual and mental therapy of Ayurveda.” Mantra therapy, combined with pranayama (breath technique), is Ayurveda’s treatment of choice for both anxiety and depression.
5 Healing Mantras
In this workshop I will share with you five of the most healing mantras from this Ayurvedic/Yoga of Sound tradition — five mantras for soothing anxiety and breaking through depression:
AUM: The Core Mantra Meditation
Lokah Samastha: The Happiness Mantra
Asato Ma Satgamaya: The Reality Check Mantra
Sat Nam: A Kundalini Antidote For Depression
The Gayatri: A Mantra For Wisdom and Enlightenment
During the workshop, the importance of each Sanskrit mantra is explained, along with its English translation and proper use. Proper pronunciation is essential for achieving the desired results, the fruit of the mantra.
Ayurveda’s Holistic Psychology
For many, the cause of mental unrest is a lack of love and connection in life — not just a chemical imbalance in the brain. Holistic Ayurveda shows us how to better connect with each other and with the Universe — how to regain those feelings of love, connection and joy. Like Yoga, it does so by giving us tools that calm our minds, open our hearts and connect us with Spirit.
Ayurveda’s holistic psychology does not recommend the use of Western pharmaceuticals like Prozac. Although healing herbs are used in Ayurveda, the most important antidotes for anxiety and depression are not herbal. They are mantra and pranayama (conscious breathing practices). These techniques, which are common to both Yoga and Ayurveda, can be amazingly effective in calming the mind and enlightening the intellect.
Failure of Prescription Psychiatry
The Western pill model of psychiatry has let us down for many reasons:
• Prescription antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs treat symptoms more than they cure disease.
• Synthetic pills that alter brain chemistry are fraught with side effects, like sedation, weight gain, apathy and altered libido.
• Antidepressants often work no better than sugar pills.
In contrast, the Eastern model uses no such pharmaceuticals. Instead, it uses the tools of mantra and pranayama — to get to the subconscious mind, where the roots of today’s modern anxieties are found.
In the yogic view, we are at our core healthy, whole and happy by nature. Ayurveda gives us the tools to stay that way — with pranayama, right foods and right lifestyle.
Higher Consciousness: The Goal
The ultimate goal of Ayurvedic psychology is a higher awareness, a higher consciousness, to help us understand our place in the universe. Once you realize that you are a being of light whose natural state is oneness and bliss, anxiety and depression tend to disappear.
The way to get there is through meditation — not through medication. Higher awareness does not come in pill form. The fastest path to this awareness, this feeling of connection with the cosmos and with each other is through mantra and the breath practices.
Meditation Made Easy
Of all the different types of meditation, chanting Sanskrit mantras, like AUM, is perhaps the easiest way to meditate. Combined with the yogic breath, it is an effective way to calm the mind — especially for beginners. No experience is necessary.
You can’t force your mind to be quiet. But with meditation, you can experience the quiet that is already there.
Please join me for one of my four weekend healing mantra workshops in 2017:
April 21-23, 2017
May 5-7, 2017
September 22-24, 2017
October 13-15, 2017
A tuition only option ($180) is available for those who have housing already available.
Custom meal and lodging plans are available.
The Art of Living Retreat Center offers three yummy vegetarian meals a day and a full line of Spa services, from massage to shirodhara (Ayurveda’s Bliss Therapy).
I offer these mantras to you as a form of complementary medicine — a sound healing alternative to prescription drugs for the treatment of mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
ABOUT DR. HARRISON GRAVES
Dr. Harrison Graves MD FACEP is a physician, yogi and author who teaches mantra meditation as an alternative and complementary treatment for anxiety and depression.
After a long career as a board-certified emergency physician and associate UNC professor, Dr. G. left the ER behind to pursue a new interest: the Yoga of Sound (aka Ayurvedic Sound Healing). It is the yoga of healing music and healing mantra.
Moving to California, he signed on for a music and mantra internship with Russill Paul (Anirud Jaidev), a master sound yogi from Chennai. In addition, Dr. G studied Kundalini Yoga and Ayurveda for two years at the Wisdom Fire School of Yoga in Berkeley, California.
In 2010, Dr. Graves began teaching Mantra Meditation, presenting mantra workshops at yoga studios and wellness centers along the East Coast.
In 2014, he published The Mystical Chakra Mantras: How to Balance Your Own Chakras with Mantra Yoga, the world’s first interactive ebook on mantra yoga, with links to YouTube where readers may experience the mantras.
In 2015, he began to write alternative medical blogs on hubpages.com, taught Mantra Meditation at the McLean Meditation Institute in Sedona and published Mantra Meditation: An Alternative Treatment For Anxiety and Depression.
Dr. Graves currently writes alternative medical blogs and teaches mantra meditation at the Art of Living Ayurvedic Retreat Center and Spa, high in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
Medical Disclaimer: The intention of this workshop is to educate and inform, to make seekers more aware of mantra meditation as a complementary therapy for anxiety and depression. If you wish to decrease or stop your prescription medications, please do so gradually, under the supervision of your prescribing physician. Sudden withdrawal can be dangerous, even life threatening.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.
Discover Boone: The Blue Ridge Parkway, Jewel of the National Park System
In this series, we’ll explore the sights, sounds and surroundings of this beautiful area we call home – Boone, North Carolina. We’ll discover waterfalls, hidden byways and highways and some spectacular vistas along the way. Our first post comes from Dr. Harrison Graves, photographer, teacher and local resident. – the Editor
Take a journey with me high atop the Blue Ridge Parkway, with fall colors in peak season.
Outstanding scenery and recreational opportunities make the Blue Ridge Parkway one of the most visited sections of the National Park System.
Pass by split-rail fences, old farmsteads, mountain meadows and scenic overlooks with endless vistas.
To start your video tour, click here:
America’s Favorite Drive
Often called “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Parkway offers:
- 469 miles connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
- Stunning views, abundant trails, picnic areas, campsites and interpretative exhibits
- Recreational opportunities for all ages and abilities, from hiking to canoeing to photography
Come stay with us at the Art of Living Retreat Center and Spa. While you’re here, discover the secrets of the Blue Ridge, via the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.
On the Path: Why I Volunteer with Seva
In this series, we explore people’s experiences on the path of spirituality. Whether it’s personal development, insights or learning about how to love more deeply, it’s all about you and your journey. Our first selection comes from Dr. Harrison Graves, an MD who has been volunteering at the center for the past several months, informing and educating us all with his thoughtful writing and commentary. Enjoy! – Andrew
Seva is often defined as “selfless service,” service with no expectation of reward. It is that — and much more. In today’s blog I’ll share with you why I volunteer, or do seva, and suggest ways you can too. True seva is a way of life — an inner attitude of giving.
Ram Dass explains seva beautifully: “Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us.” (Ram Dass was a co-founder of the Seva Foundation. Seva is best known for their work restoring eyesight to over 3 million blind people suffering from cataract blindness in places like Tibet, Nepal, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and throughout sub-Saharan Africa.)
How Seva Can Help You, the Giver
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar shares how seva also benefits the giver:
To increase our joy we must share joy with others. Giving is essential for spiritual growth. A willingness to share what we have and to help others is called seva.
Seva connects us to others and makes them a part of us. The barriers dissolve that separate our happiness from their happiness. Lingering moods of unhappiness or depression dissipate when our focus is on helping someone else.
Seva can become complementary medicine for those who suffer with anxiety and depression. Both ailments can vanish when we focus on selfless service.
How to Serve
There are endless ways of doing seva. All it takes is creativity and imagination. Make seva your way of life. If you are helping to mentor a son or daughter, that is family seva. If you adopt a pet from the shelter, that is pet seva. Anytime you willingly donate your time and love to help others, you are doing seva. And there are many such projects that Art of Living members have voluntarily taken up as a way to give back through seva. Whether it’s providing service to prison inmates or supporting schools for under-served students in the developing world or projects in your own neighborhood, there are so many ways to serve.
Service, whatever form it takes, is the flow of love from one human being to another. This desire to share is our basic nature. Sincere giving — without any expectation of return — breaks the boundaries of conditional love and expands our ability to love every human being unconditionally. Perhaps the best seva is helping someone understand this eternal nature of life.
My Experience With Seva at the Art of Living Retreat Center
Soon after beginning my seva at the Art of Living Retreat Center, I realized how much I was receiving: the opportunity to be at America’s top rated and most scenic Ayurvedic Spa, in a setting of Blue Ridge Mountain beauty. Then there is the daily Yoga, meditation, satsang and kirtan. Also, each month I am privileged to meet kindred yogi and yogini spirits from around the world, each of whom seems to have an amazing talent to share: writers, artists, musicians and Yoga/meditation teachers.
Seva at the retreat center might include helping in the kitchen, working in the organic garden or assisting at reception. During Art of Living courses, voluntary opportunities to participate in seva activities are often part of the daily routine, such as cooking, cleaning, gardening or childcare.
Service is the expression of love. Serve in whatever possible manner you can. Ask yourself, “How can I be useful to people around me, and to the whole world?” Then your heart starts blossoming and a completely new level begins. Otherwise we’re always thinking, “What about me, what about me?” It’s nothing! Ask, “How can I be useful, how can I give to the world?
Seva is our own inner joy pouring forth into action.
Make service a way of life — and be happier.
For more info on the inspiring programs and social initiatives that Art of Living members have participated in, please see the IAHV site.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.
Healing Journeys of Ayurveda: Lighter Every Day
Ayurveda considers the buildup of toxins, physical and mental and environmental, to be the underlying cause of many diseases. Toxins enter our world by what we eat, drink, breathe in and process in any way. With so much hype about detoxes and cleanses, it’s hard to know where to turn. Today’s blog features special guest, Susan W. from Syracuse. Susan recently shared her Panchakarma experience with Andrew Keaveney, Ayurveda enthusiast and Art of Living teacher :
Andrew: Susan, how was your experience of Panchakarma?
Susan: My experience here has been really really great. I’ve actually done many cleanses before this. But this is my first time doing Panchakarma. I can tell you that this experience is nothing like any of the other cleanses that I’ve done. Some of the things that set it apart are the fact that it’s Ayurvedic based, for sure. But it’s more than that. We had the doctor looking after us, keeping an eye out on our progress, checking when we came in, individually. Tailoring the program to each one of us individually was just amazing. The piece that I really liked about it is that when I would have the different sessions, it was like I was feeling lighter every single day. I was feeling this cleansing process more and more with each treatment that I got. It was really clear that the treatments that I was getting were guided for me, and what I needed. So the experience has been just outstanding. I am leaving here feeling light and fresh.
I think it’s more than just physical though. Because of that lightness and freshness that I’m feeling physically, it transfers into how you’re feeling mentally and emotionally — all of that as well. So just all the way around, a lightness that has come. I am telling you it was like layers coming off each day. It is nothing at all compared to any other cleanse that I’ve done. This is just very very different.
Andrew: Could you share a little more about your other cleanses? What were the other cleanses like and then what was feeling different?
Susan: Okay. I have never done anything that was residential like this. The other cleanses that I’ve done were done from my home. I felt that there was some cleansing that was taking place, but it was more of something that was geared toward everybody. Everybody got the same thing. So the amount of benefit you get here really shows up when you have something that’s tailored just for you. The way that you should be eating. The treatments that you are personally in need of to correct any imbalances. It really shows up in the way that I feel in the end – comparing the two.
Andrew: Did you come here with anything particularly complaint or something that you want to remedy or is it more for overall?
Susan: Yeah, it was more for an overall detoxification and cleanse. We have so many toxins in this environment. It’s hard to avoid them. This is why I’ve done cleanses in the past to just keep my body as healthy as I possibly can. And so it was really more “overall” for me.
Andrew: What does Ayurveda do for you personally?
Susan: Ayurveda is a lifestyle. It really is a way of living our lives to give us the best possible bodies and health, and by uplifting our bodies and our health and being as high of energy as possible. As much prana or energy in our bodies as possible allows us to be as stress free as possible. It really reflects on the way that our mind is working our emotions. We become lighter and freer with that.
• • •
Interested in learning more about what Ayurveda can do for you? Please contact us and we’d be happy to guide you as to how an Ayurvedic cleanse can harness the natural healing power of your body. Both weekend and week-long cleanses are available to feel refreshed and rejuvenated the Ayurvedic way.
The Pungent Taste: Spicing It Up With Ayurveda
In this blog we are heating things up with pungent, the hottest of Ayurveda’s six tastes.
Think spicy. Pungent spices like chili peppers and wasabi titillate the taste buds while heating up the body — and the mind. The pungent taste is found in the following:
• Peppers (green and red, habaneros, jalapenos)
• Pungent Spices (tumeric, cayenne, sage, thyme, cumin, cinnamon, peppercorn)
• Mustard Seeds
Pungent and the Doshas
Pungent increases Vata and Pitta and decreases Kapha.
The most heat producing of all the rasas (tastes), pungent improves appetite, clears the sinuses and stimulates blood circulation. A pungent spice, like a cayenne pepper, will taste hot and stay hot from start to finish. It is sure to balance wet, heavy kapha, but it can be too hot and dry for vata, especially when taken in excess or paired with too many other drying foods. Vata does best when the pungent taste is combined with sour, sweet, or salty foods. Too much spicy can quickly aggravate pitta (and vata) in the form of excessive dryness and inflammation.
Recipe For Pungent
Need to boost your metabolism? Feed your inner fire today with the pungent taste. Try this amazing pungent soup, ideal for an Ayurvedic detox:
Spicy Mung Dhal Soup
(Makes 5 generous portions)
400g (1 lb.) mung beans (whole green or split green) *Sweet*
2 quarts water
½ tsp. turmeric powder *Pungent*
2 pinch asafoetida *Pungent*
lime or lemon juice *Sour*
fresh root ginger *Pungent*
2-3 cloves garlic *Pungent*
an inch of fresh root ginger *Pungent*
1 tsp. cumin seeds *Pungent*
1 tsp. coriander seeds *Pungent*
rock salt *Salty*
Wash the mung beans and soak for at least four hours or overnight. Heat ghee or olive oil in a pan and add teaspoon of turmeric and 2 pinches asafoetida (to prevent gas). Sauté for a few seconds then add the beans, fresh water and fresh root ginger. For one part soaked mung you need about four parts of water. Simmer for 30-40 minutes adding more water if necessary, until beans are soft. In a pressure cooker this takes 8 minutes once the vessel has come to pressure. You can then turn off the heat and leave the pot to cool for a further 10 minutes before opening it. Once the beans are cooked, heat ghee or olive oil in another pan, add 2-3 cloves chopped garlic (if you wish) and sauté lightly for a minute until soft. Add chopped fresh root ginger, then one teaspoon of cumin and coriander seeds plus any other herbs or spices (except chillies) eg: cardamom, black pepper, cumin seeds and briefly sauté. Add these sautéed spices plus some rock salt into the beans and simmer for a further few minutes.
Serve soup warm with a squeeze of lime juice and some fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped.
Ayurveda teaches that combining the six tastes helps us to feel satisfied and to ensure that all major food groups and nutrients are represented. As you eat your food mindfully, become aware of the spices of life — including the heating taste of pungent.
Review Question: What are two spices that fall into Ayurveda’s pungent category?
Comments? Please share with us your favorite pungent spice in the comment box below.
If you want to download our cheat sheet to finding harmony in the kitchen with the principles of Ayurveda, you can download it here.
Pratyahara: Yoga’s Forgotten Limb
Pratyahara is often defined as “the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses.” Yet what does that phrase really mean? Did you know that a massage or even vacationing by the sea can be form of pratyahara? Read on and find out how.
Pratyahara is perhaps the least understood limb of the 8-part yoga system. Pratyahara has two parts: creating positive impressions for the mind and avoiding negative ones. Impressions are all of the things we take in through the five senses. Everything we see, hear, touch, taste and smell.
The ultimate goal of pratyahara is to help us turn inward, by creating a calm, peaceful environment and a sattvic (balanced) mind.
A mind turned outward — a mind bombarded with sensory overload from TV to twitter — cannot meditate. We must learn how to manage our sensory intake — all of the information taken in by our five senses. In other words, don’t put junk food into your mind or into your body.
There are two types of pratyahara: natural pratyahara (think sleep, rest and relaxation) and the pratyahara that comes to us from the practice of yoga.
Sleep is a great example of natural pratyahara. Sleep is where the Soul loves to rest and recharge. All five senses are are silent. Vacations and retreats can also be forms of effortless pratyahara. The simplest way to control the impressions is to cut them off. Treat yourself to a silent retreat. Take a walk in the woods.
Pratyahara also means avoiding harmful impressions — like TV and other “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” media.
Instead, cultivate better impressions. Immerse yourself in Nature. Gaze at the vastness of the sky. Do yoga.
As the fifth limb in the yoga system, pratyahara occupies a central place — a bridge between the physical aspect of yoga, asana, and meditation. Yogic pratyahara includes calming asanas, alternate nostril breathing and types of mindfulness or guided meditation. Another great example of yogic pratyahara is Shavasana — corpse pose. In Shavasana, the energy is withdrawn from the five senses. The eyes are closed. Visual stimuli are absent. The body is relaxed, and turned inward. In a world of overstimulation, the practice of pratyahara can offer us silence, peace and rest.
Pratyahara and Ayurveda
Pratyahara literally means control of ahara or food. Here “food” refers to anything we put into our bodies and minds, both physical and mental.
Examples of Ayurvedic pratyahara are an Ayurvedic diet, aroma therapy, color therapy, Ayurvedic massage, marma point therapy, shirodhara and pancha karma. These are all delightful and beneficial therapies that support the the body-mind and lead to deep relaxation. A natural pratyahara for the digestive system is fasting, or feasting, on kichadi, an Ayurvedic superfood.
Also included in pratyahara are your associations with other people. How do the people around you make you feel? Do you feel lifted up? Filled with love and connection? Or do you feel pulled down by negativity and toxicity? Ayurveda recommends satsang therapy — hanging out with those who are heart-centered seekers of truth.
Summary: Feed Your Head
Pratyahara starts at home. Become aware of the quality of things taken in by your five senses. Turn off the TV. Create your own space — a positive environment that restores you and calms the senses. Nourish yourself with positive experiences by gazing at the ocean, the mountains or the blue sky. Associate with quality people.
You are doing pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga and a gateway to meditation.
Review Question: What are two examples of pratyahara?
Comments? Please share with us your favorite form of pratyahara in the comment box below.
Interested in learning more about our holistic approach to yoga? Check out this easy ebook, 14 Steps to Beginning a Yoga Practice.
The Six Flavors of Ayurveda: Sour Taste
Taste is assigned a much deeper significance in Ayurveda than we are accustomed to in the West. Taste, or rasa, is considered critically important in determining the effect that various foods, spices and therapeutic herbs will have on our state of balance – body, mind, and spirit. Ayurveda recognizes six tastes. Each of the six has a vital role to play in our health, wellbeing and nutritional satisfaction. They are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Today’s blog is all about the sour taste.
Sour is a taste found in sour fruits like lemons and limes and in sour dairy products like yogurt, cheese and sour cream. Fermented foods, like vinegar, pickles, sauerkraut and soy sauce also fall into Ayurveda’s sour category. You may be surprised to learn that fermented drinks, like wine, beer and liquor, are considered “sour,” too.
Effects of Sour
Sour foods have a cleansing effect, stimulating the appetite and sharpening the senses. For that reason, many folks start the day with a mug of hot lemon tea.
The sour taste also stimulates saliva production. The first step in the long process of digestion begins in the mouth. Sour helps relieve thirst, too. A sweet-and-sour Georgia peach can quench a thirst while helping the body absorb minerals like iron from our foods.
Sour and the Doshas
The sour taste is great for Vata body-mind types. They need lots of warmth and moisture. Sour may be balancing for Vatas, but can cause Pittas to spin out (with aggression) from the excess heat. Sour also needs to be eaten in moderation for Kaphas. Sour can increase the heaviness and wetness associated with Kapha dosha.
In Ayurveda, the sour found in lemon and limes is considered to be “hot.” Why? Because the sour found in citrus fruits (and pickled foods) produces heat — from acids.
Citrus fruits like lemons and limes are loaded with ascorbic acid (vitamin C). These acids are considered to be “hot” or heat producing.
What about less acidic fruits, like peaches, apricots and cherries? They are not as hot. Their water content cools them down. Because a food like the grapefruit contains a lot of moisture, its sour taste is also considered to be “wet.” A grapefruit is both hot and wet, qualities that affect all three doshas.
Summary of Sour Rasa
Sources: Citrus fruits like limes, lemons, grapefruits and oranges.
Sour dairy products like yogurt, cheese and sour cream
Fermented foods, like vinegar, pickles, sauerkraut and soy
Fermented drinks, like wine, beer and liquor
Physical effects: Sour taste increases the digestive power. It stimulates salivation and increases the appetite. It pacifies Vata but increases Pitta and Kapha. It promotes strength and stability in the tissues. It regulates downward movement of vata and helps in the digestion of food.
Psychological effects: Sour taste brings alertness to the mind and increases attention. Emotionally, it is responsible for bringing appreciation. However, if consumed in excess, it can bring out aggression or jealousy.
Adverse effects: If a person consumes excess food with sour taste it can lead to hyperacidity (heartburn) and skin rashes.
Want to learn more about the 6 flavors in Ayurveda? We’ve prepared a Cheat Sheet for finding greater satisfaction in eating & more harmony in the kitchen through Ayurveda:
Review Question: Which dosha (body-mind type) benefits most from sour taste in the diet?
Comments: What is your favorite recipe for sour taste?
The Vignan Bhairav Tantra: Gateway to Meditation
The Vignan Bhairav Tantra (VBT) is an ancient text which teaches us ways to bring the mind to the present moment and to states of deep meditation. Its theme is often dharana, which refers to “one-pointed attention” or concentration, and is itself a gateway to meditation.
Dharana is the important sixth limb of the yoga system. It teaches us how to focus our attention on the present moment. In dharana, we bring something to our attention before we release into the practice of meditation (dhyana) or samadhi (absorption into bliss).
The Vignan Bhairav Tantra
In the VB Tantra, tantra means sipmly “technique.” The book contains 112 different techniques of consciousness. These are 112 guided ways for the aspirant with a distracted mind to enter into the field of samadhi, of restful awareness. these practices can then blossom into meditation. Vignan refers to “higher knowledge” and vignan bhairav refers to a state of consciousness where one achieves a state of union or expanded consciousness.
The VBT teaches simple yet powerful practices that help to provide this inner knowledge, knowledge of Oneness. The practice of dharana gives us the ability to overcome the scattered energies of the mind. We can then convert them to a steady stream of awareness.
Dharana means one-pointed focus on something. That something could be an object, like a candle flame, or on a mantra or the breath. The practitioner is first asked to fix his or her mind on an object so that he remains focused in the present moment. The state of dharana is attained when you are able to hold an object in the space of consciousness.
Success in dharana can lead to dhyana, or deeper meditation.
The practice of dharana, the important sixth limb of the Yoga system, helps us to regain control of our minds and our emotions. The VBT teaches us how to do dharana — how to gather up the scattered waves coming from the mind and fix them at one point. Unlike asana and pranayama, dharana is not a physical exercise. Dharana requires just the attention of the mind.
Although there are 112 dharanas, you don’t need to learn them all. Choose one or two that are most suitable for your disposition. And you can go deep with a simple dharana practice, like the one presented later in this blog.
Experience of Bhairava
Bhairava means feeling connected with the Universal Spirit. Bhairava is a state of surrender, a state of high receptivity, where knowledge is received without any obstructions. It is a state that the consciousness passes through during its journey from the outer to the inner experience. It is the state that just precedes the experience of universal consciousness. In the state of bhairava, individual consciousness is still present, while the proximity to universal consciousness is felt. Dharanas help us feel more connected to the universe and to each other. Here is a dharana that is not only fun but easily incorporated into everyday practice:
Dharana on the Sky
Verse 84: Having fixed the gaze continuously on the clear sky without blinking and with steady awareness, at once the nature of Bhairava is achieved.
In this dharana, the sky signifies vastness – endless, limitless space. As soon as we turn our gaze toward the infinite, the awareness perceives vastness and starts to identify with that. By gazing continuously at the infinity of the sky, one starts to expand the mind beyond its constraints to feel the infinite nature of the sky. This method is akasha bhavana or “contemplation on the vastness.”
Too often we live as servants to our own minds. Throughout the day, we do whatever our minds direct us to do. If the mind is worried, we feel anxious. If the mind is envious, jealousy comes in. If the mind is disgruntled, anger may take over. The practice dharana can continue to free us from our own limits and help us regain control of the monkey mind.
Review Question: What is dharana?
What object of attention helps you to feel expanded and connect with oneness?