by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)
Rasayana or rejuvenation for vata is needed in a variety of vata-related situations. In individuals of vata prakruti, during the management of diseases due to vata, in the vata season (autumn) and in the vata time of life, from age fifty onwards, it is important to address vata rasayana. Rejuvenation of vata is also important for those who live in jangala desha, the vata-predominant regions that are arid, with less vegetation and much high wind.(1) In terms of the United States, this description of jangala desha incorporates most of the desert and mountain West, with its high altitudes and arid or semi-arid conditions.
The king of vata rasayana herbs is of course Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) also known as winter cherry. Ashwagandha is a shrubby plant with greenish-yellow flowers and red berries. "Ashwagandha reduces increased vata and kapha and cures vitiligo, oedema, and wasting. It acts as a tonic and tissue vitalizer. It is bitter and astringent in taste and hot in potency and increases the quality and quantity of semen." (2)
Although it is particularly famed for its action on the deeper dhatus, majja and shukra, Ashwagandha rejuvenates the dhatu agni of all seven dhatus. This broad spectrum activity is perhaps related to the large number of active principles in the herb root. The main active principles in Ashwagandha are steroidal alkaloids and steroidal lactones. At least thirty five different withanolides, or steroidal lactones as well as twelve alkaloids have been identified in Ashwagandha. Withanolides have anti-oxidant and adaptagenic actions and suppress generation of free radicals (ageing factors). They are anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and anti-cancer. They act on majja dhatu in supporting nerve regeneration and ameliorate beta amyloid neuronal dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease. (3, 4)
In muscle aches and pains, and fibromyalgia, Ashwagandha can be used together with Yogaraj Guggulu. In vata type skin disease such as scaly eczema or psoriasis, it can be combined with Manjista and Turmeric. In sexual debility, a teaspoon of Ashwagandha can be taken at bed time in a cup of hot cow's milk. For vata menstrual issues including irregular or painful menstruation, Ashwagandha can be combined with Shatavari, while to rejuvenate vata for the nursing mother, a combination of Licorice and Ashwagandha can be mixed in hot milk. The ultimate situation requiring rejuvenation of vata is balakshaya or vata type chronic fatigue. Ashwagandha is the herb of choice in this situation, and is traditionally taken with grtamadhu, a mixture of ghee and honey. For those who have systemic candidiasis and are unable to take gritamadhu as an anupan, almond milk is a good anupan that supports rejuvenation of ojas.
A fifty year old practitioner of yogic disciplines presented complaining of nervousness, anxiety, forgetfulness and nocturnal emissions. An individual of vata prakruti, he was also entering his vata time of life and was a resident of jangala desh, living at over five thousand feet in the windy, dry conditions of Colorado's Front Range. His lifestyle was vata provoking in that he slept six hours or less a night and rose at three in the morning, unaware that vata prakruti requires at least seven hours of sleep a night. He quickly took to a more vata soothing lifestyle, incorporating self-abhyanga and svedan into his weekly routine. In addition, he was advised to take a cup of hot cow's milk in the evenings with a teaspoon of Ashwagandha stirred into the milk. His sexual debility, manifesting in nocturnal emissions, was effectively relieved by this remedy. Although Ashwagandha is a celebrated aphrodisiac and shukral herb, it none the less supported this aspirant in his quest for brahmacharya or celibacy. His nocturnal emissions were unrelated to lust or excess libido, but were rather a manifestation of shukra gati vata--vata invading the shukra dhatu. Thus the vata soothing and shukra-rejuvenating impacts of vata served to eliminate his seminal emissions and support him on his yogic path. His anxiety calmed and his memory improved-- impacts of Ashwagandha on majja dhatu.
Another important specific rejuvenative for vata is sesame oil and its derivative forms-- medicated sesame oils such as Ashwagandha Bala Tailam. Sesame oil is considered a specific remedy for vata just as ghee is for pitta or honey for kapha. (5) Daily abhyanga is an essential feature of a vata-rejuvenating lifestyle.
"Abhyanga should be resorted to daily, it wards off old age, exertion and vata aggravation, bestows good vision, nourishment to the body, long life, good sleep, good and healthy skin."(6)
The sages of Ayurveda noted special properties of sesame oil that are now being validated by scientific research.
"Clarified butter prepared from cow's milk is the best of the animal snehas (oleaginous substances) while sesame oil is the best of the vegetable ones." (7)
"Oil of sesame possesses properties like penetrating deep into the tissues and spreading throughout the body fast...capable of entering into even minute pores, hot in potency, not increasing kapha, it makes lean persons fatty and fat persons lean, is constipating, kills worms, with appropriate processing, it cures all diseases." (8)
An important peer reviewed study published in the journal Anticancer Research showed that "sesame oil and its component linoleic acid, when added to human colon adenocarcinoma cells growing in tissue culture would inhibit their growth and that normal colon cells would not be similarly affected." Both lipase-digested sesame oil (such as would result from eating sesame oil) and undigested sesame oil (such as in oil basti) showed in vitro capacity to kill colon cancer cells without harming normal cells. This interesting study points to the possible usefulness of sesame oil basti not only in rejuvenating vata but also in preventing colon cancer. A study in Delhi investigated the possible benefits of vegetable oil massage in infants, concluding, "Massage improved the weight, length, and midarm and midleg circumferences as compared to infants without massage. However, in the group with sesame oil massage increase in length, midarm and midleg circumferences by 1.0, 0.9 and 0.7 cm, respectively was significant." (10)
Sesame oil is richly endowed with anti-oxidants, accoutring both for its special rejuvenative properties and for its ability be stored for long periods without becoming rancid.
A forty year old woman of vata prakruti complained of vata type chronic fatigue, depression, irregular menstruation and anxiety. Her symptoms worsened every fall and had also greatly exacerbated once she moved from California to the jangala environment of Colorado. She responded fairly well to a vata soothing formula including Ashwagandha, Vidari, and Dashamoola. However, her best ally was sesame oil and vata-soothing medicated sesame oils such as Vata Massage Oil. Regular self abhyanga with sesame oil, as well as sesame oil basti, helped her make it through the challenging fall season. Over a five year period of continuing to live in a vata provoking region, she found each fall and winter period went better than the preceding one, as long as she stuck with her practices of abhyanga and basti.
Above and beyond any herbal therapy, the best rejuvenative for vata is a good night's sleep.
"Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care, The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, Chief nourisher in life's feast." (11)
It is during sleep that the body engages in processes of growth and repair, and hence in the absence of proper sleep, even the best of rejuvenative herbs will prove ineffective. Yet all too often, as Wordsworth expressed,
"Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay, And could not win thee, Sleep! by any stealth: So do not let me wear tonight away: Without Thee what is all the morning's wealth?" (12)
In vata provocation, sleep, important as it is for vata, is often hard to attain. In extreme cases of vata type chronic fatigue, day and night become reversed, with disruption of the natural cortisol cycle. The patient is tired all day, only to become hyperactive at night. Eventually falling asleep after sunrise ushers in Kapha time, they then sleep until mid morning or later. However, day sleep only serves to exacerbate their insomnia and fatigue, as these hours are not optimal for the body's repair processes. Fortunately, our vata rejuvenation allies, Ashwagandha and sesame oil, both contribute to vata's ability to obtain the most vital rejuvenative of all. Possessed of activity similar to the calming neurotransmitter GABA, Ashwagandha helps induce sound sleep. A teaspoon of Ashwagandha in a cup of warm milk at bedtime will help promote sleep in a vata-deranged individual. Sesame oil massage is likewise invaluable in promoting sound sleep. Simply oiling the soles of the feet at bedtime with sesame oil or vata massage oil calms the system and induces good sleep. In addition, soporific and nervine herbs such as Bhringaraj, passionflower, nutmeg, skullcap and chamomile can promote sleep, the greatest vata rejuvenative. A formula such as Sound Sleep is thus valuable in the rejuvenation of vata.
With our key vata allies, Ashwagandha and sesame oil, all vata systems can be rejuvenated, and the impact of obstacles to health such as a naturally vata provoking region or onset of the vata time of life can be minimized if not eliminated.
- Ashtanga Hrdayam sutrasthana ch1 v23. tr Srikantha Murthy, Chowkhamba KrishnadasAcademy.
- Bhavaprakasha Nigantu, guduchiyadi varga
- Tohda C, Kuboyama T, Komatsu K.. Search for natural products related to regeneration of the neuronal network. Neurosignals. 2005;14(1-2):34-45
- Kuboyama T, Tohda C, Komatsu K. Neuritic regeneration and synaptic reconstruction induced by withanolide A. Br J Pharmacol. 2005 Apr;144(7):961-71.
- Ashtanga Hrdayam sutrasthana Ch1 v 25. op cit.
- Ashtanga Hrdayam sutrasthana Ch2 v 8. op cit
- Sushrut Samhita, Chikitsa Sthanam, Ch xxxi v 3. tr. KL Bhishagratna. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series.
- Ashtanga Hrdayam sutrasthana Ch 5 v 55-56 op cit.
- Salerno JW, Smith DE, The use of sesame oil and other vegetable oils in the inhibition of human colon cancer growth in vitro, Anticancer Res. 1991 Jan-Feb;11(1):209-15.
- Agarwal KN, Gupta A, et al, Effects of massage & use of oil on growth, blood flow & sleep pattern in infants. Indian J Med Res. 2000 Dec;112:212-7.
- Shakespeare, Macbeth.
- Wordsworth, To Sleep
All products mentioned in this article are available from www.banyanbotanicals.com.
Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma) is director of Alandi Ayurvedic Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and principal teacher of Alandi School of Ayurveda, a traditional ayurvedic school and apprenticeship program. She can be reached at 303-786-7437 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.