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Vijikarana is that which produces lineage of progeny, quick sexual stimulation, enables one to perform the sexual act with women uninterruptedly and vigorously like a horse, makes one charming for women, promotes indestructible and infallible semen even in old persons. Charak Samhita.

If I had thought ahead, this blog could have been ready for Valentine's. But I'm sure the topic is of year-round interest and especially as we head into spring! There are really three key aspects of male sexual rejuvenation:

  • Good diet and lifestyle
  • Ejaculatory control
  • Special Ayurvedic recipes known as vajikarana or aphrodisiacs.

Good Diet and Lifestyle

Young men: Burning the candle at both ends is not good for your sexual energy. Sleep and rest are needed to make semen. And Shakespeare's famous quote, "It promotes the desire but takes away the performance," applies to both alcohol and marijuana. These substances have both immediate and long term effects on your sexual functioning. Smoking cigarettes, which used to be seen as sexy, not only makes your mouth, skin and breath smell bad, it also constricts the blood vessels which need to dilate to give you an erection. And--eat real food! The only sexually rejuvenating thing about pizza is garlic.

Older men: Diet and lifestyle are crucial for your sexual health. Obesity, diabetes, pre-diabetes and high cholesterol are all bad news for sexual potency. These kapha conditions can gum up the blood vessels that supply your penis and even damage the nerves as well. So stay low-carb, have plenty of fruits and veggies, and exercise daily for sexual health just as much as for heart health. Job stress can wear away at libido--keep your priorities in place. Some blood pressure or cholesterol medications may harm virility. Depending on your individual health situation, an Ayurvedic practitioner might be able to help you avoid the need of such medications. Prevention is better than cure!

Ejaculatory Control

Typically, we in the West think of male orgasm and ejaculation as more or less synonymous. But men, like women, can experience different kinds of orgasm, which don't have to involve ejaculation. Developing ejaculatory control helps you conserve your sexual energy as well as please your partner more--especially a female partner. Learn ejaculatory control with the help of an excellent book, Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Male Sexual Energy.

Special Vajikarana Recipes

  • Ashwagandha milk: Drink a cup of warm milk at bedtime. Stir in a teaspoon of Ashwagandha and two pinches of nutmeg. The aphrodisiac effect comes on first and the soporific effect an hour later. Ideal for vata men or in winter.
  • Rose milk: Stir of spoonful of rose petal jam into a cup of warm milk and drink at bedtime. Rose petal jam (gulkund) is avaiable from Indian grocery stores or Maharishi Ayurveda outlets. Use the ashwagandha recipe in cold weather and the rose recipe in summer.
  • Shatavari milk: Drink a cup of warm milk at bedtime. Stir in a teaspoon of shatavari. This recipe is good year-round for pitta men.
  • Triphala vajikarana: Leave triphala paste left overnight in an iron vessel. Next day, mix it with licorice tea and take with ghee and honey. This is the best one for kapha men.
  • Almond and rice dessert is a delicious vajiakarana and can be eaten prior to or after lovemaking.
  • If you're feeling adventurous, try making urad dal kheer (payasam). This traditional recipe is found in the Ananga Ranga Sutra, a classical manual on the erotic arts.
  • Your personal vajikarana formula: Visit your Ayurvedic practitioner to receive a personal vajikarana formula tailored to your needs.

Various kinds of nutritious and palatable food, sweet, luscious and refreshing liquid cordials, speech that gladdens the ears and touch that seems delicious to the skin, clear nights mellowed by the beams of the full moon and damsels young, beautiful and gay, dulcet songs that charm the soul and captivate the mind, use of betel-leaves, wine and wreaths of flowers and a merry, careless heart; these are the best aphrodisiacs in life. Sushruta Samhita


Next time--sexual rejuvenation for women!


As spring approaches you might be thinking about cleaning out closets and drawers or scrubbing paintwork. According to the ancient texts of Ayurveda, in spring we also need to clean out kapha from our bodies. During the winter months, kapha has accumulated in the form of excess slime, mucus and phlegm. We might be noticing post nasal drip, stuffy sinuses, cough, breathlessness, sluggishness, lethargy, weight gain or a tendency to fall asleep after eating. These are all symptoms of kapha buildup. As spring comes and the snows melt, kapha liquifies. This could result in spring colds or allergies. So during the spring season we need to expell excess kapha.

The time from mid March to early May is ideal for pancha karma, a special Ayurvedic cleasing program tailored to individual needs. You might have heard about pancha karma but imagine that it is an expensive process done in a resort or spa, or something you need to travel to India to experience. But while these are possible ways to go though pancha karma, you can also do PK (as we like to call pancha karma) in your own home at minimal expense, or receive some treatments from a local PK therapist, who will provide therapies as indicated by your Ayurvedic practitioner. However, you will need to get a few days off work, just one reason why it's important to plan ahead!

Before starting your week of pancha karma, you will need to prepare your body with a month of cleansing herbs. So this is the time to visit your Ayurvedic practitioner to discuss pancha karma. During your pre-PK visit, your practitioner will:

  • Asses your overall health history to see if PK is appropriate for you this spring
  • Give attention to any habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol (more than a glass a week), bingeing or drinking coffee. If you have an active habit, there's a danger you will slip back into it right after PK and do yorself more harm than good.
  • Give suggestions for cleaning up your diet in preparation for PK
  • Create a personalized cleansing formula to prepare you for PK
  • Create your personal PK plan and co-ordinate with other care providers such as PK therapist
  • Ensure that you have all the needed products for your cleanse, such as specialized oils etc.

Even if you're not doing PK, spring is still a good time to re-evaluate your diet and habits and take some cleansing herbs. After all, it's Lent, a tradtional time to give up bad habits! Enjoy some special recipes such as Cleansing Kitcheri, Liver Cleanse Sabji or Daikon and Mustard Greens. And check in with your practitioner for a spring tune up.

Valentines Deer.jpg

There's a whispering of spring in the air! This year Valentine's Day will be closely followed by Mahashivaratri, the Great Night of Shiva. These two celebrations of life, love and fertility bring the reality of spring nearer. In Boulder County, mountain bluebirds will soon be returning. Great-horned owls and golden eagles are starting to build their nests, yellow mahonia blooms in the foothills and butterflies may venture out on sunny days to sip the oozing sap.

The weeks between now and mid March are a transitional period between the warming and vata soothing regimens of winter and the lightening and cleansing of spring. The windy weather of early spring and the sudden snows and cold snaps are drying and roughening. So we still need to wrap up warmly, keep our homes warm and avoid cold draughts. In England we have a saying, "Ne'er cast a clout 'til May is out." This roughly translates as: 'It's better in this season to be overdressed than underdressed.' Keep going with your oil massages, soups and broths, but start using nasya (nose drops) as well. Ask your Ayurvedic practitioner to recommend the best spring nasya for your body type, or make your own ginger-rose-jaggery nasya, consisting of a decoction of equal parts fresh ginger, organic rose petals and jaggery. Jaggery, a product made from boiled down sugar cane juice, is avaialble in Indian stores (and Mexican markets too). This preparation is tridoshically balanced, the coolness of rose balancing the heat of ginger.

As you start transitioning your diet from winter to spring, begin adding some green salads and cooked bitter greens. Take a lighter breakfast than in winter. And enjoy recipes that are both cleansing and grounding, such as Daikon Sabji with Mustard Greens, Cabbage and Chickpea Soup and Beet Raita. Gently begin your spring cleansing by taking triphala. Steep half a teasoon of tripahala in boiling water for ten minutes, strain and drink at bedtime.

Take some time on Mahashivaratri, February 17th, to chant, pray or meditate and have a great early spring!


Playing the Irish Washerwoman

The summer before last, I was staying with my sister Kate in rural Donegal, in the West of Ireland. One morning, I heard my brother-in-law, Sean, playing Irish fiddle while my niece, Emily, played penny whistle. I stepped into the room and began accompanying them with claps. "I know that song, The Irish Washerwoman," I remarked. "I must have played it long ago for my violin grade exams." At that, Sean thrust a fiddle into my hands.

"Play it! Play The Irish Washerwoman!"

Sean had thrown me a challenge. True, after years of instruction and thousands of hours of practice, the violin wasn't exactly new to me. But there had been a multi-decade gap since my violin student days. And, even for an adept classical violinist, Celtic fiddle is a chance to begin anew, with fresh styles and techniques. Would I take up the challenge and make room in my already full life for something new and different? Or, once I returned to my normal routine in America, would I go back to 'business as usual'? Would Irish fiddle be anything more than a holiday fling?

What makes us respond to new challenges? And what holds us back, keeps us in the same rut, doing things because we always do it that way? When we take on something new or do things differently, our entire mind-body complex has a chance to grow, developing fresh roots and branches. Underused muscles are trained, fresh synaptic connections made, new friendships created. If the call of the new is relocation or travel, new vistas open up to us. If we undertake something novel in our current location, we discover unforeseen venues and social circumstances, experiencing our old hometown in a different way.

Yet paradoxically, we may be avoiding new challenges precisely because of the potential benefits they offer. More often than not, we cling to old patterns that have long reinforced our sense of identity--ahamkar, the illusory identification. We hold these patterns in our musculature, resisting the new yoga class or exercise routine that could help to re-pattern us. We cling to old emotions in our fat, continuing to eat the comfort foods that fill our fat cells. We create routines and thought patterns that may not serve us but promote our sense of me and mine. "Me, I'm so busy. Me, I'm so overworked. Me, I'm so undervalued. Me, I'm so important".

Opening ourselves to new challenges and letting go of old patterns are two inner revolutions that go hand in hand. We need to let go of habits that don't serve us in order to make room for new interests and activities. And we need fresh stimulus and new input to divert us from the deeply-rutted road of old habits. For example, we could take a morning walk with a friend instead of meeting that friend for coffee. According to Ayurveda, unhealthy habits are best reduced gradually and healthy habits are best introduced slowly. If we typically eat out, we could begin by planning one day a week to cook. Perhaps we cook with our significant other as a social activity and enjoy a meal together. Gradually we acquire kitchen utensils and ingredients and begin collecting recipes. The food is better and less expensive and soon we are cooking twice a week, then three times a week. Cooking becomes a hobby, then a passion and eventually we find we have become a gourmet cook and we're giving dinner parties and organizing potlucks. Now eating out is just an occasional treat and home-cooked food is our lifestyle. We have a new skillset and a deeper appreciation for food and eating.

Although there can be many benefits to taking on a new challenge, not everything that is novel is necessarily beneficial. As we all know, 'New!' is a favored hype word in the world of marketing. As a society we have taken on an attitude of 'because we can.' We have dammed rivers, built vast cities, conquered space, split the atom, cloned sheep and genetically engineered our food 'because we can.' When faced with the opportunity to get out of a rut or break a pattern, it's important to ask why. What is the benefit of this new activity? For people leading a mediocre and stultifying life in the late fifties and early sixties, 'wife-swapping parties' came into vogue--still known and practiced today as the Swinging lifestyle, perhaps because the latter phrase sounds less sexist than 'wife swapping', which implies that women are property. No doubt Swinging is challenging, at least at first, and no doubt it is perceived as something new. The question is--does it benefit? Is it a challenge worth taking?

Opening our lives to new challenges requires discrimination as well as willingness and perseverance. In Vedic dharma we are taught that there are four legitimate aims of life--dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Of these aims of life, artha or wealth and kama or pleasure are pursued under the umbrella of dharma, that is, in accordance with the divine order, or in alignment with the true nature of things. Dharma is an overarching principle that invites us to free ourselves from the sway of craving, anger and ignorance. Dharma can only be set aside when we enter the dynamic of moksha or liberation. Within the dynamic of moksha, our whole being is consumed by the passion for the welfare of all. Rules no longer apply only because we have no inclination at all to do anything that would harm another being. As St Augustine said, 'Love and do what you like.'

In the two examples given above, home cooking and 'wife swapping', kama or the pleasure principle is involved. Once we begin to derive pleasure from cooking at home, we want to do it more and more. This starts to benefit our health, our pocketbook and our relationships, as we take up the challenge of pursuing kama in accordance with dharma. In the 'wife-swapping' example, there is an opportunity to pursue kama outside dharma. Fuelling our craving, we soon become satisfied only by more and more extreme stimuli, becoming enslaved to that which we supposed would 'free' us.

The call of the new can be the clarion call of awakening or the siren song of seduction. When our life is shallow, when we live on the surface and lack meaning, we yearn for the new, yet we often choose the siren's song to lull us asleep amid the mediocrity. Instead, we can hold ourselves ready for invitations to deeper meaning. Sometimes, 'do what most you fear to do,' can be a good guideline; inviting courage, revealing a profound challenge that leads to growth. Overcoming our fears and limitations, we become stronger and fuller, living life with more depth and enthusiasm. But first we need to check in and see what part of us is fearful. There is no need to do what our conscience fears, but every reason to do what our old patterns dread.

A new year is a time to experience a sense of willingness to take on new challenges, readiness to encounter what these challenges bring up and discrimination to discern how to respond to the various challenges and invitations that present themselves. Is this a life-giving opportunity or a diversion from our path?

Eighteen months after my visit to Donegal, I'm still practicing fiddle daily and connecting with Sean on Skype for lessons. Despite all the difficulties of taking on something new, I am making time to renew my childhood love affair with the violin. I'm gaining upper body strength, honing my musical skills, nourishing my Celtic roots and making some great new friends. And I'm working on my classical violin skills as well. Slowly I'm overcoming performance anxiety and letting go of the fear of failure. I have a wonderful new stress release activity at end of a busy day. I'm glad I took up a challenge, because it has brought more joy into my life!


I was gifted this Zephirin Amelot violin when I was ten years old!

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Winter light by Sadananda

New year offers us an opportunity to make a fresh start and look anew at our life and our goals. What is the gap between our aspirations and our actuality? What can we do to bridge that gap? New Year also comes amid a whirl of holiday parties and indulgences when many of us fall so far out of our routine that it can seem difficult to get back into it. As we leave the holiday season behind and launch into the exciting possibilities, challenges and opportunities of 2015, let us take a look at ways we can relieve and release stress on all levels and enter the New Year feeling physically cleansed, emotionally balanced and mentally peaceful, with clear priorities and soaring aspirations.

Much of the January stress we experience is physical. Too much Halloween candy, too much Thanksgiving turkey (or tofurky), too many latkes or too many Christmas cookies, not enough exercise--the holidays have stressed our physical system.

So the first way to relieve holiday stress is to go on a simple cleansing diet. This is basically a mono-diet suited to our constitution. A typical winter cleanse could consist of a kitcheri diet for a week or so. This cleansing diet actually saves you time and money as your food preparation each day becomes very simple.

If you feel that rice for three meals a day would provide too many carbohydrates, you can do a balancing cleanse with mung soup. Basically follow the same recipe but leave out the rice. Alternatively, Kapha may prefer to substitute barley for rice. It's also possible to do an Andean cleanse by making a one-pot dish of quinoa and vegetables, with the same spices as the kitcheri recipe. And if you are not vegetarian, you can do a "Jewish penicillin" cleanse by fasting on chicken soup with carrots--but leave out the noodles during your cleanse!

In my family, after so much heavy eating on Christmas Day, we always went for a brisk walk by the sea on Boxing Day, as we call the day after Christmas. There is a lot of wisdom in this simple custom. Many of us feel that New Year is the time to join a gym, but let's not forget the importance of fresh air and natural environments. A wonderful way to de-stress your body and mind is to take a brisk walk in the park, beside a creek, river or lake, or in the woods. Not only are we taking aerobic exercise, we are also refreshing prana, our vital force.

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A Boxing Day walk at Llanrhysrud

The holidays also bring unusual levels of emotional stress. Some of us make long journeys to visit relatives with whom we have a difficult past history or challenging relationship. Some of us have been hosting people who don't treat us respectfully or considerately. Some of us feel lonely because we don't have family to gather with, or because life has changed since a divorce or relocation. Many of us experience grief in the absence of a loved one who has died. As we come into the New Year, we need some simple ways to relieve emotional stress.

Getting clear about what we need is a swift and simple way to relieve emotional stress. We are looking here at our needs in terms of universal human needs. If we are thinking, 'I need to....' then we are not really talking about a need, but rather about a strategy to meet a need. Beneath that strategy is a universal human need rather than a specific thing we need to get or do. 'I need to take a break,' for example, is actually a strategy. The universal need underneath is, 'I need space. 'I need for these folks to start treating me better' comes down to, 'I need respect,' or ' I need appreciation.' As soon as we identify our need in terms of universal needs, we heave an inward sigh of relief. It's good to be heard; it's even better to hear yourself. This is known as self-empathy. What's more, we can practice self-empathy swiftly and silently in the midst of the chaos. To learn more about self-empathy and universal needs, visit the website of the Center for Nonviolent Communication or read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg.

Emotional stress can also be eased by a quick grounding practice. If you are standing, connect with your feet. If seated, connect with your tailbone. Feel roots grow from your feet or tailbone and extend through the green vegetation, through the water table, through the bedrock, deep into the centre of the Earth. Feel all your stress and tension releasing into the Earth. Breathe calm, peaceful golden earth energy up into your heart. With an inner or outer 'namaste', say thank you to Mother Earth.

Anther way to release tension and stress is to hug a tree in your backyard or a public park. The tree has plenty of time to process and so will not be harmed by sharing your load. Feel the tree's roots deep in the earth, the trees branches extending into the sky. Allow the tree to take your stress and the emotional burdens you carry and to fill you with clear, fresh prana or vitality.

We also come into the New Year with a burden of mental stress and tension that furrows our brow. New Year is often a time when I like to clean out closets and drawers, getting rid of things that are no longer needed. Yet it is still more important to clear out our priorities. As my teacher, the late great Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi liked to say, "The necessary tends to overwhelm the important." The things we have to do can take over the time, leaving no room for the things we are really here to do.

So here is a great practice for New Year. Make a list of all the things you do during a typical week, shopping, laundry, working, yoga, reading, email--all your activities. Now rank these activities in order of importance to you as a holistic being. Next, rank this same set of activities in order of the amount of time you spend on this activity each week. You may be surprised to see a vast discrepancy. Some years ago, after doing this exercise, I realized that two thirds of my time was being spent on things that almost anyone else would do better, faster and more efficiently, leaving only a third of my time for the activities that were most important to me. It was soon clear that I had to either eliminate some things or find other ways to get them done. While not as short and sweet as some of the other practices we have mentioned, this exercise is an important way to enter the New Year with clear priorities.

On a fundamental level, our stress comes from a case of mistaken identity. We imagine that we are the doer. This is extremely stressful since many things keep happening that are beyond our control. As Woody Allen said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans." There is a story about a man in India riding a train with his suitcase on his head. When fellow passengers urged him to put the suitcase on the luggage rack, he replied, " I bought a ticket only for myself, not for my suitcase." We may laugh at this story, but we do this all the time. So a very quick and easy way to relieve mental stress and tension is to say to yourself, "Put it on the luggage rack."

The physical, emotional and mental aspects of our being may carry various forms of stress, but our spiritual being, our true nature, always rests in tranquility. We can draw upon this essential nature in moving through life in a calm and effortless way. Just chanting 'Om shanti, shanti, shantih' is a simple and effective way of wishing deep peace and tranquility to our physical, emotional and mental levels. The magic of Sanskrit is such that the meaning is inherent in the sound of the word, so when we chant shanti we immediately feel a tangible sense of peace. We can also send loving kindness to ourselves and to all fellow beings, repeating 'May I be happy' with each in breath and 'May all beings be happy' with each out breath. Breathe in 'May I be happy' sending warmth and loving kindness to every cell of your body. Breathe out 'May all beings be happy,' as you radiate warmth and loving kindness to everyone in the building, the neighborhood, the city or town, the state, the country and finally to the whole world. You can do this practice at the end of your meditation or yoga session, at the start of your day, or while riding the bus to work or waiting for your flight to board.

Finally, let us not forget the most important part of your toolkit for launching into 2015--a sense of humor. Laughter is a great stress release. While you cleanse your body and balance your mind and emotions, remember to lighten up, laugh, sing, and enjoy yourself. Have a wonderful New Year, with a fresh beginning every morning and plenty of laughs along the way.

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My parents loved France. When my father was alive, they used to visit France every year. Their trips included visits to their favourite wine chateaux, where they acquired new finds for their wine cellar. My mother, a retired doctor, was--indeed, still is--an avid reader of the British Medical Journal. So of course, my parents were delighted when studies started coming out claiming that a glass of wine a day would help prevent cardiovascular disease. "Got to have our rations," they would chuckle, as they settled down to a good dinner of home-grown vegetables with a glass of excellent wine.

Alas! A new report claims that, where cancer is concerned, no amount of alcohol is safe.
This unsettling warning is offered in the 2014 World Cancer Report (WCR), issued by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In fact alcohol was declared a carcinogen as far back as 1988. A causal relationship exists between alcohol consumption and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon-rectum, liver, and female breast; a significant relationship also exists between alcohol consumption and pancreatic cancer. This relationship is dose-dependent, meaning that the more alcohol you drink, the greater the risk. Alcohol consumption may also play a part in the causation of leukemia, multiple myeloma and cancers of the cervix, and skin--although in these latter cases, more research is needed before a definite conclusion could be drawn.

Unfortunately, some of the studies suggest that even light drinking is associated with increased risk for cancers of the mouth, oesophagus and breast. Here I must admit to some skepticism, as these studies involved self-reporting about the amount of alcohol consumed. In my experience, people typically report only about half their actual use.

Does the type of alcohol matter? In general, not, according to this report. However, hard liquor like whiskey and vodka is especially dangerous for the delicate tissues of the oesophagus (gullet). And smoking really compounds matters, since alcohol and tobacco have been found to have a synergistic effect in terms of cancer causation in the mouth, larynx, pharynx and oesophagus.

What about alcohol's cardio-protective effects? This depends upon using alcohol the way my parents did. Remember, my Mum actually read the studies carefully and critically. They had a half glass each--a glass at most--in the evening with dinner. On the other hand, a patient of mine insisted on the beneficial effects of two to three glasses of wine each night. A Vietnam veteran, he was probably self-medicating PTSD. And of course, he did develop not only liver disease, but also hypertension and stroke--both of which are associated with heavy alcohol use.

The best approach drinking wine remains the nuanced Ayurvedic view described in our last blog. Here are a few pointers based on the latest research:

  • If you drink, only drink lightly
  • Don't binge or indulge in heavy drinking bouts
  • Don't smoke, especially if you drink
  • Avoid hard liquor
  • If you are at high risk for breast or colon cancer, don't drink at all.
  • A good meal in good company is the best intoxicant, even without wine

Dad growing the vegetables they had at dinner with wine!

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In a previous blog, we looked at how various meats and alcoholic beverages are recommended for use in the winter months. Today, let's take a look at some Ayurvedic perspectives on alcohol.
How and why might we use alcohol in an Ayurvedic context?

One of the most important texts of Ayurveda is Charak Samhita. Charak takes a nuanced view of alcohol use and abuse. Wine, "is like a nectar when someone drinks it in the proper manner, in the proper quantity, at the proper time, with wholesome food, adjusted for the strength of the individual and with merrymaking. On the other hand, it acts like a poison when one indulges in drinking wine of poor quality, or in the context of a disorderly lifestyle or excess physical exertion." This same dilemma confronts us to this day. Alcohol can be a pleasant or even beneficial component of a celebratory meal, or it can be the destroyer of lives and families.

Wine has ten properties: it is light, sharp, hot, subtle, sour, quickly absorbed, quick acting, drying, sedative and rough. These ten qualities are exactly the same as the ten qualities of poison. When consumed in great excess, alcohol can cause coma and death. It is a notorious liver toxin and brain poison. Regular excess consumption can cause hepatic cirrhosis and eventually alcohol dementia. But, in line with Charak's nuanced approach, the same qualities that make alcohol a poison also render it a yoga vahi, an excellent vehicle for introducing medicines into the tissues. This is the rationale behind the use of tinctures, as well as the various medicated wines used in Ayurveda, known as asavas and arishtas. The most well-known and commonly used outside India is drakshasava, a wine made from dark grapes or raisins and spices such as cardamom.

Because wine is an intoxicant, Charak gives importance to set and setting for consuming alcohol. This is not something to be done casually, nor when alone, nor when sad or stressed. Make sure your body is externally and internally clean before partaking. Dress up nicely, in clean clothes and jewellery and wear essential oils suited to the season. Recline on a comfortable couch with cushions. Your environment should also be uplifted, with flower arrangements and incense. Drink in a pleasant social setting, with guests whose company you enjoy. Sincerity and affection are key qualities in this context.

Charak actually recommends using a gold wine-cup, like the Mycaenean one pictured here.


This makes sense in that gold only dissolves in aqua regis and hence would not contaminate the wine or impart a metallic taste. Nowadays we are more likely to use crystal (or cut glass, for UK readers). My father used to emphasize polishing the wineglasses nicely so they were not just clean, but sparkling. Charak would agree. And Charak also gives importance to pairing good food with good wine, mentioning fruits, green vegetables, well seasoned dishes and roasted meats.

In ancient times a libation was offered before drinking wine. Today we might make a toast, or do kiddush, or at least say "Cheers" or
sláinte (in Irish,) santé (French), or l'chaim (in Hebrew). In other words, there should be some sense of sacredness, offering, blessing or well-wishing before partaking.

Finally, Charak offers some special precautions for each dosha.

Vata: Wine is drying for you. Make sure you get an oil massage (or self-massage) and hot shower or steam before drinking. Have warm and oily food before taking wine. Prefer sweet to dry wines.

Pitta: Wine is heating for your constitution. Take a lukewarm or cool bath, use a rosewater spritzer, wear sandalwood or vetiver essential oil and loose clothing. Select a menu of sweet, bitter and astringent foods such as green vegetables, sweet potatoes etc. Choose red wine or mead (honey wine).

Kapha: Wine adds extra calories to your meal. To get your metabolism going, season your food with black pepper. Use kapha-soothing grains such as barley or quinoa.
Choose red wine or mead (honey wine).

Next week, we will look at some of the latest medical research regarding alcohol. Is it beneficial? Is it safe? We'll find out next week.

We use wine for merrymaking (sometimes in excess)

Merrymakers, 1870, Carolus Duran, Detroit Institute of Arts

And for rituals as well, like Kiddush.


Painting by Hevda Ferenci.


"I'm interested in Ayurveda but I eat meat. Isn't that a conflict?" Perhaps you or a friend of yours has had this question. After all, Ayurveda comes from India, where there is a history of over two millennia of vegetarianism. The vegetarian diet, based on respect for all life, comes from India's little-known Jain tradition. Now comparatively obscure, Jainism was the predominant cult of a large portion of India from the fifth to twelfth centuries. During this time, the doctrine of ahimsa (non-violence) and vegetarianism spread widely. But Ayurveda is much more ancient than this. And the texts of Ayurveda make provision for meat eaters as well as vegetarians. So while there are many good and some compelling reasons to be vegetarian, Ayurveda isn't actually one of them.

As we mentioned in our previous blog, Ayurveda recommends meat as a warming and strengthening food during the winter. But that doesn't mean you should hurry over to Arby's--what to speak of McDonald's! The meat used at fast food outlets usually comes from CAFO (concentrated feeding operations or feedlots). To find out what's really in your burger, look here. And even a grass fed steak may not be your best choice.

If you have turned to Ayurveda in the hope of healing a chronic illness, fatigue or digestive problems, chances are that your agni or digestive fire is low. And whatever the nutrients in that steak, they won't do you any good if you can't digest and absorb them. In fact, dense and heavy foods tend to make agni even weaker and to build up ama or toxins. So we want to use meat-based foods in ways that support rather than impair your healing process.

Here are some key points:

  • Meat soups (including chicken soup) help build muscle and strength
  • Bone broths build bone, strengthen the nervous system and improve digestion (especially chicken broth)
  • Spices help meat foods to digest
  • Stews and curries are more digestible and nutritious than steaks and burgers.
  • Ginger, turmeric, cilantro, cinnamon and cumin are super-foods and help you get the most out of meat foods
  • If you don't want your food to taste "Indo", try Persian or Moroccan recipes. They also use beneficial spices
  • For a more Western taste, you can use garlic, bay, oregano, basil and thyme.

Most Ayurvedic cookbooks are vegetarian focused. However, Alandi's friend Lois Leonhardi has written a great book, Eat Well, Be Well addressing the needs of mainstream society, including recipes for non-vegetarian diets. Some of my patients also like Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions.
Here is a collection of recipe suggestions:

Bone Broth Recipes:
Broths, Stocks and Bone Broths
Beef Bone Broth
Chicken Bone Broth
Fish Stock

Meat Soup Recipes:
Gluten Free Chicken Noodle Soup

It's an exceptionally bad "flu season this year. In a previous blog, we offered herbal teas for 'flu.
In case you do get 'flu this year, here are some tips for the post-'flu blues.

During the post-flu period, you may feel listless, depressed, ragged and having low energy. At this time it is good to take rejuvenative herbs to rebuild the energy of the respiratory and nervous systems. Ayurveda recommends a preparation called Chyavanprash at this time. (See ingredients here.) Take a teaspoonful of Chyavanprash in the morning on an empty stomach and another teaspoon in the afternoon, around 3pm, right at the time when you feel like eating cookies or chocolate. If you tolerate milk, it can be good to drink a cup of cow's milk twenty minutes after taking the Chyavanprash. If you do not take cows milk, you may take a non-dairy almond drink.

English: Shelled almonds (Prunus dulcis) Itali...

English: Shelled almonds (Prunus dulcis) Italiano: Mandorle sgusciate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Non-dairy almond drink:

Soak 10 raw almonds in 1-cup pure water overnight.

In the morning, drain off the water. Rub the skins off the almonds.

Soak 20 raisins in 1-cup pure water overnight or several hours

Pour the raisins and their soaking water in the blender with the drained & peeled almonds and add:

1 tablespoon organic rose petals (optional- rejuvenative),

1 tsp. ghee (rejuvenative),

1/32 tsp. saffron (increases digestion & rejuvenative),

1/8 tsp. ground cardamom (increases digestion),

Pinch of black pepper (helps control kapha)

Blend until smooth.

To rejuvenate both your lungs and your nervous system, drink tulsi ginger tea.

If depression is a significant feature of your post-flu experience, drink Brahmi tea. Steep 1tsp. Brahmi in boiling water for 10 minutes, strain well, add honey and drink 3 times daily, between meals. Do not drink brahmi at bedtime unless you add milk or almond milk, otherwise the Brahmi will create alertness.


Winter in Massachusetts by Sadananda

During winter, our strength is increased because the cold constricts our skin capillaries. The heat doesn't dissipate as it does in other seasons and agni, the digestive fire, is much stronger. If we don't take care to eat heavier foods and larger portions in winter, the increased digestive fire starts to consume our tissues. This is particularly dangerous in the case of elderly people, whose tissues can't build up as well as they used to. The vata, or bodily wind, helps agni digest the tissues. So it's important to eat warm, well cooked foods and to make use of the three tastes that calm vata--sweet, sour and salty. At Alandi Ashram, we make big jars of kimchi in winter for a sour, salty and warming condiment and eat miso soups. We bake winter squashes and use sweet potatoes, yams and squashes in our soups and dals to bring in the sweet taste. We also enjoy warming antiviral teas like tulsi tea and ginger tea.

On winter mornings, calm vata with an abhyanga (oil massage) using oil medicated with vata-soothing herbs such as ashwagandha and bala. Recommended oil blends are Ashwagandhadi tailam or Ashwagandha Bala Oil.

After the long winter night, you will probably have a keen appetite for breakfast following your yoga or morning exercise.
Take a warm, nourishing breakfast such as oatmeal with toasted almonds, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. Other ideas are uppama, Spicy Quinoa Breakfast Burrito, Spicy Scrambled Eggs or Kitcheri.

The ancient Ayurvedic texts recommend chicken soups or meat soups in winter, meat curries, sweet wines, cordials, urad dal, semolina dishes, milk products, and use of ghee and oils like mustard oil and sesame oil. Some readers might be surprised to see meat and liquor being recommended, although there is no doubt these are heating foods. In subsequent blogs we will explain more about how and why to use or abstain from these foods.

Avoid drafts, making sure your house is well-insulated. Wear warm boots, thick sweaters and cozy socks and use warm slippers indoors. Wool and cotton blankets are recommended. And keep warm beside the one you love. The Ayurvedic texts recommend sexual activity in winter, when our strength is increased. So cuddle up to your honey--and remember to practice safe sex!

Trident in the snow at Alandi Ashram photo by Alakananda

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