Tag Archives: ayurveda

Indian Kitchen Secrets That Boost Your Health

It is not an understatement to say that along with words like quarantine and lockdown, immunity was also one of 2020’s buzz words.  Immunity simply means protection and in the context of the human body, refers to its capacity to fight infections by resisting the action of ‘foreign’ bodies or toxins, thereby protecting the body.  

Immunity is built over a period of time through lifestyle and dietary changes.  Nourishing your body with the right foods, exercising, keeping your mind stress free and getting enough sleep, are just some of the ways you can help keep your body healthy and strong.

Indian Kitchen: a treasure house for immunity boosting foods

There are several foods that help build immunity in the body and with seasonal changes around the corner, it is important to include them in your diet to keep protected against colds, coughs and minor infections of the throat.  

Citrus fruits, whole nuts, leafy greens and fermented foods like yogurt work wonders in nourishing the immune system. 

It’s no secret that the Indian kitchen is replete with foods that boost immunity.  The Indian pantry is full of indigenous ingredients used for centuries to keep the body nourished and healthy.  Traditional recipes, basically the ones grandma always recommended – “haldi doodh” (popularly called turmeric latte in the west), dry fruit ladoos made from ghee, or even the amala (gooseberry) candies you pop into your mouth to fight nausea, are some of the commonly known home remedies to boost internal health.  

While the benefits of pepper, ginger, garlic and turmeric are well known, other commonly used ingredients like cinnamon, cumin, honey, and jaggery also have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial properties that help keep the body healthy.    

Here’s a look at the benefits of these spices:

  • Cinnamon: a delectable spice we are all familiar with, cinnamon is highly effective against bacterial and fungal infections and is known to have positive effects on heart health as well as blood sugar levels.
  • Coriander seeds (dhania): are rich in vitamin A and C, effective in curing coughs and colds, and also aids digestion.
  • Cumin seeds (jeera): a commonly used spice, jeera has several anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties and is known to aid in weight loss as well improve digestive health.
  • Carom (ajwain): is yet another elixir for gut health, flatulence and helps aid weight loss.
  • Fennel seeds (saunf): has several nutrients like vitamin C, calcium, potassium etc. and helps aid digestion.
  • Jaggery is rich in minerals like iron and zinc and is a good source of energy.  It is a blood purifier, cleanses the body and is excellent for liver and intestinal health.
  • Honey has healing properties and is a good source of antioxidants apart from having positive effects on cholesterol and blood pressure levels.  It is used to heal coughs, colds and sore throats and builds immunity.

Here are some home remedies that are effective in protecting your body against common ailments.

Home-made mixture for cough, cold and sore throat

  • Ginger powder: 1 tbsp or 2 tbsp freshly extracted ginger juice
  • Cinnamon powder: 1 tsp
  • Turmeric: 1 tsp
  • Pepper: 1 tsp
  • Honey: 2-3 tbsp
  • Mix the above powders thoroughly and then add honey.  Mix well.  Consume 2-3 times a day.

Home-made Kashayam (herbal tea) that helps build immunity

Dry roast the below ingredients and blend into a fine powder:

  • Coriander seeds: 2 tbsp
  • Jeera seeds: 1 tbsp
  • Fennel seeds: 2 tsp
  • Carom seeds: 2 tsp
  • Peppercorns: 1 tsp

You can increase the quantities and store the powder in an airtight jar.

Take 2 tsp of Kashayam, add it to a glass of hot milk.  Add 1-2 tsp of jaggery per your taste and consume hot. This Kashayam is a perfect panacea if you are down with body ache, sore throat or slight temperature.  

Herbal teas to prepare at home using greens that are a powerhouse of nutrients.

  • Lemon grass: replete with antioxidants, this fragrant shrub has eugenol which is a stress reliever.  It also helps regulate blood sugar levels and is rich in vitamin A, C and potassium.
  • Rosemary: again, an excellent herb known for its aromatic flavor, rosemary is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and known to improve blood circulation.  Excellent for the skin and hair, it is also a great stress reliever and helps improve one’s mood.
  • Brahmi: known as the herb of grace, brahmi is intrinsic to all Ayurvedic medicines and is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.  Apart from being good for the hair and skin, it is a memory booster, effective for reducing fever and is known for its positive effects on patients suffering from diseases like Dementia and Alzheimer’s.  

For preparing the tea, just brew 3-4 leaves of brahmi (or 1 small strand of Lemon grass or 1 sprig in case of rosemary) in water for about five minutes.  You can add a tsp of pepper, elaichi powder and some jaggery (or honey) for taste.  Mix well and drink when hot.  

Natural mixture for inhalation

Nothing compares to the relief rendered by a quick steam inhalation when you are down with a flu, stuffy nose or headache.  Consider using some ingredients mentioned above to prepare a healthy mix for inhalation.  Take a thick bottom vessel, add sufficient water and add in a tsp of turmeric powder along with one or more of any of the following ingredients:

  • 2-3 used lemon peels left over after extracting the juice
  • Peel of half an orange 
  • Peel of a small piece of ginger 
  • 3-4 strands of lemon grass
  • a sprig of rosemary

Boil the water thoroughly, cover your head with a towel  and inhale for at least 2 minutes. 


Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance writer from Bangalore, India. She mainly writes on lifestyle, culture, food, and decor. She has been published in Indian national newspapers and international publications like NatGeo Traveller.
Photo by Ratul Ghosh on Unsplash
Photo by Marion Botella on Unsplash

Notes From an Indian American Ayurvedic Massage Patient

(Featured Image by Prakriti Ayurveda Center)

Veena and Devi, the two young women who were to be my massage therapists, start their procedure with an invocation to Dhanvantari, the god of medicine and Ayurveda. At the end of the invocation, they chant ‘lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu (may all beings everywhere be happy and free) three times in their clear voices, every day, for the seventeen days of my treatment, taking turns to stand in front of me, right palm on the top of my head where a few drops of warm herbal oil have been dribbled to start the routine. I sit there on the massage table in nothing but a skimpy konakam (loin cloth), mesmerized by the sounds and simple tune of the invocation that bounces off the bare walls of the treatment room. 

This last line spins in my head like a song that is stuck in a good way. The tune stays true to theirs but the words change to ‘let go, surrender, savor the moment’. The only way to savor each moment is by learning to let go. Letting go, as in disconnecting the body from the mind. To stop thinking of body parts as ‘buttocks’, ‘breasts’, ‘thighs.’ Most of all, to get rid of identifying these body parts as mine. Only then am I able to relax and enjoy the power of touch – the main sense awakened during the treatment.

Once the invocation is over, the ears are at rest – the massage is done in silence. The only sound is the drone of the ceiling fan. Occasionally, sounds seep in from the outside, like the caw-caw of a crow in the neem tree or the drawn-out ‘pay-paar’ call of the recycling trader, bicycling the neighborhood shopping for old newspaper. I close my eyes through most of the hour in order to better take in the smells – the next most salient sense that is evoked during these massages. Fragrances fill the room – herbal oils, camphor, roasted pumpkin, wild brown rice, boiling milk.

Image by Prakriti Ayurveda Studio

Apart from some perennially inflamed finger joints, I did not have any major problems when I walked into Prakriti, the Ayurvedic center close to where I was staying on this trip to Chennai. But I had time on my hands so decided to check it out. The doctor, also a young woman, very well-spoken, spent an hour with me asking me questions. She told me how Ayurveda treats not just symptoms but works holistically on the entire body. Most treatments improve blood circulation and remove impurities at a cellular level, thus reducing inflammation. She prescribed a detox and rejuvenation regimen that included a series of three massage treatments supplemented with two kashayams (a liquid decoction of medicinal herbs), and a ksheerabala capsule. 

I remember ksheerabala from my childhood – it was my grandmother’s wonder drug. It didn’t come in capsule form then. My grandmother always had a skinny 3-inch bottle of this dull yellow oil and she would apply a few drops to the scalp on the top of her head. Unlike other herbal oils, I remember from my childhood, this one didn’t smell good so I was glad to see it come wrapped in a bright green capsule now.

I was expected to eat simple vegetarian food for the duration of the treatment. The three massages, which I’ll get to, were udvarthanam, elakizhi, and navarakizhi in that order.

Unlike many Ayurvedic clinics especially built for the purpose, Prakriti is housed in a rented home on a quiet street in Chennai. All three bedrooms with their attached bathrooms have been turned into ‘treatment rooms’. I realized very quickly that an Ayurvedic massage is not for the faint-hearted. Nor the bashful. One of the women leads you to a treatment room, locks the door, and hands you your disposable konakam. You change into it in the bathroom, though I’ve wondered why I bothered with the bathroom – walking back into the room in that little white loin cloth was more embarrassing especially since a post-menopausal body isn’t exactly a showpiece. You face your masseuse and sit on the massage table with your legs dangling over the side.

After the invocation, one masseuse applies more warm oil on your scalp and hair and massages your head and temples for about ten minutes – heavenly. You then lie on your back on the wooden massage table that shines with all the oil it has absorbed over the years. The bottoms of your feet are wiped clean. Warm oil is poured on your stomach, chest, and limbs, and is worked into your body with Veena and Devi on either side of the table and four strong hands moving swiftly in tandem. Then you lie face down and the process is repeated except sans konakam. These first few steps are the same for all seventeen days. The medicinal massage follows the oil massage and is different for each kind of treatment. The ceiling fan is turned off during the medicinal massage. 

Treatment Room at Prakriti Ayurveda Center

In udvarthanam, which I did for three days, the kizhi (read ‘kiri’) had a mix of medicinal powders. Kizhis is a Malayalam word that means bundle. Various medicinal substances and rice are tightly held in a cloth. It is used with or without moisture for massaging the body. It is heated in a dry pan and applied to your body in upward strokes. Some of the powder seeps through the cloth so you smell brown and earthy by the end of all the scrubbing. It is mixed in with the smoky fragrance of the kizhis getting heated. There is a twenty-minute rest period at the end of the forty-minute massage. 

The elakizhi was seven days of intense massage. The kizhi is filled with medicinal leaves that smelled like roasted pumpkin and is dipped in hot oil before being applied on your body. ‘Apply’ is too soft a word. It was more like pat-pat-pat, pound-pound-pound, scrub-scrub-scrub all over, front, back, limbs, until you felt like pumpkin pulp. There is a thirty-minute rest period at the end of the forty-minute massage. 

Navarakizhi also lasted seven days. It was the gentlest of the three but the most labor-intensive and hence the most expensive. The process starts the day before with 12 liters of water mixed with medicinal herbs boiled down to 1.5 liters. Milk is added to this and a special variety of brown rice called Navara is cooked in this kashayam (decoction of medicinal herbs) until soft. The kizhis are filled with this cooked rice and heated in boiling milk before being applied. The strokes in navarakizhi are circular in motion and feel satiny on your body. Mushy starch oozes out covering you in a soft film of pinkish brown, the color of my palm but lighter. You feel cool as soon as this massage starts. There is no rest period. 

I was surprised at how easily I fell asleep during the rest periods and sometimes even during the massage. Lying on my back on a hard, wooden table with a tiny two-inch-thick plasticky pillow would hardly have qualified as comfortable. Yet, I almost always had to be woken up at the end of the rest period. 

The last step of the session is the ‘bath’. You sit on a plastic stool in the bathroom and one of the women ‘bathes’ you. She scrubs your body with a mung dal paste that removes all traces of oil and herbs. She applies shikakai (Acacia Concinna) paste to clean your scalp and hair. Hot water is poured all over your head and body. By the time you finish and step out, you are ready for another nap.

As imagined, I was relaxed and rejuvenated at the end of the seventeen days and sorry to see it end. It has left me, however, wanting more such ‘treatments’, perhaps at lush locations with the sound of waves lapping against a seashore…


Lakshmi Narayanan lives in Ann Arbor MI when she is not spending time in Narberth, PA with her two grandkids, or traveling. Pre-pandemic travels included one or two trips a year to India. A recent longer stay allowed this experience. 

Gulab Jamun Cake

My Love Affair With Cardamom

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

I come from a family of spice traders. My mother-in-law’s family hails from the Cardamom Hills and Thekkady in Kerala. Their land is beautifully verdant, with cardamom growing in a tropical rainforest-like environment, wild alongside pepper vines, cloves, and lots of unidentifiable wild greens, butterflies, and bees everywhere.

My life has been full of spice, as I witnessed the yearly ritual of sourcing and storing spices for the coming year. My mom and aunts talked endlessly about what was in season, sourcing single-origin spices, discussing how to roast them to perfection, and hiring people to freshly grind everything on the terrace of our building. This of course segued into a discussion about recipes and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on their latest creations. 

Spices play such a vital role in Indian cuisine. The blended use of herbs and spices has been part of our culture for millennia, and that their use had some medicinal and restorative properties is well documented in Ayurveda.

With the resurgence of interest in everything natural, I wanted to explore, along with you, one spice that has caught my fancy and share some recipes using it. This week it is the warm and fruity Cardamom. I love how it instantly elevates every dish into something just a bit more refined and comforting.

I’m a self-taught cook and married to someone who needs dessert every night, so I became a self-taught baker. Homemade desserts are so much healthier than the manufactured versions, additive-free, made with natural ingredients, and you can easily sub the fat and sugar content. I tend to gravitate towards non-fussy recipes, down and dirty, with no special equipment needed.

Here I share two of my current favs, with a generous dose of cardamom in them. The first is a Gulab Jamun Cake recipe created by Hetal Vasavada and the second is a Cardamom Latte. I have tweaked several recipes that I found online and in cookbooks in order to arrive at the perfect balance of flavors.

Tips

I find that home-ground cardamom (both whole pod and seeds only) boasts a much stronger flavor than pre-ground store-bought varieties. Grind them in big batches–take the easy road, leave the husks on–and store them in an airtight container in the freezer for a year.

Gulab Jamun Cake

This cake is a fusion with all the treasured flavors of classic Gulab Jamun without the deep frying or long soak in sugar syrup. What’s not to love?

Ingredients for 1 Bundt cake or 6 mini Bundt-lets

Gulab Jamun Cake made by Mona Shah
Gulab Jamun Cake made by Mona Shah

Cardamom Infused Sponge Cake

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup  dry full -at or non-fat milk powder
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated or castor (powdered) sugar
  • 8-10 saffron strands
  • ¾ tsp cardamom powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs

Alternatively, to make it eggless you can:

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup granulated or castor (powdered) sugar
  • ½ cup Plain Yogurt/Curd
  • ¾ cup Milk
  • ½ cup Oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ tsp cardamom powder
  • ½ tsp salt

For the Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 8 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Glaze and Garnish

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar (1 ¾ if you want it sweeter)
  • 1 tablespoon dried rose petals
  • ½ tablespoon whole and ½ tablespoon finely chopped pistachios
  • I garnished with pink/red hearts and some gold sugar flakes 
  • Optional: Top with halfmoon gulab jamuns placed an inch apart and serve warm with vanilla ice cream

Preparation

Make the cardamom cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan with butter.
  2. Whisk the butter, sugar and cardamom powder with a hand or stand mixer till the butter is light and fluffy, about 9/10 mins.  Add salt and vanilla essence and whisk till combined.
  3. Now add one egg at a time, till incorporated.
  4. Add the milk powder to your flour mixture and whisk till combined. Add these dry ingredients till incorporated. Do not overmix.
  5. Pour the batter into your greased Bundt pan and tap on counter to release air bubbles.
  6. Bake for 35-40 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is baking make the Sugar Syrup.

Note: We want the syrup to be warm when pouring on the cake.

  1. Add the water, sugar, saffron, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the rose water and lime juice. 
  2. Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods from the syrup and discard. 
  3. Reserve 60 ml of the syrup for the glaze.
  4. Once the cake is done poke holes all over it with a fork. Pour the warm syrup over the warm, just out of oven, Bundt cake. Rest the cake for 10/15 mins for the syrup to be fully soaked. 
  5. Place your serving platter over the bundt pan and invert into the platter. Be very careful during this step. The cake is heavy with syrup and will break or form cracks, so be very gentle during this step.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and reserved syrup to make a glaze.
  7. Pour the glaze over the Bundt cake. Sprinkle with the dried rose petals, pistachios and gulab jamun half (if using).

For the Eggless Cake base

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan with butter.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the milk and lemon juice. Set aside for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Whisk in the oil and rosewater.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, milk powder, semolina, corn flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom and saffron.
  4. Gradually combine the wet ingredients into the dry till incorporated. Do not overmix.
  5. Bake for 55-60 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Fall Flavors in my Cardamom Latte

  • Cardamom Latte
    Cardamom Latte

    8 ounces strong French press coffee (I used George Howell’s Tarrazu Vienna with hints of Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Walnut)

  • Optional: 1 heaped tablespoon of Instant Coffee (Nescafe or Bru, with hints of chicory, are optimal)—Add 2 drops of water and beat with a spoon until white and slightly frothy.
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons Thyme Cardamom Syrup (Note: Flavor it with whatever spice you have on hand.
  • I’ve used Thyme but rosemary, pumpkin, lavender all work really well)

For the Thyme Cardamom Syrup

  1. In a small pan over low heat, toast the cardamom pods until fragrant, stirring often. Watch closely to avoid burning them.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush the cardamom pods. Pour the pods and any exposed seeds into a medium sauce pan.
  3. Add the water, sugar and thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.  
  4. Strain solids through a fine-mesh sieve. Store syrup in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Preparation

  1. Heat milk till hot. Use a whisk or a spoon to beat milk until foamy.  
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of cardamom syrup in a mug. 
  3. Pour hot, strong coffee over syrup. 
  4. Top with foamy milk and serve.

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations.

Shrankhla Holecek on UMA Oils Farm

UMA Oils CEO Believes in the Need For Wellness Wisdom

(Featured Image: Shrankhla Holecek on UMA Oils Farms in India)

Los Angeles based Shrankhla Holecek is the CEO of UMA Oils. A long-time Ayurvedic expert who educates on Ayurvedic traditions with contemporary sensibility, she is a lifelong vegetarian, yogi, and natural-medicine practitioner. Shrankhla grew up in India with a strong foundation in the ancient science of Ayurveda, and brings over 15 years of extensive training and understanding in the therapeutic benefits of botanicals, especially as they apply to Ayurveda. Generations of her family have been veterans who have mastered the craft of organic essential oil production and have for decades supplied some of the world’s leading luxury beauty brands. 

Shrankhla moved to Los Angeles about ten years ago for her MBA, after which she spent several years in management consulting. Exhausted by topical creams and one-off medications, she went back to her basics, creating a line of natural skincare and wellness products. In addition to serving as a media expert on essential oils and Ayurveda, she is also a regular contributor to natural health media outlets like Well & Good, Byrdie, Mind Body Green, and Refinery 29.

In this exclusive interview, she talk about her family’s century-old history of being purveyors of essential oils, her brand’s celebrity following, and how she is giving back to the rural community in Chattisgarh where her farms are located.

How did you decide to start your brand of luxurious face, body, and aromatherapy oils, UMA?

Tempted as I often am to tell others – and even myself – that it had a strategic or intellectual rationale, I think the reality is that I started UMA for deeply personal reasons. After what felt like an attempt to get as far away from my family’s roots as possible by moving to Los Angeles, going to business school, and starting a consulting career, I think I came full circle in acceptance and appreciation for all that I had grown up with: the unique value of my Ayurvedic heritage, as well as the beauty, complexity, and richness of the Indian culture. 

In starting UMA, I felt that I could serve as a conduit for a deeper and more authentic understanding of Ayurveda in the West via a platform that demystified its brilliant tenets, but without ever compromising their integrity. There’s clearly a need for wellness wisdom in the world we live in (wherever one may be on the spectrum of integrating it in one’s life, I think most will agree), and I believed that Ayurveda could offer that in a time-tested way. Importantly, building my own business allowed me to prioritize some of the core values I felt very passionately about, gender equality and equal pay is one of them. 

Tell us more about your family’s century-old history of being purveyors of essential oils, and how you translate that ancient science of Ayurveda in your products.  

My family has been revered Ayurvedic physicians for centuries, including being entrusted with creating formulas for the royalty. The role passed down from generation to generation within my family, where we formulated beauty and wellness medicine for the royal family, as well as the kingdom – perfecting Ayurvedic formulas over thousands of women and men, across a wide variety of concerns, constitutions, and skin types. Since Ayurvedic medicine is entirely plant-based, we also started farming many of the ingredients that went into our formulas – and in the last century, that paved the way for our inroads into essential oil distillation and manufacturing. 

Turns out – you need acres and acres of vetiver or jasmine to distill just a little essential oil, and given my family’s heritage and expertise in the field, it was a natural transition to move into the industry. As demand for exotic essential – such as jasmine and sandalwood – oils grew worldwide, my family started supplying some of the marquee fragrance and beauty houses with raw materials (but never the formulas since they have always been a family secret). We have supplied a variety of India-based oils for the exquisite line of essential oils based perfumes Tom Ford created. We’ve also worked with Estee Lauder for over a decade on supplying the essential oils for their beauty and fragrance needs. They expectedly have stringent standards for vendors and we’re proud to meet them!
 
UMA was created to bring not only our celebrated essential oils but also these revered (and secret) formulas directly to the consumer, as an offering and introduction to deeply authentic and trusted Ayurvedic medicine.

Tell our readers more about the products you offer.

As in the Ayurvedic tradition, a lot of our skincare products are oil-based, helping to balance, treat, and enhance the skin in an entirely natural way. We bring in beloved Ayurvedic ingredients like turmeric, honey, aloe vera, rose water, and saffron through our splendid toners, masks, and gommage cleansers – and ensure the whole of you is cared for (including your mental wellbeing) through our beloved wellness line-up, and whole-body products. We also have delightful candles and incense targeted towards creating a sense of balance in your home environment.

Your brand has also garnered a celebrity following. Tell us a little about that.

Yes, we’ve been fortunate to have some amazing people show us, love! Anne Hathaway, Kelly Ripa, Ariana Grande, Emma Roberts, Eve the Rapper, Molly Sims, and Emma Willis are a few that come to mind immediately. In truth, it is the kind goodwill of many of these incredible people to support a young brand like ours, and the love and passion of so many women and men who have built UMA on our farms and factories over the years that we have to thank for all these blessings every day!

Women Working on UMA Oils Farm in Chattisgardh
Women working on UMA Oils Farm in Chattisgarh.

Relate to us how your brand is giving back to the rural community in Chattisgarh where your farms are located.

On average, we reinvest a third of our annual profits back into our local community. We operate the sole health clinic in our village free of charge and provide the specialized resources to treat Thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder prevalent in the area. We also offer academic scholarships to encourage promising local youth to pursue higher education.

UMA is a woman-founded and run company, and takes great pride in the fact that the UMA estate was among the pioneers in “equal work for equal pay” within India. Our estate has historically employed over 50 percent women, a fact mirrored in the composition of the US-based UMA team. We have always believed that sustainable gender equality can only be achieved by the means of creating true financial independence for women, and for decades have invested in creating the infrastructure necessary to ensure our women employees feel supported and empowered.

Avoiding synthetic pesticides and additives, we actively convert our waste into value. Loving and caring for the environment in the Ayurvedic tradition is a consideration in everything we do. This is why our farming and distillation processes are designed for sustainability and have been since our inception. We farm completely organically, and convert most of our waste into consumer products, like incense, or alternative fuel to power our distilleries. We minimize our dependence on artificial irrigation, and the water used in our distillation processes is cycled back into the farms we grow our crops in.

What are your plans for UMA’s future expansion and other efforts?

Our mission is to continue to educate on Ayurveda and empower people to take full control of their wellbeing, health, and beauty. Ayurveda was so generously shared with us millennia ago, and it’s our company’s responsibility to share that with the world in the altruistic, non-commercial way it was shared with us. I think of products as a way to delight and indulge oneself – never as alternatives to mindful diet and lifestyle habits as Ayurveda recommends – but rather as conduits to enrich your self-care rituals. We hope to continue creating thoughtful products that bring joy, and help strengthen one’s connection to oneself.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul and Bombay Memory Box. 

6 Indian Habits That Travel With Me

When it comes to leaving India – there is a storm of mixed emotions. I want to fill up my pockets with all the beauty that exists here and leave behind the few things I hate. Global Indians and NRIs understand the duality of leaving a place like India. Having lived in India my whole life, there are a few things I’m unwilling to give up. Digging deeper on what influences my life, here are six habits acquired from Indian culture that stick with me, regardless of where I go. 

CHAI – THE MIGHTY CUP OF TEA!

 ‘Chai’ should be declared as the national drink of India. The joy of drinking the carefully brewed tea with milk in clay cups is beyond this world. With a dash of spices like ginger, cardamom, holy basil, pepper, and cloves – it’s not just healthy, but mystifying. There is nothing as soothing to the senses and calming to the mind as a hot cup of tea in the morning. It rejuvenates!

World food chains like Starbucks and Teavana have gloriously adapted to the Tea Culture and now serve Indian Style tea labeled as ‘Chai Tea’ around the world. Being an Indian knowing the drill of making a mighty cup of tea it’s difficult to love the taste that is brewed abroad. My love for chai stays with me wherever I stay in the world!

INDIAN FOOD & THE HABIT OF EATING WITH HANDS

Unlike the world, India doesn’t have a cutlery or fork & knife culture. Most of the Indian cuisines are designed to be eaten with bare hands, lapping up the essence of the taste. While the luxury of using the fork and knife shall remain in restaurants, the habit of eating the food items like Rice, khichdi, chapatis, etc., with hands, shall remain.

The certain communion with the food, enhancing the digesting abilities is the main aim for the use of hands. Hands help in texturing the food, making the partaking of sustenance, more intimate. Seeing it scientifically, the use of hands for eating is advisable to a certain extent, as the flora present on the fingers is swallowed, beneficial for the health of various parts of the body like mouth, throat, and intestines as fingers release various digestive juices. This practice of eating with hands is something I look forward to, as I go around the other parts of the world, for its benefits and digestive advantages.

BARGAINING AT STREET SHOPS

Street shops are the powerhouse of all things fashionable at budget-friendly prices. In India, all the latest home décor, clothes, and jewelry are available at great quality and cheap price at the street shops. ‘Cheap’ because the hefty prices quoted by the shopkeepers are bargain-able. Travel anywhere in the world, the most authentic shopping experience lies in street shopping. Being trained in slashing down the prices by almost half in street shopping, the ability to bargain stays as a habit for me. No matter where I go, the trips to street shops would come as a choice, and bargaining will be something I will stick to.

YOGA – THE ART OF LIFE!

Yoga originated in India centuries ago. From ancient yogis to the modern-day yoga instructors, Yoga is a gift of Indian history. The benefits of Yoga for health and life balance have been mind-blowing. It aids in the balancing of the body, mind, and soul for a fulfilled life.

Having grown up in India, Yoga has become one of the daily rituals that keep a check on my physical health and fitness alongside my mental health. The ritual to spread that yoga mat and start practicing with an intention is something I would not give up for anything!

Yoga is fast becoming popular even in the West, for its ability to secure spiritual, mental, and physical health. However, not all its aspects have been tapped in the West; with physical fitness regime widely practiced, to attain body flexibility and stability.

AYURVEDA – SECRET OF NATURE!

Deepest darkest of nature’s secrets rest into the arms of nature! Ayurveda, the science of nature has been of close relevance in India. From home remedies to ayurvedic supplements and medicines – it is something that treats us to live a healthy life.

My Indian living has brought me closer to ayurvedic recipes like that of Turmeric milk, neem leaves, aloe vera extracts, etc, for a healthier life. While the world is educating itself on Ayurvedic benefits, my little world of ayurvedic knowledge stays with me.

The major benefit of Ayurveda is its ability to not harm the patient’s body with the side-effects of the prescribed medicine. Apart from its natural and organic way of healing, it also prescribes better eating habits for a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing. 

ADDRESSING PEOPLE WITH RESPECT

Indians are used to calling every other man as ‘bhaiya’ or brother, especially when they aren’t related to you. This brings in a sense of respect and affection for the person. So when I address a driver, cleaner, shopkeeper, or any man of service around me – it would go as brother or uncle.

For women, the words are didi (sister) and aunty. Instead of addressing people by their names or surnames – I would stick to this personalized call to utter respect in conversations. And yes, ‘Namaste’ wouldn’t be forgotten too!

Greeting and meeting people with warmth is the basis of such a practice. It also binds two (or more) people, with sheer kindness through soothing words. Another way of looking at it is, giving respect to every human being, irrespective of their status, and creed.

Some habits inculcated from childhood are a gift of being born as an Indian. No matter how much I travel or turn into a global citizen – the 6 habits stay with me when I leave India!

Abhishek Bade is a writer and a rover with a passion for writing. He is adept at writing travel-based content which is informative and insightful. 

How The Yoga-Ayurveda Combine Helped Me

My Early Brush With Yoga

My mother was a Yoga teacher, an alumnus of a Yoga school where yoga was taught in a comprehensive manner: breathing, diet, attitudinal training, etc, accompanied the asanas, and when done sincerely, and over a period of time, yielded results of better living and good health. So, as a family we did practise Yoga, and my sibling and I even became demonstrators for my mother’s classes at Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan and other places. But needless to say, very reluctantly.

Though we knew the benefits, as we saw her students get relief in countless cases of illness – asthma, back pains, high blood pressure, upper respiratory disorders, obesity – and also stress. In fact, there was actually a case of a young schoolboy, who had lost his voice owing to what my mother figured could be excessive body-building efforts; within few months of her yogic care, he actually got back his voice.

Despite all this exposure, we children dreaded Yoga-time in the evening, and as soon as we got a chance, we dropped it out of our routine.

Couple Of Decades Later…

On Diwali day of 2005, I found myself checking the word `leukaemia’ in an online dictionary: the dreaded word had made its way into my blood report, and I was sure it couldn’t be what I thought it was.

But it was. My boys were then five years and six months old, respectively. Bone marrow transplant, the known permanent cure was not an option for various reasons. Thankfully, there was a breakthrough chemotherapy drug – though how long it could prolong life was not known. However, one had to take it daily, life-long, and endure all its attendant side effects – also daily.

Thus began my debilitating journey with cancer and the promise of life sustained by chemotherapy – at the age of 33, and with one little boy and a toddler in tow.

My Real Tryst With Yoga

Chemotherapy was prolonging my life, but it came with very heavy quality-of-life costs. Plus, the drug was new and no one knew how long it would offer remission. There were also instances of people turning resistant to it. I desperately searched and tried all kinds of alternative therapies for support. One by one, I read about and tried them all out – You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay; past-life regression; affirmations, healing stones, nutrition therapy. Though begun with gusto, none of them really seemed to be helping really.

My mother was gone by then, so that refuge was not available to me. But my father knew an elderly gentleman, Dr Sivananda Murty – an embodiment of compassion and wisdom. It started with taking homeopathic medicines from him for symptomatic relief; his concern and his soothing words inspired confidence and trust – and the fact that he had a radiant face, was extremely energetic, as also aware, sharp, knowledgeable and a terrific sense of humour. Later, I got to know he was a practising yogi, of quite some stature.

Yogic-Ayurvedic Lifestyle

Though there was no imposing schedule I had to follow, I knew a few changes would need to be made.

Diet, of course, was to be nutritious, though light and I cut out the heavy and toxic. Here, I cannot stress enough the importance of a wholesome diet, and according to ayurvedic principles of eating according to season and time of the day. I would go so far as to say that the current trend of veganism could lead to serious imbalances later in life, both in body and mind. Food cannot be broken down into nutrients alone; it is the totality of the food that contributes to our being.

Asanas, again, according to body type, morning and evening walks, to soak in sunlight and the early morning oxygen. I was taught pranayama or breathing exercises, not too vigorous.

Gradually, I was able to accommodate meditation – different kinds of meditation, for different purposes, and at different times of the day. Mantras helped me to invoke the Sun’s healing energy, some general chants to keep calm and feel connected with the higher power. I realised the power of herbs – in providing stamina, in helping digestion and elimination of toxins.

What I realised is that many of these things were Ayurveda in practice, which is nothing but a sister science of Yoga. Or perhaps, Ayurveda forms the base for Yoga; either way, they work hand in hand and reinforce each other. Herbs, mantra, foods, colours, stones and many more things are all part of Ayurveda. Later, I found good resources in the works of Vedacharya David Frawley, Dr Robert Svoboda and Vasant Lad.

The biggest revelation was music. I had always been passionate about music and thought I knew about its “healing effects”. But here was a different suggestion: I was told to listen to classical ragas of Hindustani music at the appropriate time (each raga has a time that it has to be sung in). And though initially it was pleasing only to my ears, I realised that it was impacting me at a deep level: there were episodes of relief in severe neurological issues caused by the chemo drug, which the doctors had neither been able to identify nor cure. As I discovered later, classical music and its time-theory is part of Ayurveda, and that the ragas’ notes penetrate deep into the spinal cord, creating healing effects.

The best part about the entire experience was that I did not have to give up anything or change anything in my life – my likes, my preferences in food, people, dressing, recreation, entertainment, sense of humour. Some changes occurred on their own: for instance, I realised that honey taken three times a day had tremendously aided my digestion by helping eliminate toxins, and given me strength. In their turn, the toxins that left also left me bereft of the craving for such foods that would harm me.

I suspect the other positive impressions I was taking in had a role to play too – music, the right food in the right order, eaten at the right time – they had effected subtle changes in my psyche, and that had also a role to play in my unhealthy cravings disappearing. Perhaps, the connection back with nature and its cycles was helping.

The explanation for all this, I found recently in David Frawley’s book Ayurveda and the Mind. I understood that we have three vital essences that are responsible for our vitality, clarity and endurance – they are called prana (life force), tejas (inner radiance) and ojas (primal vigour).

All these three have psychological and emotional functions to perform: prana helps the mind respond to the challenges of life; tejas enables the mind to judge correctly; ojas gives patience and endurance that gives psychological stability.

Again, on an emotional level, prana maintains emotional harmony and creativity; tejas gives courage and vigour to help accomplish extraordinary actions, and ojas provides peace, calm and contentment.

It is obvious that all these three are desirable for a peaceful, meaningful existence. And how are they built up? These are built up in two ways: a) from the essence of nutrients we take in from food, heat and air, and b) by the impressions we take in through the senses.

Thus, the right food and impressions ingested – in accordance with ayurvedic principles, would help impact the psyche and mind and, bolstered by the effects of Yoga, would create and restore health. Viola!

My own experience was that, over time, and I don’t know how and when it happened, I had adopted things that I had no idea existed, and often didn’t even believe in. Just incremental changes – so gradual that they went unnoticed – that worked on each other and added up. As toxins left, strength at both the physical and subtle levels was built, and that further gave me strength to let go of other toxins. Some of my worst phobias went too – as did my acid reflux, and my hypothyroidism, my eczema.

Cutting a long story short, it’s now 13 years since I began considering alternative ways of living. The chemo continues, but it is a small fraction of the original prescription. I have gone back to working, and pursuing other interests. There’s no denying that I am a work in progress – we all are – but if it is nothing short of a miracle that I am where I stand today.

Just a small clarification is in order here. We hear about different forms of Yoga today – power Yoga, hot Yoga, Kundalini Yoga and others. While these surely have their purpose, it needs to be clarified that while dealing with serious life issues, what comes handy is the comprehensive Yoga, which deals with all aspects of existence – body, life breath, psyche, the consciousness.

Bhakti Yoga

What I now realise is, that without really thinking about it, a good number of steps of the eight-fold path of Yoga laid out by Patanjali were scaled. At one time, they had seemed so daunting and non-negotiable!

I didn’t have to change anything, or exclude any materialistic activity or eschew its fruits. All that was needed was to mentally dedicate everything to the higher truth. The rest was left to the higher power.

There is a verse in the Bhagawad Gita which translates to:

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, what you sacrifice, what you give, whatever austerity you engage yourself in, offer it to me.

(Yatkaroshi vadasnasi vajjuhoshi dadaasiyat, Yattapasyasi kaunteya tatkurushva madarpanam)

For a near-atheist, it was an unimaginable thing to do, but I had no choice, and so I did. Krishna was my chosen one – the powerful but fun, multifaceted, enigmatic god. It’s not a coincidence that he is, as I realised later – Yogeshwara.

Over the years, I also realised that our Indian deities and idols were only a means to an end. Just as an example: Mahalakshmi, the supreme mother is the Aadishakti, the original energy. What is the harm in connecting with that energy, with tools like mantras, meditation and appropriate worship? Many such benefits are available to all, at specific energised places all over India.

The Last Word

Religions, with their prescriptions of activity, are a way of life with each section of humanity. However, they widely differ in content from each other, and to the extent that they are based on the assertions of a few and vertically divide society irreconcilably, they become selfish, and a kind of materialism.

The Gita seeks to make every man a Yogi. Ultimately, the state of being unaffected by the results of action, and therefore, the ability to sail smoothly on the waves of the vicissitudes of life – is Yoga. It first benefits the individual and then permeates his surroundings.

 

Ayurveda: Good Health as Reality

Ayurvedic Face Packs

AYURVEDIC FACE PACKS

Chickpea face pack for dull skin
This is one of the most effective and efficient face packs for dull skin. Its exfoliating action takes away the dead cells, and it is a famous Ayurvedic remedy for blemishes too. Regular usage will result in soft, smooth, and glowing skin, and slowly, blemishes will start fading too. There is no other face pack that takes sun tan away like this one does. It clears the skin and gives it an added glow.Face Mask

Ingredients
1 tablespoon chickpea flour (besan)
Few drops fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of turmeric powder
1–2 tablespoons rose water (for aged skin) or milk (for dry skin) or yogurt (for acne or oily skin), or enough to make a paste
Method
1. Mix all ingredients to make a paste.
2. Apply the mask to cleansed face and leave on for 10 minutes. Rinse with warm water.

Saffron skin glow-enhancing ubtan
Saffron is the best antiblemish and complexion-enhancing agent. Oats are highly absorptive and soften the skin. Red lentil has excellent skin-cleansing properties. It can be used on the face as well as all over the body. Milk has a nourishing quality. All of these wonderful ingredients, when mixed and applied on the face, clean it as well as soften it and add a glowing quality.

Ingredients
½ cup red lentil flour (masoor)
¼ cup ground oats
¼ teaspoon saffron strands
1 tablespoon cool milk, or enough to make a paste
Method
1. Mix all ingredients into a paste.
2. Apply a thin layer on face and body. Wash off with cool water after ten minutes.

Rose Exfoliator
This recipe is for good for all skin types including extremely sensitive skin.
Ingredients
1 teaspoon rock candy, ground into a fine powder
1 teaspoon whole milk
1 teaspoon rose water
½ teaspoon honey (for oily/hot skin) or ghee (for dry skin)
Method
1. Mix all ingredients to make a paste.
2. Use both hands to exfoliate the face by rubbing the mixture gently on the skin.
3. Rinse with warm water after a few minutes. Moisturize if desired with a light moisturizer.

MUNG BEAN PANCAKES
Mung is mentioned as the best among beans in Ayurveda texts. This is my everyday breakfast. I make the batter ahead of time and make fresh pancakes for the entire family. This recipe is satiating but very light and works for everyone. Whether you are trying to lose weight or gain, mung supports a healthy metabolism.

Ingredients
1 cup yellow mung beans (soaked 3 hours or overnight)
½ teaspoon ground, roasted cumin
½ teaspoon rock salt
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon grated fresh ginger ⅛ teaspoon asafetida
2 tablespoons ghee

Method
1. Drain soaking liquid from mung beans and place in a blender. Blend on high speed for about 1 minute, adding a small amount of water (about 2 tablespoons) until smooth.
2. Add cumin, salt, turmeric, ginger, and asafoetida and blend again briefly. Thin the mixture with enough water so that batter is a medium-thin consistency similar to wheat-flour pancake batter.
3. Heat a small amount of ghee (½–1 teaspoon) in a skillet or griddle on medium heat.
4. Drop a small ladle full of batter (¼ cup) onto griddle and spread in a circle. Cook on first side until edges start to brown and lift, about 5 minutes.
5. Flip pancake with spatula and cook on second side until golden brown, about 3–5 minutes.
6. Repeat steps 3 through 5 with the rest of the batter and ghee.

Read here for more details on book. https://indiacurrents.com/ayurveda-good-health-reality/

Excerpted from Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom, by Acharya Shunya. Sounds True, February 2017. Reprinted with permission. For more information, visit www.acharyashunya.com

Ayurveda: Good Health as Reality

Ayurveda: Good Health as Reality

The book, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom, has the potential to change your state of health for the better—permanently. Health is not just a possibility that you might achieve. It is a reality, an underlying natural state of being. Health will manifest once you begin to live in alignment with Nature’s intelligence. This is the promise of Ayurveda, India’s five-thousand-year-old system of health and healing.Ayurveda

When I was growing up in India, I witnessed a spiritual master, my grandfather, whom I addressed as Baba, remind the diseased and the suffering of their abidingly healthy nature. He taught them simple ways to align with Nature on a daily basis, and enigmatically, this ignited powerful healing of body, mind, and soul. While there wasn’t a focus on the symptoms of disease perse, I saw cancers disappear, ulcers heal, and chronic depression lift.

I think I had rationalized that these “miracles” were possible because my teacher was a spiritually realized being. Clearly, my guru’s spiritual presence was undeniable. But as I grew up and observed more, I recognized that Baba’s skills in transmitting a highly rational science of Ayurveda lifestyle was also a key factor.

Ayurveda proposes two methodologies toward approaching health. The first is preventive and promotive. It proposes protecting and enhancing health with a set of lifestyle practices. This is the “wisdom” approach of evoking inner health, known as swasthya-raksha in Sanskrit. It incorporates at every step lessons from the spiritual sister sciences of yoga and Vedanta.

The second methodology is “restorative.” It includes disease management using herbal drugs, body treatments, and even surgery (though surgery is no longer an active modality in Ayurveda today). This methodology is known as vikara prashamana in Sanskrit. Both approaches are equally valid, at appropriate junctures.

If disease management via drugs is taken up without a parallel investment in a healthy lifestyle, the body becomes a battle-ground all too quickly. There is a wellspring of power within us, a spiritual truth, that we must honor; and we never give away our power to any disease, just because we have a scary-sounding condition with a grim prognosis. In fact, it is now more than ever that we must activate our latent health response through a scientific life-style that is in sync with Nature’s laws. If you are consuming Eastern or Western drugs, a healthy Ayurveda-inspired lifestyle in conjunction will expedite recovery and additionally facilitate well-being.

When we examine Ayurveda’s source literature, spanning from the Vedas (4500 BCE) all the way to the sixteenth century, it was lifestyle wisdom that occupied the central stage. Disease management gained increasing priority in the later texts. In fact, this is how the sages who gave us the ancient Vedas and original spiritual sciences of Ayurveda, yoga, Vedanta, meditation, sacred art, architecture, music, and dance lived! They boldly cultivated radiant health day by day as an expression of their god consciousness.

I am one of the fortunate teachers born into a family of teachers with an uninterrupted educational lineage, a family that has lived as well as transmitted this ancient wisdom for untold years in the plains of northern India. I have not only mastered the knowledge academically, I have also lived it.Indian Spices

Vedic education was imparted to the student for a minimum of twelve years. I studied for fourteen, along with regular schooling, and graduated as an acharya, which means “a master spiritual teacher of lived Vedic knowledge who teaches not only by word, but through role modeling by behavior.” When I was growing up in India, living and learning this knowledge in the family of my teacher, I had no idea that one day I would be writing this book for a world audience. And yet, this is what has happened. This is less a testimony of my life journey and more of a shout-out for Ayurveda. What is the truth cannot be kept under wraps for long. More and more people are seeking Ayurveda’s lifestyle and benefiting from its transformative wisdom.

I hope this wisdom will change your life for the better too, as it did mine. But first, you have to believe that anything is possible.

Excerpted from Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom, by Acharya Shunya. Sounds True, February 2017. Reprinted with permission. For more information, visit www.acharyashunya.com


AYURVEDIC FACE PACKS

Chickpea face pack for dull skin
This is one of the most effective and efficient face packs for dull skin. Its exfoliating action takes away the dead cells, and it is a famous Ayurvedic remedy for blemishes too. Regular usage will result in soft, smooth, and glowing skin, and slowly, blemishes will start fading too. There is no other face pack that takes sun tan away like this one does. It clears the skin and gives it an added glow.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon chickpea flour (besan)
Few drops fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of turmeric powder
1–2 tablespoons rose water (for aged skin) or milk (for dry skin) or yogurt (for acne or oily skin), or enough to make a paste
Method
1. Mix all ingredients to make a paste.
2. Apply the mask to cleansed face and leave on for 10 minutes. Rinse with warm water.

Saffron skin glow-enhancing ubtan
Saffron is the best antiblemish and complexion-enhancing agent. Oats are highly absorptive and soften the skin. Red lentil has excellent skin-cleansing properties. It can be used on the face as well as all over the body. Milk has a nourishing quality. All of these wonderful ingredients, when mixed and applied on the face, clean it as well as soften it and add a glowing quality.

Ingredients
½ cup red lentil flour (masoor)
¼ cup ground oats
¼ teaspoon saffron strands
1 tablespoon cool milk, or enough to make a paste
Method
1. Mix all ingredients into a paste.
2. Apply a thin layer on face and body. Wash off with cool water after ten minutes.

Rose Exfoliator
This recipe is for good for all skin types including extremely sensitive skin.
Ingredients
1 teaspoon rock candy, ground into a fine powder
1 teaspoon whole milk
1 teaspoon rose water
½ teaspoon honey (for oily/hot skin) or ghee (for dry skin)
Method
1. Mix all ingredients to make a paste.
2. Use both hands to exfoliate the face by rubbing the mixture gently on the skin.
3. Rinse with warm water after a few minutes. Moisturize if desired with a light moisturizer.

MUNG BEAN PANCAKES
Mung is mentioned as the best among beans in Ayurveda texts. This is my everyday breakfast. I make the batter ahead of time and make fresh pancakes for the entire family. This recipe is satiating but very light and works for everyone. Whether you are trying to lose weight or gain, mung supports a healthy metabolism.

Ingredients
1 cup yellow mung beans (soaked 3 hours or overnight)
½ teaspoon ground, roasted cumin
½ teaspoon rock salt
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon grated fresh ginger ⅛ teaspoon asafetida
2 tablespoons ghee

Method
1. Drain soaking liquid from mung beans and place in a blender. Blend on high speed for about 1 minute, adding a small amount of water (about 2 tablespoons) until smooth.
2. Add cumin, salt, turmeric, ginger, and asafoetida and blend again briefly. Thin the mixture with enough water so that batter is a medium-thin consistency similar to wheat-flour pancake batter.
3. Heat a small amount of ghee (½–1 teaspoon) in a skillet or griddle on medium heat.
4. Drop a small ladle full of batter (¼ cup) onto griddle and spread in a circle. Cook on first side until edges start to brown and lift, about 5 minutes.
5. Flip pancake with spatula and cook on second side until golden brown, about 3–5 minutes.
6. Repeat steps 3 through 5 with the rest of the batter and ghee.

Ayurveda in America

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Along with technology, the world of medicine is growing by the minute.

Despite the stunning advances in modern medicine, the world is becoming increasingly aware of the limitations of mainstream health care. Americans too are realizing that Western medicine has some answers, but not all the answers.

It is in this scenario that ayurveda—along with yoga and meditation—has entered the American consciousness.

Ayurveda’s holistic premise—that mind, body, and spirit are intimately connected—is revolutionizing the way Americans understand their health. Ayurveda teaches that separating mind and spirit from the body creates physical imbalance, which is the first stage in the disease process. It naturally follows that re-integration is the first step toward healing. Based on the principle that disease is the natural end result of living out of harmony with our environment, ayurveda views symptoms of disease as the body’s normal way of communicating disharmony. With this understanding of disease, ayurveda’s approach to healing becomes obvious: to reestablish harmony between self and environment and create an optimal environment for health.

Meanwhile, the emerging integrative medicine movement—which calls for restoration of the focus of medicine on health and healing, and emphasizing the centrality of the doctor-patient relationship—is also reflecting the basic tenets of ayurveda. No wonder that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) summarizes the present status of ayurveda in America quite well, identifying it as one among “Whole Medical Systems” that ought to play an important role in the present complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) scenario.

THE EARLY YEARS

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Gradually, ayurveda is being recognized and appreciated by Western doctors.

interest in ayurveda emerged as Americans started to question the tenets of their own health care system. Today, nearly three decades after it was first transplanted in American soil by Indian pioneers such as Dr. Vasant Lad, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, ayurveda is still struggling to establish roots as well as legitimacy.

The dissemination of ayurveda in America continues as a result of the confluence of several trends: Indian and American doctors and health scientists approaching the tradition on a more scientific basis; Western doctors and researchers recognizing that ayurveda offers much that they do not know; ayurvedic doctors (vaidyas) from India setting up consultations; and patients seeking non-Western healing modalities.

Most importantly, the signing of the Health Freedom Act (SB 577) in California is seen as a landmark event towards the legitimization of ayurveda and other forms of CAM in America. The bill, which became effective January 2003, allows trained practitioners of alternative and complementary health care to legally provide and advertise their services. It provides that a person is not in violation of certain provisions of the Medical Practice Act (that prohibit the practice of medicine by anyone who is not a licensed physician) as long as that person does not engage in certain specified medical acts. Similar laws have also been passed in Rhode Island and Minnesota.

Today, many American medical colleges offer introductory ayurvedic education in the form of seminars and workshops. Many renowned medical hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, offer ayurvedic therapies. Hundreds of thousands of yoga practitioners are partial towards the ayurvedic lifestyle. There is an increasing demand for ayurvedic products and massage procedures. All these are signs of ayurveda gaining acceptance in the United States, and hence revitalizing the health scene.

But getting ayurveda licensed is the need of the day, says Dr. David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri), author of Ayurvedic Healing and co-author, with Dr. Vasant Lad, of the first book on ayurveda published in America, The Yoga of Herbs(1986). Frawley agrees that the main obstacles confronting ayurveda in America are lack of proper recognition and limited acceptance by the public. Meanwhile, medical researchers suggest a great potential for integration of ayurvedic therapies into the healthcare system in the United States.

A MODERN MEDICAL PERSPECTIVE

In fact this is what the foremost cancer researcher in America, Dr. Bharat B. Aggarwal of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, recommends. In his article “From Ancient Medicine to Modern Medicine: Ayurvedic Concepts of Health and Their Role in Inflammation and Cancer,” published in February 2007, Aggarwal wrote, “Recent statistics indicate that the overall cancer incidence in the United States, in spite of billions of dollars spent on research each year, has not changed significantly in the last half-century … Ayurveda can be used in combination with modern medicine to provide better treatment of cancer.” Aggarwal himself has led the way by his pioneering studies on a whole range of ayurvedic herbs, especially turmeric.

The most recent outcome of this is the ongoing nationwide clinical trial where patients are being given curcumin (from turmeric) supplements for 30 days to help reduce the levels of pre-cancerous biomarkers. “Though it has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, we’re very early in the clinical development of curcumin as a chemopreventive agent,” acknowledges Dr. Frank Meyskens of UC Irvine.

Because of increasing interest and evidence of its efficacy, it is in America that we may be witnessing the first tentative attempts to integrate ayurveda into the mainstream establishment.

That’s exactly what Dr. Michael J. Balick and Sarah Khan of the New York Botanical Garden showed when they examined clinical studies relating to 166 medicinal plants from a standard ayurvedic repertoire. Their results, published in the 2001 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicinecontradict the generally held notion that herbal remedies used in ayurveda have not been evaluated in human or in vivo trials. The problem, as they pointed out, is one of accessibility, because the findings are not published in Western journals or they are not available in English. According to Balick and Khan, the clinical studies already available do suggest that at least 100 of the 166 plants studied are appropriate for larger and better-controlled clinical trials. As if to prove this point, our recent survey of Medline and Pubmed databases reveal that over the past decade a large number of clinical studies on ayurvedic plants are being published, not only from U.S. and Indian laboratories, but also from research centers in China, Japan, and Europe. Surprisingly, it is China that is most aggressively pursuing research into ayurvedic plants.

AMERICANIZATION OF AYURVEDA?

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Sita Reddy, who wrote her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania on the reinvention of “Ayurvedic Medicine in New Age America,” makes an important observation: “Ayurveda’s spread in the United States relies primarily on its appeal beyond exclusively South Asian constituencies. Its uniqueness, in other words, lies in the fact that it is reproduced for non-Asian American audiences and clients rather than for immigrant South Asians.”

She adds: “… transplanted ayurveda is marketed not simply as effective medicine but as cultural commodity, as a uniquely Indian ethnomedicine for primarily Western audiences.” Furthermore she notes that as ayurveda gains legitimacy, the practice itself is being transformed into an American composite.

But how can we transplant ayurveda to this culture without doing violence either to the integrity of the teachings or to the cultural bias of our students and patients? This question was raised in a 2003 conference paper entitled “Cultural Issues in Bringing Ayurveda to the West” by British-born physician Alakananda Devi (nee Olivia Hudis). Alakananda Devi earned her medical degree from St. Bartholemew’s Hospital Medical College in London and is presently director of Alandi Ayurvedic Clinic and its gurukula in Boulder, Colo. In other words, will ayurveda remain always an exotic hothouse plant, unable to naturalize itself in the soil of this land? Or will its commodification happen with the creation of a palatable, user-friendly pseudo-ayurveda? Specifically, she asks: If we make a preparation from a combination of both traditional ayurvedic and Western herbs, departing from classic formulations in favor of our own creativity, is this ayurvedic? On what authority do we validate the preparation? And what is our understanding of authority and authenticity in ayurveda, if we depart from the texts?

“In offering ayurveda to the West, there is no need to bring about conversion to either Hinduism or Buddhism. However, we must always walk in the spirit ofsanatana dharma, honoring its essential teachings of truth and ahimsa, of reverence for the indwelling mystery within all things animate and inanimate, and of striving for loka sangraha, the welfare of the Whole,” says Alakananda Devi. That’s why she warns: If fame and gain are the motives, we will in the end so distort and prostitute ayurveda that there will be nothing vibrant or vital left. But, on the other hand, if fear of change is the motive of our efforts at Sanskritization, we will alienate the public from the great benefits of ayurveda.

Alakananda Devi
Alakananda Devi

FORWARD MOMENTUM
Four developments may account for the current popularity of ayurveda in America: 1) the formation of a core base for ayurvedic instruction and practice through the untiring efforts of pioneers such as Dr. Vasant Lad and his students such as Dr. David Frawley; 2) The arrival of Euro-American practitioners who received their ayurvedic medical training in India: Dr. Robert Svoboda and Dr. Scot Gerson (M.D from U.S. and Ph.D. in ayurveda from the University of Pune); 3) the re-packaging of Ayurveda as “Maharishi Ayurveda” to the Euro-American followers of Transcendental Meditation (TM), and the subsequent popularity of its original promoter, Dr. Deepak Chopra; 4) the teaching efforts of independent ayurvedic physicians who came directly from India, such as Drs. Subash Ranade, Vivek Shanbhag, Virender Sodhi, Sunil Joshi, Jay Apte, Sekhar Annambhotla, and Aparna Bapat.

Two other factors are: the founding of educational institutions that offer training in ayurveda, and the creation of organizations such as the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (CAAM), National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine (NIAM), Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America (AAPNA), and the American Academy of Ayurvedic Medicine (AAAM). Under the circumstance, it would help if all these disparate organizations came together under a common umbrella to advance the cause of ayurveda in America.

“This is a time of great forward momentum for ayurvedic education,” affirms Cynthia Copple, dean of Mount Madonna Institute College of Ayurveda in California, and one of the earliest practitioners of ayurveda in America. “More schools are being founded and the number of ayurveda students is increasing. There is good reason to believe that during the next 10 years NAMA will continue to work alongside state ayurvedic associations to enable state licensure and to promote national exams; there will be thousands of America-trained ayurvedic practitioners; and the public will be reaping the benefits …”


ayurvedic doctorsFUTURE OF AYURVEDA

Today there are at least 15 institutions that teach ayurveda in America—from certificate level to the masters degree level. The latest entrant into the scene is Seattle-based AYU Ayurvedic Academy which has teamed up with Kerala Ayurveda Pharmacy in India to set up a string of franchised institutions all over the country.

Ayurvedic institutions claim that a well-trained ayurvedic practitioner may choose to enter into private practice in compliance with the laws of the state where he resides, join other health care practitioners at a wellness center, teach public education classes on ayurvedic principles, supervise a pancha karma center, teach at an ayurvedic college, and conduct workshops, seminars and retreats—everything short of a licensed independent medical practice. In this respect, one might say that ayurveda’s current status in the United States is analogous to traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture during the 1970s.

The Ayurvedic Institute’s Dr. Lad is hopeful that in time ayurveda will become recognized, and ayurvedic physicians will be able to enter into full professional practice. And Dr. Robert Svoboda, the first American to earn an ayurveda degree in India, and the author of two bestsellers in the field, is convinced that ayurveda is as valid here in America as it was 5,000 years ago in India. Dr. Jay Apte, an ayurvedic practitioner and teacher in California, goes even further. “It will be one of the main healing modalities in U.S. in 21st century,” Apte predicts.

Cynthia Copple
Cynthia Copple

Cynthia Copple too is optimistic: “We are near the tipping point for the process of licensing of ayurveda to begin.” She adds: “To attain state licensure, I believe we need to find one area in which ayurvedic treatment can be scientifically proven to work, put our focus, our money, and our intention behind it, and, like Chinese medicine and its emphasis on scientific studies of acupuncture and pain, enlist Western scientists, doctors, and state politicians in the cause of the licensure of ayurveda.” She hopes that licensure will benefit all B.A.M.S degreed practitioners (from India), American-trained practitioners, and that it will “continue the great cultural exchange between India and America.”

American-born Swami Sada Shiva Tirtha is author of the Ayurveda Encyclopedia (1998) and founder of Ayurveda Holistic Center in New York. He has been lobbying for ayurveda in Washington, D.C., and is clearly optimistic: “It won’t be long before ayurveda becomes established as the rock-solid core of medicine.” He adds: “With the advent of colleges and universities conducting research, we can only hope they properly give credit to India and not take the credit for themselves. Someday the Nobel Prize in medicine will go to someone who works with ayurveda.”

Already, Dr. Bharat Aggarwal’s prolific efforts are along those lines. He has become the first mainstream medical researcher to recommend that ayurveda be used in combination with modern medicine to provide better treatment for cancer. Referring to Aggarwal as “Spice Healer,” the February 2007 issue of theScientific American reported that Aggarwal’s chapter in a new textbook is entitled “Curcumin: The Indian Solid Gold.” From the humble haldi (or turmeric, from which curcumin is derived), Aggarwal is now exploring the biochemical basis of a whole range of perennial favorites in ayurveda’s repertoire of cancer fighters—including tulsi and all of the commonly used Indian spices—with astonishing results.

Nobel prize or not, with disease mongering on the rise, and with the hazards of modern medicine well documented, it is worth speculating that perhaps America is where ayurveda’s 21st century avatar will emerge triumphant. In this context too it is worth noting that Native American medicine shares ayurveda’s philosophy of healing, based on the reestablishment of harmony between self and environment.

May everyone be happy;

May everyone be healthy;

May everyone be holy;

May there never be disharmony of any kind anywhere.

This is the ultimate message of ayurveda.

Francis C. Assisi has had a lifelong interest in India’s indigenous medical systems and closely follows current research on ayurveda.

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Ayurveda Basics

According to ayurveda, each person has a constitution created at conception that determines basic physiology and personality. This constitution is the inherent balance of three doshas, or subtle biological principles that govern the functions of the body, known as vata (motion), pitta (metabolism), and kapha(cohesiveness).

There are infinite combinations and permutations of these three basic energies, and each person’s constitution is a unique expression. Constitution determines what a person is naturally attracted to and what is experienced as repulsive, what is in harmony with his or her nature, and what will cause imbalance and susceptibility to illness.

Because no two people are alike and no two presentations of a disease are alike, ayurveda does not approach the cure of a disease as much as it addresses enhancing the health of the person.

It must be remembered that ayurveda is the healing side of yoga, and yoga is one of the spiritual traditions from which ayurveda emerged. Through yoga one prepares the body and mind for self-realization or union with the Divine. Through ayurveda one supports the spiritual journey by maintaining body and mind in a state of balance and well-being.

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Ayurveda and Yoga

The paths of yoga and ayurveda are so closely intertwined that it is hard to imagine traveling down one without knowledge of the other. And more than in India, it is in America that these two paths are converging.

That’s why Julie Deife declares in the January-February 2006 issue of the Yoga Journal: “An obvious foothold for Ayurveda would seem to be within the yoga community since both have roots in the Vedic sciences.”

And Diane Finlayson who obtained a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in 2005 with her thesis “Ayurveda in America,” writes: “Alternative medical therapies have become a mainstay for many people in America. Practices that were once considered marginal, have now become practices that mainstream medical institutions are investigating for efficacy in healing, and coming up with some very positive results. Ayurveda, the traditional healing practice of India, is the latest alternative therapy to assert itself in the United States as a result of its association with hatha yoga and America’s growing enthusiasm for yoga.”