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June 28, 2008


I have always loved cloves, but became even more enchanted by them when I learned they are actually tiny dried flower buds! These blue flowers originated in the Spice Islands and have been popular around the world in Europe, Asia and the Middle East for at least a couple of thousand years. The expensive little flowers have been used in everything from cigarettes to incence to sterilising surgical tools.

Ayurvedically speaking they are hot, oily and light, stoking the fire in your body. It follows then that they raise Pitta and lower Kapha and Vata. They speed things up, working on the digestion, circulation and metabolism.

Cloves are a natural painkiller and renowned for managing toothache. Hold a whole clove in your mouth against the offending tooth and it will be numbed. This will also help cover bad breath. For indigestion the essential oil can diluted and used topically, or a tea can be made from the spice. Cloves induce sweating and are used to break fevers and relieve sore and tense muscles like deep heat. Cloves are also antibacterial, antiseptic and sedative.

Cloves smell wonderful too. You can throw some cloves and orange peel on the fire or on top of the heater or oven in winter to fight off the cold. 

Cloves are commonly used in cooking. Boil one clove with your tea or coffee, or fry them in ghee before making dahl. Whole cloves are best cooked in dishes for a while to soften them, and can then be eaten whole. If you want to use cloves for a short cooking time grind them first.

But be warned; cloves are very powerful so treat them with respect. Clove oil should not be applied neat on the skin or in cases of rash, sensitive or broken skin. Cloves taste very strong and can damage the kidneys in excess. Avoid cloves in cases of hot pitta conditions.

June 25, 2008

Subtypes of vata

Vata governs movement and air. Each subtype has a seat, or physical location in the body, and is responsible for certain physiological functions. But it's not quite as simple as that, because each dosha and subdosha has emotional, spiritual and psychological role to play, and they do not strictly fit within our ideas of physical limitations. They all interact and many functions are the result of a few sub dosha working together. If one is imbalanced, others will soon follow.

Vata Prana
Prana is the primary seat of Vata and indeed of all life. It means something like air, energy or life force. It is located between the bellybutton and the crown of the head moving downwards. Prana is internal and reflective, it receives and absorbs information, energy and substance. Prana governs inhalation, thought, learning, swallowing and creativity. Imbalanced prana may cause insomnia, anxiety or shortness of breath.

Vata Udana
Udana moves from the bellybutton up, governing expression. Udana governs change and transformation, giving us will power and the ability grow. Udana is responsible for speaking, burping, sneezing, and hiccoughs. Imbalanced Udana may cause tiredness, earache or a sore throat.

Vata Apana
Apana moves from the bellybutton downwards governing expulsion. Apana expels waste in the form of faeces and urine, but also pushes reproductive movement including semen and is responsible for child birth. It can also expel thoughts and emotions which are are negative or no longer useful. Imbalanced Apana can cause constipation or diarrhea, lower back pain or mentrual problems.

Vata Samana
Samana moves in a clockwise direction towards the bellybutton. It pushes food through the GI tract. Samana aids digestion of all substances including assimilation of thoughts or experiences, absorbing air in the lungs and all sensory intake. Imbalanced Samana may cause variable digestion, cramps and malnutrition or allergies.

Vata Vyana
Vyana moves clockwise away from the bellybutton. Vyana circulates blood, energy, warmth and information around the body. It moves other subdosha around the body to help them do their jobs. Vyana governs the rhythm of the heart and perspiration. Imbalanced Vyana may cause dry skin, dizziness, nervousness, pins and needles or intolerance to heat and cold.

Find out about the subtypes of Pitta here.

June 22, 2008

Oiling the nose and ears

Every morning I end my cleaning routine by dipping my little finger in some sesame oil and gently rubbing it inside my nostrils and ears. I love it, but D hates it and skips this part of the routine. So try it and see what you think.

This practice balances and calms the mind and brings peace and clarity to the senses. It is very soothing and can help in cases of anxiety. This daily routine is esecially useful for counteracting the effects of air conditioning, travel, exposure to germs and dehydration. Oiling the nose stimulates hair growth and discourages premature grey hairs. The oil also acts as a safegaurd, adding an extra layer of protection from germs, dust and bacteria.

Warm oil is best and sesame suits all doshas, unless Pitta is especially angry in which case use coconut oil. Oil can be applied regularly throughout plane trips or whilst travelling in less sanitised places. Make sure your nails are not long, and do not to pull hairs from the nose, this will damage the eyes. You'll know if you do because your eyes will start watering!

June 17, 2008

A story about meditation

As always, when repeating the stories of a Yogi, I am bound to do it clumsily. Baba tells this story and it reminds me not to make life too hard for myself, and to keep my meditation intention pure.

There is a man who meditates for many years and God appears before him to grant him a boon. The man asks to walk on water. God tells him he will have to meditate for another few years. The man does so and God returns again, this time instructing the man that if he really wants to be able to walk on water he will have to meditate another few years more, and this time on his head. The man continues to meditate, this time on his head for many years, and finally God returns to grant him his boon.

Later on the man is showing off that he can walk on water. A passerby sees him and asks him how can do this. The man tells his long story expecting the passerby to be very impressed. Instead the passerby laughs at him and says, "There is a boatman just there, if you pay him 2 rupees he will take you across the water!"

June 13, 2008

Cleaning the tongue

The mouth is the most important of all the gateways to the body, and should be the first part of your body you tend to every morning. Whilst in Australia we usually brush our teeth after breakfast, Ayurveda encourages us to clean our mouths before eating. This allows our body to taste food properly, without being clouded by ama (toxins, undigested food).

But more important in liberating the taste buds is cleansing the tongue. This is the organ of taste, and one of the indicaters of the state of our digestion. The gunk on your tongue comes from the inside, deep within the digestive system. The colour, thickness and location of this coating can tell a trained eye a lot about what you've been eating, and more importantly, what you've been digesting.

Scraping this gunk off your tongue from the outside helps clear the channels in order to evacuate more ama, and even helps us breathe more deeply and fully. It also helps prevent smelly breath. A clean tongue can really taste food so your body can tell what to eat, what not to eat, and when you've eaten enough. It is so simple and so effective that we should all be cleaning our tongues every day. Once you start you won't believe you ever felt clean without a clean tongue.

This is another example of how we are finally catching up with Ayurveda, as these days we are able to buy toothbrushes with grooves on the back for scraping the tongue. This is good because it makes it easy to remember to clean the tongue every time we brush our teeth. But traditionally wealthy Kapha and Vata used gold or copper toungue cleaners and Pitta used silver. Stainless steel or bamboo are a more affordable option and can be used by any dosha. You can even use a stainless steel spoon if you just want to try it out.

Upon waking, immediately after brushing the teeth scrape your tongue from back to front four or five times, rinsing and spitting. Don't swallow. Rinse your mouth with cool water.

June 10, 2008

A story about marriage

Amma told this story on her recent visit to Melbourne. It always feels like she's talking directly to me, even though there are hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people in the room. This was no exception, since I was freshly married. I can't promise to tell it with Amma's wit, charm and wisdom, but the story goes a little something like this...

A woodcutter was cutting wood by the stream one day when he dropped his axe in the water. He fell to his knees crying, without his axe he feared that he and his family would starve. He prayed and prayed and an angel appeared before him. She pulled a golden axe out of the stream and said to the man, "Is this your axe?"
"No," he replied.
The Angel pulled another axe out of the water, this second axe was bronze, "Is this your axe?" She asked.
"No," he replied
Finally the Angel pulled a beaten-up, old, wooden axe out of the water, "Is this one your axe?"
"Yes, yes!" The woodcutter replied.

The Angel gave the old axe to the woodcutter. She commended him on his honesty and rewarded him by giving him the gold axe and bronze axe too.

A few days later he returned to the stream with his wife. She slipped and fell in the water. Again the man fell to his knees crying, he prayed and prayed, and again the Angel appeared before him. She pulled Miss Universe out of the stream and said to the woodcutter, "Is this you wife?"
"YES!" He replied.
The Angel was surprised at this response, what had happened to this honest man? She asked the man "Why are you lying this time?"
The man explained that he was simply afraid that if he told the truth, the Angel would then pull Miss Australia out the stream, and finally his wife, and give him all three women.

He said "It is hard enough with just one woman in my life!"

June 07, 2008

Carrots and fennel

This is one of my favourite throw-it-together side dishes. It can turn rice and dahl into a slightly more impressive meal for guests. I made it for our wedding, something lighter for those who don't appreciate oily, spicy food.

To make it more impressive again I made up a fancy name. In Hindi "gajar" just means carrot, and "subji" means vegetable (but is used for cooked vegetable dishes too.) It's not really a traditional Indian dish, just something I made up from the contents of my fridge one day and have been making ever since. I usually try and convince D to grate the carrots!

Gajar Subji

1 Tbsp ghee

3 tsp fennel seeds
2 carrots (grated)

Warm ghee in a wok and fry fennel seeds for a few seconds. Add grated carrots and stir till coated. Add just a tablespoon or two of water and reduce heat. Cover with a tight lid. Stir every five minutes and add just enough water to stop it from sticking. Take off the heat when tender.

Serves four as a side dish. This should suit all dosha's relatively well, but maybe add a bit of ginger and less ghee for Kapha.

June 05, 2008

Goshiki-five colours

I find Japanese food very inspiring. I visited Japan on school exchange when I was 15 and spent more money than I'd ever spent on one meal on a bento box, a totally enchanting lunch. I came home from Japan with a number of bento boxes in which to pack my own lunch and was inspired to take my own lunch for school again. I'd recently become to cool to want to eat brown bread sandwiches in public!

One of the Japanese principles is goshiki, five colours, though there seems to be some discussion over exactly what those five colours are. Some combination of:
  • black
  • white
  • brown
  • red/orange
  • blue/purple
  • green
  • yellow
I know that's seven colours, and I could go on, but I won't because I don't really think that's the point. What I love is bringing an awareness to our food. Eating more colours tends to mean eating more vegies, and by pleasing the eye the food is more satisfying on every level.

So if your ever stuck on what to take for lunch, start with something and work through the colours till you have a whole rainbow in your lunch box!

June 03, 2008


It's winter proper here in Melbourne. The fog has barely lifted by lunchtime and I have the worst cold I've had in years. I don't often get colds because I don't have much Kapha in me.

Colds with congestion are caused by excess water and earth in the body; by exposure to cold weather, changes in the weather, and cooling, heavy or excessive food. It makes complete sense that I have a cold, since it's just turned cold here and I ate gnocchi with creamy sauce for dinner the other night! My agni has all but been extinguished!
  • Mild sweating should be encouraged, dress well, sleep with a heavy blanket, use a hot water bottle or take hot bath.
  • Put a few drops each of eucalyptus oil, tea tree oil and lavender oil in hot water and inhale the vapours, or just let them fill the room.
  • If you are prone to colds take chyawanprash daily to strengthen your immune system.
  • Hot drinks like ginger and honey (don't over heat the honey!) can be sipped all day long.
  • If you feel comfortable bend over and touch your toes, this will bring the energy to your head and clear your sinuses (don't do this on a full stomach or if you feel dizzy)
Spices and spice teas (especially basil, bay leaves, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, long pepper, tumeric and ginger), steamed vegetables, mung dahl, honey.

Dairy (especially cheese and yoghurt), cold foods, cold weather, meat, wheat, sweet fruits, fats, cakes and pastries, sweets in general, sleeping during the day, overeating.

June 02, 2008

Taking life one step at a time

Many of my friends look at my lifestyle and think it would be impossible for them to live Ayurvedically. Certainly if you made the leap all at once it is far too daunting, but it's taken me years to cultivate these habits, diet and routines. Just take it one step at a time.

If you are interested in transitioning to a more Ayurvedic lifestyle start with two simple things:

1.Early to bed, early to rise
The Vedas explain that getting out of bed early is the single most important factor for longevity. Just make the change gradually, get up fifteen minutes earlier each week. Aim to get up just before sunrise, or even earlier if you are comfortable, but take your time making the change.

2. Eat your food
Just eat what you normally eat, don't worry about making any drastic changes to your diet yet, or working out what dosha you are. Simply give your food some attention. Take three meals a day at regular times, sit down, look at it, taste it, enjoy it. Don't eat at your desk or in the car or whilst walking down the street. You can eat a packet of Tim Tams if you really want to, but don't do it by accident whilst your watching TV, savour every mouthful.

Just try it for a month and then I'll post the next step. If you miss a day, or forget, or fall out of routine, don't pack it in, just try again the next day. Life never goes to plan, but just keep trying!