Brewed to Perfection

BY JAMES BAILEY, L.AC.  |  Originally posted here in Yoga Journal

Few culinary treasures have made their way to every continent in the world as has the warm, soothing cup of tea. More tea is drunk worldwide than any other beverage except water. The Indian word for tea, chai, came to India from China and also Japan, where tea is known as cha and defined as a simple hot-water infusion of the tea plant Camellia sinensis.

cup of green tea with mintTea is indigenous to China, Indochina, and the northeast provinces of India, particularly the cool, wet mountainous regions of Assam. The Chinese first discovered tea drinking in 2737 b.c.; however, it was the British and the East India Company who first cultivated tea in India in 1836 for export to Europe.

Over time, though, Indians started to add their own spices, most notably cardamom, to the standard British-influenced concoction of black tea, milk, and sugar. Cardamom was used for three reasons: It enhanced the tea flavor; it provided a mild digestive aid traditionally said to warm and stimulate agni, our digestive fire; and lastly, it neutralized the toxic effects of caffeine.

In India’s northern state of Punjab, more elaborate mixtures of culinary spices were added into tea to further enhance its medical effects, creating some of the world’s most flavorful brews. As the Sikh religion native to Punjab arrived in America with Yogi Bhajan in the late 1960s, the heavily spiced tea became known as “yogi tea.” Yogi tea, also called masala tea, is now used as much to warm and stimulate digestion after a meal as to nourish body, mind, and spirit with its light, cleansing qualities.

In America the terms “chai” and “yogi tea” are often used interchangeably. A simple way to distinguish between them is the amount of spice used. Traditional chai is heavy on both milk and sugar and contains only a modest amount of spice, which is usually just cardamom. Yogi tea emphasizes more spice and can be served with or without the black tea, the milk, or the sugar.

Four primary spices are used in yogi tea: cardamom, ginger, long pepper, and cinnamon. Cardamom and ginger are considered sattvic, believed to stimulate spiritual purity. These spices also help to reduce mucus, relieve gas, calm the stomach, stimulate agni, and eliminate ama(toxins). Long pepper (pippali) does all this, as well as reduces pain and rejuvenates tissue. Cinnamon is similar to cardamom and ginger in properties and is also good for the circulation and the heart.

Everyone seems to have a favorite yogi tea recipe, but here is a basic one for beginners —

Bring two quarts of water to a boil and then add the following spices: one-half tablespoon long pepper (whole black peppercorns can be substituted), one heaping tablespoon cardamom seeds, six sticks of cinnamon, and four slices of fresh ginger root, peeled.

Reduce the heat and let the spice mixture simmer for 30 minutes. Add one and one-half teaspoons black tea and then let steep for no longer than 10 minutes. (It becomes too bitter after that.) Strain and add milk, honey, or maple syrup to taste.

Indeed, some yogis may prefer drinking just a simple infusion made from only the base spices, depending on their particular dosha, without the black tea, milk, or sugar. For example, kaphas, who may be burdened by sluggish digestion, gas, or constipation or suffer from dairy sensitivities, obviously should skip milk and sugar. Sensitive vatas and easily agitated pitas should avoid the caffeinated black tea.

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Sing out loud

BY KARIN BEUERLEIN |  originally posted here in Yoga Journal

Karen Brabec recalls the story ruefully. She had just won first prize for her skillful boat-decorating for the third year in a row at Chicago’s annual Venetian Night parade. She took great pride in the project and invested long hours in the competition, a nighttime extravaganza held on Lake Michigan featuring a fleet of festively adorned sailboats and a grand fireworks display.

When a local TV station wanted to interview her about her accomplishment, she was thrilled. Inside the studio, cameras rolled and the interviewer asked the first question, but when Brabec tried to respond, all that came out was…a squeak. “It was as if someone was putting his hands around my neck and squeezing,” she says. “There was nothing there. No air.”

She was unable to complete the interview, dissolving in coughs and deferring questions to her husband, who had gone with her. “I was terribly disappointed,” she says. When she left the studio, her voice immediately returned to normal.

Brabec had just discovered something that yogis have been exploring for centuries: The human voice is intimately connected to the inner self; its state can reveal the tides of emotion that surge through you. When a person feels fear, anxiety, or tension—even unconsciously—the speaking voice suffers.

But just as your emotions affect the quality of your voice, you can also use your voice to affect your emotions. You can improve your mood and calm your central nervous system through chanting and yoga postures that promote a healthy vocal technique. More profoundly, paying attention to the quality of your voice will teach you more about your true identity.

“There’s something that science hasn’t defined about the way the voice links to the real heart of who you are,” says Barbara Wilson Arboleda, a speech-language pathologist and voice specialist at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For example, she says, many people love to sing, even when their voices aren’t classically beautiful, simply because it touches something deep inside them that they can’t quite name.

Evolution pioneer Charles Darwin theorized that the human voice may have originated when certain chest and throat muscles contracted in excitement or fear; in other words, he believed voice and emotion came from the same impulse. Science hasn’t mapped exactly how it works, but the larynx, or voice box, is thought to be wired directly into the brain’s emotional center, the limbic system. This may be why a lump in the throat is often the first sign of emotional distress.

Brian Hands, a Toronto otolaryngologist whose Vox Cura clinic caters to singers struggling with voice problems, sees this connection in his practice every day. Singers frequently come to him in a panic because they’re missing notes or feeling pain when they sing.

“It’s usually coming from angst,” Hands says. “Once I’ve taken an appropriate history and examined the vocal cords [to rule out disease or injury], I discuss with them what I believe is misplaced or unreleased energy in the body.”

Although he treats his patients with Western medicine when their condition warrants, he also counsels them to investigate their emotions using the concept of chakra energy. This ancient model, which maps energy centers in the body, can help you visualize where you hold unnecessary tension and how that thwarts natural bodily processes, he says.

The larynx, Hands says, is located in the fifth, or communication, chakra, which includes the neck, jaw, shoulders, and ears. His patients tend to have tenderness and pain there because they’re using these muscles, rather than the diaphragm, to power the larynx. But to move vocal production down where it belongs, he believes, they must resolve buried conflicts in the lower chakras, particularly in the fourth, or heart, chakra, which governs relationships. “This is the area where we carry our baggage,” Hands says. “Problems growing up. Mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses, colleagues.”

Hands recalls a patient who had lost her voice completely, causing her to be demoted at her job in a law office. “All she could do was whisper,” Hands says. “She’d been to four other specialists, who all said her vocal cords were fine.” After speaking with her, Hands suspected that an old emotional trauma was the culprit, and he began asking about her family history. “Within two sessions, she burst into tears,” he says. “She hadn’t been able to speak to her mother in four years.” Once she allowed herself to acknowledge the negative emotions she’d been feeling—and to call her family—her voice returned in full.

Croaking Frog, Heal Thyself

Although the link between voice and emotion is sometimes a channel for pain, applying positive energy to that same circuitry may help heal body, mind, and spirit.

Silvia Nakkach, a San Francisco Bay Area singer, composer, and teacher, founded the nonprofit Vox Mundi Project (Vox Mundi Project) to educate people about the history and healing power of the voice. According to Nakkach, every spiritual tradition uses sound to facilitate the passage between states of consciousness. “In the shamanic tradition, the voice is considered to be a gatekeeper,” she says. “It’s what opens the door to the realm of the spirit.”

Buddhist and yogic philosophies also embrace teachings about the power of the voice, promoting the chanting of mantras designed to empty the mind and unite the spirit with a divine entity. “The voice lies between the heart and the head,” says Ann Dyer, a vocalist and yoga teacher in Oakland, California, who specializes in nada yoga, or the yoga of sound. “So on a very basic level, the act of chanting brings together your intellectual awareness with your heart awareness.”

In fact, Dyer says, it’s quite common that when people first connect the two, they begin to weep. “People are sometimes startled,” she says. “They say, “I don’t know what’s going on, but every time I chant I start crying.’”

This catharsis is a hallmark of the increasingly popular practice of kirtan—a traditional Hindu practice of chanting the names of God in a call-and-response format as a path to union with the Divine. “At the molecular level, we are vibrating entities,” says Suzanne Sterling, a voice and yoga teacher who leads kirtan sessions in workshops nationwide. Because the voice is vibration, Sterling says, it communicates directly with our core. “There’s a whole energetic world inside us that can be enhanced by sound. When we allow certain tones to run through our bodies, it can bring us back into harmony.”

Western science is a step behind when it comes to recognizing the healing effects of the voice, but that’s changing. Listening to music is now an accepted part of therapy for pain and stress management, but new studies go further, suggesting that active singing may be even better for your health than listening. For example, a German study conducted in 2004 found that singers participating in a choral rehearsal boosted their immune response, while those listening passively to the same rehearsal did not.

In Full Voice

If speaking or singing hurts, or if you’ve never taken the time to explore your voice, it probably isn’t bringing you joy, warmth, or calm—or helping you express those feelings to others.

Yoga is a good way to get acquainted with your voice, as it helps you release unwanted tension, fully access your lungs, and improve your posture. The speech-language pathologist Arboleda, who’s also a yoga practitioner, emphasizes posture in particular—and not only because it smooths the breath. “How you’re positioned affects the shape of the throat and the alignment of the very small pieces of the larynx,” she says. “It’s a complex system, and everything needs to come together symmetrically.” Poor posture, she says, can bend the soft tissues of the throat out of shape, muting your sound.

And yoga, by calming the mind, allows you to focus on the quality of your voice. Listen closely to yourself. Do you use only a narrow range of pitches when you speak? Sterling says that people who speak only in the deepest pitches of their range often inhabit only that part of their emotional selves, eschewing lighter, sweeter feelings. By contrast, those who speak only in the high part of their range may lack gravity. Try broadening your vocal range when you talk, exploring expressive highs and lows. “It’s like moving in the full range of your personality as well as in the full range of your voice,” Sterling says.

A daily chanting practice, whether it’s done alone or with yoga, helps develop and strengthen your voice as well as attune you to its particular qualities, much like observing the breath inpranayama does, Dyer says. The more familiar your voice becomes to you, the more it will begin to reveal your truest self. “Are you getting sick? Are you getting run down? Are you falling in love? Or overwhelmed? Each of these things is reflected in your voice,” Dyer says. “The voice is the barometer of your being.” (See Unchain Your Melody for a guide)

Ayurvedic Healing Foods

BY MIRIAM KASIN HOSPODAR  |  Originally posted here on Yoga Journal

These healing foods enliven your body, stimulate its repair, and rejuvenate.

Lemons are both purifying and nourishing, and they stimulate digestion. For reducing toxins, drink unsweetened lemonade as many times during the day as desired.

Ghee (clarified butter) is among the best rejuvenating and longevity-promoting foods. It aids digestion and calms the nerves. Ghee’s rate of absorption is high, making it an excellent medium for transporting the nutrients of other foods to the tissues.

Dates and Figs are prized as excellent sources of energy. They also help build tissues. Eat one or two every day.

Almonds are nourishing and life-supporting. Ayurveda recommends blanching and peeling almonds because their skins are slightly toxic. Eat several almonds daily to increase strength and energy.

See also Rejuvenate with a 4-Day Ayurvedic Fall Cleanse

Mung Beans are among the best legumes for their supreme digestibility and health-giving qualities. They are beneficial when people are sick or otherwise in need of very light food. Mung beans are particularly nourishing when mixed with rice or other grains.

Ginger is often referred to as “the universal medicine.” It promotes good digestion and helps remove ama. Dried ground ginger is more concentrated in its flavor and its effects. To aid digestion, sprinkle a thin slice of fresh ginger with lemon juice and salt, and eat one-half hour before a meal.

Cumin Seeds serve as a digestive aid and alma-reducer for all doshas. To help remove toxins, start the day by drinking warm water mixed with a pinch of powdered cumin and ginger.

Lassi is a beverage prepared by mixing one part yogurt into two parts water. It is an excellent nutritive digestive aid, taken during or after a meal. You can flavor lassi either with raw sugar or honey and a little ground cardamom, or with toasted ground cumin seeds and salt.

See also 8 Light + Delicious Detoxifying Soup Recipes

Juicy, Seasonal Fruits are both highly nutritive and purifying. Juicy fruits should be completely ripe for maximum healing value.

Green, Leafy Vegetables are both nutritive and purifying. Their bitter flavor stimulates the liver, helps balance blood sugar, and aids skin conditions. Prepare with a little ghee or oil.

Cow’s Milk is considered a vitalizer by Ayurveda and recommended for those emaciated after injury. Ayurveda recommends bringing milk to a full boil to remove the qualities that can cause excess mucus. To further reduce milk’s clogging qualities, add a pinch of ginger and/or black pepper. Also, milk should be imbibed separately from foods with any taste other than sweet.

Water is universally beneficial for everyone, and assists virtually all healing. It promotes digestion and, when imbibed while hot, is particularly effective for removing ama.

See also Ayurvedic Spring Clean Eating Plan

The renewal of spring

This article was originally posted here on JillianPransky.com

Namaste!

17 Days until spring arrives!

Soon, we will feel the rigor of spring blow in. This is the time of release and renewal; new beginnings.  We are talking about the powerful energy needed to transform dry, hard soil back into moist, fertile ground. The vigorous energy needed to crack a seed and nourish its growth into a budding plant. This is the same uplifting force that is around us, and within us, moving us along from our winter repose and eventually, transitioning us towards the vibrancy of summer.

However, even as sunlight expands and the sweeping winds wildly churn up change – we can still find ourselves sluggish from winter.

In this season, Yoga and Ayurveda practices are designed to help melt the ‘sludge and heaviness’ of winter; cleansing and removing built up residue in the mind and body. To release what is no longer needed, and make room for growth and expansion.

To help support your renewal,  below you will find ideas to enhance your spring yoga and two links for on-line home practices with me. I will also filled each blog this month, with techniques to  harness the powerful energy of spring. You will find cleansing foods to support detoxification, a meditation for renewal, a Vernal Equinox practice, and 5 easy daily rituals to help you get ready to bloom. So be sure to check back each week for new tips to help you grow more vibrant all month long.

WORDS OF WISDOM

“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe