Triphala: A Traditional Herbal Formula Pt. 2

I thought we would do a second article on Triphala for two important reasons.  1: Yes, it is that good to have around.   2: Triphala is a good example to use in highlighting the fact that different medical systems operate from very different perspectives.  Here in the west we focus on taking the herbal tablet to get all of the wonderful benefits to our digestive system that I wrote about last week.  According to Ayurveda – India’s medical system, tasting Triphala gives many powerful medicinal benefits too.

Why such an emphasis on taste?  Taste in the Sanskrit language is the word rasa.  Rasa also means emotion and rasayana is a word for rejuvenation.  In our modern world, we don’t often associate those three concepts together.  But in India, they all share the same root; they all stem from a central association.

Ayurveda believes consciousness is an integral part of the healing process.  Getting sick often had emotional and mental components, as did getting well.  Today we talk about mind/body connection or wholeness.  Ayurvedic theory takes it a lot further by believing 99% of illness originates from an emotional or mental root cause.   Thus, working on a person’s body was not a separate thing from working with their emotions and their mind.  To them, the ability to rejuvenate ourselves is deeply integrated with our ability to balance our emotional space.  To them taste and emotion are deeply interwoven to such a degree that different tastes stimulate different emotions.  By manipulating the tastes we eat, we can adjust our deep emotional imbalances.

Triphala has all the primary tastes but is very high in bitterness.  Bitter slows down the momentum of our desires, and thus leads to a calmer emotional and mental space.  It leads to contentment instead of striving.  As people drink it, they taste the bitterness strongly and that narrowing tone can sometimes be rejected by the mind.  However, as our emotional space comes into deeper balance, the bitterness doesn’t jump out at us so strongly and the taste profile  becomes more pleasing.

Remember: The Ayurvedic medical system has been in use for thousands of years.  Their insights and methods may be different, but they have worked for millions of people.

To wrap up, here is a final way Triphala is used that exemplifies how wildly different our medical theories can be.   Triphala is often used to purify the tongue and the consciousness behind speech.  Thus Triphala is prescribed as a mouth scrub for all people trying to learn a second language.  Just wet your finger or your tooth brush and dust with powdered Triphala.  Gently brush the entire mouth including the sides of the cheeks, tongue, and gums.  The cleansing that happens helps to calm deep imbalances that can lead to dullness of speech, slowness of thought, and inflexibility of the tongue and mouth.  You can also use Triphala scrub to help stop yourself or your children from frequent cursing for the same reasons.

 

Triphala: a traditional herbal formula Pt. 1

Triphala means three fruits.  It is an herbal compound made from three different herbs.  The herbs are from the subcontinent of India where Triphala has been a staple herbal medicine for thousands of years.  As a combination remedy, it has properties that act strongly on our entire digestive system and it is gentle enough to be good for all body types.  Its properties make it broadly applicable and easily usable by a large percentage of the population.

So what does Triphala do?  It stimulates bile, cleanses the blood, gently lubricates the colon and it enhances peristalsis or the movement of material through the intestines.  These factors have the combined effect of enhancing our digestive and eliminatory capacities.  Triphala is often recommended as a part of weight loss programs.  By enhancing several detoxification functions throughout our body, it paves the way for the release of unnecessary weight.

Putting it into Eastern language, it balances all three of the governing tissues: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  These subtle tissues, when out of balance, overflow from their homes in the digestive system.  This ‘spilling out’ process pulls toxins out of the GI tract as well.  Once toxins are in the body, they build up and create health issues anywhere that they lodge.  Triphala is so highly recommended because it keeps our digestive system healthy; helping keep Vata, Pitta, and Kapha in their homes instead of spilling out into the body.  While the language is different between medical systems, the ideas are essentially the same.  Both systems say quite clearly that unhealthy guts are a significant way for bigger and nastier diseases to develop down the road.

Triphala commonly comes in two forms: tablets and powders.  We like the tablets in America much more than the powder because of Triphala’s taste.  However, it is traditionally served as a tea, where part of its medicinal power comes from tasting it.

CAUTION: Triphala packs intensely bitter and astringent tastes that take time to appreciate.  Prepare for it and don’t let it deter you.

Making Triphala Tea from powder is quite easy.  Start with either a teaspoon or a tablespoon of powder poured into a 12 or 8 oz coffee cup.   Fill it with near boiling water and let it steep.  Medicinal teas always steep longer then beverages, and while you can drink your tea after 20 minutes, in my personal practice I wait 8-12 hours.  By letting it sit a long time, the powder will settle to the bottom so you don’t need to mess with strainers.  When I need Triphala, I will drink two cups a day.  I make a cup after supper and let it sit covered on the counter to drink in the morning.  At breakfast, I will prepare my evening cup and leave it sit covered on the counter until then.

REMEMBER: Standard wellness theory has us looking for ways to halt the momentum of disease early.  Here is a great way to take the teeth out of disease early.

Balancing Against Extreme Cold

We have arrived at the top of the mountain.  And by mountain I mean crazy extreme cold weather.  This will, hopefuly, be the most extreme cold weather all year.  It is important to understand the implications that this peak weather has for our health.  The good news is that there is plenty we can do to minimize the stress that it puts us under.

According to ancient wisdom there are 10 pairs of opposing qualitys in our physical world.  The opposites of temperature, hot and cold, are the strongest to affect us.  Other qualities come with the extreme cold that we have been feeling, and bringing in their opposites can be greatly beneficial.  To help explain, think of what it would be like to stand on the top of a mountain.  Wild wind would be whipping across the landscape in gusts and swirls.  You could feel the cold and dry wind attempting to freeze, crack, and ravage your skin.  When we pay attention to the qualities of our winter weather, we find it to be full of dryness, roughness, mobility, lightness, sharpness, and coldness.  Those qualities are affecting us all.

To stay in balance, we want to be very conscious about bringing  the opposite qualities of those listed above into our lives.  An example would be dryness.  The more extreme the dryness outside, the more extreme we need to get in our efforts to drink more water and apply moisturizers to our skin and chapstick to our lips.  Pretty simple.  And so, we balance against the mobile wind with regularity and consistency in our daily schedule.  We balance against the rough, sharp and dry qualities of the air outside with things that are soft, smooth, and liquid.  We add warming activities and foods into our diet to combat the cold.   All of these practices have at their core the goal of minimizing the stresses that our environment is putting on us.

Remember: Stress can be defined as any change to homeostasis.  Think about the difference between our core body temp at 98.6 degrees and the current temperature outside?  The larger the difference, the larger the stress.  The same goes for all the above named qualities.

Practices:

Eat more soups.  Soup is hot, heavy, wet, and smooth.  Basically, you can’t do much better at finding a food with qualities so opposite of our weather.

Winter is also the time to add more acidic foods to your diet.  Acids are considered to be heating, and foods like nuts, beans, and meats all have warming qualities to them that are more appropriate in winter than in summer.

Moderate and regular exercise.  The key to this one is that regular exercise warms you, but extreme exercise stresses us.  So be consistent and be nice to yourself with 20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day to heat you up.   Also, exercise brings blood to the muscles and skin.  This helps the skin stay moist and healthy.

Stay home and read a book.  The more extreme the weather, the more extreme the stress.  So rest.  Turn off the stimulants and the motion in your life.  Curl up in a warm cave of blankets and hibernate a bit.

Dry Skin, Help Me!

As we all know, Wisconsin winters can be brutally cold.  A hot shower can take away the chill, but what is that hot water do to our skin? About 47% of the population suffers from dry skin. Although most of us only have to deal with it in the winter, some have trouble year round. If you are one of those that have to struggle with it more than just in wintertime, you may have a chronic skin condition. Sometimes the culprit can be the products you are using on your skin.

Asteatosis and Xerosis are the medical terms for dry skin. One of the causes of this are the lack of ceramides, which are fats found naturally in the outer layer of the skin. Ceramides are what hold the cells of your skin together, kind of like a glue. Another cause of dry skin is one that can easily be reversed – dehydration. You should drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day to stay hydrated and also to keep your skin in its optimum condition.

Sometimes the products we are using can cause dryness. Some soaps are too harsh, they are alkaline and can actually strip the skin of its protective outer layer. Soap itself is an emulsifier, which removes oils on the skin. Excessive use of these can cause your skin to dry out. A common mistake many make is scrubbing while cleansing; you should not feel tightness after, but refreshed.

Now that you know what some of the causes of dry skin are, I bet you are wondering how to prevent and treat it. One of the best ways to take care of your skin is to moisturize it daily. Moisturizers encourage the desquamation (shedding of the dead skin cells) process that makes skin appear smooth. You can also use a dry brush to exfoliate the skin as well. Moisturizing lotions also contain emollients, which are substances that inhibit the evaporation of water. When you bathe, your skin does absorb some of the water; however it evaporates into the air and takes excess water out of the skin along with it. The way to prevent this from happening is to apply a lotion as soon are you pat yourself dry after getting out of the shower or tub.

One of the best ingredients to look for in a good lotion is hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is already present in our bodies and holds up to 1000x its weight in water! Just a little fyi for you, all of the products in our Hylunia line contain hyaluronic acid! I would recommend the Healing & Restoring Cream; it is a favorite here and is used at the end of our body wraps.

Along with a good moisturizer, some foods can help with dry skin, especially oils. Some examples are olive oil as a natural moisturizer, coconut oil helps the skin store moisture, almond oil nourishes the skin and heals damaged skin, and avocado oil decreases dry skin and age spots. You can use these oils by either including them in your diet or applying them right on the skin. This is one of the reasons Back To Bliss only uses oils in our massages as well.  Although there are many other oils that are beneficial these are just some of the most common. Turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, and ginger are some great spices as well for the skin because of their therapeutic properties.

I hope I have saved you some itching and scratching and have made Wisconsin winters a bit more tolerable!

~”If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Thomas A. Edison~

Strategies For Dealing With Uncontrollable Life Events

There are many things in this life that we have no control over.  Getting a firm grasp on what we can control and what we can not is a very important part of wellness.  Once we understand which things are within our power to adjust, then we can make much more powerful and intelligent choices.

Accepting that we don’t have control doesn’t have to be a scary or devastating.  Life can certainly throw massive curve balls at us, but there is always something that we do have control of.  In wellness practice, we like to talk about regular habits  that we can build into our daily life that rebuild balance.  But, if we break it down, there are two major strategy types for dealing with the uncontrollable aspects of life.  Understanding these two strategy types can help us as we get down into the particular details of our own wellness program.

The first category I call, “balancing against.”  These strategies all acknowledge a need to balance the scales.  If something is happening that we can’t control and it increases our stress levels, then we need to increase the amount of time we spend reducing that stress.  If we cannot control something that is pulling us to the left, then we need to put more things into our life that pull us to the right.

These practices have at their core the idea that you don’t want to move from where you are.  The intention is to stabilize, mitigate, and balance.  These practices can be as simple as putting a cooling cucumber into our water during hot summer days.  They can also be comprehensive programs to balance against a single stressful influence, such as a high pressure job.  Someone suffering from repetitive use injury from their job would want to use these strategies.  They want to stay in the job, but need to balance against the negative effects that it has on their bodies.

The second category I call, “using the current.”  These strategies focus on finding the best ways to utilize the energy that is in the present moment.  Instead of always opposing the uncontrolled aspects of our lives, it is often very practical to surrender to their power; allowing them to pull us along.  These strategies often require a little more flexibility of mind, but they can make mercury into gold pretty nicely.

These strategies often include a sense of motion.  Using the current may take you strongly forward into a new direction or speed up a time of transition.  They can be as simple as allowing your day to be flexible instead of rigid.  One example of this might occur when one of your children gets sick.  Instead of fighting to work from home, turn the day into a rest and recoup day for both of you.  If you trip and rip your pants, don’t get angry.  Go shopping!

Remember: Even if we can’t have direct control over our stressors, its good to know that we can choose to balance against their influence or use the power of their current to take us somewhere we do want to go.

What Is A Trigger Point

Pain is something we all deal with on a fairly regular basis. Today I wanted to discuss a very particular type of pain created by trigger points called referred pain. While it is very common, our lack of understanding how referred pain works causes many of us to suffer needlessly.

Trigger points are very specific muscle knots. There are two important things to know about them. The first is that they are almost always a chronically tight muscle that don’t release on their own. Secondly, we feel the pain they cause in another area of our body. This referred pain is confusing because we try to rub a painful area or put icy-hot on it, but the actual cause is in another area of our bodies altogether. Our efforts to solve our pain don’t work because we don’t realize that the pain we are feeling is referred from a trigger point somewhere else. These two issues are what make them difficult to manage unless you know about their potential.

Trigger points are chronically tight because they are caught up in a positive feedback loop. The conversation between the muscle and brain continues to enforce the need for the muscles to stay contracted. The loop continues to create a state of tightness that can last long after the initial strain that caused it is forgotten. In this way the bruise and inflammation from a fall can heal, but because of a faulty loop in our nervous system, we keep the knot in our muscles long after.

Researchers are still looking into exactly how and why pain is referred from a trigger point to another area of the body. The good news is that trigger points follow a fairly consistent referral pattern. Therapists trained in trigger point therapy have a pretty good road map to follow that leads them to know what specific trigger points can be causing the pain you feel. For example, we know that a trigger point in the front neck muscles can cause a headache that radiates up to the temples and crosses the forehead. There are also several trigger points in the abdomen can cause significant back pain along the sacrum and ribs.

So how do you get rid of a trigger point? The answer is that you have to break the positive feedback loop. In many cases, the feedback loop is the last remnant of an old injury and as soon as the loop is broken the pain can disappear like magic. I have had several clients have “miracle” cures from long term pains after a single session of massage. You break the loop by putting sensation into the trigger point in such a way that the body can reevaluate the communication between muscle and brain. Typically this is done with massage directly on the trigger point or through active slow stretching as from doing yoga.

Caution: Your stubborn pain may only be difficult because you didn’t realize it was referred pain. If you can’t find the trigger point yourself, ask a massage therapist, physical therapist, or chiropractor for trigger point therapy.

Training News – Spring Forest Qigong

Congratulations to Carrie Schug – Senior Level Massage Therapist and now QiGong instructor!

Carrie has completed her Level 1 and Level 2 Spring Forest QiGong instructor’s certifications and has completed all of our student level class work at Back To Bliss.  Carrie has been leading Qigong classes at the student level for a year now and the experience combined with her further certifications means she is ready to offer class as a confident and experienced local resource for this traditional Chinese healing art.

Carrie will be teaching mainly at our Colby location, and is open to on-site classes.  Check our class schedule for complete dates and times and contact us to set up Qigong classes at your location.

Carrie attended class at Northwestern Health Science University in Bloomington, Minnesota on October 10th & 11th.
One of the techniques that stood out to her during her class was a special driving technique she applied on her drive home to help maintain energy and focus:
Technique: Hold the steering wheel in such a way that you put your thumb and index finger so they touch – creating a circle around the wheel.
Experience: “This was very helpful to me when I was leaving class, because I don’t care for big city driving.  It stresses me out in such a way that i feel all my energy is leaving my body.  By doing this technique during the drive home, I felt that it helped keep life force energy in my body.  It also helped keep my hands warmer. ” ~Carrie

Expectation

Expectation is the cause of great suffering.  The Packers final game this year was a great example of expectation and hopes dashed.  They SHOULD have won that game.  They dominated for 90% of it.  As we, packer nation, rolled into the fourth quarter we had every reason to expect a super bowl berth.  We could taste it, it was so close.

Dashed.

And while we could talk about the horrible statistic that says domestic violence rises proportionally to the intensity of dashed expectation of our team winning, this is not just a Packer issue.  It is a human emotional reaction that can be allowed to create suffering and drama in our lives whenever our expectations are not met.

What causes expectation to turn to anger and then to drama or even violence?  If we break it down, expectation is a desire.  By placing our desire into an external outcome we create drama because no matter how hard we try, we cannot truly control anything but ourselves.  The higher the intensity of our desire, the higher the negative or positive reaction we have when our expected results appear or disappear.  If we have no invested desires in an outcome, then we have no emotional reaction to any of the results, be they good, bad or ugly.

Anger is an emotion that basically says, “Get out of the way!  You are blocking me from achieving my desire.”  If our expectations are not met, then the flash of anger that comes from it sometimes explodes outward like a grenade.  Anything in the immediate area is going to get hit with that flash of anger as we process our reaction to dashed expectations.  Again, the higher our investment in the result, the higher the potential anger.

Once we understand and identify this process, we have an opportunity to work with it.  The first critical step in handling the negative effects of expectation is building self-awareness.  This includes awareness of our true expectations as well as the level of emotional investment we are projecting onto the results.

Second, the application of a philosophy called, “Releasing The Fruits” can be useful.  It calls for us to change the focus of our minds from gaining satisfaction in the results of our actions to gaining satisfaction in the process leading up to the results.  It is often said differently, “Happiness is not in the destination, but in the journey.”

So, instead of focusing all our satisfaction on making a big sale, we can gain satisfaction from dressing professionally, speaking clearly to the client, and answering their questions.  If we learn to find satisfaction in performing well, then the result of that sales call doesn’t have such a high impact.  The result doesn’t carry ALL of the weight in terms of emotional payoff.  The real gem of this practice is apparent when we understand that in its essence, we are attempting to move our satisfaction into the realm of things we can control instead of being at the whim of fate.

In the end, the intense drama that expectation can create is a form of stress that has deep and wide implications for our health and our relationships.