Have you ever seen a mustard seed?
We began an exercise in class to get to know our spices. To really get to know them. To know what their effect is on the body and mind. To learn how they grow and to learn how to use them effectively in our cooking.
As a bonus, we expand our palates and reinforce our reputation as foodies!
Perhaps, you too, would like to be a foodie. Or perhaps you're looking to strengthen your connection with the natural world.
I have come to discover all things that remind us of our natural connection is just ancient knowledge. It is repackaged and wonderfully marketed as the new foodie craze by personalities like Dr. Oz. Then, this kernel of knowledge then becomes the new foodie fad for the next 1-2 years.
But what if we knew the ‘why’ of each of these super foods. What if all food could be utilized and in a way be a super food, based on inherent qualities?
What if we knew how to understand this secret knowledge of foods, and what if we understood how they react with the qualities of the person consuming them?
There is a way.
Ayurveda leads that way.
Let’s learn all there is to know about nature’s secrets in the form of spices and herbs.
The Choice of a Mustard Seed
This week I chose the mustard seed. I couldn't help but be reminded of Jesus' teaching ‘have thee but the faith of a mustard seed’. For me, this path of Ayurveda is less about health than it is about finding balance, harmony and making daily life my sadhana, or spiritual practice. But it could not have been possible if I took a chance, with a bit of courage, and faith as tiny asthat of a mustard seed.
I refer you to the commentary on this passage from Saint Thomas with the commentary here by Osho.
This is the first book I read when I began deepening my yoga practice. At that time, I don’t know if my faith was even that of a mustard seed. I could relate quite well to this teaching. I honestly had been rather put off by the whole idea of spirituality.
Since then, I have found that at the core of all religion there is Truth. And this Truth is grounded in reality and is entirely practical. But as is the nature of humanity, we make the Truth dogmatic, and dogma is of no real benefit.
But, I digress.
If you’re interested in connecting and learning more about the deeper philosophical understanding of yoga please reach out to a wonderful teacher and guide, Swami Sankarananda .
Why start with herbs?
There is so much to be taught in Ayurveda. It has been my mission to come up with a logical series to follow on this blog. I want to honor the fact that I am still yet a student.
[Perhaps, the best way, would be to always see myself as a student]
Yet there are so many gems that we each can implement in our daily lives to improve our health and wellbeing. I would hate to wait and not share these bits!
Being that at heart, I am a student of science, it is imperative to me that the techniques one follows are reproducible.
Studying herbs, their properties and how they affect the body will introduce many of the basic Ayurvedic concepts, such as dosha (constitution), rasa (taste), virya (warming or cooling action) and vipaka (post-digestive effect). These concepts will reinforced with each herb, and eventually the pattern will unfold and reveal itself to you.
I have found this practice is meditative. It brings us back into connection with the natural world.
It used to be that our grandmothers just knew, not from a medical basis, but from a holistic worldview, which herbs, substances, foods would be best for us and when.
That is what I am here to share with you.
Ayurveda & Digestion
Ayurveda’s focus is on the quality of digestion. It is said that all disease begins in the digestive system (perhaps, of course, after the mind space, but that is a yoga based philosophy). In order to live a vibrant life, free of causing discomfort to our own bodies, it is required that we focus on our digestive system. Actions such as increasing agni, will increase our digestive power. It increases the efficiency by which our body can break down food into its subcomponents which will be used to build tissue, repair tissue and give us energy.
We so often talk about the macronutrients of fat, carbs, protein. It has only been recently that we have been focusing on the quality our digestive environment.
Ayurveda sees the efficiency by which we digest as the key to wellbeing. I have experienced firsthand (which I will go into in a later post on panchakarma, the Ayurvedic cleanse) what it is like to experience no gas, no bloating, no heartburn and a light stomach after eating.
It is possible, even in our modern society, to have effective digestion. But there are certainly changes we must implement to make this possible.
Modern View of Mustard
According to drugs.com mustard is said to be “used as a food flavoring, for forage, as an emetic, and diuretic, as well as a topical treatment for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism. Mustard also has the potential pharmacological effects in cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.”
Properties of Mustard Seed from and Ayurvedic Viewpoint
Taste (rasa): Pungent (fire & air)
Warming/Cooling effect (virya): Warming
Post-digestive effect (vipaka): Pungent
Dosha effect: VK-P+ == Increases the qualities of fire (Pitta) and air, decreases the qualities of ether (Vata), water and earth (Kapha)
Qualities (gunas): sharp
Actions: mustard seed is considered a dipana (it increases agni); a carminative (dispels gas); lekhana (supports weight loss); pachana (eliminates ama); anthelminthic (destroys worms or parasites); expectorant (reduces mucous); analgesic (reduces pain); diuretic (rids of excess water)
The most complete meal is said to have all 6 tastes – pungent, bitter, astringent, sweet, sour and salty. The idea is to use spice to balance out the overall tastes.
While modern medicine has done wonders for helping us to survive through emergencies, it seems to be lacking wisdom in that which keeps us vibrant and healthy.
This is where I have been drawn to holistic medicine. It sees not the body and mind as separate, but rather as intricately connected.
Many of us think we are perfectly healthy compared to >>insert any friend’s name here<<, but in fact we are suffering with sleep disorders, hormonal imbalances and SO MANY DIGESTIVE DISORDERS.
It is ingrained in our culture.
We even have a children’s song that encourages digestive imbalance.
[You know, ‘beans, beans a wonderful fruit…’]
Ayurveda gives us the tools to overcome these imbalances before they manifest into what is called ‘relocation and diversification’.
Ayurveda uses herbs as support, but not as the end-all. It is important to note that herbs can have side effects. It is always advised to consult a herbalist or ayurvedic practitioner if using in dosages larger than would be normally found in food.
Let’s just remember though that the typical western diet doesn’t make room for much spice. We have graciously given away our food preparation to companies that market their expertise. Companies with an eye on the bottom line, more so than on the quality of products.
With that in mind, a half to a full teaspoon or so a day of any given spice (within reason, let’s not start adding a teaspoon of cayenne to our food), is most likely going to be a reasonable amount.
My experience with mustard seed
Here are images of the plant I have at home! It quickly grew from seed to sprout in about 3 days.
I picked up some fun cups from the thrift store. Layered the bottom with small rocks for drainage. I added about 6-7 seeds. And violia! Look at that growth!
This is a great exercise for the family. I find it important to introduce my daughter to the beauty of the natural world. As we come more and more engaged with our technological advances I want her to remember that it is nature, first and foremost, which supports us.
It is learning to connect with the pace of nature, to learn to surrender the organic growth that has sustained my yoga and now my ayurvedic practice. All beginning with the faith as tiny as a mustard seed. Through that seed of faith, I have experienced the extensive growth in my wellbeing
Next week we touch on the benefits of fennel for all three doshas. We will also begin to define doshas. Sign up below for notifications on updates on the site! Looking forward to sharing with you <3
Many blessings. May you too cultivate that faith within yourself. Even if it be merely be the size of a mustard seed.
Love & Om