As a September article, part of the theme here is to assist students who are going back to school. But, who in this brave new world does not find themselves precariously attempting to scale one or 12 learning curves! We all need to be able to pay attention, and we all could get by a little easier with a little help from our herbal friends!
A beautiful aspect of ancient wisdom traditions is that they see the unifying principles behind seemingly otherwise disparate phenomena. Take attention for example. According to Yoga and Ayurveda, attention is as apt a word for a healthy profile of pancreatic enzymes as it is for the quality of your focus on these words right now. In the former case, your body is using enzymes to discriminate between the fats, starches and proteins in your diet to create “body,” and in the latter case your intellect is discriminating between these plays of white and black squiggles called letters to create “mind” out of the concepts carried by them.
Often an herb that will help the digestion of food in your stomach will also help the digestion of experience and emotions in your mind. The classic example of this is Tulsi, which is one of the many reasons why this epic herb is called yogipriya, the beloved of the Yogi.
This realization that physical and mental digestion can be supported by a single herb or therapy is one of the many beautiful and empowering facets of using energy-based wellness systems, like Yoga and Ayurveda, as opposed to using mass-based systems, like western medicine. Let’s look at the ways that discrimination and attention can be supported by our herbal allies.
These categories of attention will of course blend a little, and indeed, sharp recollection, discrimination and cognition are related. In this case I refer to both the ability to cognize, and also the ability to have a clear, happy mind that will properly process the cognition into meaningful and rewarding perception.
Years ago, Dr. John Douillard created a formula just for this, composed of four cognitive adaptogens: Centella, Bacopa, Ashwagandha, and Shankhapushpi; and called the quartet the Joy! Formula. Indeed, especially consumed with Tulsi Gotu Kola Tea and/or Tulsi Cinnamon Rose Tea, this formula does support sharp cognition.
Imagine if you could have a delicious spoonful of the cosmic principle of discrimination and transformation. What would you do? I assume that you just might opt to eat a spoon or two a day. I know I would, and I do just that.
The twist here is that according to the Yogic legends, the aforementioned principle lives in every spoonful of ghee. Yes, hyperbole is often innate to any oral tradition, as it helps memorization, and you can feel free to read agni in this context as being that which will deeply support your metabolism, including the metabolism of food into body and the metabolism of thought and experience into mind, emotions and beliefs.
In this case ghee combines very well with Tulsi, Turmeric, and Ginger, which is why medicated ghees, with herbs cooked right into them, are so effective. Even taking these herbs with ghee will amplify their effectiveness as they all carry so many co-factors that amplify each other’s potency.
Did you know there is a tribe in Africa whose medical system is based on the observations of how other primates, besides humans, use herbs to take care of themselves? In this same type of biomimicry it is said that Sri Lankan monks realized that Centella and Bacopa have a strong ability to support memory by watching elephants eat the herbs.
Indeed, both Bacopa and Centella have long been known to support a wide array of cognitive functions, a fact that has also been conveniently confirmed by Western bioscience in dozens of published studies. Personally, my favorite way of taking Brahmi is by drinking Tulsi Gotu Kola Tea, in fact, I drink about 3 cups of it daily, each cup with 3-4 bags of tea in it.
Immunity is one of my favorite instances of how sharpness and discrimination can occur within our bodymind. In fact, experts consider the immune system to be another mind, except instead of using neurons it uses an incredible array of cells and messengers including cytokines and hormones. Immunity is an incredible phenomenon and is much more than just not having a snuffly nose.
There are many herbs that are replaceable, so to speak, like Linden can often replace Chamomile, but one herb that can’t be replaced is Katuki, as the profile of its salubrious actions and the general volume that these actions play at within us is astounding.
And so this makes Dr. Narendra Singh’s Immunity Formula very important and special, irreplaceable in many ways, especially as it so generously supports sharp immunity, the ability of the immune system mind to properly discriminate and not get overly attentive (inflammation) or not attentive enough (infection).
Chyawanaprash, with its ghee and honey and over 3 dozen herbs, is also a classic way to sharpen the attention of immunity!
Because it is an oral tradition, Ayurvedic vernacular has oodles of wonderful little sayings, idioms and proverbs. Here is one apropos to paying attention in the context of digestion:
If you do not pay attention to your food
neither will your body
Herbs like Tulsi, Turmeric, Ginger, formulas like Trikatu, teas like Tulsi Ginger Tea, and Ghee are great for supporting sharp digestion, and the ability of your bodymind to pay attention to you food, even when it is hard for you to do so!
The ability of the body to pay attention to blood sugar levels of course takes a team effort of
When it comes to that last facet, there are many herbs that assist here. For instance I never cease to be amazed at how many mechanisms Turmeric and Tulsi and Triphala have to assist in ensuring the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels, as in 10-15 mechanisms each!
Add to the dietary discrimination and the above mentioned herbs Dr. Narendra Singh’s tried and true Sugar Balance formula, composed of Bimbi (Coccinia), Bougainvillea, and Periwinkle (Vinca), and you have some serious sweet discrimination going on!
The “pay” part of “pay attention” is very important and includes how we have to use our herbal allies over time, especially the deeper tonics, Ashwagandha, Shatavri, Chyawanaprash, Guduchi, Licorice, Reishi, HoShoWu, Meda, Mahameda, Safed Musli, etc, in order to “pay it forward.” In other words, we use these tonic herbs to support core energy, and then that established core energy pays it forward to things like greater cognitive function and immunity, etc. Greater cognitive function then cycles around to assist us to make those choices which will tend to support our balance.
In many ways taking these wonderful earth-element tonic adaptogens is like making investments in your long-term wellness, investment that pays the daily dividends of enhanced immunity, cognitive function and metabolic processes.
We need to know how to relax, and yes, I totally get it, in some cases that relaxation has to be an act of total sedation, simply becoming vegetative for a night. But it is much better in the long run if your usual path of turning attention off was simply calming yourself and becoming empty of the stessors of the day.
Here the anti-stress adaptogens support us to manage stress. And it is well documented that our cognitive function is actually enhanced when stress is not tying up our mind into pretzels of perceptual perplexity.
Herbs and foods that help give us a clear, balanced, bright mind, one that is not dull nor agitated, are called sattvic. Regular use of sattvic foods and herbs, like Tulsi, Brahmi and Turmeric are renown to help us see the whole picture, and essential to this complete picture is seeing within, as when we watch the witness with this sharp and yet kind, non-judgmental attention we see a truth that helps us realize our true place by hinting at our true identity.
Naturally, as the world becomes so riddled with the confusion of so many exponential areas of change, from economics to the environment, as the choices to support sanity seem often limited to meditation or medication, many people are turning to mindfulness practices to create an orb of the power of inner peace. Many of the herbs mentioned in this newsletter are supportive of such broad and inclusive views that help us cope, that assist us in adapting to an ever-changing world.
More than our body, more than our mind, more than our circumstances, pure awareness is much closer to whom, or should I say “what” we truly are. According to Yoga and Ayurveda, and most other wisdom traditions, in a myriad of ways our dance in this life, as this life, is dependent on the flavors of this awareness. When that awareness is mindful then there tends to be released within us, as us, wellsprings of wisdom and compassion as we see deeper, cognize truer and radically broaden our perspective of what actually is.
Awareness, attention, is all we really have to give, and so what we choose the flavor of that awareness to be and what we select to give that awareness to is so telling. You know our children really only want our attention because they want us, not some plastic toy. In the very same way, if we give each other and ourselves a higher quality attention, then together, unified in this ability to witness ourselves and each other clearly, we will make a difference with our lives on this good Earth.
Thank you so much for reading this newsletter. May all beings be happy!
Joshua Tree National Park