BY LINDA EGENES

Maharishi AyurVeda with Dr Mark ToomeyToxins surround us. In our food, our water, our air.

Yet according to Maharishi AyurVeda—a comprehensive, prevention–oriented healthcare system based on ancient Vedic health science—these environmental toxins are only part of the toxic load your body builds up every day.

Digestive toxins are created when you don’t digest your food properly, or when you eat food that doesn’t agree with your mind-body system. They can sap your energy, cloud your mind, and color your emotions.

The bottom line—toxins of all kinds create stress and disease.

Fortunately, the science of Maharishi AyurVeda offers many practical ways to detoxify both environmental and digestive toxins. Some of these can be practiced at home as part of your daily routine. Others are offered at in-residence facilities.

Maharishi AyurVeda Purification Treatments

One of the most powerful ways to clear toxins from the body and maintain overall balance is through the Maharishi RejuvenationSM program, traditionally called panchakarma.

“You could define panchakarma as the ancient art of purification,” says Mark Toomey, Ph.D., director of Maharishi AyurVeda at The Raj health spa in Fairfield, Iowa. Acclaimed by the likes of CBS, Newsweek, and Town and Country as a top Maharishi AyurVeda health spa, The Raj attracts clients from all over the world to its charming and luxurious facility nestled in the peaceful Iowa countryside.

Maharishi AyurVeda“Maharishi AyurVeda techniques of purification help us to maintain a physiology that’s not only capable of experiencing its own finer states of awareness, but also maintains the connectedness of every part of the body to wholeness, or pure consciousness, within,” says Dr. Toomey.

When you come to The Raj and stay in-residence, a Maharishi AyurVeda expert first determines your individual treatment program, depending on the state of balance or imbalance of your mind-body system.

The purifying spa schedule might include Maharishi AyurVeda warm-oil massage (abhyanga), soothing oil treatments to calm the mind (shirodhara), steam therapies (swedana)—and purification of the nasal passages and the large and small intestines.

Maharishi Rejuvenation therapies are gentle yet powerful in their ability to flush out toxins. A study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in 2002 found that the Maharishi Rejuvenation program reduced 14 varieties of lipophilic (fat-soluable) toxins by about 50 percent. These include DDE (a by-product of DDT) and harmful PCBs, which have been known to remain in the body for up to 40 years.

“These are environmental toxins that stay in the fat cells, and it’s extremely hard to get rid of them,” says Dr. Toomey. “Yet the ancient purification therapies of Maharishi AyurVeda are remarkably effective in flushing them out of the body.”

A Restful Experience

Although deeply purifying, treatments offered at The Raj are also soothing, relaxing, and rejuvenating. “The general experience is that purification does not have to be unpleasant,” says Dr. Toomey. “In fact, it’s blissful.” Many people make it a habit to return to the Raj again and again to rest, reset, and purify.

One client said, “I have been to top health spas all over the world, and the one I keep going back to is The Raj. It is truly the most peaceful and rejuvenating. Whether you are looking for an increased sense of spiritual peace and grounding, or whether you just want to look really good when you get back home—The Raj helps you accomplish whatever goals you set for yourself.”

Benefits for Mind and Body

The Maharishi Rejuvenation program is known to have a wide range of health benefits. These include increased vitality and fertility, balanced digestion, enhanced luster of the skin and clear complexion, slowing of aging, increased physical strength, enhanced power of the sense organs, relief from joint aches and pains, and relief from chronic disorders.

Yet Maharishi AyurVeda purification is not just for the body—it has a powerful effect on the mind as well—improving memory, increasing calmness, and enhancing positive emotions.

“At the end of treatment people report feeling lighter, having more energy, and more clear, blissful experiences during meditation,” says Dr. Toomey. “When you purify the body of toxins, you open the path to deeper experiences in meditation.”

Thus the Maharishi Rejuvenation program supports the development of higher states of consciousness. “We know that the transcendental aspect of meditation means ‘to go beyond,’” explains Dr. Toomey. “In order to experience that refined, transcendental level of our own pure consciousness, we need a purified, balanced physiology to support that experience.”

The Maharishi Rejuvenation program supports the development of higher states of consciousnessAt the same time, the deep rest provided by the Transcendental Meditation technique helps the body to purify toxins. It is known, for instance, that the body naturally has the means to metabolize environmental toxins and impurities through the liver and other organs of purification. It’s also known through research studies that chronic stress affects the body’s ability to purify toxins, and the fact is that TM reduces chronic stress and wear and tear on the body (allostatic load).

Dr. Toomey points out that this effect of TM in helping the body to purify environmental toxins is important for the brain as well. “Many environmental toxins are neurotoxic, which means they affect the ability of the brain to function,” he says. “Believe it or not, in Europe they count the by-product of pollution in lost IQ points. Which means that neurotoxic pollution can cause impairment of your intellectual abilities. It also means that when your body is overwhelmed with toxins, the ability to transcend may be less.”

So on the one hand, the ability to transcend helps enliven the body to purify, and on the other hand, the purification of the body helps the mind transcend.

Scott Fuller visits The Raj twice a year with his wife, Lynn. “The focus is on the purification of the physiology,” he says. “In my personal experience, it results in a profound wholeness. I always come back from The Raj feeling more grounded and in contact with my Self—with a capital ‘S.’ It’s the kind of feeling that you have when you’re six or seven and you feel there is nothing wrong with the world.”

Five Ways to Let Go of Toxins

Here are five Maharishi AyurVeda lifestyle habits that you can use at home to support your body’s self-purification systems.

  1. Detox while you sleep.According to Maharishi AyurVeda (and recent research on sleep), the body detoxifies during the period between 10 pm and 6 am. If you sleep during that time, your body will have the opportunity to rest, rejuvenate, and cleanse toxins properly.
  2. Clean up your diet. Eat organic foods that have been grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds. In general, eat fresh, cooked, warm foods, as these are easier to digest. Avoid packaged, canned, or frozen foods as these often have additives and are not fresh.
  3. Reduce your stress. Practice the Transcendental Meditation technique to provide the deep rest and relief from stress the body’s self-purification systems need to purify harmful toxins naturally.
  4. Drink plenty of pure water.Water flushes water-soluble toxins from the body. Maharishi AyurVeda recommends warm water to aid digestion. Avoid ice-cold or carbonated water as these disturb digestion and cause digestive toxins to form.
  5. Use herbal supplements for a safe and effective home cleanse. See The Maharishi AyurVeda Detox Routine at Maharishi Ayurvedic Products International (MAPI) website (http://www.mapi.com).

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 20. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

The Most Important Ayurvedic Secret to Great Health

Ayruveda Vata Pacifying DietThere was a time when I developed a severe bronchial cough every spring and couldn’t shake it for months at a time. My medical doctor said, “Get more rest,” and handed me an antibiotic prescription.

I took the antibiotics two years in a row (the first medications I had ever taken in my life) and by the third year, they stopped working. Stuck with a miserable cough, I heard about Maharishi Ayurveda and scheduled a consultation. The vaidya, or ayurvedic expert, used a diagnostic technique called “pulse diagnosis,” placing his fingers at the radial pulse on my wrist.

“Your problem is due to poor digestion, from eating too many heavy foods,” he explained. “And it’s been compounded by the antibiotics, which have killed the friendly flora in your intestines and weakened your immunity further.”

Say what? How could a persistent lung problem be due to poor digestion? I questioned this diagnosis, but since I was desperate, I took the herbal remedies and made the changes in diet and lifestyle that he suggested. And miraculously, I have never had a bronchial infection since. In fact, decades later, having made a conscious effort to improve my digestion using the practical principles of Maharishi Ayurveda, I rarely catch a cold.

Why Poor Digestion is Linked to Disease

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, digestive weakness is the cause of many diseases. The reasoning is simple: incomplete digestion leads to the build-up of sticky, gooey, digestive toxins (called ama). Ama circulates throughout the body and blocks the tiny passageways that carry waste away from the cells, causing further toxins to build up at the cellular level. At the same time, the passageways that carry nutrients to the cells also get gummed up by ama, leading to poor absorption and weakened immunity.

Depending on where the ama settles, digestive toxins can contribute to a wide range of diseases—from colds and flu to sore joints. In later stages, the build-up of toxins can actually cause distortions in the tissues and passageways, leading to more serious diseases such as atherosclerosis or arthritis.

That is why digestion is considered the key to health in Maharishi Ayurveda. Fortunately, it’s  not that hard to improve your digestion. Here are ten simple tips to give your digestion a boost during the cold and flu season this winter.

  1. Eat sitting down, in a settled environment, without watching TV or talking on the phone. Many Americans today eat standing up or in their cars. Your digestive system needs relaxation in order to function properly. A stressed or rushed atmosphere can actually cause food to curdle in your stomach, creating ama and destroying health.
  2. Try to eat your main meal at noon. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, digestive strength is optimum when the sun is at its strongest, at around 12:00. In most traditional cultures, the main meal is eaten then, because that is the time your digestion can handle heavier foods and larger quantities. Eating a heavy meal before bed is a sure way to create toxic buildup and interfere with sleep.
  3. Schedule regular meals. If your eating schedule is haphazard, your digestive system has to work overtime to catch up. Plan your meals to occur at the same time every day, and your digestion will run more smoothly.
  4. Stimulate your digestion. Eat a slice of fresh ginger squirted with fresh lemon juice before a full meal to give your digestion a jump-start.
  5. Drink  a light yogurt smoothie at lunchtime for pro-biotic digestive support. Put one-part fresh, plain yogurt and three-parts water in a blender and whip it to a froth. Traditionally, salt, cumin and coriander are added for a digestion-enhancing yogurt drink, although most people enjoy raw honey, rosewater and cardamom flavoring instead.
  6. Eat fresh, organic, whole foods. Leftovers and processed foods bought canned, frozen or packaged are difficult to digest. Processed foods also contain many chemicals and preservatives that create toxic buildup. Eating food freshly cooked with love will soothe and stimulate your digestion.
  7. Avoid ice-cold food and drinks. Sipping icy drinks with a meal puts out your digestive “fire,” and can cause bloating or stomach cramps. Try hot herbal tea or hot water with lemon to improve your digestion. Eat your food warm and freshly cooked to give your digestion a break.
  8. Rest for a few minutes after your meal. “Sorry to eat and run,” goes the saying, and your digestion feels sorry too. Rather than jumping up after your meals, take two minutes to remain sitting and allow your digestion a healthy start.
  9. Wait at least two to three hours after a full meal to eat again. A sure way to disrupt digestion is to pile fresh food into your stomach before the previous meal has digested.
  10. Enjoy. Consciously appreciating your food—the beautiful colors, the subtle dance of flavors—actually helps digestion. Even before you take your first bite, your eyes are digesting the food, causing your salivary glands and digestive juices to begin flowing. Take it from the Italians—beautiful food, a beautiful setting, beautiful people—what could be more natural and healthy? And your digestion will thank you.

Linda Egenes is the co-author of three books on ayurvedic health care, including Super Healthy Kids.

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Jane, a 55-year-old bookkeeper, complains that her hands and fingers feel stiff and painful, especially when the weather turns dry and cool. Sometimes her joints make a cracking sound when she bends them. She consults an expert in Maharishi Ayurveda and finds out that Vata dosha is at the root of her problem, which is why it tends to flare up during Vata (late fall and winter) Season.

Jason, a 30-year-old writer, finds it hard to bend his knees at times. His legs and joints feel heavy and swollen, and ache when the weather was cool and rain, as in Kapha (spring) Season. After consulting an ayurvedic expert, he discovers that his problem is due to toxins (ama) collecting in the joints.

Joint problems like Jane and Jason’s affect 80 percent of the population over age 30. Fortunately, Maharishi Ayurveda offers natural solutions to help people like Jane and Jason improve joint mobility.

Vata-Related Joint Problem
According to Maharishi Ayurveda, joint problems such as Jane’s start when the Vata subdosha that governs the circulation and nerve impulses goes out of balance. Her circulation, metabolism, and ability to absorb food are weakened; as a result, the bone tissue does not receive enough nourishment and eventually starts to degenerate. This in turn causes a drying effect in the subdosha of Kapha that governs lubrication of the joints. When  the joints are not lubricated properly, this creates pain, a cracking sound, and diminished flexibility.

Foods and Lifestyle Habits to Pacify Vata
If you have joint problems such as Jane’s, follow a Vata-Pacifying diet and daily routine. Include all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent) in your diet. Favor the sweet, sour and salty tastes, as these help pacify Vata dosha, and eat less of the bitter, astringent and pungent foods. Other healthy foods to include in the Vata-Pacifying diet are grains such as quinoa, rye and amaranth, cooked in water with a small amount of ghee; freshly cooked organic vegetables; split mung dhal soup; and sweet, organic, juicy fruits. It’s important to eat a diet rich in calcium, including high-quality organic milk and vegetables such as spinach, kale, asparagus, and root vegetables cooked with Vata Churna. Avoid caffeine and an acidic diet as these destroy the ability of the body to aborb calcium.

At the same time, follow a Vata-pacifying daily routine. Go to bed before ten o’clock at night, and rise before six a.m. Avoid too much stimulating activity at night, such as watching television right before bed. Eat your main meal at noon, and eat a light, nourishing dinner early in the evening. Engage in some mild exercise such as walking for half an hour a day. Practice Transcendental Meditation® on a regular basis to dissolve stress and calm your mind. One of the best things you can do for this type of joint problem is a daily ayurvedic oil massage to improve circulation and settle Vata dosha.

Herbs to Help Vata-Related Joint Problems
Osteo Relief, the herbal formula for this type of joint problem, has a special name in ayurveda, called santarpana, which means nurturing. Based on this nurturing theory of santarpana, Osteo Relief’s  precise combination of herbs nourishes and supports the bone tissue, the joints and enhances the lubricating fluid of the joints.

Calcium absorption is usually lacking in this type of joint problem. Take Calcium Support to provide nutritional support to the bones. This remarkable herbal formula supplies your body with 500 mg. of bioavailable calcium a day — and at the same time enhances your body’s ability to absorb calcium from calcium supplements and the foods you eat.

Ama-Related Joint Problems
Jason’s joint problem is associated with ama (digestive toxins) collecting in the joints, and is characterized by a heavy, stiff feeling. Sometimes a bout of cold, humid weather can trigger these symptoms. That is the first stage. If nothing is done to dissolve the ama and it sits in the joints for a long time, eventually the toxins become more irritating and reactive in nature, causing the joint to become inflamed, swollen, and painful. In this kind of environment, ama also mixes with the natural lubricating fluids in the joint governed by Shleshaka Kapha, forming an extremely sticky, toxic substance that restricts mobility and disturbs circulation in the joint.

If the ama, amavisha and Shleshma stay in the joints unattended to for a long time, eventually the structure of the joints and the bone itself becomes damaged. Once these morphological changes happen to the joint and bone, it becomes extremely difficult to correct.

Foods and Lifestyle Habits to Reduce Ama
Follow an ama-reducing diet consisting of warm, light, dryer foods that are easy to digest. Eat more nourishing soups and warm, freshly cooked grains and vegetables prepared with Kapha Churna and spices such as ginger, fennel, cumin, and peppercorn to stimulate digestion. It also helps to eat an apple cooked with prunes and figs each morning for breakfast. Avoid eating leftovers or processed foods.

To keep your digestion working properly, avoid day sleep, and go to bed early so you can rise before 6:00 a.m. Exercise for half an hour every day, and choose a type of exercise that you enjoy. A brisk walk is ideal for most people, along with yoga asana stretches, although if you have more Kapha dosha, you may need more vigorous exercise to stay in balance. You’ll feel lighter and more energetic just by making these simple changes in your routine.

Herbal Formulas to Help Prevent Ama-Related Joint Problems

While abhyanga is not recommended on top of swollen joints, it can help to gently apply Joint Soothe II, an ayurvedic oil designed to lubricate and strengthen the joints and liquefy impurities.

Once liquefied, amacan be internally eliminated by taking the Flexcel tablets. These two products work together to effectively penetrate, dissolve, and eliminate ama and to lubricate the joints to restore their natural balance. If there is a lot of ama, you could take Elim-Tox-0 with the Flexcel tablets.

Prevention is the key. It takes a great amount of effort to get rid of ama that has circulated throughout the body and settled in the joints. So once you start taking care of your joint problem by reducing ama, be careful not to accumulate ama in the future. Examine your tongue in the morning-it should not be coated. If you feel even a little stiffness or heaviness in your joints, start following the ama-reducing recommendations immediately. This is truly a case of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.

A Powerful Way to Improve Circulation in the Joints

What: Abhyanga, daily ayurvedic oil massage

Why: Increases circulation, prevents impurities from building up, and lubricates the joints. It also tones the muscles, calms the mind, soothes the nerves, and promotes deeper sleep. It’s more powerful than a cup of coffee for waking up and energizing sleepy brain cells.

Who: Anyone can benefit, from babies to the elderly

Where: Choose a place that can be washed clean, such as the bathroom floor. Spread a towel and sit on it.

When: Traditionally done upon rising, before the morning shower or bath (the heat helps the impurities flow out and washes off the oil).

How: For most body types, start with Organic Sesame Oil. (For instructions in curing the oil, see here).  For a calming effect during Vata Season, use Relaxation Massage Oil mixed with Youthful Skin Massage Oil.

Warm the oil in a small plastic bottle. Dip your fingertips into the warm oil and apply it lightly to the entire body. start with the head first.

Using the open hand—palm and fingers—stroke the bones with long, straight, back-and-forth motions. Use circular, gentle motions on rounded areas such as joints and head.

Use lighter pressure for sensitive areas such as the abdomen or the heart. Use more oil and spend more time where nerve endings are concentrated, such as the soles of the feet, palms of the hands and along the base of the fingernails.

After you’re done, relax for a few minutes and let the oil do its magic. The longer the oil is on, the deeper it penetrates. During this time you can read something relaxing or uplifting, rest, or shave, cut nails, and get ready for the day. Dab excess oil off with paper towels if you like, then follow with a relaxing warm bath or shower. If your schedule doesn’t allow for a daily massage, try and squeeze it in at least three or four times a week. You’ll find it’s worth it!

Ayurveda and Immunity – Feed Your Child Healthy Fats

(Last in a three-part series on Immunity Boosting Foods)
by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsSome parents are confused about fats, thinking that they should limit fats even in very young children in order to keep their cholesterol down. This can be very damaging to the child, and can even cause “wasting disease.” The brain itself is over half fat by weight. At birth a newborn’s brain contains only 30 percent of the billions of brain cells that it will need as an adult. Your child’s brain acquires 95 percent of its brain cells by age eighteen months—a phenomenal rate of growth.

This shows how essential a diet rich in fat is for the growing infant, and why fat-rich breast milk is perfectly programmed by nature to provide exactly the right kind of fat and the right proportion to fulfill this need. It also shows why infants and toddlers need more fat than adults, with infants twelve months and younger needing half their calories in fat, toddlers from one to three years needing 35 percent of their calories in fat, and from three to six years, 30 percent of their calories in fat. In contrast, adults need less than 30 percent of their diet to contain fat. Thus infants and children under three years of age need high-fat diets to grow properly, and this is best provided through mother’s milk, cow’s milk, and ghee.

Besides feeding your child’s growing brain, fat is essential for building the bones and muscles. Fats help membrane development, cell formation, and cell differentiation. Fat protects against mutations in the cells and contains antioxidants.

But it’s essential to choose healthy fats that do not raise LDL cholesterol or create other imbalances in the body.

Ghee: As we mentioned above, Maharishi Ayurveda recommends ghee as the most healthy and sattvic cooking oil and as a spread to replace butter [see a complete description of the benefits of ghee in part 2 in this series]. Here are some other healthy oils to use.

Olive Oil: Besides ghee, extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is also recommended. Other types of olive oil are heated, which destroys nutrients and increases free radical content. To prevent free radical damage, olive oil should not be heated above 302 ̊ F when cooking. This is why, in many parts of Italy, olive oil is traditionally added to pasta and vegetables after cooking to flavor the food. Olive oil can be used in bread recipes, as baking only raises the temperature inside the bread to 221 ̊ F. This is low enough to avoid destroying its positive properties.

Extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is the only commercially produced, mass-marketed oil available that has not had its properties destroyed by heat, chemicals, and refining. One of the advantages of olive oil is that it stores well in a cool, dark place, and does not lose its nutritional properties unless overheated or exposed to light.

Extra-virgin olive oil is especially good for Kapha types, because it is lighter and less fattening than other oils and fats such as ghee. It is a monounsaturated fat, does not raise blood cholesterol, and has been shown to lower cardiovascular risks. Olive oil also tastes good in salad dressings.

Coconut Oil: Although it is a saturated fat, coconut oil has a high flame point and is therefore a good oil for cooking as it does not create free radicals when heated. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids and triglycerides, which are metabolized differently than other saturated fats and can have therapeutic effects on the brain and nervous system. Its high content of lauric acid also kills harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Other healthy oils: Essential fatty acids are fats that the body cannot produce and must obtain from food. These are essential in the sense that without them, the body cannot function properly. Flaxseed oil, hemp-seed oil, safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils all contain vary- ing amounts of essential fatty acids. However, flaxseed and hemp-seed oils are extremely fragile, and their essential fatty acids are destroyed when exposed to heat, light, or air. They must be stored in the refrigerator, cannot be used at all for cooking, and should be used within three weeks of opening. Flaxseed oil is not recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda because of its heating effect on the liver. Instead, grind fresh golden flaxseed in a spice grinder and add a teaspoon to the food.

Safflower, sunflower, and sesame seed oil are polyunsaturated oils, which are low in cholesterol but create excessive free radicals, which is why they are not often recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda.

Unfortunately, most of the safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils you buy commercially (and even in health food stores) have been prepared using heat, light, harmful solvents, and chemicals, and thus are not nutritionally sound. If you do use them, make sure they are pressed mechanically without heat, light, or chemical processing and are organic and pesticide-free. Because oil becomes rancid easily, oils should be stored in opaque containers in a cool, dark place.

You may be able to find unheated, unrefined, organic oils in your health food store. Check to see if the different oils are all the same color; if so, then they have been over-processed and are harmful to the body. When processed mechanically without heat, chemicals, or light, the oils of different seeds take on different colors and hues.

Canola oil is a monounsaturated fat, but unfortunately, much of it is now genetically engineered and therefore not recommended, especially for children, unless it is organically grown (which means the seeds are not genetically modified) and processed mechanically, without heat.

Whole seeds and nuts: Healthy sources of oils and essential fatty acids for children are whole nuts and seeds. Sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds are delicious, as are blanched almonds, walnuts, and organic soy- beans (in the form of tofu, flour, or oil). They are also a good source of protein. (Cashews tend to be fatty and constipating, and should not be eaten in large quantities. Peanuts are not recommended.) Nuts are more digestible when soaked overnight, then ground and added to dishes.

Vegetables: Dark-green vegetables such as spinach, parsley, and broccoli also contain small quantities of essential fatty acids. Actually, all whole, fresh, unprocessed foods contain some amount of essential fatty acids. Avocados, for instance, are a good source of essential fatty acids. Herbs such as rosemary and thyme also contain essential oils.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 2 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsImmunity depends on healthy and vibrant digestion during childhood and beyond. This is a central principle of Maharishi Ayurveda.

The digestive juices are likened to a fire, called agni. In fact, the word agni refers to the sun and fire, and to the digestive and metabolic transformations that take place in the body. Charaka Samhita (an ancient text that expounds the principles of Ayurveda) states that strength, health, and longevity all depend on the power of agni.

Agni also refers to the digestive enzymes and secretions in the stomach and small intestines. Called jatharagni, the main agni, these digestive enzymes and secretions are responsible for breaking down food and turning it into chyle, or nutrient fluid. When jatharagni is healthy and strong, the nutrient fluid is formed correctly and easily reaches the cells to create and nourish healthy tissues.

After the process of digestion breaks down the food you eat into nutrient fluid, the various tissues of the body are metabolized through a series of transformations. These tissues include plasma, hemoglobin, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, the central nervous system, and the reproductive tissue including semen and ovum.

The creation of tissue, called dhatu, requires a brightly burning digestive fire, or metabolic process. This is because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, starting with the nutrient fluid in the blood and ending with the reproductive tissue. If there is any block or abnormality at any point in the digestive process, then there will be a weakness in that tissue, and in all the tissues that follow in the chain of transformation.

So you can see how very important a strong digestion is to children, who are growing so rapidly and need to develop healthy blood, bones, organs, and brain. The following chart outlines the seven dhatus with their Sanskrit names.

chart:

The Seven Dhatus (Body Tissues)

Rasa—Blood plasma, chyle, nutrients

Rakta—Blood cells, hemoglobin

Mamsa—Muscle

Meda—Fat and adipose tissue

Asthi—Bone

Majja—Bone marrow and the central nervous system

Shukra—Reproductive tissue, including semen and ovum

This process of forming nutrient fluid into new tissues takes place in the cells—thus agni also resides in each cell. In fact, there is a meta- bolic process (agni) associated with each tissue (dhatu) cell, to trans- form that tissue into the next tissue in the sequence.

Thus rasa agni transforms nutrient fluid (rasa) into blood (rakta).

Once that transformation is complete, rakta agni transforms blood into muscle (mamsa). Mamsa agni transforms muscle into fat, and so on. A disturbance in mamsa agni could cause the muscle to be weak, and because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, all the subsequent

transformations—of fat to bone and bone to bone marrow, and so on—would also be weakened.

In order for the nutrient fluid to be completely healthy, and in order for each dhatu agni to complete its transformation in each cell, the jatharagni, or digestion, must be functioning smoothly. You can see how healthy food and healthy digestion are essential for your child’s blood, muscles, fat, and bone tissues to be properly formed.

Agni also exists in every cell as the metabolic or transforming function, and thus maintains the proper functioning of the RNA and DNA. Agni is responsible for keeping the body’s cellular function vibrant. Each of the billion cells in the body has its own function, its own mechanisms. One may be concerned with seeing, one with hearing, one with digesting. Each organ and each cell has its own mechanisms. And in a healthy child, they’re all vibrant.

Strong Immunity Means Strong Digestion
Toxins in the Digestion

When digestion is weak or irregular, a sticky, toxic, waste product of digestion forms, called ama. Ama is the result of undigested food. It collects in the stomach first, but if it is not eliminated, it can spread to other parts of the body through the nutrient fluid and cause disease.

When digestion is weak and the nutrient fluid does not metabolize properly, it gets mixed with ama. Ama blocks the channels that carry nutrients to the cells, resulting in undernourishment, and if left unchecked, weakness and disease in the tissues. Ama also causes blockage in the channels of circulation and elimination, resulting in fatigue, lack of energy,  lethargy, and a heavy, dull feeling. It can cause the flow of Vata to reverse itself, which results in constipation, indigestion, excessive belching, bloating, gas, heartburn, bad breath, or regurgita- tion of food. In general, ama can cause dullness in the eyes and skin and a dull mind.

Ama creates a fertile environment for bacteria, thus contributing to disease. It also provides a breeding ground for free radicals, the reac- tive oxygen molecules that many scientists believe cause 90 percent of disease.

Signs of a Healthy Digestion

You’ve now seen how a weak digestion can affect your child’s health. On the bright side, a healthy digestion can create a state of health that is so invincible that disease rarely, if ever, happens. When digestion is balanced, the body produces greater quantities of the vital material called ojas. Ojas is the end-product of digestion, the essence of the dhatus, created from the proper transformation of each of the agnis. It is always present in the body, as it resides in the gaps between the body tissues and also in the heart.

The healthier a child is, the more ojas, and vice versa. When ojas is lively, it creates contentment, enthusiasm, vitality, bliss, and clear thinking. It is reflected in a sparkle in the eyes and luster in the skin. You could say that ojas is the material form of bliss in the body. It is also the expression of immunity, or bala. Ojas helps prevent disease and maintains the balance of the doshas and dhatus.

Ojas is the finest material form of consciousness, and exists at the junction point between consciousness and matter. It is similar to bal- anced Kapha dosha in quality: heavy, soft, smooth, thick, sweet, stable, clear, and unctuous.

You can see that ama and ojas are exact opposites. When digestion is balanced, then food gets digested without excess waste, ojas is cre- ated at each transformation, and the tissues are properly nourished and infused with vitality. When digestion is weak, toxins (ama) mix with the nutrient fluid, are transported throughout the body, obstruct the channels, diminish ojas, and create weakened or abnormal tissues.

When immunity is fostered with proper health care, then each cell functions to the best of its capacity. Then there is perfection at the basic level of the cell—perfection in digestion, perfection in metabolism, and perfection in the RNA and DNA. Immunity is at its peak in every cell—whether in the brain, the muscles, or the skin. The immunity and strength in the body create vitality, a happy smile, and the vibrant health of youth. And more importantly, immunity and digestive strength wipe out disease.

This is the primary goal of Maharishi Ayurveda: to create total health in mind, body, and emotions throughout life. You could say that conventional medicine is treating at the level of the wave, while Maharishi Ayurveda treats the level of the deep ocean, at the source.

When immunity is based on the strength of the deep ocean, then germs are like little waves on the surface, and do not pose a problem.

They come and go and are not disturbing. If there is enough bala or immunity in the body, the child doesn’t get the flu so easily. After all, the germs will always be there—whether your child succumbs to the infection or not depends on his immunity. If immunity is strong, various physical, emotional, and environmental changes won’t affect the child’s basic stability and strength.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 1 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsAccording to Maharishi Ayurveda, nutrition plays an important role in the developing human immune system. This is especially true during gestation. Undernourished, low- birth-weight babies show persistent immunological impairment for several months, even years.

Food is especially vital for the growing child. Every day your child is building bones, muscles, and brain cells at a rapid rate. Food gets converted into the seven dhatus, (tissues) and becomes the flesh, bones, blood, and muscles of the body. The more fresh the food is, the more consciousness it has, the more quickly it is converted into ojas, the most refined and nourishing product of digestion. And remember, ojas is directly related to immunity. The more wholesome the foods your child eats, the greater his immunity will be.

Because the amount of ojas is directly linked to the level of immunity, offering children ojas-producing foods should be the highest priority for parents. Here are five ways to increase the amount of ojas in your child’s diet to boost immunity.

1. Choose fresh foods.

In order to create ojas, food must be fresh to start with, the fresher the better. In Maharishi Ayurveda, there is the concept of prana or “life force.” Some foods contain more prana than others, and these are the foods that nourish both the body and mind.

Frozen, canned, packaged, and processed food has very little prana, and is therefore difficult to digest. If your child eats a steady diet of these foods, the result will be ama.

As a physician, it is easy for me to see which children are eating fresh, home-cooked meals and which children are eating processed, frozen, or canned foods. Signs of digestive toxic buildup (ama) in children include drowsiness, fatigue, a pale color, and lack of enthusiasm. Children who eat fresh foods tend to have rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, and buoyant energy, not to mention less sickness and disease. Just by converting your child’s diet to fresh foods, you can increase his health and vitality immeasurably.

Foods that are packaged are not only old and lacking in prana, but they likely have many harmful additives and preservatives. A rule of thumb for choosing food: the more natural, whole, unprocessed, and unadulterated the food is, the healthier it will be for your child.

2. Serve regular meals of warm, cooked food.

Raw food is difficult to digest and can cause a Vata imbalance. Although many people believe that there are more vitamins in raw foods than in cooked ones, the problem is that the raw foods are hard to digest and assimilate. A preliminary study presented at the American Chemical Society showed that the antioxidant beta carotene—which exists in carrots, broccoli, and spinach and has been found to combat tissue damage and plaque in arteries—is absorbed 34 percent more easily in cooked and pureed carrots than in raw ones. The researchers concluded that cooking vegetables softens the plant tissue, allowing antioxidants to be released.

It’s better to serve children warm, delicious, attractive, and whole- some meals that have been cooked by someone who loves them. The warmth is essential for proper digestion, and helps avoid the buildup of ama. Children, being in the Kapha time of life, find warm foods espe- cially soothing and helpful to the digestive process.

Avoid serving your child food straight from the refrigerator. It’s better to serve warm drinks or warm water, fresh-cooked foods, and room- temperature fruits. Fresh salads made with grated carrot, ginger, fresh parsley, and cilantro are fine in small quantities to tone the appetite before the meal, if the child has strong digestion. (Grating makes vegetables more absorbable.)

3. Whenever possible, provide home-cooked meals for your child. There is no better medicine than mother’s home-cooked meals. Just as fresh food has more prana, so does food that is lovingly prepared with- out rushing. And the most important element of food is preparing it with love. As a mother, you put so much love into a meal. The mother’s love is pure ojas to the child. A mother’s food is, for that reason, recognized as the most nourishing in every culture in the world. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “but I don’t have time to cook elaborate meals using all natural ingredients!” Many of you are working mothers, and as a working mother myself, I know how difficult it is to prepare a hot supper after a long day on the job.

I would suggest that you start by adding just one more home-cooked meal a week. If you already cook twice a week, try cooking three times. If you don’t cook at all, try just one meal. Instead of picking up food at a restaurant, instead of popping a frozen pizza in the oven, try to cook a simple meal of fresh vegetables, grains, and legumes.

Then see how your family reacts. Do they appreciate your efforts? Are the children more satisfied, more settled after eating? How do you feel when you eat fresher, more lovingly prepared foods? How do your children feel? Are they more relaxed, more focused?

Then gradually add another home-cooked meal, and another. One thing I know about cooking—the more you do it, the easier it gets. If you just have in your mind that you are committed to cooking more, you will find ways to do it. Once you are committed to the idea, then it just becomes a matter of finding the easiest way to carry out your plan. For instance, you can enlist your older children and husband to help. Some families enjoy cooking together, and make the preparation of meals a family project.

The other problem is school lunches. If your child is eating institutionally prepared meals at school, the fact is that he or she is eating food that is not fresh. It may even be harmful. School cafeterias are notorious for using canned, frozen, and packaged foods, which are often laced with preservatives and other chemicals. Children usually com- plain about such food, calling it all sorts of unpleasant names. Most adults would not eat the food that is served in many school cafeterias.

I am not bringing this problem up to make you feel guilty. I am bringing it up because I know that if parents get passionate enough about something, they can do amazing things. You can band together with other parents and get the food in your child’s cafeteria changed. Or you can try to provide your child with a thermos of nourishing soup or other hot food from home. The main point is to first recognize the problem. The solution will make itself known.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

As summer ends and kids go back to school, it’s a good time to boost your brain power. Here are six ways to get back on track.

IMG_44821. Eat Fruits and Vegetables for Brain Food

It has long been known that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for you.  In recent years, research has focused on phytochemicals, the biologically active compounds naturally found in plants that have a positive impact on your health.

Foods that boost memory are walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, almonds, turmeric, and blueberries, to name a few.  Walnuts contain polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the brain and have been shown to aid brain development in infants.

Researchers at UCLA found that curcumin in turmeric protects the brain against plaques in the synapses of rats, indicating the plaques found in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients also respond to turmeric.  Interestingly enough, India, a country where turmeric is widely used, has very little Alzheimer’s disease.

IMG_0108Black pepper has also been shown to enhance the power of memory.  An easy way to include these spices in your diet is to sauté Worry Free Spice Mixture or Vata, Pitta or Kapha Churna in ghee and add it to your cooked vegetables.

A 1999 Tufts University study of 40 fruits and vegetables found that raw blueberries contained the highest level of antioxidants. Animals fed a blueberry extract diet outperformed other animals in memory tests, and showed less degeneration of motor skills due to aging.

To gain the most memory power from food, eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, along with healthy proteins such as walnuts, almonds, milk, panir (a fresh cheese made from milk) and split beans and pulses.

2. Enliven Memory with Herbs

Phytochemicals are even more concentrated in herbs. Ayurvedic herbs that are traditionally known to improve memory are Brahmi and Gotu Kola.  Brahmi and Gotu Kola are medhya herbs, which means that they improve the coordination between dhi (learning), dhriti (retention) and smriti (long-term memory).  Shankapushpi is another medhya herb that is revered in the ayurvedic tradition.

Worry Free and Stress Free Mind both contain these herbs.  Worry Free helps reduce mental anxiety while at the same time making the mind clearer.  This is an extraordinary combination–to simultaneously relax the mind and sharpen the memory.  Stress Free Mind has a similar effect as Worry Free, only stronger. If you are experiencing some unusual mental stress, such as exams or starting a new job, or if you have tried Worry Free but need even more support, try Stress Free Mind.

While modern researchers usually extract the active ingredients from plants and put them in pill form, recent studies show that the whole plants contain a synergistic combination of phytochemicals. For instance, a study reported in Nature found that eating 100 grams of fresh apple with skins provided the total antioxidant activity equal to 1,500 milligrams of isolated vitamin C.  A single carrot contains more than 100 phytochemicals, which would not be available in a pill that only contained isolated beta-carotene.

This finding verifies what Maharishi Ayurveda has known for thousands of years–the benefit comes from using the whole plant, not just an isolated ingredient.  By including the whole herb or fruit, M.A.P.I. herbal formulas are safer and much more effective.

3. Say Yes to Good Fats

In the past 20 years we have been told over and over that fat is bad for you.  Not only is this fat-free diet impossible to sustain for more than a week, it is actually damaging to the brain and body. Fat is necessary for memory to function.

It is important is to eat high-quality fats.  The brain can only use the most intelligent of foods.  Maharishi Ayurveda recommends ghee, which contains brain-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids and other good fats.  It is not only medhya, nourishing to the mind and memory, but is called smritida, which means memory-giving.

Olive oil is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also nourishing to the brain. Olive oil should never be heated to high temperatures, as that destroys its beneficial qualities.

Fats to avoid:  hydrogenated fats, which raise bad cholesterol, are found in most packaged foods today and are not digestible by the body; polyunsaturated fats such as corn oil or safflower oil as these are unstable and create excessive free radicals; and canola oil, which is often genetically engineered and should only be eaten if organic.

4. Be Sure to Get Your Zzzzzs

Exciting new research shows that sleep improves memory. In fact, it is while the brain is sleeping that it works the hardest–rehearing newly learned information, storing memory files, converting information to long-term memory.

In one Canada study, students who slept the night before the exam significantly out-performed students who stayed awake and crammed.  So important is sleep that researchers at Harvard Medical School now suggest that after learning a new skill, it’s best to sleep on it.  Sleeping for six to eight hours after learning apparently helps the brain transfer new skills and information to its permanent memory banks.

5. Exercise and Breathe Deeply

While a good night’s sleep helps us retain what we learn, it’s equally important to get physical exercise during the day. Exercise oxygenates the brain and sharpens memory. If you’ve ever sat around for a day or two with very little activity, you’ve probably noticed that your brain turns into a wet noodle.

Exercise also helps us to breathe deeply, which is another way to oxygenate brain cells and flush out toxins. You can stop and take deep breaths throughout the day, or practice Vedic breathing exercises called Pranayama to re-charge your memory.

Like all recommendations from Maharishi Ayurveda, how much exercise you do depends on your constitution and imbalances.  Kapha types, especially, need more intense exercise than others to keep their mind and body at peak performance. For most people, a brisk walk once a day is a good place to start.  Breathe through your nose to direct the oxygen to your brain.  Always stay in your comfort zone, stopping or slowing down when you feel the need to breathe through your mouth, or start to sweat on your forehead or tip of your nose.

Yoga asanas are an excellent way to tone the memory. These gentle stretches direct the blood to the brain and cleanse the organs and channels of toxins, helping to increase communication between the mind and body.

6. Exercise Your Mind, Too

We all know that when it comes to muscles, you have to use it or lose it.  This is equally true of the brain.

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, there are three causes of memory problems:  overuse (such as working too long hours), misuse (such as doing mental work that is too difficult, or that we feel is morally wrong), and underuse.  Underuse means never stimulating your mind with meaningful activities.

If your job doesn’t involve much mental work, or is boring to you, it’s especially important that you spend some of your free time each day exercising your memory and brain. Take a course at your local college, read a good book, write in your journal, practice memorizing poetry or your favorite sayings, practice playing a musical instrument or learn to sing some new songs.

By stimulating new areas of the brain, you’ll enliven new brain connections and spark your memory skills. And you just might prolong your life, as well.  It turns out that people who are mentally active live longer and enjoy life more, too.

Photos by Linda Egenes

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_2333In the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock decided to eat a steady diet of fast food for 30 days to see how it would affect his health. Although he and his doctors expected some changes, they were shocked by how quickly his skin turned sallow, his cholesterol levels and blood pressure skyrocketed and his weight shot up 27 pounds. Worse, his mood changed from one of vibrancy to depression. Below are ten ayurvedic digestion secrets, but first let’s explore why a smooth digestion is central to health.

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, there is not only a direct connection between the food you eat and your health, but food affects your emotions, your happiness, as well. You could even say that health and happiness have a common source found in a single product of digestion called ojas.

“Ojas is the finest and most refined product of digestion and metabolism,” explains Mark Toomey, Ph.D., the director of Maharishi Ayurveda programs and health practitioner at The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center and Spa. “Ojas production depends directly on how we digest and metabolize our food.”

Another interesting point is that, according to ayurveda, we metabolize the experience of all five senses in our environment and our own thoughts. This is why we are so profoundly affected by stress and its effect upon our emotions. Emotions affect our ability to digest food properly, and the digestion of food affects our emotions. Both feed one another.

Ojas is the physical equivalent of both bliss and immunity. It is what causes the eyes to sparkle, the skin to look radiant and the immunity to be strong. And it’s directly related to digestion.

There is a lot written about ojas in the ayurvedic texts. Ojas is said to be slightly yellow in color, to reside in the heart and to also continually circulate throughout the body. It is cool, soft, sweet, stable, viscous, clear, and pure, and when lively in the body, these qualities can be felt in the pulse during an ayurvedic consultation.

“Ojas is also much related to strong Kapha dosha, called bal kapha,” says Dr. Toomey. “A person with good ojas has a solid build, enthusiasm, strength, knowledge and wisdom.”

Digestion in ayurveda is known as agni, which means fire, and that agni has to be operating perfectly in order to transform food into the most refined product, ojas. Ojas is responsible for all lively energy in our awareness and body.

So how do you keep your digestion running perfectly and your ojas at a high level?

“One of the main factors for strong immunity and ojas is to keep the srotas, the micro communication channels of our body, clear. With clear srotas, information can flow freely through the body,” says Dr. Toomey. “This is why it’s so important to keep the digestion running smoothly, to keep impurities from building up and blocking the srotas.”

Ten Ayurvedic Digestion Secrets from Maharishi Ayurveda

  1. Eat a balanced, well-cooked and wholesome diet in timely fashion.
  2. Eat one’s main meal at lunch.
  3. Eat a light breakfast and light dinner. (Doing so not only helps with better digestion, but results in deeper, more restful sleep.
  4. Go to bed by 10 p.m. each night and wake with the sunrise.
  5. Follow the ayurvedic daily and seasonal routines, in tune with the laws of nature, going to bed on time, and eating at the same time every day.
  6. Practice Transcendental Meditation® or the meditation technique of your choice daily to release stress.
  7. Take traditional ayurvedic herbal formulas that nourish the body and mind and develop higher states of consciousness.
  8. Practice behavioral rasayanas. These are the behavioral guidelines that help govern behavior and action in life:
    • Be truthful
    • Free from anger
    • Nonviolent
    • Not exerting to the point of exhaustion
    • Practice calmness
    • Be sweet-spoken
    • Aspire to be stable and steady
    • Practice meditation
    • Engage in cleanliness
    • Be perseverant
    • Observe charity
    • Practice spirituality or the religion of your choosing
    • Be devoted to love and compassion
    • Be balanced in sleep and wakefulness
    • Behave with propriety according to the time and place
    • Be humble in life’s activities
    • Keep the company of elders
    • Hold a positive outlook
    • Practice self-control
    • Do not indulge in alcohol or drugs
    • Be respectful toward teachers and elders
  9. Include foods in your diet that increase ojas. Well-cooked organic vegetables and fresh fruits taken according to one’s prakriti (dosha makeup) are always considered best. Whole organic milk, boiled and flavored with ghee or Organic Vata Tea, is a wonderful addition and supports ojas production.
  10. Certain activities may diminish the production of ojas. They are as follows:
  • Excessive physical exertion (to the point of exhaustion)
  • Rough or inadequate digestion
  • Excessive exposure to wind and sun
  • Staying up late (inadequate rest)
  • Physical or emotional trauma
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive loss of dhatu (blood, mucus or semen)
  • Intake of toxic substances (including exposure to environmental pollution)
  • Stress overloadBy cultivating a strong digestion, a balanced lifestyle and strong ojas, we can improve our health, happiness and immunity. It is never too late to start feeling good. Visit www.mapi.com for more tips on how to live a balanced lifestyle.Remember, it is all about balance…

 

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], March 1,2014. Reprinted with permission.) 

 

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_7831As more and more Americans work hard to keep the pounds off, an interesting study shows that when you eat is just as important as what you eat.

According to a study  published by researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, mice dropped 40% of their weight just by not eating after 7:00 p.m.

This is a familiar idea for those of us who have been practicing Ayurvedic principles. In Ayurvedic terminology, the daily routine (called dinacharya in Sanskrit. Pronounced ‘dee-na-chari-a’), is structured around basic rhythms of the sun, moon and your body. These rhythms are powerful indeed and good things happen when we respect these natural cycles.

For instance, one of the major principles of the Ayurvedic daily routine is to eat your main meal at noon, when the sun is at its zenith and the digestive fire is strongest inside you. (Another secret to healthy weight: a strong digestive fire, or agni) And a corollary to that is: eat light at night, early in the evening, and allow your digestive system to cleanse and repair itself all through the night while you sleep.

This study is a great validation of the power of these age-old insights, this simple, natural ayurvedic weight loss secret from Maharishi Ayurveda. Sleep is considered a significant period for daily natural detoxing; and Ayurveda has long recommended herbs and other modalities to support ideal deep sleep and strong digestion.

Life in tune with the rhythms of nature has multiple benefits. Healthy weight may just be one of them.

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], May 25,2012. Reprinted with permission.) 

Photo credit: Linda Egenes

My mom with my brother, sister and me

My mom with my brother, sister and me

My mom was not a feminist. You could say she was a 1950s Donna Reed sort of mom, not the kind who had a job outside the home or marched in feminist rallies when I was growing up in the 60s.

She was a great cook, and because she made such fabulous, fresh meals, on time, every day, I never felt the need to learn how to cook myself. If I felt the urge to create something, it was more satisfying to sew a dress or draw a picture. A member of a 4-H club, I learned to bake brownies and cookies, and once, in high school, I spent all day preparing a ham dinner with all the trimmings—applesauce, string beans and dinner rolls—from scratch. For all my trouble, within 30 minutes it was gone, with only a few “gee thanks” left trailing in the air. To my teenage mind, it seemed like a massive waste of time.

In college I continued to feel ambivalent about cooking, helping to prepare salads during a raw foods phase and otherwise letting my roommate cook while I did the dishes. Yet when I married and set up a household of my own, it was clear to me that now was the time to learn to cook. I even remember a silly argument with my husband over who was going to cook and who was going to do the dishes—and this time I refused to slip into the passive dish-washer mode.

Why the sudden turnaround? Because I associated cooking with an expression of love. I was in love with my husband, and I wanted to cook for him.

In other words, while the way to a man’s heart may be through his stomach, I was more struck by what cooking for my man did for my own heart.

My mom’s cooking inspired my sister in a similar way. She managed to rise to the top of a major corporation while raising two daughters—and always, always found time to sit down with her family for a home-cooked meal, prepared by herself or her husband. It was the foundation for their family time.

While cooking is not the only way to convey love to your children or your husband, it is certainly a practical one. We all have to eat. Home-cooked food is far healthier and less expensive than restaurant food. According to ancient health care systems such as Ayurveda, food cooked with love is the most nourishing elixir for anyone to eat.

And the ritual of gathering around the common table, sharing the intangibles of familial love and tasty food, is the binding ritual of most cultures. Even modern research has shown that kids who gather with their parents to share at least one meal a day (rather than grazing or foraging for food on their own) perform better academically and socially in school.

All of these thoughts ran through my mind in a rush while I was reading an interesting piece in the New York Times about a feminist activist’s daughter who, although she, too, considers herself a feminist and works for a living, has found time to cook and bake for her daughter—and to be available to her when she comes home from school. She does this, she says, because she wants her daughter to feel special, to feel loved.

The author’s own mother, it turns out, had spent 12 years as a homemaker but after a difficult divorce, found herself the single parent for two. At that point she did not want to end up like her mother (the author’s grandmother), who cooked three meals a day for her family—but felt bitter and trapped and took it out on her kids. Instead, the author’s mother embraced the budding feminist movement, focusing on her own self-development and her career as an artist and activist.

She succeeded in living a fulfilling and productive life as a leader in the feminist movement, but her kids were often left alone and unfed. The author says she not only felt physically hungry as a child, but worse, unloved and abandoned.

It’s interesting that the three generations of women in this family neatly represent three stages of women’s roles in this country: 1) the historical role of homemaker and caregiver (which left multitudes of women feeling trapped and yearning for something more), 2) the phase in the late 20th century when women broke free, becoming career women and feminist activists, sometimes rejecting their feminine role in the home altogether, and 3) the modern woman, who struggles to find time to have a satisfying career and be there for her children at the same time.

While understandably many women today are overwhelmed by the demands of trying to fulfill both roles, I do see a positive trend among young women who seem to have the energy to do both. In many cases these are the same women who are reaching out to empower themselves to stay healthy and calm—through yoga, daily exercise, healthy diets, and meditation. These are women who are not afraid to take a break from their jobs and families for some daily “me” time, knowing that when they come back, they will have more energy to devote to nourishing their kids and husbands.

Dr. Kumuda Reddy, a practicing medical doctor, book author and mother of three, says, “As a parent, I have found the Transcendental Meditation technique to be invaluable. In the past I led a busy life, returning home from my practice late in the day and facing a full evening with my family. I started the habit of meditating at my office before I returned home. This worked beautifully, because I could leave the stress of the workday behind. I found that I could create a much happier environment for my children and husband when I was more relaxed and more rested. I could really be the ‘200 percent parent’ that I wanted to be: 100 percent mother and 100 percent professional woman.”

The Transcendental Meditation technique has been shown in research to improve emotional availability and family life. It makes sense—when the stress is less, when the parents and kids are rested, it’s easier to give and receive love.

And love is the real food of life. It’s the primary nourishment upon which a child grows and thrives. Certainly, love can be conveyed in an abundance of ways—by making a meal, by giving a hug, by just being there to listen. But all of these expressions of love are based on a flowing heart. You gotta have it to give it.

As Maharishi, the founder of the TM technique says in his beautiful poem Love and God, “The fortunate ones use the instrument of deep meditation and probe deep into their hearts. Then the waves of love gain the depth of the ocean, and the ocean of love flows and fills the heart and thrills every particle of being.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

 

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, November 30, 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

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