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Friday, November 26, 2010

Nadi Shodhana - Alternate Nostril Breathing

Pranayama - the yogic science of the breathing and energy. Thousands of years ago the great yogis of India experimented with the breath and how it effects the body, mind and spirit. They devised various practices that they used to regulate and alter the breath. From these practices and observations pranayama was born. Prana means life force or vital energy and ayama means extension or expansion. Pranayama is therefore the process of expanding the energy or life force within us. A very powerful and sacred practice. 

Pranayama is a valuable tool for meditation. It enables us to go beyond our natural limitations, as it "expands our minds" and connects us with the vital energy that we share with all living things. Sitting and focusing on our breath helps us to take our mind inward and create one pointed focus.

One of the most famous and widely practiced forms of pranayama is Nadi Shodhana or more simply alternate nostril breathing. Nadis are channels that run throughout our bodies. They are connected to the chakras and therefore are seen as psychic pathways with the human system. Shodhana means purification so this particular pranayama technique is used to purify the channels of the body, mind and spirit. 

Being such a powerful technique it should be practiced with a clear understanding of the processes involved. Not following the steps outlined here, skipping ahead or rushing is not advised.  Pranayama is a powerfully transformative practice and needs to be handled with the care and respect it deserves. Here is a word of warning from Swami Svatmarama in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:
"As lions, elephants and tigers are tamed very slowly and cautiously, so should prana be brought under control very slowly in gradation measured according to one's capacity and physical limitations. Otherwise it will kill the practitioner".

Please read the below points carefully before you begin.

Breathing should never be forced or restricted. The breath should always be light, subtle and relaxed. All techniques should be preformed with full awareness and great care. When you start to play with the ratios of your breath do not compromise the quality of the breath to achieve your goal. The ratios are not the primary goals of the practice, the quality of the breath is always of utmost importance. You will find a lower level performed correctly to be far more beneficial than trying to forcefully perform at a technique beyond your capabilities. If you find yourself compromising the breath in any way, or you feel any discomfort, you are not ready for the stage that you are attempting. Stop the practice and return to normal breathing. Only when you are fully comfortable with a technique should you attempt to more onto the next. As a general rule you should spend about 2-4 weeks on the first technique. Technique two and three should be practiced for a minimum of 6 months but it could take years! It all depends on how often you practice and how you develop.  These first two techniques are designed to prepare the lungs and nervous system for techniques three and four so are essential foundation stages and therefore very important.

Everyone and everyday is different so how quickly or easily you find these practices really depends on where you are each time you sit down to practice. Focus on the journey not the destination! Over time you will notice the effects of the practice on your mind and your body. As the nadis are cleared blockages will be released and they could surface in ways that you may not expect. Be prepared for emotional releases and if needed seek professional help or advice. Find a treatment and practitioner to help you deal with issues that may be uncomfortable or confronting. 

Nadi Shodhana should be practiced  after your asana practice on an empty stomach. Ideally in the early morning, but if that does not suit then choose a time that does and make it part of your daily routine. 

The benefits of Nadi Shodhana are numerous:
  • Every time we breath in we allow oxygen into our bodies. Oxygen is very nourishing for the body so the more we breath in the more nourishment we are allowing our bodies to receive. 
  • As we breath out our blood is purified of toxins.
  • With less toxins in our blood, the less blood needs to be sent to the lungs for purification. This reduces the load on the heart and lungs giving them a well deserved rest. 
  • The brain is stimulated and which increases our ability to concentrate. Our work improves and our thoughts are clearer.
  • Balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
  • Stress, worries and anxiety are greatly reduced.
  • Relieves all doshas especially pitta
  • Blockages along the nadis are cleared creating a more balanced, harmonious and happier you. 
  • Our ability to meditate is enhanced allowing us to reach a deeper level of spiritual awareness and understanding.
  • Improves sleep
  • Grounding
Precautions include:
  • High blood pressure (can be practiced without retention)
  • Low blood pressure (can practice with retention only)
  • Heart problems
  • Above mentioned issues relating to forced breathing, and rushing through the techniques. 
Possible side effects (usually temporary as your body adjusts to the practice and toxins are expelled. However if they are persistent then seek advice ) :
  • Constipation
  • Reduction in urine
  • Itching, tingling
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Felling light or heavy

There are 4 stages or techniques of Nadi Shodhana and each stage should be practised before moving on to the next. 

The first technique- the preparatory practice

There seems to be two schools of thought about which mudra (hand gesture) to use for this practice. My pranayama teacher and the teachers at the meditation centre I go to teach us to use mrgi mudra while most books and yoga schools use nasagra mudra. So as variety is the spice of life I will give you both and then you have the option to choose the one that feels right for you. I think because the nasgra mudra has the fingers placed on the eyebrow centre or Ajna Chakra it may be considered too intense or an interference for meditation practices. Well that's my theory anyway. 

Nasgra mudra - Extend your right hand and place the index and middle finger on the point between the eyebrows. Place your thumb beside the right nostril and the ring and little finger beside the left nostril.

Mrgi mudra - Extend your right hand and curl the index and middle finger towards the palm and place them on the fatty area at the bottom of your thumb. Place your thumb beside the right nostril and the ring and little finger beside the left nostril.

Place your left hand on your left knee palm up and open or you can use a mudra if you know one.

Use the thumb to gently block the right nostril and breath in and out through the left nostril 5 times. Do not force the breath but just breath naturally. After the 5 breath release the thumb and use the ring finger to block the right nostril. Breath naturally through the right nostril 5 times. Lower your hand and breath normally through both nostrils 5 times. This is one round.

Do 5 rounds for 15 - 30 days then go on to the next technique.

The second technique - alternate nostril breathing
Now you will, as the name implies, alternate between the two nostrils. The mudras remain the same.
Close the right nostril and breath in for the count of 3. You could count mentally 1 - Om, 2 - Om, 3 - Om if you so desired. Whatever counting system you use make sure it is even. Then close the left nostril and breath out for 3.  Then close the right nostril and so on. In left, our right, in right our left is one round. Practice 10 rounds.

After  a few days or weeks if you are comfortable with the practice extend both the inhalation and exhalation by one count. Once that becomes easy add another count until you reach 24:24.

You will probably notice that your in breath is a lot shorter than your out breath so be careful not to count faster on the exhalations. Be patient and don't force your breath at all or you will do more harm than good. Pranayama is not a practice that happens overnight. keep at it and you will notice the changes. Observe and learn it is a gift in itself.

Once you are able to breath evenly at the ratio of 24:24 you can start to extend your breath to 1:2.  so you could breath in for 4 and out for 8. Whatever works for you. The goal is to establish a ratio of 12:24 where the out breath is longer than the inhalation.

This ratio is very calming and is beneficial for both cardiovascular and nervous system disorders. It's a great technique for anybody suffering for stress.

After about 6 months or more when you are comfortable with this practice you can move onto the next technique.

The third technique - Antar Kumbhaka (inner retention of breath)
This stage is a bit tricky.
Breath in through the left nostril for the count of 5 then close both nostrils and hold for 5. Then breath out through the right nostril and immediately breath back in slightly through the right nostril then breath out through the same nostril/right  for the count of 5.

Then immediately breath in through the right nostril for 5 with the left nostril closed. Hold for 5. Open the left nostril take a slight breath then exhale through the left for 5. This is one round. Practice 10 rounds.

Practice mindfully and with complete awareness. I can't see that you could really do it any other way!

It's very important that you maintain the set ratio, but once you are able to successfully practice with the 1:1:1 ratio you can increase the ration to 1:1:2. So you could do inhale for 5, hold for 5 and exhale for 10. This should keep you going for a few weeks or even months. Once you are comfortable with this ratio change it to 1:2:2  (in:hold:out). Once you are able to do this successfully and without any discomfort or strain you can begin increasing the count. Add one count to the inhalation, two counts to the retention and two counts to the exhalation. You then over 1-2 years (probably longer for the average person!) keep increasing the ration until you reach 24:48:48.

Then you're ready for technique 4. As it will take several years to reach the next technique I will not include it here.

Technique 4 Antar and Bahir Kumbhaka can be found on my new website here

I would like to thank Swami Satyananda Saraswati for the 2 wonderful publications:
         "Meditations from the Tantras"
          "Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha"
These 2 books have provided me with wonderful knowledge and insight into the subject of Pranayama.

If you are interested give it a go and give it a chance to have an effect. But please be careful and mindful of these practices.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yoga - Asana's Benefits and Precautions

Yoga is GREAT! It is bursting with benefits and can help people in so many different ways. It is relaxing, it strengthens the mind and body, it calms our nerves, it gives us focus and it gives us energy. I could go on and on! It is is being embraced all around the world by millions of people for a reason.

I am studying to be a yoga teacher at the moment and have my first asana exam at the end of the month. I need to know how to teach a variety of level 1asanas to my classmates who will be posing as a beginners class. So I need to give nice, clear instructions and demonstrations. I also have to know the benefits of each pose and just as importantly I need to know the contra-indications of them as well. I think this is something that gets a bit lost in a lot of classes.  So I have decided to create a post that gives the basic outline of who and what each group of asanas are good for. I will also state what injuries and conditions each asana group is not recommended for. This way you can reduce your chances of injury when you go to class, and I can study for my exam. It's a win-win situation for everybody!

I will not discuss each asana individually, but will focus on the  group of asanas as a whole instead. Poses that belong to the same group will generally have the same or similar benefits and precautions. Individual asanas however, may also have added contraindications so you should always inform your teacher of any health issues  you have before class so that they can give you alternatives if needed. Current imbalance both mentally and physically, as well as operations and past injuries all need to be taken into consideration. Something such a torn ligament that may have happen years ago could still over time create problems. Asanas and their effects on the body should always be considered as prolonged and continual practice can create problems over time if you are not aware and mindful.

Standing Poses

  • This group of poses are great for creating energy. 
  • They teach somatic awareness. This means when we do these asanas we become more aware of/in tune with our bodies.
  • stimulates digestion and improves circulation
  • Great for grounding both physically and mentally
  • They strengthen our knees, legs and hips.
  • They also strengthen our abdominal muscles especially when we have correct alignment.
  • They are good for our nervous system as they have a close relationship with our spinal cord.
  • Energetically they strengthen and stimulate the chakras
  • Build emotional strength
  • Knee, hip and ankle injuries, (yes I know I said they get strengthened and they do, but that is because they are doing a  lot of work so if they are weak or injured you will need to be careful)
  • Sciatica
  • Bulged disc in back 
  • Pregnancy - 1st trimester
  • Heart issues
  • High blood pressure
Always make sure your feet are firmly grounded and that your weight is evenly distributed across each  foot. Both feet should have the same amount of weight and pressure during all poses. Try to remember these few basic points and your well on your way.

Forward bends

  • Stretch lower back, hamstrings hips and pelvis
  • Tones  and massages internal organs - kidneys and  digestive 
  • Highly recommended for diabetes as they work to balance the pancreas
  • Stretches the whole spine and relieves sciatica 
  • Can slow the enlargement of the liver and spleen
  • Engages the 2nd chakra
  • Calms the mind and nervous system. Good for anybody suffering from anxiety.  (Great for vata)
  • Has a cooling effect (Great for pitta)
  • Emotionally they are seen as a way to go inside and to help us to surrender.
  • Pregnancy - 2nd and 3rd trimester
  • Lower back issues especially sacral lumber
  • Sciatica
  • Hip joints
  • Menstruation (during the first few days, if heavy or difficult) 
  • The nature of the poses, folding forward creates an inward focus so are not recommended for people suffering from depression
As always be careful with your spine and move into and out of each pose mindfully. If standing always ground yourself and have even pressure across both feet.

  • Stimulation of the internal organs aids digestion
  • Creates more mobility in the spine, hips and pelvis
  • Relieves backache, headaches and menstrual pain (towards end)
  • By twisting the body the internal organs are squeezed and massaged allowing for the elimination of toxins
  • Assimilation of nutrients increases
  • Postnatal - Great for toning and strengthening 
  • Can be either calming or stimulating depending on the individuals needs at the time
  • 3rd chakra is stimulated
  • Pregnancy - especially 1st trimester
  • Menstruation
  • Full stomach
  • Lower back issues especially disc problems
  • Recent surgery on torso 
  • Hernia
Seated twists are more intense than laying twists and standing twists are the easiest. Always make sure you extend and elongate the spine and never force.  Use your abdominal muscles to create and control the twist and not your neck.

Back bends
  • Strengthens lumber spine, shoulders and shoulder blades, glutes and hamstrings
  • Activates the chakras. Primarily the 4th but also the 3rd and 5th
  • Improves posture as they help to realign the spine
  • Aids digestion
  • Good for vata as they help to eliminate air
  • Opens the heart
  • Shifts and stimulates emotions
  • Stimulates prana and the respiratory system (great for kapha)
  • Good for the movement of blood that tends to collect around our backs
  • Uplifting
  • Releases negative emotions
  • Sympathetic nervous system
  • Diaphragm is stretched, stimulated and strengthened
  • Reproductive system
  • Full compression of organs
  • Kidneys and adrenals are stimulated
  • Serious back injuries or issues
  • Pregnancy - later stages
  • Heart conditions
  • High blood pressure
  • Surgery
  • Menstruation
  • Nervous anxiety
  • Kidney disease
  • Spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis
Be very careful with your spine. Don't push your self beyond your limits. Things take time, be patient and accepting.

  • Mental stability and focus
  • Improves concentration, self-confidence and coordination
  • Synchronisation of body
  • Reduces stress, anxiety and worry (great for vatta and pitta)
  • Calms the mind and nervous system (great for vata and pitta)
  • Stimulates the respiratory system and circulatory system (great for kapha)
  • Bring you out of your comfort zone (great for kapha)
  • 1st chakra stimulation
  • Be very careful with past injuries of ligaments and tendons
  • Injuries to the joints
  • Knee, hip and ankle injuries 
These poses become easier the more you practice. Strengthening your leags and core will greatly improves your ability to balance. Your mind is another issue. Yoga calms the mind and over time you will find your balances becoming easier the more you are able to calm the chatter in your mind.

Inversions are the kings and queens of asanas. Their lists of benefits are quite outstanding and truly deserve such praise. try to include one in all your practices or even better in your daily routine. 
  • Improves posture - helps with the realignment of the spine
  • Because you are upside down the blood flows naturally to the heart giving it a well deserved rest
  • The internal organs are given a good massage which helps to improve digestion and related issues such as constipation
  • Deeper abdominal breathing gives the heart and lungs a nice massage
  • Circulation is improved allowing for greater assimilation of nutrients into the bloodstream and organs
  • Calms the nervous system (great for vata)
  • Stimulates the thymus, thyroid and parathyroid (shoulder stand)
  • Clarifies mind, helps with concentration and improves memory (great for vata)
  • Reproductive and menstrual issues are alleviated (shoulder stand)
  • Relieves insomnia, depression
  • Great for varicose veins 
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Eye issues - detached retina, glaucoma
  • Menstruation
  • Neck issues (Shoulder stand)
  • Back issues (talk to your teacher for variations)
  • Pregnancy (check with your teacher)
  • High blood pressure
  • Hernia
  • Stop if there is any pressure behind your eyes, ringing in the ears or breathing becomes difficult.
Inversions are not easy at first. They take strength and focus. Yoga practice will give you both.

If there are any specific poses or conditions you would like to know about send me a message or better still write in the comment box so everyone can benefit and learn.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cleaning and the Gunas

Cleaning is a great example of the Gunas. I just cleaned my living room, and now I am just lying on the couch feeling so nice. So Sattvic. Then I stared thinking about energy - Prana, and the Gunas.

The room was in need of a clean and some reorganisation. So I moved furniture, rearranged things, got rid of others and then sat down and rested. I then noticed how amazing it felt and how the energy in the room had changed and how Sattvic it felt. Then I thought about how busy I was and how much energy I used and how I was Rajas in motion transforming the room. I then thought about the energy of the room before and how heavy and static it was. A real Tamassic energy.

A nice simple example of ho w the Gunas work.
I highly suggest giving your rooms a great clean. It's such a great way to make your house and yourself and your life more positive and Sattivc.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Organic - it's O so good!

Organic. It has to be one of the most exploited words of this decade. It's a sign of the times we are living in, a sign that people are waking up the the negative impact that regular farming has on our health and the health of the planet.

I often hear people complain about the price of certain things, especially things that are good for us, but they have no problem paying for an expensive bottle of wine or imported beer. It's all about priorities. Ayurveda says that food is medicine so what you eat has a great effect on your body and you can improve your health by eating well. I know not everyone can afford to buy organic food, because yes it is more expensive but if you are lucky enough to be able to you should really think about it. Or you could even look at growing your own. Lots of vegetables will grow in a pot so even if you don't have a garden it is still possible to grown something.  Or try buying organic once a week it will make a huge difference to your health by just reducing the amount of chemicals you are putting into your system.

I always buy organic when I can but when it comes to fresh fruit and veg there is not a lot around.  Yes there are farmers markets, but I am just so busy that I never seem to get there. Big supermarkets?  No thank you.  So what's a girl to do? Home delivery courtesy of the good old internet of course! There are loads of companies around now deliver and it really does not cost that much more. It's a small price to pay when you think about all the chemicals that fruit and vegetables are sprayed with. And I'm sorry but no amount of washing will ever get rid off all the nasties because they have been grown in soil that is contaminated so the chemicals are inside the cells of the food. You will eat them no matter what you do.

And then there is the whole animal product issue. You think eating fruit and veg covered in pesticides is  bad then think about the quality of meat, eggs, milk etc that you get when you buy non-organic animal products.  The animals in the food industry are treated so badly and they are fed so many things that are just not meant to be given to animals. Animals now live in factories and are treated like things that do not have any needs or feelings. Such treatment  not only effects these animals physically but emotionally  as well. So you end up consuming an animals and their by products that is full of fear, sadness, hormones and a whole range of chemicals. This can not be good. So if you buy organic you will at least be getting a better quality product and hopefully the poor animal will not be subjected to such cruel practices.

So if your like me and are having a hard time finding fresh organic fruit and veg then jump on the net and let it come to you. Have a look around at the different companies as some let you have more control of what you do and don't want.  It's very handy for people who are following an ayurvedic diet and are trying to balance themselves through correct diet.
This is a link to the company I use

So eat well and be well. Your body will thank you!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Opening Special

Hi everyone the day has finally come and I will be in my very own clinic and available for consultations and massages!

So I have decided to offer all my clients 20% off their first treatment. 

Please come and see me and see how you can make small changes to your diet and lifestyle to have big improvements to your health and wellbeing. Or just come and get pampered with a nice nurturing warm oil massage.

To find out more follow the links

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Six Tastes

One of the fundamental principles of Ayurvedic nutrition is taste. Ayurveda states that there are 6 tastes: bitter, pungent, salty, sweet, sour and astringent and that certain tastes are better for different people depending on their dosha (natural constitution)  or doshic imbalances (current state). 

Ayurveda believes that all things are made from the five elements found in nature - ether, air, fire, water and earth, and that each taste is composed of a combination of two of these elements. 
  • Bitter                     ether + air
  • Pungent                 air + fire
  • Salty                      fire + water
  • Sweet                     water + earth
  • Sour                       earth + fire
  • Astringent              earth + air

Looking at the tastes like this makes it pretty easy to see what doshas will be increased by what taste. What is more difficult is determining what taste certain foods have. A cake of course is sweet, and coffee is bitter, but how would you classify rice? And what exactly is astringent anyway? 

Below is each taste in detail and how they effect each dosha.

Bitter  ether + air                                             
reduces Pitta and kapha
Increases Vata
Coffee, tea and dark chocolate are probably the first things that come to mind when you think of bitter tastes. Apart from coffee and tea it is not a large part of most peoples diets. Although a lot of herbs are bitter in taste they are not often found in supermarkets or included all in our day to day cooking. 

Like all the tastes bitter has both positive and negative effects on the body and mind.  The skin benefits  as it relieves inflammations and creates firmness. It cleanses the digestive tract and is a great detoxifier, it can even can remove poisons and parasites! In moderation it can aid in the reduction of fat, sweat, urine, bile and mucus and remove excess water from the lymphatic system. Spiritually it has been used by many cultures for its effect on consciousness. Vision quests and other spiritual practices use bitter herbs to help people see more clearly enabeling them to see things as they really are. Too much though and you can become disillusioned and suffer from grief. On a physical level you will become depleted in muscles, fat, plasma and blood. Another reason to try to limit the amount of coffee in your diet. 

Bitter taste is light, dry and cold so not at all good for vata. It will however decrease both pitta and kapha.

  • Herbs and spices - chamomile, coriander (cilantro), dandelion, echinacea, fenugreek, tarragon.
  • coffee and tea

Pungent   air + fire                                        
Reduces Pitta and Kapha
Increases Vata
Pungent is found mostly in herbs and spices.  It is the hottest of all the 6 tastes so naturally garlic, ginger and chili have a pungent taste.  

The elements air and fire make pungent dry, hot and light.  This combination is great for getting things moving, clearing channels and removing obstructions and wastes.  Mucus, oil, fat and stagnated blood is broken down and more easily eliminated. Digestion and assimilation of nutrients is also improved. Our mind as well as our body is also stimulated and cleared. All this stimulation and clearing can be depleting  and can lead to fatigue. Other negative effects of too much pungent taste include insomnia (coffee is pungent as well as bitter), diarrhea, heartburn, dry skin, and a reduction in sperm and ova.

Pungent is great for decreasing kapha as it has all the qualities kapha needs for balance. As is always the case if it's good for kapha the it is not good for vata.  An excess of pungent foods will aggravate all vatas of people with or vata imbalances. People needing to control pitta would also benefit from limiting the amount of pungent foods in their diets as the fire and heat will only increase their naturally hot body and mind. 

Foods that are pungent include:
  • Herbs and spices. A large number of hers are pungent, such as, allspice, basil, bay leaves, black pepper, caraway, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, lemon grass, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, saffron, sage, star anise, thyme, turmeric, 
  • Chia seeds, mustard seeds
  • Horseradish, garlic
  • Onions, chillis, mustard greens, spinach, radish, watercress
  • Safflower
Salty  fire + water                                                                                  
Reduces Vata
Increases Pitta and Kapha
Salty the taste that brings out the flavour of food and makes so many things taste so much better.  We love to like it off our fingers and sprinkle it over our food. It's chips and nuts best friend and fast food restaurants love it. 

Just like modern medicine Ayurveda does not have a lot of good things to say about the salty taste. It does have its benefits however. It improves digestion, absorption and elimination of bodily wastes. In small quantities it's good for calming the nerves, reducing anxiety and has a sedative effect on the mind. It promotes growth and can reduce pain and spasms in the colon. It is damp, hot and heavy and in excess it can thicken blood causing hypertension and increased ama (toxins). It creates wrinkles, baldness and grey hair. Skin conditions are aggravated and muscles and body strength is weakened. Water retention and edema can also result. 

Fire and water are the exact same elements that make up pitta so anybody with this constitution or a pitta imbalance should be very careful of having a lot of salt in their diet. The heavy, damp qualities and water element will also increase kapha. Used in moderation it can relieve vata as warmth and weight will help ground and balance the dry, light qualities of the dosha. 

The salt taste is not naturally found in foods. Sea salt, rock salt and seaweeds are pretty much the only food that has a salty taste in its raw form. Salt is however added to most processed food, fast food and snacks. The only way to truly control you intake of salt is to follow a wholefood diet and cook for yourself.

Sweet  water + earth                                      
Reduces Vata and Pitta
Increases Kapha
When we first hear the word sweet images of cakes, deserts and all things sugary come to mind, but these aren't the only types of sweet foods.  Other foods, such as carbs, fruit, certain herbs and milk are also sweet. 

Because sweet is composed of water and earth it increases bulk and body fluids. It strengthens and  promotes the growth of bodily tissues, blood and plasma. It is very nourishing, is great for our hair, makes us happy and gives us energy. No small wonder it is such a popular taste around the world. But don't get too excited, there are as we all know, drawbacks of overindulging. The damp, cold and heavy qualities that result from the combination of water and earth create colds, mucus and congestion. The heaviness can make us lazy and can decrease our appetite and effect our agni or digestive fire. Congestion in the lymphatic system, diabetes, fibrocystic changes in the breasts and obesity may also result. So as always moderation is the key. 

Being composed of water and earth makes sweet a taste that anyone with a kapha constitution or imbalance needs to be wary of. Small doses are OK but restraint is definitely needed.  It is however great for vatabeing entirely opposite in nature it is nicely balanced by the opposite qualities that sweet provides.  As there is no fire element sweet has a positive effect on pitta constitutions or imbalances. But do not think this gives you the green light to eat as much as you like, too much of a good thing will have a negative effect and the disorders mentioned above could become a reality regardless of your constitution. 

Sweet foods are:
  • Sweeteners -  sugar, maple syrup and honey.
  • Most carbohydrates and starches, for example, wheat and rice.
  • Milk, cream, ice cream.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Fruit (but not all some are sour) apples, apricots, figs, melons, strawberries. Pears and peaches are generally sweet but they sometimes can be astringent or sour.
  • Vegetables - artichoke, beans, beetroot, capsicum (peppers), carrots, corn, cucumber, okra, pumpkin and sweet potatoes.
  • Meat and fish.
  • Eggs.
  • Oils.
  • Herbs and spices - fennel, nutmeg, poppy seeds, mint, 
  • Dates
Sour   earth + fire                                                                                  
Reduces vata and Kapha
Increases Pitta
Sour foods are not large in number but they are a large part of many peoples diet. Fermented foods like wine, cheese and yoghurt, and acidic fruits are everyday foods for many people. 

Sour is made up of earth and fire and is damp, hot and light. The list of benefits like the list of foods is not as extensive as other tastes but that does not make sour any less important. The digestive system, which plays a very important role in our health, is stimulated and absorption of nutrients is improved. It builds up all the bodily tissues, except the reproductive, nourishes that heart and energises the body. It is said to awaken and stimulate the mind and the senses and also helps us to ground. Too much however and you could end up with hyperacidity, heartburn, ulcers and sensitive teeth. Its fermenting action can cause toxicity in the blood and skin conditions such as acne, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and boils.  Anger,  jealousy, irritaion and a general sourness of the mind are also the results of excess sour tastes.  

Being made up of earth and fire it is a taste that will increase both kapha and pitta. The hot and damp qualities are good for vata and will help decrease an excess of this dosha. 

Sours foods: 
  • Fruits- lemons, limes, grapefruit, green grapes and some plumbs, oranges, rasbarries, blueberries and blackberries.
  • Fermented foods - wine, cheese, yoghurt, soy sauce, umeboshi plumbs
Astringent   earth + air                                                              
Reduces Pitta and Kapha
Increases Vata
Astringent is the taste that creates that dry, puckering sensation in the mouth when you eat and drink certain things. Dry red wines and unripe bananas are good examples. 

It is cool, dry and heavy. It contracts tissues and blood canals so is great for healing wounds, ulcers and reducing bleeding. It also works as a blood purifier and can counter toxins in the body. If you have diarrhea and excessive sweat its drying qualities will be of great benefit. Astringents cool, dry qualities are also beneficial for cooling and clearing the mind. However, too much astringency can result in a build up of waste materials in the body as they are unable to be discarded through the natural process of elimination. Neuromuscular disorders can also result from excess astringency. 

Astringent is not at all good for dry, airy vatas.  Although it is heavy and earthy it actually decreases kapha due to its very drying nature. The cool, earthy qualities help to relieve pitta both physically and mentally.  

Not a lot of foods have Astringent as their first taste so this group is much smaller than the others. These include:
  • Fruits such as unripe bananas, pomegranates and cranberries.
  • Chickpeas and yellow split peas.
  • Alfalfa sprouts, green beans,  peas, celery and jerusalem artichokes.
  • Foods from the cabbage family - cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
  • Buckwheat
  • Lentils
So a bit of a different approach to looking at food and it effects on the body and mind then what most of us are used to. Have a look at your diet, experiment with increasing and decreasing different tastes and see what happens. Don't expect to see differences in a day or two be patient on see what happens after a week or so. And be strong. Like a lot of things in life the things that we love and enjoy the most are not always the things that we should be indulging in and are often the hardest to cut back on. But you don't have to be an extremist, you can still enjoy all tastes in moderation. Just listen to your body and check in with ourself from time to time to see what adjustments you need to make. Enjoy your food but eat with wisdom and care.

* As always my focus is on accessible foods, so I have only made reference to herbs that are generally used in everyday cooking,  found in most kitchens and herb gardens.