A Call to the Mountains…connecting our inner and outer worlds through tridoshic principles.

Starting in Rishikesh, India, I embarked on a huge change in my life. Leaving everything back at home, the job, the security, family and friends, I decided to go on this search. I thought I knew why I was going…I told myself I was going to learn more yoga, more ayurveda, keep studying in Rishikesh. I have learnt now that it is impossible to plan anything, and it did not take me long to realise this, soon after landing here in India.

My my plan to stay in Rishikesh was quickly changed by chance meeting with some very special people. Carrying 27kg of luggage, including ayurvedic herbs, heavy text books on yoga and ayurveda, blankets, socks and all sorts, in the matter of a few days I packed half of it up, bought a much lighter back pack and packaged nearly everything back to England. I realised that I was carrying with me the attachments I had identified with back at home. I was still not willing to let it go…for yoga and ayurveda are my identiy. It is who I am right? Who I thought I was. However, I quickly understood that there was a part of me that wanted to let go and embrace the adventure of travel. And so, to put things short, something very strong in my intuition led me to the mountains of Manali, Northern India. I could not explain why, I could only experience and see.

The scenery here is breath taking. The mountainous landscapes are bathed in lush green forests, with snow covered peaks in the distance. Within the valleys run fresh clear water around perfectly formed rocks. I have spent some time looking at these mountains and this landscape. I have found that my focus is very much on my inner world so far. Yes the scenery is beautiful, but for me, spending time in meditation is where I wanted to be. Everyone around me is exploring the area, and I have felt the difference in interests. It got me thinking about inner and outer world exploration.

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Our outer world…in places is so beautiful. But what about our inner world? Is it as beautiful? Or is it not? Yoga is union. Union of outer and inner world, to the point where you realise we are one and the same. There is no ‘I’ or ‘you’ – the physical body is simply a vehicle of this lifetime, one we must eventually drop identification with. So we can look at these beautiful landscapes, but does the mind viewing it change? Our focus on the inner and outer world must find some balance. If you look at how we treat our outer world, we can see that we also treat the inside the same. When you are not connected somehow to the beauty of the outer world, our inner world is disconnected also. And so, we see a beautiful landscape – and our emotions are raw, they feel love, they feel truth, we realise things and think deeply. The outer and inner worlds are reflections of one another. They are one and the same. How we treat our outer world is a reflection of how we treat our inner world, and vice versa.

And so, how are these two worlds connected? Let us focus on the physical connection. The universe and our world is composed purely of the 5 elements. Ether (space), air, fire, water and earth. Our physical bodies are also the same. I aim to go into detail about each of these in future posts, but for now I want to share my realisation about perhaps why I have been drawn to the mountains, instead of the baking heat of Rishikesh. Is this pull towards the mountains a call for my grounding? Are we drawn to natural landscapes according to what we require in terms of doshic balance? And is this linked to the desire to travel? A desire to balance ourselves. Is our outer world trying to communicate to our inner world?

As a predominantly vata / pitta personality according to Ayurveda, I have a lot of air, ether and fire within me. I like to move a lot, I cannot stay still, both physically and mentally. Whilst this serves me well in terms of creating something and making it happen, I lack grounding, and this shows in my moments of unrest. And so, I felt it in my intuition to be called to the mountains, where earth and water predominate, the kapha dosha…the dosha which will balance me, the one I need to enhance more of. And so, I must get out there to them and learn – what can I learn from these mountains and rivers? I simply observe them and become them, observe their qualities and allow them to permeate my inner world. The mountains are cool, strong, still, majestic, powerful, resilient and unshakeable. Wherever the mountains are, there they remain. Unlike heat and wind, they do not move quickly. The weather around them comes to pass, they remain unaffected by storms, sunshine or snow. I think about the kapha type people in my life and they show the same qualities.

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How can I cultivate this grounding within myself? I am very much like the wind and fire, quick to move, always changing my mind, changing my direction, my intensity. I am here to be the qualities of a mountain. But not the qualities I once feared…for I view such stand still as limitation, boredom and dullness. Instead I now take on the qualities of resilience, strength and power. Within myself, my inner world. The sharp peaks can reflect focus and direction….always moving up, never down. The strong foundation can reflect my roots and culture, the strength and enormity can reflect a power within myself, unaffected by changing weather patterns.

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And what about water? The water here is again powerful, strong and flowing. As it flows it makes its path. In parts it is still, in others it is ferocious and fast. It adapts to a situation without any kind of resistance. Like the water, I can learn to adapt to my surroundings and go with the flow, moving strongly when I need to, and also taking rest when I need to. I can learn to surrender and let go to the path that lay before me.

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And so, I believe I have been drawn to these natural landscapes for this reason, a calling to learn a balance within my inner world. The key is to open my eyes, not be scared and embrace what is around me. We are so intimately linked to our outer world physically, and ayurveda helps me to understand this. We have so much to learn in observing nature – for it is one and the same as us. We look upon the beauty of a landscape and we feel emotional because we see that beauty within ourselves. But maybe if our senses and awareness are not alert enough, we fail to recognise it. And so we go on the search…more travel, more scenery, to see the beauty of our outer world in hope that we recognise it within ourself and try to balance these inner and outer worlds, ultimately leading us to yoga….Union.

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How does spirituality in this lifetime affect our health?

One of the niyamas of yoga (the do’s) is Ishwarapranidhanadva. The interpretation of this is the belief, knowing and trust in something that exists that is higher than ourselves. Higher than our ego-driven minds.

To me, this aspect of our journey here in this lifetime is possibly the most important thing to always remember. My teacher of Ayurveda, Dr Deepika Rodriguez taught us the importance of having some kind of spirituality within our lives in order for the root chakra to come in to balance. She explained that you can view the root chakra, in the most simple way, as having several aspects of survival linked to it – FOOD – SHELTER – SEX. These are the three things we need to basically survive as a human being. What many people do is spend their entire lives having sex, getting a mortgage and having a job to buy food….but what is eventually realised is that there still lies unrest and discontentment. This is because there is one fundamental aspect missing here, that has unfortunately gained a stigmatic reputation, and that is spirituality. Now…this is a huge topic….but I want to just focus on two things here.

  1. How does visiting spirituality in this lifetime affect our health outcomes?

  2. Why has believing in God become something people don’t like to talk about?

Let’s look at the first question, how does it affect our health? When our body is healthy, it is happy, when it is not healthy, it is not happy. In Ayurveda, we can also go as far as to say that when we are not happy….it means we are not healthy (despite no physical symptoms showing). This is the presence of mental ama (toxins)….which will eventually go on to cause physical symptoms if left untreated. So our pursuit for happiness is not only something you do in a mid-life crisis, its something that we intrinsically know is linked to our health. When we begin this journey into what makes us happy, we take our first step onto the spiritual path. We find that the other societal norms that we’ve been told to gather, do not actually make us happy. Yes they allow us to survive, they are necessary, but they cannot solely be responsible for our happiness. And so we go on this search….what else is there? There must be something more than this? And this is where the exciting part happens. 

Acknowledging that there is a higher power functioning all of the time can ultimately change your entire perspective on your health and situations in life. Call it the Universe, Buddha, Allah, Krishna, Divinity, God….it really doesn’t matter because it is all the same truth.

By having this acknowledgement, we can immediately remove the “I” and the “you” from our day to day thoughts, experiences and confrontations. This is because our egos (the ‘I’) likes to be in control, and feel that it is in control. I am a pharmacist, I am a yoga teacher, I I I….you you you…it doesn’t actually exist. we can identify with all of these things, but the truth is that we are not any of it and we are in fact an instrument only of the divine, if we can tame our egos, the true power of this begins to shine through.

When we understand that there is a higher power at work, we can begin to learn that you can no longer blame your own suffering on an external circumstance or person. It is the ego that likes to pass on this blame to others. If you experience suffering in the form of a physical health issue, we like to investigate and blame something or other….never taking some responsibility for it ourself.

In fact our allopathic health system spends a lot of money on investigating a disease state and analysing test results….looking for an answer externally. You see, throughout lifetimes, we will keep looking and blaming others for our circumstances for our suffering, but actually, the moment we have realised that we have to take some responsibility for it, we have finally woken up and we can begin the spiritual path. If we can take every situation as an opportunity to improve ourself rather than blame someone or something else, would we not be saving a lot more time and money?

This takes me onto the subject of the law of karma. This is such a vast topic, and I will not go into such depths with it because my knowledge is not so great in it. But, from what I do understand is the idea of cause and effect in life. We have all had experiences where we have felt the karma of an action, be it noble or selfish. We know the effect of karma because we can feel it in the intention we have on every action. When we do something out of fear, we can feel it, and the same goes when we act out of love. Over lifetimes we have all been doing actions, and the effects of these actions are carried through our lifetimes in our astral body, within the chakras. So…what we are experiencing in this lifetime is a direct result of our previous life actions. It is our karma. Now…we can look at our life, and see the fruits of our karma. We can also look to our suffering and also know that this too is our karma. This is a lot to swallow for some people. And this isn’t to say that people should suffer at all…this is not what I am saying.

The perspective I am taking on this, is that if we can individually look at ourselves, and take responsibility for our suffering in health issues, we can immediately begin the more subtle levels of healing…as well as the physical. Can you imagine…the amazing medical advancements of our time, coupled with the spiritual understanding? It would be a tremendous breakthrough in our healthcare system. Once we take responsibility for our life karmas, we move from this ‘victim’ role we all like to play. As if something is punishing you all of the time, against you…it is this perception that steers people away from divinity. But…in actual fact, it is this suffering that is trying to show you the way back to divinity, but you have to look inwards, not outwards.

The situation will keep revisiting you, lifetime after lifetime until you learn it once and for all, and guess what…it has nothing to do with the person or things you wanted to blame. This law explains how some people will spend their whole life smoking but still live to a nice age of 90 and no complications…..compared to someone who tries to follow every health fad going and still gets migraines and black outs. It is linked to the fruits of their karma (among other causes of course).

The law of karma brings us into acceptance of life and circumstances. Once we take responsibility for our actions, and understand our karmic work, we move from being a victim into a victor (credit Preston smiles for that one!) We become the spiritual warrior, facing our darkness as well as embracing our light. Once acceptance is there, we can immediately feel relaxed, and know that every step from now on, if done with conscious awareness, has the potential to steer you away from suffering and into abundance.

So let us look at this second question…why do we not like to openly show our acknowledgement of a higher power? It is the ego…The ego is still in control, it doesn’t want to people to not like them, or think they are ‘weird’ for believing in God. What I love about India, is this openess that exists among communities about their spiritual beliefs. There is no shame in praying, no shame in chanting mantras, no shame in saying OM. I have seen also this same openess in many other communities, particularly the Greek Orthodox and Muslim groups.

It is humbling to show that you understand the nothingness of your own existence. It is this viewpoint that we can use to embrace life and not take it so damn seriously! Especially amongst spirituality….we have become so serious, and it is making spiritual life seem boring. We have infinite lifetimes to come back again to rectify our mistakes, so do not worry. If you mess up, you mess up, big deal. Accept the karma is coming, but it won’t be the end of you, because your soul is eternal.

If you have desires to go out all night, to smoke every day, to eat meat….I urge you to fulfil these desires, and you can still be on the spiritual path! If anyone judges you, that is their karma honey, so leave it to them. You simply have to focus on you.

I hope that this kind of writing starts to change the perspective of the perfected healthy glowing yogi with cleared chakras who has turmeric shots everyday and makes no mistakes. We are not like that all! We mess up all the time, and the more we do, the more we know we are on the path. I always tell my students not to follow anything blindly, even anything I say. Experience things for yourself and then you will surely see if it is the truth or not. Don’t eat something because an article on Facebook said it reduces cancer by 30%. Eat what you feel like, do what you feel like. Your not here to be perfect, you are here to learn.

With the knowing that there is a higher power at work, and you take the time to devote yourself and acknowledge its presence, you can move through life with much more ease. You can smile more, celebrate your existence and just simply take life as lessons in the classroom at school. The more fearlessly you live, the faster you get to leave school and be done with all this learning! So if anything, I encourage you to make mistakes, to try new things, to take a risk. If you are failing, you are progressing! A funny way to look at it, but it is so true. If something rings a truth here to you, I would advise you to not be afraid of what people think, and delve into it. Unfortunately, there is much stigma around religion, because people have had fear instilled into them, based on historical events when it has been used as a mechanism of control. But we must now forget these things, and begin thinking for ourself, but the faith must still remain. The truth is the truth…and all that will be left at the end is the truth. Remove the ego and go beyond the idea that something else is solely responsible for your own suffering. Surrender to that power, and simply enjoy the ride. This is where the journey begins….

Inspired by talks from Preston Smiles, Dr Deepika Rodriguez and Nayaswami Asha, my yoga philosophy teacher Mahesh.

The ‘Vata Chatter’ and 8 ways to help you through it

This is my first post on here in a while, and I can say that it has been a hell of a journey since then, nearly a year has gone by but some immense changes have occurred, which I hope to write here from the heart.

Since completing my degree in Ethnobotany, I can only say that, although it was my path, I delved straight back into security, returning to working in pharmacy. At the time it felt right, I needed stability and I was ridden with feelings of fear and insecurity – from both my career and a failed long-term relationship.

Somehow, Ayurveda came to me, and also during times of strong emotion so did mandala drawing. I must say that it changed everything for me, and for those that also find themselves drawn to Ayurveda, you will find too that it has a way of explaining a lot about yourself. I hope to cover a lot of what I experienced here in this blog, and also more experiences to come.

Ayurveda is a science of life. You can look up the definitions all over the internet and in literature, but to me, it really is a science of understanding the self, living from the heart and a way of understanding your purpose and journey in life. It incorporates the body, the mind and the soul in understanding health. Ayurveda was a beacon of light for me, I finally found something that explains what I had been thinking all along.

The principles of Ayurveda are based around the five elements; ether, air, fire, water and earth. These elements are grouped into the doshas: vata (air and ether), pitta (water and fire) and kapha (water and earth). These elements exhibit particular qualities, which give rise to the effects within the body and the mind – leading to particular personality traits as well as health outcomes.

You come into this life with what is known as your ‘prakruti’. Your prakruti is like your genetic code, and it is a unique composition of these three doshas that make up who you are. Over time, your prakruti will change due to diet, lifestyle, environment and life circumstances. Ultimately your doshas become out of balance – which leads you to being out of balance – mainly manifesting as health problems. This goes into a lot more detail, but I am keeping it short for now! In this blog entry I want to talk about the vata dosha.

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So how do you know if you have a predominantly vata dosha? Vata’s are very easy to spot. I say this because I myself am one, and for everyone that knows me personally it is very obvious! So Ayurvedically vata dosha has the qualities of light, dry, rough, subtle, mobile and clear. How does this manifest in our behaviour and physiology? – vatas tend to be of skinny build, they can be bony, have dry skin, always moving, always thinking, very creative! They have difficulty staying on the ground, and as I like to call it, we can be quite ‘flighty’. This is because we have the elements of air and ether within us in larger quantities. We can’t stay put for too long! Vata people hate to feel limited or trapped. Which makes it very difficult for them to stay in one job and not constantly want to go off travelling. Being stuck in a job a vata doesn’t like is hell for them. They will be miserable!

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As a pharmacist I see classic vata imbalances day in day out. They normally come in with lower back pain issues or a prescription for anti-anxiety/anti-depressant medication – so I recommend some pain killers, dispense their medication. I immediately have an idea of whats going on…so I talk to them more. I ask questions about their diet and recommend particular foods and straight away their answer will be – ‘oh no I can’t eat like that I will get fat!’. Vatas have an irrational fear of gaining weight, but it is ridiculous because it’s almost impossible…it all stems from their insecurity. I try to give some reassurance and in my heart I just want to take them into the consultation room and let them pour their heart out about whats really going on. But I can’t…you simply do not have that kind of time in allopathic healthcare systems.

Vatas can be very emotional creatures, they need a lot of love, and this is because the qualities can manifest as feelings of fear, anxiety and insecurity. They are living more in their head than their bodies and so more energy is directed to this place. Meaning that less is directed to their physical needs of hunger and elimination. This means they can suppress their appetite and not eat (too busy thinking of course!) Too much unneccessary thinking leads to them behaving quite erratically. They will change their mind a lot, not be able to focus on one idea and can be flighty with relationships. Vatas will be the ones who are wanting to travel to ‘find themselves’ – what I have noticed recently is that they tend to be the ones that steer more so towards a spiritual path. They are into the yoga, into meditation, they LOVE dancing and music and have a very ethereal essence to their being.

We tend to be the one with endless energy, constantly wanting to do something all the time, our minds are a whirlwind of events, places, ideas, people, what people think, what I think, what should I be doing? Will they like that? How can I prove myself? How can I show myself? This all comes from the vata within us. It’s the air, it’s the ether. But fear not, my teacher teaches that vata people are like champagne bottles that have been shaken up. Yes, they are a vessel of energy waiting to burst, and when they do it’s loud, and it’s crazy, and its all over the place, its messy, but hey ho its champagne! Vata people are special never forget this, as are all people of course! But vata people need this re-iterated a bit more so. Feelings of insecurity, loneliness and doubt are all too familiar, and if you can recognise the triggers for this mindset then you are on the path to releasing and channeling your vata into some good.

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I call my vata mind the ‘vata chatter’ and it’s there all the time, and I mean all the time. Even in my meditation the vata chatter appears…it’s there when I wake up, it’s there at work, it’s there in my relationships. My vata chatter can take over and start talking whilst I am in conversation with people. Your starting a yoga class? Wow I want to do that. Your writing a book? Wow I want to do that. Your travelling the world? Wow I want to do that. Hang on….I’ve totally not been engaging with what you’re saying and instead I am too busy thinking about how I can possibly do that too. Can they see this in me? I wonder what they now think of me? Oh god, I better make myself look less selfish. Let me go home and mill over all of these questions in bed (as well as plan how I intend to do all these new ideas)……oh its 3am? S**t. 

Your vata chatter will be very familiar to you. It will come at any moment and it can be very difficult to shake off. It is like trying to catch something that is constantly moving very quickly – almost impossible. Personally I am still battling with my vata chatter, and it has gotten me into some tricky situations this past year. But, my awareness of the vata chatter is the first step to directing it to some good. If you can relate to this dosha, I would say congratulations because your beginning to understand yourself a bit more! With understanding you can learn to love your vata chatter, taking care of it like a small child and nurturing it. How can you do that?

  1. Eat mash potato with butter (I am not kidding – it seriously works because it is grounding!)
  2. Make sure you eat full stop….if you are not hungry try having a slice of fresh ginger with a touch of salt and few drops of lime 30 minutes before meal times.
  3. Try to minimise intake of raw foods (it increases the rough and dry quality). Stick to cooked, warm foods.
  4. Get to sleep around 10pm. Before bed get yourself a warm heavy drink, like spiced milk and maybe give yourself a gentle foot massage with warm sesame oil.
  5. Start meditation daily – but don’t do too much!!  visualisation meditation works best for vatas and maybe some soft music. Vatas will struggle with silent meditation, unless you have lots of practice of course.
  6. Wake up early and direct all of that vata energy into your ideas – use this time in the morning to plan, to organise, make lists, to reply to emails, to message friends back. Trust me, your mind won’t feel so over whelmed during the daytime and you will be able to focus and also be in the knowing that your ideas of bigger dreams are underway too.
  7. Establish a daily routine – it will build your security and you will be able to look after yourself better in the process.
  8. Become best friends with your vata chatter. When you hear it, say to yourself – right this is my vata chatter. Welcome it and just keep that awareness. Get yourself into a safe space – on your own or with people who won’t increase it! (You will begin to notice who makes your vata chatter go crazy). Let the world go by whilst you stay in your safe space and then emerge and respond to situations once you feel it has reduced. Once you practice this you will begin to detach from your thoughts. Learn to not pay attention to them if they are negative – visualise them moving as a cloud in the sky, let it pass and then disappear.

I just want to finish of by saying again that vatas have a very special quality to them. As a vata you have the ideas, you have the inspiration, you love talking, you love people, you are the life and soul of a party! Don’t ever forget this. Dancing and moving our bodies is innate to us, so use that energy to move your body with yourself, in your home, in your room, in the shower. Put on that funky music and dance to yourself, you are so god damn special! Direct it into something amazing and let that champagne just go everywhere!! But just make sure you keep yourself grounded at the same time. 

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If you have any tips or experiences that can relate to this I would love to hear from you. Trust me, vatas can relate to each other a lot – never feel alone!

 

 

The Health Benefits of Masala Chai – Functionality in Cultural Practice

By now I think everyone is fast becoming aware of the option of swapping your normal latte for a ‘chai’ latte at your local coffee shop. Having a warm chai is also a favourite on the alternative festival scene. To me, it is such a normality to have a tin of masala next to the tea bag caddy in the kitchen. With something that is so close to home and is growing expansively in popularity, I sought to learn more about this hot drink that I have for years been consuming yet remaining quite ignorant about!

First things first, let me just clear up one important detail about the word chai. In Hindi, chai is the literal translation of tea. So when you ask for a chai tea, you are asking for a ‘tea tea’! The word chai has taken on its own meaning here in the West, and personally I feel this is okay – everybody is enjoying it, so no problem!

photoMasala chai is an aromatic beverage that you’ll find being mainly consumed in India, but also expands to other Eastern areas of the world. It is basically like a spicy tea. Here in the West we drink chai in a more recreational way, however, historically it was used more so as a medicinal drink due to the properties of the spices that are included in the brew.

There are so many cultural practices that can be explained by their functionality. I think it is beautiful how this functionality ties into culture, serving a purpose as well as embodying the spirit and essence of the culture; forming an identity for those of the culture within the functional practice.  

Masala Chai is brewed with black tea leaves and a mixture of aromatic and medicinal spices. It is best enjoyed sweetened and with milk added too. The spice mix is also known as the karha. This mix can vary depending on who you speak to. This particular karha that I am about to explain is from my lovely mum who grinds and makes her own fresh mix.

So what makes masala chai so functional? It’s all in the spice…

Cinnamon1. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum & Cinnamomum cassia)

Cinnamon is known as a wonder spice for its many beneficial properties. Key benefits of cinnamon include its ability to lower blood sugar levels, which makes it fantastic for sufferers of diabetes. It does this by increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin, a key hormone in blood sugar regulation. It also has anti-inflammatory properties as well as having a cholesterol lowering effect. The inner bark of the tree species is high in a compound called cinnamaldehyde which is responsible for its medicinal effects on the body. In order to obtain the full benefits of cinnamon, you need to be consuming around 1-6 grams a day (half to two teaspoons).

There are two types of cinnamon, and I feel that it is quite important that we are aware of the difference between them. Cinnamomum verum, also known as ceylon cinnamom is ‘true cinnamon’. The other variation, which is more widely and cheaply available (the cinnamon you buy at regular supermarkets) is called Cinnamomum cassia. This species is particularly high in a compound called coumarin. Due to the involvement of coumarin in blood clotting, too much of this species is quite risky. So do source your cinnamon carefully!

Cardamom
2. Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)

Cardamom is another wonder spice. As well as being used culinary for its intensely beautiful aroma, it also has an important role in Ayurvedic medicine. Cardamom belongs to the plant family Zingiberaceae – the same family of ginger and turmeric. It seems this plant family has something really special about it! I will save talking about the benefits of turmeric and ginger for another post, but lets just say they are in my top five most important foods to be consuming for their all round health benefits. Cardamom is the seed pod of the plant species. The spice contains a high level of the compound methanolic acid which allows for its role in aiding gastrointestinal disorders, gastric acidity, flatulence and stomach cramps. In Ayurveda it is widely prescribed in treating infections of the teeth and gums and oral mucosa (mouth ulcers).

fennel seed3. Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare)

This aromatic spice is most beneficial for its high fibre content. The compounds kaempferol and quercetin give fennel its anti-oxidant benefits which make it a great spice for anti-ageing and anti-cancer effects.  The essential oils of fennel seed have a carminative effect, meaning that they aid in lowering the formation of intestinal gas, making it a great spice for digestion.

 

clove 4. Clove  (Syzygium aromaticum)

This aromatic spice is the dried form of the unopened flower bud from the clove tree. Clove contains high levels of a compound called eugenol which is a potent anti-inflammatory. In combination with another compound, beta-caryophyllene, clove makes a fantastic anaesthetic and antibacterial agent hence the traditional use of clove oil for toothache.

A good quality clove will release some of its oil content when rubbed. Another useful test is to place a single clove into a cup of water and see how it floats. If it floats horizontally you’ve got a good quality spice. If it sinks or floats vertically, it is not the best quality.

image-25. Peppercorn (Piper negrum)

We all use a bit of pepper to add to taste to our food, but this fiery spice also has a function in that it aids in good digestion. Peppercorns, like fennel seeds, have a carminative effect on the intestine. The peppercorns we use are actually dried berries of the plant species. The spice also has diaphoretic (creating sweat) as well as diuretic (promoting urine flow) properties. The outer layer of peppercorns also stimulate the breakdown of fat cells. So…cumulatively, these properties make pepper a brilliant spice for detox and weight loss.

These spices are all ground down and blended together in different amounts to create the individual karha of preference. You can add more or less of any of these spices and even bring in your own additions such as nutmeg or ginger.

An interesting observation from this particular karha that I noticed was how all of the spices involved in this brew are from different parts of the plant. Black tea leaves, cinnamon bark, fennel seeds, cardamom seed pods, clove buds and peppercorn berries. Just like how a plant requires different levels of nutrients at each stage of its growth, so do our human bodies. Masala chai takes on a kind of metaphor of a panacea for this by encompassing all these different plant parts, providing our bodies with nurture and complete protection throughout all of our life and growth stages.

Anti-inflammatory compounds are a gift to us humans, for they allow us to prevent the occurrence of disease with their consumption.  Digestion is another key component in our life long health. If our digestion is not healthy, we have a poor nutrient absorption rate. And now it has been scientifically proven that our gut and mind communicate with one another. Ever had a ‘gut feeling’? A healthy gut also allows us to have a healthy mind. Anti-bacterial properties are also hugely beneficial to us for they allow us to fight off infectious microbes that may cause us to get ill.

The action of physically drinking the chai also allows the oral mucosa to come into direct contact with the spice properties – which is an extremely fast route of absorption as well as being able to directly treat/prevent oral ailments – another key functionality.

Consuming this drink on a daily basis allows the body to prevent the occurrence of disease – a practice that I feel has huge potential for us here in the West.

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So the masala chai to me is more than just a spicy tea, it is an embodiment of our innate understanding of basic health needs that has been within traditional knowledge systems since ancient times. It just so happens that chai is delicious, warming and a great drink to share with friends. Here is my mum’s recipe for making chai, I have to give her full credit for this! Enjoy…

 

 

Masala Chai recipe by Arti Bajaria

You will need: Loose black tea, masala mix (karha) and a tea strainer.

  1. Fill a saucepan with water (the amount will be the number of cups of tea you intend to brew for) and put on a low heat.
  2. Add loose black tea to this hot water (not too much, the same amount as a teabag per cup of tea you plan to make for) and allow to steep on a low heat.
  3. Add in the milk. You can vary which milk you want to use, coconut milk for vegan chai, cows milk or even condensed milk if you are really treating yourself!
  4. Add in about quarter to half a teaspoon of your spice mix.
  5. Allow to steep. The longer you leave it the stronger it will be.
  6. Keep it on a low heat and add in a sweetener (if you want). To steer away from refined white sugar why not try agave nectar, honey or molasses. Agave nectar is becoming more widely available, you can now buy it in Sainsbury’s in the sugar isle).
  7. When you feel it is sweet and spicy enough for you, strain the tea mixture and serve.

p.s extra cardamom is a personal favourite of mine, it really gives it a beautiful flavour.

The whole experience of making chai can be something you can enjoy with your friends as an activity to experiment and make something together. Make it a cultural practice for yourselves! Grab some chai and have a good chat whilst knowing how beneficial all these lovely spices are doing for you.

Being part of the change

My first excursion as part of my data collection for the dissertation that I am currently working on is to Bristol, UK. I have booked myself on a dye plant foraging walk and also a native dye plant workshop. Both of these are run by Babbs Behan, from Bristol based company, Botanical Inks. Botanical Inks provides a model for producing and dyeing textiles in the most sustainable and ecological sound way. Basing their principles of practice on permaculture foundations, Babbs talked through how to take note of being mindful of the environment at every stage of the textile production. This includes taking care when foraging; collecting every third plant, not removing bark from the entire ring of the tree, and utilising urban waste as natural dyes. During the dyeing process care should be taken to not use energy unnecessarily. For example, by allowing yourself more time in your practice, you can simply leave the dye stuff in the dye bath in cold water and leave by the window for some solar dyeing. This takes longer than simply heating it up, but it means that you can ensure that your practice is protecting the environment rather than damaging it. Even after the dyeing process, Babbs encourages us to re-use our dyed fabrics, taking advantage of the temporarity of the dye and enjoying a newly dyed garment for each occasion! Keeping the process chemical free was another key theme. The use of bio-mordants (such as rhubarb leaves and oak galls) was highly encouraged, and that was only if you had to use a mordant. Substantive dye plants, meaning that they do not need a mordant to allow the dye to stick to the fibre, are high in tannic acid. The use of these is highly encouraged as some mordants can be quite harmful.

In terms of my research observations I can be certain that a revitalisation in natural dyes is happening (see my ‘About’ page about my research project). This is easily recognised by simply observing the age range of participants in both the activities that I attended. There are women of an older generation and also of a younger, around my age (27) and hardly any in-between. During the workshop all of the ladies there were around my age. I must say I had a fab time and met some really lovely girls. We had a good giggle throughout the process and managed to produce beautifully dyed pieces (see photo). I felt that these experiences were a great introduction to dye plants and I had a rush of excitement afterwards, I had learnt a tremendous amount thanks to Babbs kindly sharing her knowledge. Bristol is an amazing city, I really enjoyed my stay there. I can really feel the transitional culture and can see why dye plants and natural dyeing processes have re-emerged successfully there.

As I was waiting for my train back to Kent I had a really reflective moment. Bought on by hearing a really uplifting song (Passion by 1 Giant Leap). I had just spent the last few hours in a coffee shop near Montpelier Station and felt like I was on a good energy level. I love coffee shop sessions where you have your laptop, a good coffee and piles of inspiration. As I arrived at the platform, my feet absolutely aching from my sisters borrowed shoes and the weather pouring down with rain, I headed for the shelter. Another girl joined me shortly afterwards and smiled as we saw each other. Everyone smiles more in Bristol, it is something that I have noticed a lot. I smiled to myself and thought about Babbs and Botanical Inks. “She really is part of the change” I thought. Then I looked back on all the other inspirational people that I have met throughout this Ethnobotany degree over the last year. They too, are all part of the change. Then, that means I technically am part of the change, as I am part of this movement back into utilising resources in a sustainable and mindful way. I had another rush of excitement and boarded my train. I spent the entire journey thinking about ideas of how I can apply all of these inspirational stories into my own one.

I highly recommend Botanical Inks. On their website you can find out about their workshops and events. I stayed at YHA Bristol which worked out fine. Its about a 15 minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads station where you can get a train to most places in a short amount of time and at a fair price too!

Silks dyed with Natural Dyes. In descending order:  Dye used, avocado skins, eucalyptus leaves, red onion skins, onion skins (red and white). I must admit that the colours that they look like in the photo are very different from how they look in natural light! My favourites are the avocado skin dye which comes out as a lovely dusty pink and the eucalyptus which comes out a brilliant gold/bronze colour. Which interestingly over time, has become a deep khaki green.
Silks dyed with Natural Dyes.
In descending order:
Dye used, avocado skins, eucalyptus leaves, red onion skins, onion skins (red and white). I must admit that the colours that they look like in the photo are very different from how they look in natural light! My favourites are the avocado skin dye which comes out as a lovely dusty pink and the eucalyptus which comes out a brilliant gold/bronze colour. Which interestingly over time, has become a deep khaki green.