The Spirit of Health, The Vital Essence Ojas


As spring and winter engage in a dance that teases, antagonizes and frustrates our daily rhythms, I am amazed at the human potential for adaptation and grace. Although many people may be subject to unexpected illnesses like the belly flu or adrenal fatigue when weather fluctuates, it is more often than not that our bodies incline toward balance.  The dance of the seasons keep us on our toes…what clothes to wear, what foods to eat, which daily activities we choose to do…often without noticing the deeper rhythms of the autonomic systems. Our bodies are amazing.

Throughout my years of studying yoga, nutrition, Ayurveda and herbalism, I have come across a particular gem of an idea that is at the heart of true health, an idea that threads all of these healing modalities. In Ayurveda, this concept is known as Ojas, and is the ‘essence of vitality.’ In yoga, I have found that this essence finds me, not pumping out poses on the mat until I sweat, but in the early am, when I light the candle on my altar and turn inwards for peace and Self reflection. I also find that this spiritual vitality fills me when I do a practice that supports me at that moment, such as doing a restorative practice when I am tired, even though my mind may want to engage in something more demanding. In my food it is found not by just eating my veggies and staying away from fried foods, but by eating with presence, with focus and being thankful for my food, my company, and the energy of the meal–whether home cooked with love or on the road. It is the gratitude that gives me both physical health and spiritual health, ojas.

In Nature, I find the essence Ojas when I connect, at a heart level, with the plants. My favorite hobby is to take a walk with my dog and find a plant or tree to sit by…and really connect to. The earth and nature embody ancient wisdom and we only need to become still and open to absorb the knowledge. Taking time to rest and connect with the vibrancy of plants replenishes the body and the mind, and removes tired, dull and depleted energies.

The rhythms we create for ourselves go a long way in determining how happy or how unhappy we are, how vital or how depleted. The vital essence Ojas is an amazing concept to me, because it is found whenever we connect our heart to our rhythms and make wise choices based on finding balance. The more we love, nurture and support ourselves, the happier we are and the more health we exude. The more Ojas we have, the more capable we become to support others on their road to balance and vitality.

“The happiness of one’s own heart alone cannot satisfy the soul; one must try to include, as necessary to one’s happiness, the happiness of others.” -Paramahansa Yogananda

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Yellow Dock: The Herb of Understanding

Yellow Dock is a strong weed, seen through the seasons in various stages of growth. Right now in winter, the stream of red in the leaf’s center (a brilliant color for nature) calls to the passerby, hinting at the fact that the name ‘weed’ has placed a mask over its powerful virtues.

As I sit with yellow dock on an unusually warm winter day in my garden in Asheville, NC, I am impressed by its humble beauty and strength.  The plant is as common as the need for it, and proves this by growing in lawns, on streetcorners and parks in every neighborhood and in every season. If only people knew about the healing benefits of Yellow Dock! There would be a drastic decline in Tums and laxatives, and even in iron pills!

Yellow Dock, or Rumex crispus, is also known by the name curly dock due to the curling actions of the leaves.  These leaves are a cousin of sorrel, and edible as well, with a sour and astringent taste.  The root is similar in taste, althought also bitter, and pushes down into the earth as a yellow-shaped man. These particular tastes and the downward moving action signify the effects yellow dock has on moving things down and out of the digestive system. The root as a tincture or tea can help move bile, decongesting the gallbladder and liver. It also detoxifies the blood (especially in combination with burdock root) and stimulates the peristaltic action of the colon (reducing constipation.)  Certain sources and my own experience with clients is that the intelligence of the plant creates an amphoteric action for the colon, helping to bring balance no matter what the affliction.  So for example, whether one is suffering from an irritable, crampy bowel, or a sluggish, immobile digestive system–yellow dock ameliorates.

In the energetic and spiritual realm, Yellow Dock is known as ‘the Herb of Understanding.’ According to Matthew Wood, one of my mentors and author of “The Book of Herbal Wisdom,” certain Native American tribes used Yellow Dock before a sweat lodge to deepen the wisdom and discernment of the material versus the spiritual realms. In my own experience, it assists in illuminating our higher mind through the avenue of strengthening the solar plexus–the seat of our will, power and assimilation of all life’s experiences.  It helps us to flush out old emotionsthat have become stagnant and even materialized in the form of hard matter or congestion in the colon.  Its downward flowing action correlates to Yoga and Ayurveda’s concept of Apana Vayu, the energy that governs all forms of elimination such as urination, menstruation, defecation and childbirth. As a tonic in this regards it is used by women for loss of iron and digestive issues during menstruation & childbirth. It makes a wonderful iron syrup tonic with molasses!!

This assistance to the downward flowing motion of energy is probably one of the most important gifts of yellow dock.  When it is hard to let go of the past (stories, anger, guilt, pain), old emotions or trauma lingering in the conscious or subconcsious mind, yellow dock is a powerful ally. Physically it ‘cleanses our blood’ but mentally it helps cleanse our mind.

Yellow Dock is a tonic, meaning it is nourishing like food.  I suggest whoever is reading this to get to know this plant! Make a tea from the roots (found in the bulk section of most health food stores) or as a tincture, or just sit by it on a sunny day to slow down, rest a bit and take the time to let go of whatever you no longer need. When we allow ourselves the time and space…and support to LET GO, we naturally make room for something else to move into our lives…and with intention, this something can be whatever we need–the perfect medicine to any situation.

For more information on Yoga and Herbs for the Digestion please visit http://www.vitalyogi.com for workshops, herbal remedies and articles. Namaste.

2011 Workshops with Brooke: Vital Essence Yoga & Herbs

October 14-16th 2011: Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference: Lake Eden,  NC

Vital Essence, Blissful Power:

As we navigate the path of the superwoman, we often find ourselves depleted.  Incorporate simple nourishing practices of breathing, chanting, and basic movement into everyday life. Build energy, understand prana (life-force), and infuse yourself with the strength to excel and thrive.

OCT. 21 2011 630-745pm: FREE CLASS: WEST ASHEVILLE YOGA

Finding Balance: Riding the Waves of Beauty and Bliss

With Pranayama, Mantra, Meditation & Asana (Forward Folds and Twists)

*This is an all levels class, some yoga experience preferred. It will be a filmed class (for my personal use, not public)*

November 19, 2011: Warren Wilson College, NC 

Vital Essence Yoga and Herbs: Introduction to Flower Essences

This workshop will cover the history, philosophy, preparation & uses of this amazing healing modality. Flower Essences are valued therapeutics for the mind, body and spirit. Extremely powerful, they can be used in conjunction with western medicine &/or herbs to shift chronic health issues of both the body and mind.

December 3, 2011: Mountain Yoga, Johnson City TN 1-4pm

Yoga & Herbs for the Vital Body: Balance in a Changing World

This workshop will explore flower essences, adaptagens and tonics, as well as particular yoga techniques for balancing the mind and bringing health and strength to our bodies. Private consultations will be held after class at $45 1/2 hour, $90 1 hour or more. Please contact: Jennifer Chisam at mountain_yoga@yahoo.com to register.

The Shanti School:12 1/2 Wall Street Asheville, NC 

January 2011: Immersion Studies Program:Transformational Healing Program (Yoga, Herbs, Energy Medicine)

In its 5th course, this beloved program is powerful and life changing.  Classes are held both in downtown Asheville as well as outside, in the sacred places of our beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Classes incorporate an in depth study of:

1: Yoga as taught by the Himalayan Sages & Para Yoga: Yoga philosophy, asana, wise sequencing, the sanskrit name of poses & how to draw them, yoga therapeutics, the energetics of asana (how to use asana to balance the mind & body to find support in life), yoga and Ayurveda, creating a personal practice, meditation techniques, the science of mantra, pranayama, the koshas (or subtle sheaths), and yoga psychology.

2: Energy medicine: Usui Reiki levels 1-2, Tibetan Reiki, Polariy therapy, Craniosacral & Soul Focused Healing

3. Herbalism:  Identifying, harvesting, & preparation of plants (Asheville is a haven for medicinal plants), ex: herbal soups, tinctures, tonics, oils, flower essences, plant spirit medicine aka Subtle Earth, flower essence therapy

4. And Additionally: Non violent communication, the ethics of healing, starting a business, intake forms, group discounts ordering herbs and bottles, etc…

please contact Daisy Marquis at daisyconway@earthlink.net

The Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference

 

I am so grateful for the beauty, the wisdom and the connection to the plants & women every year at this conference. In its 7th year now, the conference drew around 900 women. It is a yearly ritual for my daughter Saki and I, but this year I was able to offer the teachings of yoga & ayurveda that I have been studying and living for over a decade. I was thrilled to have a packed group of ladies in my 1st workshop! Almost 100 women, hungry for ‘Vital Essence & Blissful Power’! So many women shined and transformed as we explored the science (yes science) of these ancient practices to balance our minds and build our strengths. Ladies who could not fit inside still managed to participate outside of the beautiful gypsy tent, overlooking Lake Eden. What an amazing time….again I am thankful….to my teachers, my family and this opportunity to live life fully.

For all of the people who are interested in the healing mantra we chanted, I am currently recording a CD at the prestigious Echo Mountain Recording Studio. The CD will have 3 ancient mantras and their uses as well as meditations and yoga nidra (an invaluable tool for healing sleep & stress disorders & helps let go of trauma, grief & fear). Keep checking in & please spread the love! xoxo brooke

Do grilled cheese sandwiches make you glow?

Yup.. some things in life are extremely comforting, nourishing, and relax us like nothing else. Grilled cheese sandwiches, ice cream or other creamy delectables, movies on the couch with pillows, blankets & loved ones (cats and dogs are included here!), chocolate, wine, beer, sex…These are typical American allies to rest and renew, and ultimately feel good. However, although entirely scrumptious and perfectly healthy in moderation, the multiple whirlwinds of modern day living have pressed many of us into unwise overconsumption & craving those things that don’t always do us so well.

Angabangha is the definable term that describes this mind-blowing confusion of why we crave what is not good for us. Hmm.

So how do we untangle ourselves from the maddening confusion of our senses?? Balance and health is like a dirty word in this society…like a patch of nettles that people would rather avoid than understand. What is even more frustrating is that our own innate power has been stripped from us as well, taken out of tradition, culture, family and contexts and handed over to physicians and shrinks who put little (if any) emphasis on living in a balanced, nutritive and earth-friendly way.

It would be incredible if good healthcare education were offered in our schools, our media & our culture. If only it were a fad…cool and wanted by the majority. The pop culture of health & vitality….

Until then i guess we just have to unplug from the collective consciousness, grow some balls and flow against the mainstream. Do our own research and wise up.

Personally, I find that looking to the traditions that have been time tested is a good start. Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine…similar in concepts, applicable to modern living, and openminded enough, they offer incredible wisdom that can be bridged to, or integrated with other modern therapies.

In yogic scriptures, the advice is to hang out with someone of a higher vibration than you..one who has seen the truth, like a sage. One way to do this is to find someone who is living in a way you admire. Not who has the best paying job or cutest wife, but who is solid in themselves & is living a life they love. It is easier to wallow in self pity than it is to change, so notice who you tend to hang out with. What is their health like, their life, their attitude? Rising to the occasion of eating better, cultivating a more positive attitude, and enjoying activities that support and nourish you will give you deep nourishment, the kind that makes you glow. And once you glow, you can be that solid one that is happy and helps others glow too.

Star of Bethlehem Flower Essence

The path of life is filled with a myriad of lessons and experiences that evolve our mind and transform our consciousness.  With the Star of Bethlehem flower essence, experiences that have seeded stories of pain (whether consciously or subconsciously) that have resulted in dense patterns of ‘darkness’ (such as despair, grief, disconnect, self-hatred, self-mutilation, anger, etc…) are brought to the light.

The Soul can see from the audience’s perspective, the pain of the human story, and is given the chance to heal that condition. The flowers bloom firmly on their stalks, forming in 3 main stages: pods that appear contained, like a delicate egg with precious life energy inside, cupped as if slowly welcoming in healing life force (the Sun) or like a star, the fullest potential, uninhibited and completely open.

This flower offers stages for the human soul to digest painful experiences in a manner that is comprehensible to the human experience, healing both the heart and patching up any subtle energy wounds. This flower is both teacher and student, like a pendulum swinging back and forth until the moment of clarity births the wise elder.

“This plant prefers moist to wet habitats. It is most often seen along the banks of rivers and streams in disturbed situations.” Horticulture Society of New England

This sentence is insightful, as it reflects the plant’s ability to flourish in ‘disturbed situations’ (traumatic experiences) and along rivers and streams (water=emotion). When we calm our own inner storms, elemental water finds its place internally, and the external manifestation of water on earth may also find its place without huge waves and outbursts of destruction.

Star of Bethlehem is one of the 5 flowers in Bach’s Rescue Remedy, a flower essence that no one should be without. Nurses, Doctors, families, pet owners and even the everyday person should have a bottle handy for all emergency situations. It is grounding, calming, centering, balances breath, and helps to relieve pain..physically, emotionally & mentally. You can give it to animals, children, & plants too…so profound yet at the same time extremely gentle.

Under the last full moon glow, my husband and I meditated (and I chanted healing Vedic Mantras) with this plant in our garden in Asheville, NC. I am making the essence as I write this (the flowers basking in the sun) from our garden’s voluntary patch. Email me if you wish to purchase a stock bottle made from this beautifully potent ‘Mother’ essence.  xoxo brooke

23 Skidoo and Crew rocks the Orange Peel

Yesterday, March 19th 2011, the day of the powerful Supermoon, we had a blast at our show in Asheville, NC, at the Orange Peel. What a great way to begin spring, this Equinox weekend. It was a CD Release show for 23’s MONKEYWRENCH, an awesome album geared towards adults and teens.

MC Fireworks debuted the song “The Show Must Go On,” her first 16 bar verse written entirely by herself! Inspired by a sledding experience she had at a place called Dead Man’s Hill this past winter, Saki’s verse is about living life to the fullest. She says that even when trying something for the first time may seem really scary, if you just stick it out, in the end it can turn out to be better than imagined! Awesome. Thats how I felt the first time I taught a yoga class, and the first time I danced and sang on stage. We’ve got to work & get past our fears, to shine.

One Anjali (food as medicine)


In yoga practice, palms are joined together at the heart, symbolizing acknowledgement of the light we carry deep inside of us, the light of the eternal flame.  In being aware of this light, and present when we hold this gesture, we both recognize the value and honor of seeing both ourselves and others as something beyond appearance & position in society.  By joining our hands at the heart we humble our egos and connect to something more intimate, our source. Many traditions join the hands at the palms to pray.  Yoga is a tradition that embraces all traditions, all people as One Human Race.

Our hands play an important role in everything we do. As extensions of ourselves, they respond to our thoughts and desires through passionate articulation (I think of my Italian Daddy here!), they physically give and receive, and frankly, do a lot of work that often goes by unnoticed.

By cupping the hands together, we can receive nourishment. Filling cupped hands with water to say..splash on the face..settles the water into a heart-shaped pond in the palms (I noticed this while pregnant with saki & happened to see hearts everywhere!).  Observing this can bring us immediately into the moment & suspend the constant stream of thoughts into gratitude for the hands, for the water, and for this life.

Cupped hands are also used as a form of measurement in many of the less industrialized countries.

Sri Swami Mayatitinanda, affectionately called Mother Maya, talks about the importance of quantity along with quality. The cupped hands, or Anjali, equal approximately 1 cup. Your cupped hands reflect the size of your stomach. This information was a profound revelation on my path to good digestion and health. Having been taught to be a ‘good girl’ and clean my plate was poison to my system. American restaurants serve twice the amount of food per plate than what we can properly digest (sometimes three times the amount!!) Too much food stops up the digestive tract creating an undo amount of stress not only on the stomach and colon, but on the liver and spleen as well. Toxins build up in the body (called Ama in Ayurveda) & as a result we feel tired, bloated, or grumpy…and get constipation or diarrhea or break out in acne. Yuck.

Every morning I prepare some lip-smacking oatmeal that if Tony the Tiger was still around (shoot maybe he still is ??), he would say THEY’RE GRRRREAT! Food as medicine is all about quality along with quantity. It is recognizing how active you are going to be and how much your body can digest per sitting. (and yes, we must sit down when we eat moms…) It takes your stomach about 20 minutes to send the info to your brain that you are full. By noticing how many handfuls of food you need to fill your belly, you can get bowls of that size and not worry about it. Eat what is in the bowl and wait that 20 minutes. If you are still hungry, eat a bit more! Ayurveda says that we should fill our bellies with 1/2 food, 1/4 liquid and leave 1/4 air for room to digest.

When I make oats for Saki & I before she goes to school I measure a handful of oats for each of us (one Anjali). Rolled oats, not the quick ones, are full of nutrition and expand when cooked. When I add the herbs and the nuts and the dried fruits this meal is a perfect size for us. We are not overstuffed and there is no waste! As a conscious mama this delicate balance is often sought after in my kitchen experiments! Cooking, like yoga, is all about practice!

Bootysattva’s Herbal Oatmeal:

Recipe soon to come 🙂 (I have run out of time & must go practice yoga…)

**Please check out Path of Practice by Bri Maya Tiwari for a wonderful book on our relationship to food, breath and sound through the Ayurvedic and Vedic tradition. (This is Sri Swamini Mayatitananda before her name changed)

A Note to Nettles

Nettles My Friend,

How are you? I have missed you all summer…although I wouldn’t quite say I was lonely. Naww.  Melissa and Sweet Annie and I became real close. I met them in my neighborhood, just hanging out by my back fence.  They were a pretty wild bunch, and very cool to be with,  just not around so much now that school is back in.

Oh but I forgot! You probably don’t know that we moved back into town. That’s why I was so surprised to see you right here on Craggy Avenue.

Do you still hang out at the Dog Park? I’ve missed you!

Remember that time when I was walking Ashay to go pick some chickweed down by the river? It felt so good to just be outside, without a thousand layers on my body.  I still feel bad that I didn’t notice you. But man! You can be a bit bitchy when you want attention! I thought you were so tough and all, but now I know you better. Yeah, you are tough–but in a good way.

I just wanted to write you this note to say thank you for everything you have done for me and our family. You are the best kind of friend, helping me out in so many ways I can’t even count them! But I want you to know that our friendship has made me a really good mama and a happy wife. Remember that time when I was sick and just kept trying to ignore it? Hmmm… I thought it was some bad food I ate or something. But drinking your tea until I practically turned green stopped that sneaky bladder infection from going chronic. I even stopped craving coffee for weeks after drinking your brew! And who woulda thought that could happen?!

Hanging out with you always makes me feel so comfortable, like being with my Grandma sharing crazy life stories. Even Saki loves you dearly. Traveling around so much makes it a bit challenging to keep up with our friends, but she’s got a great memory and thinks of you a lot. To be real honest, I think your vitality has really rubbed off on her. She’s quite a firecracker!

Anyway, its so good to see that you are back this fall–and in my own neighborhood! Maybe you can come over soon and have a cup of tea with me? That would be fresh.

Love, B

Stinging Nettles: Queen of the Herbs

Nettles is so filled with vitamins and minerals, that it can easily be a life long ally for healthy living.  Drinking infusions throughout pregnancy can make your whole body strong and vital, brings health and luster to your hair, and replenishes depleted kidneys and adrenals. Nettles are diuretic, (make you pee) so try not too drink too much before you go to bed or you will have to make lots of midnight trips to the bathroom. They are a boost to the respiratory system (from allergies to influenza) & can help build & bring balance to the immune system from many chronic diseases. Study this plant if you need to work on boundaries. Nettles teaches how to say ‘no’ when confronted with too many responsibilities or dominant personalities. Just check out those stingers!

Nettles tastes good too. It is a known fact in the herbal world that medicine should taste absolutely fabulous.  Try it in lasagna (my favorite!), in stew (with adzuki beans and coconut milk!) or cook in the crock pot with black beans. When you cook it or infuse in water, the sting disappears. You can harvest some wild (first timers may wanna use gloves), throw fresh in a pillow case…then take a bath with it! Autumn nettles are ready for harvest now.

 

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)                        Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua)

The Sun & Gayatri Mantra

Alex Grey

The sun is a symbol of Source in many cultures. Whether viewed as the powerful sphere of light that brings warmth & nourishes life or a constant flow of Divine Energy, the Sun is magnificent.

In Astrology, the Sun symbolizes our basic personality, which from a simple point of view can help direct or hinder our life’s flow amongst other people & activities in our life. The Sun also represents the cyclic pattern that connects birth and death, gifting us with the unceasing movement of night and day & seasonal changes.

In Tantra, the power of the sun is so strong that when embodied, brings confidence, decisive action, strength and clarity.  Particular poses (asana) encourage the glow of the sun & feed the solar plexus with a fire that is invigorating and stimulating. Backbends (even mild ones such as cobra & locust), twists and sun salutations stoke this solar power. 

The Owl is said to contain so much light awareness of the Sun that it not only sees clearly in the darkness but is the protector of the night, piercing the dark with the clear sight of the Divine. Many midwives and spiritual healers connect to Owl Medicine as a totem, because the owl is a symbol of this gateway between birth & death, humanity & divinity. The owl can see through the veils to the light of truth…and so those with owl medicine can uncover secrets & the shadow side of people & situations they are working with.

In yoga philosophy there is a concept or action called Tapas (see previous post.) Tapas is the fire that removes that which prevents us from shining. It is the force of the sun, the fire that reveals our inner sun (our divine spark), which is also brilliant like fire. Tapas is the action of clearing away the layers that cover our unique expression of being Divine and perhaps (most likely) also clears away that which blocks us from connecting to the Divine.

What is Divine? ‘Divine’ is a limited word for such a vast concept. It is a complex source of love & light in a depth that often surpasses the human understanding. Divinity is pure awareness that embraces trust and truth in a non-dualistic, holistic manner. To feel the Divine inside and to be connected to Divinity releases fear. And fear is pretty much the underlying seed of everything that feels bad. The Buddhists call this suffering. The majority of people in America try to plow through this suffering by self medicating and by searching for connection with drugs. Psychedelics give glimpses and definitely open the neural pathways for a wider perspective into reality, but addiction to these drugs prevent the seeker from truly experiencing life as being divine.  A big scare hitting the streets & festivals are drugs such as Ketamine &  Crystal Meth. They are incredibly addictive, dangerous & destructive in the mental, physical & spiritual realms. Safer & more effective paths to the divine are mantra, asana & meditation.

The Gayatri Mantra, which appears in the Rg Veda (Rig Veda), one of the oldest scriptural texts known to man, is a meditation on this Divine Light. It was Ghandi’s favorite and has been shared by many different religious sects. The mantra, whether in short form or long form directs attention to the spheres or planes of existence that contain the earth, sky and Celestials. It honors Light in the form of the power that fuels the Sun and asks for our connection to that source, illuminating us to our own light, & illuminating our minds.

The Gayatri Mantra is fuel for the soul, spiritual armor for those who chant it regularly & healing to the physical and subtle bodies. If every shrink in America & substance abuse center would teach people to chant this mantra 108x (one full mala) daily..a fire of illumination would sweep over this country. There would be so much more happiness & peace (to say the least). So whether a teacher, a seeker, a yogi, a parent, a Christian, a Buddhist or Agnostic..no matter. These sound vibrations are available & accessible to everyone, and will help to unlock hidden potentials that will shake up dated belief systems & poor habits. With fire comes transformation. As light shines on the darkness of the mind, whatever is lurking in the subconscious is lifted & the soul, with the power of the sun, shines brighter.