By Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa
Yoga and its twin sister science, Ayurveda, form a comprehensive, systematic approach to managing, not just your spiritual growth, but your overall health and lifestyle. Of course, meditation’s key, but what about when you need to attend to some more practical needs, like stamina and digestion?
Enter the earth tattva (prithvi), heaviest of all the five tattvas. When we think about strengthening the mighty Earth tattva, our thoughts turn to diet, exercise, life activity routines, massage, and of course, healing herbs, which build the foundation for health.
Ancient yogic sages discovered that “like increases like.” In other words, an external factor, when introduced to your body, will create a similar reaction in your body. For example, going out into the cold weather will make your body cold. Eating heavy food will make your body heavy. This seems obvious on the surface, and it is ultimately pretty easy to grasp intuitively. To heal your Earth tattva, you need to get earthy.
The Earth tattva is dense, dry, cold, and smelly. When this stabilizing tattva is healthy, it brings plumpness, heaviness, compactness, and steadiness to your body, your emotions, and to your life. But too deep a dive into this earthy tattva and your mind and organs can become petrified. Remember, all the tattvas work together—ideally in harmony. Your physical body is made largely of Earth tattva, and you’ve got to admit a body’s a pretty handy thing to have.
Honor Your Inner Earth
To keep yourself on planet Earth, you need to eat a diet that supports your Earth tattva. To stabilize your life, your health, and your daily energy, you should strive to concentrate on sweet, sour, and salty tastes—the anabolic, building tastes. Salty is especially good because it promotes moisture retention in the tissues, which helps the Earth tattva stay mobile and lubricated.
Earth foods are warming and heavy. Your earthy diet should focus on meals that are nourishing, easy to digest, filling, substantial, moistening, and strengthening. You might do better with small frequent regular meals, and you definitely will want to include mild warming spices. Bear in mind that staying calm and concentrating while you consume and digest your meal will help to stabilize your grounding tattva.
Sweet fruits, cooked vegetables, cooked grains, nuts, natural sweeteners, mild warming spices, and warm milk products in moderation, make up the pillars of the yogic diet to develop a strong Earth tattva. On the flip side, dry fruits, dry grains (think rice cakes), and raw vegetables bring more air tattva into your body. The cabbage family, including broccoli, also abounds in air, and contradicts your efforts to get grounded. Beans can also be a problem, like any other food that creates gas, which is pure air tattva. Barley and oats are nutritious, grounding grains. For the ‘spaced out after sadhana’ yogi, a piping hot breakfast of these foods, with some warming cinnamon or cumin, sets the tone for a grounded, solid day.
The Earthy Herb
Nothing in the Ayurvedic herb closet beats ashwaganda as a grounding herb. Sometimes named “winter cherry,” it is the main yogic stamina tonic, especially for men. This rejuvenator is a nightshade plant—a relative of tomatoes and potatoes. Ashwaganda is sometimes compared to ginseng, yet unlike ginseng, ashwaganda is not stimulating, but relaxing. That allows you to take much higher doses, with no overstimulation. Ashwaganda is a superb remedy for nervous exhaustion, the epidemic of modern America.
The name ashwaganda means, “like a horse,” and it lives up to its reputation as a noted sexual and stamina tonic. Studies show it to have a testosterone-like effect. Ashwaganda is appropriate as a sexual tonic for women, as well, especially when combined with shatavari root.
Ayurvedic herbalism uses ashwaganda for general debility and exhaustion, emaciation, memory loss, nerve diseases, cough, anemia, and insomnia. Modern clinicians are most likely to employ it for chronic fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic heart and vascular disorders. Ashwaganda is high in Earth tattva. A grounding herb, it nourishes and regulates metabolic processes and stabilizes mood.
As well as being a slow-acting tonic herb, ashwaganda is, in my experience, a superb herb for treating chronic anxiety. It takes about a week to work up to the proper dose, and about another week for the herb to reach maximum effectiveness. Since ashwaganda is a slow-acting herb, you may take your daily dose at any time during the day. Used this way, ashwaganda prevents the onset of the anxiety episode.
Ashwaganda can also help to reestablish long-term sleep rhythms. Rather than making you sleepy when you take the herb, this remedy seems to regulate sleep cycles over time, facilitating more refreshing sleep.
A typical dose of ashwaganda is about a gram per day taken over long periods up to many years, as a rejuvenator, but since ashwaganda is very safe, larger quantities are often used short term. In India, withania is given with pungent, heating herbs (ginger, pepper, etc.) to increase its tonic effects.
For general rejuvenation, this is a good combination:
10 parts Ashwaganda
1 part Pipali
5 parts Ghee
10 parts Honey
In the spirit of honoring Mother Earth, how about making a serious effort to connect with her energy and let yourself get a bit more down-to-earth? If having more stamina, solid, restful sleep, and great digestion and elimination sounds good to you, come and take a walk on the earthy side.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Yogaraj, DN-C, RH, is the president of the American Herbalists Guild. He mentored in Ayurveda with Yogi Bhajan for 32 years. The Healing Cures of Yogi Bhajan is his homage to Yogi Bhajan and the wealth of information he had the blessing to learn from his master.
Karta Purkh has presented over 150 times at professional conferences, has written over 3,000 articles on health topics and is the author or editor of 30 books on health, including his latest, The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. He is curriculum director and lead instructor in the Portland Community College Nutritional Therapy Program and heads the herbal education department of the Northwest Institute of Ayurveda. He lives in the Northwest with his wife and daughter. [email protected]