Ayurvedic Answers: Ancient approaches to health and wellness
In this edition of Ask the Expert, Larissa Hall Carlson, Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist for Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living and School of Ayurveda, answers your questions on Ayurveda for better health.
What would an Ayurvedic approach for treating insomnia look like?
One of the most essential things is to create a routine around bedtime. Try to get to bed between 9:30 and 11:00 pm, before the second wind hits, and ideally wake up with the sunrise, between 5:30 and 7:00 am. This gets the body, the nervous system, and the mind in harmony with the rhythm of nature, which is key for deep and satisfying sleep.
It’s also really important to create space between dinnertime and bedtime—give about two hours to digest dinner or that final snack before bed. The same goes for drinks—don’t drink too much water, tea, or alcohol close to bedtime. Generally, avoid drinking anything caffeinated after about 3:00 pm. If you’re feeling depleted, you might try making your last drink of the day be a cup of warm organic milk with a pinch of ginger, a pinch of cardamom, and a pinch of nutmeg—maybe drop in a few soaked, peeled almonds or dates. It’s extremely soothing, grounding, and yummy!
Decompressing properly before bed can really help as well= try staying off the computer, the TV, and the phone for at least an hour before bed to reduce sensory stimulation. One of my favorite bedtime rituals is to massage the feet, lower back, and ears for a few minutes, using warm sesame oil in the cold weather and coconut oil in the warm weather. Another really helpful technique is journaling before bed—or in the middle of the night if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep—to clear out the chatter in your mind and get your to-do list down on paper. I love to write down a gratitude list, too, so my mind is clear and my heart is open.
As for yoga practices for insomnia, nadi shodhana pranayama (alternate nostril breath) is top-class; it’s an exceptionally relaxing, integrating pranayama that settles the nervous system, helps lower the blood pressure, and quiets the mind—one of the best for reducing stress, anxiety, and insomnia. You can try doing five to 10 minutes of nadi shodhana before bed, or if you wake up in the middle of the night. If you can’t get back to sleep, you can also try getting out of bed and doing a standing meditation. Stand in Mountain pose, with your hands on your belly, and do a full-body scan, gently breathing into your low belly. Try this for about five minutes, until your feet start to get warm—a sign that the prana is moving downward, reducing disturbance in the mind.
What is tulsi and what are its health benefits?
Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is one of the most sacred plants in India (aside from the lotus flower). It’s extremely purifying, being antibacterial and antiseptic, and is often kept around homes and temples to purify the air. Tulsi supports respiratory health, so it’s especially helpful for fighting off colds, flus, and allergies. Because it helps clear out the lungs, tulsi is also great for eliminating bad breath. It supports the colon for healthy elimination, and is one of the top herbs for headaches and fevers. I carry it with me wherever I travel.
Emotionally, tulsi opens the heart and mind, invites clarity, and increases devotion—it’s heartwarming! Because it supports the nervous system, it’s good for anxiety and stress.
The best way to take Tulsi is as an organic tea, which is easy to find in most natural-foods stores. Sometimes it’s combined with other herbs and spices, like ginger or licorice. You’ll want to drink one cup daily for preventive health; if you’re dealing with an acute condition, such as a cold or headache, you could have two cups daily.