About Elsie

A 10+ year veteran in the podcasting industry and inductee to the Academy of Podcasters Hall of Fame. Co-runs She Podcasts, a podcasting community for women of over 10k members with a corresponding podcast. Libsyn’s Community Manager, the most prominent publishing platform for podcasts since 2004. Co-host and producer of The Feed: The Official Libsyn Podcast Her passion within the industry is podcasting’s rapidly-changing environment, impact, access, community building, and advocacy.

Rtus: Dances of Nature

Nature slips into a different season anywhere from 2 to 6 times a year, depending on where you live. For instance, India, the land of Ayurveda, experiences 6 seasons while much of California with its Mediterranean type climate has just two, a cool damp season and a warm and dry one.

When we talk about rtus, the different seasons that Nature wears like garments to a dance, we must first and foremost remember that there are only two solstices based on the adana and the visarga of the sun. Representing the two energies of Hot and Cold, the sun is either increasing in its power (adana) or decreasing its potentiality (visarga)

In traditional Vedic regimen, the great sage Atreya divided the six seasons accurately into the summer and winter solstices, three in each. From mid-March for two months each is the dewy season followed by spring and then summer. This northern solstice is considered debilitating because the increase of the heating principle results in an increase in the qualities of hot and dry, depleting the dhatus that are the structure of the body. It is true that at this time, our appetites diminish and the likelihood of wasting disease is higher. Because of the nature of the sun’s path, both sun and wind become strong and dry and take away all the cooling qualities of the earth. There is a predominance of the fire element and bitter, astringent and pungent tastes successively represent each two-month parts of this dance. The southern solstice follows with the rainy season, autumn and winter. The texts say that as the sun moves south, it releases its grip on people, surrendering its strength to the moon, thus cooling the earth by allowing clouds, rain and cold wind. Diseases at this time are those of over consumption and excess. The strength of all living beings increases and the immune system is fortified by a rising appetite and a strong digestion. Respectively the unctuous tastes of sour, salty and sweet begin to dominate, adding structure to the dhatus.

In this two-step dance of Nature who takes her cue from the Sun, as the source of all life, is revealed the spanda of our daily existence. Within this simple movement are all the intricacies of a classical Indian dance. Each little movement has resounding effects on the psyche, each little step creates a different physical posture and each season defines itself through the dominance of different emotions.

In Europe and North America, more temperate zones, the seasons resolve themselves into just the four we are familiar with: spring, summer, fall and winter, but the dance remains the same. Nature herself manifests through the mahabhutas or the five great elements of ether, air, fire, water and earth. Each element like a participant in a folk dance swirls around either inside or outside of us. If the earth and cold-water elements are increased around us as in winter, then the fire and air elements burrow deeper within us and a balance is found in the juxtaposition.

Because the five elements combine in twos to create the forces known as doshas, the seasons each require a different dosha to represent them. Like actors in a musical they take their turns on stage. In late autumn and early winter, vata with its cold, dry and declining energy prevails. Summer through early autumn is the time of pitta and heat. Spring, from mid-March through mid-June, is the time of kapha as the water element liquefies and flows out of the grip of winter.

Nature has created the parameters of time, space, cause and effect within which the doshas play. The seasons are the different stage settings for their dance.

kapha.jpgIn spring kapha takes its cue while pitta waits offstage gathering its forces. As kapha steps on, it imbues the season with its qualities. With the help of the rising sun the water element is liquefied and a time of growth and new potential gives rise to the unfurling of fresh leaves and dormant seeds germinating. Because in winter kapha had accumulated its cold, wet, fluid, heavy and cohesive qualities, it now thaws within us just as it does without. We can be subject to an overflow of our own similar to spring floods from overflowing rivers, thus we become susceptible to colds, allergies and hay fever. Spring therefore represents a time of cleansing and restoring. Ayurveda recommends that we wake up earlier, that we gargle with salt water, do dry lymphatic massages after oiling with sesame oil, take saunas or hot water baths (always cool water on the face), drink tulsi, ginger and lemon teas, practice neti and nasya and perhaps do a jaladhauti (yogic emesis), practice vigorous yoga or other physical exercise and eat lighter foods rich in vegetables. Emphasize the bitter, pungent and astringent flavors found in light grains like rice, quinoa, barley and corn as well as pulses such as lentils, aduki beans and chickpeas. If you eat meat, choose drier fare like turkey, chicken, shrimp and venison. Spring is the time to seek the company of friends and a time in which the eye turns to beauty and feelings of exuberance for the colors that flourish. Adorning yourself in brighter colors and furnishing your home and perhaps adorning yourself with scented flowers will bring joy to the heart and romance to your dance.

pittaSummer is when the sun is at its zenith and the element of fire is increased. The accumulating warmth, dryness and lightness indicate that it is time for pitta to take center stage. Having pacified the aggravated kapha of spring with the above countermeasures, it can now be safely escorted offstage and our new dance with pitta begins. Because of the increase in external environmental heat, our own digestive fire is drawn outwards and our digestion is impaired causing a further lack in appetite and a desire for cooler fare. As the heat moves to the skin we can experience summer rashes, prickly heat and other inflammations, while internally diarrhea and ulcers may manifest. Emotionally anger, irritation and impatience may also increase. Therefore summer is a time of placating pitta. Because of the intensity of pitta it is very important to watch out for judgmental behavior and to focus on viveka and vairagya, the qualities of discernment and detachment. Start the day with splashing cold water on your face to both cool as well as stimulate the positive aspect of pitta’s inherent intelligence. Your massage should be with cooler oils like coconut and sandalwood, followed by a lukewarm bath. Drinking sweetened cool drinks like lemonades and coconut or sugar cane water keeps the system from overheating. Your yoga practice should emphasize twists and supine backbends as well as cooling pranayamas such as shitali or shitakari. Pitta locales such as the liver and small intestine are especially susceptible to inflammation and so foods should be cool, bitter, sweet and astringent. Leafy green vegetables, salads, organic almond milks, sprouted or split mung beans are some good food choices. Homemade ice cream in the midday sun will be welcomed by the system as well as the taste buds! An occasional fruit juice fast and a mild purgation will all help to keep you balanced. It is important to note that while pitta is in its full dramatic expression, vata, the dosha of movement has been eagerly and somewhat nervously been marshalling its forces just behind the curtains and as soon as autumn begins to seep into the air, it is time to escort pitta off and take a deep breath and ground yourself!

vataVata is the dosha of autumn and early winter. Lightness and coolness increase while dryness stays around a little longer. The “winds of change” signifying the erratic aspects of vata begin to blow. As vata regulates the nervous system, our digestive ability, moisture levels and stress levels can easily be disturbed. Aches and pains and even arthritis may rear their ugly heads. Nervousness may also impair our ability to form rational thought patterns and cause our imaginations to soar. Controlling vata’s impetuous nature is a dance that has the greatest significance. Not for nothing is vata called the “mischief maker”. Because it is the only dosha that is not lame, it causes the most diseases and misjudgments through its unpredictable mobility. Fortunately the remedies and counter movements of your dance are all very satisfying. This is the time to oil well the whole body, especially the soles of the feet before bed, to give a restful and deep sleep. Since it is natural for vata to wake early, take advantage of this early morning time to get some work done. But first ground yourself by drinking some triphala powder to prevent constipation. Holding warm sesame oil in the mouth for a few minutes will nourish the gums and teeth. Exercise should be more grounding with slower standing yoga sequences, deep forward bends, balance poses, “topsy-turvy” poses, as well as alternate nostril pranayama. Because vata is light, dry, cool and erratic, your diet should emphasize sweet, mildly spicy, sour and salty tastes. This is a time for oats, porridges, kichadis, steamed vegetables and warm herbal teas with either pure cows’ milk, almond or soymilk, all mildly spiced with ginger and cinnamon. Autumn is also a time to create a seasonal cleanse in anticipation of the upcoming winter months when vata and kapha both take center stage.

In winter the stage is shared by both vata and kapha, with vata dominating the early part later followed by kapha. During this time, the Earth’s energy is withdrawn back into herself. This is a time of storing and rest. Squirrels hoard acorns and bears hibernate. A time to be internalized, we can use it well to fortify ourselves because the exterior cold forces our digestive fire to instinctively retreat within. At this time, waking a little later is recommended as is brushing your teeth with some stimulating tooth powder. Massage of warm oils can unfreeze your muscles and a vigorous towel rub after your shower is also enlivening. Drinking warm water decreases kapha accumulation as well as assists the digestive system. Your yoga practice gets stronger and more energetic as vata recedes backstage. Include strong back and forward bends to stimulate the kidneys and lungs. Vigorous sun salutations warm the body and deepen the breath. Follow your practice with some bhastrika or bellows pranayama. Applying nasya oil after practice can help dissolve excess kapha build up in the head. Because the internal agni, digestive fire, is burning strongly within, if we do not feed it well it will consume the tissues of the body. This is indeed the time to build these tissues and thus our strength and immunity; therefore this is the time to indulge healthily in the three fortifying tastes of sweet, salty, sour as well as slightly spicy. Warm foods include porridges of oats, polenta, barley or rice spiced with cinnamon and cloves and sweetened with raw honey. The Ashtanga Hrdayam recommends meat soups, whole pure wheat, black gram pulses and corn. A glass of dry and warming wine may encourage circulation and stimulate digestion. The famous chyavanprash is best used in this season for its rejuvenating powers. Although you may work hard in the day, the evenings should be spent in a relaxed manner and the texts recommend staying indoors at night while winter is one of the best seasons for lovemaking. Ending the day with a glass of hot, spicy organic milk helps promote a sound sleep. As the season draws to a close, we come full cycle back to a time of renewal as the receding cold allows the slumbering earth to stretch open to the rays of the returning sun and the trees blossom with flowers and the land is infused with their heady perfumes.

It is most important to give due respect to this sandhi or “joint” between seasons. The fortnight comprising the end and commencement of seasons is known as rtusandhi and is a crucial time. It is in this sandhi that diseases most often arise. During this period, the regimen of the preceding season should be discontinued gradually over seven days and over the next seven that of the succeeding season should be also gradually adopted. Sudden discontinuation or sudden adoption causes loss of habituation and this makes us susceptible to seasonal or worse diseases. The sandhi is also a favorable time for incorporating the unique healing powers of panchakarma. The crown jewel of Ayurveda, this five pronged cleanse and rejuvenation removes toxins, palliates aggravated doshas, clears the various srotamsi (channels of the body and mind) as well as rebuilds a taxed digestive fire.

In the dance of life, if we make Nature our partner, our internal rhythms can easily follow an eternal rhythm, that of our own Universe. Although Ayurveda recommends creating sustainable habituations through dinacharya (daily routines), we must always mindfully create the flexibility of following the lead of our first partner, Nature Herself, as she changes seasons to reveal the myriad expressions possible in our world. In this play of life, the intimacy of a tango, the instinctive discipline of a waltz, the structure of Bharatnatyam, the classical dance of India, the joy of the samba, all have their time and place. Ayurveda says that when our own nature (prakrti) is in sync with the rhythms of the eternal Prakrti, Nature, as she expresses them through the seasons, we maintain well the life force, health and longevity necessary to accomplish the lofty goals of dharma, artha, kama and moksha: correct living leading to correct wealth and the discipline and ability to enjoy life without attachment so as to seek emancipation as our final goal. Just as in all dances, we must disappear finally as individual beings into one wild dancing dervish disappearing into the spirit of the Divine.

Astanga Hradayam of Vagbhata. Translated by Prof. K. R. Murthy (Chaukambha Krishnadas Academy)
The Legacy Of Charaka by M. S. Valiathan (Orient Longman)
Ayurvedic Medicine by Sebastian Pole (Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier)
Dr. Vasant Lad: Lectures and notes
American Institute of Vedic Studies: Ayurvedic Healing Course Part II by Dr. David Frawley)
Ayurveda: The Science Of Self-Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad
Lessons and Lectures on Ayurveda by Dr. Robert Svoboda
Ayurveda Institute of America: Study Course
Awakening Nature’s Healing Intelligence by Hari Sharma, MD (Lotus Press)
Ayurveda and Panchakarma by Sunil Joshi (Lotus Press)
Patanjali and Ayurvedic Yoga by Vinod Verma (Motilal Banarsidas)
A Life Of Balance by Maya Tiwari (Healing Arts Press)
The Hidden Secret of Ayurveda by Dr. Robert Svoboda (Ayurvedic Press)
The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai (Lotus Press)
Ayurvedic Cooking For Self-Healing by Usha Lad and Dr. Vasant Lad (Ayurvedic Press)

Arun Deva © 2007

Milk in the Age of Convenience by Arun Deva

As with all great treasures, milk comes with certain caveats. As our society further distances itself from nature and turns gradually more synthetic, these caveats turn into dire warning signals. A look at milk’s qualities as expressed in the magnificent Ayurvedic text, the Caraka Samhita, shows the potentiality of both misuse and overuse. Caraka lists milk’s qualities as sweet, cold, soft, lubricant, unctuous, smooth, slippery, heavy, slow and pleasant. In Ayurveda, milk is almost never drunk cold, as it is harder to
digest and thus turns the milk from sattvic to tamasic in nature. Sattva is a state of lightness, equanimity, clarity, and, in this case, fortification, strength and vitality. Tamas, on the other hand, reflects dullness, confusion, sloth, and in this case, the process of compromising its quality, leading to ill health and the potentiality of allergies. But what exactly is “compromised” milk?
To answer this is to look first and foremost at its source: the Mother. When a nursing mother makes choices regarding her diet, she does so with the welfare of her infant in mind. She instinctively knows that what she eats will be passed on to her child through her milk, thus confirming milk as the essence of her diet, her emotional state and her health. It is not a far-fetched theory that makes a mother stay away from alcohol and cigarettes when she is nursing. It is, however, an act of “putting on the blinders” when she stops at that and does not extend the logic to her diet, her health and her emotional state. This begins the process of compromisation of the quality of her milk and the obvious implication is the shifting of her milk away from the desired sattvic state. As in life, there is not just black and white; there are various shades of grey in between.
The Caraka Samhita, at least 2000 years old, lists eight recommended sources of milk, including cow, sheep, mare, elephant and human. It lists the varying qualities of each. Of all, cow’s milk is considered the best for its ability to increase ojas, the essence of our immunity and vitality. Yet today, milk is a subject of great controversy regarding its benefits, especially as compared to its potential risks. These risks include high and unhealthful cholesterol levels, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, constipation, lactose intolerance and allergies, among others.
So, how did our perception of milk shift from “best among rasayanas (rejuvenative)” to a highly suspect source of many illnesses? The answer must lie in the changing quality of milk as precipitated by the manner in which we treat its source: the mother. Whether cow, human or other, it is still only a mother that naturally provides milk. When I advice my clients or students about milk, I often tell them to get a healthy cow, put it in a large pasture with lots of green grass, let its calf play with it as a child does, then let the calf drink its full from it and then when you look into its large, liquid, loving eyes and you put a pail under it, you may not even need to milk it, the milk will be given to you that readily! This milk drunk fresh, warm and raw will nourish you like no other food in this world! Realistically, this scenario is almost impossible for most but its essential message can and should exist symbolically for all of us.
As is the case of the human mother, it helps to put things in perspective by remembering that the cow is, first and foremost, also a mother. The cow was always revered in India, her special status enshrined by the law. But now, as you walk the streets of India, in many alleys you will find a cow rummaging through the garbage for food. As a result one reads every few days about a dead cow, her stomach stuffed with discarded plastic bags.
In farm factories around the world, cows are forced into yearly pregnancies for their milk. After giving birth they are milked for 10 months, often they are artificially inseminated during the third month so that they can be milked even when pregnant. This stressful demand for production of milk is more than her body can take, so she starts breaking down body tissue to produce milk. The result is an illness called ketosis. Most of the day the cow is tied up in a narrow stall usually wallowing in her own excrement till she goes lame. She may get mastitis because the hands that milk her so often are rough and usually unclean, so imagine her fate when milked by machines. She gets rumen acidosis from unnatural feed. She is also subject to the use of an array of drugs, including bovine growth hormone (BGH); prostaglandin, which is used to bring a cow into heat whenever the farmer wants to have her inseminated; antibiotics; and even tranquilizers, in order to influence her productivity and behavior. In India, when Mahatma Gandhi heard about the inhumane manner in which cows were being treated, he gave up drinking milk, something he had cherished all his life,
Cows on today’s dairy factory farms live only about four to five years (often slaughtered because of mastitis), as opposed to the life expectancy of 20-25 years enjoyed by cows who are treated humanely and are free to roam and free of violent drugs. No cow lives out her normal life cycle. She is milked, made sick and then killed. Perhaps the greatest pain suffered by cows in the dairy industry is the repeated loss of their young. Female calves may join the ranks of the milk producers, but the males are generally taken from their mothers within 24 hours of birth and sold at auction either to the veal industry or to beef producers.
And what of the milk itself? Each cow has its own qualities of health and emotion, yet the milk we drink is freely mixed from all the cows on the farm. Ayurvedically, this milk is already tamasic and indigestible, causing confusion, lethargy, fear and anger. Surely a cow that lives in constant dread, fear of its life and deprivation from its calf, will carry emotions such as anger, outrage, fear and hate. These then are the emotions we digest when we drink its milk. The milk is further pasteurized (in this age of sterile metal containers, an oxymoron) and the good bacteria as well as the bad are destroyed. Since we need the good bacteria to help in the formation of lactase within us, we turn lactose intolerant. Ultra pasteurization, where the milk is violently heated from cold refrigerated to boiling in a couple of minutes changes the chemical composition into a mutated form the horrors of which we can only imagine.
It is this milk that we are expected to equate with the sattvic milk of the Vedas, of the yogis and of Ayurveda. By all standards it will fail. It is in fact no longer the panacea promised by Surabhi, the celestial cow of the Vedas. In the epic myth of the churning of the ocean (manthanam), among the fourteen great treasures that arose was this “cow of plenty”. The ancient texts say that in Satyuga (age of perfection), dharma stands as a cow on four legs, in the Tretayuga (age of less than perfection), she stands on three, in Dwaparayuga (dwindling and disappearing perfection), just two and today, in what is widely believed to be Kaliyuga (age of decadence and destruction), she stands on but one leg.
If milk is the essence of a cow’s diet, then what is this milk that arises from a steady diet of soy meal, cottonseed meal or other commercial feeds, even bakery waste, chicken manure or citrus peel cake, all laced with pesticides. Vitamins A and D are greatly diminished when milk cows are fed commercial feed, needing to be added in artificially. Soy meal has the wrong protein profile for the dairy cow, resulting in a short burst of high milk production followed by premature death. Real feed for cows is rapidly growing green grass, green feed, silage, hay and root vegetables. From a yogin’s perspective, a cow is revered for the fortifying and complete meal offered by her milk. In the Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva), in a discussion between the Rishis Bhishma, Vasishta and Vyasa, is a sloka, a verse:

Cows constitute the stay of all creatures. Cows are the refuge of all creatures. Cows are the embodiment of merit. Cows are sacred and blessed and are sanctifiers of all. One should never, in even one’s heart, do an injury to cows. One should, indeed, always confer happiness on them.

When treated humanely, as is the case with all mothers, there is a magical quality to the milk of a cow. In 1929, Dr. J.R. Crewe of the Mayo Foundation published an article called The “Milk Cure.” The treatment was a combination of a detoxifying fast and nutrient-dense feeding. The milk used was, in all cases, the only kind of milk available in those days—raw milk from pasture-fed cows, rich in butterfat. The patients were all fed small quantities of milk all day coming up to 5-10 quarts total and nothing else. Striking results were seen in diseases of the heart and kidneys and high blood pressure as well as edema, which is even more surprising because it is unorthodox to treat dropsy (edema) with large quantities of liquids. In the old Ayurvedic texts, milk acts often as an “anupasana,” a carrier of medicinal herbs. In his wonderful Ayurvedic cookbook, Dr. Lad lists different medicated milks for different doshic disorders. Ayurveda strongly recommends a glass of warm milk with ginger and cinnamon at bedtime to help one sleep. Milk is considered both an aphrodisiac as well as replenishing after sexual activity. It is said that it takes up to 35 days for food’s nutritional value to reach the reproductive tissue but that milk goes straight to it.
There is also a protocol to the drinking of this nutrient rich elixir. Since milk is a fortifying food/beverage, it has a kapha increasing nature; basically this means that it should not be had in addition to your meal. The concept of a glass of milk with breakfast, lunch or dinner is alien to Ayurveda for common sense reasons. Milk, because of its nourishing properties, which include cold and heavy, usually needs to be drunk warm and, unless you have a very strong agni, (the digestive fire) some digestive herbs like ginger or cinnamon should be added. It can be drunk at night before bed or as a complete morning beverage. Milk also gives us some of our other favorite foods: butter, ghee, lassi, yogurt or curds and of course, cheeses. All of these should be used with care and not indulged in because of their richness. It is said that the poorer nations suffer the curse of malnutrition and that the richer ones, where overindulgence is the norm, suffer from the curse of malabsorption.
We live now in an age of convenience. Many of our children in the big cities associate apples with a supermarket shelf and not a tree in an orchard. We expect to find any and all foods at any and all times conveniently provided, forgetting that Nature gives us seasonal foods for a reason. Milk is associated with plastic and paper cartons with the picture of a grazing cow, and yet the reality is what is inside that carton, not in its outside advertisement. It is understandable to want this convenience, after all it is the fruit of our social and cultural advancement, but we must at some point ask not just at what price but also how many of God’s fair creatures, of whom we are supposed to show the most promise, are actually paying this price and in the end, we have to ask ourselves, what does this say about us? In the war between cows and humans and there is no question that we have subjugated them much as prisoners of such a war, there can never be any winners. After all, we started out as the best of friends and how could a war between friends ever end in a victory for one? They have not only been our partners all through our rural growth, but in a mutual trust and respect, continued to act as our mothers after we had become adults, providing us with milk, cheese, butter, and even fuel for our fires as cow dung and buffalo chips. A cow digests the essence of the earth through its grass, a very concentrated and hard food to assimilate, but because of their four stomachs, they are able to draw the earth’s energy out of it and, having fed their babies, they share this wonderful panacea with us. When we treat a cow as a commodity to increase our convenience, when we refuse to see it as a living being, we demean ourselves. And in the end, when we make a cow sick with the wrong foods and inhumane treatment, it, in turn, makes us sick with mutated and perverted milk that is no longer a panacea but is instead very much a poison.
When we respect Nature, she will respect us. When we divorce ourselves from her, she has no choice but to honor that by staying away from us. In this age of convenience we have created diseases that reflect our alienation from that which gave us life and from whose elemental structure arises our own elemental structure. In this age of irrefutable global warming we have forgotten that in the end we must return to Nature in the shape of dust and that when we go to war with her, we actually go to war with ourselves. In this age of Kaliyuga, when Surabhi, the celestial cow, stands on one foot, Milk, the complete food, turns into Milk, the complete destroyer. If we heed the cries of Nature, we will in fact, hear the cries of the Mother. Every mother wants her milk to nourish her child, not be its poison.
It is also imperative that in this age that we see the potentiality of the next age of perfection. We can begin living it by honoring one of the symbols of that age, the cow standing on all four of her legs…if we begin to drink only milk that comes from cows that roam free, that eat good grass, that are able to nurture their calves, we may just find that indeed, milk is the perfect food of the yogis, both a cure and a rejuvenative.

Arun Deva ©2006