Special Feature Yoga and Herbs: respect for the whole human
WHAT ARE the premises that prompt me to write about herbalism and yoga on the same page? What commonalities could they possibly share apart from both having long and venerable lineages?
Well for starters they are both healing modalities that rely on the human body’s intrinsic ability to heal it self. They are both holistic by nature - meaning they engage the entirety of the body systems: the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual - and reach deeper into the subtler bodies beyond the immediate, apparent physical-body vehicle.
Yoga is about self-realisation; herbs are about self-healing, which are in fact one in the same thing. The word “healing” comes from the Latin haelan, which means to make whole, reinforcing the holistic concept of both modalities.
The literal meaning of yoga comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj" meaning to yoke or join. Indeed yoga is about union, the bringing together and integration of all our fragmented parts; the various aspects of our selves that were never divided in the first place. Plants, humans and nature - there is no separation
THROUGH yoga we realise our underlying wholeness.
Yoga employs some incredibly effective means for “union” to come about. By exploring the physical body as a vehicle for transformation, it becomes the doorway to the more subtle interior worlds evolving our awareness to discover that the body is inseparable from mind.
Yoga awakens the cellular intelligence in our bodies and the deeper wisdom comes as we slowly shed the layers of false self, and become aware of our emotional patterns and conditioned ways of being.
It presents an opportunity to further dissolve and liberate the self of these deep “psycho-physical grooves” as they are sometimes called (samskaras) or more simply: entrenched knots of tension and emotional pain that we tend to hold onto and store in our bodies.
Herbs smooth the progress of this process as they really get to the cause of ‘dis-ease’ - these latent impressions that perpetuate suffering. Daily maintenance is the key
VIEWING health as a positive state, not as the absence of disease, Yoga and herbs both provide effective health maintenance for the body; both can soothe and ease aches and pains and be a powerful tool for self-healing.
Both are concerned with alleviating bodily and mental diseases and promoting physical and psychological well- being. Both also provide individual treatment for the individual’s needs rather than a blanket treatment, by treating the person not the disease.
Like yoga, herbalism advocates assisting people to understand and help themselves rather than treatment and dependence.
Herbs are powerful aids in the practice of yoga, not only do they treat disease and rejuvenate but they awaken all our higher faculties.
The great yogic sages regularly took herbs to enhance their practice and to stimulate Prana (life-force) and the higher mind.
Many herbs possess overall strengthening properties for the muscles and the nerves and are especially helpful for vegetarians who may need a deeper form of nutrition. Herbs are adjuncts that catalyse processes that otherwise may be difficult to achieve. It’s all about waste removal
IN 1953 Carl Jung said: “The practice of yoga amounts to a method of psychic hygiene.”
Both Yoga and herbalism are about purification, a deep cleansing and shedding of what does not serve us well, that which generates disease of the subtle mind, which inevitably manifests in the physical body.
It is universally understood that disease starts in the mind and all our unresolved past sorrows and disappointments become non-disinte- grated energy that gets lodged in body tissue.
Yoga uses breathing and meditation practices to still the constant fluctuations of mind and gradually alleviate tension from the body to help facilitate this whole clearing process.
We use herbs to also assist the purification process; whereby alterative (blood cleansing) and adaptogenic herbs assist the lymphatic system and recalibrate the whole endocrine system. They naturally destroy the host of destructive bacteria and microorganisms that threaten to corrode our health.
Herbalists recognise that disease is often a result of an overtaxed eliminative system that builds an underlying toxic state. Herbs restore the homeostasis of the body, a process by which the body attempts to maintain a state of stable physiological balance.
Indeed, by imbibing herbs - ingesting them, drinking them, absorbing them through the skin or smelling them - they are a fundamental way to open up the breathing channels, calm the mind, enhance meditation and ultimately prevent disease.
The effects of herbs usually do not manifest immediately. Like food, the benefits accrue over time and require the right diet and lifestyle regimes to support them.
This means we should give herbs the proper circumstances in which to work and not simply use them like drugs. Using herbs and practicing Yoga both aim to gradually replace our unconscious patterns of thought and behaviour with new, more benign patterns that are expressive of higher powers and virtues of self-realisation. The pain of the future is to be avoided
Heyam Dukham Anagatam (Yoga Sutra 11.16) means to eliminate sorrow even before it arises - noticing when we get caught up in an old, habitual reaction to some experience, avoiding going in that direction, and instead heading for good space.
This brings us to another point where yoga and herbs convene; they are both preventative medicine, a pre-emptive means to allow the body to engage its own healing forces, whether that means kick starting the immune system, increasing circulation, reducing inflammation or calming the sympathetic nervous system.
This is creating the ideal body/mind environment for healing to take place and preventing disease from manifesting.
This is true healing as opposed to the curing principle of allopathic medicine (modern medicine).
Of course herbalism offers some superb curative methods to treat acute illness, but it is best employed as a preventative way of living.
This means we need to cultivate awareness of exactly what we imbibe into the body and the wholesome nature of the environment in which we live.
This too is living our yoga, developing mindfulness and awareness of living in the present moment, which in turn increases the acuity of the senses and ability to discern what it is that our body needs, the right life-supporting herbs, foods and products that will help us maintain our health. Yoga and Herbalism - A way of Being
YOGA is about how we conduct ourselves between heaven and Earth, it is a state of being and a way of living.
On the mat we learn alignment of body, mind and breath, yet true yoga is about how present we are to this experience and the quality of our attention.
This in itself can be transformative and we can carry this transformation, this new wisdom and compassion into our everyday lives to be more vital, empowered and discriminating.
Mindful and right use of a herb during which its intrinsic power is released, implies a communion with it. The plant, when we are one with it, will vitalise our nervous system and invigorate our perception.
This is how the yoga practitioner approaches herbalism; by valuing the plant as sacred; a means of communion with nature; a form of direct participation. Plants and humans: the same life force
THE HOLISTIC healer, be they yogi or herbalist, works with the life force that flows within us.
This is Prana: the universal life force or subtle energy that enlivens the human being and animates all of nature. It is what makes our hearts involuntarily pump blood and what causes the sap to rise in plants.
Humans have learned to harvest this powerful energetic essence in plants through oils and extracts to increase our own supply of life force; the ancient yogis called this essence “soma”. The yogi consciously harnesses, releases and expresses the power of this inner energy and light.
Rooted in the soil, the plant organism grows towards the light. As does the human organism, mired in the bog of materiality, we rise and evolve also towards the light; this is the spiritual evolutionary process.
Plants transmit the vital-emotional impulses, the life force that is hidden in light, that which we seek in yoga. Observing nature and our body’s natural cycles and rhythms and cultivating awareness of how this all-pervading life force can enhance our ongoing journey towards wholeness is one of the many precious jewels that yoga and herbalism both offer us. A beautiful partnership
Yes indeed, yoga and herbs definitely do make a beautiful marriage for absolute health. By healing our bodies and our minds we will be more present as whole beings and see more clearly the obstacle of illness as an opportunity to reach a higher consciousness.
- by Cassandra Menard, Tinderbox co-owner and founder
Special Feature The vitality of plants
ESSENTIAL oils are highly concentrated vegetal extracts - containing hormones, vitamins, antibiotics and antiseptics. They are highly volatile, meaning they evaporate readily in open air. This low molecular weight makes them powerfully penetrative when applied externally to the human body. They penetrate right into the deep layers of the skin, via the sebum around the hair follicles with which they have an affinity.
Once they have passed through the dermis, they travel to the various organs, glands and tissues of the body. They stimulate the body’s self-healing process and affect the nervous system, where they are either relaxing or stimulating. On the emotional level, they ward off negative ill-feelings and the resulting stress on mind and body.
All the traditions, even the most puritan, have known the power of fragrances; every religion knew their ceremonial use to generate a religious state. Ritualists have utilised fragrant plants for thousands of years; knowing which scents awaken psychic awareness, stimulate love, arouse passion and deepen spirituality. It has long been recognised how certain plant aromas can tranquilise, calm the spirit, focus the mind for mediation, even ground us and mobilise the transformative powers of the will. Aromatic incense can transport one into the desired state of consciousness and recapture this sacred inner space every time it is used thereafter.
Chosen aroma can consecrate and ‘clear’ spaces rendering them more suitable for spiritual practice.
On the physical level, the fumigating smells protect our health by killing air-borne bacteria and they enhance our emotional well-being by dispelling bad thoughts and mental chatter.
Purifying the atmosphere, to banish negative energy is essentially what burning incense is all about. Natural fragrance can bring about the deepest but most fugitive emotions, since the olfactory system is such an open gate to the subconscious.
Pure scents are gifts of the earth; we must invite them with love and responsibility, to transform our lives with positive needed change.
They have a privileged and intimate access to those parts of the brain where we live, determining how we feel. Essential oils can become our companions on the spiral of our development.
- extract from Tinderbox Essential Oil Companion