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herbalism herbal education digestion digestive fire healing dandelion burdock yellow dock st john's wort herbal tea vitalism

The key to health, according to the sages and even modern day practitioners, begins at the area around the navel. This center is also known as the Solar Plexus, the home of the vital organs that digest our food, assimilate nutrients and release waste products. It is this locus that determines our vitality–how much energy we have (or not) and how healthy we feel. Energetically, it is this health of the Navel Center that determines our willpower, confidence, focus and strength in life.

 

When the organs of the belly get overwhelmed from toxins, overeating, or eating processed and refined foods (aka Frankenfoods), this center gets weak. The burdened and unhealthy digestive system has become a crisis in our country, an epidemic that shows its face in the plethora of laxatives, antacids, and antidepressants.

 

It is not average knowledge that the health of the belly affects the type of thoughts we have (negative, positive, focused or distracted) and our emotions. However this ‘secret’ has been known for thousands of years in the ancient sciences of Yoga, Ayurveda, Herbalism and Chinese Medicine. Beyond just feeling uncomfortable in the body, a weak ‘belly fire’ can contribute to feelings such as overwhelm, anxiety, distraction, confusion, lethargy, melancholy, and even a sense of feeling crazy. Why? A simple explanation is that a weakened digestive system prevents us from getting our nutrients. Without nutrients–such as omegas, vitamins (A, B, C, D, etc..), amino acids, & minerals—how do we expect the body/mind complex to function optimally? Even if a person eats completely organic, local, & nutrient dense foods, if the belly fire (Agni) is weak, then the nutrients are not going where they need to. The second explanation is that there is a lack of prana, or energy in the space of the abdominal cavity, and in yoga therapy this is a huge problem that can be ameliorated by wise sequencing.

 

So what can the average person do? The use of herbs and yoga for digestion is a provocative idea. With the right education, one can sequence a practice with the goal of increasing digestive fire, often noticing immediate results…sometimes even quicker than time spent on pills. This is a rebel idea because it is taking our health into our own hands and investing the time and energy to create change and HEAL OUR SELF. Herbs are of utmost importance because they grow in our own backyards, woods and along streams. If you know of a local herbalist, have them take you to a place that is free from toxins, and harvest your own dandelion, yellow dock and burdock, three key herbs for cleansing and toning the liver, gallbladder, kidneys and colon. They are everywhere–powerful, gentle and FREE.

 

Yoga for belly health would include practices that twist around the navel center, folds that move the torso towards the thighs, and ‘seals’ such as Uddiyana Bandha (belly lock) and Agni Sara to concentrate vital energy at the core (solar plexus). Sequencing allows for a steady progression to loosen and clear out physical or energetic blockages.

 

YTT yoga teacher training california grass valley brooke sullivan the wild temple

 

Yogic Techniques for the Solar Plexus/Navel Center

*Deep abdominal breathing

*Samavritti

*Kapalbhati

*Mulabandha

*Uddiyana Bandha

*Agni Sara

*Twists and Forward Folds

 

Practices centered around the Navel can assist many dis-eases such as:

Gallbladder removal/dis-ease

Liver/Hepatitis

Candida (builds agni)

Nervous digestion (from overstimulation or ‘weak’ stomach)

Parasites

Allergies

Irritable bowels/diarrhea/constipation

Indigestion/gas/bloating

Bipolar and other Mental Imbalances

 

Mantras can also be incorporated to awaken and balance the belly fire.
Specific Mantras for belly health are:

 

Ram

The bija (seed) mantra for the solar plexus.
It embodies the most divine essence of fire.

 

Ram Agniye Swaha

A mantra to spark the flame of transformation, healing and fiery nourishment.

 

Maha Mrityunjaya

The healer’s mantra (or freedom mantra), invoking compassion and grace through right nourishment, food and company.

 
the wild temple community sangha grass valley
 
 

4 Herbs for Digestion

Dandelion: Taraxacum officinale. Can reverse liver damage & depression. As a highly nutritive plant dandelion is food for our body! The roots are alterative and through their effects on the liver, dandelion helps tone the stomach, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, & entire digestive tract. As is often the case with the plant allies, dandelion grows abundantly around those who need it! (go home and check your lawns!) This plant strengthens the body’s ability to eliminate & filter environmental toxins, withdraw and cleanse from alcohol drugs & tobacco & helps people recover from radiation, hepatitis & chemotherapy. It is clearing for headaches caused by rich foods or coffee withdrawal (hence the stimulating and toning affect on the liver.) It eases indigestion & helps restore and tonify the digestive tract after illness, surgery or any other stressful life situation that may have weakened the body’s ability to assimilate & absorb nutrients. Energetically, Dandelion bestows upon us the radiant light of the sun, warming our solar plexus with illumination, wisdom, courage and grace. It lightens the affects of fear and anger, housed at the belly (liver is organ of fear), clearing space for positive boundaries, will-power and glowing self esteem. In our native soil is a plant called Hawkweed, which has very similar uses.

 

Burdock: Arctium lappa. Burdock is ‘bear medicine’, a nutritive tonic rich in vitamins and minerals that helps the body digest and metabolize fats and proteins. It is high in iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C & many trace minerals. Burdock, according to herbalist David Hoffman, will “move the body to a state of integration and health.” It increases groundedness, physical power, emotional equilibrium, glandular and immune system health. It has a tonic effect on every system in the body, specifically liver and kidneys, and helps to prevent dis-eases such as cancer & diabetes. As a tonic it also assists in longevity, sexual vitality & blood sugar balancing (great for hypoglycemics). Burdock works magic with dandelion, helping to restore the digestive tract for ultimate vitality and energy, and with yellow dock as a detoxifier and blood cleanser. Burdock is often used for the skin (internally or topically) helping alleviate psoriasis, eczema & acne. It is also a nourishing tonic to hair follicles and can help with hair loss.

 

Yellow Dock: Rumex crispus. Yellow dock contains compounds that stimulate peristaltic action in the bowels, helping the downward movement of the digestive tract. Extremely nutritive and a tonic, this powerful plant helps to balance the actions (the fire) in the stomach and digestive tract. It also helps to balance appetite and chaotic emotional energy. According to Matthew Wood, certain Native American tribes called Yellow Dock the ‘Herb of Understanding’ and it was used in the beginning of sweat lodges to discern the material from the spiritual lessons. It helps alleviate stagnation in the digestive organs (is an alterative) is food for the brain and the nervous system (contains phosphorus) & helps the body assimilate iron. It has been used often for iron assimilation without the effects of constipation, especially for women during pregnancy and menstruation. It is invaluable for hepatitis, sluggish gallbladders & cools down inflammation of the digestive tract (such as in colitis or IBS).

 

St. John’s Wort: Hypericum perforatum. St. John’s Wort is known mostly as a tonic for nerves and to heal damage to nerve endings. As for digestion, it helps to strengthen digestive nerve reflexes and to relieve tension in the liver due to these nerves being weak. A very versatile plant, its tastes are sweet, oily warm and dry with volatile oils that help to improve metabolism and digestion. It is a huge assistant to the liver, where it can help process complex toxins (such as pharmaceuticals) and helps to normalize stomach acid. In Russia, it is considered to be a liver remedy & a detoxifier (Wood).

 

References:

Book of Herbal Wisdom, Matt Wood

Family Herbal, Rosemary Gladstar

The New Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman

Herbal Rituals, Judith Berger