By Dr. Light Miller
Originally published in LA Yoga Ayurveda and Health
Ayurveda has been practiced in the U.S. for only about 30 years, yet it is one of the systems of medicine native to India and is thousands of years old.
Q: I run daily in training for the upcoming L.A. Marathon and have been noticing some pain in my feet and weak ankles lately. At the end of the day when I take my shoes off after training and working, my feet, ankles and calves are tight and painful. Is there anything I can do to alleviate this?
A: Pain is always an Ayurvedic indication of excess vata (air and ether elements). Too much movement is thought to aggravate vata. The symptoms you describe can be typical of plantar fasciitis or inflammation of the ligament on the sole of the foot. It might be helpful to see a professional to get this diagnosed to treat it effectively or rule it out as a cause of your pain.
Orthotics or shock absorbing pads placed inside the shoes may help to redistribute the forces of foot strike more evenly. Hard surfaces may be an aggravating factor and running or walking on grass, cinder, earth or sand surfaces may assist. Look at the shoes you are wearing when you are not training. Shoes with heels, even small heels, can throw off your gait. According to biophysicist Katy Santiago, the heel is designed to hit the ground first on flat terrain. When you elevate the heel, you disrupt the entire gait cycle, upon which the body depends for bone density, circulation and proper nerve stimulation.
After running, soaking your feet in Epsom salts with a fifteen total drops of a combination of any of the following essential oils: ravensara, rosemary, lavender, mint, wintergreen or birch.
A good reflexologist may offer relief as may any one of a number of over the counter food creams, particularly those containing homeopathic arnica.
Working with a therapist or using self-care, pressure points, referred to in Ayurveda as marma points, are vital energy points used for their therapeutic properties, similar to acupuncture points. There are two marmas you can use for self-massage. The first is gulpha, located on the outside of the ankle, just below the joint, on both feet. The other marma is kurcha, located at the base of the ball of the foot on the inside of the ankle.
You can also massage all around the area of the kneecap with (organic, vegetable-based) massage oils. You can use essential oils such as sandalwood, eucalyptus, angelica, chamomile and lavender in your base oil. Look for sources of sandalwood that are sustainably harvested. A traditional blend used in Ayurveda is mahanarayana oil, a combination of more than thirty herbs for joint and muscle imbalances.
Physical yogic practices that rotate the ankle, even ankle circles, are helpful. If possible to practice without pain, sun salutations can improve overall circulation. Inversions such as shoulderstand and headstand, because the ankles and feet are high in the air, can support ankle health and circulation.
As a mental practice, ask yourself why you are pushing yourself and make sure to pace yourself with your training. Anything that you overdo over long periods of time can damage the life force of the body and aggravate vata.
Herbal support could include ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), dashmoola (a mix of ten herbal roots), chavanprash (made with amalaki or Emblica officinalis) and turmeric (Curcuma longa). Increase your calcium and magnesium supplementation if appropriate. See a qualified practitioner for specific herbal recommendations.
In Body, Mind and Sport, Dr. John Douillard, DC makes the point that exercise to the point of pain can be an indication that you are exceeding the body’s capacity. Pain means that you are out of optimal form or exceeding your aerobic capacity. You can modulate capacity by monitoring your form and by maintaining nasal breathing. When either slips, you have exceeded your capacity. The consequence of ignoring these signs is pain. Your body is speaking to you. No pain, no gain is a twisted Western axiom which has caused much injury. Dr Douillard teaches how to reach the zone in every workout by gradually increasing intensity and duration while maintaining form and nasal breath.
Q: I’m a woman in my 40s, and there’s a history of high cholesterol in my family. My cholesterol is borderline high (total cholesterol: 200). Is there anything I can do using Ayurveda to keep this in balance?
A: Cholesterol is a vital ingredient used by a healthy body in the production of hormones. Usually your primary care provider would order a lipid panel to check all the components including triglycerides, HDL (high density lipoproteins or good cholesterol) and LDL (low density lipoproteins or bad cholesterol). Along with the numbers, the ratio between HDL and LDL is important. When total cholesterol drops below 100, this can indicate problems and is also dangerous for health and well-being.
Because of your family history, get a full complement of tests annually, exercise intelligently and eat well.
Eliminate fried and processed foods and cheeses and avoid fermented and aged cheese all together. If you need to eat dairy products, favor goat cheese and yogurt and substitute ghee for butter. Reduce or eliminate meats and cut down on foods high in cholesterol (animal foods). Favor healthy oils with Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Vegetarian sources include flax, walnut, hemp, evening primrose, borage and blends such as Udo’s Oil, Barleans oil blends and Vega. Add lecithin granules to meals if appropriate.
Follow an Ayurvedic diet for your body type. Emphasize fresh vegetables and fruits according to your body type. Use mild spices on your food such as fennel, cumin, turmeric, lemon rind, mint, coriander, dill, parsley and basil.
Cholesterol is produced in the liver, so maintaining the health and balance of the liver is essential. Herbal support for prevention
of liver problems would include turmeric, daruharidra (barberry), bibhitaki (Terminalia belerica), triphala guggulu, ginger, mild curries, coriander and fennel. Use amalaki to supplement your Vitamin C.
Detoxifying the body, maintaining healthy cholesterol and reducing stress can be accomplished through Ayurvedic panchakarma (cleansing practices).
Kapalabhati (variation of fire breath or skull shining) breath is heating and can reduce excess kapha (earth and water elements) which can lead to or aggravate high cholesterol. Work with a qualified teacher or practitioner to learn this practice and if appropriate for you, try working up to 108 breaths. Breathing through the right nostril (surya bedhana) is heating, burns fat and increases prana (life-force). Regular yoga and meditation can help you enjoy greater richness of life in your mind.
Dr. Light Miller is a naturopath and Ayurvedic doctor. She is the co-author of Ayurveda & Aromatherapy and Ayurvedic Remedies for the Whole Family and the co-owner of Yoga Flow Oils. She is teacher who practices panchakarma and has created 320 therapeutic formulations. For more information, visit: ayurvedichealers.com.