In part one of this article, I discussed the Ayurvedic principal of how weak āgni (digestion and metabolism) increases the production of āma (undigested food substances), and eventually overtime creates the many varied symptoms of low thyroid. This causes a seemingly never-ending cycle of low thyroid causing low agni and low agni causing low thyroid, and it’s a difficult cycle to break. With this article I am speaking on low thyroid function, however the same Ayurvedic principals apply to everyday maintaining and improving one’s health.
While it is difficult to offer proper health advice via a written article, I am hoping to shed light toward the potential that Ayurveda offers. The purpose of Ayurveda is to create health and happiness for all humans. Health and happiness is not only defined by the absence of disease. It is a feeling of lightness within mind, body and spirit.
First Step = improve āgni
One of the simplest ways to improve āgni is to eat your meals at a regular time each day, while sitting relaxed in a quiet environment. Over time if your meals are taken haphazardly, then your digestion becomes haphazard. To create healthy normal āgni, your internal clock needs to rely and then thrive on receiving consistent nourishment. If you are consistent your agni will become more consistent. For those with gas, bloating, loose stool and/or constipation, this is an important step toward improving your āgni.
Another deeply important step is to make sure the foods you are eating are not too heavy in quality and/or too large in quantity for your current state of āgni. This requires looking at your food from an Ayurvedic perspective. All substances have characteristics and qualities, for example coffee is heavy, heating and drying.
If your vikŗti or current state of symptoms is similar and common with low thyroid, then you will be increasing these qualities if you consistently consume coffee. A better choice would be black tea, because it’s qualities are lighter and easier to digest. And an even better choice is chāi tea. The spices lighten the qualities even more. When chāi tea is spiced correctly for an individual person it improves their āgni, and then it becomes beneficial! A very common statement “you are what you eat”, is not fully understood until you examine what you’re eating through the lens of Ayurveda.
Taking a deep look at the qualities of each food; through the science of Ayurveda is eye opening. Every single substance in the universe has qualities which can be identified and utilized toward benefiting health or not. The science of Ayurveda is to understand your vikŗti (current state of symptoms), and to apply the opposite qualities which bring your current state back to your normal state. What’s even more intriguing, is to understand the qualities of food based on your climate and each season. This takes the understanding of food to a whole new level. This chart will help demonstrate how different foods and climate conditions effect kapha doṣa.
Those with low thyroid do experience symptoms of increased kapha doṣa.
The first line demonstrates the increasing qualities of heavy, humid and hot. If eating meat in the summer on a hot humid rainy day, you would be increasing the effects of kapha doṣha. The increased qualities of heavy, humid and hot…. may present as symptoms of weight gain, indigestion, bloating, constipation, depression, muscle weakness, mental fatigue, and memory loss. To reduce the quality of heaviness, the opposite qualities of light and cool are required. The second line demonstrates the opposite qualities of light, dry and cold. If eating an apple in the winter on a cold, dry, and windy day you would be decreasing the effects of kapha doṣha. While we cannot change our climate or season we can change what we eat and do within our environment. Eating lighter foods like stewed spiced apples, cooked greens, and even well spiced stewed meats will lighten the kapha doṣha in a kapha dominant climate.
If you live in a cold moist climate, then creating heat through foods, exercise, sauna or even a fireplace is important. Many people with low thyroid suffer from fatigue and muscle weakness, and have little desire for exercise. If this is you, then begin by eating lighter, semi-moist warm foods. Over time you will begin to feel a sense of lightness and your energy will slowly begin to return. When it does start with short walks in nature and slowly build toward longer hikes. It is a work in progress but remember low thyroid took a long time to develop and it will take time to feel like yourself again.
Second Step = reduce āma
The second step is to reduce āma, however first you must stop producing it. This is why the first step to improve āgni is so important. It requires a certain amount of stronger āgni to begin to stop producing āma which accumulates from having weak āgni. This is the reason why jumping into a “cleanse” as the first line of healing often back fires for many people. You will recognize when you have a handle on the foods that benefit your āgni, from the sense of lightness your mind and body feel. This is your signal you are eating the correct foods; in the right proportion and not creating more āma.
To reach this stage varies from person to person, it is determined by your personal vikŗti, along with your food choices, climate and season. Ayurveda utilizes certain spices in cooking to improve āgni while decreasing āma. They are familiar spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, fennel, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, ginger, etc. Ayurveda classifies these digestive spices into two groups. Those which stimulate the appetite are called dīpana and the other which aids the digestion of āma is called pācana. Only a few of these spices are capable of both actions, and the two best choices are ginger and black pepper. By incorporating ginger and black pepper into your meals you will lighten the heavy quality of any food. Another really important digestive aid is to sip on hot water or fresh ginger tea throughout the day. This increases āgni and reduces āma. For symptoms of bloating, burping, nausea, stuffy nose, nasal drip and headache, cooking with these spices and sipping warm water is greatly beneficial. People who have recently used antibiotics may have a stubborn time with improving āgni. In such cases it is very important to know you need to slowly rebuild your āgni overtime.
Third Step = strengthen ojas
The concept of ojas means physical strength, vitality and resiliency. We are all born with a certain amount of ojas which determines our ability to remain healthy and happy throughout life. Once ojas declines to a certain point, health declines and it’s difficult to regain. The Ayurvedic principal of the “three pillars of life” is very important to understanding how ojas can be safe guarded and possibly restored.
The three pillars are food, sleep and sex. The benefits of food are very important and there is much to learn on how to properly digest and assimilate nutrition while safe guarding ojas. The benefits of sleep are greatly misunderstood. Ayurveda recommends a regular routine of eight to nine hours each night as essential for a healthy and happy life. Ayurveda has long known…it requires a certain amount of health or ojas to maintain this amount of sleep on a consistent basis. Ojas building sleep requires a regular routine that must not be broken and once broken is difficult to regain. Many people who are raising families and working full time are wired and tired, and do not realize it. Their nervous systems have adjusted toward less sleep and they function, but are not getting enough sleep to safe guard their lifetime ojas.
The last pillar of life “sex” is very interesting because life itself is born of it and surely it is of high importance. Having sexual pleasure with many people is said to deplete ojas due to the over exposure of many types of pathogens. There is also the aspect of having too much sexual pleasure versus not enough. This is determined by how you feel. If you are feeling happy and healthy rather than depleted, then this indicates sex would be beneficial.
Final Step = Pañcakarma
Ayurveda has a highly specialized branch of disease management called Pañcakarma. It is extremely effective at reversing the symptoms of disease and restoring youthfulness. Pañcakarma is a fine-tuned process with precision therapies based on many factors for each individual. Only an Ayurvedic Doctor who has successfully completed five and half years of study and earned the degree of B.A.M.S. (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) or higher is qualified to properly prescribe and oversee the administration of Pañcakarma. It is not wise to undergo Pañcakarma treatment unless guided by a skilled B.A.M.S. Ayurvedic Doctor.
The goal of a properly performed Pañcakarma treatment is to remove or expel the aggravated dosha(s) from the body. It is important to understand, if done improperly the doṣha(s) could relocate and cause more complicated issues. It is also extremely important to know exactly when and where it’s best to undergo Pañcakarma. It is important to avoid extensive travel and advisable to undergo Pañcakarma close to where you live, as travel aggravates the doṣa(s). You may find you have no choice and need to travel to receive Pañcakarma; if this is the case then plan a long period of rest before traveling back home. The whole process will take several weeks to a month or two; and is thoroughly life changing and so worth it when properly administered.
Ending the Symptoms of Low Thyroid
With so many varied symptoms that accompany low thyroid function, it may seem daunting to hope all can be healed. It is possible to slowly see yourself return to a normal healthy state. It requires a new relationship with yourself or more precise a new observation of self. Observing what creates lightness, heaviness, heat, cold, moistness, dryness, etc. all come together to create how you feel. Those with long term chronic symptoms who feel ill on a daily basis, will need the assistance of an Ayurvedic Professional. To fully and clearly understand your personal vikŗti takes skill, experience and guidance to create your pathway back to your normal healthy self.