Could Ashwagandha be the perfect herb for 2021? During a time when uncertainty is the ‘new normal’, and stress is almost impossible to avoid, I feel strengthened and supported by the adaptogenic herb Ashwagandha. Some of the incredible benefits of Ashwagandha include stress-relief, adrenal-support, calming, sleep-support, immune-support and vitality-building.
Let’s look at how the timeless support of herbal practice is so relevant for us here and now, and how Ashwagandha can act as a tonic for our bodies and minds.
The body-mind connection
I have endless respect for the human body-mind complex. What an amazing, intricate system of energy, functions, processes & interactions we are comprised of, and to think, some of these don’t go to sleep for the duration of our entire lifetime!
It is humbling to consider all that our body and mind do both consciously and subconsciously. Whether we are awake, asleep, or in between, our systems constantly strive to maintain balance, otherwise known as homeostasis.
Sometimes it is relatively straightforward to be in balance – with healthy natural rhythms in place for exercise, quality sleep, nutritious meals, being connected to a fulfilling life purpose, enjoying healthy relationships and so on. Other times can be more challenging with the body-mind struggling under the influence of stress, be it mental, physical, emotional or environmental.
Since stress of one kind or another can be difficult to avoid, it is helpful to be prepared – to have a toolkit so to speak, of supportive herbs, foods and lifestyle practices to help yourself get back into balance. It might sound silly, but I actually keep a self-help notebook – full of ideas for rebalancing when I go off track. From calling a good friend to taking a bath and deep breaths, reintroducing my favourite green powder and getting to bed earlier or booking a massage. Sometimes I actually still need to be reminded to take some good quality herbal supplements that both nourish and heal.
I am a big fan of Ayurvedic herbs, with Ashwagandha a regular go-to in stressful times. Otherwise known as Withania somnifera, Indian Ginseng, or Winter Cherry, this is a keystone herb in the Ayurvedic tradition.
Ayurveda, or “the science of life” is India’s traditional system of health and supposedly the oldest system in the world. Considering the properties of Ashwagandha, it is not surprising that this herb is one of the most revered in the Ayurvedic tradition.
The word Ashwagandha is often translated into “strength”, “sweat”, and “smell” of the horse, suggesting the herb’s capacity to build and strengthen vitality – giving you the ‘strength of a horse’. It can also relate to the smell of the Ashwagandha root, which can be used to support athletic performance, endurance, and exercise recovery.
Ashwagandha has long been revered in India as a tonic that supports vitality, energy and endurance.
How Ashwangandha builds stress resilience
This ancient herb, steeped in history and tradition, has an astounding relevance in our contemporary age. As an herbal adaptogen, Ashwagandha has the ability to support a healthy stress response and has been described as nature’s gift for stress management.
In Ayurveda, the approach to managing stress is twofold:
- To reduce (if not eliminate) the source of stress, be it physical, mental, emotional or environmental.
- To increase tolerance or resistance to stress, when it cannot be avoided.
While we can’t always avoid that which causes us stress, herbs that are adaptogenic in nature help us relate better to stress when it comes our way;
- soothing frayed nerves,
- calming worries without causing fatigue (being worried can be very tiring!)
- supporting a tonified central nervous system,
- supporting healthy functioning adrenal glands and their healthy cortisol production – the stress hormone that contributes to our ’fight or flight’ response,
- encouraging the body-mind to adapt to stress,
- supporting a natural resilience to stress, and better coping patterns during stressful times.
Adaptogenic herbs are especially intelligent - by having an energising effect in the daytime (without being over stimulating), and a calming effect on the nerves to support quality sleep at night (without a residual heavy feeling the next day).
Ashwagandha the Rasayana - A Rejuvenator
In Ayurveda, there is a supreme class of ‘elite’ herbs called Rasayana. These are rejuvenators, or tonic herbs that are said to contribute to our vital spirit. As a rasayana herb, Ashwagandha supports rejuvenated muscle tissues, and is said to support the strength and vitality of the heart, uterus, and respiratory system. Plus, there’s the nourishment of the nervous system.
Like sister herb Tulsi (Holy Basil) which is also an herbal adaptogen (and a rasayana herb), Ashwagandha supports lung health and breathing.
Ashwagandha for Building Healthy Ojas - Vitality
Ojas is the Sanskrit word that can be translated into ‘vigor’, or ‘essence of vitality.’ This is the vital energy that governs our immunity, strength and general wellbeing, including our happiness. A person with strong Ojas is healthy, has a consistent supply of energy, and high spirits. Somebody with a weaker Ojas might describe their health, energy and spirit as low or depleted.
According to Ayurvedic Dr John Douillard, “Ashwaganda is one of Ayurveda’s few natural Ojas builders, which means it supports vitality, immunity, radiant health and longevity.”
Ashwagandha aside, some of the foods that build or support Ojas include ghee, dates, leafy greens, almonds and other nuts, sweet potatoes, avocado, mung beans and whole grains.
Some of the things that deplete ojas include alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants, refined sugars and flours, heavily processed foods, dry, raw and undercooked foods, canned, frozen, fried or old foods.
No matter how nutritious our diet, or how healthy our lifestyle, if stress is present, the strength of our Ojas will be compromised. The benefit of Ashwaganda is that it has both bases covered - this single herb supports a healthy stress response and works to strengthen Ojas.
A good night’s sleep and peace with Ashwagandha
We all know how important a good night’s sleep is for our energy, vitality (Ojas), and immunity. Yet, we don’t always manage to achieve that deeply restorative sleep, or at least not consistently.
The use of Ashwagandha supports healthy sleep by supporting a balanced stress response and by calming an agitated mind. The Latin name for Ashwagandha includes ‘somnifera’ which translates to ‘sleep inducer’. Ashwagandha has been shown to support blood sugar balance, which may be helpful for some people’s sleep pattern.
Ashwagandha supports immune health
You probably have the sense now that as an adaptogenic herb, and a rasayana herb that builds strong Ojas, our immune health can be greatly supported from Ashwagandha.
- It’s important to note that Vedic wisdom suggests that the ideal time for using Ashwagandha is during recovery.
Supplements with Ashwagandha
Selecting the right Ashwagandha product for you is important. Not all Ashwagandha herbal supplements are made equal, and it is worth shopping around for a good quality one to maximise the benefits of nature’s healing potential.
In accordance with traditional Ayurvedic prescribing methods, the whole Ashwagandha herb is found in Organic India supplements, rather than standardised extracts. Certified organic Ashwagandha, in its purest form, is dried, ground, and encapsulated, free from fillers or excipients, then either bottled as a powder, or filled into 100% vegetarian capsules. The Ayurvedic whole herb philosophy recognises the intelligence of the entire herb with all of its compounds, and keeps them intact, to optimise the support to the body through nourishment.
The relevance of an herb as intelligent as Ashwagandha is so timely for us all right now. Let’s take advantage of this 6000-year-old ancient wisdom to support, balance and harmonise our amazing bodies and minds throughout the 21st century.
May all beings be well, happy, and filled with a vital spirit that shines from our eyes, out into the world.
*Organic India supplements are certified organic and therefore free from any chemicals, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides.
Always read the label and use as directed. If symptoms persist see your healthcare professional. Organic India.