Saffron, a key Sattvic herb in Hatha Yoga and Ayurvedic Medicine
Saffron has a historical role as one of the key Sattvic Herbs in traditional Hatha Yoga and Ayurvedic Medicine.
Yoga and Lifestyle Benefits
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning unity or joining (yoak) of the mind and body. It originated in India over 3000 years ago, where it has remained in continuous practice. Only recently has Yoga received this mass media attention and steadily increasing popularity in Western countries.
In general terms, most Yogic practice is comprised of three primary aspects;
- Asanas; physical postures or movements designed to increase strength and flexibility.
- Pranayama; breathing exercises to quiet both the mind and the body
- Meditation; a quiet relaxation practice to become aware of one’s self
The cornerstone of the Ayurvedic philosophy is that the five main elements combine with each other to form three bio-principles or Doshas; Vata (ether and air) Pitta (fire) and Kapha (water) referred to as the Tridoshas. The three Doshas are considered universal principles that function in all aspects of material creation, including the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms, the time of day, the seasons of the year, even the planets and galaxies. All Doshas are essential to sustain life, and none are ever absent. Proper balance among the three Doshas is essential for good health, which is also considered holistically to include the body, mind and soul. The aim or goal of Yoga practice is to bring the three DOSHAS into a state of balance or harmony. 1
Increased stress, depression and anxiety are prevalent features of our modern, hectic lifestyle. Many of the pharmaceutical drugs used in the treatment of these conditions have serious side effects, and sometimes even questionable effectiveness. As a result, researchers and clinicians are increasingly seeking complimentary, integrated health approaches, including non-pharmacological and non-invasive treatment options for these disorders. (Read more about Complimentary Medicine and Integrative Health)
The practice of Yoga has become a leading complementary medicine practice. Research suggests that Yoga is a physical, intellectual and mental exercise that improves the feelings of health; variables of self-description, psychological status, and the quality of life for many people. Furthermore, Yoga can improve the psychological conditions for monitoring and managing stress and negative emotions, increase the levels of positive emotions, and help to maintain mental balance.2
While many clinical studies have been reported, criticism lies in both the size and quality of these studies. What has been concluded with confidence to date from meta-analysis of studies regarding the beneficial aspects of Yoga are:
Improved physical fitness; including balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength.
Management of chronic conditions; reduced risk factors for chronic heart disease and high blood pressure, and reduced symptoms of depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia.
Stress reduction; a reduction in stress and anxiety, enhanced mood, and an overall sense of well-being.
Stress related disorders such as depression and anxiety are leading sources of disability (Read more about Saffron and Depression) worldwide. Current treatment methods such as conventional antidepressant medications are not beneficial for all individuals. There is evidence that Yoga has mood-enhancing properties possibly related to its inhibitory effects on physiological stress and inflammation, symptoms frequently associated with these affective disorders. In the first systematic review of clinical trials on the effects of Yoga on mood and the brain, it has been concluded that Yoga: 3
- decreases blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol and cytokine expression.
- is associated with metabolic changes in the brain.
- Influences the sympathetic nervous system, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis regulation.
The percentage of US adults who practice Yoga has increased substantially, from 5.1% in 2002 to 6.1% in 2007 and 9.5% in 2012. More than 85 percent of U.S. adults who have used Yoga perceive reduced stress from practicing Yoga. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of adult Yoga users reported that practicing Yoga motivated them to exercise more regularly, and 4 in 10 reported they were also motivated to eat healthier.
Adult Yoga practitioners were more likely to feel better emotionally than users of dietary supplements or spinal manipulation approaches alone. Yoga has also become more popular among children, as it has among adults. 3.1% of U.S. children practiced yoga in 2012, compared to 2.3% in 2007, and these rates are steadily growing.4
Saffron - Sattva, Ayurvedic Medicine and Yoga
A safe, natural complimentary medication and supplement, Saffron is clinically proven to be an effective antidepressant that also exhibits anxiolytic (inhibits anxiety) activity. (Read more about Saffron and Depression)
In addition to its wide range of proven neurological health benefits, Saffron, is also a key Sattvic herb in traditional Ayurvedic Medicine, Yogic Diets and Hatha Yoga practices! Saffron is respected for its ability to directly support the deepening relaxation of the mind, meditative experiences and promotion of well being. Being sattvic it is also Tridoshic, creating balance and harmony among the three doshas.
The ancient Charaka Samhita Indian text infers that only beneficial foods should be eaten, and only after proper examination. The body is the result of the food we consume and a wholesome diet is essential for good health and to prevent diseases, while unwholesome food is an important cause of diseases. Properly used, foods nourish the body. Improperly used (excess or deficient), they lead to the provocation of the Doshas. When they are in their normal state, they are beneficial to the body. When, however, they become disorganized, they afflict the body with diseases of diverse kinds. Foods are the source of heat, nutritive value as well as physiological substances that act like drugs inside the human body. Furthermore, along with medicine, proper nutrition is essential for expedient recovery from sickness or surgery.5
This term Sattvic, derived from the Sanskrit word Sattva (सत्त्व), is the complex concept in Indian philosophy that describes the life force quality or prana that is “pure essence, natural, vital, full of energy, clean, conscious, strong, courage, true, honest, wise, rudiment of life.6
The Sattvic or Yogic diet in Ayurveda and Yoga literature, refers to a diet and eating habits that is based upon foods that contain, possess and promote the good qualities or gunas.
“Sattvic food is pure, clean and wholesome, and a sattvic diet is one that gives life, strength, energy, courage and self-determination. A beginning practice in both Ayurveda and Yoga is to simply observe the effect of each food choice we make and, from our experience and awareness, begin to make small changes. As we progress in this practice we can recognize three broad categories called the gunas. Some foods leave us feeling tired and sluggish. This is called the “tamasic effect”. Other foods leave us feeling agitated or over-stimulated–the “rajasic effect. The third category belongs to foods that leave us feeling calm, alert and refreshed. This is the sattvic effect and the basis of the sattvic diet. Foods or herbs that are Sattvic balance foods that decrease the energy of the body are considered Tamasic and those that increase the energy of the body considered Rajasic.”7
Sattvic foods, and their preparation with consciousness, are believed to exert balancing or moderating effects on all the three Doshas; Vata, Pitta, Kapha.
”More than the gross physical requirements food also gives us the subtle nourishment necessary for vitality and consciousness. Food is seen as a carrier of the life force called prana and is judged by the quality of its prana and by the effect it has on our consciousness. These are important considerations in the practice of Yoga. Yoga is defined as those practices that lead to anushasanam, which means the governing of one’s subtle nature (Yoga Sutras 1:1). The goal of yoga is described as chitta vritti nirodha, the quieting of the mind-field (YS 1:2). Yoga practitioners advocate the use of the sattvic diet to support these subtle goals. If we persist in this practice, we will arrive at our personal version of the sattvic diet. The Bhagavad Gita describes the sattvic diet as “promoting life, virtue, strength, health, happiness and satisfaction.
The true test of our foods comes when we meditate. All meditators know that there are two main problems. One is falling asleep–the tamasic effect. The other is an over-active mind–the rajasic effect. If we want to be able to quiet the mind and maintain our alertness to explore our subtle nature, we need to follow the sattvic diet.”7
Yogi Swatmarama describes in the Bhagavad Gita the practice of Shatkarma, Asanas, Pranayama, Mudras, and Bandhas in Yoga as the means to awaken the Kundalini, leading to deeper and deeper states of Samadhi; the state of being totally aware of the present moment. Swatmarama maintains throughout the original text that Hatha Yoga’s true purpose is the arousal of the Kundalini, until perfection in Raja Yoga or liberation. Verse 14: 11 indicates;
When Sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body” 8
- Sharma H, Chandola HM, Singh G, Basisht G. Utilization of Ayurveda in health care: An approach for prevention, health promotion, and treatment of disease. Part 1-Ayurveda, the science of life. J Altern Complement Med. 2007;13:1011–9.
- Shohani M, Badfar G, Nasirkandy MP, et al. The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women. International Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2018;9:21. doi:10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_242_16. Pascoe, Michaela C.; Bauer, Isabelle E. (1 September 2015). A systematic review of randomised control trials on the effects of yoga on stress measures and mood. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 68: 270–282. doi:1016/j.jpsychires. 07.013. ISSN1879-1379. PMID26228429.
- Clarke TC, Black LI, Stussman BJ, Barnes PM, Nahin RL. Trends in the use of complementary health approaches among adults: United States, 2002–2012. National health statistics reports; no 79. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.
- excerpts – The Charaka Saṃhitāor Compendium of Charaka; the Sanskrit text on Ayurveda, with the Suśruta-saṃhitā, one of the two foundational Hindu texts of this field from ancient India.
- Monier-Williams, M. (1899). A Sanskrit-English dictionary: Etymologically and philologically arranged with special reference to Cognate indo-european languages. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
- The Sattvic or Yogic Diet by Gary Gran, CYT, D.Ay. http://www.yogachicago.com/jan05/diet.shtml
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika e-book translated by Pancham Sinh, www.sacredtexts.com
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