Ayurvedic Herbs for Mental Energy

Summary
Ancient herbs increase mental energy and enhance thinking--while at the same time calming the heart and mind--all without sugar or caffeine!

Eric Armstrong
TreeLight.com/Health

Introduction

I know from personal experience that if I am mentally tired, every chore seems to take a massive amount of energy, and every new obstacle looks like a huge setback. After a while, it can begin to seem like there are so many obstacles, you'll never be able to solve them all. That's when depression sets in--a sense of hopelessness and abject failure that can be difficult to surmount.

On the other hand, when my mental energy is high, there is no problem that is too big! Each new problem takes some additional effort, but when it feels like the available energy is inexhaustible, a bit of extra effort is no big deal.

In my work programming computers and writing about the process, I have experienced long chains of problems. I start out with one problem. To solve that one, I need something else. Trying to obtain (or understand) that something else, requires yet another thing. While working on that thing, I find yet another issue. And so on. When they keep adding up, the stress level rises--especially when you're under a deadline.

For example: To write a program, I need a language interpreter. To download that, I need a Web connection. For that, I need a password to get through the router. Then it turns out I need to upgrade the connection software. But first, I need to upgrade the operation system. And so on.

It can get to be exhausting, so it's important to have a lot of energy! But finding a source of mental energy that doesn't involve sugar or caffeine is a very hard thing to do. Take a look at any energy drink on the market--pretty much all they consist of is sugar and caffeine, in one form or another. They're effective, but in the long run they create problems by exhausting the adrenals, until you're so depleted that, when a major stress-event arises, all you can do is sleep, because you no longer have the capacity for either flight or fight!

Note:
Gingko Tea works pretty well for mental energy. But it gets pretty old when I'm drinking it every day. And sometimes, it doesn't seem to be quite well enough for the serious afternoon fatigue that can occur during the workday. Ginseng, meanwhile, is healthy in many ways, but it doesn't seem to have much of an effect on my mental energy.

So I've been stuck with caffeine. Until now, maybe. I have yet to try these herbs. As always, I like to do a bit of research before trying such things. But early results of my investigations are promising.

The five Ayurvedic herbs are:

This writeup describes them.

Five Ayurvedic Herbs

I found out by these herbs because of my interest in Kriya Yoga. Near the end of a book called, In Light of Kriya Yoga, I found a description of them, along with a suggested sequence for taking them (described in the next section.)

Shankhpushpi (Shanka Puspi)

In Light of Kriya Yoga, pg. 224
For rejuvenation of the mind. Improves memory and concentration. Stimulates the development of the creativity centers.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19912732
An Ayurvedic drug used for its action on the central nervous system, especially for boosting memory and improving intellect. There are four different plant species under that name.
[Which makes me wonder if they are equally effective!]

Ashwagandha (Winter Cherry)

In Light of Kriya Yoga, pg. 224-225
Often called "Indain ginseng". Best healing herb for mind and body. Strengthens the nervous and skeletal systems (nerves, bones, tendons, and muscles). Relieves aches and pains in the joints. Calms the mind. Reduces anxiety and insomnia. Promotes concentration and deep sleep. Improves physical endurance and mental alertness (both of which are required for lengthy spritual practices).

http://www.chopra.com/ashwagandha
One of the most vital herbs in Ayurvedic healing. Known for its restorative benefits. Traditionally prescribed to strengthen the immune system after illness. An adaptogen (like ginseng). Frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” (although botanically unrelated) because of its rejuvenating properties. Enhances sexual potency for both men and women.

Same family as the tomato. Combats stress. Improves learning, memory, and reaction time. Reduces anxiety & depression without drowsiness. Stabilizes blood sugar. Anti-inflammatory.
Anti-malarial. Lowers cholesterol. Reduces brain-cell degeneration.

http://www.naturalherbsguide.com/ashwagandha.html
Scholars at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India (found that) ashwagandha led to larger amounts of three different natural antioxidants: superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. [The first and last of those are two of the most powerful and important antioxidants in the body!]

Brahmi

In Light of Kriya Yoga, pg. 225
Helps to gain knowledge of the Divine Creator. Helps to control anger and attachments. Calms the mind. Stimulates certain parts of the brain, configuring them for higher consciousness.

http://www.morphemeremedies.com/brahmi.htm
Relieves stress and anxiety. Increases learning capacity and mental alertness.
Relieves headaches. Foremost brain tonic herb of the Ayurvedic healing system. Used primarily as a nerve tonic to treat insomnia and nervous tension. Has the ability to calm the mind while at the same time invigorating the thinking capacity in a centered, peaceful way. Useful for people who want to improve mental function and concentration under pressure or in stressful conditions.

Guggulu

In Light of Kriya Yoga, pg. 225
Longevity herb. Promotes flexibility of the muscles, ligaments, and bones for a steady and pain-free posture. Lowers cholesterol. Strengthens the heart. Blood cleanser. Regulates blood sugar.

http://www.chopra.com/guggulu
One of Ayurveda’s strongest purifying herbs. Used for thousands of years to clear the sinuses, treat obesity, soothe inflamed joints, and relieve chronic skin disorders. Anti-inflammatory. Lowers cholesterol. Detoxifies unhealthy tissues. Helpful for those who have recently stopped using recreational drugs or abusing alcohol. As a mouthwash, treats canker sores and ginvivitis. (Crush a tablet in one-half cup of warm water and use three times daily. Also aids healing of superficial wounds.)

Contraindications: Reduces platelet stickiness. Do not take with blood-thinning medicine.

Shatavari

In Light of Kriya Yoga, pg. 225
General tonic. Counters fever, acidity, and dehydration. Calms the heart. Increases love and devotion.

http://www.chopra.com/shatavari
One of the most powerful rejuvenating herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. Commonly used to alleviate mood swings and irritation of PMS and menopause. Improves the health of both male and female reproductive tissues. Strengthens the immune system by enhancing the functioning of macrophages ― the immune cells responsible for digesting potentially destructive organisms and cancer cells. Helps the immune system recover more quickly from exposure to toxins by protecting blood-producing cells in the bone marrow and by enhancing the production of immune-regulating messenger molecules.

Suggested Protocol

Rudra Shivananda suggests this sequence for taking the herbs (p. 225). (He doesn't say how much to take, however. I'm on the lookout for more information on that subject. Like most herbal medicines, I suspect it depends on how much you weigh.)

Although the herbs can be found in powder form and even in jams, they are most easily taken in capsule- or pill-form.

As you engage in this sequence, watch for undesirable side-effects. If any occur, immediately discontinue the last item in the sequence. (Then experiment with the others, and maybe come back to it in a few months, when you're stronger.)

  1. Week One, and
  2. Week Two: A strengthening regimen of shankhpushpi and ashwagandha.
  3. Third week:   Add brahmi.
  4. Fourth week: Add guggulu
  5. Fifth week:    Add shatavari.

His final words:

If the benefits are observed, without any undesirable side-effects, then a daily regimen of all five herbs should be taken for optimum effect. They will have a strengthening effect on all five bodies: The physical, energetic, emotional, mental, and causal.

Additional Herbs

Since writing about the original five, I've learned about several more!

Bacopa

Found this one while browsing through the shelves of Himalya brand herbal supplements. From the bottle:

Gingko Tea (Gingko, Gotu Kola, and Triphala)

After reading the ingredients on the Yogi Tea's box of Gingko Clarity, it turns out that it contains 3 Ayurvedic herbs (the triphala), plus Gotu Kola (which does not contain any caffeine, contrary to what I initially thought).

Holy Basil (Tulsi)

In the Ayurvedit tradtion, Tulsi is the "Queen" of herbs. In the package I found, it was said to "promote feelings of emotional well-being".

On the other hand, the morning I took it, I wound up feeling "bone cold" by mid-morning. My co-workers said the temperature was fine, so I knew it was me. The blood sugar apparently dropped pretty rapidly, and the fat-burning did not commence quickly enough to make up the difference. (The effects could have been unrelated. Still, this one is on hold for a while! I'll try again later, when I'm feeling brave, and update the report.)

http://www.organicindia.com/tulsi-facts.php

Conclusion

The bottom line, for me, is that these herbs definitely seem to work! Taking them, I find that I have more of the mental energy it takes to get through a day of technical writing. I'm still pretty tired at the end of the day. (Six hours is a long time to write. Never mind eight!) But other than that, I'm doing pretty well--and I'm not over-stimulating myself with caffeine!

Many years ago, I once said that when science creates the perfect vitamin pill, it will probably look something like an orange! These days, I have the feeling that it will look like an Ayurvedic herb! So at this point, I've been giving all my vitamins a rest, and getting what I need from these herbs. So far, it seems to be working!

Resources

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Copyright © 2011 by Eric Armstrong. All rights reserved.
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