Q&A: Mushrooms in Ayurveda

What does Ayurveda have to say about medicinal mushrooms, including psychoactive mushrooms? Why does Ayurveda consider mushrooms to be tamasic in nature? And what are the effects of microdosing on psilocybin mushrooms?

These excellent questions were asked in an Ayurveda Facebook group by someone who has been microdosing with psilocybin mushrooms and experiencing relief from anxiety, insomnia, and related symptoms. I’m sharing my response to these questions here for those who may find it interesting. More thoughts on related topics (including medical cannabis) coming soon.

A: Medicinal mushrooms (reishi, cordyceps, lion's mane, etc.) are definitely useful. Chinese medicine makes use of these substances, but Ayurveda does not. The idea that mushrooms are tamasic is because they grow underground. They bring us closer to Earth consciousness which is tamasic. I personally don't really buy this logic and have found medicinal mushrooms to be useful in my own experience. We forget that in the Earth is the essence of Heaven and mushrooms seem to exemplify this. Reishi feels like a great rasayana, Lion's Mane a wonderful cooling nervine, and so on. We have to remember the cultural limitations of traditional medical systems. Look at how TCM and Ayurveda share five element theory among so many other things and yet their dietary recommendations are vastly different. This is due to culture, philosophy, and what is around. Tibetans for example rarely discuss the type of diet that is relevant for us because they lived in the mountains, so Tibetan medical texts don't help us too much with diet aside from outlining the theory. Learn the theory and become sensitive and you can apply it universally. 

As for psychoactive mushrooms (psilocybin), there is some great research on its therapeutic benefits. See Michael Pollan's "How To Change Your Mind" book. Ayurvedically, these substances should be understood to be quite powerful. They temporarily increase vata and possibly other doshas as well. This may or may not be pathological, depending on your constitution and overall balance. Most important is that while using psychoactive substances, you have to maintain ojas. These substances feed on the vital essences of the body, so they come with a responsibility. Mushrooms among other things have been used traditionally in India by yogis in the context of disciplined Spiritual practice. Such people were already masters of their own energies. 

It is important to remember that there is no magical substance that can enlighten us or heal us. We all have to be responsible for our health and practice the proper diet, lifestyle, and so forth that enables it. Also important to remember that when it comes to powerful substances such as psilocybin mushrooms or even cannabis, so much depends on your agni and ojas. If you have the agni for it (not just physically, but also energetically and psychologically), then it can be a nectar for you in the right times and places. If you don't have the agni, it will feed on your ojas, and over time deplete your immunity and vitality, becoming an effective poison. 

So, as with all things Ayurvedic, the real answer is "it depends". I am not aware of any direct references to psychedelic mushrooms in Ayurvedic texts, but all of these substances belong under the category of "soma". That does not mean it is nourishing and you should just eat as much as you want. Soma is the devotional offering into the Vedic fire. These substances were used in that ritual and shamanic context. If your inner fire is burning, then you can offer the soma, and you will see what happens. Whether or not soma was one plant or not is irrelevant in my view. It was likely a number of offerings that were made, and ultimately, is a way of describing the sacrifice of our own earthly life-force into the fire of heaven.

Seasonal Gaps of Transformation

Some interesting shifts today. Uranus entered Taurus again after completing its retrograde cycle in Aries. It is also a New Moon in Pisces. And Mercury began its retrograde cycle (which will end March 28). Also worth mentioning is the Spring Equinox exactly two weeks away (March 20). 

A lot of initiatory energy! Inspiration is on the rise as the Sun gets closer to its exaltation in Aries on March 20. This is a great time to consider how you want to conduct all the creative energy that is starting to blossom. We are now in the transitional space between seasons, further magnified by Uranus entering Taurus and Mercury going retrograde. These transitional spaces can feel unsettling, precisely because it is "in between" things. 

We are so used to motion that we often forget about the precious opportunity of space. The "gap" of a seasonal cusp is a time to connect with what is happening in your life (internally and externally) without the burdens of motion. Space gives us clarity, so use it to process what you don't need to carry into the next season, and to feel what you would like to manifest anew. The soil is growing fertile--what weeds do you want to pull and which seeds do you want to sprout?

Do Vāta Types Need Meat?

Do vāta types need to eat meat to stay grounded? This is a very common scenario I encounter with my patients. It is a complex issue, so I decided to write an article to share why I think meat (and heavy foods) are not necessary for vāta people to stay grounded. I explore this from the perspectives of Ayurvedic pathology as well as through considering some differences between Vedic and Tantric philosophies. 

Excerpt: There is a common misconception that people of vāta constitution need to eat meat (or heavy foods in general) in order to stay "grounded". Invariably, my vāta patients seem to confirm this hypothesis when they tell me that they need to eat meat to feel grounded. The practice of using something heavy in nature to balance what is perceived as being too light is, in fact, one of the fundamentals of Ayurvedic medical theory. While this practice possesses a certain wisdom about balancing with opposites, it also has some shortcomings. Therefore, I would like to consider this issue of groundedness and diet from a more expansive lens.

Full article: https://static1.squarespace.com/…/154610…/Grounding+Vāta.pdf

Stay tuned for more articles, the next one will be focused on the upcoming partial solar eclipse of Jan 6.

Winter Solstice / Makara Sankranti

Tomorrow (21st) is the Winter Solstice in the Northern hemisphere (4:23pm CST). The Winter Solstice is marked by the passage of the Sun into the sign of Capricorn, celebrated in the Hindu festival of "Makara Sankranti". Interestingly, Makara Sankranti is one of the few Hindu festivals that is calculated according to solar cycles, rather than lunar cycles. (However, due to zodiacal confusion, Makara Sankranti is no longer celebrated in India on the actual day of the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, but on the sidereal ingress of the Sun in Capricorn on January 14th.) 

As with all seasonal shifts, the solstice is a time of adjustment and adaptation, and therefore a time to reduce unnecessary burdens on the body and mind. During this time, the doshas are especially in flux and prone to accumulation, and so it is best to adopt a simple and balanced dietary and lifestyle regime. In the winter season, Vāta is more easily aggravated than at other times, so it is crucial to stay warm, maintain harmonious routines, and receive the message of nature during this time which is to conserve life-energy. 

The auspicious Full Moon in Cancer follows the solstice on the 22nd, giving the brightness of its own sign. Cancer corresponds to the heart region of the body, the psychic center of the being. Cancer also signifies the home, one's environment, and emotional security. Cancer is also the sign of Jupiter's exaltation, the home of the heart's inner joy. Cancer is an internally-focused sign, symbolized by the crab. The crab is a natural hermit, living in terrestrial holes in the ground only to emerge under the light of the Moon. The Full Moon in Cancer thus furthers the internalizing and "yin" significations of the Winter Solstice. This is a great time to be in the sphere of intimacy, at home connecting with family and friends.

Karen White and I did Full Moon forecasts for each Ascendant, so check out these videos if you want to uncover the particular significance of this Full Moon for you: 

Part 1: https://youtu.be/QbT4PVENbT0

Part 2: https://youtu.be/V5qwVXLXv4g

Wishing you all a wonderful and happy period of time ahead!

Ghee For Exaltation

Full Moon in Taurus is fast approaching--the perfect time to make a fresh batch of ghee!

In the medical texts, it is recommended to make ghee during the waxing phase of the Moon and especially during the Full Moon. Additionally, ghee should be made during the lunar half of the day (evening). What is the wisdom behind these recommendations? 

The Full Moon represents the brightest phase of the lunar cycle, and therefore the apex of nourishing (somagenic) energy in the atmosphere. The preparation of ghee during this particular time allows for ghee (as an essence food) to be maximally infused with nourishing and rejuvenating qualities. 

Ghee is the essence of milk, and milk is the essence of grass. Those who wonder why Indians hold the cow in such esteem need only understand the role of ghee in health, as it is the cow's unique digestive system that extracts the essence of grass. Nature is green, and green foods are the most nourishing we can consume. The process of photosynthesis allows greens to capture the "fire" of the Sun and concentrate it in the form of chlorophyll. In this way, greens are the solar foundation for the white nourishing foods. Greens should be eaten to increase agni (solar force) while its essence, milk, should be consumed to increase soma (lunar force). 

According to the Tibetan medical Tantras, it takes 6 days for food to be completely processed through each of the seven tissues, rendering the final tissue: the reproductive fluid (shukra dhātu). The essence of the reproductive tissue is the true vital essence, ojas. Milk has the unique ability to penetrate the seven tissues within 24hrs, quickly increasing the quantity of the reproductive fluid, and thereby the vital essence. This is why milk is considered to be a rasāyana (rejuvenative). Ghee, as the essence of milk, does not require as much processing, and instantly replenishes the vital essence. Thus, ghee is something akin to "instant ojas". 

Milk is heavy with soma and requires significant agni to properly transform. In theory, it replenishes the reproductive tissue within 24hrs, but if agni is insufficient at any of the 6 tissues preceding the last dhātu, then it fails to be transformed at the next level, losing its rejuvenative capability and contributing to the formation of toxins instead. In contrast, ghee is light, easy to digest, and aids digestion. The process of making ghee also removes the hard-to-digest milk protein (casein) and sugar (lactose). 

The Explanatory Tantra of Tibetan Medicine states: 

"The end product of chain synthesis of bodily constituents [seven dhātus] beyond the regenerative fluid [shukra dhātu] is dhang [ojas], which is the supreme vitality. Although it resides in the heart, its energy pervades throughout the body to sustain life and brings vigor and radiance". 

Another consideration relative to the preparation of ghee is environment and intention. Given ghee's essentialized nature, it is more transparent to the vibration of the environment and likewise to the intention of the person making it. Ghee is not only potentiated by the lunar phase, but by the consciousness of the person preparing it. The person preparing ghee should chant, or listen to the recitation of sacred texts or mantras, during the preparation of ghee to further potentiate it. In this case, ghee becomes more of an alchemical substance, a carrier of concentrated energies that exceed its materiality. With this understanding, we can begin to appreciate the reverence and passion with which ghee is discussed in traditional medical texts, the importance of astrology in medicine, and the ways in which medicine must be transparent to subtler anatomical realities in order to affect true healing. 

If you don't know how to make ghee, it is very easy and worth learning. Otherwise, buy ghee from a trusted practitioner. It should always be organic and 100% grass-fed from happy cows (high butterfat is also a plus).

Autumn Equinox

September 22 is the autumn equinox in the Northern hemisphere and the vernal equinox in the Southern hemisphere. The medical traditions of India and Tibet teach that the shift in seasons are a time of doshic imbalance and therefore a recommended time for cleansing. Spring and Fall cleanses are therefore among the most common times for cleansing. But first, what is an equinox? An equinox occurs when the Earth's equatorial plane passes through the center of the Sun, placing the center of the Sun directly above the equator. This is when day and night are of equal length--the still-point of the energy of nature, as it shifts to another seasonal phase. 

As the Sun's position relative to the Earth changes, the flow of life-energy in our bodies change. This especially affects our agni, the fire of life, the most concrete manifestation of which is the digestive fire. As the digestive fire fluctuates during the seasonal shift, it is common to experience digestive troubles as the physiology re-acclamates to a new arrangement of energetic patterns. At this time, the doshas are temporarily in a unique state of flux. This is why equinoxes are a good time to lighten the diet and allow the digestive fire to reset before it develops a pathological momentum. 

The Autumn equinox is often associated with the dry, light, and rough qualities of Vata. But we should also remember that this is a season when any of the excess Pitta we have accumulated over the Summer will start to overflow. If this is the case, it is common to experience rashes in the Fall season as the excess Pitta begins to eliminate itself through the skin. It is therefore especially important during this seasonal transition to maintain an alkalizing diet. 

Astrologically, the Autumn equinox signifies the Sun's entry into Libra, its sign of Debilitation. Our digestive fire will not be strong during this time which means that we should not overburden it. Eat lightly with appropriate gaps between meals, giving the digestive fire enough space to re-ignite itself. Eating plenty of greens during this time will maintain alkalinity, detoxification, and rejuvenate the digestive fire. Mars-Ketu conjunction in Aquarius will keep things fiery, especially with the Full Moon in Aries on September 24. It is certainly a fiery start to the Fall season, so Pitta types need to take care of themselves. Vata imbalances can also be on the rise during the windy season, so this is a time to maintain harmonious and regular routines. The more we keep our inner winds in balance, the less affected we will be by the outer winds. This can also be a great time to take some of the classic Vata-balancing herbal formulas (contact me for more information). 

Fasting, cleansing, and all means of re-calibrating one's consciousness are recommended during this time. The seasonal shift is a psycho-physical shift, a time to adjust and adapt ourselves to nature's flow and thereby maintain our healthy and vitality for another seasonal phase. Those who are interested in an approach to cleansing or who are looking for advice as they settle into the new season can contact me via my website. I am still doing Ayurvedic consultations, but in the context of medical astrological readings.