From Herb Forest to Research Lab: The Inside Story of a Powerful Ayurvedic Rasayana
Q: It is our great honor and privilege today to be able to interview our renowned ayurvedic expert, and to ask him to tell us the full story of Amrit, the queen of all ayurvedic Rasayanas for promoting perfect health, total bliss, and longevity. Could you begin by telling us something about the origin of Amrit?
A: There is a beautiful narration in Indian mythology that serves as the perfect analogy for how Amrit came into being. The story is called "Samudra Manthan-The Churning of the Ocean"—and this is how it goes. Once, in ancient times, humanity was steeped in suffering. The Devas and the Asuras, the gods and the demons, got together and made a solemn resolve in the deepest level of their consciousness to find a solution for the suffering. Together they churned the mighty ocean, from where they had been told relief would appear. And when they churned the waters, Amrit—the Nectar of Immortality—appeared. And with the precious gift of Amrit, all of humanity recovered its health and happiness. Many millennia later, in the 1980s, when the stresses of the modern lifestyle were beginning to seriously impact the well-being of people everywhere—stress from the environment, stress from time pressures, emotional stress, mental stress, physical exhaustion—Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation® program, gathered together the most eminent ayurvedic scholars and physicians of the time to see what could be done to alleviate people's suffering. One of the first things to emerge from these collective deliberations was a powerful Rasayana to nourish mind, body and spirit in a very holistic and balanced way. Appropriately, Maharishi decided to name this Rasayana Amrit. Amrit represents the essence of the supreme knowledge in the ancient ayurvedic texts. That's why, for a traditional ayurvedic vaidya like me, the wide range of benefits Amrit offers is hardly surprising.
Q: Beautiful. You just said that Amrit is a powerful ayurvedic Rasayana. Could you explain what exactly an ayurvedic Rasayana is?
A: Good question. One of the primary goals of ayurveda is Swaasthasya rakshanam—preserving health —and Rasayanas are considered the primary method for maintaining health and vigor. Literally translated, a Rasayana is "that which enters the essence"—in other words, that which promotes health and longevity. The Sanskrit definition for a Rasayana is yat jara vyadhi nashanam tat rasayanam—"that which negates old age and disease" is called a Rasayana. There are many individual fruits, herbs and spices in ayurveda that are considered Rasayanas. For example, the main two fruit ingredients in Amrit, Indian Gooseberry and Indian Gallnut, are both deemed premier Rasayanas in the category of fruit. If you read ayurvedic texts, it is clear that these two fruits can help towards a long, happy, healthy and blissful life. They promote bliss in body, mind, spirit and senses. Turmeric and Long Pepper (Pippali) are Rasayanas in the category of spices, well known for their healing properties. We have another entire group of Rasayana herbs called medhya Rasayanas. Medhya refers to the mind and intellect. The medhya group of herbs helps promote the ability to learn, retain and recall information. One such herb in Amrit is Indian Pennywort or Gotu Kola, which we sometimes call Brahmi. Shankapushpi, or Aloeweed, which is also an ingredient in Amrit, is another medhya Rasayana. What is so great about Amrit is that it is actually a Rasayana of Rasayanas—what you could call a "super" Rasayana. It incorporates all the best qualities of the best herbs in ayurveda, in a synergy that is able to deliver all of the benefits that researchers are beginning to tabulate.
Q: Conventional medicine is often about the "one-cause-one-cure" or "magic bullet" effect, whereas ayurvedic Rasayanas are considered holistic, integrated, and preventive, causing a positive impact on the physiology with no side effects. Could you talk a little about this?
A: The difference, as you said, is essentially in approach. Ayurveda is based on the principles of wholeness and balance, and traditional Rasayanas are formulated to account for both aspects. There are many different kinds of herbs that go into a Rasayana, each chosen and blended carefully in a precise proportion. Amrit, for example, contains forty-four herbs and fruits in combination. This principle or science of herb combination is called sanyog, and in my opinion is one of the most significant offerings of Maharishi Ayurveda. Some herbs in a formulation are chosen only to balance the effects of other herbs in the formulation. Others are put in because they help the main herbs be better assimilated by the physiology. In Maharishi Ayurveda, we typically do not recommend single herbs because, even though an herb may have powerful qualities, it may not be balanced or equally efficacious for everyone who takes it. The incorporation of supporting and balancing herbs helps create a Rasayana capable of wider application—across people of different doshic combinations, for example. Balancing herbs perform the saatmya function. Loosely translated, that means they make the resulting formulation acceptable or "friendly" to the physiology—no side effects, relatively easy to digest and assimilate. Because the herbs are used whole, and used in combination, the result is balance, and when there is balance, side effects are not an issue. Modern pharmaceutical drugs, and even some nutritional supplements, are the result of taking the so-called "active" ingredient from a natural substance and working with it in a laboratory. Ayurvedic Rasayanas, on the other hand, rely on the healing prowess of nature's own intelligence. Amrit, for example, has both a nurturing effect and a detoxifying effect on the physiology. But because it is a perfectly balanced formulation, it nourishes so perfectly that it creates no ama or toxins in the shrotas or channels of the body, and it cleanses so subtly that the body's ability to draw sustenance from nourishment is left undisturbed. That is the beauty of a holistic, balanced formulation like Amrit.
Q: This is especially important for aging baby boomers, because we do not want to age, say, like our parents did. Over a hundred million Americans—40 percent of the population—have an ongoing health concern for which there are few answers in allopathic medicine. The magic-bullet approach does not work well there, and that is precisely where systems like Maharishi Ayurveda have much to contribute.
A: I think that is because ayurveda seeks to address the root cause—imbalance in the physiology—rather than the specific manifestations, which are like the tip of an iceberg. If one goes through all the benefits a Rasayana such as Amrit offers, as they are laid down in ayurvedic texts, they include supporting longevity, promoting the intellect, making one's complexion radiant and lustrous, and supporting the understanding of deeper, spiritual knowledge. A Rasayana such as Amrit helps make the senses, the body and the mind more coordinated. As a physician, you probably realize that Amrit is the ideal Rasayana to offer baby boomers if they are seeking a holistic, natural nutritional formulation to help keep them healthy as they age.
Q: It is so wonderful that when nature perceives a need, nature provides the answer.
A: According to ayurveda, optimum health is achieved when your heart, mind, body, senses and spirit are all healthy. All these aspects should be 100% coordinated. Only then can one truly say that an individual enjoys perfect health or total health.
Q: You spoke about medhya herbs in Amrit. One of the research studies on Amrit Ambrosia indicated that it promotes mental alertness and attention, so modern science appears to be validating the old texts.
A: Yes. Amrit has a powerful positive influence on mental health because of the synergistic action of so many powerful herbs. Gotu Kola and Shankapushpi are both medhya Rasayanas. According to ayurveda, mental ability is at its optimum when the three aspects of dhi, dhriti and smriti—learning, retention and recall—are working well individually and are perfectly coordinated with one another. Medhya Rasayanas are good for supporting each individual aspect of mental ability, and for promoting coordination among them also. They promote mental clarity because they support coordination among cells, between mind and body and among senses. Plus, Ashwagandha or Winter Cherry, which is also one of the ingredients in Amrit, is a powerful adaptogenic—it helps balance and stabilize the mind so that it performs optimally even under situations involving day-to-day stress. As you know only too well, being a psychiatrist yourself, life today can be extremely stressful, whether you are a student, a professional, a parent. So the combination of energy-promoting herbs—herbs that support mental ability and herbs that help withstand day-to-day stress—it is the well-thought-out combination in Amrit that is so powerful in its effect on the mind and nervous system.
Q: One of the things that is so amazing about Amrit is that it influences so many areas of the physiology. For example, research studies have shown that Amrit also helps maintain cardiovascular health.
A: In ayurveda, there is a specific term for Rasayanas or herbs that help support the heart and the cardiovascular system. Just as medhya herbs enhance mental and intellectual ability, hridya herbs are those that offer holistic support to the cardiovascular system by supporting the ability to tolerate physical and emotional stress on the heart. Ayurveda does not treat the heart as only a pump—ayurvedic formulations seek to address both the physical and the emotional heart in a holistic way, flushing out toxins that block the physical and mental channels. Amrit has this hridya effect.
Q: That is fascinating, because the published scientific research on Amrit shows that it helps to support cholesterol levels that are already within the normal range.
A: That is one aspect of hridya—to keep clear those vital channels which carry prana or life in the cardiovascular area. The other aspect is to pacify Sadhaka Pitta and promote emotional strength to withstand the effects of day-to-day emotional trauma better.
Q: Can you explain this impact on Sadhaka Pitta in a little more detail?
A: Pitta, as you know, is the ayurvedic governing force responsible for all transformation, even the metabolizing of knowledge or sensory perceptions. It applies to transformation of thought also. Sadhaka Pitta is the sub-dosha of Pitta that relates to the emotions and senses. When Sadhaka Pitta is in balance, one is positively motivated in thought and emotion; when it is out of balance, emotions tend toward the negative—sadness, anger, discontent, irritability. Hridya formulations like Amrit help keep Sadhaka Pitta in balance, contributing to stable emotions.
Q: It is wonderful how Amrit strengthens Sadhaka Pitta. People seem to be helped when they take Amrit on a regular basis.
A: Yes, that is the role of Sadhaka Pitta. Metabolizing thought, both good and bad thought. Also, when Sadhaka Pitta is balanced, there is excellent coordination between the heart and the mind. The heart cannot be looked at individually, and neither can the mind. They must constantly check with each other and be coordinated. Amrit, because it has both medhya and hridya properties, supports the mind and supports the heart individually and also promotes the coordination between them. Interaction between the heart and the mind therefore becomes smooth, seamless and cohesive.
Q: It is amazing how conventional medical science correlates with ayurvedic science. As you know, the vagus nerve, which is one of the twelve cranial nerves coming out of the brain and spinal cord, impacts the heart as well as the digestive system. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, which is Pitta aggravation, you can get all kinds of digestive problems linked with the excess emotional fire going on in the brain. There are studies in allopathic medicine of stimulating the vagus nerve as a possible new means for dealing with sadness. Again, it is an isolated effect, whereas the more holistic, ayurvedic effect is what you are describing—that we can bring not just the vagus nerve, but everything related to the brain, the heart and digestion into balance. Amrit has a positive influence on immunity as well. Could you also explain the impact of Amrit on the immune system?
A: The immune system is very well described in ayurveda. Bala, the ayurvedic term for immunity, encompasses not just physical resistance but also mental, emotional and psychological immunity. So again the concept is holistic. Three types of immunity are discussed in ayurveda. The first is sahaj, which is genetic or hereditary—the level of immunity you were born with. The second is kalaj, seasonal immunity, which varies based on the seasons, the stage of life and planetary cycles.
Q: This would be the type of immunity, for example, one would seek to address in cases where people have their moods drop down completely every year during a particular season, affecting their health and physiology.
A: Yes. And the third is yuktikrit, or established immunity—a balanced, permanent level of immunity that is the objective of the ayurvedic approach to well-being. Ayurvedic Rasayanas, diet and lifestyle are the three main aspects to promoting yuktikrit, or planned immunity. Amrit definitely helps support natural levels of immunity at every stage of life, and provides balance to offset the impact of changing seasons on the physiology. Although it is the whole combination that provides the effect, I would like to talk about one herb in Amrit that is particularly known for promoting immunity—Tinospora Cordifolia or Guduchi. Many ayurvedic herbs have interesting stories associated with them, and the mythological description of the origin of Guduchi is fascinating. My father told me this story when I was in the seventh grade and he was introducing me to various ayurvedic herbs. Rama, the hero of the Indian epic Ramayana, lost many of his army of monkeys during his war with Ravana, the demon-king. He prayed for help, and the heavens rained nectar on the battlefield to bring the creatures back to life. Some of the drops fell to the earth, and wherever the nectar touched the earth, the herb Guduchi sprang up. That is why another name for this herb is Amrita-immortal. This plant is quite indestructible—if you cut a vine off the main plant, it grows aerial roots and keeps growing, without water or soil. Indian Gallnut, another major ingredient in Amrit, is also designated Amrita. This fruit helps flush out toxins from the body, helping to prevent the build-up of ama, and aiding in keeping the microcirculatory channels clear. So, with at least two such powerful immunity promoters, and with other supporting and balancing herbs, the overall impact of Amrit is to support the immune system. Modern research focuses on the immunity-promoting effect of Tinospora Cordifolia as a single herb, but from the ayurvedic perspective it is a part of the whole. Amrit provides holistic, balanced support to our immune system, not just isolated support to any one aspect of the immune system.
Q: How does Amrit directly affect longevity? Obviously, if you take care of the heart and the immune system, it will have an effect on longevity. Are there some other aspects of the Amrit formulation that also apply directly to longevity?
A: Amrit is a whole formulation, and it is the combination of the herbs in Amrit that produces all the benefits. I told you about Guduchi and Haritaki (Indian Gallnut) earlier. Indian Gooseberry (Amalaki) is one of the main ingredients in Amrit. Amalaki alone is considered a super Rasayana in ayurveda. It contains five out of the six tastes—sweet, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent—all except salty, which is a rare and valuable property even among herbs, and is equally beneficial for all doshas. It is considered such a powerful rejuvenator that it is one of the very few herbs that is sometimes used by itself in Maharishi Ayurveda. It is the richest source of vitamin C in the plant world, and the form of the vitamin C is such that it is resistant to heat and light and able to be easily assimilated by the human body. This herb has multiple positive effects. It is good for the eyes, the digestion, the heart, and the muscles. It also helps the body absorb iron and calcium from the foods you eat. As you can see, there is a good reason it is considered a leading ayurvedic Rasayana. Other ingredients like Tinospora Cordifolia and Gotu Kola also are individually known for their youth-promoting properties. We are talking about a whole group of youth-promoting herbs. If you take Amrit regularly, you are detoxifying your body on a day-to-day basis, so that ama does not accumulate, and nurturing your brain cells and, indeed, your whole physiology, on a day-to-day basis. Is this not going to keep you from aging prematurely? Remember our definition of a Rasayana, and that Amrit is actually a Rasayana of Rasayanas.
Q: Again, the research on Amrit shows that it is a powerful scavenger of free radicals, and free radicals have been linked to aging as well as a significant percentage of persistent health issues. Truly amazing. Can anyone take Amrit, from children to the elderly, for example?
A: That is why we have different forms of Amrit. Maharishi Ayurveda has come out with different delivery mechanisms to suit different constitutions. The Nectar tablet, for example, is very easy on the body, relatively easier for the body to assimilate and digest without the traditional carriers—sugar and ghee. This tablet does not put too heavy a load on your digestive system. The tablet is also convenient for people who travel, or those who do not like the taste or the consistency of the Nectar paste. Amrit is a good nutritional tonic for everyone, but I recommend that if a person is under the care of a physician, it is good for him or her to check with the physician. For children also it is a good overall nutritional supplement, I recommend the paste, but if they do not like the taste, they can take the Nectar tablet along with the Ambrosia tablet. Traditionally, Amrit is recommended for everyone.
Q: Can you talk about the functions of the different types of herbs in Amrit? You have mentioned some already—Indian Gooseberry, Gotu Kola, and Guduchi.
A: We've spoken about medhya and hridya herbs, and herbs that balance the three doshas, like Indian Gooseberry. Now I would like to talk about nourishing herbs such as Indian Asparagus, also an important ingredient in Amrit. Indian Asparagus is very good for nourishing all the seven types of body tissue, particularly reproductive tissue. It supports the metabolic processes and thus improves the quality of the body tissues, each of which, as you know, is formed as a result of a series of metabolic processes in the body. The seven tissues are Rasa, Rakta, Mamsa, Medha, Asthi, Majja and Shukra—nutritional fluid, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow and reproductive fluid. This herb is especially good for promoting the quality and quantity of reproductive fluid in men and women (Shukra Dhatu). Shatavari, as this herb is called in Sanskrit, also helps increase the production of ojas.
Q: Ojas is an important ayurvedic concept.
A: Ojas is the finest, the most refined by-product of digestion. It is the master coordinator between self, or consciousness, and the functions of the mind and body. It is the subtle substance that maintains life itself. When your physiology produces the optimum quality and quantity of ojas, you are healthy, blissful and vital—your mind and body are getting the sustenance they need to function at optimum levels. Amrit supports the creation of more ojas in a shorter period of time. It helps the body perform the metabolic processes without creating toxins or ama.
Q: Is it accurate to say that the more ojas your body is producing, the more rapid your spiritual evolution is going to be?
A: Ojas is the link between self and mind, and then mind and senses, mind and body, mind and emotions. There are two kinds of ojas: supreme ojas that keeps self and mind coordinated; and supporting ojas, the link between mind and senses, mind and emotions, mind and body. Supporting ojas is what helps attain perfect transformation of food into body tissues.
Q: Amrit is often called "herbs for enlightenment." You spoke earlier about sanyog, the science of herb combination. The meticulous combination of many different kinds of herbs in very precise proportions to achieve synergy and balance—that is what makes an ayurvedic Rasayana like Amrit so powerful in the many diverse positive benefits it imparts to the physiology. But what about the actual preparation of the formula? It sounds as if the processing would be equally important. You have spent many years personally supervising the production of formulations like Amrit. Can you tell us about that?
A: Very good question. The processing is as important as the formulation itself, for the full efficacy of Amrit to be felt. In some ways, I think the processing is even more crucial, especially for complex formulations like Amrit, which have so many different types of ingredients with different ways to process each. How to mix what, when to mix what, how much to cook, how to compress, extract. The Sanskrit term I use to describe proper processing is sanskar. Loosely translated, sanskar means following the steps for proper preparation laid down in the texts, taking care to ensure that the healing properties of the herbs are preserved intact in the final product. Remember that the ayurvedic approach relies on the healing intelligence of the herbs. So the processing has to ensure that the innate intelligence, which we call chetana, is preserved very carefully in the ultimate formulation. As part of the discussions that occurred when Amrit was introduced, in order to manufacture and package Amrit for the present-day consumer, and to take into account aspects like hygiene, quality control and consistency, the vaidyas consulted top food technologists and manufacturing engineers to develop specialized machinery and the systems to process and produce Amrit exactly in the way explained in the texts. Processing is done at state-of-the-art facilities to make sure that world-class standards for quality are not just met, but exceeded. We actually practice dual quality control—one stream of checks to ensure that traditional integrity is maintained, and a second stream of checks to ensure standards of manufacturing and hygiene.
Q: That is beautiful. The best of the ancient and the modern.
A: Yes, precisely. Amrit is produced in 250 meticulous steps. There are quality checks at every stage of processing, from selection of raw materials to packaging. The herbs have to be harvested at precise times to ensure maximum potency, the fruits picked at exactly the right degree of maturity. Each ingredient is carefully identified, sorted and prepared for processing. The fruits are cooked at specific temperatures to eliminate degeneration of the essential intelligence of the herbs. The several different parts of the formulation are prepared independently in a meticulous manner as designed by the vaidyas, and the different parts are blended in at specific stages, maintaining the appropriate temperatures and mixing times necessary to preserve the integrity of the formulation. At no time during the processing is Amrit exposed to the outside atmosphere until it is packaged. Packaging occurs in hygienic conditions, free from atmospheric contamination. Each batch is carefully checked at multiple stages in the process. The controls are stringent. The production process and the formulation both are crucial to the ultimate value of the product.
Q: People are constantly comparing Amrit with Chavanprash.
A: They compare them because Chavanprash looks somewhat like Amrit Nectar. They are both dark-colored pastes. But Chavanprash and Amrit are completely different formulations, and they have completely different purposes. They may have a few ingredients in common, such as Amalaki, but that's about it. Chavanprash is traditionally taken in the winter months in India if you have colds or coughs—it's a formulation targeted more towards the respiratory system. Amrit has a much more "global" or holistic impact on the entire physiology, and many of its wide-ranging benefits have been validated by independent research. Taking Chavanprash as a substitute for Amrit would mean that you do not really get the benefits Amrit provides to the physiology as a whole. As ayurvedic Rasayanas, each of the two has its place and its role. The role of Amrit is far wider—to nourish every cell in the body. It is not targeted towards any one system in the physiology, so there is no comparison. In addition, what I said earlier about the processing being so important to the results one gets from Amrit holds true for Chavanprash also. Unfortunately, many companies do not go to the trouble of meticulously following the different steps required to produce Chavanprash so that it has traditional integrity, so even for its targeted area of effectiveness many of the brands of Chavanprash available may not be entirely effective.
Q: Both the ancient knowledge from where the formulation and the processes were developed, and modern research seem to be saying the same thing—taking Amrit regularly can have diverse, cumulative positive influence on all aspects of health: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. By providing balance and nourishment from the cells up, Amrit can truly help you build better health.
A: That's exactly what an ayurvedic Rasayana is supposed to do, and Amrit is a "super" Rasayana!
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