Energy means different things to different people. For a mother, it may be the ability to accomplish everything necessary in a given day. For an athlete, it may be the endurance to get through another mile or the brute force needed to lift another pound. And for a yogi, it may be the resilience and life energy accessed through the practice of yoga.
Energy is all these things and more. Energy means strength as in amount of force and lack of weakness, stamina as in ability to exert repetitive or continuous effort, heartiness as in endurance over time, and vigor as in spirit and lack of sluggishness.
The Biology of Energy
If we examine the body’s natural rhythms, we see that we naturally produce the highest level of the stress hormone, cortisol, early in the morning, to help us get started with the day. In the evening, the pineal gland releases melatonin which regulates sleep. Outside of circadian rhythms, the body has many other cycles to regulate things like heart rate and hormone secretion, which also affect our energy levels.
The Ayurvedic Approach
In Ayurveda, any efforts to increase energy levels focus on using rejuvenative foods and herbs rather than stimulating ones. This promotes one’s inner vitality by supporting the natural life force. This is in contrast to remedies that overstimulate the body to produce too much cortisol or activate other stress hormones.
Rejuvenate foods in Ayurveda include almonds, honey, ghee, milk, and dates. We encourage these during pregnancy, for recovery from illness, and as good foods to break a fast. In addition to these foods, Ayurveda boasts of numerous rejuvenative herbs.
Herbs like Tribulus terrestrius (gokshura) strengthen the body through their balancing effects. Ayurvedic physciains often use tribulus for urogenital strengthening. However, they also use it as a general anti stress remedy and for its protective effects on the heart.
Studies show that ashwaganda reduces total levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body. It is an adaptogen that both decreases stress and fatigue, but also increases endurance and strength. It has been shown to improve physical performance in both people who are athletes and those who are sedentary.
Ayurvedic prafctitioners widely use gotu kola for cardiovascular health, as well as for healing, anxiety and improved cognition. Studies support this herb’s ability to improve circulation even to small blood vessels. This is important for maintaining energy levels.
Arjuna, another powerful Ayurvedic herb improves cardiovascular health. Multiple studies have demonstrated both protective effects on the heart tissue, as well as improved heart function in both healthy people as well as those recovering from MI or other cardiac injury.
A given individual’s energy level fluctuates constantly, changing with the time of day, sometimes the time of the month, and seasonally over the course of the year. Whatever the specific problem, Ayurveda has a time tested solution. Ayurvedic herbs are used to help balance and maintain one’s energy to get through the day, the season, and the year in a sustainable, long term way.