Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)
Adaptogenic in nature, along with Rasayana (rejuvenator) and Nootropic (cognitive enhancer) properties, Ashwagandha can make us feel truly “limitless”. Ingestion of this adaptogenic herb will enhance the overall quality of our life, invigorate and stimulate our brain, harmonize endocrine system function and assist synergy among our biological energy systems.
The Sanskrit meaning for the word ashwagandha translates as “the smell of a horse”, meaning that ingestion of ashwagandha will lead to a person becoming as strong and vigorous as a stallion horse. For over 5000 years ashwagandha has been touted as one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia, used to rejuvenate the weak, strengthen the immune system and contribute to mental and emotional resilience.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, Ashwagandha is a “sattvic” food, meaning it is a pure food which nourishes the biological energy systems of the body and mind. There are three vital energetic essences: ojas, prana, tejas, which correlate to the concept of Jing (vital essence) in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Loosely translated as “life-force”, and similar to the notion of Chi, it is Ojas which is thought to encourage production and sustainability of physical vitality, health and strength, promote longevity by supporting the immune system, along with enhancing psychological capability and nourishing the mental and emotional planes of being. Ashwagandha promotes circulation of Ojas, therefore fuelling and restoring our psycho-physical-spiritual unit. Without equilibrium among all levels of being, our Third Eye is less likely to awaken as the stage is not appropriately set. Modern scientific studies reveal that Ashwagandha can create harmony between our endocrine glands. Ashwagandha, therefore, serves us in our physical, mental and spiritual journey towards pineal gland decalcification and sets a sturdy stage for our Third Eye Awakening experiences. Ayurvedic practitioners have used various herbs to assist with the opening and balancing of the Chakra energy centers. Ashwagandha has been traditionally used to strengthen and unblock the Root Chakra. This is a vital part of our Third Eye Opening process, as we must be rooted if we are going to have an exceptionally spiritual experience and stay simultaneously grounded within our psychological and emotional unit. Rooting helps to create overall energetic balance, a vital trait to have when raising kundalini energy, or downloading information from the fourth dimension (astral plane), Fifth Dimension (collective conscious), sixth dimension (sacred geometry) seventh dimension (cosmic sound) and the eight dimension (divine mind) using our pineal gland as the transducer and our Third Eye as the decipherer.
Botanical Name – Withania somnifera
Sanskrit Name – Ashwagandha – the smell of a horse
European Nickname – Winter Cherry
Eastern Nickname – Indian Ginseng
Native to drier regions of the world such as northern Africa, India, and parts of the Middle East, today we can also find the Ashwagandha plant growing in milder, less harsh climates, such as those of the United States and Europe. The Ashwagandha plant and its berries are highly adept at adapting to harsh environmental changes. If we ingest Ashwagandha, we too become capable of adapting to environmental and every-day stress. Being equipped to handle stress is a prerequisite for surviving and thriving in this contemporary world of ours.
As a Rasayana, or “path of the essence,” ashwagandha can be taken as a daily tonic to assist rejuvenation of mind and body, allowing us to maintain a youthful state of perception and physical health, in particular stimulating our sex hormones and reproductive system.
Chronic stress and associated hormones starve our brain cells of oxygen, causing them to die off. Chronic stress over a long period of years, can eventually lead to cognitive impairment. Ashwagandha’s nootropic properties are able to repair the damage that has been caused to neurons within the brain — and improve execution of the executive functions performed by the prefrontal cortex. These improvements promote an overall increase in cognitive ability, memory power, creativity, and intrinsic/extrinsic motivation. Improvements in our Cortex synapses also lends to improved athletic performance.
Let us dive a little deeper into the health benefits of the highly prized herb with restorative powers for mind body and spirit — known as Ashwagandha.
An increase of acetylcholine in the brain, which has been correlated to improvements in short and long-term memory function, cognitive function and higher intelligence quota, has been linked to the bioactive compounds found in Ashwagandha. Increased acetylcholine production after ingesting ashwagandha was demonstrated among both animals and humans. Researchers also noted another very interesting effect on the brain which was an increase in levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA. The neurotransmitter GABA hinders over-stimulating of the brain and can calm anxiety. Ashwagandha also increases the production of nitric oxide which regulates blood flow and pressure in the arterial system. This leads to inevitable increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain — which in turn heightens cognition.
Thyroid and Adrenal Balance
Our Thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) which underlie every cell function within the body. Ashwagandha ingestion has long been hailed as a safe way to establish balance within the endocrine system. Ashwagandha has proven especially useful as a herb which can normalise thyroid function. Incredibly, scientific literature has revealed that ashwagandha can stabilise thyroid health, no matter which end of the spectrum a person falls on, in relation to the type of thyroid dysfunction experienced. Ashwagandha has been determined effective in the treatment of both hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Ashwagandha has exhibited similar results in relation to normalising adrenal function. There are two types of adrenal dysfunction: hyper-adrenal and hypo-adrenal function. Our adrenal glands are responsible for producing over forty different types of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, affecting both our physical and psychological health. A person’s adrenal glands can be under-active, meaning they do not produce enough cortisol for example, which is essential for how energetic we feel throughout the day — hence people suffering from hypo-adrenal function often present with fatigue. A person with overactive adrenal glands can experience a host of negative health issues including unexplained weight gain, especially around the neck and face, muscle and skeletal weakness, high blood pressure, and depression. Hyper-adrenal function also inevitably leads to severe fatigue. Both Traditional Chinese Medicine and modern science agree that adrenal issues are the precursor to metabolic syndrome. Ingestion of ashwagandha can reel us back from the path to metabolic syndrome by calming and restoring balance not only of our adrenal glands but of our whole endocrine system. Endocrine restoration can be key to reducing anxiety, fear and lend to an improved sense of direction and confidence, as well a peace of mind regarding one’s personal health status and overall well-being.