Ashwagandha and Kava: Ancient Secrets for Relaxation and Focus
It’s frigid outside. My weather app says it’s nineteen degrees, but the wind chill is making it feel like -5°. I’m off work today and wrote in my journal this morning about how grateful I was that I don’t have to venture outside and that my job wouldn’t require me to be out in the harsh wintry elements even if I did have work.
Instead, I can watch the wind whip leaves and branches around from my living room window, and I can stay inside unless I choose to venture outdoors: it’s the perfect metaphor for the lesson I’ve been trying to learn lately—that it’s possible to make space to watch strong emotions pass from a distance rather than getting swept up in the middle of their storm.
And yet, swept up happens, that’s inevitable. As a result, I’m always seeking out simple ways to maintain a sense of calm. Meditation is my go-to for this as well as keeping up a healthy self-care routine. And of course, there’s the age old practice of using herbs as natural supplements to help you regulate. Let’s take a closer look at Ashwagandha and Kava, two ancient herbs that have withstood the test of time.
Ashwagandha: History and Uses
Ashwagandha is a plant that comes from India as well as Middle Eastern and North African countries. It has been used in the Ayurvedic tradition for thousands of years and it is widely known for its adaptogenic properties, which means that it can help relieve bodily stress by lowering cortisol levels. Some people may feel a sense of relief right away and others need to take it for a few weeks to help diminish chronic feelings of mental strain.
Ashwagandha is part of the nightshade family. Its scientific name—Withanja somnifera—actually alludes to the effect that it makes people sleepy and relaxed because “somnifera” means “sleep inducing” in Latin. What’s more, the roots of ashwagandha plants reportedly smell like a horse, which is how it gets its name in Sanskrit (“ahswa” means horse and “gandha” means smell).
Luckily, you don’t have to experience the smell of ashwagandha root because it’s widely available at health food stores as an extract or oral supplement. In addition to its calming effects, ashwagandha improves alertness, brain function, and memory.
However, it’s important to note that you should not take ashwagandha if you’re pregnant. Also, if you have other ongoing medical treatments, it’s recommended that you use it as a supplement and not as a replacement for medical care you’re receiving; especially if you’re taking other sedatives that cause sleepiness or drowsiness. Check with your doctor first, but otherwise do try out this herbal supplement for its calming properties to see what you think!
Kava: History and Uses
Kava is a plant that comes from the Polynesian Islands. It has been used by Pacific Islanders for at least 3,000 years in everyday life as well as in specific ceremonies. Similar to ashwagandha, kava is known to have relaxing properties and is used for multiple reasons, including as part of religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes.
Kava is traditionally prepared by chewing the root of the plant, which is known to be rather bitter in taste and will even make your tongue go numb. For some people, it’s part of the experience, but others may find this uncomfortable. Fortunately kava is now available in a variety of forms. You can mix it into a tasty drink after you’ve strained water and root paste together. You can take it in capsule form. Or you can experience its calming effects with a tincture or spray.
Kava is non-addictive and effective as an anxiety treatment; however, it is recommended that you avoid driving after ingesting strong kava or taking it in combination with alcoholic beverages. Kava has been a trusted remedy for thousands of years and is now becoming more mainstream, which is an exciting development for those of us who enjoy experiencing the benefits of culturally rooted herbal supplements.
One of the most important parts of my meditation practice is learning to notice not only when strong emotions arise but when they eventually pass as well. Be it calmness, anxiety or euphoria: everything is truly impermanent, and yet, we tend to only notice when they start, not stop. With each passing breath, and with any herbal remedies you incorporate into your daily routine, try to observe the weather patterns of your emotions as an compassionate outsider.
And as always, let me know your experience with either of these below!