Plants are the earth’s gift to yogis! There are many herbs that support health and vitality, including those that can enhance your yoga practice. Today I’m sharing my top five favorite medicinal herbs that will reinforce resilience, stamina and surrender in your yoga practice.
Let’s cover my TOP FIVE YOGA HERBS.
1. Kava Kava: To me, kava kava is the ultimate superb herb! Now I’ll be real with you, it doesn’t taste superb, but it is excellent for improving flexibility. This herb is very relaxing – similar to the amount of stimulation you would get from a cup of coffee, you get a corresponding amount of relaxation from a cup of kava. Kava is an excellent anti-anxiety herb that can help you wind down from a tough day without habit-forming, brain-toxifying alcohol. To get the benefits of the kavalactones in the root, add a fat to your brew. My absolute favorite kava is Nambawan from Bula Kava House. It’s hardly ever in stock because it’s so popular, so maybe I shouldn’t be sharing this! There are also kava bars popping up nowadays, a fun way to find out if this plant is one you want to use. If you find drinking kava isn’t palatable for you, there are many supplements you can try.
2. Ashwagandha: Here is a miraculous herb that I consider the adaptogen of all adaptogens. An adaptogen is a type of plant that modulates based on what your nervous system is in need of, whether that be an abundance of energy to power you through those long days OR a state of relaxation and resilience to take the hard edge off of physical and psychological stress. This Ayurvedic herb supports energy without a crash but can also help you chill out when you need. Ashwagandha means ‘strength of ten horses’ and that alone is enough to convince my 11 year old son to take it. Who am I kidding? It’s enough to convince me to take it! Ashwagandha is an excellent herb to support more energy in your practice while also benefiting relaxation and recovery. Add ashwagandha powder to your favorite smoothies and drinks or take it as a capsule supplement. I’m a fan of Life Spa herbs brand.
3. Holy Basil: This herb is nicknamed “liquid yoga” because it nourishes your well-being in mind, body and spirit. Holy Basil is stimulating to the mind and helps with focus and concentration while also promoting a calm, relaxed state. It can facilitate the process of insight during your meditation practice. It also helps develop the focus and concentration that leads to improved balancing postures. If you won’t eat or drink anything that doesn’t taste good, you’ll love Holy Basil. It is delightfully flavored and pairs well with almost any other herb. You can find Holy Basil (also known as Tulsi) in the tea section of nearly all grocery stores.
4. Turmeric: This rhizome herb is a potent anti-inflammatory that improves circulation. It promotes recovery in the body after a strenuous practice. I’m currently loving the Costco liquid turmeric, however, it is also delightful to drink in golden milk (or “turmeric lattes”) at the end of the day to help the body detox and restore during the night.
5. Skullcap: This herb is an excellent nervine which tones down overstimulation of the nervous system. It is excellent to use for calming the mind and body so you can surrender into a more relaxed yoga session. There are times when it is challenging to quiet the monkey mind, to soften the noise of citta vritti (this is a term from the sutras referring to that mind chatter), and that’s when skullcap is my go to. It can help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed when things get a little crazy in life, a perfect compliment to your yoga practice! I’ve used Sundial Medicinals skullcap tincture and love it. The herbalist/owner is based in Moab, Utah.
Plants can be an incredible support to your yoga practice because they will build up your body and mind with their light, with their vegetable fire, or agni. Agni is a word in Ayurveda for digestion, and herbs provide pranagni – a word for the stimulating life force energy of the plant that you take on and assimilate in your body – truly earth’s gift of nourishment.
You can drink your herbs as a tea, take them as a tincture, or even add dried, powdered herbs to smoothies and elixirs. The best way to take herbs is in the way you will follow through with. Think about ways to pair your herbs with other activities that are already a habit. For example, you might drink Holy Basil tea before you sit down for meditation. Perhaps you keep a bottle of Skullcap tincture in your bag and place a dropper full under your tongue before each yoga practice. The key is to create a practice or ritual that favors consistency, thereby catalyzing the magic of the plants so you can soak in the benefits fully.