Turmeric is only just now hitting the North American health scene as a "wonder herb," but it’s long been loved by yogis. It’s held “superfood” status in yoga and Ayurveda for thousands of years. And turmeric certainly deserves its golden reputation; this is one spice that should be in every kitchen and every medicine cabinet.
While turmeric is mostly praised for its anti-cancer properties, yogis have their own reasons for loving this special root.
One of turmeric’s most amazing actions is that it deeply detoxifies. In Ayurveda, turmeric is used to remove toxins, called aama, from the body. Aama literally means “uncooked food” and it’s one of the root causes of all diseases.
If the digestive fire is in any way vitiated, food isn’t converted into healthy body tissues as it should be. Instead, it remains undigested food with sticky, slimy, heavy and foul smelling qualities. This toxic substance can clog the gross and subtle channels of the body, causing weakened immunity and all kinds of diseases.
Turmeric helps to digest aama in the body at a very deep level. It works on all seven body tissues, Ayurvedically speaking, from the plasma to the reproductive fluid. Because yogis strive to rid their bodies of toxins, turmeric is one of their favorite spices.
Turmeric Improves Digestion
Certain spices increase a food’s digestibility and turmeric is one of the them. It’s the perfect addition to high-protein foods like meats and beans.
The yogic diet relies primarily on legumes for protein. The problem for vegetarians is that most legumes are inherently gas-producing, and yogis with variable digestion suffer. Turmeric helps to offset this quality by mitigating flatulence and easing the digestive process. (Learn more in A Plant-Based Diet Makes Better Yogis.)
Turmeric Cleanses the Chakras
According to David Frawley in "The Yoga of Herbs," turmeric is “effective for cleansing the chakras.” Although science can’t yet prove this kind of claim, the principles of Ayurveda can.
The chakras are connected by a network of subtle channels called nadis. Even though these nadis are in the pranic body, they’re still susceptible to toxic buildup. Subtle forms of aama block the free flow of prana through the nadis. This, in turn, prevents the kundalini (primal energy) from flowing through the chakras.
Turmeric, which promotes both purity of mind and body, helps to clear these channels for the proper flow of prana to the chakras. This, ultimately, helps the yogi to reach enlightenment.
Turmeric Makes Yogis Flexible
Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory. It contains more than two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds; six of which block the enzyme that causes pain and inflammation. Not only does it help to treat all kinds of arthritis, but it can be used to reduce pain and swelling after surgery.
Yogis have long used turmeric to make the body flexible. It furthers an asana practice by preventing injury and reducing inflammation on days when the body has been overworked.
Turmeric is Sattvic
The traditional yogic diet is sattvic. Sattvic foods are harmonizing, calming, light and pure. They evoke these qualities within, making them ideal for yogis working toward spiritual enlightenment.
Most spices are rajasic rather than sattvic. Rajasic foods tend to activate and agitate the mind: two actions that are terrible for meditating yogis. However, turmeric is one of the few spices that is sattvic (along with cumin, coriander, fennel, cardamom and ginger). Sattvic spices add flavor and medicinal action to meals without making them overly spicy and mentally agitating.
How to Cook with Turmeric
Turmeric is a spice cabinet "must" for yogis (and non-yogis, too). Although its bright yellow color might scare away some, it adds beauty to meals without overpowering their flavor.
The most balanced way to bring turmeric into your life is by cooking with it. Spices are generally safe but they’re made even safer by consuming them with food. Turmeric can be added to a pot of beans just after it comes to a boil, or lightly fried in ghee or coconut oil with other spices before sauteing vegetables. A quarter teaspoon is enough for savory meals.
Turmeric can also be drank as a golden milk. This is another modern yogi trend, but it’s not new to Ayurveda. The simplest way to make golden milk is by simmering a pinch of turmeric in one cup of milk for about five minutes. Cardamom and black pepper can also be added along with a touch of honey as a sweetener. (Read more in Golden Milk: A Yogi's Drink of Choice.)
Always choose turmeric powder over curcumin supplements. Extracting the active ingredient from any herb detracts from its natural intelligence to integrate into the body.
Moderation is Key
Turmeric is a wonder herb, But, as with all good things, moderation is key. A quarter teaspoon a day is enough to take in its medicinal properties while still keeping the body balanced.