Yoga practice often acts like an elixir for restoring energy. Yet there are times when even the most energetic practitioner suffers from fatigue while on the mat. There are numerous causes for low energy during yoga: stress, overwork, lack of rest, a poor diet, digestive problems, and toxicity (ama), to name but a few. So if you experience fatigue or poor endurance in your practice, consider the following herbs for nutritional support.
The first step is to restore lost energy reserves with a class of Ayurvedic herbs known as rasayanas, or restorative herbs. The ancient practice of rasayana is one of the eight branches of Ayurveda and emphasizes the "high road" of disease prevention, rejuvenation, and a slowing down of the aging process rather than the "low road" of remedying an illness after it arises.
Traditionally, herbal rasayanas are said to help restore the deepest reserves of prana, otherwise known as ojas, which is crucial to the immune system and necessary to cultivate before any yogi can feel the sense of power that comes from having an abundance of active energy. Two great rasayana herbs—amalaki and haritaki—are found in the popular rejuvenating formula triphala.
Both help increase ojas and are strong rejuvenatives. Amalaki is the primary ingredient in the popular rasayana formula chyavanprash and is one of the highest known natural sources of vitamin C. It also is used to calm hot emotions. Haritaki is said to be the herb represented in the right hand of the Medicine Buddha as depicted in sacred Tibetan art. Both herbs are highly nutritive, cleansing, and mildly laxative. (Pregnant women should not take amalaki or haritaki.)
Ashwagandha is perhaps the best-known rejuvenating herb. Its name translates as "that which gives the vitality and sexual energy of a horse." It also produces ojas and is suggested for general debility, nervous exhaustion, excessive weight loss, muscle energy loss, overwork, fatigue, and aging-related concerns.
Restorative herbs can be safely taken for weeks or months after practice or before sleep to gradually rebuild spent reserves of vitality. After energy reserves have been refilled, the next step is to explore the use of power herbs. Power herbs are not stimulants but natural vitalizers that work to spark energy reserves into full expression, without the draining effect of caffeinated stimulants like coffee and soda. They should be taken prior to your practice, and because they both nourish and vitalize the body, they have no long-term exhausting effect.
Found only in the Tibetan Himalayas, the power herb Cordyceps mushroom has been highly recommended by some Ayurvedic practitioners because it increases physical endurance by strengthening the adrenals and lungs for more effective breathing and a more sustainable burn of energy.
Siberian ginseng is the preferred variety of ginseng for athletic and yogic power. It creates energy and endurance by converting reserves of fat into carbohydrates, which help with both fatigue and weight loss. Older, wild ginseng roots, when available, are worth the additional cost as they contain more energy and the added benefit of opening the heart center. Bala, which means "strength giving," is traditionally classified as a rasayana herb with some mild stimulant properties, but I find it to be a more useful power herb.
Remember: The need for stimulants is merely a sign your reserve of life energy (prana) is deficient. So if you need a pre-practice boost, try these herbs for a healthier alternative. You may be surprised at how much more powerful an elixir your practice becomes. And, as always, check with your physician before taking these or any other herbs.