Natural Connectors: Be at One

Kava As A Connector
While we have extolled the virtues of kava as a stress buster and natural relaxant, it certainly qualifies as a natural connector. Kava produces an experience of peace, relaxation, ease, well-being, and even euphoria. It opens you to an experience of heightened awareness and empathy, of enhanced "being," and of freedom from the usual mode of "doing." When you take kava, at least in the manner and doses used regularly in the South Pacific, your consciousness is unmistakably altered. It's difficult to improve on the description of anthropologist E. M. Lemert, who observed: "The head is affected pleasantly; you feel friendly, not beer sentimental; you cannot hate with kava in you. Kava quiets the mind; the world gains no new colour or rose tint; it fits in its place and in one easily understandable whole."

Referring to its subtlety, Islanders say, "Kava doesn't come to you. You go to kava." Terrence's description of his experience at a kava ceremony in Hawaii says it all:

Over the next several minutes, at least four things seem to happen fairly simultaneously. A wave of relaxation rolls through my body. The effects of kava are immediate, but they are not abrupt. The second thing is an emotional release, perhaps even more subtle than the physical. I don't notice the change as it happens, but I find I'm feeling at ease, comfortable in my skin, but again very awake.

Vision and hearing are slightly heightened. I've read of the Islanders' wanting silence and darkness because of increased sensitivity, but I've never found it uncomfortable. Both sights and sounds are just a little brighter, clearer, and warmer. Finally I'm aware of a feeling of easy connectedness and relationship with others in the room.

The potency of kava preparations varies, and the herb affects people differently. For some, kava's effects are too subtle; for others, too strong. Some people feel no effects the first couple of times they try kava. Others report feeling a little weird or sleepy at first, but with subsequent use, they experience a clearer, more pleasant state. It's as if the brain has to get used to a new sensation. This fogginess can also indicate underlying poor adrenal function, the result of excessive stress. A few tries will let you know which it is, and you can act accordingly. For the overly stressed, adrenal support is called for.

As we've noted, Pacific Islanders speak of "listening to kava." It opens a window to subtle awareness and a connection to nature, as well as to others and to oneself. Kava's first effects are felt within 30 minutes, and its mild high lasts two to three hours.

Kava has properties that clearly qualify it as an entheogen – increasing feelings of sociability, friendliness, and empathy toward others. One of the kavalactones, methysticin, actually bears some chemical similarity to MDMA, but kava would hardly be described as a hallucinogen. At most, some report that high doses of potent kava can cause mild visual and auditory distortions, such as objects taking on a subtle glow or a softness of focus.

You have to take relatively large amounts of the whole root to feel its mind-altering effects. One serving of the traditional island beverage, about half a cup, contains about 1,000 mg of resin, which equals about 250-500 mg of kavalactones. Islanders might consume five or more such servings in a single evening, for a total of 1,000-2,500 mg or more of kavalactones! Compare this to a typical tablet or capsule that contains only about 60-75 mg. You would have to take four to seven capsules for a serving, and the usual five servings would be at least twenty capsules or tablets! Tinctures wouldn't be any better. The only equivalent would be a traditional extract of ground kava powder, available in bulk at some herbal outlets or ethnic markets, or online. It's a messy business, but we do give instructions for those of you brave enough to try it. We also do not recommend the high doses taken by native drinkers.

With all due respect to the native liquid extraction process, we have found that you can attain the same elevated mood using store-bought capsules of known quality and potency, at doses of 60-250 mg of kavalactones.


From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.

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