The Yamabushi monks, also known as "yamabushido" or "yamabushin," are a group of Japanese ascetic mountain who follow a tradition rooted in esoteric Buddhism and Shugendo. They are known for their unique practices, which involve meditation, physical endurance, and a deep connection with nature. Among their traditional practices is the use of various natural resources, including functional plants and mushrooms like the Lion's Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus).
The tie between the Yamabushi and the Lion's Mane mushroom are so close that the Japanese name for the mushroom "yamabushitake" even comes evidently from its association with the Yamabushi people. They have been known to have used lion's mane for enhanced focus during meditation, even before we knew about its amazing benefits in the west.
Let’s look at some of the ways, the science of the west aligns with the traditional use of lion’s mane.
Cognitive Enhancement: Lion's Mane mushrooms are believed to have cognitive-enhancing properties. They are rich in compounds that may stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that supports the growth and maintenance of nerve cells. The science of this benefit was first investigated by famed Japanese scientist Dr. Kawagishi. This enhanced NGF is thought to improve mental clarity and cognitive function, which is valuable to the Yamabushi monks during their meditation and spiritual practices.
Spiritual Connection: For the Yamabushi, their connection to the natural world and spiritual realms is paramount. Lion's Mane mushrooms are considered a source of spiritual nourishment. Consuming them is believed to enhance one's sensitivity to the energies of the natural world, potentially aiding in meditation and deepening the connection between the monks and their surroundings. Studies have shown a correlation between use of lion’s mane and elevated mood.
Healing Properties: The monks use Lion's Mane mushrooms for their potential healing properties. This is invaluable for the monks as they prioritize, strength and prowess in their practice. These mushrooms are believed to have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effects, which can be valuable for monks practicing rigorous physical disciplines and fasting during their ascetic retreats in the mountains.
The usage of Lion's Mane mushrooms by Yamabushi monks can take different forms:
1. Culinary Use: The monks may incorporate Lion's Mane mushrooms into their diet, either by cooking them in various dishes or by making teas and tonics. This consumption is thought to nourish both the body and the mind.
2. Medicinal Use: Lion's Mane mushrooms are used in traditional Japanese medicine for their potential health benefits. They are believed to aid in digestion, reduce inflammation, and support overall well-being.
3. Spiritual Rituals: In some cases, Lion's Mane mushrooms are used in spiritual rituals, such as offerings to nature spirits or as a means of deepening meditation and promoting inner clarity.
The Yamabushi monks apparently discovered the importance of breaking down the chitin rich cell wall of the mushroom hence the use of tonics and teas. It’s for this reason that the studies that have been conducted for the benefits of blinds may have primarily been done with an extract where the cell wall of the mushroom is broken down prior to administration, here’s an example of a liquid extract which uses both ethanol and hot water to create a full spectrum extract of the mushroom
It's important to note that while Lion's Mane mushrooms have gained popularity in recent years for their potential health benefits, scientific research on their effects is ongoing, and the evidence supporting some of these claims is limited. The usage of Lion's Mane mushrooms by the Yamabushi monks is deeply rooted in their spiritual and cultural traditions, and it should be understood in that context.
Lion's Mane mushrooms are used by Yamabushi monks as a part of their holistic approach to well-being, which combines physical endurance, spiritual practice, and a deep connection with nature. The monks believe that these mushrooms offer cognitive, spiritual, and healing benefits that aid them tin their ascetic lifestyle and help deepen their connection with the natural world. Modern western science has supported the value of this practice with the powerful lions mane mushroom.