Ayurveda (eye-yoor-VAY-dah) translates to “knowledge of life” in the Sanskrit language, and it’s the oldest recognized medical system on the planet. At 5000 years old and counting, Ayurveda holds ancient secrets to healing the body from advanced illnesses, while at the same time promoting a healthy lifestyle and prevention every step of the way. If there’s one word that sums up the Ayurvedic approach to staying healthy, it’s “balance”. If we can keep mind, body, and environment in proper balance, youthfulness is prolonged and aging doesn’t have to mean deterioration. But so many of us feel we’re too busy or it’s not necessary to give back to our mind-body system, when in fact, this is the key to vibrant health! Now, while we don’t always have access to an Ayurvedic doctor or clinic to attend to our well being, we do have the ability to commit to some self-care practices in order to help us feel bright, light, and energetic.
Here are 7 ways that adding in some Ayurvedic methods can bring a boost to your self care routine!
Who doesn’t like a warm oil massage? Abhyangas are an ancient practice to lubricate and condition the entire body with the application of warm oils that are “medicated” with herbs meant for your body type or current health needs. This Ayurvedic practice is something you can do at home. By adding this step into your morning routine, even if it’s just on the weekends, you’re doing a favor to your entire body, including your ligaments, your bones, and all your soft tissues. It also helps you sleep better, improves circulation, cleanses your lymph, calms the nervous system, increases mental alertness, and softens and clears the skin. Increasing the circulation to the skin can also lessen, or help to dissolve, cellulite, which is often an accumulation of toxic materials that your body’s hanging on to. Plus, it may just add to your lifespan.
Regular self-massage, preferably in the morning before your bath or shower, is highly recommended in Ayurveda. Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and massage helps to keep it supple and youthful, as well as producing a calming effect for the day and strengthening joints, tissues and bones! Sesame oil, much used in Ayurveda, has been found to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial qualities. Massaging with this oil quickly improves circulation, flushes out toxins and promotes healing.
- Warm up the oil by putting a small plastic bottle of it in a bowl of warm water.
- Sit on a towel in your bathroom.
- Squeeze some of the of oil onto your palms, and begin by massaging your scalp, working downwards with the palms of your hands (if you don’t want to take the time to wash the oil out of your hair, skip the scalp).
- Massage gently, on one side of your body and then the other – beginning with your toes. For each body area (neck, shoulders, arms, abdomen, breasts, back, legs and feet), use long strokes over the long bones, circular motions over the joints, and a circular motion over the abdomen and around the breasts. The process should take about 20 minutes, but it’s better to do a shorter massage than miss it out altogether.
- Shower but don’t soap off the oil. Most will wash away, and the remainder with nourish and soften the skin after you towel off.
2. Dry Skin Brushing
Like abhyangas, dry brushing is excellent for the lymphatic system, as you’re stimulating the largest organ on your body: your skin. Dry body brushing helps shed dead skin cells (and encourages new cell renewal), which results in smoother and brighter skin. It can also help with any pesky ingrown hairs and dry patches. It helps with muscle tone and gives you a more even distribution of adipose tissue. Combined with number one above, you have quite the body-care regimen in hand. To get the most benefit from this practice, use a brush with bristles that are made of a natural material (such as plant fibers) or a coarse loofah sponge.
3. Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy for oral health and detoxification. It involves the use of pure oils as agents for pulling harmful bacteria, fungus, and other organisms out of the mouth, teeth, gums, and even throat.
- The most effective oil pulling is done by placing around a tablespoon of cold pressed organic sesame oil into the mouth and swishing the oil around the mouth for approximately 15-20 minutes and then spitting it out.
- Other oils, such as extra virgin, cold pressed coconut, sunflower, and olive oils have been used, although sesame oil is considered one of the best oils for this practice.
- It’s recommend to alternate your oils every couple of days to get the full benefit.
- Putting high quality, organic oils into the mouth has many positive outcomes – and it even whitens your teeth!
4. Eating Seasonally
When you hear the word Ayurveda, you may think yoga; or perhaps you’ve seen the word “dosha” floating around in magazines. Maybe you’ve even taken an online quiz to find out what dosha you are: pitta, vata, or kapha. Each person is born with an innate force that is unique to them, a unique combination of primordial elements. One’s primary dosha governs the body and its structure, its appearance, emotional and psychological tendencies, optimal diet, overall level healthfulness, etc. But one of the key mistakes many new to Ayurveda make, is that they assume they must eat the same foods all the time.
One of the keys to proper digestion is to eat appropriately according to the season. Vata season exists from approximately November 1st to March 1st, then Kapha season begins, ending on July 1st. Pitta season is from July through October. Of course, these are the dates for the Northern Hemisphere, but in general, Vata is the bitter, damp cold of winter, Pitta is the heat of summer, and Kapha is spring. In each season we have nature as a guide: when it’s cold out, things that are warming, unctuous, and oily, are best to combat the dry-cold, catabolic nature of Vata Dosha. In spring, when the earth is moist and thick from snow melt and spring rains, our bodies need the balancing effects of foods with dry, light, bitter, and astringent qualities – hence, spring greens, dandelions, and berries are some of the first foods to be harvested. Dandelion, for instance, is a natural diuretic. And in the hot, dry or humid heat of the summer, we need cool, sweet, moist, and light – so it’s lucky for us that fresh fruit and vegetables are so abundant in this season. They are just what our bodies need!
By eating seasonally we are doing our very best to keep our body-mind complex in alignment with its environment. This lessens stress, improves digestion, and supports emotional balance and well being.
Today, Yoga is a hip word. It’s become known as a stellar workout, producing lean, toned, supple, sexy bodies. And it does all this for sure, but it also has a spiritual component. Yoga literally means “union” or “to join together” in Sanskrit. It has the same root that gives rise to the English word “yoke,” as in “to yoke together,” and refers to the union of body, mind, and soul. Yoga helps the mind become stronger by connecting the mind with the Self, through breath. Many Yoga teachers confess how much their students love coming in for class, not just for the good stretch but for the chance to breathe and feel truly integrated.
Furthermore, even committing to doing basic Sun Salutations each day will oxygenate the blood and gently massage every muscle and organ in your whole body. Nothing compares to beginning the day on the mat.
6. Breathing Exercises: Pranayama
Ayurveda, as a medical system, is filled with breathing practices to energize and purify the body. This is why they are considered to be key aspects of Yogic practice, for controlled breathing brings more oxygen to the blood and to the brain. Did you know that one of the major secrets of energy and rejuvenation is a purified blood stream? The quickest and most effective way to purify the blood stream is by taking in extra supplies of oxygen, supplying our bodies and all of our various organs with the ability to get rid of waste products and toxins, simply from the air we breathe.
Pranayama develops the lungs and improves the digestive fire, or agni. People who practice pranayama have a complexion that is smooth and bright, and there may even be a sparkle in their eyes. Steady, regular breath practice arouses inner spiritual light, happiness, and peace of mind. It is impossible to extol the wonderful effects of pranayama adequately – do a little research to discover the wealth of this tradition. It is the magic wand for attaining perfection in all spheres of life.
7. Build Up Your Ojas
Ojas (pronounced OH-djas) is the poetic term used in Ayurveda for “heartiness”. If a person has healthy skin and flesh, is resilient to disease and injury, and has “juiciness,” then Ayurveda says they have good ojas. Ojas is associated with mental stability and an earthy strength to endure. Its nurturing presence is calming and grounding. It brings quality and peace of mind. It satisfies the flesh, bringing with it the confidence needed to protect the body, mind, and spirit from negative tendencies, craving, and desires. Ojas may be compared to a cement or glue that binds and contains the body, mind, and spirit into a functional whole.
If you’ve never heard the term Ojas before, this is akin to Qi in traditional Chinese medicine. It is the most concentrated source of nutrients and energy substances in the body, and is comparable to cerebrospinal fluid in terms of its importance to our vitality. Where does it come from? It just so happens that ojas is the end product of optimal digestion. It is the substance that maintains life, promotes joy and longevity, and supports emotional as well as physical well-being. Therefore, it is very precious.
Modern nutritional science is just now beginning to catch on that most disease begins in the gut. This has been known in Ayurveda for more than 5000 years! And the beginning of disease is called Ama in Ayurvedic terminology, which refers to the residue of poorly digested foods in the body, and their consequences. The food you eat, in order to be used by your body, is progressively concentrated into ever more distilled categories of tissue building nutrients, and we know this from basic digestive science. We know, for instance, that our body breaks down proteins into amino acids. Ojas is the physical expression of consciousness in the body, and when it becomes deficient, we begin to see a series of symptoms manifesting in the body, starting with fear and physical and mental stress. The body’s tissues begin to get dehydrated and suffer from dryness and lack of lubrication. This makes joints and muscles ache. It is what many people associate with the experience of aging. The biggest challenge with maintaining a healthy level of ojas in the body is the fact that it can be upset by any number of health-defeating issues: malnutrition, hunger, grief, anger, stress of any kind, physical hard work, and trauma, past or present.
This is a key reason to slow down when we eat, and make taking care of our body, on each of the emotional, physical, and spiritual levels, a priority. It will ensure that we feel comfortable in our own skin, that we age gracefully, and that we have the energy to do all the things we set out to do. Think of ojas as your reminder to treat yourself the way you’ve always intended, and know that it is important to your health on all levels. All of the other six tips above will help you towards success!
In the end, by implementing some of these Ayurvedic principles into our daily lives, we are opening ourselves up to the wisdom of the ancients. Ayurvedic practitioners have been assisting and supporting health for thousands of years because they understands the body in a profound and respectful way, and transcend the limited understanding that modern Western medicine has in favor of the holistic sense of self. We hope these 7 tips will give you a jump start on feeling better in your WHOLE mind and body.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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