Lifestyle

Ayurveda: What is it and how can you benefit from it?

At its core, Ayurveda is a way of life to PREVENT sickness, NOT treat it.

In an era of incessant digital connection, where texting a friend in the other room seems normal, and we can broadcast snapshots of our life to millions of people around the world through social media, I can't help but wonder what it truly means to be connected.

The concept of being connected dates back more than 3,000 years to ancient India, where the world's oldest holistic healing practice, Ayurveda, was born. Back then being connected meant something different entirely: interconnectedness, the foundation of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that translates as 'the science of life'. It is based on the belief that everything in the universe is connected and made up of five key elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space, with three doshas - Pitta, Vata, and Kapha –condensing these five key elements.

According to Ayurveda, everyone in the universe is unique, with each of us made up of a unique constitution of dosha. Though our constitution is made up of all three, we each have a dominant dosha that determines our individual mind-body type. You can discover your dosha here – apparently, I'm pitta-dominant making me sharp, focused, and entrepreneurial at my best, and demanding or pushy when I'm out of balance, which, if I'm honest, sounds spot on… Maintaining balance is key and following a diet and lifestyle best suited to your mind-body type is the Ayurvedic way.

At its core, Ayurveda is a way of life to PREVENT sickness, NOT treat it. And while Ayurvedic medicine is a multi-faceted behemoth, with as many layers as it is years-old to wrap your head around, there are simple self-care practises you can incorporate into your daily life that your mind and body will thank you for.

Rise With The Sun

In Ayurveda, the atmosphere is filled with dosha energy as the universe cycles through its natural rhythms. Harnessing this energy, by synchronising with the doshas' cycles, is the foundation for waking feeling refreshed and ready for the day. The vata dosha, attributed to air and space and responsible for energy and movement, is said to be dominant in the hours before sunrise (2am – 6am), making this the ideal time to wake.

Sunrise embodies a quiet peace that is ideal for meditation or other spiritual practise, and with the mind fresh from rest, it is considered the ideal time of day to reap the benefits of these activities.

Living in tune with nature is what it's all about. And I've never met a person who regretted witnessing a sunrise.

Sip Lemon Water

Ayurveda advocates drinking warm water with lemon juice upon waking based on the belief that it helps to awaken the gastrointestinal tract and flush the lymphatic system. According to Valencia Porter, MD, director of integrative medicine at The Chopra Center, sipping hot water with fresh lemon juice can help to enhance digestion and increase your agni (a Sanskrit term for digestive fire). Modern science also tell us lemon juice can aid digestion and may reduce the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and lower blood pressure due to its Vitamin C content. Vitamin C has long been hailed as a natural immunity booster, and while there has been controversy as to its effects in prevention and treatment of the common cold, there's evidence 'the immune system is strongly influenced by the intake of nutrients'.

Self Massage

In Ayurveda, daily self-massage, or Abhyanga, is believed to restore dosha balance, improve circulation, and aid detoxification. But really, who needs to be convinced to indulge in a little massage and relaxation daily?

Depending on your dosha, a variety of oils can be used including sesame, coconut, and jojoba oils. Sandhiya Ramaswamy, an Ayurveda practitioner at The Chopra Center, suggests slightly warming the oil before getting comfortable in a warm room (sitting or standing, whichever is most comfortable for you) and beginning at the crown of your head, massage using circular strokes from the top of your body to very bottom, including your scalp, face, limbs, abdomen, and feet. For guidance on how to perform Abhyanga you can watch this video. Be sure to take a few minutes to soak up the serene feeling Abhyanga induces, allowing the oil to absorb before taking a warm bath or shower - then floating into the rest of your day.


Oil Pulling

We've discussed oil pulling and how it can improve your health before, so you may already be familiar with the term. If not, oil pulling is essentially using an unrefined, cold pressed, high-quality plant-based oil - such as coconut oil, sesame oil, or sunflower oil - as a mouth wash for 5 - 20 minutes a day. The process boasts a number of health benefits, including removing bacteria, reducing germ count, and preventing mouth and gum disease. But the benefits don't stop there. In terms of general health, it may help alleviate symptoms such as migraines, sinus congestion, arthritic inflammation, and even act as a blood detoxifier. If you use coconut oil the benefits are even greater thanks to coconut's fatty acids, which act as a natural antibiotic. Just when you thought you'd experienced coconut oil and all its wonders…

Tongue Scraping

Take things a step further and introduce the highly popular Ayurvedic practise of tongue scraping to your morning routine. Ayurveda suggests practicing tongue scraping to remove the coating that's built up overnight, which can include toxins that if left on the surface of our tongue, can be reabsorbed and lead to illness. Tongue scraping is not as brutal as it sounds, though it can be a little gross. Simply comb your tongue gently from back to front using a tongue scraper up to ten times, rinsing the scraper each time. An added benefit: tongue scraping can improve taste sensations, so the next time you indulge in a divine piece of raw chocolate, it will taste that much sweeter. Win, win.

Aromatherapy and Essential Oils

With scent and emotion so strongly linked, it seems natural that aromatherapy forms an integral part of balancing emotional and physical states in Ayurvedic medicine. There's an oil or blend for just about anything, from peppermint oil to help soothe a headache to lavender oil for deep relaxation. Different oils are recommended for balancing each dosha, with pitta finding balance from soothing essential oils like cedar, orange blossom, and lavender; Kapha benefiting from awakening essential oils like lily, gardenia, and sandalwood; and vata finding calm in the heavenly scents of rosemary, rose, and mint.
 

For an indulgence purely for your skin, try these nourishing blends that read like a recipe from one of Nigella Lawson's famed ode to desserts. Your skin will glow, your hair shine, and the blissful scents will leave you feeling relaxed and balanced - like you've just stepped foot from a spa.

Promote Quality Sleep

Quality sleep forms an integral part of Ayurvedic practice, but how can we achieve that? A luxurious place to start is with a warm bath laced with calming essential oils like rose and jasmine, which Ayurveda honours for their ability to quash stress and ease negative emotions. According to Ayurveda, a glass of warm milk and nutmeg is soothing and healing, making it the perfect nightcap to help you relax and induce quality sleep. You could also try adding a sprinkle of other exotic spices like turmeric, cardamom, or cinnamon with a dash of honey for sweetness. It's like a warm hug in a mug.


Note: It's important to consult a trained Ayurvedic practitioner for guidance on how to incorporate Ayurvedic medicine into your healthcare routine. Likewise, we urge you to consult your healthcare professional prior to making any major changes to your lifestyle and/or healthcare routine.

Sarah Vercoe

Article by Sarah Vercoe

Sarah is a freelance writer and award-winning photographer with a special interest in health, travel, and fitness. Based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, she can be found hiking the trails of Noosa National Park, or, more likely, chasing after her one year old daughter, Illyana.

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