Ancient medicine is making its way into modern health and wellness. Many of us are turning to alternative health care practices because the conventional system of health has failed us in some way. Intuitively, we know that feeling good is an individual responsibility based on how we take care of ourselves–no doctor can provide that. There are many Ayurvedic practices you can incorporate into your daily routine to improve your level of energy, alleviate common ailments, and prevent disease. But Ayurveda does not work like a medical kit or a pharmacy. It is a system of health based on the wisdom of ancient seers for restoring equilibrium to the body by balancing the doshas and realigning our energy with nature. Today, we benefit from contemporary scientific evidence that proves the effectiveness of Ayurvedic practices for restoring health to the body.
What is Health?
In Ayurveda, we are healthy when we are in harmony with nature. Each of us has a unique combination of elements and energies, or doshas, within each of us. When one or more of those elements or doshas becomes excessive or aggravated, disease may develop. What we eat is the primary focus in Ayurveda for maintaining and restoring our natural balance. The goal of Ayurvedic practices for health is not to align all three doshas evenly, but rather to know and understand the presence and interaction of those energies as they pertain to our individual constitution. Then we are better prepared to eat what is good for us to protect ourselves from illness and care for ourselves in a way that addresses the root of the problem (an imbalance of one or more of the doshas) rather than the bandaging the symptoms.
The conventional approach to wellness manages health mainly at the point of illness, inundating the body with drugs and excessive sleep, trying to restore equilibrium. Where allopathic medicine may prescribe analgesics for migraines, for example, Ayurveda would look to the individual’s diet and lifestyle habits to determine the cause of them. Simple Ayurvedic practices can correct many common ailments and may reverse more acute health problems.
Easy Ayurvedic Practices For Any Lifestyle
Ayurveda teaches us how to optimize our health with simple daily Ayurvedic practices. They focus on maintaining an inner harmony rather than solely responding to an imbalance. Put simply, you don’t have to wait until you feel bad before you start incorporating Ayurvedic practices into your life. Even though they primarily address the physical body, the attention we give different parts of our body during each one supports mindfulness and psychological wellness as we learn to observe and listen to our body. These six Ayurvedic practices are general recommendations, but each one can improve our individual health in how and when they’re practiced.
Some of these terms for Ayurvedic practices sound esoteric because we use the Sanskrit term to identify them and uphold their origin and authenticity. But they’re more basic and easy to follow than a set of instructions for an IKEA cabinet–really! Once you know and understand your dosha type, you can incorporate Ayurvedic practices into your daily routine. Taking a few moments every day to focus on your physical and mental health will connect you more deeply to nature and instill an awareness of its presence within you. Not only will you feel more vibrant and optimistic, but your consciousness will deepen as you become more mindful of how to manage your health safely and naturally, in harmony with nature, rather than in resistance to it.
Try each of these Ayurvedic practices over the next week, one per day to get a feel for them. Then, choose what feels right for you and see how you can work them into your daily routine.
Tongue scraping removes toxins and bacteria from the tongue that accumulate during sleep. It also indirectly massages internal organs that are represented on different areas of the tongue’s surface. This is one of the first Ayurvedic practices you can do in your day.
If you don’t have a proper tongue scraper, use the edge of a spoon. Stick out your tongue and observe the color and coating. A white, yellow, or blackish coating means toxins are present in your colon. Scrape from as far back as you can several times. Rinse the spoon (or scraper) between scrapes. Follow with gandusha (mentioned below).
OLEATION (Oil Pulling)
Oleation, or snehana in Sanskrit, is the process of pulling toxins from the body, both internally and externally. This Ayurvedic practice can be accomplished in numerous ways. I’ve outlined three below.
Eat a spoonful of ghee (cooked clarified butter) on an empty stomach for seven days as part of an internal cleanse. Eating ghee saturates the fat cells, allowing the release of stored toxins. Make it at home with this ghee recipe.
Do abhyanga massage on yourself once a day or at least a few times a week. Click here to learn more about abhyanga.
Perform gandusha for 10-20 minutes each morning. Gandusha cleanses the mouth by pulling bad bacteria from the gums, tongue, cheeks, and teeth, which may help detoxify the entire body. It also whitens teeth naturally and safely (just don’t swallow the oil!). After scraping your tongue, take about a tablespoon of organic, unrefined coconut oil in your mouth and alternate between swishing it around and letting it sit. Ensure you push the oil through your teeth occasionally. Spit your used oil in the garbage.
GARSHANA (Dry Brushing)
Garshana or dry skin brushing is one of my favorite self-loving Ayurvedic practices and a regular player in my morning routine (I do gandusha at the same time). In only 10 minutes I improve the circulation of my blood and lymph fluid, exfoliate and hydrate my skin, expel toxins, and “listen” to each part of my body.
You can use either raw silk gloves or a dry skin brush to perform the Ayurvedic practice of garshana (I use gloves). Start with the feet and work your way up. Brush upward using firm pressure and broad strokes on the long bones, a circular motion on the joints. The fattier areas, such as the thighs and cheeks (the private ones) contain more toxins so spend a bit more time there. If you want to include your face in the process (I do), use a separate pair of gloves or a brush with gentler bristles, and only perform two times a week.
DRINK WARM WATER WITH LEMON
Warm water hydrates the body more effectively than cold water and although it is a citrus fruit, lemon is alkaline, which balances morning acidity. Lemon also cleanses the liver and stimulates agni (the digestive fire). This Ayurvedic practice is about as simple as it gets.
Boil water and allow it to cool to body temperature. Add fresh lemon, or lime for pitta types (lime is more cooling) and drink after tongue scraping and brushing, at least 30 minutes before eating.
JALA NETI (Nasal Irrigation)
My first experience with jala neti was during a yoga teacher training program in Rishikesh, India. Jala neti is nasal irrigation, the process of pouring salt water through the nasal passage to clear any toxins that have accumulated by breathing. It also hydrates your nose if you live in a cold dry climate. Your nose is your body’s first line of defense. If you’ve ever spent time in a large Asian city, you’ll notice that blowing your nose at the end of the day may produce a blackened smear on your tissue, instead of a healthy clear film (sorry for the visual)–a cry for jala neti.
This Ayurvedic practice requires a neti pot, neti salt (both can be found online or in Ayurvedic clinics or naturopathic shops), and boiled water, cooled to body temperature. Standing hunched forward slightly, tilt your head to the left and put the end of the spout in your right nostril, allowing water to flow through the passage and out through the left nostril. Then, plug your right nostril and exhale forcefully about 20 times. Repeat both steps on the other side. Use one full neti pot for each nostril. You may find ‘this Ayurvedic practice a bit tricky getting started but with practice it will become more natural.
Most of us are already familiar with yogasana, the practice of moving our bodies around on a mat for an hour and feeling pretty good by the end of it. We commonly know it as yoga but yogasana is just one branch of Patanjali’s eight limbs yoga. Yogasana emphasizes moving the body into specific postures to create proper alignment, posture, and breathing for improved health and wellbeing (asana is Sanskrit for pose). It is a recommended Ayurvedic practice. What is the connection between Ayurveda and yoga? Check out our blog to find out.
Yogasana is for everyone. There is no flexibility prerequisite or fancy clothing required. Hatha yoga offers a series of postures that you can personalize to support your dominant dosha. Practicing yoga regularly will inspire a sense of intuitiveness within you regarding what movement is right for your constitution. General dosha guidelines for this Ayurvedic practice are:
Vata – Avoid flow types of yoga and focus on isometric poses that promote groundedness, such as warrior, tree pose, and mountain. Breathe deeply and steadily.
Pitta – Avoid hot yoga and opt for relaxed, cooling poses that open the chest and hips, such as camel pose, bridge, and cobra. Move with patience and acceptance of your limitations and allow yourself at least 10 minutes in savasana.
Kapha – Vinyasa flow gets your body moving, creating heat and energy. Work up a light sweat with steady breath, but pay attention to your movements to avoid injury. Practice during the kapha time of day between 6-10 a.m.
The Number One Ayurvedic Practice is Listening To Your Body
Great health isn’t luck of the draw, good genes, or for purchase at a pharmacy. It’s found in the ways we take care of ourselves, big and small. Eating clean, organic foods, getting regular exercise, and emotional cleansing make us feel good inside and out. But toxins inundate our external environment, and even the healthiest body can’t escape them. The fluctuating nature of the three doshas as they interact with our external environment means that health is an ongoing process of listening, investigating, and responding to our body as we grow and age, as the seasons change, and as life takes new shapes. Ayurvedic practices can help us re-stabilize and align ourselves with nature.
The beauty of Ayurveda is that the practices are not dependent on time, location, or culture. Anyone can do them anywhere at any time, using simple, found tools. Try one or more of these Ayurvedic practices every day for a few days and observe the response. Then, adjust accordingly. For a mindful start to your day, adopt a simple morning routine. If you’re looking for a complete detoxification to wipe the slate clean so to speak, consider panchakarma, and learn more about it here. Then, adopt some of these Ayurvedic practices for daily health maintenance. They can be the difference between health and illness.
Colleen’s interest in Ayurveda grew organically from a curiosity in how to naturally improve her health and energy. During a trip to India in 2017, she became better acquainted with Ayurveda and yoga philosophy and has been studying the ancient wisdom ever since. Her love for nature, travel, and vegetables (ginger and broccoli) inspired her to become more consciously aware of how to improve our lives and eating habits. She’s the author of a self-published collection of personal stories about her experience living in Indonesia. Colleen is a certified teacher of Thai massage and hatha yoga.