7 ways to restore balance, nurture ojas, and feel ageless
When it comes to matters of longevity, Ayurveda has an impressive track record. Practiced for 5,000 years, the crux of this holistic approach is that the “foundation of health is balance,” says Amita Jain, a doctor of Ayurveda Medicine and founder of Vedic Health. “All disease, whether mental or physical, starts from an imbalance of the natural elements that govern the body,” she says.
To regain a balance between the body, mind, spirit, and the environment, Ayurveda recommends certain lifestyle interventions, with beauty as the icing on the cake. Radiant skin, for example, is not just a result of topical treatments, but an external reflection of what’s happening internally: free flowing energy, optimal rest, a mind at peace, and less tension.
The holy grail of balance comes from what Jain calls “the three bioenergetics that control all the bodies functions.” These doshas, vata, kapha and pitta, are primal life forces that get aggravated, diminished, or excessive when our rhythms get out of whack. Whether you feel challenged in a specific area of your life, or just looking to bring the body back into a state of harmony, here are seven areas where a few simple changes can leave a lasting difference.
Ayurvedic tip: Getting to sleep before 10 p.m. is mission critical, says Jain, because the hours between 10 p.m-2 a.m. are governed by pitta, the fire element, which channels the life force for important involuntary restorative functions. If you stay awake during this time, energy is taken away from this critical process. By the same token, getting up before 6 am can make you feel less groggy, because the kapha element kicks in around 6 am, infusing the morning with dullness.
Why it works: A well-timed, consistent, sleep routine gives you a lot of bang for your buck. As the saying goes, an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after, because maintaining a congruent circadian rhythm helps with key biological functions throughout the day. The amount of non-REM sleep—deep, dreamless sleep—is highest in the earlier part of the night. That’s when key activity in the body happens, including muscle growth, tissue repair, wound healing, protein synthesis, and the release of growth hormones. Go to bed later, and metabolism slows down, which is why an emerging body of research is discovering the link between later bedtimes and weight gain.
Glow up skin
Ayurvedic tip: In the morning before bathing, apply a thin layer of warmed sesame oil to skin. Warm your oil by placing your oil bottle into a bowl filled with hot water. Apply to the entire body, either working from the neck down or from feet up, massaging the limbs with long strokes and the joints with circular strokes. Leave on for as long as possible before rinsing with a mild, natural soap.
To increase the benefit of the oil application, keep it on longer. Once a week, as possible, leave on the oil for an hour to help it penetrate the skin, wearing an old robe that you don’t mind getting oil stains on. This self-massage process, called self-abhyanga, connects anointing the body with oil and enveloping it in love. In fact, sneha, in Sanskrit, means both to oil and to love.
Why it works: Beyond mere moisturizing, regular abhyanga is a way to feel grounded, via the skin, which ayurveda recognizes as a major organ. The skin, says Jain, keeps our endocrine system healthy and is a gateway to nourishing our bodies’ more subtle channels through our pores.
Ayurvedic tip: Drink a glass of warm water first thing in the morning.
Why it works: Drinking warm water—you can also add lemon and/or ginger—dilutes stomach acid, encourages elimination, stimulates metabolism and appetite, and can also relieve congestion.
Ayurvedic tip: Adaptogenic supplements such as ashwagandha, shatavari, brahmi, and tulsi can help you adapt to stress and neutralize its effects on the body.
Why it works: To be considered an adaptogen, an herb must be nontoxic, support the entire body’s ability to cope with stress, and help the body return to a state of balance. Ayurveda has several effective herbs that can help the body regulate, sustain focus, improve mood and fight fatigue. Make sure the supplements come from a reputable source and consult with an ayurvedic practitioner to get the best recommendations and dosage.
Try: Organic India offers fairtrade supplements and herbs grown using biodynamic farming techniques, organicindia.com.
Ayurvedic tip: Oil pulling, or swishing coconut or sesame oil around in your mouth for 5-20 minutes, can brighten teeth, reduce harmful bacteria, and minimize gingivitis and bad breath. It’s best to spit the oil out onto a piece of paper and put it in the trash, as the fat in the oil will clog your pipes over time.
Why it works: The process of gargling with oil, which gets in the nooks and crevasses of the teeth, can help clear off plaque from the teeth’s many surfaces. It does wonders for gum sensitivity too, says Kirti Tewani, an Ayurvedic therapist and founder of bettergreenhealth.com.
Try: Tewani swears by Guru Nanda’s pulling oil, which she says has the best taste of all the oils she has experimented with, gurunanda.com
Ayurvedic tip: “Once a week massaging the entire scalp, and the entire head of hair with a designated oil, not only reduces hair loss but helps me connect with myself,” says Tewani. It’s not enough to just apply the oil; knead the oil into scalp and hair. For best results, sleep with the oil in your hair, laying a towel over your pillow so it doesn’t get stained, and then wash out with a gentle, sulfate-free shampoo in the morning.
Why it works: The scalp has roughly 30 energy-relieving points called marmas where the arteries, veins, and cranial nerves intersect. These marma points aid in boosting blood circulation, which in turn promotes healthy hair growth.
Ayurvedic tip: A kansa (an alloy of copper and tin) wand for facial massage is designed for lymphatic drainage and to remove toxins, says Tewani.
Why it works: According to Ayurveda, the bell material neutralizes the acidity of the skin. The domed shape of the wand is conducive for rolling, an action that increases blood flow and stimulates the lymph glands.
Try: Kansa Organics make several sizes of kansa wands, kansaorganics.com.
Homemade Hair Oil
It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a homemade hair oil for luxurious locks. Here’s a recipe for hair oil from Recipe for hair oil from Kirti Tewani of bettergreenhealth.com.
- One cup of coconut oil
- A handful of curry leaves
- One tbsp Amla powder
- One tbsp Fenugreek Seeds
- One tbsp Black sesame seeds
- A chunk of Aloe Vera (optional)
Use a double boiling method and simmer it for an hour. Strain and apply after it cools.
Sidebar No. 2
The power of the pause
At the core of Ayurveda is the knowledge that present moment awareness is a vehicle for tapping into the wisdom of the universe. Even taking a micro-meditation pause to become still and quiet allows you to receive a subtle, sacred intelligence. For several moments throughout the day, try this five-minute check in.
1. Step away from computer and cell phone.
2. Sit down with a straight spine. With uncrossed legs, place feet firmly on floor. Roll your shoulders back and down. Close your eyes.
3. Notice your breath without changing it.
4. Focus on your breath, allowing the thoughts to come and go.
5. Inhale deeply and let out a longer exhale for several rounds of breath.
6. Observe the quality of your thoughts: Anxious, fast, foggy, sharp, relaxed?
7. If your thoughts are spinning, the easiest way to shift the energy is to focus on something you love or are grateful for.