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FEATURE - March 2019
The Practice of Ayurveda:
How ancient medicine meets our modern-day self-care needs
By Dr. Sarah Kucera
“Self-care” has become a buzzword within the modern-day wellness scene and beyond. The Internet has increased awareness of different health issues, the benefits of caring for oneself and the tools for doing so . Whether we’re looking for meditation classes or alternative health care providers, our web searches, social media, apps and devices have made the notion of self-care and how to go about it more mainstream. Although self-care is currently a trending concept, it is in no way a new idea. In fact, it was on the minds of people thousands of years ago, when the ancient medicine of Ayurveda—a medicine emphasizing wellness and disease prevention—was being developed.
Ayurveda, a Sanskrit word translating to “the science of life,” is nature’s medicine. Often dubbed yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda is the study of the body while yoga is the study of the mind. Ayurveda uses nature’s daily and seasonal rhythms, along with the five elements of nature (space, air, fire, water, and earth), to help us understand more about the patterns of our external environment and our own internal landscape. This understanding is essential for achieving optimal health and ultimately arriving at the daily practices that help us to live as our truest selves. This is because Ayurveda recognizes each person as an individual with their own unique expression of nature within them. This is referred to as one’s dosha or constitution.
Self-care is embedded in Ayurveda, and though the needs of an individual may vary, there are general guidelines for maintaining health that can be applied to most. These are daily, nightly, and seasonal routines that are foundational. Great importance is placed on these practices because just as regular participation in unhealthy acts will accumulate and cause illness over time, so will consistent acts to better your health contribute to your overall long-term well-being. And while this will not make you disease-proof, it will certainly reduce the frequency and severity of imbalances you experience. Self-care is sometimes thought to be self-indulgent, but the components of an Ayurvedic self-care routine are not elaborate, indulgent, or even big-time commitments. Rather, they are important for keeping us in sync with nature and our circadian clock so that we can support our body’s own processes.
Although these practices were created long ago, they are exactly what our modern-day society so desperately needs. We tend to spend too little time in nature, we abuse the ability to work from anywhere at any time, and we give in to the pressures to always be doing more. Finding balance in our current culture means connecting with the great outdoors, having better boundaries and more structure in our days, and taking the time to slow down and rest.
You can build your own Ayurveda-inspired self-care routine. Start by evaluating where you can easily create space to incorporate something new. Choose one to three of the items on the list that resonate with you and your overall health intentions and give yourself two weeks to fully integrate them before evaluating how they make you feel.
Rise with the sun. Our organs are set to an internal clock that coincides with the light-dark cycles of the day. For example, around 6 a.m., our bodies are naturally signaled to wake so that we can carry out physiological processes such as elimination. When we stay in bed too late, particularly past 8 a.m., we are more likely to feel sluggish and disrupt our natural digestive cycles.
Scrape your tongue. A strong digestive system includes having a finely tuned ability to taste. Using a tongue cleaner or scraper assures there isn’t coating interfering with this important part of the digestive process. Your tongue is a representation of your entire digestive tract, and a coating can mean that you aren’t properly processing and eliminating your food. Be sure to clean your tongue first thing in the morning before eating or drinking.
Drink warm water. To assist our body in proper elimination, and to give our digestive fire a boost, drink a cup or two of warm water before eating. This not only helps you digest your breakfast but also sets you up for improved digestion throughout the day.
Use warm oil for a self-massage. Oil is the antidote to many things in Ayurveda. In this context, oil provides nourishment to our skin and a sense of calm to our nervous system. Ideally, warm oil is applied before you shower and is left on for up to 20 minutes. This is a process called abhyanga, which translates as “self-love.”
Make lunch your biggest meal. Our digestive fire is strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. It is the ideal time to eat more, since this is the period when we digest the best and are more likely to process our food and absorb the nutrients from it. And counter to what you might think, a bigger midday meal will prevent an afternoon energy slump and give you more energy in the afternoon.
Oil your feet before bed. Massaging a small amount of oil, such as sesame, jojoba, or almond oil into the soles of your feet is a great grounding activity that aids in settling your nervous system, making it easier to fall asleep.
Go to bed by 10 p.m. It isn’t only the amount of sleep you get, but when you get it. Getting to bed early means a better chance of your body effectively detoxifying and restoring during the night. To prepare your body for a sound night of sleep, try to avoid activities that are stimulating within two hours of your bed time, or after 8 p.m. Make a special effort to turn off devices that emit blue light, which can trick our body into thinking it’s daytime.
Sarah Kucera is an Ayurvedic practitioner, chiropractor, and yoga teacher. She founded Sage Center for Yoga & Healing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, and she is the author of The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook: Holistic Healing Rituals for Every Day and Season, which can be purchased through Amazon, or wherever books are sold.