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Everything you need to know about Ayurveda

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In need of a boost? Ayurveda, the ancient Hindu system of medicine, is the way forward…

There’s no denying the fact that 21st century living is chaotic.

Looming deadlines, tube delays, work meetings and social events all have a habit of conjuring up stress, anxiety and even illness, so it’s no wonder more and more of us are on the hunt for ways to keep our overall health and wellbeing – both physical and mental – intact.

But if you’re over crystal sound baths or can’t get the hang of modern witchcraft, you might want to give Ayurveda a go.

What is Ayurveda?

“Ayurveda is the traditional Hindu system of medicine,” say Emilia Herting and Maeve O’Sullivan, founders of Escapada Retreat. “It originated in India more than 4,000 years ago and remains one of India’s top traditional health care systems.”

Ayurvedic practices include dietary changes, all-over body massage and specific skincare routines to name but a few, making it the ultimate form of self-care for your mind, body and soul.

“Ayurveda is an unequivocally holistic tradition that reaches far beyond the realms of physical health,” Herting and O’Sullivan continue.

Anita Kaushal, co-founder of Mauli Rituals, explains further: “Ayurveda advocates prevention as opposed to cure, and we always focus on the root cause of disease as opposed to putting a plaster on a wound.

“In Ayurveda, we say there is physical health and true health, which encapsulates the mind, body and spirit as a unified whole.”

But to incorporate Ayurveda into your self-care rituals, it pays to understand the three doshas. 

What are doshas in Ayurveda?

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According to Herting and O’Sullivan, those who follow Ayurveda believe that we inherit doshas – energetic forces of nature that help us understand ourselves and the world around us. 

There are three in total: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Everyone has a unique mix of the three, however one always seems to outshine the others. Practising Ayurveda has the ability to balance the doshas.

To understand which category you fall into, Herting and O’Sullivan suggest looking at your skin type, but body type is also indicative of your innate dosha.

Vata: characterised by air

Your skin is thin, dry, delicate and prone to wrinkles. You are slim, and may be tall or short.

Pitta: characterised by fire and water

Your skin is susceptible to rashes, breakouts and rosacea. You have an athletic build.

Kapha: characterised by air and water

 Your oily skin is prone to enlarged pores, blackheads and acne. Your build is strong.

What are the benefits of Ayurveda?

Experts argue that an imbalance in doshas (no thanks to the overwhelming environment we live in), can lead to things like stress and anxiety. But Ayurveda teaches individuals to tune their doshas and to remove themselves, both physically and emotionally, from what poses a threat to our overall physical and mental health.

“Ayurveda has a remarkable capacity to help each of us get in touch with our truest inner nature, develop our strengths, hone in on our challenge areas and offer real support wherever it is needed, so that we can better maintain balance when we start to feel we are moving out of kilter,” explain Herting and O’Sullivan.

The clue is also in the name. The term ‘ayur’ originates from the Sanskrit word for ‘life,’ as does ‘veda,’ which means ‘science’ or ‘knowledge’. 

Together, they provide an individually tailored solution for things like disease to lifestyle changes, offering harmony and balance and helping to alleviate stress, anxiety and illness. 

How can I incorporate Ayurveda into my everyday lifestyle?

From skincare to dietary changes, there are heaps of ways you can draw on Ayurveda to boost your wellbeing.

The best part? You don’t have to shell out on an Ayurvedic therapist and can practice the techniques in the comfort of your own home.

Read on for expert tips on Ayurvedic self-massage, diet and exfoliation. 

Abhyanga: The Ayurvedic art of self-massage

“Abhyanga is an Ayurvedic self-massage technique using warm oil, usually infused with herbs,” say Herting and O’Sullivan.

Vivek Sahni, co-founder of Kama Ayurveda, explains further: “Ayurvedic texts suggest Ayurvedic oil massage for a supple, soft, strong and healthy body as it promotes blood circulation, fortifies the nervous system, relieves muscular pain, invigorates your mind, enhances the function of the lymphatic system and removes the toxins from the body.”

“Skin is the largest human organ and what we put on it is absorbed,” Sahni continues. “In Ayurveda, we look at putting the purest products on our skin such as fresh herbs and natural oils.”

According to Herting and O’Sullivan, it’s best to practice Abhyanga every day before your shower and each dosha needs to be catered to differently.

Vata

If your dominant dosha is vata, Herting suggests using organic, un-toasted sesame oil or almond oil for massage, as it’s inherently warming on the skin.

Pitta

If this is your dosha, you’re likely to have sensitive or reactive skin, so Emilia suggests massaging either coconut oil or organic sunflower oil into your skin.

Kapha

According to Emilia, just a touch of herb-infused oil is best for those who fall into the Kapha category.

If you aren’t keen on making your own herb-infused massage oils, Stylist recommends these Ayurvedic-inspired buys:

Mauli Rituals Spirited Kapha Body Oil

Notes of frankincense, cardamom, ginger, lavender and cinnamon are suspended in silky almond and grapeseed oils. Warm the bottle in between your hands before slathering it on from head to toe. It has the power to alleviate stress, anxiety and to promote energy - and we can vouch for that. 

£47, maulirituals.com

Susanne Kaufmann Ingweröl Detox Oil

Medicinal herb extracts are at the base of this velvety formula, while jojoba, avocado and rosehip seed oils and a mega mix of active ingredients nourish skin instantly and cumulatively throughout the day. 

£26, spacenk.com

Uma Pure Calm Wellness Oil

A dream team of jasmine, chamomile, vetiver and geranium essential oils make this the ultimate aromatherapy experience. Massage it onto your pulse points and breathe in. 

£60, cultbeauty.co.uk 

The Ayurvedic diet

“Food affects mood, behaviours and relationships,” say Herting and O’Sullivan. “Foods that support happy moods are fresh, whole and organic. Meals that include lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and oils - such as ghee and olive oil - are recommended in Ayurveda, because they are fresh and easy to digest. Foods with little to no nutritional value are believed to show up in your health, mood and skin.” 

“Turmeric is revered in Ayurveda as an immunity booster, which is also known to induce good sleep and relax the muscles,” says Sahni. “Owing to its high anti-oxidant properties turmeric milk is very skin-friendly and regular intake lends a healthy glow of radiance from within.” 

So, how do you make it?

“Add cold-pressed haldi or turmeric to milk or coconut milk and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon,” says Sahni. “It is touted as an Ayurveda health-elixir and is fast replacing caffeinated drinks as a morning pick me up.”

And if you often infuse your water with things like cucumber, lemon or strawberries, Kaushal recommends doing it the Ayurvedic way.

“It is a well-known fact that families in India drink water from copper urns,” she says, “but what is less known, is that in Ayurveda, copper is best reserved for those with a Vata imbalance. Pitta imbalances are best treated by drinking water from a silver vessel and Kapha should drink from gold.

“Given, we don’t all have gold and silver goblets in our homes, a simple way to drink mineral-infused water is to pop these elements into water. Drop a piece of copper, silver or gold jewellery in water and leave overnight for the minerals to infuse. Repeat nightly and remember to wash the jewellery every few days and keep it only for the purposes of infusing water.”

The Ayurvedic art of exfoliation

Herting, O’Sullivan, Kaushal and Sahni all pinpoint regular full-body exfoliation as one of Ayurveda’s most popular techniques to employ at home. 

Not only does it stimulate and perfect the skin on a physical level, but it also works wonders internally, by massaging the lymphatic system and kick-starting blood circulation towards the heart, both proven to energise both body and mind. You can use a natural bristle brush or treat your senses with an essential oil-infused scrub. 

Stylist recommends…

Mauli Rituals Reawaken Himalayan Hand And Body Scrub

Massage this into skin that needs a little TLC to replenish lost minerals, boost circulation, banish parched patches and to energise your mind body and soul. According to Anita, it also helps detoxify and tone the skin.

£58, maulirituals.com 

Rituals The Ritual of Ayurveda Body Scrub

With ancient crystal salt from the Himalayas, a dose of sweet almond oil and notes of Indian rose, this is as luxurious as body scrubs get. It smooths scaly limbs and invigorates the senses simultaneously. 

£19.50, rituals.com

Images: Unsplash / Getty Images