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As each year came and went, I realized I couldn't mess around with my health any longer. I began to feel the differences in my body, mind, and skin each time I went rogue (i.e. forgetting to wash my face, eating mostly processed foods, and drinking till all hours of the night all too often). So, I did some serious research to try and remedy the damage I'd done. Several internet holes later, I used my resources to ask for help. The majority of the health and wellness experts I spoke with recommended various components of Ayurvedic practices. The ancient Indian healing modality has roots in a holistic and balanced approach to wellness. It revolves around three doshas, or energies, that make up each individual, and prescribes the best foods, practices, and workouts for your specific make up.
I decided on a few habits I could easily incorporate into my daily life. For me, it's all about balance—the ability to understand and practice what's good for me but still keep it all feeling accessible. I can't get down with anything too time-consuming or limiting. Such is the case with the six practices I've built in to my weekly schedule. There's small changes in nutrition, my (previously non-existent) workouts, and skincare routine. Trust me, the results have been palpable. Below, find the easy Ayurvedic habits that have made my life, skin, and health so much better.
Drink Room Temperature Water
A while back, I noticed a friend of mind kept his water on the kitchen counter instead of in the fridge. When I asked why, he told me his parents had always done the same thing and he couldn't stomach cold water.I thought he was insane. To me, there was nothing more refreshing than an ice-cold glass of water to quench my thirst. And then things shifted. I started getting in Ayurveda and consuming room temperature water is one of the first things I read about. When I got into the habit of it, I couldn't go back. It was easier to drink more water throughout the day when it wasn't too cold and I could tell it was helping with my digestion.
"Within Ayurveda, Agni—the internal fire—is key to good metabolism and digestion of nutrients," says Shrankhla Holecek, an Ayurvedic expert and the founder of UMA Oils. See, cold water is believed to "dim the digestive fire," which can lead to poorer digestion and low metabolism, as well as a consequent build up toxins in your system. As such, Holecek recommends room temperature water (even lukewarm water, if you can). In fact, when you put anything wet and cold in your gut while trying to digest, it’s going to slow the process down. According to Laura Coburn, a certified Ayurveda yoga specialist and the director of Serenity at the Inns of Aurora, "it is recommended to drink water about 20 minutes before or 20 minutes after eating a meal, so as not to dilute the digestive juices or dampen that fire."
To be quite honest, I never gave my digestion much thought throughout my life. But as I got older, I started to notice how much better (or worse) I'd feel based on what I was eating and how it was digesting within my body. And, it's such a huge tentpole in Ayurvedic practices. "For optimal digestion," Holecek explains, "warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, cloves, even pepper are are highly recommended (although pittas should be careful to avoid an excess of warming spices)." Plus, natural fruit juices, like lemon or lime juice, are helpful as well. I use these when I'm making food at home, and keep and eye out for when they're included in dishes at restaurants. Coburn shares, "There's an Ayurvedic pre-digestive mixture of fresh lime juice, pounded up ginger, and honey that you can drink before eating to stimulate digestion." Aside from those remedies, I take Banyan Botanicals' Organic Triphala Tablets ($19) daily, a polyherbal Ayurvedic medicine which helps promote efficient digestion, absorption, elimination, and rejuvenation in your body.
The other, perhaps more important, practice to remember is nothing is one size fits all for each dosha (and person). "One of our favorite terms in Ayurveda is 'it depends,'" says Coburn. Most recommendations are dependent on what is happening in a particular meal, in a particular time, and with a particular person. As a general rule, I try to properly chew each bite (up to 30 chews per bite is key to good digestion), limit any overly rich, greasy, or liquid foods (which inhibit that digestive fire), and make certain not to feel guilt or shame post-meal, no matter what I eat (though Triphala, garlic, and yoga can help with indigestion after an indulgence).
Yoga is a subset of Ayurveda, and hugely important because of its focus not just on building strength within your body, but its holistic emphasis on the equilibrium of the mind and body. A consistent yoga practice allows you to spend more time in your parasympathetic nervous system, rather than solely your sympathetic nervous system (this is the part of our bodies that controls fight or flight responses, which many of us are habitually in). Plus, it just feels good. There's no more euphoric time than directly after a good yoga practice. And you only need a few minutes a day.
Believe me, I am not a person who enjoys exercise—but, this feels more healing than it does anything else. It's a way to center yourself within your body and quite your mind from all the daily noise (whether it's anxiety about work, relationships, or anything else). "Healing happens when we engage the parasympathetic nervous system," says Coburn. "Yoga helps interrupt the sympathetic nervous system, heal, and really nourish your body on cellular level."
"Yoga, and specific asanas within its practice, can have a powerful impact on normalizing imbalances," says Holecek. For vatas, there are sequences that focus on strengthening the connectivity between tissues and even help improve sleep. "Vata types will derive tremendous benefit from head stands, backward bends, and ploughs, as well as cobra, locust, and lotus poses," says Holecek. Coburn adds, "Simple seated poses like hero and lotus are great for digestion." She continues, "If you want to up the ante, try the peacock pose, where you balance your body on your elbows with your wrists pointed towards your face, and fingers towards your toes."
Incorporate Seasonal Skincare
I had been partaking in various seasonal skincare routines for years—I'm a beauty editor after all. But Ayurveda brings about yet another reason to take it seriously. "Ayurveda draws on a system of scientific and practical knowledge, which is rooted in ancient belief systems about the constitution of the human body, and its close relationship with the environment it exists in," explains Holecek. So, your environment, and seasons in particular, can wield a strong influence on your body's constitution and physiological processes—ranging from metabolism to the secretion of hormones.
"For winter," Holecek notes, Ayurvedic guidance on skincare is centered around keeping your kapha in balance (greater exfoliation), while during summer, pitta style aggravations, like redness and breakouts, call for cooling ingredients like aloe, rose water, and sandalwood." I'm partial to Collosol Eau de Lait ($18), Odacité Aloe + Immortelle Hydra Repair Treatment Mist ($39), and Dr. Barbara Sturm's Calming Serum ($250). She continues, "Vata is most predominant in the fall, which deals with many concerns we commonly associate with skin 'aging.' At this time, your skin should be protected from harsh heat and cold, as well as pampered to retain its natural oils and moisture." I suggest checking out May Lindstrom's The Blue Cocoon ($180) and Holecek recommends avoiding hot showers (as they can dry out your skin), using pH-balanced soaps, and drinking tons of water.
Dry Brushing and Oil Massage
The idea of exfoliating my body was not new, in fact, far from it. But, again, as I started to feel differences in my body from age and general apathy towards my heath, I decided to make a real change in the way I took care of myself. Dry brushing is a traditional Ayurvedic practice used to detox your lymphatic system and recharge and exfoliate your skin. "This ritual triggers an improvement in circulation and blood flow," says Holecek. She instructs, "Use a vegetable bristle dry brush and brush gently up and towards your heart in semicircular motions, just until your skin becomes slightly red. Don't use oil during the brushing, but I highly recommend a gentle self-massage after." Essential oils like cypress, juniper berry, and patchouli help with fluid retention, while rosemary, cinnamon, and citrus oils further improve blood circulation.
Eat Warming Foods
Every person is made up of all three doshas, though one is typically more dominant than others. And, diet plays a central role in keeping your dosha within balance. While I have a lot of pitta in me, I find vata-recommended eating habits keep my body the happiest. Such is the case with warming foods. As I try my best to eat healthy—my chosen route is to go gluten-free and stay away from processed foods—I notice the easiest way to do so is to choose a warming food at each meal. It helps make me feel full and satisfied. According to Holecek, eating food that is warm, moist, oily, smooth, and nourishing neutralizes excess dryness, and thus balances excess vata. "The vata is calmed by lubricating and nourishing the tissues, while supporting digestion and the natural elimination of waste," she says. Holecek also suggests eliminating too many cold or frozen foods, including the aforementioned refrigerated water, and incorporating warm fluids like soups or stews, as well as avocado, coconut, eggs, whole milk, berries, zucchini, and yogurt.