The ancient Vedic scholars of India brought Ayurvedic medicine, Ayurveda for sort, into being centuries ago. It offers remedies and rituals specific to individuals while taking a holistic approach to the healing of mind, body, and spirit. In Ayurveda, all things are taken into consideration. It boasts dozens of alternative medicine options.
Ayurvedic rituals extend beyond the treatment of illnesses and everyday maladies. You can practice Ayurveda every single day. Most Ayurveda practitioners and masters would recommend you do just that. Through consistency and thoroughness, you can achieve optimal health in every layer of your being and facet of your life.
Your unique constitution depends on a variety of factors. Your diet, lifestyle choices, food cravings and aversions, movement practices, energy levels, sleeping patterns, body type, digestive health, elimination tendencies, skin type, and more can clue you into your specific Dosha.
With your Dosha as your guide, you can build an all-encompassing practice that grants you balanced well-being through diligent upkeep of essential rituals and routines.
Determine Your Dosha
Ruled by fire, Pitta peaks during summertime. Within your day, Pitta rises during the daytime hours – 10 AM until 2 PM. During these hours, you should slow down a bit. Exercise would not be ideal during the midday heat, even in wintertime.
Pitta hours return at 10 PM and last until 2 AM. If you have a Pitta imbalance, you should take special care not to overexert yourself during Pitta hours and days. Common symptoms hinting at a Pitta imbalance include the following:
- Skin inflammation
- Short temper
- Increased anxiety
Reigning over the transformative and cooling days of Autumn, Vata is ethereal and light. Vata is most potent from 2 AM until 6 AM and 6 PM until 2 AM. These times of day might feel lighter, a bit less dense or anxiety-inducing in comparison to Kapha and Pitta hours.
Eating during Vata hours might be detrimental as it is meant to be a light, airy period. You might have a Vata imbalance if you feel familiar with the below symptoms:
- Prone to weight loss
- Dry skin
- Feeling ungrounded
With its elements of Earth and water, Kapha defines late winter into early spring. As the Earth becomes muddy, Kapha can be quite stubborn. Kapha rules the early morning hours of 6 AM until 10 AM.
In the evening, when Ayurveda asks you to wind down and head to bed, Kapha guides you through your evening routines from 6 PM until 10 PM. You might have a Kapha imbalance if you recognize a few of the below symptoms:
- Dewy skin
- Oily skin
- Prone to weight gain
General Ayurvedic Practices
Some Ayurvedic practices relate to the seasons or a specific climate. These can take a bit of time to come to know and understand, but the general Ayurveda practices shared below apply to everyone – no matter where you live or your present season.
A lot of the general practices in Ayurveda revolve around digestive health. Ayurveda relies on the idea that the gut and digestion are central factors in maintaining overall well-being. Many methods will work to strengthen, soothe, or balance Agni, your digestive fire. If Agni is strong, you can fully absorb and digest the food you consume in a way that benefits you immensely.
Early to bed, early to rise – Ayurveda asks you to tune in to the Earth’s natural rhythms. Through earthly seasons you can come to know your lengthier cycles. Daily, you can explore the shifts from the sun to moon, masculine energy descending into the feminine night, and align your waking hours to that of the Earth’s.
When the sun is up, Ayurveda asks you to rise and move about correspondingly. As the sun sets, slow with the parting light. Come evening, wind down your day with ample time to follow along with an evening routine. In doing so, you will find yourself to be more in balance. Due to such balance, your productivity levels increase as you find fulfilling rest overnight.
If you are beginning to shift your sleeping patterns to align with the sun’s hours and the moon’s rest, you might begin with that alone. Before building more rituals into your day, start with aligning your sleeping schedule in a way that allows for maximized energy and rest that then draws you into proper balance.
During wintertime, you do not necessarily have to go to bed right as the sunsets, as that would be asking a lot of you. Rather, you can wind down your day a bit earlier than usual. Embrace a slower pace during the winter months to honor its seasonal rhythm – one of lengthy rest and nesting within. The same can be said for summertime.
If the sunsets past the time when you typically begin to wind down, honor that rhythm, too. Rest is entirely acceptable, no matter how much emphasis modern society places on productivity and endless work.
Rising with the sun might mean waking up 30 minutes earlier than usual for a few days — progress from there as you adjust, waking up an hour earlier than your usual alarm. Eventually, you might wake up around the same time as the sun. Ayurveda asks you to rise a bit before daybreak, but that can take some adjusting. Be patient with yourself as you shift your sleeping rhythms.
Upon waking, first thing’s first – a glass of water. In Ayurveda, a warm eight ounces with a splash of lemon squeezed into the glass proves to be beneficial in getting things moving. The soothing drink might eventually be able to replace any caffeine habits you might be trying to kick.
Elimination Shortly After Rising
Elimination, in Ayurveda world, means going to the bathroom and emptying your bowels. This should occur shortly after waking, and the warm water and lemon might aid in such timeliness. The lightness brought about by the elimination matches the energy of the early morning – a Vata, airy essence.
According to work from the Uttarakhand Ayurveda University published by the Journal of Integrative Medicine in 2017, the term kriyakala relates to the “recognition of the stage of a disease’s progress.” Recognition allows for Ayurvedic practitioners and followers to then tune in to the imbalance in Doshas, which are linked to “biological factors.”
Breaking the term up a bit more, kriya means “the choice to treatment,” such as medicine, food, and daily routine. Kala refers to the exact stage of a disease or condition.
The full word, Shatkriyakala, connects to six, shat, cleansing processes meant to treat a present condition or stage. The six cleanses processes are as follows:
- Kapalabhati – A breathing technique
- Neti – A nasal rinse with saltwater, or on occasion with a thread
- Nauli – A Kriya practice where the internal organs are massaged through breath and abdominal muscles sucking in
- Trataka – Gazing at a fixed point, usually a flame, for an extended period
- Dhauti – A means of cleansing the digestive and respiratory tract with Kunjal Kriya
- Basti – A Yogic enema
If a consistent practice, including the above six cleansing techniques, is maintained, a follower of Ayurveda can come into balance and remain wholly healthy over time. Toxins are removed from your body that might otherwise stay after consumption of inadequate food, drink, or drugs.
Mental and emotional clarity should come about as toxins leave your body. So, the kriyas can cause you to face unprocessed emotions, held expectations, and any forms of anxiety/sadness, which seem to linger within your space.
With all you consume, how often do you honor the food on your plate? The warm blend in your mug? The water in your bottle? Take a pause before eating your food. Infuse it with blessings and gratitude, as it will nourish you on a cellular level. The blessings, then, will nourish you, too.
Make lunch your most nourishing meal – Occurring in the middle of the day, during Pitta hours, your digestion should be fully up and running by now. During Vata and Kapha hours, digestion might not be working quite so well.
To receive the most nutrients, and adequately absorb them, pack the most nutrients and sustenance into your lunch. Any other meals you eat throughout the day, breakfast, dinner, and snacks included, should be relatively light in comparison.
Ruled by Vata, the morning is meant to be a time for creativity and self-expression. Rather than rushing right into your work for the day, grant yourself time to ease into the day. Ideally, you would wake before 6 AM, but such is not always possible (or enjoyable when it is pitch black outside during the winter months).
With a cup of warm milk or water in hand, find your way out of bed and engage in some of the following practices meant to benefit you and you alone.
In the morning, during the hours, which are Vata and ethereal, you might take the time to meditate before the rest of the world rises. Meditation offers you space not only to quiet your mind but to explore the cyclical nature of your being. Notice where your breath wanders. Become acutely aware of repetitive thought patterns or habitual behaviors.
Through meditating you can become more aware of your inner realms of being. From there find, you can more patience and awareness as you eat, move, and connect throughout your day. Before bed, meditation offers space to release any thoughts of the day that linger, as well as any worries about the following day and its to-do list.
2| Oil Pulling, Kavala or Gundusha
As is the case with many of these Ayurvedic practices, oil pulling requires a bit of patience until you grow accustomed to the experience. In the morning, upon rising, you can improve your dental health and hygiene by merely swishing a tablespoon of oil in your mouth.
Oil pulling offers the best results when practiced for 20 minutes on an empty stomach. Supposedly, the practice can draw toxins out of your body, improving not only your oral health but digestive and respiratory as well. To be specific, oil pulling might be able to whiten your teeth, kill unnecessary bacteria, and freshen your breath.
Most Ayurvedic followers use coconut oil, as the taste is reasonably pleasant after you grow accustomed to its flavors. Try swishing a bit of coconut oil in your mouth as you shower or bathe. For the first few sessions, you can use a bit less than a tablespoon. Build up the amount over time. After your time is up, brush your teeth.
3| Tongue Scraping
Less unpleasant than it sounds, tongue scraping requires a (typically metal) tool that will scrape the built-up layers of mucus and phlegm off of your tongue. Tongue scraping aids in digestive tract functioning, respiratory health, and can lessen congestion. If you do not have access to a proper tongue scraper, a clean spoon does the trick, but a toothbrush is not nearly as effective.
To practice tongue scraping, follow along with these steps:
- Option to stand in front of a mirror so you can see what you are doing.
- Open your mouth and stick out your tongue.
- With your tongue scraper in one hand, place the curved side towards the middle or back of your tongue. If you have not practiced tongue scraping before, do not push yourself and reach too far back with your first attempt. As you become familiar with the technique, you can reach further back. You should not feel as if you are gagging the entire time you perform tongue scraping.
- Slowly, draw the tongue scraper towards the tip of your tongue with slight pressure. Do not push the tongue scraper towards the back of your tongue. It should only ever move forward towards your mouth so that bacteria can be removed.
- Scrape a couple of times until you have covered the entire surface of your tongue. Between scrapes, wipe the scraper with a washcloth or tissue.
- After your last scrape, rinse the scraper with warm water and soap. Dry it off with a clean towel and store it in a dry area.
Keep in mind; this process should not be painful. If you apply too much pressure, you cut your tongue or feel pain, lighten up a bit. This should be a gentle process that does not damage your taste buds or cause discomfort.
Using warm oils and your own hands, you can improve circulation, warm your body, aid in natural detoxification, release muscle tension or joint pain, and soften your skin. The practice of abhyanga, self-massage, requires about 15-20 minutes of your time.
Depending upon your Dosha, you will use a specific oil and practice a designated amount of time each week. Unsure of your Dosha?
Practicing a couple of times each week with jojoba oil would be your best bet.
- For those looking to balance Vata, practice abhyanga 4-5 times a week with sesame or almond oil.
- For those looking to balance Pitta, practice 3-4 times a week using coconut or sunflower oil.
- For those looking to balance Kapha, practice 1-2 times a week using safflower oil.
Follow these steps to perform abhyanga:
Warm your oil of choice to a comfortable temperature that feels safe for your skin. Use approximately ¼ cup.
- Sit, or stand, in a reasonably warm room.
- Starting at the crown of your head, apply the oil in circular strokes. Massage your entire scalp for a few moments before moving onto your face.
- With upward movements, continue to circle the oil around your forehead, temples, cheeks, and jawline. You can massage the outer parts of your ears, as well.
- Moving to your arms and legs, lengthen your strokes. Return to circular movements on the elbow and knee joints. Continue to direct the movements upwards towards your heart.
- For your abdomen and chest, use broad, circular motions.
- Lastly, take a few moments to massage your feet.
Avoid rinsing off immediately. Grant yourself time to sit with the oil in stillness for 5-15 minutes so that your skin can fully absorb the oil. Take a warm bath or shower and use a gentle cleanser to remove the leftover oils.
After your bath or shower, dry off gently. Avoid vigorously rubbing a towel on your skin as it is now extra sensitive following the massage.
A similar therapy due to its use of oils on the body, Shirodhara means head flow when translated from Sanskrit. In this form of Ayurveda therapy, oils are gently poured over the forehead.
Traditionally, sesame oil is used for Shirodhara. Coconut oil, olive oil, milk, or buttermilk might be used, as well. The treatment session lasts approximately 30 to 60 minutes, depending on a person’s condition and needs.
In some cases, Shirodhara has shown to improve sleep patterns for those who have insomnia. A study conducted by Ayurvedic doctors working out of Southern California University of Health Sciences found that practicing Shirodhara with Brahmi oil for 45 minutes over the course of 5 consecutive days significantly improved individuals’ sleeping habits.
Generally, Shirodhara can soothe anxiety and lessen stress thanks to its focus on the crown of the head.
2| Dry Brushing
Exactly as it sounds, dry brushing requires you to brush your dry skin with a brush. Use circular motions to promote lymphatic health and improve circulation. Practicing before bed and then taking a shower can lighten you up a bit before tucking into bed. Alternatively, this ritual works just as well in the morning if you prefer to shower after waking.
Warm Milk – Prepare for restful sleep with a warm milk blend featuring a bit of cinnamon and honey. Not only will this elixir soothe you and slow you down, but it will encourage your digestive tract to rest and strengthen. In doing so, you will be more likely to eliminate the following morning.
Nasal Rinse with a Neti Pot
While the use of a Neti Pot takes some practice, a nasal rinse benefits those with congestion, often linked to Kapha. When using a Neti Pot, ensure that all the materials are sanitized and thoroughly cleaned before each use. Distilled water should be the only liquid used. A nasal rinse can be practiced as often as you would like, though the flushing experience might require some patience.
With a blend of salt and distilled water in your Neti Pot (resembling a teapot), tilt your head over a sink or tub. With your right nostril raised towards the ceiling, bring the spout of the Neti Pot to your nostril. Begin to drip the water into your nostril. Keep your head tilted so that the liquid can flush out of the other nostril and drip into the sink or tub. Repeat on the other side in order to come into balance.
Nasal rinses are especially beneficial during Kapha season, from late winter until late spring, when colds and congestion are all too common. Avoid overusing this method, as it can lead to an imbalanced Vata dosha.
Breathing practices are linked to yoga asana but can find their way into any moment throughout your day. Pranayama, when translated from Sanskrit, means life force and extending. So, the practice of regulating and exploring your breath can strengthen your life force. Such a concept dwells entirely within the wide world of Ayurveda. Depending upon the season and your Dosha, different pranayama will be ‘ideal.’
One of the most popular and beneficial methods, though, is Nadi Shodhana. Nadi Shodhana, or ‘alternate-nostril breathing,’ bring your physical and subtle bodies into balance. Essentially, you close your right nostril with one finger, inhale through your left nostril, close your left nostril with another finger, open your right nostril, and exhale through your right nostril. Through repetition of this pattern, you can release built-up mucus and balance your subtle bodies, too.
Allow your body to move – With busy modernized schedules, people tend to workout whenever and however they can, if they even have time at all. So, while it is best to exercise during the morning Kapha hours, between 6 AM and 10 AM, you might have to opt for an evening workout.
Nonetheless, any movement that aids in encouraging blood flow, exploring mobility, and raising your heart rate can benefit you. If you are Kapha dominant, more exercise might help bring you into balance.
With the lethargic essence often linked to Kapha, fast-paced movements that cause you to break a sweat are optimal during Kapha morning times and for those with a Kapha imbalance.
Alternatively, Vata hours, both morning and evening, are prime time for some gentle, slow-flowing yoga. Some gentle stretching benefits you immediately after waking and prior to dozing off for the night.
Detox with Swedana
Swedana means to ‘perspire’ or ‘sweat,’ and is used in the form of steam therapy in Ayurveda. Typically, Swedana is practiced before to Panchakarma, five detoxification procedures, as a means of preparation. Within Swedana, there are varying methods. One, Niragni, has the body warmed without getting heated directly.
Someone might wear heavy clothing and then exercise or bask in the sun, for example. Another form of Swedana, Saagni, involves the application of dry or moist heat directly onto the body to make it warm.
Sarvanga Swedana, a common method, utilizes a closed steam chamber where people can lay down with their heads out of the chamber for a few minutes. Sarvanga Swedana would be practiced every day to properly treat specific conditions and diseases.
Explore The Six Tastes
Every food contains a specific taste. Based on your Dosha, some might be better to consume than others.
1| Sweet: Madhura
- Elements: Earth and Water
- Generally: Carbohydrates, sugars, fats, amino acids.
- Foods include: dates, basil, apples, rice, breads
2| Sour: Amla
- Elements: Earth and Fire
- Generally: Organic acids.
- Foods include: lemons, tomatoes, citrus fruits
3| Salty: Lavana
- Elements: Water and Fire
- Generally: Salts.
- Foods include: sea salt, celery
4| Bitter: Tikta
- Elements: Air and Ether
- Generally: Alkaloids, glycosides.
- Foods include: turmeric, kale, apple cider vinegar, grapefruit, chocolate
5| Astringent: Kashaya
- Elements: Air and Earth
- Generally: Tannin.
- Foods include: pomegranate, chickpeas, parsley, tofu, eggplants
6| Pungent: Katu
- Elements: Fire and Air
- Generally: Volatile oils.
- Foods include: onions, chile peppers
With the elements of each in mind, you might be able to assume which is best for you, and which might lead to further imbalances. For instance, perhaps you have a Vata imbalance.
You would likely find healing through the consumption of more sweet foods, such as dates and fruits, than bitter foods. If you had a Kapha imbalance, though, eating more sweet foods would further emphasize that imbalance as it would increase your Earth and water elements.
Throughout the seasonal shifts of the year, you might find yourself consuming more sweet foods at some points, due to cravings.
At another point, you might crave more pungent foods. The seasons affect your needs and cravings, so honoring the cycles of the year while considering your Dosha can significantly improve your overall well-being.
The rituals and practices you choose to explore are entirely up to you. It would be best to determine your Dosha before moving forward in some of the more specific practices or dietary recommendations.
Weaving in some of the general rituals, such as oil pulling, tongue scraping, dry brushing, and self-massage, can be a wonderful place to begin your journey in Ayurveda.