The Fall is swiftly approaching and with this new season comes some common seasonal ailments, including dry skin. According to Ayurveda, India’s 5,000-year-old medical system, dry skin is the result of increased air and ether in our natural environment. An increase of these two elements equals an increase in what Ayurveda calls, vata dosha. To understand what this means, let us begin with Ayurvedic philosophy. From there, we can learn simple Ayurvedic tips and remedies that will help keep your skin moisturized and supple throughout the fall and winter months.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a traditional Indian medicine. It literally translates to the knowledge (ayu) of life (veda). Ayurveda is where Chinese Medicine has its roots. The Buddha had an Ayurvedic Doctor. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga but is lesser known in the United States because it did not come over to the states as early as yoga.
Essentially, Ayurveda gives us the daily tools we need to stay healthy as we pursue our spiritual journey or dharma. Ayurveda is, at its center, a beautifully simple science that believes that what is harmonious for some may imbalance others. In other words, we all have different needs that will maintain both physical and emotional balance within us. These different needs are dependent on the unique blend of doshas that make us who we are.
There are 3 constitutions or doshas in Ayurveda: vata, pitta & kapha. These three doshas are comprised of the natural elements: ether, air, fire, water & earth. Everything that is alive has the 5 elements within it and all 3 doshas. Yet, every living being has a unique blend of the elements and thus the doshas. For example, a person may have more fire within them if they are a natural born leader compared to another person that has more of the water element and prefers to act as a loving support for those around them.
The term Ayurvedic constitution refers to the unique blend of doshas that comprise your body, mind and emotions. The beauty about Ayurveda is that it does not believe in a “one size fits all” prescription for health and wellness. Instead, it looks at each person as an individual. It looks at each symptom or dis-ease as an indicator of the person moving away from their natural balance.
The Doshas & the Seasons
The elements and the doshas are always moving with the natural world. In the spring season, water and earth are the predominant elements and kapha dosha is prevalent. In the summer, fire becomes the strongest, bringing pitta dosha into the forefront. During the fall and winter, air and ether become the main elements present and it is considered to be vata season.
To understand vata season, begin to picture the leaves falling in the wind, autumnal yellows, oranges and reds momentarily painting the crisp blue sky then settling into the earth below. Imagine the wind in your hair, blowing across your face and brushing up against your skin. Now, fast forward a month or so to winter. Imagine that same wind, but now instead of leaves falling gracefully from the trees, the trees are left stripped down to a skeleton. Likewise, that soft wind in your hair, that brushed up gently against your cheeks, has become harsh, cold and severe.
I paint this picture in order to recognize that the elements of air and ether have the ability to create incredible beauty, but when in excess (as they accumulate to in the winter months) can create depletion and severe conditions. Our bodies, if out of balance in vata, will mimic the qualities of the natural world. Excessive dryness in the skin and digestive tract (think constipation, gas & bloating), anxiety and/or difficulty falling asleep may occur.
Ayurveda believes we must counterbalance what is being agitated in nature. Thus, in the fall and winter, cold, dry, mobile, light qualities are the strongest; hence, we must work to warm, moisturize, ground and stabilize our bodies daily. Thankfully, Ayurveda has equipped us with simple tips and daily practices, or what I like to call, rituals, to keep us healthy and balanced. One of the most beneficial Ayurvedic daily practices one can incorporate this fall and winter is the practice of self-abhyanga or self-massage.
Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic term for lovingly oiling the body. The Sanskrit word “sneha” translates to “oil” or “love”. So, “snehana” to oil oneself, is to love oneself. Practicing abhyanga regularly provides a profound feeling of stability, strength, hydration and well-being,
A daily practice of self-abhyanga restores balance to the three doshas, moves the lymphatic system, increases circulation, improves skin tone, increases stamina, calms the nerves, moisturizes the skin and counteracts the effects of aging.
The Charaka Samhita, one of Ayurveda’s most ancient and revered texts, has this to say about abhyanga:
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”
Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89
Oils for Each Dosha
Ayurveda is a firm believer in using herbal, organic oils instead of body lotion for the abhyanga practice, and there are particular oils that work best based on each doshic skin type.
Vata type skin has the tendency to experience premature wrinkles and is considered the driest skin of all 3 doshas. Due to this, Ayurveda recommends using warm, heavy, highly moisturizing oils for abhyanga. The best oils for vata are sesame and almond oil.
When pitta type skin is imbalanced, it experiences sensitivity, inflammation and oiliness. The excessive heat associated with pitta, in the long run, can create a combination of oily & dry skin. The ideal oils to balance pitta are cooling in nature and include sunflower and olive oil.
Kapha type skin when out of balance manifests as oily, clammy and congested. The congestion can make the skin feel cold to the touch. To counterbalance these symptoms, use oils that are lighter, warmer and that promote circulation. Recommended oils are safflower and grapeseed oil.
At PAAVANI Ayurveda, we make medicated or herbally infused abhyanga oils that are specific for each dosha’s needs. Learn more about their amazing benefits and ingredients by clicking here.
How to Perform a Self-Abhyanga
Now that you know which oil is best for your skin type, let us look into how exactly to perform a self-abhyanga.
- Begin by placing your oil in hot water until it becomes a pleasant temperature. It could be nice to invest in a small crockpot that you can leave in your bathroom and heat the oil in each morning. If you do not have a small crock pot, you can run hot water over your oil bottle until it heats to the desired temperature.
- Lovingly massage oil into the body for 10-15 minutes, beginning at extremities and working towards the center of the body.
- Vigorously massage feet and hands using back-and-forth motions with the open part of your hand.
- Massage arms and legs with circular strokes on joints, and long, back-and-forth strokes on limbs.
- Massage abdomen using clockwise motion, following the direction of the large intestine.
- Massage chest with small, upward, circular motions, starting on the bottom of the breastbone and making way up to collarbone and also around outside of breasts.
- Massage back as well as you can. You can use a downward stroke on the lower back to help increase the downward flow of energy.
- Once you have massaged your entire body, let oil penetrate into the skin for as long as you can, preferably 20 minutes. Ayurvedic Practitioner and Naturopath, Dr. Meghana Thanki of Second Nature Clinic suggests doing your yoga asana practice at this time. She recommends doing 5-10 sun salutations in order to increase the heat in your body. This will help the oil penetrate even more deeply into the skin. After your 20 minutes is up, enjoy a warm shower allowing your pores to open and receive the benefits of the oil even deeper into the skin’s layers.
- After your shower, there is no need to apply any other moisturizer. The oil will have absorbed into the skin and the body, providing you with grounded energy and moisturization.
- If you find you do not have 20-30 minutes prior to bathing in the morning to perform your self-abhyanga, an alternative would be to bathe and then apply the oil to the body. It is best to apply the oil when the body is still moist or damp from the shower. With this method of application, you may notice that you use less oil, as your moist skin requires a smaller amount. Proceed with the same steps 1-8. Again, allow the oil to replace any body lotion.
Ayurveda provides us with countless seasonal tips and remedies to help keep us in balance all year long. The art of self-abhyanga is one of the most treasured practices in Ayurveda. It restores the connection to our bodies and we cultivate self-love into our day. If you experience dry skin in the fall and winter months or feel anxious or overwhelmed, self-abhyanga can be a wonderful daily practice to keep vata dosha in balance and restore the health of your skin. Here’s to the healing effects of oil- let it be your ally as you step into this new and fresh season.
Written by Trudy C. Collings / Edited by Leah D. Klatt