Secrets of Ayurveda

By Kulreet Chaudhary, MD

Posted on | By Kulreet Chaudhary, MD

Even if you have never heard of ayurveda before, the basic concepts are familiar to most people. You probably remember your parents or grandparents saying, “You are what you eat.” Ayurveda helps you to choose what to eat to create health and balance in your life by turning your kitchen into your personal pharmacy.

Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of India and the oldest surviving healing system in the world (about 5,000 years old).  “Ayu” means life and “veda” means knowledge, so ayurveda is the science of life. It is based on 3 fundamental concepts:

1. Food is medicine.

2. Disease can be prevented and eradicated through your daily habits.

3. Lifestyle recommendations are based on an individual’s physical, mental and emotional makeup.

Ayurveda is a treasure chest of natural remedies that promote longevity, beauty and vitality. The following are 4 common ayurvedic components and practices.

Curry Powder

There is no reason that eating healthy cannot be delicious, and that is the magic of curry powder. It is packed with spices that fight disease and serve as antioxidants. Ayurveda recognizes 6 tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. The American diet often has plenty of the first 3 – sweet, sour and salty – but is often missing the last three. Because curry satisfies all 6 tastes, it helps you eat less at each meal.

Every Indian family has their own recipe for curry powder. Each of the ingredients provides its own unique contribution to health and all the spices together are a powerful combination that counteracts disease and aging. Cumin and coriander in particular help with digestion. Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, gas and abdominal cramps can be remedied with regular use of these two spices. 

The real “superstar” of curry powder is turmeric. It is a potent antioxidant, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory that has been studied in relation to several conditions including cancer, wound healing, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. You can use turmeric in curry powder or get it in tablet form to increase your consumption.

Curry powder is easy to incorporate into any diet. You can either cook your food with it or just sprinkle it on top of salads, vegetables or meat. Many companies carry different varieties of curry powder, but once you begin grinding your own spices, you won’t be able to settle for a store-bought version. Click here for a curry powder mix you can make at home.

Holy Basil

Holy basil, or tulsi, is considered one of the most important herbs in ayurveda. It is used for many different conditions, but its ability to fight stress has led modern herbalists to label it as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help the body fight stress by reducing the production of stress hormones that result in the fight-or-flight response.   

To help counteract the stresses of modern life, you can grow a holy basil plant in your home and eat a leaf daily. It has an aromatic taste similar to the basil plant commonly used in Western cooking. It is most often consumed as a tea made of dried holy basil leaves, which is available at health food stores as tulsi tea. It can also be taken in pill form.

Sandalwood

Who doesn’t want to look younger and more radiant? A sandalwood face mask will give your face an instant lift, the natural way. Sandalwood detoxifies the skin by removing impurities directly as it dries on the skin. It also removes toxins by increasing circulation in the skin, leaving it glowing and feeling tighter. Sandalwood also has an alluring fragrance.

To make your own sandalwood face mask, use about 5 teaspoons of sandalwood powder and slowly mix in water until you have a thick paste. If you have a tendency toward acne or rashes, add 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder. If you tend to have very dry skin, you can add some castor or almond oil to the paste. You can apply the mask for 1 hour on a weekly basis for regular skin care or leave it on overnight every few months for a deep skin cleansing.

Daily Oil Massage (Abhyanga)

We tend to think of only getting massages from a therapist on special occasions. But you can treat yourself as often as you want to a warm oil massage in your own bathroom. This daily oil massage has several benefits including reducing stress, keeping skin youthful, and improving immunity. You and your partner can also do this massage on each other on the weekends to create an easy, affordable, and health-promoting romantic experience.

For the majority of people, the best oil to use is organic, cured sesame oil. But if you produce a lot of body heat, tend to get rashes easily, or are susceptible to inflammatory conditions, then organic coconut oil may be a better choice.

To purify the oil, “cure it” by warming it over low heat to about 212°F (100°C), the boiling point of water. Add just 1 or 2 drops of water to the oil in the beginning. You will know when the proper temperature has been reached when the drops of water sputter and pop. You can cure about 1 quart or liter of oil at one time. This will provide enough oil for at least 15 applications. To save time during your daily massage, transfer a 3-4 day supply of oil into a small plastic flip-top bottle (available at most drug stores). Heat the bottle in the bathroom by placing it into a cup of hot water from the sink. Let it sit for 1-2 minutes to warm up while you brush your teeth, etc.

Massage the head and neck first, then apply the oil to all parts of the body before you begin the rest of the massage. This will allow the oil to be on the body for the maximum amount of time before taking your bath or shower.

The head and scalp are the most important areas to massage, so spend the most time there. Use long, back and forth strokes on the long bones in your arms and legs; use circular motions over your joints, heart and stomach. Finally, massage the bottoms of your feet. The feet are also considered important, so proportionally spend more time on them.

The complete oil massage usually takes 10-20 minutes, but you can spend as little as 5 minutes a day doing abhyanga and still enjoy tremendous health benefits.

Article written by Kulreet Chaudhary, MD
Neurologist and Maharishi Ayurveda Expert