Winter Skin Care: Ayurveda Tips for a Glowing Complexion

This week we are reposting one of our most-read posts… 

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If you are familiar with Ayurveda, you are familiar with the concept that everything in life — including our bodies, the food that we eat, and the environment around us — is composed of the three “doshas”; Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  These qualities, or principles of nature, each have their own fundamental traits. Vata, the principle of movement, is the ruling dosha for the late fall and winter seasons. These months are marked by the same qualities that characterize Vata: coldness, dryness, lightness, and movement.

During the winter many notice a tendency toward dryness, constipation, anxiety and insomnia — all Vata imbalances that can take their toll on our skin.  Luckily, through the understanding of Ayurvedic principles, we can take steps to pacify Vata and keep our skin balanced and glowing throughout the winter months.

Washing the Face

At any time of the year it is important to be gentle when washing the face, as it is easy to aggravate vata, which can promote dryness and wrinkles. Favor body-temperature water over hot water. Avoid using soaps with chemical additives. For most skin types, sweet almond oil is a good lubricant to use after washing to help protect the skin. Sweet almond oil is also healthy way to remove make-up before washing. A luxurious option for keeping skin lubricated in the winter is to bathe the face with milk. Whole, organic milk is ideal. The tiny, nutritious molecules of milk can be easily be absorbed by our skin without clogging the pores. Heat the milk to body temperature (not too hot) before applying.

Ten Vata-Reducing Tips to Promote Glowing Skin

  1. Drink plenty of warm, pure water throughout the day to both purify the body and stay well hydrated.
  2. Ideally, enjoy organic, freshly cooked meals, using healthy oils such as olive oil and ghee. Remember, you want to counter the influence of Vata, which is characterized as light, dry and cold. Healthy oils in winter are our friends.
  3. Eat your main meal at noon.
  4. Avoid packaged, frozen, canned and processed foods, which are difficult to digest and often include harmful additives.
  5. Favor Vata-pacifying foods such as avocados, pumpkins, carrots, beets, asparagus, bananas, lemons, mangoes, peaches, quinoa, basmati rice, wheat, almonds, sesame seeds, boiled milk, and ghee. Nuts and seeds provide healthy oils that are good for skin and hair. Eat more foods with sweet, sour, and salty tastes and less of those with bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes.  Don’t forget that Ayurveda recommends having some amounts of all six tastes with every meal. Otherwise the body can develop food cravings. Ayurvedic spice mixes or “churnas” can help you make sure that you get all six tastes.
  6. Avoid dry, raw foods, especially salads and raw vegetables.
  7. Use a humidifier at night, especially if you have forced air heating.
  8. Oil Up! Before your morning bath, give yourself a gentle self-massage with sesame oil. Those who tend toward pitta imbalances may prefer sweet almond oil or olive oil or coconut oil. The oil helps to pull out toxins from the skin and also leaves a protective layer between your skin and the harsh winter environment. Don’t feel like you have to remove the oil with soap. Soap is essentially oil and fat combined with salt. A good scrub with a luffa or body brush after your morning oil massage is really all you need.
  9. Go to bed early and try to get eight hours of sleep. The most effective means of pacifying Vata is to increase rest.
  10. Learn to meditate.  The Raj Ayurveda Health Center recommends the Transcendental Meditation program (TM) to complement their in-residence Ayurvedic treatment packages. An imbalance of Vata can lead to an overactive mind, worry, anxiety and insomnia. Over 350 published research studies on the TM technique have documented a wide range of benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, improved health and brain function, and increased self-actualization.

For more information on Vata-pacifying skin care products, herbal formulas to improve skin or digestion please contact the herb room at The Raj. Ideally a visit to an Ayurvedic expert in your area will help to more precisely determine which supplements, diet recommendations and life-style tips would benefit your individual mind/body make-up.

Learn more at:

www.theraj.com

Can Ayurveda Panchakarma Treatments Cure Disease?

The Ayurveda approach to disease and disorders focuses on boosting the overall immune system and restoring balance to the physiolgoy. One of the key approaches is through Panchakarma, the traditional purification therapies of Ayurveda. Panchakarma effectively eliminates toxins from the body and helps eliminate imbalances. It is recommended for healthy individuals as well as for those showing symptoms of various disorders.

According to Ayurveda, our physiology is made up of doshas (functional elements), dhatus (structural elements) and malas (waste products). The three doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. (Read our blog on Understanding the Doshas if you are unfamiliar with this concept.) The three doshas are responsible for specific functions in our body and their balance is foundational to our health — whereas a loss of balance is known to contribute to disease and disorders.

The traditional detoxification therapies of Ayurveda, called Panchakarma, are designed to help to bring these doshas back to their natural balance, thus restoring health and vitality.

Healthy Life wooden sign with a beach on background

Three Stages of Panchakarma:

Stage one: During the first phase of Panchakarma, the body and the internal system is prepared for the elimination of toxins. This process is marked by 1) oliation: purifying the body by administering various oils both internally and externally, and 2) sudation: preparing the sweat glands to expel the toxins through sweat.

Oliation begins a week before your actual treatment program and continues through your course of therapies. The home routine is created specifically to support your individual doshic balance and state of health. Most people follow a low-fat diet during this time, while ingesting varying amounts of ghee and/or herbs.

Stage two: Stage two involves the elimination process. This stage is added during your treatment program. Most people who undergo Panchakarma are prescribed “basti” treatments. Basti is an Ayurvedic treatment in which medicated oils and herbal preparations are introduced as an enema in order to flush toxins from the intestinal tract. Bastis offer more healing benefits than simply evacuating the colon. The medicinal effects of herbs given in this manner are able to penetrate the deeper tissues of the physiology, including the bones. Bastis are extremely effective in balancing Vata dosha. Because Vata dosha is the first dosha to go out of balance and tends to create problems with the other doshas, balancing Vata is key to bringing balance to the physiology as a whole.

Stage three: Adopting a healthy routine. Removing toxins is not a magical solution that will keep you healthy for life. During your stay at The Raj, you will be given recommendations for changes in diet and lifestyle that will help you to maintain balance and support a healthy immune system. Understanding the Ayurvedic principles of daily routine and diet according to the seasons and your doshic balance, and understanding how to maintain a strong digestion are all key to keeping your mind/body system at its strongest.

Over the years we have seen guests arrive at The Raj with numerous concerns ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes, MS, migraines, asthma, arthritis and more. And again and again, we receive letters weeks after guests’ departures telling us how their symptoms have improved. Did Panchakarma “cure” these disorders? Not at all. What Panchakarma did was to remove the toxins and imbalances that were blocking the natural ability of the body to heal itself. If you support your immune system, your immune system will support you.

For more information on Panchakarma, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:

www.theraj.com

Ayurveda and Colds: How to Avoid Them and What to Do When You Have One?

Our bodies are more susceptible to health problems when the seasons are changing because our body functions differently in each season. When it is hot outside, our agni (or digestive fire) automatically decreases. Thus during the summer months our digestive capacity is diminished. Once the outside temperatures begin to fall, our internal fires naturally start to build and our desire to eat increases. Unfortunately the transition from one season to the next rarely proceeds systematically. Instead we deal with day-to-day temperatures that can fluctuate dramatically. Going from hot to cold to hot to cold, it is easy for our digestive system to become compromised. Too often as we enter the fall season, our desire to eat heavier foods collides with an inability to digest them. When the food we eat is not fully digested, what should be a clear extraction supplying the organs and tissues with high quality nutrition becomes instead a toxic substance that clogs the channels and tissues. Ayurveda refers to this toxin as ama. The accumulation of ama can compromise our immune system and make us more susceptible to colds and flu.

Signs of Ama Accumulation:

  1. A thick coating on the tongue when you wake up in the morning
  2. Constipation and/or digestive issues like gastritis
  3. Bad breath
  4. Feeling of heaviness or fatigue when you wake up
  5. Chronic sinus issues, allergies, chronic colds or bronchitis

One of first organ systems to be affected by ama accumulation is the respiratory system. This build up creates the conditions favorable to phlegm and mucus in the lungs and sinuses. A build up of Kapha can lead to sneezing, cough, and runny nose. According to Ayurveda, the common cold results largely from an imbalance of the Kapha and Vata. Kapha, we have seen, is responsible for the respiratory system and lungs, while Vata is responsible for immune system.

This is why people who are Kapha dominant, and/or in an unbalanced state due to diet or lifestyle errors, are more prone to colds and sinus infections. (Conversely, when Kaphas are healthy and balanced, they can have the strongest immune system. It’s a question of balance.)

Increasing Immunity

Although, technically colds are caused by the rhino virus, we all know people who never catch a cold and others who always do. The ability to withstand exposure to a virus is a function of your immune system. B balancing Kapha and Vata and reducing ama is vital if we want to avoid colds.

Ayurvedic Guidelines to Prevent Colds

  1. Stay Warm: Dress in layers so that you can be prepared for the fluctuations of heat and cold between inside temperatures and outside. Be sure to cover your head and ears when you go outside. The ears are one of the main seats of Vata. Drink warm liquids throughout the day.
  2. Sip hot water throughout the day. This will help the body flush out ama, pacify Vata and help hydrate your mucus membranes.
  3. Warm Foods: Follow the general Ayurvedic advice to drink liquids at room temp or warm/hot. If you drink milk, first bring it to a boil and cook with ginger root, cardamom, or clove in order to balance milk’s natural Kapha quality.
  4. Avoid cold food, avoid most dairy and other sweet, Kapha-promoting foods. Yogurt in the form of lassi is okay at noon, but not at night.
  5. Fruit: Stick to apples, pears and other seasonal or dried fruits like dates. Stewed fruits are excellent at this time of the year. (Or any time of the year!) Again, try adding spices like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Avoid bananas, as they are quite cooling.
  6. Vegetables: Avoid cold veggies like carrots, cucumber, raw tomato, and salads—these are foods that can dampen Agni, our digestive fire. Favor warming veggies like baked hard squash, and green leafy veggies, lightly cooked.
  7. Soups: Soups are an ideal choice at this time of year. Soups are easy to digest and moisten and lubricate the mucosa in the nose and throat, making it harder for rhinoviruses to penetrate. Throw in lots of warming spices.
  8. Spices: Keep your insides warm with thermogenic spices — cumin is an excellent burner of ama. So are ginger, black pepper, coriander, oregano, thyme, sage, fenugreek, and fennel. If you drink milk, drink it hot simmered with ginger, cardamom, clove, and cinnamon. Turmeric is an excellent spice that builds immunity and reduces ama. So is fresh ginger. Used together, these spices can help combat the heaviness of a rich meal.

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What To Do If You Get a Cold?

  1. Drink ginger tea. It acts as a decongestant and helps stimulate digestion. Ginger can reduce excess Kapha and stimulate circulation, making it an excellent medicine for colds and flus.
  2. Try drinking warm water with fresh squeezed lemon and honey to sooth a sore throat and help with coughing. (Remember, never bake with honey or put honey into water that is too hot to sip.)
  3. Gargle with salt water. Gargling loosens excess mucus and removes bacteria and fungi from the throat. The Mayo Clinic confirms that gargling with salt water can provide temporary relief for sore, itchy throats.
  4. Breath in eucalyptus drops. Bring a pot of water to a boil and remove from its heat source. Take a towel and create a tent over the pot. Put in a drop or two of eucalyptus oil and breath deeply.
  5. Use oil, inside and out! To counterbalance the dryness of Vata give yourself a warm oil massage every morning before your bath or shower. Include a small quality of healthy oils like olive oil or ghee at every meal. Flaxseed oil is high in Omega-3 fatty acidsThe delicate nature of seasonal transitions is exactly the reason that Ayurveda recommends the purification treatments of Ayurveda (Panchakarma or PK) to be taken at the beginning of each season. Panchakarma taken at the end of summer, for example, helps release summer heat, irritation and inflammation. Getting rid of any accumulated ama also helps insure protection against colds, congestions, respitory infectcions and the flu.

For more information on increasing your immune system and removing ama, visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa web site:

http://www.theraj.com

How To Reduce and Manage Stress—a Key Tool for Healthy Living

Life, by nature, can be unpredictable and, therefore, stressful. If we are lucky, the stress we experience is a short-lived. Too often, however, situations occur that keep us stressed for days, weeks, or even months. This experience of unrelenting stress can cause significant damage to our health, mind and emotions. If you go to the Internet, you’ll find pages and pages of articles and research studies linking stress to ill health.

Stress Creates a Super-highway for Spreading Cancer

Depression and Chronic Stress Accelerate Aging

Moderate to High Stress Leads to Higher Mortality Rate

Mild Stress Linked to Long-Term Disability

Stress Can Control Our Genes

Chronic Stress May Cause Long-Lasting Epigenetic Changes

Chronic Stress Predisposes Brain to Mental Illness

Stress: Yes It Really Can Trigger a Heart Attack

Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity

Clearly if we are interested in staying healthy, stress management should be one of our top priorities.

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Let’s take a look at the mechanisms of the stress response. Stress is described as “any physical, emotional, social, economic or other factor that requires a response to change.” Since it has been said that ” change is the only constant in life”, if stress is associated with change, it can also be considered a constant. Luckily the human body is brilliantly designed to react to stress. It does so by activating the secretion of the hormone cortisol. This initiates a beautiful cascade of physiological responses that allows us to deal with immediate danger or challenge.

When the adrenal gland releases cortisol into the body, the hormone “turns off” many of our normal physiological mechanisms while “turning on” many temporary mechanisms. This is the source of the “fight or flight” response. Ideally once the emergency situation has been resolved, our metabolic functions go back to their normal functioning. But if we are under constant stress the adrenal gland does not get a signal to stop producing cortisol. The long-term production of cortisol can severely compromise our health and permanently alter our metabolic process.

Results of Long-Term Stress

Some of the documented results of long-term stress include:

  1. Weakened immune response leading to heightened vulnerability to infection
  2. Memory loss: excess cortisol can overwhelm the hippocampus and actually cause atrophy. Studies of the elderly have indicated that those with elevated cortisol levels display significant memory loss resulting from hippocampus damage. Luckily the damage incurred is usually reversible.
  3. Shortening of telomeres. The link between memory loss and stress may in some part be due to shortened telmeres. The telomere is the outermost part of the chromosome. As we age, telomeres shorten. Research has shown that oxidative stress and inflammation accelerates this shortening. Shorter telomere length has recently been associated with cortisol levels indicative of exposure to chronic stress. If its telomeres get too short, a cell may die. Shortened telomere length has been associated with risks for dementia and mortality, and may be a marker of biological aging, according to a new study.
  4. An increase in abdominal fat. Researchers at Yale University found slender women who had high cortisol also had more abdominal fat. Abdominal, or visceral, fat is a key player in a variety of health problems Visceral fat has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.
  5. Systemic inflammation. Researchers have found that chronic stress changes gene activity of immune cells before they enter the bloodstream so that they’re ready to fight infection or trauma — even when there is no infection or trauma to fight. This leads to increased inflammation in the body. Problematically, systemic inflammation is known to cause elevated cortisol levels. Thus chronic stress can create a vicious cycle wherein the cortisol and inflammation basically feed each other. Chronic inflammation has been linked with a range of conditions such as heart disease, depression and even cancer.

Stress-Busters

While we may not be able to eliminate the stress in our lives, we can take measures to give the body the relief from stress that it needs in order to stay healthy.

  1. Decrease consumption of caffeine and alcohol, both of which impact cortisol levels
  2. Go to bed by 10:00. Your body needs sleep. Getting six hours or less over time can significantly increase cortisol levels. It takes a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep to give your body enough time to recover from the stresses of the day before.
  3. Practice a stress reduction technique. Research has shown that the Transcendental Meditation technique (TM) can lower cortisol levels. The lowering is even greater in those who practice TM regularly. In fact, the longer people practice TM, the more pronounced is the effect. TM was also found to decrease the time it took for the body return to normal functioning following stressful stimuli. This is significant because high cortisol levels can actually create a self-perpetuating loop by disrupting the delicate feedback balance that tells the brain to stop releasing cortisol.Researchers concluded that the Transcendental Meditation technique gives the body a reprieve from experiencing stress, and as a result, the body is able to respond more normally to stress stimuli of short duration.
  4. Schedule a week of Panchakarma treatments. Multiple studies have shown that massage therapy can lower cortisol levels, increase dopamine and serotonin (our happy, feel-good hormones), and lower excitatory hormones like norepinephrine and epinephrine. A week of luxurious in-residence treatments can provide a much-needed break from the day-to-day pressures at work and home.

More Stress-Busting Recommendations

  • Get more spinach in your diet.  Spinach has magnesium, which help balance your body’s production of cortisol.
  • Eat more citrus fruits.  Research has shown that citrus fruits like oranges and kiwis have high content of vitamin C, which help slow the production of cortisol.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough healthy omega-3 oils in your diet.  These healthy fats not only inhibit inflammation, but also help lower cortisol levels and reduce stress.
  • Get some Holy Basil in your diet!  This tasty herb is an adaptogen herb, which is a unique class of healing plants that help reduce the production of stress related hormones.
  • Research has shown that zinc helps inhibit the production of cortisol.  Vegetarians can get zinc from cashews, pumpkin seeds, spinach and beans.
  • Good news! Dark chocolate has high levels of anti-oxidants that help decrease inflammation and slow the secretion of cortisol.  Just make sure that it’s at least 70% dark chocolate.

Arming ourselves with an understanding of the stress response and minimizing the impact of stress on our minds and bodies is one of the keys to maintaining balanced health. This is why any responsible health program must include stress reduction techniques. Learn more about Panachkarma treatments and learning the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique at The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa:

www.theraj.com

Reducing Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis with Ayurveda

Many health experts, including well-known natural health care advocate Dr. Andrew Weil, have observed that symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) respond well to changes in diet and lifestyle, stress reduction, and mind/body techniques.

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Modern medicine describes MS as a slow progression of patches of demyelization of the brain and spinal chord. However, pinpointing what triggers the disease still eludes Western medical experts.

Balancing Vata

According to Ayurveda, Vata dosha is the aspect of biological intelligence that controls all movement in the body, including the overall level of balance and activation of the nervous system. MS is seen as a classic Vata imbalance. Many of the conditions and symptoms of Vata imbalance correspond with symptoms often associated with MS:  insomnia, headaches, pain, anxiety and fear, fatigue, poor digestion, dry or rough skin, constipation and heightened sensitivity.

Traditional Ayurvedic recommendations to help balance Vata can aid in the natural healing process for those with MS.

  1. Favor fresh, organic cooked foods, including lots of cooked vegetables
  2. Drink warm liquids — but avoid caffeinated beverages. Sipping hot water throughout the day is highly recommended
  3. Avoid cold drinks and raw foods.  Add ghee to your meals to counter-balance dryness.
  4. Go to bed early, preferably by 10 pm. Get plenty of rest.
  5. Avoid strenuous exercise. Walking and swimming and yoga are best for those with Vata aggravation.
  6. Avoid processed foods, eat your main meal at noon and eat lighter means at night to improve digestion.

Remove Toxins and Strengthen Immunity

The build up of plaque around affected nerves with accompanying inflammation that is seen in MS is a classic example of impurities building up in tissues and disrupting delicate tissue biochemistry. At The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, foundational to Ayurveda programs for MS is Panchakarma, a series of Ayurvedic treatments that help remove impurities from the bodily tissues. The program also includes individualized dietary recommendations to pacify Vata and improve digestion, thus helping to reduce the further accumulation of impurities.

Modern medicine postulates that infection by a latent virus may possibly cause MS. As a result, immune function-enhancing therapies are often used to combat the illness. The fundamental goal of Panchakarma treatments are to strengthen the body’s own healing mechanisms by removing toxins and impurities that block the natural flow of intelligence in the body.

Under the guidance of trained Ayurveda experts Panchakarma treatments, the introduction of yoga and meditation, and individualized dietary and lifestyle changes create a natural approach to MS that can offer relief to symptoms of MS as well as support long-term remission.

For more information on Ayurvedic treatment programs for MS at The Raj Ayurveda Health Center and to read testimonials and case studies of those who have participated in this natural approach to MS relief, please visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa:

http://www.theraj.com