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A 6-Step Introduction to the Ancient Practice of Ayurveda

This may be just what the doctor ordered.

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Masseuse dripping oil on back
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In 1993, I sat on the floor of a Crown Books in Washington, D.C., with a book called Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, by a young Indian doctor named Deepak Chopra. I didn’t really grasp it all, but it captivated me. I bought it, devoured it and learned that much of its teachings came from something called Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old system of medicine from India.

I was 30 years old, and so the journey began. I had been meditating and practicing yoga for few years, but eventually it wasn’t enough. I was overweight and felt stuck in many ways. I wasn’t making good decisions in relationships. Conventional practices to lose weight only left me depleted, discouraged and bulimic. There had to be a better way.

Fast forward to 2007, I owned my own bookstore, in Baltimore, and I pulled a book on Ayurveda off the shelf and did some self-diagnosis. A quiz on my doshas — (the energies that define a person’s makeup) clearly revealed my imbalances.  

Yoga and meditation are often called the sister science of Ayurveda, so I was hopeful that this would be the missing puzzle piece. So, off I went to the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California, for a 10-day detox process to clean me up.

It worked! I was hooked and began a deep study of Ayurveda in the United States and India, eventually closing my bookstore in 2014 to focus fully on this healing method. I went on to become a certified practitioner and the author of several books on the subject.

Here are some introductions to the healing world of Ayurveda that may balance out your own overall health.

1.) Notice how you feel when the seasons change. If you have sinus headaches, watery eyes or rhinitis, you could be suffering from allergies. Irritated sinuses are usually a result of plant and tree allergens. A neti pot (saline nasal wash) can rinse away the irritants. And oiling the nasal passages with nasya oil will nourish the tissues of the nasal passages. Try using a neti pot once or twice a day in allergy season. Allow the nasal passages to dry completely before applying the oil. The oil will block further environmental toxins from invading the nose and reduce already inflamed tissues.

2.) Aches and pains in the muscles and joints due to arthritis, overuse or injury plague most of us as we age. Using specific Ayurvedic oils on the body on a daily basis penetrates the tissues, eliminating toxins, reducing inflammation, strengthening the joints and increasing mobility. Mahanarayan oil is organic sesame seed oil steeped in herbs known to ease joint and muscle aches. It can be applied several times a day. Massage deeply into affected areas — and mix it with Tiger Balm Liniment to enhance its effectiveness.

3.) Aging skin needs specific care to maintain its protective microbiome. Massaging the whole body with oil daily, called abhyanga, nourishes the skin from outside in. Apply to warm, damp skin, before or just out of the bath or shower, and allow the oil to penetrate the skin before rinsing or dressing. No need to wash the oil away with soap or cleansers. Allowing a thin sheen of oil to stay on your skin prevents environmental toxins from getting in. You can find a variety of Ayurvedic daily massage oils as well as dosha-specific ones online.

4.) One of the most important supplements to take in an Ayurvedic regimen is shatavari, an herb made from the asparagus plant. This supplement is believed to support a woman through every stage of life, from fertility to igniting libido. It even nourishes and lubricates the vaginal tissues after menopause, essential for easing dryness. Check with your health care practitioner before starting on any herbal supplements to be sure that they do not interfere with any drugs you are currently taking. 

5.) Ashwagandha (Sanskrit for “strength of a horse”) is another Ayurvedic supplement regularly prescribed, and it may be beneficial, especially for older adults. Ashwagandha may help promote healthy sleep and may help maintain a relaxed energy level. The aging process is supported by this herb as it helps to promote strong muscles, joint health and bone density.

6.) Ayurveda suggests that each meal should be two handfuls of food. (The 50 pounds I took off years ago has stayed off because I have always kept these portions in mind!) This leaves one-third of the stomach empty, so the digestive fires can break down the food and separate nutrients from waste. Eat three meals a day, no snacks, including a light dinner at least three hours before bed, which will improve your sleep. Meals should be simple and wholesome. 

Avoid processed foods and products with chemicals and preservatives. If the package has more than seven ingredients on the label, it's probably processed. Cooked and warm foods are easier to digest than cold, so they are more nutritious. Think cooked greens, grains and beans.

If your interest in this time-proven field of medicine has piqued your curiosity, you can find a certified practitioner to work with you in a directory like this. A practitioner will put together a plan based on your individual needs to help you heal and keep you balanced for the long run. 

My own adherence to Ayurveda has carried me through life. If you begin exploring this powerful lifestyle medicine, heed this important advice from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, part of the National Institutes of Health:

·  If you have a health condition or allergies, talk with your conventional health care provider before using Ayurvedic products.

·  Always tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches and supplements you plan to use. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

Have you ever heard of this ancient practice? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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