Ayurveda is an ancient wisdom for a modern world. Our Ayurvedic specialist shares 10 of her favorite methods to help you get healthy in 2023.
Written by Marissa Hutter | Photographed by Kylene White
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word for the “science of life.” It’s the ancient healing system from India, and possibly the oldest health care system in the world. Ayurveda is NOT a diet, detox, or program of restriction, counting, or measuring. It’s a 5,000+ year old proactive approach to health. Ayurveda’s holistic practices can help you deepen the awareness of your body’s language in order to create optimal health and vitality.
To kick off the new year, here are 10 rituals based in ayurvedic principles that are easy to follow and add to your daily routine. These practices promote good digestion, balanced hormones and a grounded nervous system. They’re also very practical ways to build healthier habits in a way that’s doable in 2023. Bon bon vie!
Ritual 1: Wake up just before sunrise
Waking with the sun will energize you, as it’s at a lighter time of the day. Sleeping in late will leave you feeling lethargic and heavy throughout the day.
Ritual 2: Drink 1 cup of room temperature water upon waking
Water upon rising has a few important functions. It rehydrates your body after 8-10 hours of no water. It also flushes and cleanses the entire GI tract. For an added benefit, place your morning water in a copper mug and let it sit overnight. Copper has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s an essential trace mineral that’s good for thyroid function. Copper’s medicinal qualities can also boost digestion, your immune function and fat metabolism.
Ritual 3: Scrape your tongue with a tongue scraper
Tongue scrapers are fairly inexpensive and can be found online and in many health food stores. Tongue scraping helps to eliminate toxins from the gut that have moved up to the tongue during the night, and prevents these toxins from being reabsorbed back into the gut. Additionally, our organs also have sensory points on the tongue, so when you gently scrape, you stimulate these organs of your body.
- Before you begin scraping, examine your tongue. Notice if there’s a coating, and if so, document if there’s a color, cracks, scallops, or swelling. Imbalances tend to show up on your tongue, so when you become familiar with its landscape, you can use it as an assessment tool.
- After examining your tongue, take a stainless steel or copper tongue scraper and stick your tongue out as far as you can. Gently scrape from back to front. Try to start as far back as you can. It usually takes about seven scrapes.
Ritual 4: Oil Pulling
A healthy mouth and tongue are integral to the health of our entire system. Oil pulling is very cleansing. It helps strengthen the teeth and gums. It also alleviates jaw pain and bad breath. It should be done first thing in the morning before brushing your teeth and on an empty stomach.
Raw, organic, cold-pressed sesame or coconut oil will suffice. It doesn’t need to be a specialty product, but make sure it is organic. Sesame and coconut oil are both anti-bacterial and will draw toxins out of the system. If you suffer from receding gums, sesame oil would be ideal due to its high calcium content.
- Place oil in a glass container. Submerge the container in hot water to warm the oil. Do not overheat. Let it warm, but not get hot.
- Pour 2-3 tablespoons of oil in your mouth. Alternate between swishing the oil around and holding it in your mouth for 30 seconds each. Repeat this for 2-3 minutes. You can oil pull for about 20 minutes, but this is not necessary to do daily.
- Spit the oil out (I recommend spitting the oil into the toilet instead of the sink to avoid clogs).
- Rinse your mouth, floss and brush your teeth. If you brushed before oil pulling, simply rinse your mouth with warm water.
Ritual 5: Drink Warm Water with Lemon and a pinch of salt (Ayurvedic Gatorade)
In Ayurveda, cold or ice water slows down your digestion significantly, so warm and hot water are preferred. Drinking warm water with lemon hydrates the body. It also supports the kidneys and helps to stimulate peristalsis which is needed for healthy bowel movements. The salt is added to provide electrolytes and help absorption. Drink about 30 minutes before you eat your lunch and dinner.
Ritual 6: Dry Brushing
Dry brushing is the practice of stimulating the release of cellular waste from the body through the lymphatic system. It’s best done in the morning before you shower. It’s invigorating, exfoliates the skin and clears the pores.
- With a dry brush (different than a hair brush), start at your feet. Using circular motions, run the brush across your feet. Work your way up to the legs and brush upward with long strokes. Move to the hands and work the brush up your arms and to your armpits with long strokes. Do the same to your back and neck. Make clockwise circles over your abdomen and buttocks. Be sure to skip areas that have broken skin or eczema/psoriasis patches.
CAUTION: Dry brushing is too abrasive for the sensitive skin on your face and genitals so skip these areas. You can dry brush the breasts, but be gentle. Not recommended for individuals with dry skin.
Ritual 7: Warm Self Oil Massage
In Sanskrit, abhyanga is the ancient practice of massaging your body with warm oil. It’s commonly done with plain, untoasted sesame oil this time of year. This act of self-love calms and grounds the entire nervous system.
- Warm the oil by placing it into a glass dropper or a small jar and placing that glass in hot water. Do not microwave the oil!
- Place an older towel on the floor to catch any oil.
- Start with your head and apply the warm oil massaging in a circular motion. Move onto your face, in circular motions spending some time to release the jaw. Massage your ears, and use long gentle strokes on the neck.
- Massage the oil into your hands and use long vertical strokes to move up your arms (including armpits) and use the same upward strokes on your legs. The general rule is upward vertical strokes on the long bones towards your heart (arms and legs) and circular strokes on the joints (elbows, knees, shoulders).
- Continue with your chest, breasts, and abdomen using circular clockwise strokes. On your abdomen, you are tracing the path of digestion. End your massage with your feet.
- Allow the oil to soak into your skin for at least 5 minutes and up to 20-30 minutes depending on your schedule.
- After abhyanga, take a warm shower or bath. You can use soap on the soles of your feet, genital region, and armpits if you like, but you don’t need it anywhere else. The oil is antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antimicrobial. The warm water allows the oil to soak into all seven layers of tissue, deeply hydrating your skin and the tissues and cells of your body.
Ritual 8: Neti Pot
A Neti pot is a way to irrigate or flush your sinuses in order to remove excess mucus and cleanse the nasal passages of airborne contaminants like debris, dust, pollutants and allergens that we breathe in. Because bacteria and viruses latch onto warm, damp tissues with excess mucus, a Neti pot is a wonderful way to proactively support your immunity, improve your respiratory health, and reduce allergies. It will literally leave you feeling clear headed. Neti pots can be purchased online or in health food stores.
- Place distilled or filtered water in a pot over the stove and heat. Let it cool to a warm, soothing temperature.
- Pour the water into a ceramic Neti pot. Stir in 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of high-quality salt. (I use pink Himalayan salt). Too much salt can cause a burning sensation that is quite uncomfortable so 1/8 teaspoon will suffice for beginners.
- Place the tip of the spout into one nostril and tilt your head about 45 degrees. Breath through your mouth.
- The water should go up one nostril and out the other. If it feels uncomfortable or like a pressure headache, change the angle of your head. You likely need to tilt more.
- Repeat the process with the other nostril. Use one whole Neti pot for each nostril (about ½ cup of water).
Ritual 9: Nasya Oil Drops
Nasya is the practice of placing a few drops of oil into your nasal passages. This keeps them lubricated, nourished, and protected. It’s also calming to the nervous system and helps with brain fog and sinus conditions. Nasya drops are mixed with different herbs that support the clearing and rejuvenation of the nasal passages. Nasya oil is available online.
Caution: A Neti pot should be used at least an hour apart from Nasya oil drops as oil and water mixing could lead to infection.
- Lie down on your back. Tilt your head as far back as you comfortably can, or let your head hang gently off the side of the bed.
- Slowly insert 3-5 drops of Nasya oil into each nostril. Let the oil soak in and absorb for several minutes before getting up.
- Wait at least one hour before doing the Neti pot. I like to do Neti in the morning and Nasya drops at night, or even alternate days.
Ritual 10: Routine
Creating a routine around eating and sleeping is important in ayurveda. Ideally, aim to be in bed by 10 pm and up just before sunrise. This will help you tune into to the natural circadian rhythm, get high quality rest and maximize your energy. It’s also recommended that you have set meal times. Try consuming your largest meal between 12 and 2 pm, when the sun is at its peak. With consistent meal times, your body will begin to anticipate your meals and proactively begin to secrete digestive enzymes in preparation.
Marissa Hutter is an Ayurvedic Nutrition + Lifestyle Coach based in Los Angeles. She works with women all over the world to overcome digestive issues, fatigue, anxiety, and hormonal imbalances through holistic health coaching and the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. You can find her at www.marissahutterayurveda.com
Ayurveda Basics —
What are the doshas?
To understand how to follow ayurveda, it’s important to learn a key element – the doshas. The word dosha translates to fault or imbalance. Ayurveda says that we are born with a specific constitution called prakruti, which is set at conception and never changes. Each person’s prakruti is a combination in varying proportions of three doshas — vata, pitta, and kapha. The doshas are comprised of the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth). As prakruti is the optimal state, the more closely we adhere to our specific dosha ratio, the healthier we are.
VATA – Air + Wind
Characteristics: Cold, dry, light, rough, subtle, mobile, and clear.
Most of us have a vata imbalance because of our hectic lifestyles. Vata often pushes the other doshas out of balance, so when you focus on pacifying vata, it helps to balance pitta and kapha as well.
In balance: Vatas are creative, social and fun. They learn easily and are full of vitality. They are clear and alert, have a strong digestion, healthy circulation, and a regulated body temperature.
Out-of-balance: Vatas can become fatigued, easily anxious and scattered. They may have difficulty sleeping, poor circulation and struggle to retain heat. Dryness, constipation, bloating and gas are also common.
PITTA – Fire + water
Characteristics: Hot, light, oily, sharp, mobile, and expansive.
Pitta is the dosha of fire. It controls all metabolic functions in the body.
In balance: Pittas are passionate, driven, and discerning. They are intelligent, focused and are natural leaders. They have strong digestion, a hearty appetite, good stamina, and a strong work ethic. They have healthy circulation.
Out-of-balance: Pittas are prone to heat symptoms like rashes, plus heartburn, skin issues, diarrhea, nausea, sensitivity to light, stress, fatigue, anger, and being overly critical.
KAPHA – Earth + water
Characteristics: cool, heavy, slow, dense, oily, soft, stable, and cloudy.
Kapha dosha is stable, dominated by earth and water. Kapha makes up our physical structure and creates stability and cohesiveness.
In balance: Kaphas are compassionate and loyal. They are grounded, trustworthy and content. Kaphas have smooth skin and hair, and robust immune systems.
Out-of-balance: Kaphas can become stuck and lethargic. They may experience brain fog, depression, and feel resistant to change. They’ll likely feel heavy, congested, cold and may experience constipation or weight gain, and have difficulty waking up in the morning.