Think of any form of alternative medicine you’re familiar with, whether homeopathy, acupuncture, or even yoga. What do they have in common? They all subscribe to a healing philosophy that looks at the whole person—mind, body, spirit, and emotions—and how you interact with your environment in order to reach optimal health and wellness. Ayurveda, a philosophy that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, is considered one of the world’s oldest holistic health care systems. Translated from Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “the science of life,” and it works to prevent and treat illness with a consciousness-based approach to health and healing, says Suhas Kshirsager, M.D., head of the Ayurvedic Healing clinic in Santa Cruz, California.
Many of the system’s diet, lifestyle, and herbal remedies are geared toward keeping an individual’s various energies, or doshas, in balance. Ayurveda’s three doshas—pitta (fire), vata (wind), and kapha (water)—each have their own physiological and psychological characteristics, and each can be upset for different reasons. Though all three are present in every person, typically one tends to be more prominent, says Sunny Rose Healey, an Ayurveda practitioner in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The chance of developing certain illnesses or diseases is tied directly to one’s doshic balance. Thus, Ayurvedic practice calls for regular routines and rituals to help keep your body in balance and free from illness. Here are a few the whole family can try:
This is what Ayurveda calls an elimination step, and it’s used to remove the toxic accumulation—known as ama—from the body. You and your kids can run a metal tongue scraper (found in natural health food stores) from back to front each morning before you brush your teeth, says Healey. The benefits of this are twofold: It helps the digestive system run smoothly and also encourages healthy eating. “When the taste buds are coated, only more extreme flavors are recognized, which causes people to eat more sweet and salty processed foods,” explains Kshirsager. Taste buds also need to be clean so they can signal the body to secrete digestive juices and enzymes, which help us properly break down our food, he adds.
A practice of administering oil through the nose, this simple technique can help those with dry nasal passages or tension in the head or neck. For kids, Kshirsager recommends dabbing a few drops of warm—but not hot—coconut oil in the nose right before bed. This will help to loosen and moisturize your child’s nasal passages. “Keeping the passages warm and well lubricated can help prevent colds and respiratory diseases,” says Kshirsager. For adults, Healey recommends lying down and using a dropper to administer five drops of oil to each nostril. Then inhale deeply through the nose, pinch your nostrils, let go, inhale again, and finish by rubbing your nose and forehead for a few seconds.
An Ayurvedic body massage not only prevents dryness and cracks, it also steadily provides the body with energy and can prevent injury, says Kshirsager. To get the benefits, massage warm sesame oil onto your body, then take a warm shower. This gives your ligaments, tendons, and joints much-needed lubrication and can prevent injury from sports and exercise. For young kids, administering a 10- to 15-minute oil massage two or three times a week can improve sleep, lower stress, and ease any fears or anxiety. Before bed, Kshirsager recommends giving your child a foot massage—or a padabhyanga—on the soles of the feet. This rejuvenating experience will do more than help him relax, it will also “create a bond with your child that you can cherish for a lifetime.”