Cast your mind back to yesterday: can you remember what you did or does it all feel like a blur? If we’re running on autopilot then 24 hours can go by in a blink of an eye. But the beauty of Ayurveda is that it teaches you to take stock, slow down and become more aware of what’s going on around you. It’s no secret that this ancient practice comes with its own set of rituals, some that, without context, might seem a little unusual. But delve deeper into Ayurveda, and you’ll discover that they all slot, like individual pieces of a puzzle, into the larger culture of Indian medicine, based on mind-body wellness. Here are just a few of the rituals that you can easily incorporate into your day, to achieve a sense of perfect balance.
You may be familiar with sun salutations if you practise yoga, in ayurvedic culture it warms, strengthens, and aligns the entire body. “The Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskara (SOOR-yuh nah-muh-SKAR-uh), is a series of poses performed in a sequence to create a flow of movement,” explains ayurvedic practitioner and cofounder of Escapada Retreats, Maeve O'Sullivan (escapadaretreat.com). “Every pose practised coordinates with your breathing and each of the 12 positions have their own mantra, each celebrating an aspect of the sun’s divinity they are traditionally performed at dawn, facing the rising sun. The graceful sequence of 12 positions performed as one continuous exercise. Each position is different from the one before, stretching the body and alternately expanding and contracting your chest to regulate your breathing. Practised daily, it brings greater flexibility to your spine and joints and helps keep your waist trim. If you want to start yoga at home but don’t know where to begin, Sun Salutation can be a good foundation - it’s an easy and quick routine that you can manage even on your busiest day.”
“Oil pulling is an age-old remedy rooted in ayurvedic medicine that uses natural substances to clean and detoxify teeth and gums,” says Maeve. “It has the added effect of whitening teeth naturally and a study from The Journal Of Contemporary Medicine Practice showed that it may be beneficial for gum health, as certain oils may help fight harmful bacteria in the mouth. There are hundreds of different types of bacteria in your mouth and while many of them are friendly, others are not. These bacteria create biofilm on your teeth (a thin layer known as plaque) and while having some plaque on your teeth is perfectly normal, if it gets out of hand, too much can cause various problems, including bad breath, gum inflammation, gingivitis and cavities. In order to oil pull, put a tablespoon of oil in your mouth, then swish it around for 10-20 minutes. Oil pulling can work with pretty much any oil, but we recommend coconut oil due to its pleasant taste.”
“Tongue scraping, or jihwa prakshalana, is a traditional part of ayurvedic self-care and also a great way to check in with your body each morning,” says Maeve. “Overnight, as the body processes everything that was ingested that day, toxins (called ama in Ayurveda) begin to form, and are visible as a coating on the tongue. You can scrape your tongue once a day, just do it as part of your normal morning cleansing routine when you brush your teeth. Research has shown that a tongue scraper is more effective at removing all debris than a toothbrush: brushing will loosen and move debris around but may not get rid of the bacteria. The scraping action of a tongue scraper collects the tongue coating where our oral bacteria live.”
Try it for yourself:
Standing in front of a mirror, scrape your tongue by simply holding the two ends of the scraper in both hands, sticking out your tongue, and placing the scraper as far back on your tongue as possible.
With a firm but gentle pressure, scrape the surface in one long stroke.
Rinse the scraper and repeat until your tongue feels clean and free of coating (usually five to 10 times).
Massage is a huge element of ayurvedic culture. Rather than focusing on just the physical elements, it’s designed to completely nourish the whole body. “Abhyanga (pronounced Abhy-ang- ga) is is an Ayurveda self-massage technique using warm oil (usually infused with herbs) which deeply nourishes the body hydrating dry skin, calms the mind, and leaves you feeling grounded and re-energised,” says Maeve. “This can also be done with your partner as part of a bonding exercise. Ideally, Abhyanga should be done every day before you shower, but if you can add this to your daily routine at least three to four times a week it will make a huge difference to your wellbeing. Done regularly, it boosts immunity and improves circulation, and has been used therapeutically for years.”
Bhramarib Pranayama (a calming breathing practice)
“Bhramari, is a safe, easy-to-learn practice, that has tremendous therapeutic potential,” says Maeve. “Like other pranayamas, its power comes partly from its effects on the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Lengthening your exhalation activates the calming parasympathetic branch of the ANS and for those who suffer from anxiety or anxious (rajasic) depression, the practice can help to quieten the mind within a few breaths.”
Give it a go:
Sit comfortably and allow your eyes to close.
Take a breath or two to settle in and notice the state of your mind.
When you’re ready, inhale and then, for the entire length of your exhalation, make a low- to medium-pitched humming sound in the throat.
Notice how the sound waves gently vibrate your tongue, teeth, and sinuses. Imagine the sound is vibrating your entire brain (it really is).
Do this practice for six rounds of breath and then, keeping your eyes closed, return to your normal breathing.
Ayurveda guru Jasmine Hemsley talks us through her daily rituals:
"Ayurveda informs my everyday life at every turn. I start my day with Tongue Tingling (AKA tongue scraping) and oil pulling, then some sun salutations for at least 5 minutes (longer if I have the time!) and meditate for about 20 minutes to get myself in the right mindset for my day. It’s then time to get out into nature with the hounds! Fostering that connection to the elements by spending time outside, even if just for a quick walk around the park or pottering in the garden, is so important for mind-body wellbeing. Breakfast is something light and warming as the Agni (digestive fire) isn’t going at full roar yet — I like kitchari, stewed apples or a porridge made with sweet potatoes, quinoa or buckwheat. A couple times a week, I do a quick body brush to boost the circulation and the lymphatic system before showering. Some of my other regular Ayurvedic self-care practices include Abhyanga self-massage with herbal oils to ground down the mind-body and soothe frazzled nerves, cleansing my home Vastu-style, and doing my 3-day Cleanse + Reset about 5 times every year. I try to live the rest of my day according to the circadian rhythm as understood by Ayurveda: I have my largest meal at lunchtime when my digestion is at its strongest, followed by a light supper at around 6 or 7 p.m. so that I have time to digest it before bed around 10. I then try to wake up before 6 a.m. to cash in on that early morning Vata energy"