It is interesting how the state of your feet reveal a lot about your dosha type and helps traditional medicine diagnose the state of your skin and health.
Ayurveda defines twin goals as its objective: the promotion of “Ayu” (long life) and the promotion of “Ayush” (health). Most treatises say that with the right care, proper following of prescribed health regimes, a human being should be able to live for atleast a 100 years free from disease. In my experience, I have seen this to be true of many of the great yoga gurus like T Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, who all lived well beyond 90, and were mobile, extremely sharp and teaching and working until their very last day.
The most special quality of traditional medicine systems is their ability to form a holistic view and see the patterns between different parts of the body and the organ systems – no traditional medicine will dived itself by organ parts or systems. The body is treated as a whole and the corrections that are to be made are deduced by observing different parts of the body and forming seemingly disparate connections.
The role of Vata dosha in the body:
I have spoken about vata dosha and how it is essential in a healthy body to promote mobility, intellect, creativity and speed. Vata is often called the companion dosha as it helps transport and move the other 2 doshas of pitta and kapha which are immobile without Vata. Vata therefore governs the seat of the muladhara chakra in the body – the kidneys, uterus, and all organs of downward movement (faeces, urine, and blood).
Therefore any disturbance in Vata always affects all downward movements in the body – limbs, walking, joints, periods, bowel movements, etc.
I have mentioned before how cities and people living in cities naturally have an excess of Vata. Vata dosha governs the qualities of wind, space, and actions associated with air like speech and hearing. So when we utilise transport to commute long distances, use our speech and hearing in excess (with most office and creative jobs), use objects that excite the sense organs and involve creativity like a computer, mobile phone, Ipad, we are engaging with our Vata dosha – if this engagement is not balanced and does not give our Vata dosha a chance to calm down, we would have excited it to the point of excess.
Vata vitiating measures:
When we use products, or engage in treatments that dry out our body, we are removing moisture and therefore increasing vata in the body. So lack of oiling, no regular abhyanga and the use of drying products on hair and skin are also factors that can increase vata in the body.
Vata also increases when we selectively consume vata promoting foods – these include foods that promote wind like potatoes, cabbage, excess amount of lentils, high amount of raw foods and fried foods and even healthy foods like Millets.
The quality of air that we must keep in mind the most is its ability to move rapidly and fill gaps – unlike pitta and kapha dosha which are immobile, vata is extremely mobile. So every time we leave our internal body dry, use products that deplete moisture, and over engage with vata dosha, we are leaving gaps in or body for vata to rush in and grow in excess.
The dance of the 3 doshas in the body is a fixed sum game: so whenever one dosha goes in excess/ reduced the other 2 doshas go down / up to make up the difference. So the vitiation of one dosha, if left untreated always leads to complications caused by other doshas.
Symptoms of vitiated vata dosha:
One of the questions we ask people who write to us with symptoms of dry lifeless hair and skin is to ask them to observe the state of their nails, especially toe nails. Ayurveda states that hair and nails are both made from asthi and majja – bones and marrow from the body. So in one sense, the quality of your hair and nails reflect the quality of your bones and marrow – so if your hair is dry, weak, lifeless and your nails are not in the pink of health, this reflects that your body needs to be taken care of.
The asthi and majja, like the rakta is formed from the food we eat. When we eat the right food, and when our organs are in good shape to absorb nutrients, the process of forming our body is said to be good. Similarly, if the organs of Mala (excretion) like the skin, kidneys and lower intestine need to be functioning well to remove the waste products from the body, to ensure the channels are free and clear from toxins for nutrition assimilation to happen.
Food and external application are the twin routes to keeping the body in shape. Ayurveda emphasises on the roles of both anna and daily regimens to be followed (external application) to nourish, feed and maintain the body’s health.
An excess of both Pitta dosha and vata dosha can cause cracks in your heels. The cracks formed due to aggravated Pitta dosha are less deep compared to the cracks formed by vitiated vata dosha. The heel cracks formed due to aggravated Vata dosha can be deep, where you can see a layer of fat and tissue underneath the cracks, leading to pain when you walk.
Cracked heels are not a cosmetic problem: they are your body’s way of letting you know that you are off balance.
The quickest way to manage vitiated vata:
Vata dosha is the dosha that responds the quickest to the sense of touch as it is the dosha that governs all the sense organs. So every sense organ like the eyes, ears, skin, respond well to measures that decrease vitiated vata.
The is why our single point prescription for any form of dryness (dry hair, dry skin, dry feet, lifeless skin, dullness, constipation, improper bowel movement, pain in joints) starts with an abhyanga (oil massage). By bathing the body in oil and massaging it vigorously, we control the spread of air. By increasing the warmth in the body, we liquefy fat / kapha and encourage it to come to the surface. By cooling the body, we also cool down pitta / Agni in the body. This is why an abhyanga is considered tridoshic and so beneficial for the body.
The Charaka Samhita states that if a twig is dipped in oil and massaged vigorously every day, no force can break this twig – it can be only bent but not broken. Similarly a daily / frequent abhyanga adds strength, glow and nourishment to the body and gives it the strength to withstand disease, old age and delays ageing.
Nail care in Ayurveda:
As the nails are a precursor to bone and marrow health, it is important to keep them in good health. Ayurveda recommends that the feet be observed atleast once a week in minute detail to ascertain signs of dosha vitiation. Nails should be clean and free from artificial colours and nail polish so that you can examine their colour, smoothness and growth to see if your body is working well.
Application of nail polish has long been deduced to be extremely harmful to the body. Nail paints are loaded with substances like dibutyl phthalate that are carcinogenic. The phthalate family is linked strongly to breast cancer, precocious puberty and has adverse foetal effects like low birth weight, and changes in foetal mental and motor development.
In addition to their strongly adverse effects, the application of nail paint seals off the nails from interacting with the environment, and does not give us a chance to continually examine the state of our health.
Pada abhyanga is a strongly recommended Dincharya in Ayurveda. This is especially suitable for high vata vitiation – so if you generally have late nights, irregular eating schedules, dry skin and hair, cramping and pain during periods and incomplete bowel movements, a daily pada abhyanga before sleeping is very beneficial.
If you are not doing a daily abhyanga, a Pada abhyanga is beneficial between your regular abhyanga days. A Pada abhyanga is also beneficial; when you are not allowed to do a full Abhyanga due to certain health conditions.
A Pada Abyanga is also an excellent complementary Abhyanga practice to remove the fatigue of the day, calm down high mental stress and to assist you or your family members during periods of high mental stress (board exams, board exam results, etc).
How to do a pada abhyanga and when:
If your vata is out of control, a nightly pada abhyanga before sleeping is very beneficial. Else once a week as a part of a good maintenance routine, especially on Sunday morning is beneficial.
Wash your feet extremely well, preferably with a grain based wash ensuring the pores of the skin are roughly cleaned and opened. Dry the feet very well and begin abhyanga using a medicated sesame based oil. If vata affliction is very high, warm, melted ghee may also be used. Using Melted ghee also helps with excess pitta if it is an issue. Pay a lot of attention to the soles of the feet – The soles of the feet contain Marma points corresponding to many organs like the kidneys so a strong regular massage is said to be very beneficial to the entire body.
Once the soles of the feet are done, pay attention to the toe nails and the nail beds. Apply a good amount of warm oil / ghee copiously ‘watering” the nails to ensure oil penetrates the cuticles and the nail bed. This is also a good time to clean the nail beds and shape your nails without damaging the cuticles in any way.
Once the pada abhyanga is done, wait for 15 – 20 minutes before removing excess oil from the feet. If your vata dosha is very high, you can simply wipe off the excess oil with a warm and moist towel. If this is done, wear loose cotton socks over your feet to retain warmth and ensure the oil does not smear onto your bed linen while you sleep.
Otherwise, you can wash your feet again with a grain based wash and then dry the feet well. Whether your vata dosha is high or not,you must clean the excess oil using either of the 2 methods suggested.
Benefits of a good pada abhyanga:
The immediate benefit of a good pada abhyanga is that excess vata is controlled and you get sound sleep. Generally vitiated vata results in disturbed, light sleep that leaves you feeling tired and irritable the next morning. This settles within 2 – 3 regular pada abhyangas.
Apart from directly affecting the health of the feet and ensuring there are no cracks, dry skin or stiffness around the toes and ankles, in the long term, a pada abhyanga improves clarity of vision, reduces fatigue, improves strength of feet and improves the circulation of rakta in the body. Pada abhyanga along with an overall body abhyanga and kesha abhyanga (hair oiling) are the 3 important external oleation routines prescribed in Ayurveda for good health.
This is a part of Krya’s continuing education series on Ayurveda for the benefit of Krya’s consumers and our blog readers. This is imperative as knowledge and belief in Ayurveda is fast falling and there is a rise in unscrupulous elements who are exploiting people’s inherent belief in Ayurveda with sub standard products / advice.
Our work consists of 2 parts: the first is in disseminating good quality information that is interesting and engaging to help you understand how relevant Ayurveda is to your life. The second part of our work is in research, formulating a manufacturing a high quality set of support products that are designed to help you maintain the health of your hair, skin and body (externally). We hope that our work inspires you to take charge of your health and follow simple, consistent and meaningful health routines to help you lead a better life.
Krya’s list of abhyanga-snana products can be found in the links given below:
- Processed using traditional, skin health enhancing and regenerative herbs like Ashwagandha (Winter cherry), Bala (Sida cordifolia), Moringa, Liquorice, etc
- As per the Ayurvedic tradition, all of Krya’s skin oils are processed with warming herbs like cumin, ajwain and dried ginger to ensure the body’s kapha and mucous level does not increase with the oil application. This is especially important when making skin oils for babies, as babies are generally high in kapha dosha, so the oil should not further vitiate this kapha.
- All the herbs we use in our oils are either organically cultivated or wild harvested and are free from synthetics, pesticides and fertilizers.
- Our herbs are processed in our cold pressed, manually extracted, full of goodness base oils of coconut, sesame, apricot, tamanu and kokum butter
- The oil processing is done on gentle heat and takes upto 8 – 10 hours of gentle manual stirring per batch. The oils then steep for 7 more days in aromatic herbs before they are bottled and packed.
- Processed using organic grains, seeds and forest collected herbs that are extremely nutrient rich and beneficial for skin
- The herbs are carefully sorted, cleaned, washed where necessary and solar dried at a gentle temperature before processing
- Each herb is processed separately as per Ayurvedic Dravyaguna standards and then carefully blended for the final formulation
- We take care to ensure that the natural aroma and properties of the herbs are maintained
- Our ubtans are perfect post abhyanga to remove excess Abhyanga oils from skin and cleanse thoroughly yet gently, without stripping skin of essential oils.