5 Ayurvedic Resolutions for an Amazing 2018!

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

The twin goals of Ayurveda are Ayu (Long life) & Ayush (Good Health). Ayurveda is a practical science of everyday living and its principles pro-actively help you to prevent disease – which is obviously much better than trying to cure diseases.

Since Ayurveda is a vast ocean of concepts, principles and techniques, we have identified 5 very important concepts that are universal, easy to understand and will dramatically improve your life.

So here is our list of 5 important Ayurvedic concepts to help you create resolutions to have a great year in 2018

  1. Dinacharya (Daily Routine)

Ayurvedic Acharyas have identified that vital importance of a stable daily routine based on your biological clock, the season, your nature and of course the specific details of your life. The very act of a stable routine can bring balance to your life, improve physical health and mental clarity. A stable routine pacifies vata dosha, improves digestion, quality of sleep and brings peace and happiness. But there are specific rules to the Dinacharya – it is not random. In order to design a good Dinacharya for yourself, you must start by defining 2 points:

  • The time of waking up in the morning
  • The time of your last meal , i.e. dinner

Once you have defined these 2 points correctly, all the other activities will fall into place neatly. Using the concepts given later in this article, you can easily identify the good times to wake up and to eat your dinner.

In the morning, after waking up , Ayurveda recommends that you must allocate time for meditation or prayer, exercise, Abhyanga & Snana (bath) , breakfast followed by the work-day. Similarly in the evening, after finishing work you must allot time for winding down, dinner and an electronic screen cut-off time before sleep.

Designing your Dinacharya is easy but the hard part is actually sticking to it. It requires discipline and support from your family. There are no “cheat days” – so even on Sunday you have to wake up at the same time – since your biological clock does not have a weekend.

The benefits from a Dinacharya are numerous and they accrue with time. The chaotic nature of urban living will throw many activities that will push you off your Dinacharya – but if you actually have a written down routine and remember its importance, you can always return back to your routine.

So in these last days of 2017, you could take a pen and paper and craft your ideal day and resolve to stick to it in 2018.

2. Brahma Muhurta – the sacred time

Ayurveda emphatically instructs us to wake up during Brahma Muhurta, which is a sacred time. A muhurta a time span of 48 minutes and the Brahma Muhurta starts 96 minutes before Sunrise. So the exact time of Brahma Muhurta depends on the time of sunrise in your city. If sun-rise is at 6:30 AM, then Brahma Muhurta starts at 4:54 AM and ends at 5:42 AM and you SHOULD wake-up during this time.

Acharya Vagabhata’s textbook , Ashtanga Hridayam , has the following sloka, translated as :

“If you wake up at Brahma Muhurtham, you can protect and regain your health & enjoy a long life”.

blog post 5 - ease into the day

Our Ayurvedic teacher gave us a very lucid explanation for the benefits of waking up at Brahma Muhurta – he called this time a “Re-set time”. He explained that being awake, alert AND active during Brahma Muhurtha helped the entire system to expel Ama through various means like breath, sweat, urine and faeces.  Since it is linked to Sunrise, it automatically has a perfect synergy with the seasons. The very act of being awake at this precious time helps your body balance doshas and re-set back to health.

Apart from physical health, the Brahma Muhurta is the ideal time for meditation &  reflection as we can access the highly positive , sattvic, subtle energies from the Universe. As the sun-rises and the day begins, these energies are no longer available and this is why the 48 minutes Brahma Muhurta is so precious.

This is such a wonderful tool at our disposal – costs nothing and yet bestows priceless benefits.

3. Ghee – the sacred ingredient

When Ayurveda talks about ghee, only natural, hormone-free desi-cow ghee (A2) is the universally accepted standard. (other types like buffalo –ghee are well known but have special uses)

At the outset, this is NOT a discussion about the ethics of consuming animal products like ghee – the only consideration here is good health. You will have to decide for yourself whether it is morally acceptable for you to consumer animal products – but the startling reality for many is that the ethical considerations may have to give way to the over-whelming health.

12.ghee for all ages

I speak from personal experience of leading a 100% vegan-life for 4 years – so in that time, I completely stopped eating all dairy products like milk, ghee and curd. I went vegan only to uphold the principle of Ahimsa – to avoid products from a factory-farming system built on extreme cruelty to cows & buffaloes.

In the first year of the vegan life, there were no problems whatsoever, possibly because my body had reserves from 30 + years of consuming ghee – but small problems started appearing in Year 2, which then took a disastrous turn in Year 3. I experienced alarming loss of weight, irritability, rage,  dry skin, cracked bleeding heels, chipped teeth, blinding pain in the knees and lower back – a condition called as “Vata Raktam” in Ayurveda.

After I endured this torture for nearly a year as a vegan, I was severely reprimanded by our Ayurvedic teacher for neglecting this serious disease. Her simple remedy was this – eat massive amounts of cow ghee for a few months & then continue at normal levels – but DO not try to lead a life without ghee. In just 2 months I experienced a magical reversal in my condition , ONLY with the addition of ghee back in my diet. To minimize the moral conflict, I sourced ghee from a  free-range, hormone –free, from organic farms where the cows were cared for by the farmer.

I understand that this example is specific to my body type and my life – but the important lesson that I want to leave you with here is this – If you want to understand the real importance of ghee , please take an opinion ONLY from a good Ayurvedic doctor. Do NOT depend on the internet or what your friend told you about ghee & cholesterol or ghee & diabetes etc. Ayurveda is the only system that has really understood the sacred role of ghee in our diet and its far-reaching impact.

Dr Janardana Hebbar , a leading Ayurvedic doctor says this “Ghee is probably the most sacred, spiritual and physically health benefiting substances that is ever known to human beings “

In 2018, please examine carefully the type & quantity of ghee in your diet , get an Ayurvedic opinion and you may observe magical changes to your health.

  1. Make friends with Ayurvedic oils

One of the Sanskrit words for oil is “Sneha” which also means love. This should give you a good idea of how important oils are to human health.

A healthy home should have the following oils ( apart from ghee)

  • Coconut based hair oil
  • Sesame based Abhyanga/Skin Oil
  • Cold-Pressed Sesame Oil & Castor Oil

(Note: Mustard oil is also an excellent oil, but only a small portion of the population can handle its pungent nature)

10. oil application

The benefits when you cook with cold-pressed oils are obvious. But beyond consumption, a healthy home must regularly apply a coconut-based hair oil for the hair and sesame based skin oil on the body for Abhyanga Snana. Finally both castor oil & sesame oil can be applied externally and internally to treat a number of simple ailments – since this requires more explanation , we will write about this in a separate newsletter.

So take a close-look at the oils in your home – avoid the RBD oils and choose native, cold-pressed oils for good health. I will refer to appropriate ancient Tamil proverb here, which is “ Vaidyarukku kudukaradu Vanniyarukku Kudu” –translated as : If you spend money buying oils,  you will not be spending money on  doctors and medicines.

5. Eat with the Sun

Our final recommendation for 2018 is : Eat with the Sun

The movement of the sun during the day controls the pitta prakriti in nature, which in turn in  human beings is the driving force behind appetite and digestion. This is the origin of the Ayurvedic term “digestive fire”. When you eat with the Sun, you automatically give your body the best chance for digestion, assimilation and elimination. So breakfast should be had before 9 AM, lunch, which is the biggest meal should be had from 12 Noon – 1 PM and the last meal of the day dinner should ideally be had around Sunset, if not, latest by 8 PM. This is an ideal time-schedule when followed, supports good assimilation of nutrients and at night , gives enough time to digest the last meal , thereby promoting sound sleep.  Like all of the earlier concepts, eating with the sun is also very easy to understand and implement yet is very profound in its impact on your health.

Appendix: How to identify & source the above mentioned ingredients

  • Ayurvedic Ghee: AVOID regular mass brands. Look for a brand with words like desi, native Indian cow breed (with hump), A2, free-range, organic, hormone-free, Vedic.
  • Sesame & Castor Oils : AVOID regular refined, chemically – extracted oils. Look for a brand with words like organic, cold-pressed & native process.
  • Ayurvedic Skin & Hair oils : Look for Krya !     (http://krya.in/index.php/shop/skincare.html)

We sincerely wish that our Top-5 Ayurvedic concepts inspire you to make 2018 your best year ever!

 

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Missing an Olympic medal by a hair’s breadth

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

At the Olympic level, winning a medal, especially the gold, boils down to having “the edge”. In the dark ages, the edge came from something as basic as  possessing a pair of professional running shoes with spikes –  Milkha Singh and legions of Asian & African athletes  trained barefoot and barely managed to get a pair of spikes in time for major events like the Olympics. For most part of the 20th century the edge merely came from being born in countries with great infrastructure and possessing trained coaches – who created the edge through better training techniques, nutrition and recovery.

At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the Australian swim team shaved off every bit of hair on their bodies just before the races – this turned out to be a smooth move as they completely swept all the medals at those championships. Since then all competitive swimmers shave their bodies and also heads just before the race event. So now this trick is no longer giving the edge, but just represents the bare minimum to be taken seriously at the top level.

But in the 21st century, the playing field is remarkably level, in terms of access to good infrastructure and coaches – so the quest to find the edge is getting tougher and tougher. And athletes and their coaches are getting more creative. At Rio this year, Michael Phelps and the other swimmers were seen with purple/reddish circles on their backs – the result of an ancient Chinese cupping technique to increase blood circulation in certain areas during recovery– this is the extent to which the search for the edge has reached.

What about the basics?

The top sprinters who compete in the explosive short distance events like 100M, 200M and the 400M pay attention to a number of small details to increase their chances of success. Aerodynamics is a critical success factor. For example the current state of the art is to wear form –fitting trunks that ensure the least drag during the race – even as recently as the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Carl Lewis was wearing regular running shorts that flapped a bit. Did it slow him down by a hundredth of a second?

Another detail in the sprinters preparation is wearing their hair really really short, army style. This is a uniform choice among the male sprinters but a number of the top women sprinters choose to have very long hair and still win the medals. Some of the Jamaican women sprinters are so ridiculously talented that the length of their hair is a superfluous detail. And sadly for some others, their extraordinary level of doping is an overriding factor.

1984: A Hair story

At the 1984 LA Olympics, a 20 year old PT Usha was a strong medal hope for India in the 400M hurdles event. She had gained prior experience at this elite level at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, was the top Asian sprinter in her class and in the heats she had even defeated Judi Brown, who was the favorite to win the event.

And yet, sadly for her & all Indians, in the finals she lost out on the bronze medal by 1/100 of a second. To this date this remains the closest that India has come to winning a medal in the track events.

Did PT Usha miss out on very basic detail of appropriate hair style ? Look at the pictures below from that race at LA in 1984.
Krya blog post aug 13th 2016 consolidated picNow with wisdom of hindsight and the anguish of a true fan, I have to ask this, why did    P.T Usha have to run with a full head of hair? Did it not occur to her that carrying some 50 – 100 gm of extra weight over a 400M distance could be significant for her medal chances? In the final analysis, she lost the bronze medal by 1/100 of a second. We still haven’t produced a track athlete of her caliber, male or female, who can get on to the medal podium at the Olympics.

The Olympics at a cross-roads

Olympics before the 1988 Ben Johnson scandal was an innocent time, when the entire focus was on form and preparation of the athletes and the eager anticipation of the new techniques that might emerge at the events, like Dick Fosbury’s breath taking new “flop” .

However since Ben Johnson and then Kristin Otto, a whole avalanche of doping scandals both at the Olympics and outside, has covered the sports in doubt and despair. Even the truest fans are left in serious doubt about the sanctity of the medal winning efforts given the all round, rampant doping convictions. So it is a great relief for the fans when true blue heroes like Michael Phelps come out of retirement and set the games on fire and hopefully Usain Bolt can help us finish the events on a legitimate sporting high.

The ” scandal” in the consumer products industry

At Krya , a lot of the work that we do now is a direct reaction to the malaise in the consumer products industry which bears much similarity to the doping scandals in the sports world. All manner of chemical -laden products are suddenly making tall claims to being “safe” and “natural” by the addition of miniscule amounts of herb extracts.

Worse still, the advertising around these products has gone from taking creative leaps to out right false claims by exploiting loop holes in regulations. A significant portion of the marketing work at Krya is educating consumers on making better and safer choices.

The Krya August Hair Olympics Challenge

The effects of synthetic products on human health, the environment, and our water continues to boggle the mind and brings a state of near panic among companies like ours. Many of the chronic skin and hair conditions we see at Krya, for example, can be directly attributed to the irritating and harmful effects of the synthetic products we use everyday on ourselves and on our families.

However, what gives us hope is this. We have seen remarkable transformative results when the toxins in the form of synthetic products are removed, the diet is cleaned up and health giving natural products are used instead on the body.

This experience inspired the many Krya hair and skin formulations that you see today, because we wanted to give many more people the same transformative benefits we had experienced for ourselves.

To inspire more and more people to make the switch, we are celebrating this August as the Krya Hair Olympics Month.

Do you want stronger, healthier better hair? Throw away your toxin filled synthetic shampoo, conditioner and hair oil and try Krya’s goodness filled haircare products instead. Your hair will thank you for this switch.

Every Krya hair care product for adults carries a special discount only in August 2016

  • 10% off if you buy a single piece of any Krya hair care product for adults
  • 20% off if you buy 2 or more pieces of any Krya hair care product for adults or a Krya hair care system for adults

Explore Krya’s huge range of good-for-you hair care products here.

 

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3 toxins that plague children and a recommendation

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

A few days ago I noticed my neighbour also getting ready her two year child ready for school. Just before bundling that child into the car, her mother was slathering her with sunscreen, made for babies. Sunscreen was evidently recommended by the school authorities, who these days are really careful about the children entrusted to them.

The sunscreen encounter got me thinking about the wide array of toxics that are marketed to and find their way into the bodies of children across the world today.

Here are the numbers

In this series on toxics, I have relied on US data due to the paucity of Indian studies. A recent study by the US Centre for Disease Control & Prevention concludes that BPA and 7 other toxics are building up within the bodies of their children. Over 60% of the children tested had significant residues of Bisphenol A (BPA) and other phenolic toxins like benzohenone-3, Triclosan, 2-4 dichlorophenol, and 3 parabens.

Bisphenol A is a common chemical found in plastic utensils and dishes, even those sold for children’s use. Triclosan is found in anti bacterial soaps, wipes and washes, Benzophenone-3 is also called oxybenzophenone is a common ingredient in many sunscreens.  Dichlorophenols are used in many herbicides and pesticides and parabens are found in many skin and hair care products.

In India, apart from these, heavy metals are a particular concern. A study done by Centre for Science & Environment in 2014, found that Mercury, prohibited for use in cosmetics in India, was found in 44% of the fairness cream brands surveyed. Lipstick samples tested had both chromium (50%) and nickel (43%).  And this despite what you may assume, is a concern for children as many paediatricians and dermatologists attest to the fact that in India colour cosmetics and fairness creams sold to women routinely get applied on children as  well.

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Colour cosmetics: a special concern for parents of young girls in India

We are extremely concerned about the the chemical and environmental toxin load on children’s bodies. As we have seen in our earlier articles on environmental toxins and industrial chemicals, many of them have a debilitating effect when exposed at an early stage. Children are particularly vulnerable at various stages in their development to the effect of endocrine disrupter chemicals and carcinogens. The Endocrine Society’s statement on these 2 chemical classes states that there is a latency of exposure: and that these chemicals when exposed at a critical developmental window can do great harm even in small doses.

no safe dose

There is no safe dose in certain chemical classes

The blood work of children being examined in western countries reveals environmental toxins in alarmingly high quantities. The route of exposure to these toxins are multiple. Some come through skin contact; some from cleaning product residue in the food we eat; some through the leachates of the potentially harmful cookware & cutlery we use, and through inhalation.

In this piece, we have focused on 3 potentially toxic products in our homes, and discuss alternatives to these for our children.

1. Sunscreen or Sunblock

The general recommendation from doctors in the US and Australia today appears to be this: Everyone regardless of skin colour should apply at least SPF 15 daily, even in winter. Suddenly in the space of a few decades, sunscreen is being positioned as an essential item of daily life, even for people who do not work in the fields or move around on horseback.

The sunscreen industry took off particularly when it became accepted that those with lighter skins like Caucasians were at higher risk. Also at risk were those living under a depleted ozone layer like the Australians.

So do Indians need sunscreen? Do Indian babies & children need sunscreen?

Sun sense

If you are concerned about sun exposure, the first step is to stay indoors during the afternoon. Secondly, when you do step outside, wear a hat and clothing that covers your entire body. Period.

Sunscreen is not an essential requirement. Even the cancer council of Australia, the country most paranoid about skin cancer runs a campaign called “slip, slop, slap, seek, slide “where prevention (through shade, clothing , hat etc) is the key weapon in fighting the potential harm of sun exposure. Further the cancer experts assert that sunscreen should be applied in a thick layer as directed by the manufacturer re-applied every two hours and cannot be used as a means to extend sun exposure like working on a tan at the beach.

Some sunscreen facts

Use of sunscreen is at an all time high across the world today especially in US & Australia. Yet here are the assertions by the cancer associations of those countries

  • 2 out of 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70
  • I in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime

Despite the increase in use of sunscreen, the prevalence of skin cancer in these countries has increased & is not at all in control. In a country like Australia with a population of just around 20 million, there are over 1 million skin cancer consultations with doctors annually.

Despite the patchy success of sunscreens and sunblocks, dermatologists and doctors continue to enthusiastically recommend these products. A May 2014 study by L’Oreal India said that over 94% of the 900 + dermatologists surveyed in India recommended use of a sunscreen as a “first line of defence” to their patients – atleast 3 times a day.

This state of affairs should provoke any right thinking person to  question the need or effectiveness of  sunscreen and sunblock. In fact we should be pulling at this thread further to investigate the potential harm caused by our sunscreens and sunblocks.

Unnecessary chemical overload

Imagine the drudgery of applying a thick coat of sun protection cream on your body daily for the rest of your life. The skin is the largest organ in the body, our first line of defence and under severe assault from environmental pollution already. To add to its woes we are applying a whole new set of toxins on our skin.

We have already written about the threat of parabens in this blog. Parabens are a common class of preservatives used in personal care products including sun screen and can be absorbed by the skin. They are best avoided.

sunscreen

Sunscreen: more harm than good?

Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide are the two main chemicals used in sun block around the world. While the debate rages on the safety of these chemicals, a new threat is upon us; Nano technology. The nano particle version of Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are also now commonly used in skin care products like sun block. Where the earlier molecules stayed on the outer layer of the skin as a physical barrier, now there is a threat that these nano particles can pass through the skin and enter the body. Oxybenzone, another common sun screen ingredient, is known to be a endocrine disruptor and skin irritant.

Children’s skin is upto three times thinner than adult skin and is vulnerable to the products applied on it. The ideal solution for children is to avoid the mid-day sun or at least use clothing and hats to protect their skin.

What about Vitamin-D?

In the rush to cover the skin with sunscreen we forget the vital role played by the sunshine in producing Vitamin-D. The global skin cancer scare has also created a parallel industry of vitamin-D supplements to be taken through food in the absence of healthy sun exposure. In Ayurveda, sun exposure at sunrise and sunset is recommended for healthy skin, regulating bio-rhythms and for producing vitamin –D.

Our personal experience with Vitamin D

Despite having over 300 days of sunshine in India, 80% of urban India and 70% of rural India are Vitamin D deficient today. This deficiency is suspected to be because of changing dietary habits, rising air pollution levels, and high concentration of toxins like pesticides in the environment.

Vitamin D deficiencies can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms including joint pains, inflammation, stiffness in the back. The Vitamin can prevent multiple sclerosis, diabetes, preeclampsia during pregnancy, low infant birth weight, and improve immune response to TB , asthma and Parkinson’s disease among other conditions.

 2. Phthalates

Phthalates are a class of chemicals used as plasticizers, to make physical products pliant and flexible – they can be found in vinyl flooring, raincoats, adhesives, detergents, nail polishes, soaps, toys and skin care lotions.

Because phthalates are physically bound into plastics using a heating process, they are very easily released when this physical bond breaks. For example when phthalate containing plastic dishes are washed with harsh chemicals or a child chews a toy containing phthalates.

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Plastic chew toys: not just an environmental hazard

India is slowly overhauling its regulations in children’s toys given the high probability of phthalate ingestion in chew toys for infants and toddlers. A BIS regulation formulated in 2011 have limits phthalates like DEHP and DBP to 0.1% or below for toys that are marketed to children under 4 years. However this guideline only addresses the use of single phthalates. Many toy manufacturers use a combination of 2 or more phthalates in a plastic product, and BIS does not address this exposure. And unfortunately this guideline is simply that – it is not a law and a manufacturer need not abide by it, especially if the buyers of these toys do not know about these safety regulations.

A 2012 study of plastic toys in India found that even a year after the BIS guideline was passed, over 45% of children’s toys marketed to the below 4 years segment exceeded international safety limits for phthalates.

The above BIS guideline as mentioned is not a law / directive or regulation. So at this point there are no measures in place to protect us from phthalate exposure in any form. It might be difficult to identify phthalate free plastic toys for your child, so look for fabric or wooden toys.

3. Bisphenol – A ( BPA)

 Bisphenol-A ( BPA) is an industrial chemical found in plastics and resins, especially used to store food. BPA can leach into our food in many ways. It is found in resins that coat the insides of tins used to package food. It is often found in food grade plastics and easily leaches into the contents under heat, especially in microwaves and dishwashers. Children are understood to be particularly susceptible to BPA , even ingesting it prenatally and through breast milk. Studies have shown concerns that BPA can affect brain, behaviour and prostrate gland in foetuses, infants and children.

Unlike phthalates, BPA –free products are widely available now and are clearly labelled.

However plastics are best avoided in relation to food. Beyond BPA there are other plastics that can still leach into food over time and through heat. Steel, wood , ceramic , enamel, clay are all options to store and serve food to children.

The Krya skin care recommendation for children

Children should be shielded from extreme weather like the afternoon sun, cold winds and the rain. When stepping out in the sun , ensure that they are wearing a hat, and their arms and legs are covered. Just clothing alone can provide the equivalent of nearly SPF 5 protection.

1. hello sun

Keeping it safe and simple: a hat!

If their skin gets burnt especially on a holiday, there are a number of natural remedies like oil , water & milk of coconut which heals burns and helps skin repair. The only after effect of extreme sun exposure to be concerned about is the dehydration of skin and subsequent cell damage.

To ensure your child’s skin remains well moisturized and that the external barrier is well protected either in the cold or after sun exposure, Indian tradition recommends the liberal use of cold pressed vegetable oil. Oils like coconut oil, and even coconut milk have been studied to rapidly heal damaged skin barriers and act as an emollient for the skin. Pure native cow’s ghee is also extremely good at removing excess pitta and adding much needed moisture lost in children’s skin. Keeping your child’s skin well moisturized and undamaged by drying and toxic agents like synthetic soaps is a great start to keeping your child’s skin healthy.

For babies and young children, Ayurveda recommends frequent oil massages (daily if your child’s skin is very dry, and weekly for most others). Different oils are recommended at different times of the year. But the overall effect of the oil massage is a calm, centered baby with a healthy and nourished body that heals better and grows better.

The use of a gentle grain or clay based cleanser is a perfect complement to vegetable oil. It mops up the excess oil extremely efficiently, but leaves behind a very tiny layer to ensure that young skin is not left completely dry.

Parenting and baby care today is faced with a commercial onslaught. It seems like a very complex maze that you cannot navigate without the aid of dozens of accessories and products. As parents with plenty, it seems almost wrong to lead a life with less, which is simple and natural.

While this is a matter of parenting philosophy, as a researcher , formulator and lifelong fan of the miracle that is human skin, I can safely say , that when it comes to parenting and products, less is definitely more.

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what We’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home 
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used


Please explore Krya’s authentic range of natural, good for you skin care products for children below:

  1. Krya’s baby care range
  2. Krya’s Toddler and Kids Range

 

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The Whole Nine Yards & an interview with Rta Kapur Chasti

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

The traditional Indian garment for men and women is just a piece of unstitched rectangular cloth, a dhoti and a sari respectively. A simple,  woven rectangular piece of fabric six to nine yards in length. With very few accessories this piece of unstitched cloth was draped in several ingenious ways to cover the head , torso and lower body. Variety was provided through colours and different fabric types like cotton or silk.

6.radha at night

 

When we examine our Indian textile traditions it is clear that we have great strengths in spinning, natural dyeing and weaving. But to me there is not much obvious evidence of a great Indian tailoring tradition.

Perhaps this had its roots in religion where only unstitched cloth is considered appropriate for all holy occasions and to help a seeker enter a pious frame of mind when doing reaching out to god. It is fascinating to note that wearing unstitched cloth for holy occasions is a tradition that is found among Hindus, Jains and Muslims.

Over time, with several invasions notably the British, the urban Indian dress is a lot more aligned to the rest of the world and has drifted considerably from the unstitched cloth.

Was it a process of global assimilation driven by travel and media symbols?Did this decline happen just for practical reasons ? Can one go for a morning run in a sari? Can one drive a bike to work wearing a dhoti?

This poses many questions about the relevance of the traditional Indian garment.

Is it now just a symbol of culture to be unleashed during weddings or at Diwali?

Textile Scholar, Rta Kapur Chisti is India’s pioneer in reviving the Sari and keeping it relevant for folks today. She has shown 108 different ways of draping the Sari to suit different occasions. Her research shows that Women in erstwhile princely state of Jhansi draped the Sari in special ways to ride horses and even swim across rivers. In 2009, She has also started the “Sari School” , a unique workshop conducted regularly in New Delhi that introduces novices to a whole new world of this unstitched garment. Rta is also the author of a book called the Saris of India, which is a bible on the subject and is a celebration of India through its Sari traditions and now part of India’s textile canon.

Saris tradition and beyond by Rta Kapur chasti

In this interview with the Krya blog, Rta Kapur Chisthi gives us  her own crisp, pithy version of the whole nine yards.

On the relevance of the Sari in “modern” Indian woman’s wardrobe

The sari is capable of constant adaptation & recreation In fact in the Sari School Workshops we conduct, participants are encouraged to create their own level of comfort, suitable for body form & occasion. What makes the sari unique is its capability of transforming itself into a long or short dress, a pair of pantaloons or even a pair of shorts & on the other hand can become a grand gown if required.

the myriad drapes of a sari - nov 4 2014

The question of what we wear is not a moral one but we should atleast know who or what we are in the way we dress.We are blindly taking to western wear but most often what we reveal are our short comings & not our assets. In particular the upper arms, the bust, the backside, the knees which are either dimpled or knobly at best. As we imitate others, we do not see ourselves anymore!

Dress is not a question of right or wrong but something aesthetically suitable to all the aspects you have mentioned including climate, body form, comfort level & occasion. We are what we wear & unfortunately most of us are looking more like “export rejects” !

The sari is being relegated for special occasion wear but is it not as difficult if not more difficult to handle the way we sit or stand or move in a short dress especially if we are not moving within the same social circle & have to go out on the crowded street or bus or any other part of the majority of India? I often see young people on television trying to take a seat with crossed legs turning side ways to prevent the view ‘upwards’.

 Are Saris and handlooms tied together intricately? Would you explain this connection further?

The sari in concept is deeply connected to an unstitched garment with different densities created by patterning in the borders, end pieces & body at times. This is a functional necessity for the way it is to be draped as the borders & end pieces take the load of the wear & tear at the feet or the tying at the waist & the inner end piece takes the load of the sitting or squatting & the outer end piece is often used to tie over as a pouch or as a shaded head cover.

Handlooms are disappearing because those who are involved in the spinning & weaving process cannot earn enough to sustain a livelihood leave alone being at par with other professions. Hand work is naturally slower but it can produce a superior quality of fabric at its best. It should not be propped up with subsidies which lower quality & justify poor quality because it is handloom made. The hand must produce finer & superior textures that cannot be handled by machines.

In all cases handloom produced saris should not require starching or shade drying. They were our heirlooms at one stage if you recall. Handed down from generation to generation & this was not because of high maintenance but largely because of superior yarn & fabric quality.

We happen to be fortunately placed with multiple levels of production possibility by hand & machine & we should use this to our advantage rather than opt for complete mechanized production. For instance we could be the only country in the world that can make handspun handlooms in some significant quantity & quality as we have the skill, fast disappearing raw material & a work force that cannot be entirely absorbed in the mechanized sector

We are opening our markets to the world but likewise are not entering the world through what we look at as ‘slow skills’ which give us an edge even among south & east Asia. These are being relegated to the past, neglected, ignored or at best being made to produce & compete in volume & not quality of the hand.

The “Ananda Khadi” movement  & Sari School.

In 2003- 04 ,the exhibition titled ‘khadi- the fabric of freedom’ had travelled to several cities in India. Over the next 3 years we realized that hand-spinning on the Desi Charkha unfortunately, had become the most neglected & forgotten strength of Khadi whereas, the faster semi-mechanized Ambar Charkha had been in favour over the last 50 years. Therefore, a concerted effort was made to develop hand-spinning upto 115s count on the Desi Charkha & develop 115s to 500s count on the Ambar Charkha. Both had their relevance & would never compete with mill spun yarns which spin to an average of 120s count & thus hand-spinning could reassert itself in a non-competitive context.

A team provided design & quality support, appointed a local weaver’s son/ daughter with some formal education to stay back in the village & look after the production work. After the first year, it was realized that the cotton quality & availability was not reliable & therefore cultivation for the support of organic farming was provided to indigenous cottons that could become totally organic & varieties of silk that were facing adverse conditions due to lack of interest in the market.

We now encourage local farmers to cultivate short staple desi cottons both brown & white with totally organic protection & soil enrichment to produce high quality rain fed cottons that can provide a regular flow of raw material to the spinners & weavers involved in this project. These cottons are ideal for fine textured, inlay patterned & 3 shuttle weaving which is prevalent. The challenge is to combine the unique skills in spinning & weaving for contemporary usage for both stitched & unstitched garments.

The unique quality of khadi is a low twist yarn that provides a soft supple fabric absorbent in the heat of summer & fulsome & warm in winter. It can provide the widest base of home employment as atleast 10 spinners if they were adequately compensated along with atleast 5 people involved in cultivation to cleaning, combing, carding could sustain one handloom for twelve months a year.

Products made from Ananda Khadi are now available in select stores across the country.

The Sari School was set up in 2009 as the last volume of the book “Saris of India” was going in for publication & we needed to connect with another generation to show them how simple it is to re-work an unstitched garment. To make of it what they want. Also weavers conceded that the books were useful in the long run but they needed support with weaving ‘now’ not later.

rta's sari school workshop nov 4 2014

 Preethi’s notes on the sari school: I was unfortunate enough to have missed Rta’s Sari school workshop at the Kalakshetra Foundation last year, but participants at the workshop swore by Rta’s acerbic wit and passion and came away mesmerized & inspired at just how versatile the Sari is. If you live in Delhi, the Sari School is worth a visit.

 

A guide to washing and maintaining handlooms

Our series on handlooms, the fabric traditions of India and our various detours into our cultural wardobe and how you could bring in more sustainability into your clothing ends with this post today.
But a series by Krya on fabric is not complete with one of our signature guides on how to care for this fabric. All along this series we have encountered questions from curious readers about the maintenance of natural and hand woven fabric, and this, apart from the question on why it is priced a certain way, is one of the big barriers to more and more people adopting handlooms.

Our little guide on maintaining handlooms draws inspiration from art, which in turn has been inspired by washing – (see, we knew we weren’t the only ones!). Maintaining great handlooms is not difficult, and it is a myth that caring for them takes time and energy. In fact, like tending to land, with great fabric, the less you interfere with it, the better.

Handloom washing guide

An important part of your washing arsenal with handlooms is the right detergent – and this is a step you absolutely cannot afford to skip – most popular brand, synthetic detergents are unsuitable for the fine, carefully woven handloom fabric. They are over engineered and tend to fray and damage the joints of the weaves.

We hope you enjoy reading our handloom washing guide. If you have any questions on the process or on the rest of the series do write to us.

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End Notes:

We would like to thank Ms. Rta Kapur Chisti for taking the time to respond to our questions on the art of sari wearing, cultural traditions and handlooms with so much wisdom and clarity. We enjoyed reading and editing your answers! Ms. Rta Kapur Chisti’s book on the Sari traditions of India is a bible for handloom and unstitched garment enthusiasts. The book is available online.

For those living in Delhi, The Sari school offers information and draping training to those wanting to master the sari. Ananda Khadi, Ms.Chisti’s brand of fine Khadi fabric and sarees can be bought in their store in Delhi and in other stores across the country. For more information please visit their website.

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This is our concluding post  of our series on Sustainable fabric and India’s textile traditions. The rest of our series can be read here: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
  11. Our post on the Sustainable Fabric Workshop conducted at the Green Bazaar exploring natural dyes is here.
  12. Our post with notes on Kalakshetra’s Natural dyeing workshop and a guest post by Kavita Rayirath of Indian by design on inspiring Handloom appreciation is here.
  13. Rashmi Vittal of Little Green Kid’s guest post on why organic cotton is so essential for everyone can be found here.
  14. Our visit to Vivek and Juli Cariappa and our interview of this Krish pandit couple and their experiments with Khadi can be found here.
  15. Our post on Tula (organic, non GM Khadi) along with a video interviewing their founder, and an interview of Tara Aslam and Nature Alley Khadi can be found here.

 

 

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Dye another day

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

It almost always comes back to water. On the Krya blog we focus on sustainable urban living. We explore the many different ways in which urban living is stressing the environment and equally the many interesting ways in which we can return to a holistic, sustainable way of living.

 

And we are constantly amazed by the myriad ways in which water gets polluted. Ground water and water on the surface of the earth (both fresh and saline). While 70% of the planet is water, there is no good reason to go around trashing this precious resource. This is simply because it takes only a moment to pollute water but an eternity (and a ton of money) to clean it again and make it fit for consumption – by humans, plants and animals. This seems obvious yet the daily massacre of water that takes place compels me to point it out here.

 

The textile industry is a leading source of water pollution. World Bank estimates that 20% of all industrial water pollution comes from the dyeing of textiles. The textile mills release millions of gallons of wastewater containing pollutants like chlorine, formaldehyde, lead & mercury into our freshwater bodies. Some 72 toxic chemicals had been have linked to textile dyeing. A single T-shirt made from regular cotton requires 2700 litres of water and uses 150 grams of chemicals in the production process.

How did the textile industry sink to this state of affairs?

Dye

Dyeing is an ancient art, as old as humanity.

6. cuneiform tablet

The original dyes were mostly plant derived, from roots, berries, fruits and bark. They used simple methods like crushing or boiling to dye fabric. Dyeing was in fact a secretive subject and only a select few could access it, wearing dyed clothes as status symbol.

5. charlemagne's coronation

The medieval depiction above of Emperor Charlemagne’s coronation by the Pope, shows the Emperor wearing am indigo robe and the Pope wearing a  white robe. Indigo and purple in ancient times were worn only by royals. Similarly, in Indonesia, the batik process of dyeing used several symbols and certain symbols could only be worn by royals. People could be placed in the pecking order just by looking at the symbols on their batik clothes.

Some of the most famous ancient dyes were red madder, extracted from the roots of the Rubia Tinctorum and the blue indigo from the leaves of the Indigofera tinctoria.

Indigo, the original king of dyes

Apart from the glorious deep blue colour that the Indigo plant delivers, it was the king of dyes from ancient times for a number of reasons. Most dyes require a mordant like alum, common salt or salts of aluminum, chromium etc, to fix the dye to the fabric and ensure colour fastness. Indigo is unique in that it uses a fermentation process to release the coloring molecules and fabric can be directly dipped into the indigo and dried to get the desired blue colour.

7. dyeing wool

In ancient times, many households would mix the ingredients required into a vat, let the mix ferment for a week to get the dye and then dip the fabric into the vat to colour it. This indigo vat then can be maintained for many years on a continuous basis, adding some indigo as and when the dye dilutes. Some Indigo vats have been known to be used for over a hundred years continuously. It was common for many households to have their own indigo vat. This was a very local, DIY, contained process and very environmentally friendly.

4.badshahmiyan indigo

The picture above, shows Master Dyer Badshah Miyan of Jaipur following this traditional Indigo dyeing process today in Jaipur. Of course we cannot all wear Indigo and other colours are needed. The fundamental unit of living has also changed and we cannot all have an ancestral indigo vat running to meet our clothing needs. Further with the growth in demand for the dye, indigo cultivation started replacing other food crops which made it a precious commodity.

Around 1850 several organic chemists began research into synthesis of indigo from chemical sources. By 1897, BASF had developed a commercially viable chemical synthesis that eliminated the need for the leaves of the Indigo plant. In due course in the 20th century all natural dyes were replaced by their synthetic equivalents. Unfortunately what started off as an innocent quest to replace natural indigo with a cheaper chemically synthesized alternative ended up in an global industry that freshwater with toxic chemicals inexorably.

The T-Shirt Town in Tatters

Tirupur in Tamil Nadu is a leading textile center accounting for 80% of India’s knitwear exports. Tirupur textiles accounted for over $ 4 billion in revenues per year in recent times. It provides employment to over 6 lakh people.

This is really commendable from the economic point of view.

But the environmental costs of the past few decades have been terrible too.

According to one Tamil Nadu pollution control board report, each year the Tirupur textile industry generates 833,000 tonnes of toxic waste including bleach and sulfonic dyes, much of it directly dumped into the nearby Noyyal river. This untreated chemical effluent drains into the Kaveri river and then finally washes up in the Bay of Bengal. The textile industry in the past few decades has contaminated around 80,000 acres of cropland in this area ,mostly rice fields. The locals have in the past found that the red chemical dye from the Noyyal river water was absorbed by the coconut trees on the banks, dyeing the coconuts a deep red colour.

2.noyyal runs black

 

The Audubon magazine has this to say about the state of affairs in Tirupur

“The Noyyal is now essentially an open sewer. At Kasipalayam, where the river slows down and effluent accumulates, the water runs brown and smells unbearably of human waste. The banks are strewn with plastic bags, aluminum cans, and other garbage. Close inspection sometimes reveals a splash of unnatural green or purple from the upstream dye factories.”

The environmental risks are similarly severe at other Indian textile hubs like Tirupur.

The pollution is not new news

Since the 1990’s several groups have taken legal action against the polluting units near Noyyal  and a lot of legal back and forth has happened through supreme court orders. In the meantime effluent treatment technology has also improved. To manage the high costs of effluent treatment, common effluent treatment plants ( CETP) have been in vogue for some time now. In Tirupur some 18 CETPs handle the liquid waste of 350 dyeing units. However these CETPs still discharge varying levels of harmful matter into the rivers. With the further development of Zero liquid Discharge ( ZLD ) technology , it is possible to reuse all the waste water from the dyeing units.

Picture1

Treated  & Untreated Samples from Tirupur ZLD plant

 

This prompted the Supreme Court in January 2011 to order the Tamil Nadu government to close all polluting units that did not comply with zero liquid discharge norms. While the Tirupur exporters association claimed in December 2012 that they had achieved 100% ZLD levels, a February 2014 report in The Hindu states that pollution of the Noyyal river continues unabated.

 

What next?

At the start of this piece I noted that it takes only an instant to pollute water but an eternity ( and a ton of money) to undo the damage, which is why each act of pollution must be avoided.

So a number of questions arise.

Can the entire clothing of the planet be met through sustainable textiles, right now ? this year ? How do I know if my brand of clothing uses sustainable practices ?

I checked out the sustainability report of the first brand that popped into my head, Fabindia.

Now this is the information on the Fabindia website

“We use both vegetable dyes and commercial dyes with the goal of minimizing our impact on the environment while striving for the best color properties. For our bleaching process we use only hydrogen peroxide which is totally biodegradable.”

This information gives me 2 concerns straight away

  1. I am not comfortable with the vague term “commercial dyes”. So the next time we hit Fabindia , I need to ask the store staff for only the vegetable dyed items
  2. Hydrogen Peroxide is not inspiring me at all. I have many concerns about the biodegradability of hydrogen peroxide. My simple test is as follows : Can I pour a glass of peroxide into my plants ? I have serious doubts. While I still cannot rule out the safe use of hydrogen peroxide in bleaching textiles, I at least know that fabindia does not use Chlorine bleach in its process, which is considered to be far more toxic as an effluent.

However the more I try and find details about brands with global supply chains with extremely opaque information flows, I realize that it is easier to discover local brands that have clear picture of the entire process. It is my one person satyagraha.

For example, as I type this , I am wearing a shirt from Tula, a brand that creates clothes from rain fed organic cotton, which is hand dyed with vegetable dyes and hand woven.

3. Tula

The entire supply chain is contained within a 500 km radius of my home. It cannot not get more sustainable than this. I cannot get everything that I need from Tula, but I can certainly get a few fantastic shirts, which is a good start.

So how sustainable is the garment that you are wearing right now?

 

To read more about sustainable fabric start here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha

 

 

 

 

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The One Person Satyagraha

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

2001

In 2001, in the first month of my first job, after wading through knee-deep rain water and slush, I boarded a rather random, crowded bus to Motihari, in the Champaran district of Bihar and famously, the birthplace of George Orwell. As weird as that was, I found it even more surreal that the purpose of this trip was to learn the art of selling a wide variety of consumer goods for an American company. It was not that I found my situation particularly repellant or devoid of glamour compared to say my friends working in a bank in Wall Street. What bothered me was the fact that in a million years I could not have imagined myself doing this at the culmination of 21 years of formal education.

Motihari is a very small town and in my very first visit I learnt that George Orwell was born here in 1903 , courtesy of a bust and plaque in a prominent part of the local geography.

George_Orwell_press_photo

 

 

George Orwell’s Press photo above

In fact there is rather proprietary air in which the local people refer to Orwell & you could be forgiven for thinking that he wrote 1984 sitting in a tea shop in Meena Bazaar. In actual fact Orwell left Motihari as a one year old baby in 1904 and that was about it.

 

It was only in my third or fourth visit to Motihari that the very real and very important connection to Mahatma Gandhi dawned on me. While I could vaguely sense the spirit of Gandhi in street names and the memorial pillar in the town center, it was only when a distributor reminded me of the Indigo movement that I realized that this was the the Karmabhoomi of Gandhiji. In a sense after South Africa, the indigo movement and the related Satyagraha was a seminal event in Gandhi’s life helping him on the way to becoming the Mahatma. I was happy to be making monthly trips to that sacred land.

 

The First Indian Satyagraha

In 1916, Gandhi inspired the very first Indian Satyagraha, in Champaran. The local farmers were forced to grow the Indigo plant, a natural blue dye, for the British textile industry instead of food crops of their choice.

The development of a cheaper chemical substitute, lead to a crash in the prices of the natural Indigo dye. The production of natural Indigo worldwide fell from 19,000 tons in 1897 to 1,000 tons by 1914. The British planters started paying ridiculously low prices for the Indigo leading to a very desperate situation for the farmers. They also tried to recoup their losses in many ways through farmers who had leased their land from them. They increased the lease rents, seized their cattle, looted their homes and imposed several new illegal “taxes” on various aspects of life. The planters beat the peasants and put those who resisted in prison.

One of the Indigo cultivators called Rajkumar Shukla, persuaded Gandhi to travel to Motihari, to study the situation first hand and to provide a solution. On his arrival at Motihari, the local district magistrate ordered Gandhi to leave immediately. Gandhi politely refused this order and proceeded to make Champaran his home for the Satyagraha. Since the farmers had no legal recourse, Gandhi assembled a team of lawyers including Jawaharlal Nehru & Rajendra Prasad, who worked with him to build the case.

3. Champaran satyagraha

The team under Gandhi surveyed 2841 villages and recorded the statements of 8000 indigo farmers to understand the problem in depth. They also realized that apart from the economic struggles due to forced indigo cultivation, there was a deeper problem of education and health. They helped set up Schools and improved local sanitation. Gandhi and team published a detailed report to government which favored the farmers unanimously. The government was forced to accept this report and lead to the formation of the Champaran Agrarian Bill which provided the relief to the Indigo farmers.

The Champaran Satyagraha was the very first of its kind and was the first major milestone in what eventually became the grand Indian Independence movement.

Remains of the day

Natural indigo cultivation is on the decline today and is replaced in large part by synthetic Indigo. It is continues to be used in small amounts in natural textile and tie and dye art like Shibori. However , the largest use of Indigo dye is now synthetic Indigo dye, as is used in your favorite pair of mass market jeans.

5. indigo dyed shibori

Perhaps there is not much Indigo cultivation happening in Champaran despite the major historic associations. However to me what remains from that period , the philosophy of Satyagraha, is of vital importance.

Gandhi coined this term from Satya (Truth ) & Agraha ( holding firmly to) and over his life perfected the philosophy of Satyagraha as a powerful , non-violent opposition by the oppressed in any situation.

I believe that anyone finding themselves in an uncomfortable life situation can start a Satyagraha. Even if it is a one person Satyagraha.

 

So, If you are bored by globalization of fashion and find yourself and every third person wearing cookie –cutter clothes , find yourself a local handloom to suit your needs.

India is one of the largest producers of cotton worldwide. The rampant spread of genetically (GM) modified cotton, which now accounts for 93% of cotton in India, is a cause for concern. The correlation between the growth of GM cotton and farmer suicides is a debate which cannot be ignored any longer. We will write in depth about this later this month. However you can start your one person satyagraha today by choosing organic cotton.

If you are constantly bothered by reports of the Ganga turning black due to the effluents from chemical dyes meant for textile mills polluting it, you can look for textile which is naturally dyed like Malkha , or Tula or other designers like Bindu of Chakra Design.

2. effluent discharge

If you are hot and sweaty in a size 40, blue colour ,button down office shirt, go a to nearby Khadi Bhavan outlet and experience the joys of breathable fabric , that keeps cool even in an Indian summer.

Looking back at my monthly trips to Motihari in 2001, I wish I had taken the train instead of the Bus. The railway station is appropriately named “Bapudham Motihari” and rightly reminds all visitors about the man and his very important Satyagraha. George Orwell does merit a footnote in the history of the town but should not be the first thing that hits you.

So if you find yourself worrying about a 1984 like situation, don’t wait, Start your One person Satyagraha today.

 

 

 

 

 

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Let it bleed: The Yang of reusable menstrual products

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

I can’t seem to get the phrase “Let it bleed “out of my head for the past few days. I was reading about the 1969 Rolling Stones album called Let it bleed” and shortly afterwards read the Ian Rankin novel of the same name, inspired by the album. And then, all through July my partner Preethi has been reading, researching, blogging and advocating the cause of re-usable cloth napkins, as opposed to disposable sanitary napkins.

I share an office with Preethi, and obviously I cannot help being surrounded by the animated discussion around periods, menstruation and how women can green their periods by switching to cloth napkins. It was an important cause for us at Krya and I was happy to observe from the sidelines and carry on with my own work. And then suddenly, out of the blue, Preethi asked me to write an article, the man’s perspective on menstruation and re-usable napkins. I should have seen it coming though, given my special background.

Where it all began : a class project on the sanitary napkin industry

It all started in college, at IIM-Bangalore in 2000. I obviously knew nothing about menstruation, beyond the two periods in the biology class that dealt with the female reproductive system. What little I learnt in those biology classes, could have been written on the side of a tampon. Of devices to manage menstrual flow, like sanitary napkins, I knew nothing at all.

In a marketing course we were a group of five, four lads and a girl. Our project was to take a particular product category, and analyze how disruptive marketing strategies turned the category on its head, or something to that effect. We were just a few days from the deadline and had no clue about the project and not much inclination either.

Then the sole girl in our group decided to take matters into her own hands and started work on writing a project report on the sanitary napkin category in India. Obviously she had some knowledge of the industry as a consumer and to her credit; it had a lot of potential for the marketing academic to work with. Needless to say she toiled alone for a few days with the other four lads clapping and encouraging her from the sidelines.

Then on the very last evening before the big project presentation, she gave up the lone crusade. And decided it was time to take help. I was the first group member that she could locate and with a massive number of grade points on the line, I decided to do my share of the project work. This close to the deadline I could not start work on a new category and so I decided to man up and learn all about sanitary napkins. Soon I found myself sitting in the night canteen , quizzing a couple of girls about their periods, their choice of sanitary protection and a quick download on belted and beltless napkins, ultra-thin and cottony napkins. Needless to say, the next morning, in front of a class of sixty colleagues and an embarrassed, middle-aged marketing professor, I gave a profound lecture on the Indian sanitary napkin industry.

And it didn’t stop there: I went on to join a sanitary napkin company

That little marketing project was just the beginning.  A year later, by an extremely convoluted, twisted turn of events, I found myself working in a company that also happened to be India’s largest manufacturer of sanitary napkins. Then I drew the short straw and got assigned to the marketing team responsible for sanitary napkins. On my first day as the product manager of the ultra-thin napkin brand, I remembered my marketing project in college and like Wooster, emitted a hollow, mirthless, laugh.

The company was bleeding market share and miracles were expected of my ultra-thin brand. As a first step, I remember writing a detailed newsletter to the entire sales force, on why gel-based ultra-thin napkins were the future, how they offered superior, discreet protection to women even on heavy flow days. I just couldn’t believe what I was writing at that time and restore my sanity, I heavily referenced a favorite Jimi Hendrix song and threw in a Superman comics reference. I even branded all my monthly newsletters as Purple Haze.

The surreal world of sanitary product sales

For the next couple of years I found myself daily in an increasingly surreal set of situations. I have held P&L responsibility for belted napkins, ultra-thin napkins, beltess cottony napkins, tampons (with and without digital applicator) and even liners.

For a brief period (the fifth pun so far, for those keeping count) I was the only man in a five member marketing team and battled several “what would you know” type of arguments. I have written a detailed research report on why belted napkins were crucial to the mother-ship and had a future. For a few weeks, with some key teammates on leave, I had responsibility for the brands customer care cell. I have no doubt that the hundreds of consumers writing to the brand with their period problems pictured an elderly gynecologist at the other end.

Someone got the idea that women executives in MNC banks were well suited to receive marketing messages about tampons. So one day, I found myself in a bank in Delhi, distributing free samples of tampons to the unsuspecting women at lunchtime. In return for the samples, we requested product feedback. During a call back a month later, one lady said that she had no use for the tampons as she had reached menopause.

Connecting the dots at Krya

However more than a decade later, as I type this article at my office in Krya , one experience stands out and has a whole lot of relevance to our discussion on re-usable cloth napkins. In my first job, I had the primary responsibility to execute a massive pan-India program to educate school girls on menstrual hygiene and of course distribute a free sample of a wood-pulp based napkin at the end of the lecture. This was conducted with the blessing of the local health authorities and focused on government girls schools in the smaller districts.

The entire program was a well oiled machine and all that was required of me was to travel once every other month for a field visit to check out the execution. In a girls school in Nasik district, I was waiting outside the class full girls who were receiving information about how cloth rags were unhygienic and why napkins were crucial to women’s health. For obvious reasons I never entered the hall during these lectures, but on this occasion I was asked by a teacher to respond to a very specific question by one of the girls. She simply asked me that that it was all very well to receive the free sample, but come the next month she had no hope that her parents could afford to buy her a pack of napkins. So what’s a girl to do? I gave her a brief answer on price versus value and the importance of health.

Looking back I have been responsible in a small way, for distributing millions of wood-pulp based disposable napkins along with a subtle message that cloth was an inferior, unhygienic solution.

But cloth napkins are not inferior

I am glad today that at Krya I have a fantastic opportunity to set right some wrongs of days past. For one, there is no question that disposable napkins of any stripe are an environmental disaster. They present a huge landfill and public health problem. Period.

Secondly, I am reliably told that re-usable cloth pads are way better for the user, no weird dioxins or fragrances. In my career as a product manager I depended completely on Preethi’ s wisdom for consumer behavior and was rather successful too. Once again with her direct, profound experiences on using re-usable cloth napkins, I can recommend that they good for the environment and good for you too.

To this I will add the man’s perspective. Switching to re-usable cloth pads from disposables needs some serious support. Sometimes there can be weird smells in the bathroom as they get washed. A few stray drops of blood on floor. I am acutely aware that a few disapproving comments from the partner can add immensely to the existing mental barrier around re-usable cloth pads.

So here are my 5 reasons why men should encourage their wives/partners to switch to re-usable cloth napkins.

1. No more emergency, late night runs to the pharmacy to bring back a black plastic bag.
2. Do it for the environment, disposables are an environmental headache.
3. Do it for the woman in your life. My reliable source tells me that re-usable cloth pads are more comfortable, work really well and are safer too.
4. There is no weirdness around menstrual blood, it is natural and at the right times, a sign of good health. In our home, soiled cloth napkins are kept in a separate bucket and rinsed first to remove the blood. Then after a wash with Krya detergent they are good to go. They are washed in the same machine, laundered along with all of our regular laundry and they are absolutely clean and hygienic.
5. Re-usable cloth pads are quite sturdy and long lasting, so over a few years they will prove to be more economical than disposables.

So to all the husbands & boyfriends, if you have some ick-iniess around the switch from disposables to re-usable cloths pads – Be a Man, let her bleed.

 

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The Zen of Shaving

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Somerset Maugham observed that “in each shave lies a philosophy”.

w somerset maugham

In 2009, Haruki Murakami introduced me to this aphorism when he applied it to his daily ritual of running. Murakami went on to write that “No matter how mundane an action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes contemplative, even meditative”.

Extending the ritual a few feet away, from the shaving mirror to the shower, it comes as no surprise that many of us get bright ideas in the shower. The nature of the shower, with eyes mostly closed, eliminating external stimuli, focussed on just one act at a time, helps the sub-conscious mind create some of our better ideas. By logical extension, world changing ideas should occur in the bathtub. Balzac and Ben Franklin wrote extensively in the bathtub and we all know what happened to Archimedes in the tub. A shave is a faster, coarser and less joyous ritual compared to a shower but nonetheless has meditative potential.

Maugham’s aphorism has stayed with me in many different ways since the day I first read it. Today when I look at myself in the mirror before the shave, I cannot help thinking about the philosophical implications of each stroke of the razor. I find it remarkable that one single line written by Maugham could elevate my daily ritual of nearly twenty years from ennui to Zen.

And One day I realized that as much as “in each shave lies a philosophy” there is also an underlying philosophy to the shave itself, a finer contemplation of the act that yielded much refinement.

My Shaving Philosophy

The first refinement or evolution in the shaving philosophy happened with the after-shave lotion. The heady, spicy, musky fragrance and the mental images of surfing, set to music from Carmina Burana, really compensated for the sharp sting of the denatured alcohol in the after-shave for several years. Razor burn and cuts (especially from cheap single blades in the dark ages) were supposedly taken care of by the alcohol. I always knew there had to be a better solution than rubbing alcohol on raw skin but until recently I did not have the motivation to look for it.

(Of course, to discuss why the alcohol based after shave is not a good idea on the dimensions of health and environmental safety will require another article entirely.)

The better way was always available in any low brow barber shop, the alum, a rough, milky-coloured stone-like block, that the barber would wet and rub the customer’s face with. Alum (potash alum) is a naturally occurring crystalline compound that has been used for centuries as an after shave for its astringent and haemostatic properties.

alum

Alum

I picked up a 75 gram block of alum for Rs 12 a couple of years ago and it works really well, with a mild tingle which was not really a sting, and pleasant fragrance. There is also a marked astringent action for a few seconds as you feel the gentle tightening of the facial skin.

The real surprise is that after two years of regular use, the 75 gram alum block still seems to be a 75 gram block and is a prime candidate to bequeath or become a family heirloom. The only way to reduce its weight apparently is to lose it or break it.

The alum block is so effective, elegant, and versatile and eerily long lasting, it makes me wonder why we abandoned it in the first place. It now occupies a place of pride in my shaving philosophy.

The Foaming Can

The next piece of the Shaving philosophy to go under the microscope was the shaving foam can. The real purpose of any shaving foam or soap is to create a rich lather that will then

  • Reduce friction for the razor
  • Provide a protective covering over the skin preventing cuts
  • Make the stubble stand on end for a closer shave

Today the most popular format is shaving foam or gel delivered in a pressurized metal can or aerosol can. Aerosol cans are straight away bad news from an environmental perspective. Although we are well past the dark era when CFC based aerosols were burning holes in the ozone layer , the whole aerosol mechanism to produce shaving foam comes at an absurd environmental cost.

Consider this: the aerosol can requires the metal can, the plastic lid, the hydrocarbon propellants, the highly manufactured valve mechanism, the paraben preservatives, the foaming agents just to produce a handful of foam that might save a few seconds in the morning. How difficult is to pick up a brush and work up a lather with basic shaving soap? The aerosol can is environmentally expensive to make or safely dispose and offers little potential for easy recycling.

Further depending upon your point of view of toxic household chemicals, all shaving foams and gels contain a cocktail of the usual suspects of Parabens, Sodium LauryL Sulfate ( SLS), strong fragrances that release VOC ( volatile organic compounds) ,which makes the shaving can format highly questionable.

There is then the technical debate on whether the shaving foam from a pressurized delivers on the afore mentioned three basic requirements. The gas from the foam could push the hair down instead of making it stand on end, reducing the closeness of the shave. Some have argued that the shaving foam does not protect the skin from cuts like a rich lather and merely offers lubrication for the razor.

I have decided that the very manly shaving ritual should not start with a sissy can of foam. A simple brush and an honest shaving soap obviate many of the environmental hazards and deliver a nice wake-up call on a groggy morning.

What next?

The shaving philosophy is evolving. Wet shaving versus dry shaving? Disposable razors or straight blades, those literally take you to life on the bleeding edge.

I cannot claim that my solution has solved all the problems of the shaving philosophy like Wittgenstein did with the entire subject of philosophy after writing his opus “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”. Then again, growing a beard could put an end to the shaving philosophy and grant you an environmental halo.

 

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Soapberries : The eco-friendly cleaning solution

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

(This is an extensive article on soapberries that we had written recently for Eco Walk The Talk, an Asia focussed online green community)

If you think that detergents are found only on supermarket shelves, then be prepared for a clean, green surprise. It grows on trees and has been cleaning clothes (and people) since the time of the Buddha! In fact, some sources also add the Buddha to its list of satisfied consumers.

Say hello to the Sapindus – a group of around 10 species of trees whose fruits can be used as foaming cleaners or surfactants to use a more technical term. The unique surfactant property of the Sapindus fruit makes it an all purpose cleaner – for skin, hair, laundry, dishes and pretty much anything else that requires cleaning.

The name Sapindus is derived from the Latin words Saponis, meaning soap andIndicus, meaning from India. The part of the Sapindus tree used as a surfactant is the fruit and it is commonly known as soapnut. Since it is a fruit We prefer to call it the soapberry which is more accurate.

The Soapberry tree

India is home to several species of Sapindus. The two most well known of these are the South Indian Sapindus trifoliatus and the Himalayan Sapindus Mukorossi. In India, soapberries have a long recorded history of usage. Ayurvedic texts prescribe it as a gentle cleansing agent in shampoos and body cleansers and also as a treatment in dermatitis, and eczema.

In China the soapberry pericarp is called wu-huan-zi or the non illness fruit. In Japan, the soapberry pericarp is called the enmei-hi or the life prolonging pericarp.

The Soapberry

Fresh soapberry fruits look like grapes or gooseberry fruits and grow in clusters on the trees.

A well cared for soapberry tree can produce 250 kg of soapberry fruits every year, after attaining maturity which takes about ten years.

What makes the soapberry a soap?

The magic ingredient which gives the soapberry its halo is saponin, found in the fleshy outer part of the fruit.

The pericarp of the soapberries (the outer fleshy part of the fruit) contains saponins, which are the plants “immune system”. Saponins are a class of compounds, found in abundance in the plant world, and produce foaming solutions in water which can used for cleaning.

How can I use the soapberry in my home?

The soapberry is an excellent natural cleanser that can be used to substitute most synthetic cleansers in your home.

You can use the soapberry shells , soapberry powder, or extract soapberry liquid by making a concentrated tea with water and use this as a substitute for almost all your cleaning needs.

It can be used in the following ways:

1.    As a mild shampoo substitute

2.    As safe and effective detergent

3.    As a hypoallergenic baby fabric detergent

4.    As a food safe dish wash product

5.    As an excellent antibacterial / anti-fungal floor and surface cleanser

What are other uses of the Soapberry ?

Plants are wonderfully complex systems that are beyond complete human understanding. All along we have only talked about the surfactant property but the soapberry does so much more than just clean.

1. Pesticide removal action: fruits and vegetables

Soapberry powder works wonders on removing surface level pesticides in fruits and vegetables as well. Research done on tomatoes, aubergines, cabbage and grapes, which have a thin membrane and are prone to absorbing a large quantity of pesticides, indicates a 76% reduction in deadly pesticides like Monocrotophos, when these fruits and vegetables are soaked for 20 minutes in a solution of water and soapberry powder.

2.    Pesticide removal action: on cotton

Cotton is one of the most sprayed crops in the world. In India, cotton crop is sprayed with a deadly cocktail of chemicals including Lindane, Heptachlor, and DDT.

A simple test measuring the surface level pesticides on cotton yarn before and after treatment with soapberry, showed nearly a 70% reduction in the surface levels of Lindane.

3. Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal action

Soapberries have strong anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. They have been prescribed in small quantities in oral medications in traditional Chinese medicine.

Extracts of Sapindus mukorossi were shown to inhibit the bacterium Helicobacter pylori which causes GERD, peptic ulcers, cancers of the oesophagus and stomach

Preliminary studies on Sapindus mukorossi and Sapindus saponaria show active action against many disease causing fungi like Candida albicans, and bacteria likePseudomonas Aeruginosa and Staphylococcus Aureus

How do I start using the soapberry?

Fresh soapberry fruits need to be dried well to be used. Once dried, they become a rich dark brown colour, depending on the species and look like this:

Once dried, they need to be de-seeded before they are ready for use.

Soapberries are extremely hygroscopic in nature, meaning that they absorb moisture from the atmosphere, so they need to be stored in a dry place.

1.Use whole soapberries

It  is  really easy to use soapberries for washing. If you’re using a washing machine, you may place 5– 6  shells in an old, clean sock or muslin bag firmly tied on top, so that the soapberries don’t escape. Toss this into the washing machine and let it work through both the wash and rinse cycles, but do remove before you use the dryer.

You can use the soapberries for upto 4 wash cycles, but remember to let them dry before the next wash.  You can use the soapberries until they turn grey in colour (indicating that there are no more saponins left). Best of all, as soapberries are completely natural and biodegradable, they can be composted.

2. Making soapberry powder from dried soapberries

For even better results and greater convenience, soapberry powder can be made by grinding dried, de-seeded soapberries.  They can be ground in a coffee grinder, and should be ground into large sized particles when used as a detergent or a dish wash product. The finer soapberries are ground, the faster they absorb moistures, so grinding them into large sized particles helps you store them for longer.

Soapberry powder can be used as a substitute to detergents and dish wash applications. Keep in mind that they do not dissolve completely like synthetic surfactants, so when using them in a washing machine or a dish washer, put the powder into a sock or muslin bag, to keep the residue from sticking onto laundry or dishes.

The residue after use as a detergent or dish wash makes for great plant food so do remember to compost the residue  after use.

3. Extracting Soapberry liquid

You can also extract soapberry liquid for use as a detergent or a floor cleanser. Soapberry liquid needs to be refrigerated and does not keep for more than a month.

It is prepared by soaking soapberries overnight in cold water or soaking them in hot water for 15 minutes to an hour and squeezing out the saponins mechanically until the berries turn grey in colour.

Let the soapberry liquid cool slightly before filtering out the soapberry residue. The residue can be dried and re-used again to make more floor cleanser (the cleanser made with this residue will be more dilute, so reduce the water the second time around) or to do the laundry. The soapberry powder / residue can be re-used until the residue turns grey, indicating the absence of saponins.

Do I have to work very hard to use the soapberry?

The soapberry is making a strong comeback into popular use especially in countries like USA, Australia, Singapore, India and other places.  A lot of the work done on the soapberry in recent times has been directed to making it readily usable so that you do not have to go through the process of buying the fruit and making a powder or extract.

Our company, Krya Consumer Products has just launched a washing machine ready soapberry detergent powder for the Indian market. Do search for options in your market in case you want a ready to use product and you will be rewarded with a unique experience in tasks like laundry which are getting done on autopilot mode now.

Why are we talking about the soapberry now?

We do many daily tasks like the laundry on autopilot now and understandably so. However several drastic concerns for the environment and human health are lurking behind many of these “autopilot” routines.

For example the synthetic detergent industry is red flagged for pollution by many governments. The red flags arise out of pollution concerns during manufacture and severe harm to water bodies and marine ecosystems by detergent residue post consumer use.

Apart from detergents many personal care products like shampoo, body wash, toothpaste use a synthetic surfactant as a foaming agent. Look for either sodium lauryl sulphate or sodium laureth sulphate (referred shortly as SLS) in the ingredient list the next time you are in the supermarket and you will be surprised by the number of times these two surfactants appear. There are many studies that point to these synthetic surfactants as carcinogens so much so that “SLS free “is an important new category of products.

Moving from autopilot to manual mode can throw up interesting natural alternatives to most of the products we use on ourselves and in the home. Every time you choose a natural alternative like the soapberry, you choose better health for your family and a cleaner planet.

(P.S. The link to the original article on Eco Walk the Talk is  http://www.ecowalkthetalk.com/blog/2011/07/14/soapberries-the-eco-friendly-cleaning-solution/)

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Krya Sustainable Urban Living Guides

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We have just put together first of the Krya Sustainable Urban Living Guides : an E-book on DIY Green Cleaners for the Home. This is the first of a series of free E-books that we will publish on sustainable urban living.

We like urban living. Cities are fun, economically very productive and generally indispensable. However there is a dire need to make them more sustainable. In our many experiments we realized that small changes like switching to green cleaners have very high sustainability leverage. This is why the krya blog focuses on sustainable urban living.

This E-book is called ” DIY Green Cleaners for the Home” and uses plant based active ingredients .Green cleaners are safe for humans and leave no toxic residue in our environment. To boot they are very DIY (Do It Yourself) , instant and economical.

Please download,try,share.

DIY Green Cleaners for the Home

(pdf will open in a new browser window, right click, choose “save as” to save to your computer )

 

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