Krya Ayurveda series – The Abhyanga and skin moisture

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

The abhyanga is a central tenet of the Dinacharya prescribed in Ayurveda for the maintenance of good health. Apart from maintenance of good health, an abhyanga has also been used very successfully in the recuperation process of several wasting diseases like tuberculosis successfully in Ayurveda.

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Vayu / Air is predominantly governs the sense of touch which has its seat in skin. Therefore a regular abhyanga is the most beneficial Dinacharya for skin. Apart from keeping the skin in good health, Acharya Charaka, Acharya Sushruta and Acharya Vagbhatta are unanimous in their praise of the abhyanga for maintaining good health.

“Na Chabidhatabihatam  gaathrambhyadgasevinaha Vikaaram bhajatheythyayartham balakarmani va kvachitha

Suspashorpachithadagascha balavaan priyadarshanam Bhavathya bhayadga nithya twanrogalapajara eva cha”

“The body of one who does a regular abhyanga does not get affected by accidents or strenuous physical work. A daily abhyanga endows one with good skin, good physique and the body becomes strong, pleasant to look at, has good lustre and is not affected by old age”.

For most modern Indians, Diwali is the time they encounter the abhyanga / oil bath – tradition demands waking up at Brahma Muhurtham, and having an abhyanga with sesame oil followed by a grain based ubtan to cleanse skin. As we move towards Diwali, we thought it would be a perfect time to write more about the abhyanga and inspire you to make it much more frequent than once a year.

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So here is the start of the Krya Abhyanga series. With this series, which we will write upto Diwali, we will cover different aspects of the Abhyanga, how it is useful to skin and body health and also cover some of the practical aspects of how you can tailor an abhyanga to your body type.


 

“Dear Preethi,

As the cold weather has begun setting in here at Delhi, I am finding that my skin is feeling slightly dry, even when I bathe with a Krya body wash / ubtan. Do you think I should apply a cold pressed vegetable oil like coconut oil post bath? I really want to avoid using a synthetic moisturizer” –DP, Delhi

The Skin – a revered organ in Ayurveda

The Skin is treated with a great deal of respect and sensitivity in Ayurveda. The state of your complexion, moisture in your skin, its appearance and the kind of sensitivities it exhibits are all of great interest to a Vaidya. This is because the skin is the seat of 2 doshas – Pitta and Vata and their proper functioning gives the skin good health and vitality. This is also because along with “mutra” (urine and faeces, the skin is the 3rd largest excretory system in the body, producing “sveda” or sweat which is extremely important in removing toxins from the body and in regulating the body’s temperature and maintaining thermal equilibrium.

The Srota system in Ayurveda
The body also comprises of several srotas / channels according to Lord Atreya. These srotas help transport nourishing materials, or wastes all over the body. The srotas transport “prana” or breath, “udaka” water, “anna” or food, “rasa” (fluids), “rakta” (blood), “mamsa” (flesh, medas , asthi (bones), majja (marrow), sukra (semen), urine, faeces or sweat. Along with these dhatus, the srotas also transport vata, kapha and pitta dosha across the body. The srotas also carry the impulses of the sense organs to the brain and back to the sense organs, so the body responds with consciousness and intelligence to the external environment.

The skin is the seat of the Swedavaha srotas and these channels have their root in medas (fat) and Keshya (hair follicles). When these srotas are blocked they lose their functionality leading rise to several symptoms like a loss of perspiration, excessive sweating, coarseness of skin, excessive smoothness, burning sensation over the body, etc.

Keeping the Srotas clean – purpose of Abhyanga and Snana

One of the primary purpose of the daily abhyanga and bath is to keep the skin clean and ensure the minute srotas in the skin are clear, free from ama / toxins and can function properly.

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Therefore as a general rule, Ayurveda advises oil application / abhyanga before the bath. The abhyanga is done using warm oil and oil is applied vigorously and copiously all over the body, paying special attention to the seats of vayu which is the whole skin, joints, limbs, ears and soles of the feet.

A short bout of exercise is advised after the abhyanga – this could be a bout of yoga, a brisk walk or any form of exercise that is brisk, wakes up the body and helps production of sweat. As the sweat rises out of the skin, the pre-application of warm oil along with the heat generated by the exercise liquefies toxins and excess kapha and helps their passage out of the body through the sweat. The exercise is to be done only until ArdhaBala / half capacity – we stop when we reach about half our capacity to exercise, so that the body still has gas left in the tank for the rest of the day and does not go into a state of exhaustion.

After this exercise, the bath is a last step in cleaning the skin.

Cleaning the skin – the Ayurvedic snana

A grain based ubtan / body wash is suggested – the combination of fine grain and lentil power with the right set of herbs helps in micro exfoliation – this removes the excess oil from the skin and also helps the minute srotas open up so that the ama can be cleansed roughly form skin. The difference in this Ayurvedic bath is that we are treating the entire skin as a living organ and through our activities (abhyanga, exercise and bathing with a grain and herb based product) we are literally coaxing the toxins out of the skin and actively encouraging good elimination so the body is in a state of well being.

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In this scenario, where we are working to clean the srotas and leave them active and unblocked, the application of an external moisturiser post a bath goes against the very principle behind how Ayurveda recommends we care and look after our skin. Unless there are specific cases of infection of skin disease where there is s longer application of herbs required, Ayurveda does not advocate a post bath moisturiser.

In conclusion – to moisture or not to moisturise?

The pre-bath abhyanga is more than sufficient to ensure skin moisturisation. In fact skin moisturisation is one of the smallest benefits of an abhyanga. The improvement in vitality, improved digestion, clarity and focus that a good abhyanga gives you is so much more than just plain skin moisturisation.

So to conclude today’s post, if the onset of Winter is leaving your skin feeling dry, instead of reaching out for a chemical laden petrochemical moisturiser that will just block your srotas, try out an abhyanga instead. Even just 2 – 3 abhyangas a week can keep your skin extremely well moisturised and ready to take on the dry and cold weather. In addition, the abhyanga will ensure your digestion does not go sluggish and leave you feeling active and focused through the day.


Krya Products suggested for an abhyanga and a traditional snana:

  1. Skin Oils
    1. Krya Classic skin oil with carrot & Winter Cherry – a skin nourishing oil that can be used if your skin doesn’t go too dry and you would like to maintain its health –
    2. Krya Traditional baby massage oil with Bala & Ashwagandha – (my personal favourite) – a traditional abhyanga oil that should be used if your skin tends to go extremely dry and the cold weather gives you aches and pains in your lower back, neck and joints . This is a very good vata reducing oil
  2. Post abhyanga snana (wash-off) products – (range of grain and herb based ubtans for different skin needs) –
  3. Abhyanga systems – a combination pack of our classic skin oil and an ubtan
    1. Krya Women’s Abhyanga System – comes with the Classic Skin Oil and our ever popular Women’s ubtan –
    2. Krya Men’s abhyanga system – comes with the Classic Skin Oil and our Men’s ubtan
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Krya Ayurveda series: The effect of unbalanced vata on skin & hair

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

We had written yesterday about the pada abhyanga and how this dinacharya can go a long way in calming excess vata down. The proper balance of the doshas as per your individual constitution helps you maintain a sound mind and good health.

In our continuing education series on Ayurveda, you will find that we pay a lot of attention to the Vata dosha in your body. The proper functioning of the vata dosha hepls the functioning of all sense organs including the largest one in our body, the Sparsanendriya / our skin.

The fundamental quality of Rajas (cohesion) which ensure our hair grows deep rooted and strong is also governed by Vata dosha. So any discussion on skin and hair in ayurveda needs a deep rooted discussion on Vata dosha. We also focus on Vata dosha, as Krya focuses its work on city dwellers. City and city dwelling leans towards excess vata as the excitement, energy and constant stimulation of the city excites our vata dosha. It is therefore no surprise that more than 50% of dis-eases experienced by city dwellers has its roots in unbalanced vata.

We are happy to present today’s blog post by Dr.Anupama Santosh on how unbalanced vata affects skin and hair. We hope you find her post as insightful and practical as we did – we also hope that this post (and this series) inspires you to take a good look at your body and health and make the changes necessary to maintain its health and well being.


 

I often hear this at my practice at Shreshtha Ayurvedic Centre:  “Doctor,

  • I really take care of my hair. But still I have hair fall. I don’t understand this.
  • I eat lot of nuts and salads. But I still have dull skin and hair.
  • I exercise regularly and follow a great lifestyle; still I do not seem to feel healthy and energetic.
  • I oil my hair regularly, but I still have hair fall
  • I thought my hair fall is due to the water and I started using drinking water to wash my hair. But still my hair is thinning and becoming dry and rough
  • I make sure to moisturize my skin, but it still looks aged and lined.

WHY?”

 

My one answer to all these concerns is this: Hair and skin care is not skin-deep. It is much more than that. Your hair and skin is actually the mirror of your overall health.

For example, hair is considered as a byproduct/end product of the metabolism of the Asthi dhathu (the skeletal system). This means that only when the metabolism of various other systems of your body is working to their optimum, you can have good hair and skin. Only when there is abundant water in the river, the cascading waterfall looks beautiful, spectacular and full of vitality. To address a weak and poor waterfall, you have to address its root cause: the lack of water in the river.

Most often, a consultation for hair fall takes the longest time than any other, because the root of the issue is mostly deep within. Healthy hair does not grow on an unhealthy body. The health and luster of your hair and skin is an indicator of overall tissue health. The goal of great hair and skin can be achieved only when we start working from inward to outward. So, it is absolutely important to look deep in to other areas of life, which are seemingly not connected to hair and skin care. If we address these issues, some of which are a part of our constitution and some which are developed due to lifestyle unsuitable for us, we are automatically close to great hair and skin.

 

Is your state of health unbalanced, or in need of correction?

Answer a simple “yes” or no” to the following questions:

Say yes if this is the way you have felt consistently over a long period of time (I have always been/felt  like this)  OR if you have been feeling this way recently ( I never had/felt this before, but it is happening more often now)

Mind and moods:

  • I think and worry excessively
  • I think of the same thing over and over again
  • I feel a sense of nervousness, anxiety, panic and fear often
  • I am full of enthusiasm while starting something, which exhausts very quickly. Working in spurts and bursts than consistently
  • I am very active, sometimes restless, but I have low stamina
  • I am easily exhausted and irritable

Joints & tendons

  • My neck and other joints feel stiff, often
  • I often develop twitches and tics in the eyes and lips
  • I experience sudden spasms and pain in the muscles
  • My bones hurt and I can hear a creaking sound in the joints

 Skin:

  • My skin has darkened
  • My skin feels dry and rough patchy skin
  • My skin is dry or chapped
  • I am seeing skin wrinkles showing up prematurely
  • My skin is dry and lustreless
  • I have dark circles under the eyes and general darkening of complexion

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Sleep

  • My sleep is light and often interrupted

 Appetite and Digestion

  • I have constipation, gas, bloating, dry, hard stools
  • I have low body weight or varying body weight
  • My appetite and digestion is irregular/variable: I feel extremely hungry on one day and loss of appetite on another

 Nails and Hair

  • My nails are hard, brittle, rough and cracked
  • My hair is dry, rough and coarse and tangles easily
  • My eyes become dull very quickly

 Climate , environment and reaction to it:

  • I dislike the cold and the wind
  • I am unable to tolerate loud noises
  • I love the heat and feel ‘active’ after getting sun
  • React quickly to climatic change

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 Periods

  • My periods are irregular
  • I experience scanty blood flow in my periods

 Teeth and gums

  • I often have teeth and gum problems
  • My teeth are sensitive to cold

 Lifestye

  • Excessive use of gadgets for work or entertainment
  • Long commutes, late nights, eating out often

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If your answer is yes for most of the above, some of the following changes may help you towards better health and well being for your body and mind.

 

Prescribed dietary modifications :

  1. Food should be well cooked and warm
  2. Food should be consumed on time
  3. Cooked food is better than raw. Too much raw food like cold salads, should be avoided especially in the morning and evening

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  1. Choose fruits which are naturally sweet and sour like banana, avocado, melons, mangoes, coconut, oranges, plums, cherries, grapes, lemons, figs, dates etc.,
  2. Though fruits are good for you, a fruit-only diet is not suitable
  3. Natural sour foods like lemon and oranges are suitable, but avoid sour curd, vinegar, pickles and overly fermented food like old dosa/idli batter/ alcohol. Sweet wines in small quantities are better for you than beer or hard liquor.

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  1. Spices like fresh ginger, cumin, ajwain, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, garlic are useful. Avoid green chillies.
  2. Over eating or heavy foods will quickly lead to digestive problems
  3. Though salt is good for you, use it in cooked food moderately, do not consume fried salty foods

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  1. Vegetables like green beans, okra, radish, turnip, sweet potatoes, onion
  2. Whole grains like rice, wheat are suitable more than oats and millets. The grains should be well cooked with butter/ghee/oil.
  3. Bread and processed food like noodles, canned food and food items made with maida/all purpose flour are not suitable. Drying foods like biscuits, chips, khakra, popcorn, crackers should be avoided.

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  1. Dairy products are suitable, but not in cold form. Warm milk can be consumed with cinnamon, nutmeg or turmeric and unrefined sugar
  2. Moong dal is better than Tuvar dal, Rajma and Chana. When other dals are used, cook with turmeric, cumin, pepper, hing or coriander
  3. Almond is the best nut for you. Soak them overnight and remove the skin and eat in the morning. Pumpkin seeds are good too. All other nuts should be consumed moderately.

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  1. Fats and oils should be a part of your regular diet. Choose the oil which you are habituated to, as your family diet, than choosing new oils like olive oil. (They may be a healthy option in themselves, but your body may not be able to digest). Take cow’s ghee with rice, wheat and pulses. Moderate use of oil and ghee in all forms except deep fried is beneficial to you.
  2. Well cooked chicken, goat meat, fresh fish and eggs are suitable
  3. Frozen items like ice cream should be consumed rarely
  4. Choose nourishing drinks and warm drinks over aerated drinks
  5. Stimulant drinks like coffee, tea are not suitable and should be taken rarely and always with milk.

 

Lifestyle modifications

  1. Avoid multitasking, bring in more routine and consistency
  2. Spend time to organize your day at home and work
  3. Choose warmth over cold wherever and whenever possible
  4. Choose calmness and serene over loud and harsh. (Eg. While listening to music)

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  1. Room temperature is better than AC environment
  2. Develop a habit of applying oil on head and body at least twice a week, if not more. Seasame oil based oils are best suited for you.
  3. Learn relaxation techniques and meditate regularly even if it is for 5 mins.
  4. Remember to replenish your energy with at least 7-8 hours of sleep

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  1. Bring in discipline in food, exercise, sleep and work
  2. Smoking is best avoided
  3. Avoid frequent changes in work, routine, place and timings. Favour stability vs excitement.
  4. Avoid rigorous and excessive exercise. Choose light, slow but regular exercise like short strolls, yogic stretches, and learn breathing techniques

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  1. An afternoon nap of 10-15 minutes will help you avoid exhaustion
  2. Take deep breaths in between tasks and avoid rush
  3. Accept and begin to love the complexion, colour, texture, nature of your hair and skin. Take loving care of it rather than build anxiety trying to change it with curlers, straighteners, hair dryers, chemical peeling, and bleaching. Indulge rarely and replenish and nourish without fail. Healthy and nourished skin and hair will always glow.
  4. Avoid chemical shampoos, perpetual use of hair gels, hair dyes and hair sprays.

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  1. Make your house and work place soothing with gentle, soothing music, colours, art and fragrant smells
  2. Avoid excessive partying, late nights and if you indulge, compensate with soothing and relaxing activities
  3. A gentle pace with less hurry and more awareness is the recipe

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Last, but not the least, in spite of our knowledge of good and bad, we will indulge sometimes (this is called pragnaparadha in Ayurveda). Have a good time, but do not feel guilty and depressed. Quickly take remedial measures

As some of you may have guessed, we mostly discussed about Vata related symptoms, constitution, food and lifestyle today. Vata is the driving force of the other doshas and is mostly responsible for all aspects of health and disease. So, by balancing Vata through some small, but powerful changes, we have taken a big step towards a healthy mind and body. Great hair and skin is a given in a healthy body.

A note of caution: These are general suggestions to suit people with the above mentioned symptoms. Adopt these guidelines suitably after contemplation. You know your body better than anyone. If needed, take the help of your Ayurvedic doctor to customize the most suitable diet and lifestyle for you to enjoy a healthy mind and body. Your Vaidya may also suggest some herbs to balance the doshas. Be rest assured, that your hair and skin care regimen begins here.

 

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Dr.Anupama is an Ayurvedic consultant at Shreshtha Ayurvedic Center based in Bangalore. She believes that the Ayurvedic way of living is more relevant today than ever before. Her success in treating infertility cases has earned her immense love and gratitude from her patients. She is also a medical consultant for some Ayurvedic Pharmaceutical companies and advises them on product formulation and development of proprietary Ayurvedic medicines.

 

About Shreshtha Ayrvedic Centre, Bangalore

Shreshtha Ayurvedic Center, founded in 1997, is run by leading Ayurvedic consultants Dr.Santosh and Dr.Anupama. Though the center is located in Koramangala, Bangalore, patients from various parts of the country visit, owing to the genuine Ayurvedic treatment made available here. Apart from the consultation services, the center is equipped with a good pharmacy stocking Kottakkal medicines and organic lifestyle products. A Panchakarma center is also maintained at the center, which offers none of the spa kind of massages ( which is often confused for Panchakarma), but authentic, classical chikitsa with curative effect. To reach out to the growing demand of patients outside Bangalore, Shreshtha Ayurvedic Center started their Online consultation portal and also shipping facilty for prescribed medicines, which has had an overwhelming response. More details on www.ayursambhasha.com and Shreshtha’s facebook page.


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.
More articles in the Krya Ayurveda series:

  1. The Science behind hair oiling for healthy hair and basic health
  2. Making friends with Ayurveda – a guest post by Dr.Anupama Santosh, Shrestha Ayurveda
  3. The search for safety in the products we use on ourselves
  4. Ayurvedic Skin care in hot and humid India 
  5. The connection between your feet and your hair – pada abhyanga for health

 

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Krya Ayurveda series – Balancing vata dosha through your feet

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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.

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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:

Krya for abhyanga and pada abhyanga: Skin Oils

Unique features

  • 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.

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Krya Abhyanga-Snana : Ubtans

Unique features

  • 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.
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The science behind hair oiling – and why it is essential for hair and body health

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

“Jalasiktasya vardhante yathaa mole ankurastharoh

Thadha dhatu vivriddhirhi snehasiktasya jaayathe” – Sushruta Samhita

“Just like a plant sprouts new and tender leaves by the regular supply of water to its roots,

so also the tissues of the human body grow with a freshness and luxuriance by oil application on the skin and hair. “

I cannot stress enough on the importance of the Abyanga in maintaining good health as per traditional wisdom. An abhyanga is recommended atleast once a week to stimulate the cells, remove ama and toxins from the cells, improve micro circulation and restore overall balance to the body.

From a cosmetic point of view, a regular abhyangam (head and body) delays the onset of wrinkles, keeps the body firm and supple, helps stimulate the growth of hair and delays graying of hair.

“Srotovibandha Mokshaardham

Bala Pushtyardhamevacha”

The objective of the abhyangam is two fold: By the penetrative action of the oils on the skin, grime and dirt is removed from deep within the skin and the subtle passages or the srotas are cleaned. This helps the srotas do their work better and they are able to carry nutrition deep into the tissues, nourishing the whole body. Some oils also penetrate and nourish the skin and the tissues themselves supporting their function. Through the regular practice of oiling, the body is given strength, muscle development and firmness.

Please note: that certain special conditions like diabetes are treated differently in Ayurveda. The above description is for a normal individual who may require minor corrections and modifications in their diet and lifestyle.

Why is hair oiling so essential in Ayurveda:

The eyes are considered a seat of pitta (besides the liver which is also an important pitta point). By their activity and by the signals they send to the brain, the eyes and the brain generate heat or pitta in the body, which needs to be controlled so that they can function normally.

Traditional medicine therefore recommends regular oiling to cool the eyes and the brain (and therefore the rest of the body). As we have discussed before, when pitta is vitiated in the body, certain changes happen to the body.

Excess pitta leads to premature graying, weakens the digestive agni leading to frequent diarrhea or loose motion, and can cause diseases of pitta like jaundice, high fevers, inflamed skin, dermatitis with itchy skin, etc.

In order to bring down the pitta, regular oiling of the areas which generate pitta like the head are a must. Through frequent use of oil in this area, new hair growth is encouraged, the hair grows deep rooted, strong and firm, does not break easily and grows longer and more thicker and luxuriantly.

 What is in my non sticky hair oil / body massage oil and why isn’t my hair growing?

We had recently written about an independent research conducted to test claims of popular hair oils in the market. A consumer panel had tested various brands of hair oils offered by reputed companies and had found that contrary to what they said in their advertising, most of these oils contained 60 – 92% by weight of simple Liquid Paraffin or Mineral Oil.

batman and robin

Mineral Oil is ubiquitous in cosmetic formulations of body oils, baby oils and hair oils in India. It is used extensively across moisturizers, sunscreens, lotions, body oils, baby oils and hair oils as it is colourless, has a thick consistency and is neutral in its colour and odour and is therefore able to easily take in a synthetic fragrance and colour and other additives.

Any vegetable oil worth its salt is much more difficult to work with – depending on its seasonality and the way it is grown, its colour varies every time, it comes with its own standard odour and it does not work easily with added fragrances or colours – plus the additives in these products can independently react with vegetable oils altering colour. Obviously, being an agricultural crop, a vegetable oil cannot come in standardized prices and the prices will vary depending upon how the season has been. For all of these reasons, standard synthetic moisturizing products usually stay away from the use of vegetable oils and use them only in miniscule quantities.

Mineral oil – and concerns behind applying this on your skin and hair

A study published by the American Journal of Dermatology found that moisturizing creams containing mineral oil were tumorigenic when applied topically to UVB pretreated high risk mice. These creams increased the rate at which tumors form.

Occupational exposure to mineral oils may occur among workers in automobile manufacturing, airplanes, steel products, screws, pipes and transformers, brass and aluminium production, engine repair, copper mining, and newspaper and commercial printing.

The National Cancer Institute says that occupational exposure to untreated or lightly treated mineral oils is strongly associated with an increased risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer, particularly of the scrotum.

Mineral Oil – Forming an occlusive barrier on skin
Contrary to the claims of most mineral oil using hair oils and skin moisturizing products, mineral oil does NOT penetrate skin. Its molecular size is too big to slip into the skin’s pores. So what it does do is form a barrier layer on skin preventing transepidermal water loss through evaporation. While this may be useful in a few cases, for most of us, this means that the skin’s normal function is interrupted by this barrier layer. Plus , it does not work with the skin like vegetable oils do by penetrating it, cleansing it or nourishing it any manner.

How are Krya’s hair and skin oils processed? And how are they different from mineral oil based products?

Krya follows several important ayurvedic texts like Charaka Samhita, Sahasrayogam, Saranghadhara Samhita and Bhaisajya Ratnavalli to understand what classical Ayurvedic medicine prescribes is the right way to manufacture ayurvedic oils for skin and hair. We also take inspiration from the kind of herbs suggested by the texts to work with different skin and hair types. However, our formulations are unique and are not the classical formulations from the text. We have developed our formulations through extensive research and understanding of new age hair and skin problems like hair damage due to synthetic colour, etc.

the krya hair oil range

The 2 most important differences between a genuine Ayurvedic oil like Krya’s and a standard synthetic hair or skin oil that uses Mineral oil is the process followed and the selection and quantity used of base oils and herbs.

Sneha kalpana / paka method followed at Krya:

Sneha kalpana is a prescribed pharmaceutical process followed in Indian traditional medicine to prepare medicated oils or ghees from kalka (herbal pastes), Kwathas (infusions), Kashayas (deocotions) and Swarasa ( self expressed fresh herb juice) taken in specific proportions and heated in a particular way along with a mixture of oils or ghee. This method has been outlined in order to extract the active principles of each herb in the medium in which it best expresses its active ingredients.

Sneha Kalpana is a unique extraction process followed in Ayurveda. Through this process, the formulator aims to transfer aqueous and lipid soluble active principles of all the herbs and other raw material used into the oil.

So a genuine ayurvedic or a Siddha based oil will always use 3 components to make a herb enriched oil –

  • Water based herb extracts like kwathas (mild infusions), kashayas (steeped , boiled and reduced decocotions) and swarasas (self expressed juices from fresh plant parts)
  • Thick granular herbal pastes or kalpam that are cooked in oil to extract the oil loving active principles
  • Base oils

Specific instructions are given to prepare each kwatha, kashaya and swarasa, and this depends upon the freshness of the material used, and the plant part it comes from – in general soft plant parts use less water, are reduced much less and milder heat is applied. So flower kwathas, like hibiscus flower kwatha, for example, would steep the herb in hot water without any reduction for a specified amount of time to extract the active principles.

A bark or root based kashayam may use much more water and the decoction may be reduced to half or one fourth its original volume.

Depending upon the condition to be treated, different base oils are used in ayurvedic formulations. At Krya, we use a wide range of cold pressed, organically grown that have been manually pressed and extracted, thus retaining their potency and vigour. We use sesame oil , coconut oil, apricot oil, tamanu oil and kokum butter in our formulations.

As the Sneha or the oil cooks, Classical Ayurveda says that the oil processing follows 6 pakas or stages – at each stage the oil accumulates more and more fat soluble actives from the herbs in it. The oil is usually ready to be taken off the fire for further processing mid way through the “paka” (cooking) – if the oil is allowed to cross this stage and reach the final stage, the oil has a much reduced level of anti oxidants and other substances like tocopherols. This is crucial when making oils in our factory, as the paka stages come very rapidly, and it is important to keep a close watch on the oils to ensure there is no loss.

Difference between medicated Sneha kalapana oil and the pure base oil

The process of Sneha Kalapana alters the very nature of the base oil. Gingelly oil is often used across Krya’s formulations because of its vata reducing nature and also because it does not aggravate kapha. Gingelly oil is considered a very good base oil for most skin and hair conditions, so many traditional formulations use this oil.

This oil is usually considered extremely strong, heavy and sticky to use on skin, but when processed in the Sneha kalpana method, the oil becomes much more lighter, less sticky and is able to easily penetrate skin and hair without leaving a lot of oil or residue behind.

This however in no way means that an ayurvedic oil is as light as a mineral oil based product – it is not. However, it is much much lighter and more penetrative compared to the base oils themselves.

Krya’s Ayurveda inspired herb oils prepared using Sneha Kalpana method:

  1. Hair Oils
    1. Processed using traditional hair nourishing herbs like Amla (Indian Gooseberry), Bhringaraj *Eclipta alba), special native greens like Balloon vine, Dwarf Copperleaf, Brahmi, Guava Leaf and Lemon eucalyptus
    2. We also use special hair and scalp health enhancing herbs and flowers like Black cumin seed, Carrots, Bottle gourd, Chamomile, Rosemary, Thyme, Hibiscus flower, Neem leaf, Krishna Tulasi, Ram Tulasi , Vana Tulasi, Moringa and Curry Leaves
    3. All the herbs we use in our oils are either organically cultivated or wild harvested and are free from synthetics, pesticides and fertilizers.
    4. Our herbs are processed in our cold pressed, manually extracted, full of goodness base oils of coconut, sesame, apricot, tamanu and kokum butter
    5. 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.

BeFunky Collage

2. Skin Oils

  • 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.

If you haven’t begun this wonderful traditional, health giving practice as yet, do make a start today with one of Krya’s authentic, nourishing skin and hair oils.


 

 

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Ancient bathing rituals to suit Sharath Ritu (Autumn season)

romantic luscious bath
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

We discussed Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Swadeshi yesterday on the Krya facebook page. We also discussed how this concept of Swadeshi is present in Ayurvedic texts where the acharyas tell us to use native herbs and grains both for eating and for cleansing and caring for skin and hair.

The Acharyas tell us that this practice is better for us, and native and indigenous herbs suit our body’s requirements much better.

Yet, if you take a quick poll of our neighbourhood, very few of us actually use a herb and grain based ubtan to cleanse skin or hair. Most of us instead use a cake of synthetic soap. In this post, we look at why it would be much better for us to choose a Swadeshi ubtan instead of this cake of soap.

Ancient bathing rituals:

Throughout history, ancient societies created elaborate rituals around the act of bathing . The plumbing lines in ancient cities were well thought through to ensure water was brought to where people lived.

4. vedic ritual blog post image 2

The Vedic texts, the “Grihya Sutras” contain information about Vedic domestic rites and rituals meant for householders like conception, birth, initiation (upanayanam), marriage, death, etc. These texts carry more than 79 references to bathing ritual and stipulate a schedule of 3 baths a day, along with ritualized washing.

 Ancient Greece reveled in bathing, both in private and in fresh water and seas. Not to know how to read or swim, in ancient Greece, were the marks of an Ignoramus. Athens had a swimming bath at the time or Plato. Warm springs were referred to by Poets as ideal for bathing.  An artificial warm bath was taken in a specially constructed wooden or marble vessel and the ancient Greece had foot baths, urns and specially constructed wash basins besides bath tubs.

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Greek mythology said that natural springs and certain pools were blessed by the gods and contained healing water. So healing bathing facilities were often established around these healing waters.

After bathing, especially in warm water, both sexes anointed themselves with oil, so that the skin was not left rough and harsh.

The Romans took the idea of bathing and cleansing rituals to the next level. A bather in a Roman bath induced progressive sweating by going to a progressively hotter room. The final “hot room”, called the caldarium, was heated by a brazier underneath a hollow room. The bather would then go to the cooler “tepidarium” for an oil massage, and scrape out dirt and dead cells with a blunt metal implement

roman bath

 

Where’s the soap? And why is no one bathing with it?

Did you notice the importance plaid in ancient cultures to massaging skin with oil, inducing sweating and elaborately cleaning out dead cells and toxins form the body? Please note that at the time of even the Ancient Grecian Bathing Ritual, the idea of a soap was well known.

Soap production is atleast 5000 years old. Babylonians are said the have mastered the art of soap making , and archeological evidence dates Babylonian soap making to atleast 2800 BC. The Babylonian soap was made from rendered animal fat boiled with alkaline ashes. This soap was used to clean wool and cotton fabric.

The Ebers papyrus, dated to 1500 BS in the egyptoan civilization talks about ancient Egyptian soap – made with animal, vegetable oils and alkaline substances like natron to produce a gooey soap.

The Celts called their soap “saipo” and made it from rendered animal fat and plant ashes.

The Ancient world used Soap exclusively to clean textiles and render it fit for dyeing. Soap was never used for personal cleansing as it was considered both harsh and ineffective in removing dirt and dead cells.

 

Ayurvedic method of cleansing skin – Mala removal

The Ayurvedic texts list out the large and small orifices in the body in great detail and also enumerate the mala (impurities) that accumulate as a part of normal wear and tear from the dhatus in these orifices. Moisture of the tongue, eyes, mouth, excretions of the eyes, ears tongue, teeth, axilla, genitals, pimples, greasiness of facial skin, sweda (sweat) , sebum secretions of kesha (hair) are all mala from the dhatus (tissues).

If this mala is not removed periodically, especially in seasons where the mala can increase, the body loses its health and appearance of well being.It is only by thorough cleaning these minute pores , and removing debris and dead cells that could clog these channels, can the body be thoroughly clean.

To thoroughly scrub skin clean and remove Mala from deep within, the texts advice the twin Abhyanga- Snana method – a through oil massage followed by a deep cleansing Snana using an ubtan – herb, grain and lentil based cleanser.

7. abhyanga
The Abhyanga reduces aches and pains and helps balance all 3 doshas. It also stimulates circulation, increases warmth and acts as a conduit to move toxins to the surface of the skin.

The Snana then follows , with the herbs and lentils scrubbing and opening the minor pores of the skin, and “vacuuming” out the toxins and Malas which have been released through the Abhyanga.
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How a soap cleans skin:

Synthetic products have a strong artificial fragrance that lull you into feeling that you are much more cleaner than you actually are. A soap dissolves oil present on the skin. Its lyophilic end surrounds the oil molecule and moves it away from skin as you pour water on it. This is an excellent property if you are cleaning an inanimate object like your car, but not if you are cleaning living tissue like your skin.

If you use a soap on your skin, it will dissolve the sebum layer which is required to keep your skin moisturized and keep your barrier layer strong. This cleansing method is also quite superficial. A soap works on the outer layer of skin and dissolve oil and remove surface level sweat and dirt using a typical detergent action. But the sweat that emanates from the body in a few hours time continues to smell stale and unclean.

How an Ayurvedic bodywash powder / ubtan cleans skin

A well researched and well made Ayurvedic bodywash / ubtan is on the other hand, a real deep cleanser and a treat for skin. It is very subtle in its action – it combines exfoliant, temperature altering, scrubbing, micro polishing and surfactant benefits all into one.

This is in direct contrast to a synthetic soap – the Ayurvedic bodywash / ubtan works by actually opening up and removing mala from the minutest of pores in your skin – so the instant difference after a bath is a feeling of lightness and refreshment. If you smell yourself a few hours later, your skin will not stink, even if you have been sweating profusely.

What we put into the Krya herb based bodywashes and ubtans for skin

We have researched, designed and formulated Krya’s range of ayurvedic bodywashes and ubtans based on the Classical Indian Medicine texts and have used specific herbs and grains for different kinds of skin.

6. krya bodywash and ubtan blog feature
The grains and lentils and herbs Krya uses are mildly acidic. They work by a process of adsorption and by forming a homogenous mixture with the excess oil, dead cells and dirt on your skin. The grains and lentils also contain small amounts of oil and other nutrients which coat your skin as you rub the mixture.

Because the Krya bodywashes and ubtans are mildly acidic, aromatic and contain properties that keep down the growth of invasive fungi and bacteria, your skin is left intact after washing. As your skin’s acid mantle is left intact and its pH level is not altered, your skin is able to defend better against invasive micro organisms.

Ayurvedic cleansing for Sharad Rtu (Autumn season)

At Krya, our formulations change as per the season to suit skin through the year. Ayurveda defines 6 seasons and accurately predicts the effect of climate and atmospheric changes on skin and the body.

The season we are currently experiencing is called the Sharad Rtu (autumn season) which extends upto mid November. The Ashtanga Hridyam describes this season as being very high in Pitta which accumulates in the previous season of Varsha Ritu (rainy season). In practice, this period is often described as the Little Summer in India as we face hot and humid conditions which are similar to but milder than peak Summer.

Similar precautions must be taken as we do in summer. Foods must be chosen to be slightly bitter and astringent to cope with heat. The foods must be light and easily digestible. Exposure to strong sunlight, eating excessive amounts of curd, etc which are Summer season precautions must be taken.

In this season, the Krya Bodywashes and Ubtans are formulated with bitter and pitta balancing to help reduce agni buildup., help remove excessive oiliness and toxins from skin, and also cool and soothe skin leaving it feeling pleasant and deodorised.

Specifically due to the addition of natural deodorizing herbs and cleansing herbs like Nutgrass, Shikakai, Katsura and Cassia auriculata, the Krya bodywashes and ubtans help remove sweat and odour much more efficiently and you will not feel as malodorous / sweaty as you would after using a soap .

So in this Season, do try a proper, swadeshi bath with a Krya ubtan / bodywash.

Krya’s post Abhyanga Ubtans for a thorough Snana can be explored here.

 

 

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Jaws 4: Swish, brush, massage and rinse (for great teeth)

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

A graphic photo of animal testing by an oral care brand prompted an impassioned plea on my part to my network. I have given up commercial toothpastes and toothbrushes for over a year now and make my own toothpowder. I find animal testing for toothpastes incomprehensible, yet it continues to exist as a standard practice for toothpaste manufacturers.

Srini and I have been primarily using a toothpowder that I formulated and which can be made at home. We have also experimented with two traditional Ayurvedic brands of toothpowders for oral care. In this experimental year we have found that our teeth feel stronger, we have no tooth aches and our breath feels distinctly fresher.

I got a staggering response to my impassioned plea– so many messages asking me to share my toothpowder formulation that I felt that it required a detailed blog post to provide the scientific context to the formulation.

Viva Voce

Until 5 years ago I was a fanatical brusher – I brushed atleast twice a day, used mouth wash and had even started flossing on the advice of my dentist. All this attention did no good to my teeth – my gums bled every time I flossed, I started developing cavities in my molar, and my dentist told me that the enamel of my teeth had actually begun to wear out. I had also started developing sensitivity in my teeth and was asked to switch to special toothpaste.

During this era of enthusiastic brushing, Srini and I were also part of an advanced martial arts class in our quest for better fitness. One of our classmates was Dr B, a senior dental surgeon from Nair Hospital, Mumbai. A chat with him after yet another visit to the dentist proved rather insightful.

After venting my dental frustration to Dr.B, he told me , rather casually, if I had considered that my teeth were getting worse because of and not inspite of all my brushing, rinsing, flossing ? He said that the combination of the strong toothpastes, frequent brushing and hard toothbrush bristles were probably wearing down my enamel, exposing the nerves of my teeth and making them more sensitive and prone to more cavities.

That day I asked myself ,”what is exactly the problem with brushing twice a day with regular toothpaste?” and 5 years later I am still unravelling the puzzle. I have relentlessly researched literature on all manner of natural dental care regimes. I have bought and brushed with Babool twigs (which were purportedly from Arabia), I have made my own mouthwashes and rinses, and have experimented with toothpastes that were fluoride-free, for sensitive teeth and toothpowders to arrive at a sound oral care framework to protect  my teeth and gums.

In the beginning there was plaque.

People who can summon the courage to visit their dentist regularly would have discussed plaque. The rest of us who rely on television to fill the gaps in our education have seen advertising calling it that “unsightly yellowish cement like substance” that forms on teeth. Toothpastes have graduated from merely promising fresh breath to a determined war to end plaque. They now have added the promise of sparkling white teeth with whitening and micro polishing variants.

Dentists disagree – they believe a quarterly cleanup is the only way to eliminate plaque. I have endured several bouts of rather painful plaque cleaning wishing I was elsewhere.

Plaque is also touted as the cause of tooth decay and alarming images of teeth crumbling add to people and dentists hating it even more.

But whether you use an anti-plaque toothpaste or meet your dentist religiously , plaque always returns. Why? Do we even need to eliminate plaque ?

What is plaque?

Plaque is a bio-film formed by communities of oral bacteria that try to attach themselves to the smooth surface i.e. enamel of teeth.

Oral microbiologists like Philip D Marsh, have hypothesised on the little known nature of dental plaque. Dental plaque is a bio-film, an aggregate of micro-organisms where the cells adhere to each other and any living or non-living surface like teeth (in the case of plaque), and other natural, industrial or hospital settings. These cells are embedded on a self-produced bio medium composed of DNA, polysaccharides and proteins.

This bio film is a matrix of polymers which are partly contributed by the host (the human being) and partly by the bacterial community.

This dental bio-film contributes to the normal development of the host’s defence mechanism and physiology.

To summarize, plaque by itself is a natural formation and not harmful. It is our response to plaque and other factors like what we eat ( explained below) that wrongly frames plaque as the villain of piece.

The “Whiteness” Epidemic

Plaque, in western or allopathic dentistry is seen as a contaminating substance and un-aesthetic, so cosmetic dentistry procedures like teeth bleaching and “whitening” exist to remove this “unsightly cement like growth” from the teeth.

Popular advertising furthers this notion encouraging people to find “white” teeth attractive – the modern toothpaste has also been designed on this principle. Half the contents of the modern toothpaste are abrasive particles used to dislodge plaque from the teeth and “micro polish” the enamel. Frequent brushing with this can itself lead to enamel wear and tear, causing increased sensitivity in teeth.

Watch what you eat

In a normal, healthy oral cavity, plaque forms in a stable and orderly fashion comprising of a diverse microbial composition – upto 25,000 different species of bacteria, which remains stable over time. When dental caries ( dentist speak for cavities) arise, it is found that the balanced bacterial community has shifted in favour of the acidogenic and acid tolerating bacterial species like mutans streptococci and lactobacilli.

This increase of acidogenic and acid tolerating bacteria in the oral cavity is linked to 2 eating habits:

1. Food that is hurriedly swallowed without chewing.

When food is eaten quickly without enough chewing, there is not enough saliva produced in the mouth. The composition of human saliva is a biochemical marvel that contains besides water, enzymes that are essential in starting the process of digestion of starches and fat. These enzymes, also more pertinently to this post, help break down food particles trapped within the crevices of the teeth, helping prevent tooth decay.

2. Increased eating of sweet, fatty, acidic and processed food

Increase in sweet, acidic and fatty food (read processed food, Maida, cola, biscuits, and mostly anything that you’ve bought in a supermarket) creates a highly acidic environment in the mouth, promoting the growth of only acid tolerating bacteria in the plaque film. Simply put, eating the wrong food makes the mouth toxic for all the “good bacteria” to survive and makes it a place where only acidic species survive.

Therefore the law of tooth decay can be summarized as:

Hurried eating + No Chewing + Wrong food = tooth decay

After a visit to the dentist, everyone usually comes back with a recommendation of the brand of toothpaste to use. Supermarket shelves are full of sparkly packaging with different flavours each promising different benefits. A closer look at the ingredients however, makes for some disturbing reading.

What’s in my synthetic toothpaste and why I need to look for a better option

Toothpastes are made up of abrasives (up to 50%), fluoride, surfactants or detergents and water (20 – 40%).

The abrasive elements in toothpaste are mostly mini particles of Aluminium hydroxide, calcium carbonate or silicas, zeolites  to help remove dental plaque.

The best description of caring for your teeth I have ever read advised that teeth should be gently and finely cleaned like cleaning a fine piece of muslin, and not scrubbed like dirty vessels.

So teeth should be cleaned using a fine paste or powder and should not contain the the high amount of abrasives as in most modern toothpastes. These abrasives remove the enamel layer of the teeth very quickly exposing the sensitive nerves underneath.

Apart from abrasives, surfactants or detergents are the next big part of toothpaste.

One of the most common ingredients that you will find in toothpaste is SLS – sodium Lauryl sulphate, or its cousin SLES (Sodium Laureth sulphate). Both of these are surfactants that are derived from coconut and palm oil, and are used across a variety of products like shampoos, face washes and toothpastes.

SLS is a cheap surfactant that foams and acts as a degreasing agent which is used in garages to remove grease from car engines. In the same way, it removes oil from skin leaving it dry. It also denatures skin protein thinning down the skin barrier, making way for the possible entry of other contaminants into the deeper layers of the skin.

SLS is especially worrying in toothpastes. The oral mucosa layer is much thinner than skin on your face or head – and has a rich network of blood vessels immediately behind the layer of mucosa. This is why sub lingual tablets are so effective – because of the thinness of the skin, and the dense blood vessels behind the skin, medicines get absorbed extremely quickly into the blood stream.

Therefore, using toothpaste that contains SLS, a known skin protein denaturer, and dryer is extremely worrying. Tests show a statistically significant correlation between mouth ulcers / canker sores when using a toothpaste containing SLS.

To make things worse, SLS, once it enters the bloodstream is an estrogen mimicker – which has many other health implications.

Brush aside the toothbrush

Apart from the worrying properties of toothpastes, the act of using them with a toothbrush is the last straw for those troubled with cavity prone or sensitive teeth.

The bristles of the toothbrush are not sensitive in themselves and depend upon the user to control the pressure of the bristles on the teeth and gums. Brushing the teeth is usually a mechanical action, when the brusher is barely awake and is mostly done in a hurry.

In this scenario, it is possible to brush fast and hard, treating the teeth like dirty vessels instead of a piece of fine muslin cloth.

Dentists are aware of this too – they usually recommend using a toothbrush with soft bristles to reduce enamel wear and tear. But even this is not enough to arrest this wear and tear. A thinner enamel makes it easier for cavities to develop as well.

Toothbrushes are also an ecological nightmare to manufacture and dispose. The nylon bristles are almost impossible to re-use / recycle given their size and consumers are advised to replace their toothbrushes every 3 months leading to a huge pile of toothbrushes our landfills.

What does native medicine and Ayurveda advice?

The mouth and tongue are considered a gateway to diagnosis in Ayurveda. Ayurvedic Vaidyars say that the state of the mouth reflects the state of the body and advise eating the right food in moderation along with taking good care of the mouth, teeth, gums. This is very close to the idea behind our law of tooth decay discussed earlier

The first change I made was to use my finger for brushing my teeth (as it was traditionally done) instead of a toothbrush. The benefits of this are many: The finger is softer on the teeth compared to a brush. The finger is also more mobile and sensitive and can navigate the whole mouth including difficult to reach places like the back of the molars.

Gums also need a massage as they hold the teeth together, and the finger is ideally suited to give the gums a massage as well.

After this, I added to the start of my oral care routine the practise of swishing with a tablespoon of cold-pressed, organic, sesame oil.  This routine has been prescribed in the Ayurvedic texts as not just helpful for removing the toxins accumulated in the body, but to also strengthen the vocal chords. Singers and Orators have been especially advised to gargle with sesame oil.

While it does add a step to oral care, swishing with sesame oil as soon as one wakes up does not feel as weird as it sounds. You would need just a heaped table spoon of oil to do this. Try and swirl the oil vigorously around your entire mouth, concentrating on areas that feel sore or tender . Continue to swish until you can feel the oil becoming less viscous and watery in your mouth and then spit it out . If you have swished properly and for the right time, the colour and texture of the oil changes after being in the mouth – it turns yellow, soapy and watery.

After this, I then proceed to “brush” my teeth with my index finger with a natural / Ayurvedic toothpowder. I pay attention to my gums and teeth, and after the whole exercise is done, I spend another 2 minutes massaging my gums with my thumb and index finger and finish up by rinsing in plain water after cleaning my tongue with a tongue scraper.

Scraping the tongue is again a very important part of oral care according to Ayurveda. The amount of deposition on the tongue gives you an idea of the toxins the body was able to trap – when you eat clean, whole food, you will have little to no deposition on the tongue. So the act of tongue scraping every morning is like a mini check – up / diagnosis.

You can make your own natural toothpowder with ingredients available in your kitchen with a little care and patience (a recipe is given below in a downloadable guide).

Do think about all of what I’ve written and try switching a little at a time to a more natural way of caring for your teeth and gums – I would love to hear from you about the positive impact this has had.

And Finally a better oral care substitute: An update

When this post was first published many years ago, I had included a toothpowder recipe which was made then with the bets of my knowledge. Since then, I have made many revisions to my original formulation based on my uopdated knowledge. I have also removed a few ingredients from the original recipe, as I believe they are not suitable for oral care.

We will be back with another post in teh enar future with an updated toothpowder recipe.

 

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