Ayurveda is the companion science to yoga and offers lifestyle choices to support us bringing health, vitality and a calm or sattvic mind. The use of oil or oleation is a wonderful practice especially at this time of year.
Oil on the Inside
It is important that we ingest oil in our diet to help the body be lubricated and stay juicy and not dry out. In terms of the ayurvedic doshas this helps to reduce imbalance in vata which is associated with the element of air.
During cooking we can use good oils such as ghee and coconut oil. We can also add olive oil to our food. I like to have a spoonful of ghee in my porridge or in my cup of chai tea. The oil helps to keeps the joints lubricated and also supports the nervous system. If you have achy joints or yours bones pop then increasing your oil intake will help. Ingesting oil will also help keep skin supple and hair form drying out.
Ghee is good for everyone or tridoshic (suitable for all three doshas) and has many health benefits. It blends with other food nutrients and nourishes the body. It strengthens agni or our digestive fire it improves our complexion, increases physical and mental stamina, increases longevity, nurtures and cleanses blood tissue and soothes the nerves. It increases marrow, semen and ojas or vitality, improves intelligence, vision and voice; and strengthens the liver, kidneys and brain.
It does not burn unless heated excessively. It should be kept at room temperature in a cupboard at home. Make ghee is good to do while the moon is waxing or full. The moon’s soma, or healing energy, is highest during these times and the healing properties of the ghee are enhanced when made during the waxing moon.
How to make ghee:
Place organic, unsalted butter in a saucepan. Melt the butter and bring to a simmer. It makes a popping sound and speaks to you. Say a blessing of gratitude over it or repeat your favourite mantra. Let it simmer uncovered while you stay in the area. Enjoy the aroma, colour, and sound. Once the ghee is simmering, do not touch it – let it be! The length of time, colour, and amount of foam varies according to the food the cows ate, the season of the year and current weather conditions. Cooking time will be somewhere from 15 minutes and two hours depending on how much you are making at one time. Foam may form on the top and some burned looking skim on the bottom of the pan. This is okay. Do not try to remove this until after the ghee is poured off.
The ghee is ready when the popping stops. As it turns amber and is barely bubbling, remove it from the heat immediately or it will burn. Cool it enough to strain, then pour it through a strainer or unbleached cheesecloth or muslin into a clean, dry jar. Be careful not to contaminate it with wet utensils, food or dirty fingers. This will lead to mould and spoil the ghee.
Oil on the Outside
One of the great ayurvedic practices is abhyanga. This is where we apply warm oil to the skin. We use a particular sequence which helps to calm the nervous system and therefore calm the mind and maintain level energy. Although this is an ancient practice it is very helpful today especially when we have busy lives, are on computers a lot and have dry environments such as air conditioning or central heating. It is nice to do in the morning or evening, ideally you can take your time and leave the oil on for 15-20 minutes, if this isn’t possible even 5 minutes will be beneficial. You may also want a pair of oily pyjamas and leave the oil on overnight.
Application of oil to the body is one of the best treatments for calming the doshas, especially vata. Abhyanga is a soothing and healing practice that brings grounding and balance. The oil calms the nerves and nourishes the mucous membranes and joint tissues and provides lubrication to the skin. Anytime you take care of the skin you take care of the internal rhythms, because the skin is a direct gateway to them. The lubrication also helps break up toxins in the tissues.
The slow, consistent touch during application is just as important as the absorption of the oil. Regular practice will enhance circulation; calm the nervous system; reduce anxiety, spaciness and feelings of being overwhelmed; add resilience to the muscles and slows the aging process. In other words, it calms vata dosha. Sesame oil has the best qualities for nourishing and nurturing the mucous membranes and has a warming quality so perfect for winter.
The treatment is best done in the morning and will support an even energy level throughout the day. It may also be done in the evening or anytime except right after eating. The practice is most effective with slow, consistent application of the oil. Make sure to allow adequate time for the practice and not to rush. In general, use a slow circular motion on the joints with the palms of your hands then a long stroke with the palms of the hands on the rest of the body.
1. Lay a towel on the floor beneath you that you have designated to be your “oil towel.” It will get oily!
2. Warm oil in a stainless steel, copper, cast iron, or glass container. A bowl sat in another bowl of hot water works well.
3. Using the palms of your hands, apply the oil first to the front side of your pelvic area including the low belly and pubic bone, using slow up and down movements. Move around to the sides of the hips, then the sacrum. Use a circular motion on the hip joints, starting with the left hip first.
4. Next, work down your left leg and foot with long strokes on the muscles and circular movements on the joints. Repeat on your right leg and foot.
5. Moving up to the navel, apply oil up and down the front side of the torso. Then work in vertical movements around the left side of your chest and along the side of the torso. Do the same for the right side.
6. As much as your flexibility will allow, apply oil to your back, using up and down movements from the waist to the upper back, working on the spine as much as possible. You might like to get assistance with your upper back. Do your best to cover the entire body.
7. Next, work the oil from the navel spiralling clockwise very slowly. Finish down the left side of the belly.
8. Move up to your left shoulder and work down your left arm and hand. Work long movements on the muscles and circular on the joints. Do the same for the right side.
9. Finally, apply oil to your neck, face and head using smooth, even strokes. Be sure to give your scalp a good amount of oil, as it will revive its strength and vitality as well as increase the quality of your hair.
10. When you are finished, you can cover with an “oil towel” or clothes you have designated for this purpose and relax for 15 to 20 minutes before taking a hot bath or shower without soap. Being without clothes is okay as long as the room is warm.
When it comes time to shower, do not use soap. The thin layer of oil that remains on the skin after bathing keeps the skin moisturized and protected. Keep warm during and after application.
Your body and mind will appreciate your kind loving touch and attention!
Thanks to Hale Pule, Ayurvedic teacher, for input and guidance.