When the dead of winter arrives in Colorado, many of us experience dry skin and chapped lips. According to Ayurveda, this is ‘Vata’ season and it manifests as the light, airy, cold and drying aspects of nature. These energetics are also at play in our bodies, which is why it is important to balance these qualities with warm, moistening foods, herbs, and body-care. Leaning in to earlier bed times and quiet contemplation each day is also a great way to honor the season and reduce stress. When we take time to relax and focus on self care, we are also helping to decrease inflammation in the body and this is a critical ingredient for healthy skin.
Two of my go-to herbs in the winter months are Calendula officinalis and Avena sativa. Calendula has profound healing properties when applied topically and is wonderful for cracked heels, dry hands and red noses. Avena [oats] is a simple but luxurious addition to a bath and acts as a protective layer on the skin, locking in moisture and decreasing inflammation. Try adding 1 cup of dried Calendula flowers, 1/2 cup of coarsely ground organic oats and 2-3 drops of Lavender essential oil to a warm bath and soak for 15-20 minutes. Rinse afterwards and then apply a soothing lotion or oil. (Note- you may need to use a strainer when draining the water to keep plant debris out of septic and sewer systems.)
Nourishing practices like dry brushing and Abhyanga (a full body massage done with constitutionally specific oils) are soothing rituals that not only promote soft, smooth skin but also encourage lymphatic drainage and increased circulation. This has a positive effect on all of the body’s systems, countering the stagnancy that can accumulate from being sedentary and indoors more often in the winter months.
Dry brushing before Abhyanga releases dead skin cells and unclogs pores, allowing for nutritive oils and lotions to soak deeper into the dermal layer. To create a homemade Ayurvedic body oil, combine 1 tablespoon of fresh ground ginger with 8 ounces of Almond or Sesame oil (pharmacy grade) and place on a warming plate @ 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 hours. Using a cheese cloth, strain the ginger from the oil and place in a glass container. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and heat gently as needed. You can also purchase an inexpensive dry brush from Eco Tools for under $5 – https://ecotools.com/product/dry-body-brush-2/ . Follow the tips bellow before your shower or bath and before an Abhyanga practice.
THE PRACTICE OF ABHYANGA
Pour 1/2 cup of oil such as Almond, Argan, Castor, Coconut, Olive, Sesame or Neem into a glass bowl.
Create a double boiler with a small pan and about 2 cups of water on low heat.
When the water comes to a simmer, reduce the heat and place the glass bowl on top. [Make sure the bowl does not come to rest in the water.] Heat the oil just until it is warm and comforting to the touch – about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Continue as follows:
Sit or stand comfortably in a warm room
Apply oil first to the crown of your head (adhipati marma) and work slowly out from there in circular strokes—spend a couple of minutes massaging your entire scalp (home to many other important marma points—points of concentrated vital energy)
Massage the face in a circular motion on your forehead, temples, cheeks, and jaws (always moving in an upward movement). Be sure to massage your ears, especially your ear-lobes—home to essential marma points and nerve endings.
Use long strokes on the limbs (arms and legs) and circular strokes on the joints (elbows and knees). Always massage toward the direction of your heart.
Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. On the abdomen, follow the path of the large intestine; moving up on the right side of the abdomen, then across, then down on the left side.
Finish the massage by spending at least a couple of minutes massaging your feet. Feet are a very important part of the body with the nerve endings of essential organs and vital marma points
Sit with the oil for 5-15 minutes if possible so that the oil can absorb and penetrate into the deeper layers of the body.
Enjoy a warm bath or shower. You can use a mild soap on the “strategic” areas, avoid vigorously soaping and rubbing the body.
When you get out of the bath, towel dry gently. Blot the towel on your body instead of rubbing vigorously.