VAIL — Though it may not seem like it in Colorado, spring is rapidly approaching. With it comes longer days and the slow, un-layering of winter. However, for skin that has endured the brutal effects of cold temperatures, wind and dryness, it’s tempting to cover up well into the summer months.
Enter Ayurveda, a complementary and alternative system of medicine that began in India. Ayurveda uses diet, yogic breathing and herbal treatments to bring balance to the body’s systems, varying with the seasons to effect positive changes. While the benefits of Ayurveda can be extensive, incorporating just one element, like the appropriate seasonal oil, can be a lifesaver to the skin — and the psyche.
Springtime is leaving Vata (which encompasses fall and winter) and is entering into the period of Kapha, a time of heaviness and lots of moisture. Living in the mountains, it’s a time of wet, heavy snow that begets even more moisture as it melts. As a result, Ayurvedic practitioners recommend looking for oils that have qualities that are lighter or more heating, because Kapha also tends to be cool. Look for safflower and sunflower oils for spring because they have lighter qualities; sesame oil, which is recommended for Vata, is also a great option into the Kapha period as it has a heating quality. When the heat of summer (Pitta) approaches, consider switching to coconut oil.
Bring on the oil
When considering using oils for health benefits, there are three basic applications — in addition to simply ingesting the oil — that are easy to incorporate.
Start off the day with a bit of nasal oiling, explained Julia Clarke, the yoga director and Ayurvedic wellness consultant at the Vail Vitality Center.
“Nasal oiling is applying oil inside of nostrils,” Clarke said. “Living in the mountains, the nasal passages can be very dry, so we would recommend applying oil to the nostrils for that.”
Clarke recommended trying almond oil, olive oil or ghee (clarified butter) for nasal oiling. Sesame oil is another excellent choice. Naturally antibacterial and naturally antiviral, sesame oil is known as the “Queen of Oils” and has been used as a healing oil for thousands of years.
Another element of the morning routine is oil pulling, a practice that has recently been gaining more mainstream popularity. Excellent for gum health and for drawing out toxins, oil pulling is essential taking a mouthful of oil and swishing it around for about ten minutes before spitting it out.
“We recommend sesame oil or coconut oil for this practice,” Clarke said. “But sesame oil can be an acquired taste. If sesame oil is too weird, then start with coconut — it’s a good gateway oil.”
The third element to incorporate is self-massaging, or receiving a massage, with oil. Again, sesame oil is a good option and is used in traditional practices as its heating, draws toxins out and is good for the circulation.
Living in the mountains, many people tend to experience a lot of Vata, so sesame oil can be soothing. Coconut oil is a good option for Pitta types or for use during the summer months. For those with a lot of Kapha, or oiliness, it’s best not to use oil; instead, try a dry massage or dry brushing.
“I don’t think you can go wrong,” Clarke said. “It’s a lovely, nourishing experience to give yourself a massage. Get a good, quality bottle of oil, light a candle and enjoy.”
Before you start
There aren’t a lot of rules before starting a daily oiling routine. However, there are a few suggestions.
“I recommend that the oils that you’re buying are organic and cold pressed,” Clarke said. “If you’re putting it in your mouth or rubbing it in your skin, you want it to be minimally processed with no chemicals. If it’s not cold pressed, that means that heat has been applied to it, so they can lose their health benefits.”
Organic and cold-pressed oils that are suitable for a daily routine can be found at health food stores as well as some regular grocery stores.
“If you’re doing full body, self massage, be sure to gently heat the oil — don’t microwave it,” Clarke said.
Simply submerging the oil in hot water, rather like heating up a bottle, will warm the oil without destroying the health benefits.
Of course, there are some common sense suggestions, too: “If you’re oiling the bottoms of your feet, don’t get right in the shower,” Clarke said.
Slipping in the shower is extremely un-relaxing after a soothing self-massage.
In the end
It’s not necessary to live an entirely Ayurvedic lifestyle to reap the benefits of a daily oiling regimen.
“On a superficial, most surface level, oiling is really good for your skin,” Clarke said. “It’s really nourishing. We see a lot of premature aging out here because of the dryness and as a result of being out in the sun, so we recommend it as a tonic for premature aging as well.”
Ayurveda is like a three-legged stool, she explained — the mind, body and consciousness.
“You can come at Ayurveda from any of those three places, and you might come at it from any part. If you just took one leg and pulled, you would still get the whole stool,” she said. “Start where you can. If you only pick one thing, you’ll still get a world of benefit. As a practitioner, if I see someone and they’re really overwhelmed, I’ll just give him or her one or two things to start with. You can still see huge health benefits from just one or two things.”
To learn more about Ayurveda and its health benefits, visit Julia Clarke at the Vail Vitality Center at the Vail Mountain Lodge and Spa, or visit her website at www.friendlyuniverseyoga.com.