Originating in India about 3,000 years ago, the primary goal of Ayurveda is to achieve a balance between body, mind and spirit—in order to resolve various health problems and attain optimal vitality. Ayurveda's basis lies in both Hinduism and ancient Persian beliefs. The term itself is derived from two Sanskrit words: “ayur,” meaning life, and “veda,” meaning science or knowledge. It can therefore be translated as "the science of life."
Basic Ayurvedic Beliefs
In Ayurveda, it’s believed that the universe and humankind are directly related, particularly when it comes to health. It’s also thought that health problems arise when these relationships are no longer in harmony. The goal is then to restore harmony and balance in order to cure the ailment.
Prakriti is the word for a person's constitution, the physical and psychological characteristics that guide the way a person's body functions. The prakriti consists of three doshas, qualities that control various aspects of the body. These three are known as vata, pitta, and kapha.
Each person’s constitution is a balance of these three doshas, although one will often take center stage among the others. Each dosha also often corresponds to a certain body or personality type. Any health problems that arise can be linked back to the dosha being somewhat off kilter. Several factors may cause an imbalance in a dosha, including a bad diet or an unhealthy lifestyle, too much or too little physical and mental stimulation and improper or inadequate protection from the weather, germs and chemicals.
The Three Doshas
Condensed from the elements of air and ether, Vata is defined as "that which moves things" and is the most important of the doshas. It governs movement and the nervous system, as well as breathing and the elimination of wastes. Without it the other two doshas would be unable to move. Vata is also characterized as dry, light, cool, rough, subtle and mobile. If Vata is unbalanced (you have too much or too little of it), you may experience symptoms like anxiety, tremors, constipation, low body weight and chapped skin.
Representing the elements fire and water, Pitta controls digestion, metabolism and energy production. It is characterized as hot, light, intense, penetrating, pungent and sharp. If your Pitta is unbalanced, you may experience symptoms such as heartburn, acid indigestion, inflammation, nausea, skin rashes, fever and diarrhea.
Representing the elements water and earth, Kapha is in charge of the body's entire structure and tasked with protecting it. It binds cells to each other and forms the body's muscle, fat, bone and sinew. It is also characterized as heavy, slow, oily, dense and soft. If Kapha is unbalanced, you may experience weight gain, lethargy, cold or cough, diabetes, tumors and swelling.
The goals of Ayurvedic treatments are to eliminate impurities, reduce stress and worry, increase harmony between the body, mind and spirit and reduce physical and psychological symptoms.
Ayurvedic treatment tends to require full involvement and responsibility from the patient, as changes in diet and lifestyle may often be required. An ayurvedic practitioner will use a variety of treatment options to tend to an ailment or concern, including massage, herbs, yoga, stretching, meditation, breathing exercises and small amounts of metal or minerals.
Ayurveda & Skincare
Ayurveda can be applied to different areas of health—and that of course includes skincare. The different doshas can be linked to one's skin type, which can then be used to come up with the proper treatment methods.
Vata skin tends to be dry, thin and cool to the touch. It can also become easily dehydrated. To care for the Vata skin type, stay hydrated internally and moisturize often to prevent excessive dryness. Drink lots of water daily and use a moisturizer in the mornings and before bed. You can also try massaging your face with a warm face oil to cleanse, hydrate and protect. Coconut oil is considered especially good for dry skin, while others may use ghee (clarified butter) for the same purpose.
Massaging with oils is big in Ayurveda as it is believed to relieve stress and give one a radiant glow. For added nourishment, eat lots of fruits, leafy greens and whole grains. Suggested products for Vata skin-types:
The Pitta skin type is more sensitive than Vata skin, and may be prone to breakouts. A Pitta skin type may also have more freckles and moles. It is more sensitive to the sun, and people with Pitta skin may often have a ruddy complexion. To treat Pitta skin, always keep it adequately protected from sun exposure by wearing a hat and using sunscreen. Avoid comedogenic products that may further cause clogged pores that lead to breakouts, and exfoliate daily to remove dead skin cells and prevent acne flare-ups.
Ayurveda treatment methods recommend exfoliating with sugar rather than salt, as sugar is considered cooling, which is essential for Pitta skin types. Use raw milk to calm irritated or inflamed skin by soaking a cotton ball and applying it all over your face. Ayurveda treatments also herald neem oil for the spot treatment of pimples. Neem oil is similar to tea tree oil and will dry out the pimple.
The Kapha skin type is oily and thick. The oiliness may translate to very few wrinkles, but also lead to breakouts and enlarged pores. To treat Kapha skin, exfoliation is key in helping to prevent acne, particularly blackheads. Exfoliating is also helpful in clearing out clogged pores and tightening them, thereby also making them smaller in appearance and size.
Although cleansing to remove excess oil is important, it's further important to note that over-washing can lead to more oil production. Use gentle cleansers specifically formulated for oily skin daily, and use a clay mask (bentonite clay, for example) a few times a week to remove excess oil and shine. You can also try absorbing excess oil with chickpea powder. Rose water makes an excellent toner because it is cooling and can be used multiple times a day. Aloe vera is another Ayurveda-recommended treatment that will soothe while also moisturizing to leave skin looking smooth and feeling soft.
Ayurveda may be an ancient medicinal system, but it continues to work for many people today. Based on your personal dosha, you can use the various treatment methods to achieve balance in your health, and in your skincare practices as well. A licensed practitioner can also help provide more information on how to incorporate the beliefs and treatments of Ayurveda into your life.