In most areas of the United States, early winter is the time when the dryness of fall meets the cold of winter. Many begin “winding up” for the holidays, bringing stress levels to an all time high for the year. Others will be outdoors skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Whatever your winter activity, dry chapped skin seems to be the norm for almost everyone. On an Ayurvedic level, this means you must be careful to keep Vata dosha in balance, while trying not to aggravate Kapha dosha.
Vata dosha comes from a combination of the two elements Ether (or space) and Air. If you imagine the qualities of these elements, dry, light (as opposed to heavy), cool, and mobile come to mind. Therefore, when you aim to keep Vata balanced consider ways to counter these qualities by including moisturizing, grounding, warming, and calming principles into your daily routine.
Indeed, Ayurveda states that winter is the optimal time of year to pay close attention to the care of your skin. In winter the skin is drier and ready to absorb all the nourishment you are willing to give it. Moreover, while it is important to take care of your skin from the outside we all know beauty comes from within. Internal self-care is just as essential for healthy, radiant skin.
Here are 5 home spa treatments to keep your skin healthy during this tough time of year.
What better way to start your day than to give yourself a warm oil massage? During the winter season, use either sesame oil or massage oil made specifically for Vata before your daily morning shower or bath. Not only will this help to warm the body, it is also an amazing stress reducer! Be sure to use warm, not hot water to clean yourself. Hot water, as well as misuse of soap, will strip away the much-needed oil from your skin. Try to limit soap use only to areas of your body that actually get grubby.
While dandruff may be a sign of a fungal infection, more often dryness is a result of a lack of blood flow to the scalp. Offset this problem by spending a few extra minutes massaging your scalp. Using your fingertips scrub vigorously all throughout the hair. If you have enough hair to hold in your hand, slide your fingers along the scalp from your ears to the middle of your head at the roots of the hair. Make light fists, gently tugging the hair at the roots. Repeat on the sides and back of your head. This brings blood to the scalp and can help with tension headaches.
You can use your regular massage oil on your scalp, or you may want to purchase oil with special hair and scalp nourishing herbs such as brahmi and bhringaraj. Of course, if you are going outside, no matter if you have oil in your hair or not, you should always wear a hat. Make sure to cover your ears as well. Since the inner ear is a hollow “space” it is one of the sites where Vata is most prevalent.
Whether you are doing laps at your local mall or out braving the slopes, give your feet some rejuvenation before bed. Soak them in a warm bath with any combination of rosemary, eucalyptus, and lavender essential oils. After soaking for at least ten minutes use a moist pumice stone to remove any dead skin cell build up that commonly occurs on the bottoms of feet.
After all of this, take a few drops of castor oil and rub it into the heels and pads of your feet. Now put on a pair of old socks and take your brand new feet to bed! If you have any sign of a fungal infection (like athletes foot or thickened/discolored toenails, a result of kapha in the system), add a bit of tea tree oil to the soaking tub and do not wear socks to bed.
This treatment is extremely grounding and calming, and is a wonderful way to relax children as well as yourself.
Facial skin can really take a beating during the winter months, as it is often the only skin exposed to the elements. Be sure to wear a scarf over as much of your face as possible any time you go outside and that goes double if it is windy. Before you even set foot outside, prepare your skin by washing with non-soap based facial cleanser.
While the skin is still moist, apply some sesame oil (or other specially prepared facial oil) liberally to your face, neck, and lips. If your skin is already damaged from windburn or extreme dryness, add one drop of castor oil to whatever you use to moisturize.
It is very important to apply the oil to moist skin because oil itself does not generally absorb into the skin without the addition of some water. For example, if you were to take a dry rose petal and soak it in oil, it would remain brittle, but if you soaked that rose petal in water first, the petal would become soft and supple and the oil would be able to penetrate . The same goes for your skin.
Warm soups, stews and chilies are the perfect food for this time of year. Well-cooked vegetables and hearty grains keep Vata warm and grounded, while not being too mucus producing or kapha-genic. Dairy is also great for Vata, as it is heavy and has an oily quality. Do use caution though as dairy can be cooling and create mucous.
Use this recipe to get the most out of your milk:
Add one cup of water to one cup of milk. Stir in 4 or 5 punctured cardamom pods, a half a stick of cinnamon, one or two whole pepper corns, a dash of nutmeg, and a dash of turmeric. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to medium-low, and let simmer until you only have one cup of liquid left. Strain into two mugs, and serve immediately with a few stamens of saffron for garnish and extra flavor.
With Ayurveda as your guide, it is possible to keep your skin healthy and radiant all winter long. As always, the first steps to better health are to take care of yourself by reducing stresses in your life, getting enough sleep, drinking clean water, eating a balanced diet, and exercising properly. Just remember: by making a small effort everyday, you can stay healthy for a lifetime!
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