by Monica Bloom
Individually focused on achieving optimal health in body, mind and spirit based on who we are and what we’re made of, Ayurveda (“eye-your-vay-duh”) addresses the root cause of imbalance and heals the individual person, instead of just treating the disease. Based on a system of energies called doshas, Ayurveda says that just as no two people are alike, based on no two treatments for health are alike either.
Once we know what doshas are dominant in us, we know what our balanced state should be. This is extremely important because with this knowledge we are able to notice when the body goes out of balance AND we know how to bring it back to balance. Since we are little beings of nature and are made of the same 5 elements, we can use the opposite elements to bring us back to balance.
Fall and early winter is focused on vata, the energy of movement. During vata season, the vata energy in all of us will likely increase, so whether you are a vata person, live a vata lifestyle or just feel the effects of dryness during vata season, you should know the importance of using oils.
Used inside and out in Ayurveda, oils are more than just a moisturizer, they are an essential ingredient to keep the body nourished, rejuvenated, toned, supple and to keep all channels flowing in the right direction. Oil soaks in the skin to reach all our bodily tissues and helps relieve a variety of vata imbalances like constipation, dry skin, anxiety, mood swings, joint pain, worry, depression, even jet lag!
You wouldn’t put water on your skin if it’s dry right? No, because your skin would only get drier. Yet in most lotions, the first ingredient is water, followed closely by alcohol! Bah! Your plan to moisturize is instantly foiled. The skin eats (it’s an organ after all), and anything on the skin is absorbed by the body. A general rule is, if we can’t eat it, it should not go on our skin. But we can eat oils!
Along similar lines, we can drink a lot of water but that doesn’t mean that we are necessarily “moisturized.” Oil is unctuous which softens our outsides and penetrates deep in our tissues to keep vata emotional, mental and physical energy balanced. Here are some ways you can use various oils internally and externally.
Ghee (clarified butter). Eat like you would butter. Melt on pastas, bread, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, veggies, baked apples. Increases agni (digestive fire), reduces vata and pitta, nourishes all tissues, relieves constipation and stabilizes moods.
Sesame Oil. Use internal and external. Great for abhyanga for vatas and vata season. Use the “cold-pressed” kind, not the “toasted” kind or you’ll smell like Asian food.
Coconut Oil. Great for pitta as it has a cooling effect. Especially great in warm, dry weather.
Almond Oil. Good for vata and pitta externally. Light enough to use before bed near the eyes to reduce crow’s feet. Great for full body and will not irritate pitta’s sensitive skin.
Flaxseed Oil. Good for internal oleation and helps with constipation if you are ghee shy. Don’t heat it. Drizzle on veggies and rice bowls.
Olive Oil. Not talked about much in Ayurveda because Indians don’t have olive trees…but Greeks and Italians use it liberally (on food and on skin)!
Author of In Your Elements: A Blooming Ayurvedic Guide to Creating Your Best Life, Monica Bloom is an expert at tucking Ayurveda neatly into a busy modern life. She grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on beer, cheese, fried things and Green Bay Packer football games on Sundays. She currently works a job-job with a 2.5-hour daily commute in tech-crazy San Francisco and comes home to an endearing husband, a spritely toddler, two dogs and a cat. She practices Ayurveda while juggling the busy-ness of life and has been actively sharing Ayurvedic wisdom since 2008. If she can incorporate Ayurveda into her wonky-busy schedule, you can, too.