Shelter-In-Place: Ayurvedic Remedies & Mor March 31st-April 4th
I have to admit, the yogi in me loves being in retreat… In fact, it took a week of students writing to me before I started teaching online. It was too much fun doing all the practices that I often don’t have time to get to. (See my self-retreat practice at bottom.) I felt like I was in southern India at my favorite Ayurveda center! What I am offering in this letter are some practices and choices for being in retreat (aka, Shelter-In-Place) and how yoga & Ayurveda have long recommended daily routines that the media is now suggesting in view of COVID-19. First some groundwork, recommendations that you’ve probably have heard but worth reviewing with the Ayurvedic/Yogic perspective thrown in:
Self-Care Ayurvedic Remedies in the Age of COVID-19:
Prevention Recommendations from Chinese Medicine & Ayurveda
- Drink hot liquids: tea, broth, soups, hot water with lemon, a pinch of sea salt, etc. Gargle with antiseptic in warm water daily, with lemon, salt, or apple cider vinegar. (Gargling with oil known as “kavala” or “gundusha,” is an ancient Ayurvedic dental technique that involves swishing a tablespoon of oil in your mouth on an empty stomach for around 20 minutes. This action supposedly draws out toxins in your body, primarily to improve oral health but also to improve your overall health.) Stay hydrated, drinking sips of warm water at least every 20 minutes. This not only keeps the mouth moist but if a virus has entered, it will wash it into the stomach where gastric juices can neutralize it before it gets to the lungs. Avoid eating and drinking cold things. This is a basic Ayurvedic principle for keeping digestion strong and capable of proper assimilation as well as the best way for staying hydrated and to support your immune system.
- The virus attaches to hair and clothes–soap or detergent kills the virus but you need to wash immediately before sitting down or touching anything else. If you can’t wash clothes daily, hang in the sun for up to 48 hours. Natural cleaning products are not strong enough to kill the virus on surfaces. Pull out the big guns and use hydrogen peroxide or Benzalkonium Chloride wipes.
- The virus can last up to 9 days on metal surfaces, handrails, elevator buttons, doorknobs. Clean such surfaces thoroughly.
- Don’t smoke… Anything! Cannabis can also compromise the immune system and weaken the lungs.
- Wash hands regularly and vigorously for 20 seconds preferably with a soap that foams. (Chant your favorite mantra for those 20 seconds!)
- Animals do not spread virus to people, people spread it to people.
- Keep zinc levels high, not just Vitamin C. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a good source.
- If you get a sore throat, attack it immediately with the above suggestions. The virus will stay in throat for 3 days before entering the lungs.
- Avoid getting the flu! I think this was lost in the translation but is another way of saying, keep your immune system strong. Getting the proper amount of sleep is a basic Ayurvedic/Yogic principle and is a great way to support your immune system. Staying at home affords us the luxury of better and longer sleep!
Also, because we are home, and possibly out of boredom we might be eating more often or snacking throughout the day. Maintaining a regular eating schedule of three meals a day will greatly support the immune system. Exercise! Yoga, Qi Gong, hike, bike… Get sunshine!!!
Nasal Drops for Clear Breathing & Prevention
The nose is the direct route to the brain and also the doorway to consciousness. It is the entrance for prana (life force,) which comes into the body through breathing. Healthy uncongested breathing ensures proper flow of prana throughout the head and body. When an excess of bodily fluids accumulates in the sinus, throat, nose, or head areas, it is best eliminated through the nose. Administration of herbally infused oil, “nasya”, helps facilitate this cleansing process. Nasya Oil soothes and protects the nasal passage while nourishing the tissues. Daily nasal lubrication helps to release tension in the head and relieve accumulated stress. Balancing for vata, pitta, and kapha doshas, Nasya Oil is also traditionally said to improve quality of voice, strengthen vision, and promote mental clarity. Not recommended if you have a cold, flu, or sinus infection (“Neti”, nasal irrigation with saline solution, is more astringent and better for these hindrances.) Keeping the nasal passages lubricated and moist, as well as the back of the throat has been discussed as a possible means of preventing viruses from landing since they seem to do better when landing on dry surfaces.
Nasya oils usual include refined sesame oil, olive oil, the Ayurvedic herbs of Brahmi/Gotu Kola powder, Calamus powder, Skullcap, Eucalyptus essential oil…
How to use Nasya oils:
- Begin by comfortably lying down on your back and tilting your head back with your nostrils opening towards the sky. If you are lying on a bed, you may hang your head off the edge of the bed or place a small pillow beneath your neck for support.
- Place 3–5 drops of nasya oil in each nostril. With skill, you can administer the oil, drop by drop, circling the inside perimeter of the nostril, thoroughly coating the nasal membranes.
- Take a big sniff in, then rest for a few minutes allowing the nasya to penetrate.
To buy Nasya Oil
Part 2: Touchy Subjects: The Age of “Me Too!” & COVID-19
Touch is one of our 5 sense organs, along with the eyes, mouth, nose, and ears. In yoga as in Ayurveda each sense organ is related to one of the 5 elements or “Pancha Bhutas” or “Maha Bhutas”; the eyes-fire, the mouth/tongue-water, the nose-earth, the ears-space, and the skin-air. Touch is as essential as hearing, smelling, tasting, and seeing. Can you imagine going without any one or two of these senses? How different our life would be. Yet, we live in an age where the amount of touch we receive and the amount we give is being restricted, perhaps even more than it has been in previous decades because of the “Me Too!” movement and now, “COVID-19.” Few of the other sense organs have had so much imposed upon it as touch has. So much so that we are more likely to forego touch before restricting ourselves from seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing. Consider all of the people that go without touch–the elderly in nursing care, the number of widows, young single people without partners, those who can’t afford a massage, sexless marriages or traumatized folks who get triggered from touch and therefore avoid it. (My partner is a doctor, going to the hospital daily, so we have also quarantined ourselves from intimate contact during this global Shelter-In-Place phenomenon.)
The current phobias around touch are accentuated by centuries of negative conditioning. No matter how liberated we become in our attitudes around sex and touch, it has left us–even on the most subconscious level–suspect of this vital contact. Think of the hesitancy and awkwardness that people often have around sharing a hug…The positive side of these current trends is that they are asking us to reevaluate what is healthy touch, appropriate, nourishing touch from that which is authoritarian, degrading and abusive.
We are inclined to forget how essential, how valuable touch is to our wellbeing prioritizing the other sense organs above it. Yet, our skin, our flesh is the body’s largest organ and therefore, capable of taking in a great amount of pleasurable stimulus–touching is how we experience life and how we nurture ourselves and others. Touch is a two-way street. Not only are we denying ourselves the healing, restorative, nurturing aspects of being touched due to COVID-19 but we may also be denied the pleasure of touching—both are essential and are, in fact, the same thing. When a massage therapist works on a client, the client opens up, letting go of stress as their mind and body begin wanting more and more of what they are receiving, “Don’t stop” goes the inner dialogue. At the same time the massage therapist is also being supported, receiving energy back through touch, satisfying their own desire for contact, while also being in touch with the healing energy moving through their entire body and accumulating in their hands. Or, how about when we touch our pets, isn’t it a joyously mutual exchange? We get pleasure in seeing our dog go ecstatic but we also feel that joy through our hands which is what we get back. Touch is as important to our overall wellbeing as a healthy diet, a good amount of sleep and exercise.
In both yoga and Ayurveda self-touch is part of these healing therapies, not only with the endless wrapping and folding of the body into itself in yoga postures but also through the use of “mudras” which use physical touch—mostly, but not exclusively, of the hands to redirect the subtle energy of the body. In Ayurveda, there is the fundamental daily practice of self-oil-massage called “Abhyanga.” This practice uses warm oils to lubricate, stimulate, and create better circulation the body and soothes the nervous system. “Abhyanga” is also done by an Ayurvedic massage therapist who will work this warm herbal infused oil deeply into your body, energizing the “marma” points (aka as Acupuncture meridians) and pathways. Another remedy is a Salt Scrub, traditionally done with chickpea flour but now with high-density mineral salts. See below for both treatments:
Healing Touch: Abhyanga
Abhyanga oil traditionally has Ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng), Bala, Vidari Kanda, Bacopa, Shatavari and ginger or cinnamon for warmth in it. But you can use sesame or safflower oil by itself or optionally with your favorite essential oil instead.
Warm 1/4-1/2 cup of oil, then, starting with your legs, rub the oil into the skin just like lotion. Use long strokes on the limbs and circular movements on your joints. Continue to move all the way up the body, moving in the direction of the heart– don’t rush, indulge and love yourself! In Sanskrit, the word sneha can be translated as both “oil” and “love.” So, in Ayurveda, there is an inherent connection between enveloping the body in oil and enveloping it in love. Both experiences can give a deep feeling of stability, warmth, and comfort.
Spend extra time on tight knots or super dry spots and don’t forget often overlooked body parts like the ears and bottoms of the feet. Once you’ve applied the oil, wrap yourself in an old towel or bathrobe and let it soak into the skin for at least 20 minutes. This is when is a great time to roll out your mat and settle into a Yoga Nidra or to meditate. I usually do Qi Gong during this time because I can do it standing and not get oil on anything else and both the self-massage and Qi Gong are great prep before a seated meditation. After 20 minutes, hop in the shower and rinse off any extra oil, not applying soap except to essential parts–pat yourself dry. Please note that frequently washing with hand sanitizers and soap will eventually dry the skin, Abhyanga is a great way to moisturize the skin and keep it from cracking.
Healing Touch: Salt Scrub
The abrasive action associated with salt scrubs invigorates the skin and helps to improve circulation while assisting our lymphatic system. Improved circulation gives skin a natural glow. Scrubbing with salt also helps to remove bacteria from the skin and unclog pores. Salt has antiseptic qualities, and when applied to the skin it may help kill bacteria and reduce inflammation along with any itching and pain associated with bacterial-related skin disease.
Exfoliating with a salt scrub not only removes dead skin cells and increases circulation, but it also encourages regeneration. Sloughing away dead skin cells actually promotes the growth of healthy new cells. This regeneration process tightens the skin, giving it a firmer and healthier-looking appearance. Skin regeneration also reduces skin discoloration, evening out skin tone and improving texture. But this vigorous scrubbing effects more than the superficial layer of the skin and can increase energy through the entire body as well as bringing greater mental clarity affecting our overall attitude and wellbeing.
Once you’ve made (see below) or purchased your salt scrub, work it into the entire body starting from the feet up. Chant, sing, love yourself before washing it off in the shower. Do not use soap except where necessary. As with Abhyanga oil massage, pat yourself dry so that a thin layer of the oil remains.
How to make:
Amount of ingredients for single use: double or triple for extra.
- Use a cup of a fine sea or Himalayan salt or a mixture of the two. (Coffee and sugar are also used)
- Add ½ cup of oil–sesame for extra dry skin—good for cooler environments, sunflower oil for normal skin or coconut oil for oily and warmer environments or seasons.
- Add 5 drops of essential oil. Usually lavender is a favorite for calming and soothing, peppermint for invigorating and daily aches and pains, rosemary is good for lung support and grapefruit is also uplifting and can even help with cellulite. The only essential oil that I had on hand this week was eucalyptus which is also good for the lungs and stimulation.
- Mix together in a bowl.
Here are two other specific formula options for Face & Feet:
Fragrant Himalayan salt face scrub
- 2 TBSP Himalayan salt
- 1 TBSP grapeseed oil
- 2 drops ylang-ylang essential oil
- 2 drops grapefruit essential oil
Refreshing Himalayan salt foot scrub
- 8 TBSP Himalayan salt
- 2 TBSP coconut oil
- 3 drops peppermint essential oil
- 5 drops lemongrass essential oil
Home Practice: April 13th -20th
When I started studying yoga in the late 70s I would drive one hour each way to see my teacher. This was once a week or when lucky twice. The rest of the week I would practice on my own before or after work with only my dog occasionally joining me on my mat. Now, a Home Practice means doing yoga with an App–having your instructor in your house 24-hours a day, via downloads or with Zoom and, the rest of your yoga community joining in as well as your cats and dogs. There is much benefit in both ways of practising and as much as I love seeing you in my Zoom classes and love our community, I hope you will find time to practice just with yourself as it can be very informative and revealing. Below I have included my self-retreat schedule and practices that I started with this Shelter-In-Place journey. Try it as a day-long retreat or use some of the practices as your daily routine.
As we enter week 4 of SIP and the spring urge to be active and outdoors arises, I hope that you will continue to take this time to listen, to absorb the YOU that has been forming over these precious weeks and to keep this gift of time and home something sacred. The “normal” that we will eventually return to will not be “normal” as we once knew it and will continue to change. We have all had a better glimpse under clearer skies of what is valuable and real to us, keep this close to your heart and walk forward from here—choose those ways that keep your heart happiest.
Dinacharya: This is my Daily Routine for Stay In Place & Retreats
- Qi Gong
- Meditation & Pranayama
(Kitchari (pronounced kich-uh-ree) is the traditional cleansing food of Ayurveda. It is a combination of split mung beans and white basmati rice with plenty of spices, depending on your constitution. Amidst all of the modern diet trends happening today, this might seem like an unusual cleansing food.)
- Social Media 🙂
- Asana Practice
- Yoga Nidra https://moryoga.com/store/yoga-nidras/
- Hike/Bike/Somatic Fitness
- Social Media 🙂
- Dinner: Netflix 🙂
Let this be a healing time for all of us, you, me, the planet… See you online for class!! Om Shanti, David