How I Used Ayurvedic Beauty Practices To Heal My Chronic Inflammation

How I Used Ayurvedic Beauty Practices To Heal My Chronic Inflammation Hero Image
Photo: Photo: Shiva Rose

As the face behind the holistic-minded lifestyle site The Local Rose, an eponymous line of natural skin care, and a swoon-worthy Instagram feed packed with organic produce and crystals, Shiva Rose pretty much embodies our ideal of beautiful, healthy living. That's why we're thrilled to team up with her for a new series this week covering all you need to know to get gorgeous skin. If you're inspired to learn more, check out her new course, How to Get Glowing Skin Naturally: Ayurvedic DIY Rituals and Recipes for Luminous Beauty.

When I was 26, I had just given birth to my first daughter and was diagnosed with three life-threatening autoimmune illnesses: lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma. I suffered from severe inflammation in my body, along with chronic fatigue and depression. About eight years ago, though, I began to follow an Ayurvedic protocol to heal my body, mind, and spirit. Diet changes, a spiritual Kundalini practice, and nourishing beauty rituals led me to a path of healing because, in Ayurveda, inner and outer beauty are intimately related. The belief is that the more we nourish and nurture ourselves, the more we will shine.

The beauty of Ayurveda is that it’s about restoring the body to its original healthy state. It's about the prevention of disease and being in tune with one’s body to know when there are imbalances. To create true luminous beauty, one has to have the inner life force, known as Ojas, to support it. I once heard Ojas described as our body’s version of the nectar in honey or the sap in trees. It is what makes our bodies work and gives us each the ability to thrive. When Ojas are strong, our bodies are firm and flexible, our skin is clear and luminous, and our hair is shiny and healthy. It's also the precursor to feeling love and compassion.

These six standard Ayurvedic beauty routines can lead to you feeling strong from the inside out:

Oil pulling

When you wake up in the morning, your body has built up toxins from being in this resting, cleansing state, and your mouth can be home to bacteria, fungi, and viruses. By oil pulling, which is done first thing in the morning before having anything to drink or eat, you give your body a way for these toxins to be released. All you have to do is take a spoonful of oil and swish it in the mouth for 15 to 20 minutes (just be sure not to swallow it). Coconut, sunflower, or sesame oil all work well, but coconut oil can also help whiten your teeth, so many tend to use that variety. Once you're done, spit it out in the toilet—not your sink—as the oil can clog the drain. Then just continue with your oral care routine as normal, starting with a good brush and rinse.

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As far as beauty routines go, oil pulling isn't just good for your teeth. It can help keep the skin clear by reducing inflammation that causes acne, dry skin, rosacea, and wrinkles, too. Plus, it could help give your skin that luminous glow you're after by reducing toxic load.

Dry brushing

Our skin is our largest organ, and dry brushing is a wonderful way to give it a daily refresh. The method can help drain the lymphatic systems, eliminate old skin, get the blood flowing, prevent cellulite, and just give you an overall energy boost because it feels so dang good. Before bathing or showering, while your skin is still dry, take a body brush and brush in an upward motion. Start at the feet and move up toward the torso, and be sure to always brush toward the heart. Each area should be done about six or seven times, which can help rejuvenate the kidneys, liver, and circulatory system. Once you're done, hop in the shower for a good rinse-off.

Kundalini yoga and the breath of fire

Fun fact: Most of us aren't taught how to breathe correctly, and we usually only breathe in a shallow manner. But breath is life, and prana—aka breath—is what fuels our life force. So it's important you learn how to fill your diaphragm and lungs up with air. Once you do, you'll see the difference in how much more awake you feel, not to mention that these yogic breathing methods can also help awaken the endocrine system, which, in turn, is an anti-aging method. Lastly, these deep-breathing practices can help deliver oxygen to our cells and help nourish our skin and organs.

In Kundalini yoga, it is said that if you feel down or depressed it’s because you don’t have enough prana in your system. So it's best to use the breath of fire to remedy this, as it's believed to be a rocket ship to changing your brain chemistry and creating lots of joyful energy (plus it's said to increase courage, strength, joy, and life in general). Personally, I notice huge shifts when I utilize breath of fire in my day.

The Breath of Fire technique is done by pumping the naval point in and out while breathing rapidly through the nose (your mouth should always be closed). One note to keep in mind if you're a beginner, though: Take it easy and don't overexert yourself too quickly, as excess oxygen may create lightheadedness. If that happens, take a break and sit still while waiting for the moment to pass.

Self-massage/abhyanga

For many in India, massages are considered an essential part of staying healthy and beautiful. It is a part of their lives and not considered a special treat like it is here in the U.S. Babies and toddlers are massaged daily, and women and newborns are massaged for 40 days after birth to help prevent postpartum and colic-related issues. In Ayurveda, it is believed that a self-massage, or abhyanga, is as beneficial as a treatment given by another, which is great since it doesn't cost us the price of a massage practitioner. Plus, it's a great way of getting to know our bodies. For a step-by-step routine, try this tutorial.

DIY face masks

There are so many incredible Ayurvedic beauty mask recipes that can be made from some kitchen pantry staples. For example, chickpea or gram flour is an excellent exfoliant that helps brighten the skin, and honey and yogurt are incredibly nourishing and can be mixed into a soothing anti-aging mask. Turmeric, sandalwood flour, and fruits like pineapple and papaya can all be made into a powerful facial mask. One recipe I love uses oat flour, sandalwood powder, rose petals, and raw milk. I love how indulgent it feels as the oat flour softens and moisturizes my skin while the cooling sandalwood powder works its antibacterial magic to help prevent acne. The raw milk has natural alpha hydroxy acids that naturally exfoliate the skin and help prevent aging while the rose petals can help reduce blemishes, balance skin tone, and moisturize. I'll mix up this mask and apply once a week, and always feel so amazing afterward:

  • 1 tablespoon oat flour
  • 2 teaspoons sandalwood powder
  • 3 crushed dried roses
  • 1 tablespoon raw milk
  • A few drops of an essential rose oil (optional)

Combine oat flour and sandalwood powder, then slowly mix in raw milk. Add crushed dried roses, stir to combine. Add essential oils if using. Apply to skin and leave for 15 minutes, then rinse off with cool water.

Herbs and tonics.

Some rejuvenating tonics and herbs that strengthen Ojas are ashwaganda, amla fruit, and shatavari. Ashwaganda is called the "smell of a horse" since it can enhance one’s vigor and strength, and it comes from The Winter Cherry Tree, which grows in the Western India and Himalayan region. The leaves and roots are crushed to make the tonic—which you can take as a tablet, tea, or extract—and since it's an adaptogen, it's best to take a little bit over a consistent period of time. Adaptogens are very safe to use, and they work by adapting to whatever your body needs, whether that be increased energy, reduced stress, or improved skin. Ashwaganda tastes a bit bitter, but that can actually be great for the digestive system since they activate bile in our liver.

Amla or amalaki fruit is usually used in Ayurvedic formulas and is called The Fruit of Immortality or the Indian Gooseberry. It works on the bowels and digestion, supporting the inner lining of the digestive tract and organs and helping with skin imperfections. It's very rich in vitamin C and polyphenols, which can help slow down aging, prevent cancer, protect the liver, and repair sun damage. Amla is often used in powder form, though you can also find it as a liquid, extract, or in topical form for skin care.

Lastly, shatavari is an herb that can help women's menstrual cycles and reproductive system. It coats and soothes the internal membranes and reduces acidity in the body, which helps you get that glowing skin and strong, healthy hair. Try making a tonic with it, mixing 1 cup of warm raw milk with 1 teaspoon of ghee and 1 teaspoon of the shatavari, plus some honey to sweeten the taste.