Loving others begins with loving yourself. Nurture your body and spirit with these simple Ayurvedic practices for self-care.
We have three main relationships in our lives: our relationship with objects (such as our computers, cars, and cell phones), our relationship with other people, and our relationship with our very own Self. A great force or power, called the higher Self, lives within each of us. The higher Self/spirit/consciousness in me is the same as it is in you. We’re essentially one. That’s why Indians greet each other with “Namaste”: the Self in me bows to the Self in you. When we act from oneness, we act from the higher, spiritual aspects of ourselves.
Ayurveda teaches you to love and care for your body and mind so you can ultimately attain a state of oneness with a higher aspect within, and to connect with that in others, too. Loving others begins with loving yourself.
Give yourself an oil massage.
There’s a direct connection between oiling your body and loving yourself. Oiling is one of my favorite daily self-care practices. According to the Ayurvedic text Ashtanga Hrdayam, oiling “wards off old age symptoms and exertion, bestows good vision, nourishes your body, and equips you with longevity, good sleep, and healthy skin.”
What happens to a piece of leather when it gets really dry? It falls apart, right? This also happens to your joints. When excess dryness accumulates in your joints, they start crackling, snapping, and, yes, popping. There can be pain, too. Apply oil to the same piece of leather and it becomes stronger and lasts longer. Same for your joints. That’s why Ayurveda recommends oiling your body daily, preventing wear and tear while making your skin glow.
How to Love Yourself with Oil
In winter and spring, or any time you have pain, use warm organic sesame oil. In summer and fall, use warm coconut oil, as coconut oil has a cooling potency. If you’re unsure whether your body needs cooling or heating oil, you can use a mixture of coconut and sesame oils.
- Fill a large bowl with hot tap water. Place the container of oil into the water and let warm, about 5 minutes.
- Sit on a towel and, using your fingers, rub oil onto the bottoms of your feet. Work your way up from your feet to your calves, knees, thighs, hips, lower back, stomach, chest, hands, arms, and neck (face is optional). Spend time oiling each body part. Rub the oil in an up-and-down motion when oiling long bones, and in a circular motion when rubbing your joints. Exert energy. This isn’t like applying moisturizer; the more vigorously you apply the oil, the more you’ll benefit.
- Provide extra love, care, and time (up to 7 minutes) oiling any area that’s particularly painful and/or cracking.
- Shower with warm to hot water. The water’s warmth will allow your skin and joints to more deeply absorb the oil.
- Finish with a mung dal soap substitute to prevent dry skin. (Mung dal soap: Grind green mung dal in a blender to a flour consistency, and use this as a soap substitute to scrub your body while showering. Many Indian and natural food stores sell organic pre-powdered green mung dal.)
Can’t sleep at night? Ayurvedic texts recommend oiling three parts of your body right before you go to bed:
- Your feet
- The crown of your head
- Your ears
Give from a place of inner fullness.
This is very important for those of us who are givers or in service positions. I used to give a lot when I felt empty inside. I sought fulfillment from the outer world, which I quickly learned couldn’t give me the deep fulfillment that ultimately comes from cultivating a relationship with my own higher Self.
When I gave while feeling empty, I often felt even more empty and depleted afterward. When felt empty, it was important to turn inward, to receive more by listening to what my higher knowing was willing to communicate with me if I took the time to listen. It’s best to go to a teacher when you feel empty, as that emptiness allows you to be an open vessel to receive knowledge and guidance.
I was deeply affected when my teacher advised, “Give when you feel full.” To me, this meant regularly devoting myself to activities that give me a sense of nourishment so that I could give from a place where I feel completely satisfied — and don’t need anything in return. Not even a thank-you. Give from fullness, and you will feel your abundance multiply and grow in beautiful ways.
Sometimes loving yourself is as simple as taking a step outside. One of Ayurveda’s main goals is to restore your harmony with nature. The Ayurvedic sages spent their entire lifetime observing nature. Spending time outdoors is a wonderful way to absorb nature’s medicine.
An exercise you can try today is to sit by a window in your home and observe what you see outside. Write down a few observations. For those who live in more urban areas, these observations can be as minute as noticing the shadows cast by buildings. Then, sit in this same place around the same time tomorrow. Notice how things are different.
Nature teaches us a lot about change. Through the processes of digestion, aging, birth, death, career transitions, and moving homes, much changes in our lives. Just as nature yields gracefully to change, so can we. I observe how effortlessly nature adapts to change, like how birds gracefully migrate southward as it gets cold, and how the sky makes space for the sun, along with the storms and clouds, without stating any preference. I feel inspired by nature to not stay stuck in my fears and resistances. With nature as my teacher, I invite all things in my life to come and go, so that I may remain as supple as the wind, and face the circumstances in my life with courage and strength. As you go outside and observe, see if you, too, can start surrendering to all the natural changes in your life.