Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
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Scrape your tongue, spray rosewater in your eyes, irrigate those nasal passages, drink warm lemon water, then dry brush and massage the body with warm oil. Follow this with some yoga, pranayama, meditation, a light breakfast and 15 minutes lying on your left side to promote digestion. And all that before your work day starts. When I first discovered Ayurveda, this morning routine left me dumbfounded. How could anyone squeeze in all those activities? Over the years, however, I’ve discovered a few Ayurveda life hacks. Here are modifications of some of Ayurveda’s traditional lifestyle and diet recommendations that make this ancient science more accessible and practical in today’s world.
The shower is a terrific place to merge many of Ayurveda’s morning routines. Explore doing abhyanga (self-massage with oil) and oil pulling at the same time (instructions are below). Some people even get adventurous and use their neti pot in the shower, too; if that appeals to you, prepare your saline solution before hopping in. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the practice, abhyanga is one of the crowning jewels of Ayurveda. Here’s what the classical Ayurveda text known as the Caraka Samhita says about it: “The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age.” Not only does oiling provide luscious, glowing skin, it also serves to soothe the nervous sys - tem and bolster immunity. Traditionally, abhyanga is a lengthy ritual that can last upwards of 45 minutes. However, if you do not have extra minutes to spend luxuriously massaging the body, take it to the shower. Here’s how: Keep a small squeeze bottle of your favorite massage oil in the shower. Allow the steam to open up your pores, and take this time to soap and rinse. Then, beginning with your arms, apply the oil, using long, sweeping motions up the bones and circular strokes on the joints. Work your way down the body, using similar strokes on the legs and large clockwise circles on the abdomen and lower back. The oil will seep into your skin, and whatever remains can be rinsed and then gently blotted off with a towel. (You might want to designate a towel for abhyanga, as they do tend to get quite oily over time.) While you are massaging the body, why not add in some oil pulling? Take 1 tablespoon of coconut oil or unrefined sesame oil into your mouth. Swish and pull the oil between the teeth. This can be done anywhere from five to 20 minutes. Oil pulling is said to strengthen the gums, teeth, tongue, mouth and voice. If you have sensitive or receding gums, this can be highly beneficial. Rumor has it that oil pulling also whitens the teeth, as well as improving your sense of taste.
Quick Kitchen Tips
Fresh is best, according to the principles of Ayurveda. As your leftovers sit in the fridge, they become less sattvic, or pure. Rather, the food takes on a more tamasic (dense, heavy) quality. After 24 hours, food is thought to have lost most of its prana, or life-giving energy. In a perfect world, the solution would be to cook every day. Here are some ways to make that easier than it sounds.
Prep your veggies at night.
You can chop, peel and mince them in advance and stash them in glass storage containers. Many will hold up in the fridge for a few days. When you come home, simply steam or sauté these pre-prepped goods and add them to a simple grain like quinoa or basmati rice.
Soak beans + grains overnight
Soaking will cut down on cooking time. Without soaking, short-grain brown rice generally takes about 45 minutes to cook. After you soak it, it takes just 15 minutes to cook. Invest in a pressure cooker. Long celebrated in India, pressure cookers can cook chickpeas in a quarter of the time.
Make thermos kitchari (see recipe below)
Kitchari, a traditional cleansing food in Ayurveda, is a great go-to meal. The thermos variation allows you to spend just a few minutes and then hit the road. Another kitchari hack: Prepare a large batch of the spices ahead of time. Combine the spices in a quart-size glass jar, seal and keep in a cool place. When you make your kitchari, scoop out the desired quantity. No need to grab eight or 10 jars from your pantry every time. Coffee lover? Add a sprinkle of green cardamom to your cup of joe. Cardamom counteracts the acidity in coffee and helps neutralize the stimulating effects of caffeine. Cooking is another wonderful time to oil pull. You’re already in the kitchen, where you most likely have a jar of coconut oil.
1 cup yellow mung dal beans
½ cup white basmati rice
1 tbsp organic sesame oil
1 tsp each black mustard seeds and cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp each cumin powder, coriander powder, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds (cinnamon optional in winter)
1 tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 green cardamom pod
1–2 cups chopped, organic, seasonal vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, celery, kale and bok choy
Rinse the beans and rice and strain them five times, or until the water runs clear. Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the seeds, and toast until the mustard seeds pop. Add the bay leaves, pepper and powdered spices, and mix together. Stir in the rice and beans. Add 4 cups of water, along with the cloves, bay leaves and cardamom pod. Allow the mixture to gently boil for 7 minutes, then add chopped vegetables and boil for an additional 3 minutes. Carefully ladle into a thermos, seal tightly and take it to work. The kitchari will continue to cook in the thermos and will be ready for lunch in 4 hours.
Ideally, we’re all waking up in the wee hours to greet the sun during the brahma muhurta (“hour of god”) between 4:24 and 5:11 am—considered the most auspicious time to commit to spiritual practices such as prayer, pranayama and meditation. But if you end up hitting the snooze button, try these tips for weaving a bit more mindfulness into your day.
1. Set a timer for every 30 minutes. When it rings, stop whatever you’re doing and take three deep, full breaths. Choose an alarm that’s not jarring—a gentle bell or tone.
2. Explore meditation apps that provide guided meditations and help you begin a practice.
3. Unplug from your devices one or two hours before bed, as the light emitted by screens can interfere with your production of melatonin—the hormone that causes us to get sleepy. Your body gets tricked into thinking it’s daytime and you may find you have a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep.
4. Set a daily timer for 9:00 pm that prompts you to power down the laptop, stop texting and say goodnight to Game of Thrones.
5. Find yourself commuting for hours per week? Let those stoplights be your breathing buddies. At each stoplight, turn off the music or the news. Rather than using those 15 seconds to get irate and impatient, practice breathing deeply and filling the lungs completely. This helps to settle the nervous system, which is often on high alert when you’re driving.
6. Spacing out at a meeting? Perfect time to do some hands-free Nadi Shodhana, the Alternate-Nostril breath. It’s a discreet way to sneak in a little pranayama. Visualize the inhalation rising up through the left nostril, and follow the exhalation out the right nostril. On the next inhalation, visualize the breath moving up the right nostril and expelling through the left. Repeat. This is a valuable tool to help balance the two sides of the brain, smooth out the prana and unruffle your feathers.