Excerpts from – Beauty: Pure+Simple
By Kristen Ma
Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine are Eastern sciences that deal with health in a holistic way. Both have been fundamental in understanding how to help our clients with their skin care as they are a completely different way of looking at healing than western allopathic medicine and other natural modalities. While we firmly respect and have benefited from homeopathics and naturopathy, it can be extremely difficult to independently heal ourselves through these methods. Because Eastern Medicine helps you understand your constitution and imbalances, it becomes easier to understand and practice. The spiritual dimension of both these sciences also emphasizes the importance of spirit in our own health and beauty.
Ayurveda is stated to be the science of life and lifestyle. A large part of life encompasses beauty. One which is happy and gratifying is full of beauty.
Ayurveda is a science from India that dictates how we can live healthiest and in harmony according to our individual constitutions. It illustrates how each of us is a unique person with unique needs, personalities, perspectives, rates of digestion, speeds of metabolism, and so on. Therefore it is only logical that we must customize our treatments, diets, and lifestyles to maintain health and feel beautiful with vitality.
Ayurveda emphasizes prevention, so we must be very self-aware and listen to ourselves and our bodies. Sometimes treating small imbalances can prevent a gross accumulation/disease. This requires the patient to take an active role in his/her treatment and asks each of us to be a responsible and proactive part of our own wellness.
In India, Ayurvedic doctors are paid annually and treat patients for free if they do not recover from their illnesses. Doctors become teachers as they must educate their patients how to maintain health, prevent disease, as well as prevention of reoccurrence.
This emphasis of prevention is also beneficial as a support to more invasive procedures. Ayurveda considers post-treatment rejuvenation (rasayana) very important and the rejuvenation therapies and medicines it prescribes are also known to be anti-aging.
Of course we will discuss only a snap shot of Ayurveda, as it is a vast ideology with many factions, but the basic principles will help us understand health, balance and beauty.
What is Ayurveda?
Western medicine (allopathic) often focuses on symptoms, treating the pain, inflammation, tumor, or depression with pain-killers, anti-inflammatories, surgeries, and anti-depressants. However, this form of medicine (and thinking) also ignores the cause of these symptoms and may not ratify the source of dysfunction.
This is the same for the western treatment of beauty. We can minimize the wrinkle, dry out the pimple, cover the redness, but we must examine if there is an imbalance within our bodies which is aggravating these physical responses and if our lifestyles and behaviors are promoting this aggravation.
Ayurveda puts the emphasis on the human individual. Determining our constitution is the first thing we must understand. Once we know who we are, we can see (and feel) when our bodies are out of balance and differing from our natural states.
Ayurveda categorizes these constitutions as Doshas. There are three doshas – Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. Each of us has all three within ourselves, but the degree of each will differ. Most of us have one main dosha with a lesser influence from the other two. Some of us have two main doshas, while there are those rare individuals who are tridoshic (have equal amounts of each dosha).
The three doshas: Kapha, Pitta, Vata
Kapha – Earth/Water
Kapha is described as earth and water. It is characterized by qualities which embody these elements (heavy, wet, cold, stable) and those of us with a strong presence of the Kapha dosha also embody this. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) this is known as Yin (that which has substance. Energetically, "the shady side of the mountain").
Kaphas are grounded, loyal and dependable. Like earth and water, they have mass and tend to be slow-moving and sometimes lethargic. Because earth and water represent growth and storage, Kaphas have excellent memories as they store and retain knowledge excellently. They also tend to be sentimental, storing and holding on to the past.
Physically, Kaphas are all about abundance, again because of the tangible characteristic of earth and water. Kaphas tend to have a heavier frame, more fatty tissue, voluptuous or husky physiques, and develop muscle easily. Their skin is thick and oily, features are full and substantial, and nails are strong and hard. Kaphas tend to be the healthiest, most robust of the doshas as they have everything in abundance. True Kaphas have beautiful large eyes, noses that are broad and prominent, lips that tend to be full, and they have thick hair in abundance.
Kapha ailments or issues are when there is too much abundance. Problems with being over-weight (accumulation of fat), sinus congestion (accumulation of mucous), edema (accumulation/ retention of water), and cystic acne (accumulation of toxins and oil in the skin) are due to excess Kapha. These commonly affect those of us with strong Kapha because we genetically tend to accumulate more of the dosha we have a dominance of.
Their character flaws follow the same theme. Kaphas can be greedy (the need to accumulate wealth), self-indulgent, needy, and resistant to change (lacks flexibility).
Kaphas are classically beautiful as they beam with health. They are great lovers and are incredibly romantic and passionate, making them very attractive.
Pitta - Fire
Pitta is represented by fire. The Pitta dosha is hot, sharp and light. Pitta governs transformation (like fire causes chemical changes through heat). Therefore the Pitta dosha is responsible for transformations in the body: metabolism (transforming storage to energy), digestion (transforming food to usable energy), and cellular transformation. In TCM this is known as Yang (All that is action-oriented. Energetically, "the sunny side of the mountain".)
Those of us with high Pitta tend to be ambitious, competitive, and organized. Fiery and Type A personalities, Pittas tend to be opinionated, impatient, and extremely competent. Because fire represents transformation, Pittas are considered highly intelligent as they easily digest information.
Physically, Pitta expresses itself as a medium, athletic build. Pitta features are medium sized, of average height, and even their physicality seems to be organized and efficient. The skin tends to be sensitive, has redness, can be reactive, and breaks out easily.
Pitta ailments stem from excess heat (fire). Ulcers, poor digestion, rashes, hives and hyperacidity are all Pitta ailments. Many of their health issues are stress-related and are aggravated by the pressure Pitta-dominant people put on themselves.
Pitta people are sometimes difficult personalities to be around. They have quite a bit of ego and are often uncompromising. But once we understand Ayurveda, we can better understand that Pitta-predominant people are not bad people, it is their nature to be the way they are. We should not take offense to their actions or label them, but simply understand their tendencies and accept them with love.
Pittas are naturally magnetic as they express themselves eloquently and with great confidence, making them very attractive. Balanced Pittas are great leaders.
Vata – Air/Ether
The Vata dosha embodies air, ether, and space. With air being this doshas symbol, Vata is mobile, dry, rough, brittle, and light. Vata is ever-moving, ever-changing, and inconsistent. This makes Vata personalities both exciting and frustrating. Vata governs movement, circulation, and the nervous system. In TCM this is known as Qi (Chi). Qi is life force energy.
Vata-predominant people are said to be more spirit than matter. Their willowy bodies seem light and full of air. Vata is dry and so is their skin, making it rough. Their nails are also dry making them brittle. Their hair is usually fine and curly (and dry). With their elongated silhouettes, Vatas also have thin lips and long, chiseled features.
The Vata personality tends to be creative and excitable. They are forward-thinkers, open-minded, and flexible. They are early-adopters who love new innovations and ideas. The Vata personality appreciates beautiful design, aesthetics, and art. Vata loves to learn, but often does not feel qualified. Vata-predominant types tend to be cerebral and can be insecure and indecisive. Vatas also tend to be sensitive to their senses. Loud noises, images, and touch affects them.
Vatas are flexible and adapt to their environment well. They have excellent interpersonal skills and are social creatures if they are not in Vata-excess and over-thinking social dynamics.
Disorders relating to the nervous system or psychological disorders are Vata. They can be paranoid, hyper, worried, or have ADD. The kidneys and colon are governed by Vata.
This delicate dosha is beautiful with their graceful, statuesque proportions and youthful energy. Vatas effortlessly maintain modern society's ideal body type. But the real beauty is in their spirit.
Doshas and the stages of life
Sometimes we can see all three doshas within ourselves. Everyone has all three doshas, but most often we have one or two that are more predominant. Often people can be confused about which one governs them because they have a doshic imbalance.
Each dosha is strongest at different times of our lives, during different times of the year, and even at different times of the day. Understanding this will also help us understand why we are likely to have certain beauty ailments at different ages.
Kapha: Our Growth Years
Kapha is strongest during our formative years of life. From birth, through our teens, and to our early twenties, Kapha is high.
Because Kapha governs growth and accumulation, this is when we as human beings are growing and accumulating knowledge. We tend to have baby fat due to high Kapha. Our skins are the most moist it will be, we are self-centered, self-indulgent, and have the best memory function we will ever have (retention of memories).
It is at this time of our lives that many children experience symptoms of excess mucous: allergies and wet eczema throughout, while teens also experience wet acne. These are signs of a Kapha imbalance.
Pacifying this Kapha by avoiding moist, wet, Kapha-forming foods (dairy, sweets, starches, and salty foods) will alleviate these ailments.
Kapha also loves to sleep in, but this only aggravates and accumulates more Kapha. This is a problem because most young people also love a good lay-in. Getting up early will help eliminate excess Kapha. Getting up and doing some light exercise is even better. Stimulation is the key to clearing excess Kapha.
Stimulating exercise, stimulating foods, and stimulating treatments are beneficial. A Kapha-reducing massage would be vigorous and Ayurveda prescribes a dry powder instead of oil to promote circulation and move the fatty tissue with the traction of the powder.
Pitta: A Time of Action
Our twenties through forties are our Pitta years. This is when our careers and being action-oriented become our focus. Pitta is fire, and the competitive and ambitious nature, and the activeness of this fire is engaged.
This is also the time when rosacea (also known as adult acne) usually breaks out. It is at this stage that we start to notice broken capillaries and pigmentation on our faces. These are all symptoms of excess Pitta.
Many of us start to be more reactive to foods and skincare. Excess Pitta is aggravated by high expectations of ourselves, pushing our bodies too hard and compromising the liver.
Avoiding over-heated, over-cooked, spicy, and hot temperatures foods will soothe and cool Pitta down. Unfortunately it is the Pitta in us that loves hard exercise, but this creates too much heat. Calm yogic practices and meditation help balance out this fire as it calms and clears the mind.
Pittas cannot take too much oil as oil increases heat. Cooling oils like coconut and jojoba are beneficial. And these light-weight oils are great on the skin for inflammatory-free hydration. Pittas, or those with excess Pitta, should avoid saunas.
Vata: Era of Spirit
Vata is very influential as we gain a ripe old age. We become more spiritual as we come closer to the end of our lives and we also have more wisdom from our years of experience.
Vata is described as dry, rough, and delicate with a willowy-silhouette. As we mature our skin becomes drier, more wrinkled, crinkled, and thin. We lose our matter with a decline in collagen production; we lose weight, and also shrink in height. Our thoughts become more scattered like air and our memories escape us.
Promoting more Kapha is beneficial, and those with a strong Kapha prakruti will seem to age the least. It has been said that Pitta and Vata energies are what ascend the soul to the next realm. Though our youth-obsessed culture encourages to fight the aging process, beauty can also come from letting nature take its course.
Combating signs of aging during this Vata-influenced time is aided greatly by daily oiling of the body and scalp with sesame oil. Eating moist, heavy foods pacify this air dosha. Resting and ample sleep also helps pacify Vata. Vatas should get a regular relaxing massage with lots of nourishing oil. Because the skin has many nerve endings, when the skin absorbs oil it pacifies Vata and the over-activity of the nervous system (governed by Vata). Regular pampering will help rejuvenate the skin, restores Vata-depletion, and combats aging.
Ayurveda and Beauty
Ayurveda is an incredibly romantic ideology. It encompasses love and sex as well as beauty and grooming as part of a healthy life. Caring for the skin and body is part of the daily Ayurvedic ritual which advocates a morning self-massage before cleansing (and sometimes exfoliation with Ayurvedic herbs). Beauty is very much a part of living according to the Ayurvedic philosophies.
In Ayurveda, the skin is a by-product of muscle. Massage increases the muscle agni (agni is the digestive fire which helps each tissue convert nourishment into matter) as it stimulates the muscles and the movement increases heat. This is why massage is so important in Ayurvedic healing. It prescribes different medicated oils, powders and milks for massage depending on the doshic imbalances of the person. Massage is an integral part of healing any disorder. Abyungar is a treatment involving two practitioners doing synchronized massage to balance the doshas and stimulate energy flow. It is part of a detox program (panchakarma) to ripen tissues for cleansing and purgation.
Daily self-massage is also part of maintenance as it is a part of a traditional Ayurvedic morning regime. Not only do the oils etc treat our ailments, but the act of self-pampering and self-love is healing.
Ayurvedic Body + Scalp Care
Because we absorb so much through our skin, it is logical to not only be aware of our face products, but our body care and hair care as well. The skin is the largest organ of the body, yet we treat it only in sections. Many of us only moisturize our faces daily. Oiling our entire bodies and scalps actually help boost moisture in all of our skin as it is one whole organ.
Oiling, according to Ayurveda, is actually cleansing. And full-body oiling will help lubricate our organs. Oiling our tummies helps lubricate our intestines/ GI tract, and oiling tight muscles helps lubricate and soften them.
Moistening your body and scalp also helps with circulation. Those of us with cold hands and feet benefit so much from oiling them every night. The act of self-massage stimulates circulation, but keeping the skin and capillaries moist (especially by using warming oils like sesame oil) is what will maintain good blood flow.
Many Ayurvedic remedies for psychological related disorders (Vata governs the mind's activities) involve oil in the scalp. The scalp is especially susceptible to deep absorption due to the porousness of hair follicles. A study which examined hair-less mice versus hairy mice found the mice with hair absorbed two to three times more.
Rasayana is a method of regeneration and a branch of Ayurvedic medicine. It is Ayurvedic anti-aging and is used as prevention, for nourishment, and during post-disease periods. It is essential that repair and regeneration methods are employed after any detoxification, cleansing, or surgical procedure.
Ayurveda describes aging as a state where the body has greater tissue loss than tissue gain. This is due to increased Vata (depletion of matter) and the accumulation of waste. From a scientific stand-point, this involves free radical creation (oxygen radical is lost due to metabolic activity and therefore creates metabolic waste). This is why Panchakarma (detoxification through five means) is necessary to maintain youthful, vibrant, and healthy. Signs of aging occur when our bodily and cellular functions are impeded as our channels are clogged with waste and the ability to regenerate is inhibited (impeded tissue gain).
Rasayanas are packed with anti-oxidants and herbs which help cellular growth. While Ayurveda may advocate tonifying herbs like Shatavari, ashwaghanda or guduchi as rasayanas, the concept is to nurture the tissue and soul. This can be executed with medicines and treatments which are not Ayurvedic as well.
The preceding is just an introduction to Ayurveda. If you would like to read more about Ayurveda, your dosha, and how it applies to your life, balance, and beauty, you can purchase a copy of Kristen Ma's book here.