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True Beauty

Celebrate your natural radiance with four Ayurvedic self-care rituals that nourish body and spirit.

By Niika Quistgard

Each morning across India and beyond, people offer prayers to the resplendent, full-breasted goddess Lakshmi. Adorned in a rich red silk sari with copious golden ornaments and a full head of gleaming, long dark hair, Lakshmi Devi's luminous skin, full face, and deep magnetic eyes signal her irresistible enchantment. She is beauty.

All of Lakshmi's radiance arises from a dynamic relationship between the inner and outer Divine. She attracts positive energy, and she radiates it, too. Two of Lakshmi's four soft, plump hands hold gorgeous, fleshy pink lotuses—those rare, sacred flowers that grow through mud and water toward the sun to offer their lush splendor and heavenly scent. Her other hands dispense an endless stream of gold coins and blessings. Confident in ever-present abundance, Lakshmi has plenty to share—and she reminds us that wealth, beauty, and fertility are always available to us through life's energetic bounty.

It's only natural that we would wish to be as beautiful and blessed as Lakshmi. Such desire—far from being simple vanity—shows a positive self-regard, a knowledge that on some level, we too are creations of the Divine. And isn't presenting our best self to the day—feeling healthy, spiritually full, and gorgeous—a lovely offering we can make to the world?

Of course, you needn't actually look like Lakshmi. According to the wisdom of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of health and longevity and the sister science to yoga, true beauty is what naturally arises from simple acts of reverent self-care. When you undertake your daily health and hygiene routines with the knowledge that you are a precious, unique manifestation of life's energy, you embody Lakshmi's spirit.

These Ayurvedic self-care practices designed to support the healthy functioning of your skin, hair, eyes, and feet will kindle your radiance from head to toe. Moreover, each is an opportunity for you to care for your body as a sacred manifestation of life itself. When you honor yourself and your body in this way—no matter your age or genetic attributes or personal style—the vitality, grace, and generous luminosity of the goddess will shine forth through you.

Feet: Give Some Good Vibration to Your Foundation

We all know how good it feels to get our tootsies rubbed. But foot massage as a facial? Yes, says Melanie Sachs, an Ayurvedic lifestyle counselor and the author of Ayurvedic Beauty Care.

"Foot massage can relieve eye strain, relaxing and opening the face and allowing our beauty to shine through easily," she says. Her words are backed up by the classical Ayurvedic text, the Ashtanga Hridaya, which identifies four major nerves in the feet that connect to the eyes.

Holding and massaging your feet with your own hands can help reintegrate the subtle energy pathways flowing between the upper and lower body. And well-massaged feet connect more completely with the earth when you stand or sit with your feet on the ground, giving your whole being a more stable and relaxed foundation. Plus, says Sachs, "Well-oiled feet are also more protected from cracking and peeling, reducing chances for fungal and bacterial infections."

How to: First, create a foot soak that meets your current needs, using one of the following recipes:

To Cool Down: Fill a foot tub with cool water and mix in a tablespoon of honey and a handful each of dried lavender and fresh rose petals. You can also use lavender or rose essential oil. This will soothe the mind.

To Warm Up: Fill a foot tub with lukewarm water and add 1 teaspoon of ginger powder. This will invigorate the body and increase circulation.

To Relax and Rejuvenate: Fill a foot tub with very warm water and add 3 tablespoons per gallon of Epsom salt. This will reduce any swelling and alleviate fatigue.

First Soak: Submerge your feet, relax for 10 minutes, then remove your feet and pat them dry. Next, give yourself a foot massage, using sesame, olive, or coconut oil. Apply the oil generously throughout your massage.

Then Touch: Starting with your right foot, massage in circles around the ankle. With your left hand, squeeze down from the base of the calf muscle all the way to the heel bone, 3 times. Holding the heel, pull back on the ball of the foot, flexing and stretching several times. With small circular movements, massage the spaces between all the toes, pinching the webbing between finger and thumb. Glide your thumbs up and down the grooves between the tendons on top of the foot.

Now turn your foot over so the sole is facing you and hold it in both hands, with your thumbs just under the ball of the foot. Press your fingers into the top side of the foot, stretching the base of the toes apart. Then use your thumbs to "milk" each toe, sliding from the base over the tip of each toe several times.

Next, massage vigorously from heel to toe using the heel of your hand. Walk your thumbs along the outer edges of the foot, along the arch, and deeply into the edge of the heel. Use your knuckles to massage the arch to relieve back tension.

Hold your ankle with your right hand and the top of your foot with the left, rotating the foot clockwise, then counterclockwise. ("It's a spinal twist for the foot!" says Sachs.)

Grasp your big toe and rotate it fully, as if you were drawing a large circle with the tip of the toe. Then rub the toe between the palms of your hands to ease neck pain and tension, and the base of your little toe to ease shoulder tension. Finally, using the flat palm of your left hand, massage the entire sole of your foot in a figure-8 pattern.

To finish, slap the sole of your foot a few times. Then press the palm of your hand to the center of the sole of your foot. Feeling the subtle energy at this marma (pressure point) encourages a healthy flow of apana vayu, the grounding, downward movement of vata, the Ayurvedic air principle. Repeat the entire sequence on the left foot.

Almost Done: Finally, rinse your feet with warm water, dry thoroughly, and slip them into clean cotton socks, which will allow your feet to feel protected, soft, comfortable, and responsive. Let a smile drift upward to your face.

Eyes: Wash Away Cloudy Vision

Our eyes both perceive and reveal our beauty. A regular eye-washing practice can leave them clear and bright, says Dr. Geetha S. R. Harigeetham, the house doctor at Rasa Ayurveda, a women's clinic in Kerala, India (full disclosure: I founded and direct Rasa Ayurveda). Also, she notes, bathing the eyes can help rejuvenate tiny muscles that have been taxed by hours of computer use or driving.

Harigeetham recommends infusing your washing water with triphala. The Ayurvedic herbal powder—made up of the amalaki, haritaki, and bibhitaki fruits—is a blood purifier and whole-body rejuvenator and has properties that support the ophthalmic nerves and eye muscles, she notes.

After the washing, consider applying the dark eyeliner known as kajal (also known as kohl). "Kajal reduces glare in bright light, sharpening the vision, and encourages the growth and darkness of eyelashes," Harigeetham explains. If you choose an Ayurvedic herbal formulation—such as the Shahnaz Husain Kohl Kajal Eyeliner, which contains almond oil and flower extracts—you'll also be nourishing and strengthening the tissues around the eyes, she says.

How to: First, prepare the triphala infusion by boiling 1 teaspoon of triphala powder in 1 cup of water for about 10 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool completely; strain thoroughly.

First Bathe: Wash your face with cold water. Then, using a cupped palm, bathe each open eye with cool triphala water 3 times. Rinse the face with a bit of pure water, and pat dry.

Then Cover: Layer organically grown rose petals, cucumber slices, or cilantro leaves over each closed eye. (Choose whichever you like; all three are cooling and refreshing to the eyes.) Place a cotton pad over each eye; then tie a band of muslin cotton or a bandana around the eyes to create a loose blindfold.

Look Around: Lie back in Savasana, relax, picture something beautiful, and begin to do 5 cycles of each of these 5 eye exercises with your eyes closed:

  • Rotate your eyes clockwise.
  • Rotate your eyes counterclockwise.
  • Move your eyes in a figure 8, looking to the upper left, lower right, upper right, lower left.
  • Look straight up and then straight down.
  • Look left and right.

Then Rest: Now, relax and breathe for 20 minutes. Re-lease the blindfold. Immediately direct your vision to a beautiful sight, object, or photo that makes you feel calm and connected. If you're using kajal, apply it now.

As you transition back to your day, allow your vision to remain "soft," letting the scene of the world come to you with effortless focus. If possible, avoid harsh lighting. Let your inner vision come forward.

Hair: Care for Your Crowning Glory

For thousands of years, Indian women have kept their tresses lovely with sumptuous scalp oils made from coconuts, herbs, flowers, and spices. Scalp oils promote thick, lustrous, healthy hair. But they're also used to ward off colds and flu, relieve headaches, keep you cool in hot weather, and repair frayed nerves. Rubbing warm oil into the sensitive and receptive scalp area is a deliciously calming experience that helps protect the mind from the overstimulation of daily life.

You can use plain coconut or sesame oil, or pick up a ready-made herbal oil. Incorporating traditional Ayurvedic botanicals like brahmi and bhringraj, this artisanal hair oil supports a healthy agni (metabolism) in the scalp—the site of hair growth. Either way, you'll feel pampered and centered as you treat your hair to decadent conditioning.

How to: First, brush your hair thoroughly and wash out any hair-care products. Then, warm 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil in a metal spoon over a flame or an aromatherapy diffuser. Your scalp is more sensitive to temperature than other areas of the body, so carefully test the oil temperature for safety and comfort by trying a few drops on your inner arm.

Rub It in: Apply oil to the crown of your head, working downward and outward with your fingertips. Massage your scalp using a pinching motion, bringing the fingertips and thumbs together, then releasing. Move hands forward and back, then side to side, covering the entire head.

Next, make small circles on the scalp with your fingertips, maintaining an even, enjoyable pressure as you work from the hairline back to the base of the skull. To finish the massage, rub your open palm in wide circles all over your scalp.

Take a Moment: Finger-comb the oil through your hair and leave on for 15 minutes as you relax. Gently shampoo with a mild cleanser, towel dry, then let your hair finish drying naturally. If you feel inspired, add ornaments or fresh flowers to it.

Face: Show Your Face Some Love

Our skin keeps us in constant connection with the textures and energies of our world—so it's no wonder our faces reveal so much about our mental, emotional, and physical status. "When we care for ourselves well, our authentic beauty reflects in our skin," says Ayurvedic aesthetician Evan Healy, founder of the eponymous all-natural skin care line.

To keep facial skin glowing, Healy recommends giving yourself a wonderfully uncomplicated flaxseed facial. Grind flaxseeds in a coffee grinder, or buy a preground meal such as Bob's Red Mill. It's all good, according to Healy: "A flaxmeal facial paste is pure simplicity and great for every skin type."

The concentrated essential fatty acids in flaxseed moisturize and protect the skin, she explains, and the texture of the hulls stimulates circulation; cleans away dirt, sweat, and excess oils; and sloughs away dead skin cells. Plus, the flaxseed—like all seeds—packs prana, or life energy. Releasing prana to your skin energizes and vivifies.

To increase the healing benefits, Healy recommends that you follow your facial with a nourishing turmeric-yogurt mask.

How to: Prepare the nourishing mask by mixing 2 tablespoons plain yogurt with 1/3 teaspoon honey and a pinch of turmeric powder. Set aside.

Scrub Gently: At the bathroom sink, splash water onto your face. Then mix a little warm water with 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed to form a light paste. Apply a thin layer to your skin and massage in circles all over your face, spending some extra time gently scrubbing any oily or rough areas. Rinse well with cool or warm water. (Never hot! Hot water stresses delicate facial skin and strips away protective oils.) Pat dry.

Relax Into the Mask: Next, spread the yogurt-turmeric mixture evenly over your entire face. Lie down and relax for 10 minutes, taking full, deep breaths and making a conscious effort to release any tension you may be holding in your jaw or forehead.

Seal in the Goodness: Rinse with cool water and pat dry. If you'd like, follow with a spritz of rosewater or other aromatherapy facial spray, and apply a moisturizer or serum, such as Evan Healy's Pomegranate Repair Serum. Finish by patting your damp face with clean hands to "seal" the good effects of your facial into your skin. Your natural glow is all the makeup you'll want!

"When we care for ourselves well, our authentic beauty reflects in our skin."


October 2010

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Reader Comments

Sarah Joy

I have been so blessed to start using oils intentionally lately. I moved away from the makeup of my youth several years ago, but with that I stopped taking the time to tend to my skin and body as an object of beauty. Now I apply witch hazel, then aloe vera, then seal in the moisture with sesame oil to warm and nourish my skin in the cool months, coconut oil to lubricate and cool in the summer, and jojoba oil when I am feeling balanced and still want to apply rich nutrients to my skin. I like having one-ingredient products I can apply to my body, reminding me that these liquids come from living plants, and not some chemist's factory. Like pure, natural food for my skin.

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