Ayurveda educator Kate O’Donnell explains how self-care is an important part of spiritual progress.
“Care of the senses is part of how we actually care for our nervous system, manage stress levels, and manage the activity levels in the mind. What most people resonate with is feeling overstimulated, so a lot of what we do is cleansing, as well as nourishing, for the sense organs,” says Kate O’Donnell, author of The Everyday Ayurveda Guide to Self-Care.
In ayurveda, taking care of the body translates into something much bigger. She explains, “When we take care of our bodies, we are actually taking care of the planet and enhancing the wellbeing of all the living beings around us. It’s easy for people to think self-care is selfish. … It’s almost more acceptable to care for other people and sacrifice your own health. But in ayurveda, it’s all one and the same. You can’t separate your own body from the rhythms of the universe. If you don’t take care of yourself, that is an impediment on a spiritual path.”
O’Donnell observes that as summer transitions into fall, many people experience a sense of nervousness or nervous energy that accompanies the change in routines and seasons. She suggests adopting a routine known as dinacharya. It is essentially caring for the senses. “It’s about establishing a rhythm of your own self-care where taking care of yourself is a part of everything else you do. This grounds you in the experience of your body. When there is a lot of uncertainty and unrest, having routines that ground you in your body is the key to feeling safe.”
Dinacharya is best practiced first thing in the morning. “The sense organs are like the windows into the nervous system. When you’re awake, they’re constantly getting information about your world, seeing, feeling, listening, and tasting. All of that information is coming back and has to be digested by the nervous system.”
The tongue is one of the five sense organs, so begin your morning by scraping the tongue, which also stimulates digestion. Then rinse the eyes with cool water. Next, practice the Abhyanga oil massage (see sidebar), which includes applying oil to the ears and nose.
Abhyanga Oil Massage
A popular routine in ayurveda is the Abhyanga oil massage. The application of oil to the skin bolsters the nervous system and the body’s ability to adapt and cope with changes. The nerve endings on the skin are quieted by the moist, slightly dense oil.
In September and October, a heavier oil like sesame oil is appropriate. Warm the oil by placing the container in a mug of hot water for a few minutes while you undress. Apply the warm oil to the entire body using long strokes on the bones and round strokes on the joints.
Be sure to slow down. Take time as you apply the oil to the body. Self-massage can become an actualizing of your intention to take care of yourself.
Slowly apply oil to the whole body except the bottoms of the feet. Use your little finger to put the oil inside the nose and in the ears. Spend some extra time rubbing the oil into areas where there is stagnation, pain, or lack of circulation; doing so can be helpful for getting the lymphatic system moving.
Then take a hot shower. The heat dilates the pores and allows the oil to pull toxins out of the body. In the shower, massage the oil on the body a little more and then wash it off. When you come out of the shower, your skin will feel very soft and exceptionally smooth.