Referencing specifics from the "bible" of Ayurvedic beauty, Absolute Beauty Radiant Skin and Inner Harmony Through the Ancient Secrets of Ayurveda, this piece highlights some of the core teachings from author and Ayurvedic expert and physician Dr. Pratima Raichur. It'll enlighten your understanding of Ayurveda and connect the principles of this ancient system to modern-day beauty.
Growing up in India, Dr. Pratima Raichur remembers her mother and grandmother as striking women whose inner poise and outer radiance never went unnoticed, no matter where they went. Exactly what was it that people were seeing or experiencing around her matriarchs? Was it simply their looks? Or something so much more than that? Radiance, love, peace, happiness? Perhaps some combination of these? Ayurveda strongly supports the notion that beauty is multidimensional, so much more than physical, and starts with the soul.
As a young teen, Dr. Raichur remembers one particular day when her mother happened to catch her as she was applying makeup, admiring herself in the mirror. She complimented her on her looks, but her mother then made a comment that she never forgot: "If you want to be beautiful to the fullest extent, then you must develop all aspects of yourself, not just your appearance." It was surprising for Dr. Raichur to hear this from her mother, such a stunning woman, but she would grow to understand that multidimensional beauty (knowledge, wisdom, joy, courage, compassion) is a much more fitting and complete symbol of womanhood than pure objective beauty.
WHAT IS AYURVEDA?
Before we can talk about Ayurvedic beauty, we need a proper understanding of Ayurveda. A combination of the Sanskrit words "ayur," or life, and "veda," meaning science or knowledge, it is quite simply the science of life. It is one of the oldest traditional systems of medicine in the world, originating in India over 5,000 years ago. Ayurveda is a body of wisdom that looks at longevity and immunity, and its first aim is to maintain balance and overall well-being in the mind and body.
The Rishis, holy Hindu sages and the scientists of Hinduism, gave us Ayurveda, and they believed that we, along with everything else in the universe, are made up of the same five constituents: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Everything living has all five elements in a different proportion, a different balance. In addition, there is an unseen, omnipresent continuum of intelligence, a field of consciousness, which shapes individual and material existence, so the five elements are patterns of intelligence within a field of consciousness. These five elements themselves are inanimate, but in combination, they give rise to three forces or principles called doshas. These doshas exist in the gap between mind and matter. They govern our mental and physical functions. Our personality, temperament, intellectual capacities, and physical traits are all effects of our dosha makeup. We all have a different balance of doshas, and within everyone's innate constitution, one dosha typically dominates and leads the other two in the government of your psychophysiology, or interaction between mind and body. All three doshas are active in every individual, but what makes each mind-body system unique is our particular balance of doshas. When we say that a person's constitution is out of balance, we mean that there is a disturbance in the innate dynamics among these biological forces. Our inherent capacities, inherent weaknesses, physiological and psychological, as well as the natural tendencies of our thoughts and emotions, our physical features, and of course, our skin type, all owe their particular characteristics to the balance of our doshas. That said, our lifestyle and environment can certainly alter the condition of our doshas. How we live can absolutely throw us off balance.
The three doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Space and air create Vata, the force of movement. Fire and water create Pitta, the force of transformation, and water and earth create Kapha, the force of cohesion. Each dosha has bodily seats or organs where its energy is most concentrated. Vata is seated in the large intestine and colon, skin, kidneys, bones, thighs, and ears, while Pitta is found in the small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen, heart, sebaceous glands, the blood, and the eyes. The seat of Kapha is the lungs and stomach, the head, sinuses, nose, throat, tongue, lymph glands, pancreas, fat tissue, and joints. All three doshas are necessary to life, and all diseases and disorders result from an excess of one or more of the doshas in relation to the intrinsic proportion or balance for that individual. Like your genetic imprint, your particular mixture of elements is set at conception and remains a constant throughout your life. These doshas define your basic characteristics. Because our individual makeups or formulas are different, not only do we look different, but our bodies and senses respond differently to everything in the environment, including the factors that cause aging and disease. The formulas to achieve such balance are unique to every individual.
Ayurvedic medicine focuses on the individual, not just the illness. Ayurvedic treatments are designed not just to eliminate the symptoms of disease but to address the underlying imbalances that weakened the body's immunity in the first place and enabled the negative symptoms. To maintain such balance and overall well-being, Ayurvedic treatments are designed to remedy any condition, mental or physical, that disrupts good health and life energy. Ayurvedic treatments work to restore the flow of intelligence and balance the elements. The treatments for these imbalances range from herbal remedies to massage, meditation to diet, yoga to purification practices. The goal of these treatments is to reinstate balance by building resistance to disease, lowering stress, and properly removing toxins, wastes, and impurities.
THE CONNECTION TO BEAUTY
It's important to stress the definition of beauty through the Ayurvedic lens. Here, beauty takes form from the whole of our existence, not the parts of our body. Physical appearance is fleeting and objective, and its ideals are forever changing. Any objective beauty ideal that we may achieve is ephemeral at best since nothing in the physical universe, least of all flesh or fashion, ever remains the same. Beauty, truth, and love start from the inside. It is limiting and ultimately detrimental to think of beauty as something dependent upon the shape and features of our anatomy. Our bodies alter as we mature, and skin and muscles lose firmness and density. Dr. Raichur affirms that we will never find a solution in a bottle because beauty isn't external; it comes from deep within the body and mind.
Ayurveda formally addresses eight branches of medicine, and dermatology isn't one of them. However, Ayurveda does highlight the interconnectedness of the skin with all other organs and life processes, the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. To correct imbalances, Ayurvedic remedies work on four levels of life: body, breath, mind, and spirit. Ayurvedic practitioners may start with what they see, treating outward symptoms that often include the skin. While topical treatments can profoundly nourish and treat exterior symptoms, in order to address the deeper source of our wellness patterns, we must go within to harness the body's intelligence. Diet, rhythmic breathing, massage, sensory therapies, and meditation are Ayurvedic beauty remedies that must be tailored to your constitution or dosha makeup. Philosophically, Ayurveda believes that beauty comes from the soul, so there is a perspective that older women are more beautiful since they have had more self-examined time in life, getting closer to their own souls and the wisdom of the universe. Upholding impossible beauty standards or comparing women's beauty (young versus old) is antithetical to Ayurvedic beauty.
The doshas are the key to your psychophysiological nature and, therefore, to your skin type. All skin types look clear and radiant when the doshas are in balance. That said, Pitta skin feels more moist and warmer to the touch than Vata skin, which is cooler and drier. Kapha skin is relatively smoother and more lubricated. The descriptions refer to healthy tendencies, slight variances. When the doshas are not balanced, Vata dosha can create dehydrated skin, while Pitta produces sensitive skin, and Kapha manifests as oily skin. The characteristic effect of each skin type tends to be more pronounced and may develop into problems like eczema or severe acne. Dr. Raichur's text provides a natural beauty approach, with detailed self-tests to determine your exact skin type, including customized skin care plans, effective advice for addressing troublesome problems, essential nutritional information, and instructions for detoxifying the body.
The Rishis believed that the skin is an outward expression of our inner being. The skin takes chemical messages from nerve endings and endocrine glands to and from all parts of the body and transcribes every transgression into a language that can be read as angry rash, weeping eczema, worry lines, and other issues that surface. Skin issues are signals of specific imbalances deep within the body and mind, so for long lasting results or to change your appearance, you must first change your thoughts, emotions, and habits, where stress and aging originate. If you want to be beautiful, you must first create a whole and happy inner life. Mainstream beauty often focuses on anti-aging products, where Ayurvedic beauty helps us find grace in aging naturally without accelerating signs of premature aging.
"At the very instant that you think, "I am happy,' a chemical messenger translates your emotion, which has no solid existence whatsoever in the material world, into a bit of matter so perfectly attuned to your desire that literally every cell in your body learns of your happiness and joins in." ––Deepak Chopra
AYURVEDA AND EVERYDAY LIFE
As physical participants in the world, we ourselves are what we think, and every fluctuation in thought or consciousness produces a corresponding change in the body. Our own consciousness is a deciding factor in the outcome of every phenomenon we observe, so basically, the world looks as it does because of the way we look at it. The world is the way it is because we think it is.
All of this can sound either incredibly heavy or unbelievably simplistic, but if we can indulge ourselves in accepting this philosophy, even as an exercise, for an hour or a day, we can grant ourselves the power or grace to be aware of our responses to life, to guide or even choose how we wish to respond to life. What difference does such an hour or such a day make?
The Rishis declared that consciousness is the essential lens of the universe. There is no pure objective reality as we create our own version of our world, so there is always a degree of uncertainty in our present picture of reality.
We happen to now live in a time where body positivity, inclusivity, and diversity are acknowledged, even if not always accepted. Whether we like it or not, traditional beauty standards are (slowly) dismantling. Since Ayurveda has nothing to do with superimposed ideas of beauty but rather holistic notions of good health, a balanced mind and body, perhaps this is an opportune time to embrace such self-acceptance now that so many current trends and ideologies have lessened the focus on one notion of physical beauty.
We have some say in our thoughts and instincts, our choices, and our behaviors. Why not choose to see ourselves as the light? As pure love and truth? Is it so radical to believe that you are beautiful simply because you're you, a miraculous being? And isn't it worth it to fight for, if you must, the balance needed for your happiness during this brief experience on earth?
Modern mind-body medicine shows that when we are relaxed and happy, we live in a body that is significantly different biochemically from the one we live in when we are tense, angry, or sad. When every level of our existence, from the way we eat and sleep to the way we think and play, is concordant with our innate energy patterns, then we are living as nature designed us to be…and there is no higher pleasure than such harmony of being. By learning to balance all levels of life in accordance with our constitutional makeup, anyone can achieve Ayurvedic beauty.
Pick up a copy of Absolute Beauty Radiant Skin and Inner Harmony Through the Ancient Secrets of Ayurveda and take in the full, 300+ pages of in-depth teachings from the foremost practitioner and authority on Ayurvedic wisdom and beauty.