Āyurveda considers the 5 senses (hearing, touch, sight, taste, smell) the gateways to awareness. Cleaning and caring for the sense organs (ears, skin, eyes, mouth, nose) in the morning and other times allows us to better receive information, stimulation, and communication from the outside world. It helps us to perceive and interpret all sensory stimulation more effectively. Each of the five senses and sense organs are associated with one of the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth) respectively.
Sense Care For The Ears
For those of us who are granted the ability hear, the ears receive a significant amount of stimulation in a world with so many sounds and noises. There is the hum and song of the natural world; wind, bird song, cicadas, the yips of the coyotes, water rushing over sand and rock. The whirl and beeps of technology; vehicles, phones, alarms, heating or cooling units, radio and television. Our ears are working every minute of every day, and depending on our life style are often over stimulated. The ears are associated with ether element and vāts doṣa. Caring for the ears and the sense of hearing helps to balance vāta doṣa and the nervous system.
Karna Purna – Oleation Of The Ears
Karna Purna (oil in the ears) is soothing to the ear canal itself as well as the entire nervous system. The practice can be done with small amounts of oil (1-5 drops) on a regular basis or with larger amounts of oil when indicated for more acute conditions. This practice helps remove wax, prevent hearing loss, sooth ringing of the ears, vertigo, migraines, depression, anxiety, and neurological disorders. It can help induce sound sleep and calm the body-mind-spirit.
Plain sesame oil, ghee, or herbal nasya oil can be used. It is important that the oil be warm, but not too hot to cause burning. You can test the oil temperature on the inside of your wrist before dropping git in the ears. The practice is best done at night before bed.
Karna Purna – Ear Drops Application:
- Warm the oil by putting the glass dropper bottle into a mug of hot water. Test the temperature before applying to the ear.
- Put a towel over your pillow and lay on your left side so that the right ear is facing up.
- Drop 1-5 drops of the warm oil into the ear. You can do some light massage around and over the ear as the oil sinks in.
- Lie on your left side for about 10 minutes while the oil penetrates and nourishes the ear canal.
- After about 10 minutes, turn over to your right side so that the left ear is facing up, and repeat the process.
- Some of the oil will be absorbed and some will flow out when you switch sides. If oil remains in the ear canal in a manner that feels like the ear is blocked (like when you have water in the ear), use your hand as a suction over the ear to help release the oil.
- Ideally you will be going to sleep after this practice. Do not go outside into the cold or wind after this application.
Sense Care For The Skin
Our skin is the largest organ of the body. It is our first line of defense against whatever surrounds us. Care of the skin can be as simple as wearing pants while hiking in an area with prickly plants or putting on a hat for protection from the sun. Āyurveda strongly suggests the practice of self-massage as part of our daily routine. A regular practice of massaging oil into the skin not only puts a protective barrier on the skin, it calms the entire nervous system and helps circulate lymph. Another common practice that is beneficial for some people is massaging the skin with raw silk gloves or some other gentle exfoliating tool.
There are so many toxins around us that we cannot control in this modern life. But we can control what substances we choose to apply directly to our skin. Harsh chemical cleansers or body products with chemical compounds are damaging to the skin and deep tissues of the body. There is a saying that one should not apply anything to the skin that they would not put into their mouth. What goes on the skin is digested by the body, just not through the GI tract. Reading labels, and choosing food-grade cleansers and body products is a great way to care for the skin.
Abhyaṅga – Self-Oil Massage
Self-massage with warm oil is a blissfully relaxing and revitalizing practice for mind, body, and soul. Abhyaṅga as a daily practice will protect and sooth the skin, as well as help balance the emotions and keep the mind clear and alert. It will increase energy during the day and promote sound sleep through the night. Daily self massage invokes self-love and self esteem, leaving you with a deep sense of peace.
- Approximately 1/4 cup of oil. This can be sesame, sunflower, or coconut oil from the grocery store or herbal massage oil. Sesame is heating, sunflower is more neutral, and coconut is cooling. It is generally suggested not to use coconut oil in the cooler times of year or sesame oil during the heat of summer.
- Mug or bowl of hot water to warm the oil.
- Towel or mat.
- Place the bottle of oil in hot water.
- Sit on your towel or mat in a warm room.
- Massage the oil into your skin, giving each part of your body adequate attention. Use up and down strokes over the limbs and circular strokes around the joints. Give clock-wise strokes to the abdominal area (going up the right side and down the left). In general, strokes go towards the heart. You can start with the feet and work inward, go to the hands and work inward, and then focus on the trunk of the body.
- When/if massaging your scalp, apply oil to the crown of the head and massage the scalp. If you are concerned about getting oil in your hair, simply skip the head until you get more acquainted with the practice.
- Take a warm bath or shower after your massage. This allows the pores and channels of the body to open, encouraging the oil to penetrate deeper into the tissues. Don’t use soap to wash off the oil. Just wash the “essentials”; underarms, genitals, etc. If you have oil in your hair, apply shampoo before wetting your head to cut the oil more effectively.
- After showering, there should be a thin protective, moisturizing layer of oil left on the skin. Each of us will absorb the oil differently based on our constitution and current needs. If you are left dripping with oil after your shower, this may not be your medicine.
Contraindications: During heavy days of menstruation, while intoxicated, excessive weakness, during fever or illness, with a full stomach. Pregnant people should consult their practitioner.
Sense Care For The Nose
Memory is strongly associated with the sense of smell. Odor and the sense of smell is associated with the earth element and kapha doṣa. One of the functions of kapha doṣa is to hold. It has a sticky, heavy quality that can keep things in place, such as memories. When the olfactory system is activated by a smell we have experienced in the past, the memory centers of the brain are triggered. Our sense of smell can alert us to danger, such as the smell of smoke, rotten food, or other toxins in the air. It can likewise bring calm and peace to the body-mind-spirit when we smell a beautiful flower or the scent of the earth after rain. Babies use their sense of smell to find their mothers breast and feel safe nestled into their parents or caregivers arms. By keeping the nasal passages clear, and free of toxins and mucus, we can better interpret the world around us.
Nasya – Oleation Of The Nasal Passage
The daily practice of nasya (oil in the nose) protects and coats the mucus membranes of the nasal and sinus passages. The oil acts as a filter to protect against toxic inhalants and allergens. The practice supports optimal respiratory function, immunity, and relief of congestion and tension in the head and face. It also improves vision and promote clarity of mind.
The practice of nasya can be done with herbalized nasya oil, ghee, sesame oil, or olive oil. Administration of oil in the nose can be done 2-5 times per day. It is ideal to apply the oil at night before bed and in the morning before eating. Depending on your lifestyle and current circumstances, application of oil may be repeated through the day, but not on a full stomach. Oil can be applied with your pinky finger or a q-tip and rubbed it into the nostril, or follow the instructions below for a deeper application.
Nasya – Nose Oil Application:
- Lay down on the bed, with your head tilted back. Or tilt the head back while seated.
- Place 2-5 drops into each nostril, and sniff in deeply several times. 2-3 drops is usually a good standard amount. Start of with less and increase appropriately.
- Remain lying down for about 5 minutes. This is a great time to massage the face, especially the sinus area. If you are seated, keep the head back for as long as is comfortable without hurting the neck.
- You will likely feel/taste the oil in the back of your throat. This is to be expected. If this is the case you can gargle with some warm water.