Ayurveda for City Living
Some cities are said to never sleep. They are dynamic. Vibrant. Diverse. Stimulating. They often allure the young, the ambitious, the unusual, the creative, and the seemingly untiring. Some of us were born into a city, without the option to leave, while others intentionally choose to dwell amidst the lively bustle. Either way, cities are places of innovation—offering us thrilling opportunities to transform.
At the same time, urban culture can be overwhelming. It is inherently unceasing. Loud. Dense. Demanding. It’s not uncommon to be woken by the discordant sounds of sirens or swearing, duly emphasized with honking, which can set or sustain a dispiriting tone.
When cramped by the stimulating qualities of city living, where can we make space for Ayurveda? Such an ancient, holistic wisdom tradition can seem fundamentally incompatible with modern urban life. How can we soften the consequences of the city upon our senses?
Earth-based practices like Ayurveda are indispensable for those desiring health, and all the more so for city dwellers, who must seek nature with determined intention.
Ayurveda emphasizes the impact of desha, or place, on our well-being (or lack thereof). From a classical perspective, there are three main categories of place: jangala desha (typified by dry desert, or vata/pitta qualities), anupa desha (the forest, with kapha/pitta qualities), and sadharana desha (a generally moderate, tropical, or tridoshic climate).
The places where we grew up, where we first experienced disease, where we receive treatment, and where we currently live greatly influence our tendencies towards wellness and illness.
Of course, the Ayurvedic classics did not speak to the context of a concrete jungle, a modern phenomenon with potentially imbalancing effects on all three doshas. But we can reflect and infer, based on what we know. Here are some Ayurvedic strategies for gentler city living.
With the remembrance that Ayurveda is a place-based tradition that emphasizes appropriate diet as preventative care, connect with growers at your local farmer’s market if you are able. Our food producers are amongst our most essential yet undervalued workers. Consider signing up for your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) as a commitment to the sustenance of your regional food system, your environment, and yourself.
Favor freshly prepared meals, with whole, organic, and seasonal ingredients when possible. Try to maintain regular mealtimes to best support your capacity to digest, absorb, and assimilate the vital energy in your food.
Tempted as you might be to gobble street food on the go, do your best to eat slowly, while seated, and with reverence for what nourishes you. Remember that how we eat can be just as important as what we eat.
Pause and notice the quality of your breath. The depth, the tempo, the ease, or the effort. Our breath may often feel shallow, uneven, and constricted under the rigors of city living. Likewise, our breath tends to reflexively deepen when immersed in nature.
When practiced routinely, simple breathing techniques, or pranayama, like Nadi Shodhana can help reinvigorate us while inviting a calming quality to our nervous systems. Attempt this form of alternate nostril breathing for at least a few minutes upon waking and right before you go to sleep as a simple way to find refuge within.
Our movement habits can inadvertently reinforce our imbalances. Those of us who practice yoga asana in city studios, whether in person or online, often gravitate towards classes that further perpetuate the fast pace of our lives off the mat.
If this sounds like you, consider trying a slower form of movement such as yin yoga, restorative yoga, or vata-balancing yoga. These practices offer a source of strength and grounding which grant us respite from our patterns of rushing, striving, and overdoing.
Countless medicinal plants thrive in urban areas, from sidewalk cracks to city parks. Dandelion, plantain, red clover, mugwort, burdock, yellow dock, mullein, cleavers, and so many more. While you may not wish to consume what you find—as they are likely to have been sprinkled by the neighborhood dogs, herbicide, or vehicle emissions—you can still experience the profound benefits of sitting with these herbal allies.
Make a practice of visiting them with full-bodied awareness, and they will teach you about resilience, creativity, and reciprocity. You can also order these herbs online or find them at your local herbal apothecary if you would like to bring them into your home and build a relationship with their many beneficial properties.
5 Sense Therapy
Astamendriyartha Samyoga, which essentially translates to overuse, underuse, or misuse of the senses, is said to be one of the three main causes of disease from an Ayurvedic perspective. For the many wonderful delights they offer, cities often trigger sensory overload with an abundance of stimuli and constant temptations to overindulge.
Thankfully, Ayurveda offers tools to care for the health and well-being of each of our senses, which in turn supports our vital reserve of energy. Here are some simple routines to nourish and protect your five sacred senses.
Practice oiling and massaging your ears with Banyan’s herbal Ear Oil, warmed to body temperature, as a barrier against noise pollution. You can administer 1–2 drops per day into your ears for a soothing and grounding effect. Just make sure to avoid this technique in the case of ear infection, ear drum perforation, or when your ears are wet.
Treat yourself to abhyanga, a full body self-massage with warm oil, on a daily basis or when time allows. Even 15 minutes helps improve circulation, cleanse the body, relax the mind, and strengthen immunity, along with many additional benefits that accumulate over time.
You can use organic sesame oil or a dosha-specific herbal massage oil, according to personal need and preference. If your head or feet ache from a hectic day, find added comfort in a warm foot bath, which helps calm the nervous system and draw energy downwards. Apply Sleep Easy Oil to your scalp and feet before bed to ease into restful sleep.
Be discerning about what you consume with your eyes, moderating screen time as much as reasonably possible. Create opportunities to rest your gaze on something from the natural world as often as you can—even an indoor plant if the view outside is obstructed from where you typically sit. Try to look for the sun and moon each day as a way of connecting with their cycles and notice how your own energy levels may ebb and flow in related rhythms.
Enjoy spices like cumin, coriander, and fennel in your beverages and meals to support healthy appetite and digestion. If you have favorite herbs and favorable growing conditions, even just a sunny window and a good dose of patience, try cultivating these plants from seed in pots or planters. Once they mature, delight in their taste! Basil, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and tulsi can all thrive indoors and generously brighten your surroundings.
Apply your versatile sesame oil or Banyan’s specially formulated Nasya Oil to your nasal passages and feel clarity spread through your sinuses and mind. Nasya helps clear and nourish the channels of the head, opening and enlivening our senses.
Building Your Daily Routine
The practice of dinacharya, or daily routine, leads us into alignment with natural rhythms, which can feel counterculture in our fast-paced cities. While it is commonly unfeasible to incorporate all of the techniques above into a busy lifestyle, know that it is nourishing to select even one or two of these practices to gradually build a routine around.
If you tend to experience vata imbalance, with a general need for stabilization, consider starting with a remedy for hearing or touch, which tends to the ether and air elements respectively. For pitta, with a need for surrender, consider sight or taste for balancing the fire and water elements. For kapha, with a need for stimulation, consider taste or smell to uplift the water and earth elements.
The integrity of urban life is dependent on the upliftment of personal and communal health, and mutual aid has a central role.
By soothing your senses and prioritizing your own self-care, you can greet your city with renewed vitality and help nurture its extraordinary spirit.