6 Spiritual Self-Care Practices to Support a Rich and Sensual Life
Ayurveda is a holistic science, which means it works to integrate all aspects and layers of our being—body, mind, and soul.
We often think about how to feed our bodies with dosha-balancing foods, but how can we nourish our mental, emotional, and spiritual selves with Ayurveda?
Ayurvedic theory holds space for the practical and tangible, such as what and how we eat. At the same time, it holds space for the more subtle aspects of our lives.
When we cultivate mindfulness practices for spiritual self-care, we are building resiliency and giving ourselves the tools to take intentional action in challenging circumstances. Mindfulness enhances our ability to self-regulate, which enables us to respond to our environment in flexible and adaptive ways.
Here, I will share with you six distinct spiritual self-care practices, beginning with how to first tune in and prepare.
Preparing for the Practice of Spiritual Self-Care
Rather than recommending spiritual self-care practices for each of the different doshas, I invite you to tune into your constitution as you read this article and explore which of these practices would be most nourishing for your spirit in this moment.
If you're not sure how to do that, try moving toward what you're curious about or what sounds most enjoyable. Our bodies are striving to communicate with us constantly. When we listen deeply, we are often guided toward the practices that are most balancing for our unique needs.
According to David Treleaven in his book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness, “Mindfulness is simply paying attention on purpose in the present moment.”1 This understanding is key to effective implementation of spiritual self-care.
Engage Your Senses to Stay Anchored in the Present
Beyond the more tangible ways to support your mind and body such as nutrition, body care, and herbal remedies, there is a world of healing available to us through the senses. The five senses are the bridge to connecting the world within us and the world around us.
While more intensive forms of meditation may call for something called pratyahara, or sense withdrawal, we are going to focus on several preliminary practices of spiritual care that help us cultivate a more mindful day-to-day experience. You may find that this brings a sense of joyful ease to the spirit and enables you to cultivate even deeper mindfulness over time.
Tune Into Your Needs Throughout the Day
When it comes to practicing spiritual self-care, Ayurveda reminds us that dusk and dawn are potent moments to access the ethereal energy of vata, which can enable us to get into a more meditative space.
Set an intention for yourself to check in with your spirit at least twice each day, letting the sunrise and sunset serve as a reminder for this.
As you’re checking in with yourself, reflect on what type of practice will be most nourishing for your whole being in the moment that you are in.
- What am I feeling in my body right now? Where am I feeling it? Is this feeling attached to a need? How can I honor that need (even for just 10 minutes)?
- In this moment, how could I tend to my spirit? Am I needing movement or stillness?
- How would I care for myself if I were a child or my best friend?
- Where in my life am I feeling depleted or drained? How can I give myself extra care and grace surrounding this moment? What activity might help me come back to my center?
- Where in my life am I feeling energized, inspired and engaged? How can I lean into these moments? How can I cultivate more experiences like this? What practices enable me to access this feeling?
We already know that a simple, seated meditation is good for body, mind, and spirit. Let’s review some other ways to engage with mindfulness as a form of spiritual self-care.
6 Sensual Self-Care Practices for Spiritual Connection
1. Listen to Mantra
If you’ve ever participated in a meditation or yoga training, you’ve likely heard about mantra. Ayurveda incorporates ancient Sanskrit mantras as an aspect of its full spectrum system of healing.
Sanskrit is known as a “vibrational language” because the sounds of the words themselves contain specific vibrations that can have a healing effect when heard or repeated. Not only that, when you chant a Sanskrit mantra, you may become calmer, more at ease, and more joyful.
It is said that recitation of this mantra creates a vibration that pulsates through every cell and every molecule of the human body, igniting a fire within that consumes all negativity and purifies the entire system.
For thousands of years, it has been witnessed that the recitation of this special mantra rejuvenates the body and mind and bestows health, wealth, long life, peace, prosperity, and contentment.
You can simply listen to this mantra and receive the benefits of the sound, or you can learn to repeat it to yourself. In Ayurveda, the word of healing sound is shabda.
2. Spend Time in the Sunlight
Ayurveda recognizes the healing powers of the sun in a practice called atapa seva (sun bathing).
Optimal exposure to sunlight nourishes us and invites balance into the body. When rays of sunlight touch human skin, it stimulates our nervous system, while supporting our digestive fire (agni) and mental fire (sadhaka pitta).
From the Ayurvedic perspective, it is believed that the appropriate amount of time in the sun can enhance understanding, comprehension, and the ability to focus—whereas lack of sunlight is a known cause of emotional imbalance.
According to Ayurvedic physician and educator Vasant Lad, a pitta person should be in direct sunlight no more than 10–30 minutes at a time, while a vata can benefit from 20–40 minutes each day, and a kapha can spend up to an hour in the sun.2
Of course, be careful to use your natural sunscreen, stay hydrated, and listen to your body for more information on your evolving needs.
3. Engage in Mindful Eating
Eating food with awareness of its essence and divinity is another key to bringing more spiritual mindfulness into our lives. The more we love our food, the more it shows love to our bodies—this can even manifest in our physical ability to metabolize selected foods.
To practice mindful eating, begin by noticing your authentic cravings. When you sit down to eat, feel deeply into your belly with a full, expansive breath. Observe the colors and textures of the nourishing food on your plate. Next, allow your sense of smell to invite you to become even more present.
Our sense of smell can have a direct and profound effect on the deepest levels of the body and psyche. Because the organ of smell is the nose, scent can have a strong and immediate influence on the mucous membranes of the respiratory system.
Passing through the capillary beds of the sinuses and activating the olfactory nerves, aromas enter the brain, producing systemic effects on the digestive, neurological, immunological, and hormonal functions. In this way, our sense of smell activates agni, enhances positive mental and emotional states, and builds resistance to pathogens.
As you engage your senses with each meal, see what it’s like to eat as if it were a meditation or an offering to the Divine. Put away your phone, turn off the TV, sit down, and be exactly where you are.
The practice of mindful eating activates the senses via rasa (taste), gandha (smell), and rupa (form)—all of which act as subtle therapies for spiritual healing when engaged consciously.
4. Use Your Hands
The skin is one of the five sensory organs. It is the protective and breathable boundary that holds the physical body in which our souls abide. Through the touch of skin, we experience the world as it connects us to sensations of texture and temperature. It is our doorway into perception.
Our skin protects us from the elements without limiting our capacity to feel them, and tells us when something is too hot, too cold, or too rough. The sensation of touch (sparsha) has the potential to enhance our quality of life—and experience of pleasure—immensely.
As one of our primary interfaces with the external world, the skin is a key access point for nurturing our inner world. With this in mind, we can engage in intentional tactile experiences such as baking bread, gardening, crafting with natural materials, and oil massage to nurture the spirit.
We can use the sensory experience available through the skin to ground into the present moment and center in our bodies. With practice, the experience of focused tactile sensation may even allow you to enter a flow state, where you are fully present to whatever is in your hands.
Engage with natural materials from the physical earth like soil in your garden, freshly ground wheat in your homemade bread, the material of your prefered artistic medium (wool, wood, pigment, clay), or the nourishing oils that feed your skin.
This is one way to nurture the spirit by calling upon the earthly energy of kapha. Those with a vata-constitution may find that engaging with physical matter is especially grounding.
5. Create a Tea Ritual
Create a tea ritual to enhance the sattvic and spiritual quality of your life with Ayurvedic herbs like tulsi, bacopa, and brahmi/gotu kola. This is another way to engage your sense of taste, while also nourishing the nervous system (majja dhatu) and the mind.
Tulsi, or holy basil, is said to be the goddess in plant form. It is considered one of the most sacred plants in the Ayurvedic pharmacopeia. As a sattvic herb, it opens the heart and mind, heightens awareness, promotes mental clarity, clears the aura, and strengthens compassion.
In Ayurveda there is another popular herb called brahmi. The word “Brahman” is the name for universal consciousness in the ancient Vedic philosophy. Some believe that brahmi is referring to an herb called gotu kola, while others believe it is referring to an herb called bacopa.
Both of these herbs have very similar properties of rejuvenation for the mind and nervous system. They are said to support memory, intelligence, and concentration, while calming and clearing the mind.
To create a ritual of spiritual self-care, make a cup of Tulsi Fields or brahmi tea (with gotu kola or bacopa) and sip it slowly with no distractions. Be with what arises. Consider making this ritual more reflective by journaling or reading a book while you sip. If you are unsure what to journal about, start with what you are grateful for.
Spiritual self-care is about creating more space and simplicity in our lives. Give yourself permission to slow down—to really taste the tea and feel the herbs soaking into your system.
6. Explore Movement as Meditation
Movement is important for each of the three doshas, as well as for the overall health of the body and mind. Not only does movement ensure that the doshas do not stagnate, but it also increases circulation and helps release stress in the body.
This could include walking, dancing, stretching, shaking, skating, climbing, or whatever feels good in your body. When we engage in the intuitive movement our body is asking for, we often find ourselves in an immersive moving meditation that supports presence and embodiment.
Committing to Spiritual Self-Care
As you’re practicing spiritual self-care, please keep in mind that stillness is not a regular part of most people’s lives. For those with complex trauma, stillness can be overwhelming. The practices recommended above emphasize presence, but not specifically stillness.
My hope is that you will find something that feels safe and supportive for your spirit. Whatever comes up, please remember to meet yourself with compassion and curiosity.
Committing to spiritual self-care presents opportunities to remember our true nature by cultivating daily practices that enable us to feel deeply connected to ourselves.
As Audre Lorde reminds us in her iconic speech, “Uses of the Erotic: Erotic as Power”:
“...(it) is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing. Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness. The aim of each thing which we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible.”
Spiritual self-care isn’t necessarily about returning to the exact same practice again and again. Try dedicating 30 minutes each day to spiritual self-care, even if the practice utilized during that time looks different from day to day.
It’s about figuring out what works for you and knowing that what that is will change. Check in with yourself at the beginning of a new season, a new month, or a new week to see if another practice of spiritual self-care is calling to you.
Adaptability within our own practices enables us to meet our evolving needs amidst fluctuations of our own doshas and of the rhythms of nature.
The willingness to be flexible with our evolving needs also takes away some of the shame and guilt that may arise when a particular practice feels like it’s no longer serving. Often, this is just an opportunity to weave in a more fitting practice or ritual.
Cultivating Spiritual Fortification
Spiritual care can be derived from any number of life-giving activities that help us remember who we are at our core, by tapping into our deepest sense of knowing and trust in the divinity of each moment.
It offers us the resilience to respond, rather than react, in key moments—to act from a centered place even when challenges arise.
See what happens! Give yourself permission to cultivate spiritual self-care by weaving these rituals of sensuality into your daily life.