In most areas of the United States, early winter is the time when the dryness of fall meets the cold of winter. Many of us begin "winding up" for the holidays, bringing stress levels to an all time high for the year. Others will be outdoors skiing, snowboarding, and snow shoeing. Whatever your winter activity is, dry, chapped skin seems to be the norm for almost everyone. On a doshic level, this means we must be careful to keep vata in balance, while trying not to aggravate kapha.
Vata comes from a combination of the two elements ether (or space) and air. When we imagine the qualities of these elements, dry, light, cool, and mobile come to mind. Therefore, when we aim to keep vata balanced, we want to consider ways to counter these traits by trying to include moisturizing, grounding, warming, and calming principles into our daily routine.
Ayurveda states that winter is the optimal time of year to pay close attention to the care of our skin, since the skin is drier and ready to absorb all the nourishment we are willing to give it. Moreover, while it is important to take care of our skin from the outside we all know beauty comes from within, literally, making internal self-care just as essential to healthy, radiant skin.
Here are a few easy ways to keep your skin healthy during this tough time of year.
Give yourself a massage.
What better way to start your day than to give yourself a warm oil massage? During the winter season, use either sesame oil or Vata Massage Oil before a daily morning shower or bath. Not only will this help to warm the body by improving circulation, it is also an amazing support for reducing stress! Be sure to use warm, not hot water to clean yourself. Hot water, as well as misuse of soap, will strip away the much needed oil from your skin. Try to limit soap use only to areas of your body that actually get grubby.
Counteract dry scalp.
While dandruff may be a sign of a fungal infection, it is more often dryness as a result of lack of blood flow to the scalp. Offset this problem by spending a few extra minutes every evening massaging your scalp. Using your fingertips, rub vigorously all throughout the hair. If you have enough hair to hold in your hand, slide your fingers along the scalp from your ears to the middle of your head at the roots of the hair. Make light fists, gently tugging the hair at the roots. Repeat on the sides and back of your head. This brings blood to the scalp. You can use your regular massage oil on your scalp, or you may want to purchase oil with special hair and scalp nourishing herbs such as Healthy Hair Oil, Brahmi Oil, or Bhringaraj Oil. Of course, if you are going outside, no matter if you have oil in your hair or not, you should always wear a hat and make sure to cover your ears as well (since the inner ear has "space", ears are one of the sites where vata is most prevalent). Keep in mind that oil will stain clothing.
Be sweet to your feet.
Whether you are doing laps at your local mall or out braving the slopes, give your feet some rejuvenation before bed by soaking them in a warm bath with dry ginger or any combination of rosemary, eucalyptus, and lavender essential oils. After soaking for at least ten minutes, use a moist pumice stone to remove any dead skin cells that commonly build up on the bottoms of feet. After this, take a few drops of castor oil or Beauty Balm and rub it into the heels and pads of your feet. Now put on a pair of old socks and take your brand new feet to bed! This treatment is extremely grounding and calming and is a wonderful way to relax. It is a perfect treatment to help calm kids before bed, too!
Put your best face forward.
Facial skin can really take a beating during the winter months as it is often the only skin we expose to the elements. Be sure to wear a scarf over as much of your face as possible any time you go outside, particularly if it is windy. Before you even set foot outside, prepare your skin by washing with non-soap based facial cleanser. While the skin is still moist, apply some sesame oil (or other specially prepared facial oil) liberally to your face, neck, and lips. If your skin is already damaged from windburn or extreme dryness, add one drop of castor oil to whatever you use to moisturize. It is very important to apply the oil to moist skin because oil itself will not do the trick. For example, if you were to take a dry rose petal and rub oil into it, not much would happen, but, if you soaked that rose petal in water first, the petal would become soft and supple. This same principle can be applied to your skin.
Eat a vata-pacifying diet.
Warm soups, stews, and chilies are the perfect food for this time of year. Well-cooked vegetables and hearty grains keeps vata dosha warm and grounded, while not being too kapha-genic. Dairy is also great for vata as it is heavy and has an oily quality, but use caution—dairy can also be cooling and mucous forming.
Use this recipe to get the most out of your milk:
With Ayurveda as your guide, it is possible to keep your skin healthy and radiant all winter long. As always, the first step to better health is to take care of yourself by reducing the stress in your life, getting enough sleep, drinking clean water, eating a balanced diet, and exercising properly. Just remember—by making a small effort everyday, you can stay healthy for a lifetime!