If only there was enough time to fit into my day all of the yummy ayurvedic self-care rituals of which I am a huge advocate. The ancient ayurvedic texts like Charaka Samhita recommend daily self-care practices for every aspect of one’s being: a gorgeous warm-oil self-massage, an herbal eye wash, oil drops for the nose and ears, tongue scraping and oil pulling…plus meditation, yoga, pranayama, wholesome eating, wholesome cooking, a good night’s sleep…but all this takes way more time than I have. Self-care is a job in itself! So, I’ve created my own little cheater’s version: self-care for busy people. Of all the many practices that so benefit the body and mind, these four take very little time but can still make a huge difference in the way we feel.
Scrape that scuzz
Have you ever looked at your tongue first thing in the morning? Expect a bit of white scuzz that we consider in ayurveda to be aama, or a toxin that’s got to go. While a little bit of film is normal and considered a byproduct of digestion, it’s meant to be a scraped away. For this, we use a metal tongue scraper. I prefer copper for its antimicrobial properties.
Tongue scraping is easy. After tending to those natural urges, put the V-part toward the back of the tongue and scrape from back to front 5-10 times. Rinse the tongue scraper, then rinse the mouth. This takes about 5 seconds total.
Ayurveda explains that this practice not only cleanses away that scuzzy aama, but stimulates the salivary glands and digestive process. I consider this one of the more important self-care practices for busy people because it encourages us to look at our tongue, an important indicator of what’s happening inside the body. If the tongue is heavily coated and the scuzz comes back shortly after being scraped away, it’s time to consider a mini fast (such as 7pm to 7am) or some digestive tea (like CCFtea or ginger tea).
First things first: a cup of hot water
This is super simple and super important. The practice of drinking a cup of warm or hot water on an empty stomach in the morning after tending to natural urges takes all of two minutes to execute.
The first thing we put into our stomach each morning will affect our entire day of digestion. If it’s coffee, count on an overall acidic effect, loose stools, and weak digestion. If it’s a cold smoothie or anything iced, consider the digestive “fire” doused. If it’s hot water, we not only cleanse the digestive tract but jumpstart the digestive process. Even if we can’t break our coffee-first-thing-in-the-morning habit, we can at least have a cup of warm water first.
While this practice is a hot fad circulating the internet in the form of hot water with lemon, I recommend plain water. Lemon’s not appropriate for everyone, but water is suitable for all.
Given that lunch should be part of our everyday routine, this self-care practice doesn’t actually take any extra time at all; it’s simply a matter of making lunch a priority and a timely habit.
When we’re short on time, lunch is often the “activity” that we feel we can skip. But skipping lunch is a disastrous decision. In ayurveda we consider lunch the most important meal of the day. It’s meant to happen sometime around 12-1pm, when the sun is at its strongest. As we are a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm, our digestive fire is strongest at this time, too. Foregoing lunchtime hunger aggravates our internal energies (the vata and pitta doshas) which can lead to all sorts of imbalances that we might assume are unrelated, like headaches, acidity, inflammation, joint pain, anxiety, anger, and much more.
So no matter how busy we are, one of the most important self-care practices is to eat lunch and eat lunch on time. It helps to set a timer or reminder for 12pm so that we don’t forget to eat lunch. I recommend avoiding meetings and appointments around lunchtime as these always get in the way of a proper meal.
Take three minutes to breathe
Three minutes spent sitting quietly and focusing on the breath each morning has a snowball effect on our productivity throughout the day. Three minutes spent on the breath in the evening helps to calm the mind so that we sleep better, making us clear-minded for the following day. Whether we choose morning or evening, we can’t go wrong.
I’m a big fan of pranayama, or yogic breath work. Of all the self-care practices that I ask my clients to follow, they report to me that this is the most helpful ritual for the mind. The nervous system and the breath are so closely related that by simply slowing down the breath, we can calm the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system and allow the rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system to kick in.
For those new to pranayama, belly breathing is a great option. Sitting tall or lying on the back with the hands gently resting on the belly, take slow, deep breaths in, feeling the belly expand. Breath out slowly and feel the belly draw toward the spine. Those who are familiar with pranayama can sit in a comfortable position and practice ujjayi or victorious breath, slightly constricting the back of the throat while breathing in and out. This produces an audible Darth Vader-like sound which yogis say mimics deep sleep and calms the nervous system. Practice either for three minutes.
Busy people who’d like to take better care of themselves can start with these four quick practices. A few minutes of self-care each day lessen our imbalances so that we have more time to focus on all the other great stuff in life like fulfilling work, meaningful relationships, and enjoying this beautiful world