Balance may be a myth, but the stress we’re putting on our bodies is real.
Last year, I shared the beginning of my switch to natural beauty products with you. The switch was motivated by a desire to incorporate my values around sustainability and health into what I put on my skin. Yet it also coincided with my own search to find new daily self-care rituals for myself, especially at the end of a long workday. And that latter part is because I’ve realized that I have been putting myself under so much stress, that the stress is starting to show up as very real physical health issues.
From the unusual pain in my neck that I’ve had since last August to the feeling of being unable to go any further as I’m rushing the six blocks to the subway in the morning, my health issues have been seemingly inexplicable. My doctor tells me I’m perfectly healthy. And admittedly, every time I go to a doctor and tell her what’s wrong, I follow up any description of the problem with “but I think it is just stress related.”
Well, at this point, most choices I’m making about how I live my life are “stress related.”
Before doing a total life overall, I’ve started to get curious about what balance means for me right now.
Ayurveda, an ancient system of healing founded in India, offers a totally different perspective on balance. Ayurveda is about “learning how intimately your body and mind are connected, knowing what will make them work in harmony, and doing what you can to create that harmony.”* It sees balance not as an end goal – you cannot achieve it once and then always have it – but instead as a constant process of listening to our bodies and responding to its needs through the activities we choose to do, the food we choose to eat, and the lifestyle we choose to lead. Balance, in Ayurveda, looks different for each one of us and differs based on our age, the season and even the time of day.
Inspired and intrigued by this different perspective on balance, I tumbled down the Ayurveda rabbit hole. Here’s why I think I might stay for awhile.
After a few initial attempts to learn about Ayurveda (a dense confusing book and a few online dosha quizzes), I serendipitously ended up in class at the yoga studio I attend occasionally with the resident Ayurveda teacher who had just returned from India. Taking it as a sign but too intimidated by my total ignorance to ask her where to start, I picked up the book Essential Ayurveda by Shubhra Krishnan in the studio’s lobby, assuming that the teacher had likely picked out this book anyway. And lucky for me, it was the perfect introductory book and was such a good read that I almost missed my train stop on multiple occasions.
Since Ayurveda is a holistic healing system that relies on whole foods as “medicine,” the focus is truly on what we are putting into our bodies as nourishment, which obviously reflects in our outer beauty. When we’re functioning well on the inside, the outside glow is a natural side effect. But there are quite a lot of Ayurvedic daily “beauty” rituals – just consider oil pulling or dry skin brushing. My curiosity around how Ayurveda translates to skincare led me to Pratima Spa and Skincare, based in NYC.
As a birthday treat for myself, I tried the Ayurvedic facial, and my amazing esthetician Heidi (after I admitted I was intimidated by the products) walked me through where to start. I’ve been using the Pitta face oil twice daily after cleansing and before I add a little moisturizer on top. I’ve also been massaging post-shower with the Vata body oil, which is really lovely. If I had based my purchase on scent alone, I wouldn’t have picked these, but given how happy my skin is, I plan to stick with both. If you’re curious, you can pick up Pratima’s book Absolute Beauty (though I don’t recommend it as an introductory book) and take her dosha skincare quiz to find your dosha type and the right products for you.
And after all of this, I am still so hungry for more knowledge. It’s been really interesting also to see how it fits in with my regular yoga practice and (mostly) healthful diet.
So what does balance look like for me right now? Well, it looks like 10 minutes with the Headspace meditation app while I ride the train to work, going to bed earlier than I would like (old habits die hard!), and letting myself get up from my desk and take a break without feeling guilty for not looking busy. It looks like really luxurious evening rituals like a steamy shower followed by thoughtfully applying body oil to soothe the aches and pains. It looks like reaching for a glass of water or a cup of herbal tea instead of a caffeinated beverage. And it also looks like experimenting with new and delicious recipes that warm me from the inside out.
And most of all, it means acknowledging that only I know what my body feels like when it is in balance, and trusting my gut (rather than a perfectly normal blood test) when it says that it’s time to make some changes. Balance is not achieved in one day, but then again, it didn’t take just one day to reach this state of imbalance. But a very good place to start the healing process is simply to redefine our idea of balance to allow for constant change and even imperfection.
So tell me, what rituals keep you in balance? What are your best tips for letting go of stress?