Family Ayurveda: Self-Care for the Five Senses

If you’re raising health-conscious kids, why not get them started early with a daily Ayurvedic routine? That includes caring for the five senses.

The senses are our doorways to the world around us (and inside us). According to Ayurveda, if your senses of taste and smell are stronger, your eyesight is sharper, your hearing is more refined, and your sense of touch is heightened, you can experience all the pleasures of being in a human body with greater presence and clarity.

Kripalu Yoga teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner Sarajean Rudman says that when we cleanse and care for our senses on a daily basis, we also reduce stress, boost our immunity, and experience greater overall well-being. And both parents and children can reap these benefits, especially given the workout our senses get in our high-tech society.

The Ayurvedic morning routine that Sarajean outlines below offers simple ways to care for for the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. Parents can get creative and teach their children these practices in individualized, age-appropriate ways, while older siblings can help younger kids through the routine until they’re old enough to do it themselves. “This routine will keep everyone in your family healthy and calm in an overstimulating world,” Sarajean says.

Eye Care: A Cool Water or Rosewater Spritz

According to Ayurveda, the eyes are a seat of pitta, so they’re prone to inflammation—especially for parents and kids who spend a lot of time on screens. A bit of cool water or rosewater keeps the eyes cool and refreshed.

How to do it: Simply splash some cool water directly into your eyes or squirt a few spritzes of pure rosewater into them. Blink a few times, and enjoy the cooling sensation.

Tongue Care: Scrape Your Tongue

As Sarajean explains, “The tongue expresses the waste products of the body.” She recommends a practice of tongue scraping every morning in order to remove the ama (subtle toxic residue) that has accumulated overnight. When you introduce this practice to your family, you can explain that you’ll all be stimulating your digestion, which starts at the tongue. This practice also reduces bad breath, mitigates unhealthy food cravings, and helps everyone taste their food better, Sarajean says.

How to do it: First thing in the morning, before you drink water or brush your teeth, scrape your tongue with an Ayurvedic tongue scraper or a metal spoon, suggests Sarajean. The Kripalu School of Ayurveda's Academic Coordinator, Lauren Gernady, offers offers detailed instructions.

Ear Care: Oil Your Ears

Applying a few drops of oil into the ears can lubricate any accumulated wax so that it doesn’t affect your hearing, says Sarajean.

How to do it: Lie down on your left side, put a few drops of oil into your right ear, and rest for a few minutes to let it seep in. Then roll over to your right side, put a few drops in your left ear, and rest again briefly before getting up. (Kids will need some help with this, obviously.)

Nose Care: Neti Wash and Nasya

Neti wash and nasya are companion practices that cleanse and lubricate the nasal passages. As a result, they work together to prevent and/or remove congestion; prevent and/or ameliorate sore throats, sinus infections, and seasonal allergies; and promote mental clarity. These practices also increase your sense of smell and help everyone in your family breathe easier, says Sarajean. 

How to do it: Fill a neti pot with lukewarm distilled water and add a pinch of sea salt. Bring to sink. Tilt your head over the sink and place the spout into one nostril, breathing out of your mouth. Allow the water to flow into that nostril and out the other nostril. Repeat on the other side. Blow your nose if necessary and gargle with a little saltwater. This one's better for older kids as it takes some skill and finesse!

Then, wait for at least an hour before you lubricate your nasal passages with nasya oil, says Sarajean. She recommends using coconut oil in the warmer months and sesame oil in the colder months. Another option is to use try an herbally infused oil from Banyan Botanicals, which sells essential oils such as eucalyptus to open up the nasal passages. (This oil is contraindicated during pregnancy, however, Sarajean cautions).

To do nasya, place some oil on your pinkie finger and apply it in one nostril, or administer the oil with a dropper or a squirt bottle. Recline your head slightly back and sniff the oil up into your nose—ideally   until you feel it drip into the back of your throat. Repeat on the other side.

Skin Care: Ayurvedic Oil Massage

Here’s some food for thought: Sneha, the Sanskrit word for “oil,” is also the word for “love.” “So abhyanga,” or Ayurvedic oil massage, “is self-love at its best,” Sarajean says. When families commit to doing this practice first thing in the morning, she adds, “it will help everyone feel more grounded, settled, and focused for the day.” Abhyanga is particularly helpful for children and adults with anxiety, depression, and ADD/ADHD, she says. (Note that some strokes are contraindicated in pregnancy and for chemotherapy patients.)

Sarajean says that parents can give massage babies and young children, and kids can start doing abhyanga themselves when they’re three or four.

How to do it: Choose an oil blended especially for your constitution (vata, pitta or kapha) or get a good organic cold-pressed base oil—sesame for vata and kapha, coconut or sunflower for pitta. Keep your oil in a bottle or jar in your bathroom. You can warm it if you like by soaking in warm water in the sink, or apply at room temperature.

Begin at the feet, making circular motions around the joints and up-and-down strokes on the long bones and torso. You can also apply the oil to your scalp if you intend to wash your hair. Once it’s applied, let it stay on for [at least] a few minutes before you get into the shower or tub.

Once in the warm water, don’t soap off the oil—allow the warmth of the shower to drive it into your skin. You can soap and wash your hair, and just pat dry with a towel when you get out.

Find out about Ayurveda programs and trainings at Kripalu.