Shrankhla Holecek on How to Practice Ayurveda at Home
The skin-care guru on her daily detox, marma points, and how your stomach should feel at the end of a meal.
We’re inundated with self-care tips right now, and they all sound tantalizing. I, for one, would be happy to spend hours every day dry brushing, face masking, and meditating myself into a state of oblivion. But we have to be realistic, and even though quarantine has opened up some free hours in the day—theoretically, at least—most of us still don’t have unlimited time with which to do as we please.
Whenever I hear about Ayurveda, though, I’m particularly intrigued. I’ve always found that simple Ayurvedic tools and principles appeal to my practical side: Warm water with lemon in the morning really does make for a pleasant first-thing practice, and light yogic stretching before starting the day is grounding and centering.
So when we got the chance to chat with Shrankhla Holecek, the founder of Ayurvedic skin-care company UMA, we were stoked. We’ve heard that a healthy lymphatic system has never been more important than now, since the lymphatic system protects against infection, and lymphatic drainage is a huge part of the Ayurvedic tradition.
What is Ayurveda?
“Traditionally speaking, Ayurveda is a system of natural medicine that originated in India over 5,000 years ago. Ayurveda has been long revered for its long-lasting results and its focus on curing the root causes of skin and wellness issues rather than merely the symptoms. It’s one of the most ancient systems of natural healing, with an emphasis on detoxification and the mind-body connection. Ayurveda leverages a variety of core components, including use of herbs and natural compounds, yoga, and lifestyle modifications, to prevent and heal modern-day ailments.
“To me, Ayurveda is simply an integrated approach and lifestyle that lays emphasis on the interconnectivity of the mind, body, and environment to deliver the results you seek. It’s truly listening to your body to devise your own health protocols and honoring that your wellness journey looks different from another’s. It’s the emphasis on better sleep for glowing skin and balancing your hormone triggers to battle acne. It is awareness of self, releasing of judgment, and the pursuit of balance. To me, Ayurveda is highly simple and highly intuitive.”
We understand your family has been practicing Ayurveda for over 800 years. Are there any aspects of Ayurveda that feel particularly special to your family?
“Indeed, my family has been the Ayurvedic family physicians to the Indian royal family dating back to the 1200s, which allowed us to create thousands of formulations and truly perfect our craft through the privilege of healing so many individuals over the years.
“I also believe that in our generational practice with Ayurveda, we have a deep understanding and respect for how scientific, fact-driven, and result-based it is, which is why we lead with so much education around its core principles. I feel that it’s a core responsibility to create that foundation of knowledge—and [to] do so in a completely non-commercial fashion—so everyone can learn from and heal from Ayurveda, whether or not they use an UMA product or not. Ayurveda belongs to everyone. I truly believe that we were all born with an Ayurvedic voice inside of us that helps keep our bodies thriving; some of us just have to get in the habit of listening closer.”
We’re fascinated by the concept of the daily routine in Ayurveda. Can you share what yours looks like?
“I’ve learned that the most important aspect about maintaining my Ayurvedic routine is approaching it with a sense of moderation. There are things I practice every day and have grown comfortable with respecting that my schedule only allows for others to happen a few times a week, sometimes even less.
“For example, I do have a quick ‘daily detox’ practice: I always use a tongue cleaner after brushing, start most days with warm water and lemon, and practice a two- to three-minute Abhyanga (Ayurvedic self-massage) before showering. When I have more time, I’m able to add in dry brushing, oil pulling, and sun salutations in the morning.
“I’ve always had a difficult time with traditional meditations, so I practice transcendental meditation, giving myself permission to practice it when I can and not be stressed about times I can’t. Fortunately, I could squeeze in 15 minutes in an Uber ride or an airplane, but I’m able to do more now that I have more time on my hands.
“While my routine responds to expectations from ‘modern’ schedules (like morning meetings or evening drinks), I’ve learned to bring in Ayurvedic practices that are fairly ‘traditional’ (in that their practice has not been altered in any way). I think the balancing act has been more around how many of them I’m able to practice every day—and I’m of the mindset that whether it’s two things or twenty things, all our Ayurvedic practices are sacred and impactful.”
Lymphatic drainage seems to be the trend in skin care of late. Can you talk about how the kansa wand works and how it’s similar to or different from, say, dry brushing or using a gua sha tool on the face and neck?
“Kansa—the Hindi/Sanskrit term for bronze—is derived primarily from copper, a metal very celebrated in Ayurveda for detox and kapha-alleviating properties. Metals are traditionally used in Ayurveda as healers to negate toxicity within organs. Copper is revered in Ayurvedic medicine for helping restore better lymphatic function and drainage (a better-working lymphatic system can help the body naturally detox, preventing many ailments and disease), and you see it used in a wide variety of ways: as a vessel for water storage to enhance the healing abilities of drinking water, or as a wand for better circulation.
“A marma point is effectively an energy center in the body, and marma-point therapy is believed to bring doshas and chakras into balance; marma therapies typically focus on stimulation of a subset of 107 of these marma points based on results you’re trying to achieve, from alleviation of back pain to an all-natural face-lift. Kansa wands are used extensively in marma-point treatments. Within skin-care and beauty rituals in particular, a kansa wand can help enhance the stimulation of marma points in the face, leading to greater stress release and lymphatic detox—which in turn will result in a more rested complexion, a lifted, firmer skin appearance, and fewer inflammations.
“Kansa tools are used within marma chikitsa, and you see them applied either just as therapy, or as part of a broader ritual such as a massage or facial. An expert will use the tool to enhance the application of pressure, or skillful massage, to alleviate the tension in muscles and improve energy flow within marma points. Copper is also a very conductive metal and is a great ‘cofactor’ in the presence of an enzymatic antioxidant to neutralize free-radical damage to the skin. Simply put, a kansa wand will even enhance the function of an antioxidant serum you may be applying to your skin, even outside of its amazing marma-therapy benefits.
“The key differences between a gua sha tool and the wand would be the use of the bronze metal, which has specific properties, and the massage philosophy/technique. [With kansa wands], you’re focusing on different muscle groups. Dry brushing is not recommended on the face, but kansa wands are also used for the body, on specific pressure points.
“I do consider many of these rituals complementary—I personally use all these tools!”
People are a lot more sedentary right now than usual. A healthy lymph system and a healthy digestive system go hand in hand, so do you have any Ayurvedic tips to help people with digestion right now?
“Ayurvedic tradition says that the body’s agni, or gut fire, is responsible for good digestive health. To keep agni strong, Ayurveda recommends a host of things, including incorporating spices in your cooking. Also, chewing your food properly—up to 30 chews per bite of food—is key to good digestion, and the optimum ‘composition’ of the stomach when you’re done with a meal should feel like it’s a third full of air, water, and food each.
“Eating garlic before eating, and a cup of lassi (blend filtered water with about four teaspoons of yogurt with a couple pinches of ginger and a pinch of cumin) after eating can help digestion.
“When you do experience indigestion, here are some tips:
1. “Drink lime juice: Using a fresh lime, squeeze out a quarter of it into a cup of warm water. Add a ½ teaspoon [of] baking soda, and immediately chug it down.”
2. “Roast a teaspoon of fennel and carom seeds together, add a dash of lime juice and rock salt/sea salt, and chew heartily, washing down with a cup of warm water.”
3. “Drink onion juice or eat garlic: Mix 1⁄4 cup of fresh onion juice with a little bit of honey and black pepper or eat a garlic clove. I recommend chopping it up first and adding a little salt and baking soda.”
4. “Yoga: Simple seated poses like Hero (Virasana) or Lotus (Padmasana) are great for digestion. If you want to up the ante, try the Peacock pose, where you balance your body on your elbows with your wrists pointed towards your face and fingers towards your toes.”
We’ve also heard from many people that their skin is acting up in quarantine. Any Ayurvedic skin-care tips you can share with us?
“I believe that the first thing to do to help skin thrive is to bring it back into balance, which helps with both dryness and acne. This is a great time to figure out what your skin’s natural state feels like, and I recommend starting by paring down products and focusing on gentle cleansing and proper exfoliation first and foremost.
“I use a lot of honey, nut powders, powdered chickpeas, [and] oat flour to exfoliate, and I try to mask often, even if it’s for five minutes as I’m stepping into the shower. I have found that these are often my best defenses against breakouts. You can whip up face masks with honey, turmeric, lemon juice, cucumbers—adding in bananas, avocado, or yogurt if your skin is feeling dry. Aloe is another fantastic ingredient for inflamed skin if you can get access to a fresh leaf (side note: they are SO easy to grow at home!).
“Obviously, our skin is showing signs of stress we’re feeling within, so lifestyle is critical to consider. Any rituals you can add in to lower stress levels and improve sleep habits will be vital to improved skin health. Try baths, candles, essential oils, meditation, journaling, reading—whatever helps you balance. Speaking of sleep, I also recommend changing sheets and pillow cases often, as that makes for better sleep and better skin. Finally, also try adding more iron (beets, leafy greens), fresh aloe, and turmeric to improve skin’s natural immunity in this time.”
Are you drinking any particularly balancing teas at home right now that you could share with us?
“I’m doing a fresh ginger-and-basil tea in the afternoons when I’m dragging a little, and I suppose you can call my boiled fennel or barley water a tea of sorts. My tea of indulgence is an Indian tea latte, made by brewing milk or oat milk together with black tea, cardamom, ginger, and a dash of turmeric.”
The doshas are an important concept of Ayurveda. Could you share what they are and tell our readers how they can figure out which dosha they might be?
“In Ayurveda, it is believed that the five elements—earth, fire, water, air, and ether—manifest within the body as doshas. There are three doshas (also known as body types or energies): vata, pitta, and kapha. While most people have a combination of doshas within them, we all have one prominent (sometimes, albeit rarely, two) dosha that makes up our individual constitution. Knowing your prominent dosha is key to treating your body and well-being most effectively. Any ailment you may have, whether it is a stomach ache or stress, can be explained by dosha imbalance. Ayurvedic practices can thus be used to treat an imbalance in doshas.
“I should re-emphasize that we all have a small bit of each dosha within our bodies. So even though one is more likely to experience an imbalance in one’s predominant dosha—a pitta type is likely to have pitta-imbalance issues—one can also experience an imbalance in one of the other two doshas. Imbalances within non-predominant doshas can sometimes happen due to external triggers such as changing seasons.
“For instance, although kapha types are more susceptible to depression in the winter, many vata and pitta types can also experience it. I mention this because while online quizzes and dosha guidelines can point you quite capably in the direction of your dosha, sometimes you can perceive yourself to be presenting as the dosha type that might be in imbalance rather than your true dosha. However, in there is an important lesson about Ayurveda: You cannot always have quick, objective answers, and your life must be treated as a journey. To truly understand your dosha, take the quizzes and the guidance at different periods of your life, and also consider what your ‘true’ nature feels like.”
“With that caveat, here’s my general guidance on understanding doshas:
“Vata types tend to be very creative spirits—they are often lively, enthusiastic, and often restless or anxious when they find themselves out of balance (vatas have the most trouble sleeping soundly). Vata skin tends to be dry, thin, and often rough, while hair is brittle and frizzy. Cool and often thin to the touch, Vata-type skin is especially vulnerable to excessive dryness, flakiness, even eczema during times of stress.
“Pitta-dominant people can have controlling personality traits, but they are also often ambitious, courageous, and witty. Pitta types tend to be fiery and of medium build. Pitta skin tends to be smooth, oily, and warm and sensitive (especially in the sun). Pitta skin is typically soft, oily, fair to pale with a warm complexion. When experiencing an imbalance, this medium-thick type of skin is more prone to rashes, acne, and sores. Pitta skin is also often very sensitive, so it is important to protect it from both environmental toxins and sun exposure.
“Those with a kapha-dominant dosha generally possess a calm energy, but are often slow to accept change. They are caring and thoughtful, but their feelings are often hurt easily. Taller and with more of a muscular build, Kapha types are often well regarded for their natural leadership abilities. Kaphas [are also prone] to weight gain and depression when out of balance. Kapha skin is thick, oily, often pale, and prone to blemishes.”
For most people interested in Ayurveda, they won’t change their lifestyle completely to adopt an Ayurvedic lifestyle, but they might pick up a few Ayurvedic principles to incorporate daily. If someone does just three things, what would you suggest they be?
“It’s funny how many of us are practicing Ayurveda without knowing it, like the tongue cleaning or warm lemon water in the mornings [as] I mentioned earlier. I like those two for their simplicity and impact and will throw in nightly foot massages with oil as a great ritual for better sleep. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a thoughtful diet is the cornerstone of Ayurveda. As much as possible, eating fresh, seasonally, and for your dosha is the best way to stay healthy.”
Photos: Courtesy of Shrankhla Holecek
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