Ayurveda is a practical and logical approach to living in harmony with the elements of nature. This knowledge and practice can be a wonderful tool to assist us with our self-care.
The job of a massage therapist is not always easy. It requires a great deal of physical and emotional stamina due to the nature of working so closely with clients. In fact, a quick search online will turn up plenty of articles on injury and burnout in our industry.
So, what is the difference between the practitioner who has been working for 15-plus years and the one who has stopped practicing two years after getting licensed? Could it simply be a matter of taking the steps toward cultivating more self-compassion, and knowing when and how to rest?
Our job is to help our clients understand and experience the body-mind-spirit connection. What if we utilized our own medicine, including mindfulness and tools of the trade to help ourselves in addition to assisting others? Let’s explore this further.
Elements of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is the ancient system of medicine that originated in India over 5,000 years ago. Literally translated, Ayur (life) and veda (knowledge) means science, or knowledge of life. Thus, Ayurveda is a practical and logical approach to living in harmony with the elements of nature. This knowledge and practice can be a wonderful tool to assist us with our self-care. It is truly a holistic medicine, integrating body, mind and spirit.
Deeply embedded in Ayurvedic theory and practice is the idea of the various states of energy that are within everything, including earth (solid), water (fluid), fire (transformation), air (gases) and ether (space). One of the major goals of Ayurveda is to understand the nature of the elements and maintain their harmonious interactions in order to restore or maintain optimal health.
Most of us have used essential oils and hot-stone massage in our practice. While they are both wonderful options for client care, they can also be invaluable tools for easy self-care techniques, helping restore the spectrum of body, mind and spirit in relationship to the elements. (Remember to use essential oils wisely, never ingest them, and take care to fully understand and know each essential oil before using it on your skin.)
Traditionally, Ayurveda teaches dinacharya, which translates to the daily routine, and is usually broken down to a daily set of traditional practices and techniques for balance. While stones are not necessarily used as traditional dinacharya methods, you can develop your own daily or weekly plan based on these basic ideas.
Let’s take a look at each element along with some techniques you can try when you’re feeling a need to balance and take a moment for yourself.
Element #1: Earth. Out of the five Ayurvedic elements, earth is the most dense. Some things that might come to mind when thinking of the earth element are heavy, stable, slow-moving or nurturing. If you’ve ever felt as if your mind is racing or you feel spacey, or if you’ve been moving too quickly and need to slow down, you might benefit from the grounding qualities of the earth element.
Earth element self-care technique: You’ll need two medium-sized smooth stones, and a grounding essential oil of your choice. I prefer a sustainably sourced sandalwood for this, but frankincense or patchouli will work nicely. (All of these can be used safely without dilution, but be sure to research and follow specific guidelines when using essential oils.)
1. Find a seat and take off your shoes.
2. Apply one drop of essential oil to your left palm. Rub palms together, then apply in a circular motion to the soles of both feet.
3. Place room temperature or slightly warm stones on the floor in front of you, then place feet on stones, allowing the arch of the stone to follow the plantar surface.
4. Place palms on knees and draw your attention to the connection of your feet with the stones, and the stones with Earth. Notice how the stones feel against your feet and allow yourself to rest in the moment, closing your eyes and maintaining the connection with the stones until you feel grounded and your mind is calm.
Element #2: Water. The element of water is, of course, fluid. It’s also calming and smooth and moistening. Hydrotherapy is used in every culture for healing, and water is used in most spiritual practices, such as baptism, ritual/spiritual bathing, or drinking. If you’re feeling dried out, as if you have given too much, or if you need a bit of nourishment, water is one of the best medicines to help balance your body-mind and spirit.
Water element self-care technique: You’ll need a washcloth, a medium-sized bowl, water, two small stones and a good quality, pure lavender essential oil. This self-care treatment can be done in your treatment room between clients. Find a quiet place to lie down for a few minutes, even if it’s on a floor with a blanket.
1. Fill the bowl with warm water.
2. Place a drop of lavender essential oil into the bowl and stir to disperse oil in water.
3. Place stones on the floor on either side of your body.
4. Wet the washcloth with the lavender water, wring it out and lay it across your forehead, lying down on your back.
5. Pick up one stone in each hand and place on temples, slowly moving them in circular movements until the water becomes cool.
While the treatment above is great to rejuvenate and nourish yourself during a long day, you can incorporate this into a bath to help bring in your water element. If you wish to add essential oils to your bath, drop the oils into a half cup of Epsom salt before adding to the water, and stir so it will disperse evenly. As you soak, gently massage your temples with the small stones.
Element #3: Fire. Fire is the transformative nature within us. It is hot, sharp and bright. We might need more fire if we have a lack of passion or motivation, if we feel tired or lethargic after a long day of giving treatments, or if we simply need a change of scenery.
We use the element of fire as a tool in massage therapy since warmth has the ability to change the tissue, allowing it to soften. Using heated stones on yourself can help bring in the transformative properties of the fire element while helping ease potential hand and wrist pain.
Fire element self-care technique: You’ll need two palm-sized heated stones, and six drops of pine, spruce or juniper essential oil diluted in an ounce of your favorite unscented massage oil or lotion.
1. Sit comfortably at a table or a desk.
2. Mindfully massage oil or lotion into your hands, paying special attention to wrists and thenar area.
3. Stretch extensors by straightening your arm, extending your wrist, and gently pulling your fingers back. Allow time for fascia to release and deeper tissues to move into the stretch. Repeat on other side, then stretch flexors by placing opposite hand on back of hand and slightly stretching.
4. Place your left hand straight out, palm up. Place a warm stone over the flexor retinaculum area and gently press with your right hand, allowing the warmth and pressure of the stone to help release the underlying tissues.
5. Place palm face down and glide a warm stone over your posterior forearm.
6. Repeat on right side with other stone.
Element #4: Air. Consider an autumn day. The leaves are dry beneath your feet and the wind is blowing steadily. There is a coolness in the air. These qualities are a good example of the dry, light, mobile air element. Controlled breathing can bring our awareness to the element of air and can integrate the mind and body while rejuvenating the spirit. The following technique can be done almost anywhere and can make a big difference in the way you feel throughout the day.
Air element self-care technique: You’ll need a quiet place to sit and one large stone.
1. Sit comfortably on a chair or on a cushion on the floor and place the stone within reach.
2. Gently close your eyes and draw your attention to your breath, noticing its quality. Is it moving quickly or slowly? Is it deep or shallow?
3. Now move your attention to your nose and area just below your nostrils, noticing the coolness of the breath as you exhale and inhale. Continue to breathe and just notice.
4. Next, take the large stone into your hand and place it on your lower abdomen. Inhale deeply into your belly through the nose, allowing your abdomen to rise on the inhale.
5. As you exhale, follow the breath with your hand on the belly stone, gently pressing inward. Continue to breathe mindfully. The stone will help bring your attention to your belly and how it rises and falls with the breath.
Element #5: Ether. Of all elements, ether is the most subtle of all elements as it relates to space and emptiness. A good way to consider ether is to think about the space between things, the space between breaths, the space between the notes in a song, and the actual space you are in at this time, surrounding your body. Sound and vibration are also related to the ether element.
If you are feeling a sense of monotony during your day, if you sense you have been stuck in a rut, or if you are craving more spirituality in your life, consider bringing some of the qualities of the ether element into your life. Here’s a short technique that can help.
Ether element self-care technique: You’ll need a music source, an essential oil diffuser or spritz, and essential oil of your choice.
1. Prepare the diffuser with your favorite essential oil.
2. Turn on your favorite music.
3. Stand and raise your arms overhead, stretching from left to right, slowly, opening up the ribcage and breathing through your abdomen.
4. Close your eyes with your hands to your side and give yourself a few moments to really listen to the song that’s playing. Notice the percussion, the quality of the voice, and the rhythm of the space between the notes. Feel the vibration of the lows and highs of the music.
5. Take a breath in and experience the scent of the essential oil coming from the diffuser or spritz. Consider the lightness of the tiny molecules from the essential oils releasing into the air.
6. Reach your arms overhead again, then bend forward at the waist while exhaling, touching your toes (bend your knees if it feels good). Inhale and come back to a standing position. Repeat.
About the Author:
Jeannie Faulkner is a licensed massage therapist, certified Ayurveda therapist and registered yoga teacher. She holds a master’s degree in education and offers classes and workshops in Ayurvedic Bodywork and Spa Therapies and Botanical Bodywork for massage therapists.