What Is Ayurveda, and Why Is It Trending So Big Right Now?

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If you’re of Indian descent, or you call yourself a yogi, you probably know Ayurveda, and you may even live by its principles. But for those who aren’t well-versed in this ancient form of Eastern medicine, here’s everything to know, according to experts. “Ayurveda has been around for thousands of years and it’s so much more than a ‘hot trend,'” says Tracy Adkins, founder of Ayurveda skin-care brand Jivana. “It’s the epitome of a tried-and-true practice, and the classic texts, the vedas, are still used today, including recipes and treatment protocols.”

Recently, Adkins adds, “this ancient modality has been slowly making its way from East to West, and I believe it’s been happening because people are gravitating towards more natural forms of health care, preventive medicine and mind-body-spirit approaches to staying well. Ayurveda provides all of this, empowering individuals to be in complete control of their own well-being.”  

What is Ayurveda?

“Ayurveda is wonderful and comprehensive system of holistic medicine developed 10,000 years ago by the Tamil Siddha yogis in the South of India,” says Martha Soffer, internationally acclaimed Ayurvedic Panchakarma expert and founder of Surya Spa. “Their goal was to extend and revitalize their lives and to give them the greatest chance for enlightenment. Ayurveda translates to ‘the wisdom of natural life’ and is built upon the idea that each person is made of a particular blend of three energies, or doshas: vata, pitta and kapha.” Adkins says we all have each dosha in us, but in varying quantities. “Ayurveda helps us reestablish our innate connection to the healing powers of the natural world.” 

In India, more than 90 percent of Indians use Ayurveda in some form in their everyday life, says Divya Viswanathan, cofounder of Taza Ayurveda, a wellness brand focusing on supplements. “Ayurveda is the ‘Knowledge of Life’: a bio-qualitative system that observes qualities of all energy/matter—same/same—and how these qualities interact with one another. It has a 6,000-year-old legacy and has stood the test of time. It helps you live life to your fullest.”

“Ayurveda is based on the art of living in balance with the natural world and within the natural rhythms of our own beings,” explains Adkins. “The emphasis of an Ayurvedic lifestyle is prevention. If we were to look closely at the majority of health issues, we could trace the root cause of most illnesses to an imbalance in diet and lifestyle. These disease-causing factors are mainly environmental, dietary, related to poor work and sleeping habits, stress, or lack of or the wrong types of exercise. So, many of us have simply stepped out of balance from our natural cycles.”  

“Ayurveda professes that our innate state of health can only be maintained,” Adkins continues. “If we understand the factors that lead us into a state of imbalance, whether it be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, then we are able to take control of our own health and prevent illness. By embracing our natural state of balance, we will always look our best with clear and radiant skin and full and vibrant hair. That state of balance also manifests itself in the way we feel: being mentally stable, with our sleep coming swiftly and being sound and undisturbed, and our physical health being free of disease and hardship.” 

The Wellness Benefits of Ayurveda

Though it’s “trending” right now, those with deep roots in Ayurveda see it as anything but. “I think the big momentum started when turmeric—an Ayurvedic herb—that was little-known in the West, or known for its curry coloring, was studied in a double-blind clinical study on humans,” says Viswanathan. “Curcumin, the key bioactive phytochemical present in turmeric, was clinically proven as an anti-inflammatory agent and is one of the most studied ingredients for cancer and immunological disease. This started the trend of publications covering turmeric and turmeric lattes becoming a trend, which naturally transitioned into beauty and Ayurveda. Following suit, similar studies have been done for ashwagandha and amla with great results, starting the buzz on Ayurveda in the West. Lastly, people see the results and come back, which results in successful brands in the space.”  

Soffer explains that another big wellness benefit of Ayurveda is that “rather than focusing on surface-level symptoms, it seeks to rebalance, and so heal, the root cause of discomfort, and disease, even before those problems manifest. At Surya, in advance of any treatment or product discussion, we ask our all our guests one question: ‘Do you feel that you need to be calmed, cooled or energized?” This allows us to work to rebalance to whichever dosha might need it: too much wind and motion, we calm; too much heat, we cool; and too much solidity, we energize. In meeting each unique guest where they are, we’re able to offer even just a single experience that allows for extensive and lasting benefits, bringing the system back to its natural, balanced state.”

“More than ever, people are feeling the need for a greater sense of well-being,” Soffer adds. “Ayurveda’s ancient framework—inspiring physical, emotional and spiritual healing by reconnecting to the natural world—is so suited to answer this call. Ayurveda helps us heal, helps us heal ourselves, and with that, goes further, helping us heal each other. And that’s a great step into helping heal the world in which we all find ourselves. Ayurveda’s focus is on simple daily rituals—practices such as dry brushing, tongue scraping and self-abhyanga—that are accessible to everyone, enjoyable to do, and offer quick and lasting results.”

The Skin-Care Benefits of Ayurveda

There are surface-level benefits though, too, specifically when it comes to skin care. This is largely due to the efficacy of Ayurvedic ingredients, such as turmeric, ashwagandha, amla, neem and many more. Michelle Ranavat, founder of skin-care brand RANAVAT, started her brand with the desire to “create a space and awareness for the benefits of incredible Ayurvedic ingredients like saffron, manjistha and amla. With its focus on both holistic and science-based approaches, Ayurveda is a unique discipline that seems to fit into today’s conversation. We’re seeing an increased interest in exploring the connection between inner and outer beauty, and the quest to minimize the impact of stress we’ve collectively experienced these past few years.”

Adkins says the holistic and ritualistic elements of Ayurvedic skin care are also a big draw. “Consumers today prefer personalized over mass-produced. They are educated and savvy and not only want clean, plant-based and effective products, but they also want to be immersed in an experience. Life can be busy, frenzied and overscheduled—nothing like it was 5,000 years ago. Our beauty and skin-care routines have become a place where we want and are able to take a mini refuge from the daily grind, while at the same time know we are effectively caring for our skin in a clean, healthy way. For Jivana products, we used organic botanicals sourced from a family-owned farm in India and blended them into custom formulas that address specific skin types associated with each dosha. We supplemented them with carefully selected modern actives to create more powerful and distinctive formulas.”

“Another big part of Ayurveda is the ‘how,’ not the ‘what,'” Ranavat says. “For example, our Saffron Serum is manufactured in copper vessels hand stirred in the traditional method. This is very important to the overall authenticity and efficacy of the product. As a modern brand, I wanted to leverage my background as an engineer and scientist. While we knew that Ayurvedic ingredients and formulas work, we went an extra step and carried out clinical studies across the line. The modern consumer wants to feel good while indulging in the ritual, but they also need to have proof the products and formulas work. Ayurveda does both of these things incredibly well!”

How to Tell If Ayurvedic Ingredients Are Legit

“Make sure the ingredients in the product you’re using are true to Ayurveda,” advises Viswanathan. “For example, if a herb or fruit is not grown or found in India, it is very unlikely that this will be in an Ayurvedic formulation.” How the ingredients are combined matters, too. “This is trickier, as Ayurveda is not just about the ingredients, but how they are combined based on their properties,” she explains. “Turmeric’s heating nature enables it to have a mobilizing and cleansing energy, which is great, but if consumed in excess or mixed with other heating herbs/foods, it can aggravate pitta doshas, causing excess heat and resulting in breakouts, etc.”

“Products formulated using classical Ayurvedic formulations prescribed in medicinal Ayurveda/Ayurvedic texts are a plus,” Viswanathan adds. “Because Ayurveda is an official form of medicine in India, it is highly regulated by AYUSH, the Ministry of Ayurveda and Yoga. We manufacture our Taza Ayurveda supplements in compliance with AYUSH, making them both 100-percent authentic Ayurveda—the original formulations prescribed in certified Ayurvedic texts. These formulations have been approved by the Ayurvedic Medical board. We are the only brand that currently meets this standard in the U.S.”

Adkins adds that “true Ayurvedic products will have authentic Ayurvedic herbs or botanical extracts boldly and proudly displayed. These traditional ingredients should be one of the first few ingredients listed, which means that their concentration in the formula is significant and contributes to the overall product efficacy.”

The Biggest Misconceptions About Ayurveda

Considering how all-encompassing Ayurveda is, Soffer says it’s easy to become overwhelmed. “There can be a misunderstanding that to experience its benefits, you have to radically change your life and enter a life-long study on a deep and obscure practice. Nothing could be further from the truth!” she says. “The beauty of Ayurveda is that it’s completely accessible. If you want to start with some simple diet changes or daily rituals, or meditation, therapies, movement, Ayurveda can meet you wherever you are, and add something wonderful, healing and transformative to your life.”

Adkins agrees, saying she often hears that Ayurveda “is really complicated. While studying Ayurveda requires time and discipline, bringing Ayurveda into your life shouldn’t feel like a chore.” 

Another big misconception, according to Ranavat, is that because Ayurveda is an old science, it is not relevant in today’s world. “I think it’s actually the opposite,” she says. “As a time-tested and proven science, Ayurveda gives us a breadth of knowledge into how ingredients can be used in preventive skin-care treatments, treating the skin holistically rather than reactively.”

How Ayurvedic Supplements Can Help, Too

“From the perspective of Ayurveda, true beauty starts on the inside,” says Soffer. “Therefore, an Ayurvedic lifestyle/diet will surely elevate the benefits of Ayurvedic skin-care products, but the products themself are a good part of an Ayurvedic lifestyle—they’re healing botanicals that nourish and restore on the most profound level, and with results both deep and skin-centric. They’re like treatments in themselves!”

Viswanathan’s line of supplements can help address the root cause of your symptoms. “For example, if you’re bloated and have inflammation in your gut, our Mindful Gut Health for Optimal Digestion helps reduce this inflammation,” she explains. “Depending on the severity of your symptoms, results can be seen in as early as two days, but we ask you to at least take it for two weeks regularly to experience significant results.” 

A Word of Advice for Ayurveda ‘Beginners’

But, it’s not realistic to think everyone will one day throw out all their existing products and lifestyle habits and go full-on Ayurveda. With any big shift, like going vegan or gluten-free, it’s best to ease in. “One of my favorite mantras, and I use it all the time with my kids is: ‘How you do anything is how you do everything,'” says Adkins. “Ayurveda is a system that encompasses the mind-body-spirit approach. You get out of it what you put into it, so most definitely, the more you practice it—in terms of diet, lifestyle, stress management, proper exercise, to name a few—the more you will benefit from it.”

However, Adkins says she’s also an absolute realist. “Ayurveda was developed at a time when people naturally adjusted their schedules to the rising and setting of the sun, not late night television or work deadlines. They consumed the food that grew on their land seasonally; not according to the weekly specials at the supermarket or what they could order from a takeout menu. What worked hundreds of years ago isn’t practical today, so it’s important to find Ayurvedic practices that will work with your individual lifestyle and won’t stress you out, as stress will negate your best efforts. Ayurveda is all about balance. Try a few things and see how it goes: maybe drinking a large glass of warm lemon water every morning, or adjusting your sleep/wake schedule. While eating and exercising for your dosha will deliver the best outcome for your skin, mental health and overall physical well-being, you can still reap benefits from using skin-care products on their own. Do you.”

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