In India, bathing represents a cleansing not only of the physical body but also of the spiritual self. Many purification rituals are associated with bathing; it is believed that ritual bathing in the waters of the Ganges River will purify the soul. In the simple ayurvedic context, a bath taken in the morning following self-massage is likened to bathing in the Ganges.
In addition to cleansing body and spirit, bathing is also associated with numerous other benefits to the mind and body. The Ashtanga Hridayam, one of the ancient ayurvedic texts, tells us that bathing improves sleep, appetite, sexual vigor, life span, and enthusiasm. The royal queens and princesses in ancient India were bathed in milk and fresh herbs to moisturize their skin until it glowed. To this day in India, special ingredients are stirred into a hot bath to customize it for dosha, time of year, or other considerations. For example, in the north, mustard is added to bath water in the winter months for a warm dip that balances kapha dosha, which can become aggravated in the late winter and early spring.
The Ashtanga Hridayam, one of the ancient ayurvedic texts, tells us that bathing improves sleep, appetite, sexual vigor, life span, and enthusiasm.
Bathing rituals are also believed to significantly impact health, especially over the long term. For example, warm water is believed to strengthen the body, while the face and head should be rinsed in cool water, as this is the area that naturally releases heat. Applying hot water to the head is believed to disturb the release of heat from the crown, thereby weakening the hair roots and encouraging emotional irritability and “hot-headedness.” So while you can relax in a warm shower or bath, remember to wash your hair and face with cool water. Try the recipe for your dosha for a balancing herbal cleansing bath. Remember that you can use the bath recipe for your dosha, or the one appropriate to any imbalance you are feeling. The mixtures can also be made with a little water or ground into a paste for use as a shower scrub.
milk & rice water bath
The tradition of bathing in milk was begun by queens and noblewomen in ancient India. Milk contains proteins that are vital for nourishing the skin, and rice starch softens the skin and relieves stress. In a bowl, mix 1 cup powdered milk with 1 cup rice starch. Stir in 2 tablespoons of rose water for fragrance and softness. Dissolve the paste in your bath.
fresh herb & flower bath
An herb and flower bath is perfect for soothing easily irritated pitta. You will be naturally perfumed with the fragrance of a Vedic garden. This is especially good in summertime, when pitta influence is at its peak. Add 1/2 cup marigold, rose, or jasmine flower petals and a handful of cooling fresh herbs such as mint or coriander to your bathwater. Adding a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice or white vinegar will help balance excess oil and get rid of blemishes.
mustard & fenugreek bath
This combination of herbs is traditional in the cold winter and winter monsoon season of the Punjab region. Use year-round, but especially during the late winter and through spring, when kapha influence is at its peak. Add 3 tablespoonfuls ground mustard and 1 tablespoon fenugreek powder to your bath.
From the book: Inner Beauty by Reenita Malhotra Hora, ©2005. Used with permission of Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco, CA; visit us at www.ChronicleBooks.com.