Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ayurvedic 101 No. 1

Ayurvedic Hair Care compiled by Shell

Indians believe that the health of the hair, skin, and nails indicates the health of the person, and that someone with unhealthy hair needs to manage their diet better. Specifically they lack protein (Indians generally recommend milk protein to remedy this--especially yogurt), and fruits and vegetables. The ideal exercise according to Ayurvedic practitioners is walking.

Traditional Indian health theory involves balancing the various body types (dosha), of which there are three general types. This involves diet, exercise, lifestyle, and in some cases herbal treatments. For more information on Ayurvedic theory you may want to read ''Essential Ayurveda'' by Shubhra Krishan or ''The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies'' by Vasant Lad. Both of these books explain the theory of the doshas and recommend lifestyle choices to maximize health.

Most herbs used in Indian hair and skin care (yes many of the herbs below are also good for your skin!) are good for everyone, regardless of dosha. If you have particular problems or concerns, you may want to contact an Ayurvedic practitioner for a professional consultation.

Generally using herbs for healthy hair maintenance involves some kind of oiling (see below) and an herbal wash. You may also add an herbal rinse. The wash and rinse can be one mixture, or used separately, but together they should contain at least one cleansing agent (such as shikakai or aritha/reetha and one conditioning agent such as amla). Some Indians also use rice starch as a type of natural emulsifier to bind the herb powders together and make them easier to apply and rinse out.

Indian women tend to oil their hair daily or every other day, and to wear their hair in a single braid or a bun. Very rarely do they wear their hair down.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

"How do I get rid of the bits of herbs in my hair?"
There are a few standard methods to remove excess herb debris that is left after rinsing:
1) Strain the herbs so there isn't much left to remove
2) Use lots of conditioner
3) Soak hair in a bucket, filled sink or mermaid soak in a bath tub
4) After hair dries, brush out or shake out the excess herb bits. You can hold your ends and shake your hair to get out the bits. It works pretty well.

"Will Indian herbs darken my hair?"
In general, most people do not experience darkening when using Indian herbs. Factors that can increase the possibility of herbs darkening include leaving on the herbs for a long period of time and cooking herbs for extended amounts of time before application. People with light-colored hair are more likely to notice a color change, so strand testing is advised. You many find that oiling makes your hair darker, or redder. Oiling may also increase drying time.

"Where can I buy Indian herbs?"
Indian groceries are typically the least expensive place to buy Indian herbs, although the age of the stock widely varies from store to store. You can locate the Indian grocery closest to you by checking phone listings under ethnic groceries. Bulk herb and organic/natural food groceries sometimes carry herbs like hibiscus and fenugreek in their tea sections. Indian herbs are also available via the Internet.

"How much oil should I apply to my hair before washing with Indian herbs?"
It is usually helpful to start off with small amounts of oil and work toward an optimal amount. A light oiling can consist of a thumbnail-sized amount or less of coconut oil or 1/2 tsp. or less of a liquid oil. Giving the oil time to soak in before washing can help ensure a thorough removal by the herbs.

"Can I rotate Indian herbs with other methods?"
Yes, of course you can. If you like, you can use Indian herbs as your only method, along with other products, or just as an occasional deep treatment.

Certain herbs and oils in Indian culture are given the "absolute power" status: Oils: Coconut oil, mustard oil, castor oil, Amla oil,Neem oil and Sesame oil.
Herbs: Amla, Hibiscus, Tulsi, Neem, Bhringaraj, Brahmi, Fenugreek.

I just want to *stress* on three, over and above what you have mentioned:

Castor oil: Not very popular due to its massive stickiness and viscosity outside India (because I have seen only Indians (in India) being comfortable with having their hair as oil slicks. They just bun their massively oily hair, put some flower strands in it and are as happy as can be), but it is a very powerful carrier oil. Said to promote hair growth, fight dryness and dandruff and prevent greying.

Neem: Truly a tree to be revered. I cannot profess enough about the goodness of this tree. It is a medicinal oil and helps fight hair loss, dandruff, premature greying and a little goes a long way.

Hibiscus: Again, a plant that is high on my list and most Indians list. I want to worship this plant! The leaves can be crushed/blended with a li'l hot water and applied as a hair mask to condition. The flowers too. Dried flowers, leaves can also be used and also powders are available. The least Indians do is put the leaves, flowers in their "buckets" of water which they use to bathe with , and believe that even that helps!

Again - I just thought that the above 3 deserved a bit more stress - is all. Doesn't mean I want to take away from the "king" of oils - coconut (in Indian parlance) or amla, Bhringaraj etc.

One word of caution (may be an old wives tale): Sandalwood is used sparingly because it is believed to cause "lightness" of strands. Just like Cassia(right?). If you are going for darkening you may want to read up more on this.
In India Sandalwood is used as a face-mask to lighten skin too! It is mostly used in hair to perfume it - much like Kapoor Kachhli.


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