Oil pulling

I am a morning person. I am, without a doubt, my sharpest, and most switched-on in the first half of the day, and I’ve written about this before, along with what my mornings usually involve. The shape of this routine varies depending on my mood, my own needs at the time, and the season, but there’s always a procession of little things that I do, even if sometimes this procession has to be a brisk quickstep instead of a chill stroll.

If you’re not a morning person though, seriously, don’t sweat it. There’s this persistent trope that will often make people who are late risers feel like they’re doing things wrong, or that they ‘should’ be waking earlier, and going to bed earlier as well. There is research, now, that will tell you that being a morning (or evening) person is entirely down to your chronotype. You probably already know whether you are inherently a morning person or a night owl, but in his book ‘The Power of When,’ sleep expert Dr Michael Breus talks about sleep chronotypes which are sort of the next step in circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythm determines, over a 24-hour period, when you’re alert and when you’re sleepy, but everybody’s rhythms are slightly different and Breus identifies four chronotypes, each associated with an animal whose sleep-wake habits best mirror them. Knowing and acknowledging your chronotype means you can stop trying to make yourself rise at the crack of dawn when your body might function more optimally on a later sleep-wake routine. (Take the quiz here to see which one you are.)

I broke down the key elements in my morning (and evening) routines here but sometimes you need someone else to help you jumpstart a routine that starts to feel a little lacking. I went to a Vitality Hours, a weekend of wellness-themed talks organized by the Antidote Juice crew, and watched yoga guru Mini Shastri talk about ayurvedic rising rituals and the ones she incorporates into her own mornings. All her wisdom is ancient and adapted for the everyday, little things with big payoffs, like rinsing your mouth with salt water (a natural antiseptic and cleaning agent), using a neti pot (because…Delhi air), using a tongue scraper (ridding your tongue of ‘ama’, or stagnation, unearthing taste buds and awakening gastric fire), doing a few sun salutations and pranayama to get things moving, rubbing oil everywhere – into skin, in ears, nose, into eyes, and to swish around one’s mouth, all to lubricate tissue, and it’s that last bit that really stuck for me.

Why oil is magic

I love a good massage, or any sort of good oiling. A deep and oily rubdown really helps me ground down and get back into awareness of my body in a way that not a lot else can. Ayurvedic massages, they’re not like the other massages though. They often aren’t even particularly fun at the time, but you feel like heaven after (even if you smell like pickle for up to a week). I’m not ever as relaxed when getting an abhyanga as I am with other massage forms because I’m always acutely aware that I’m sliding around the table like a particularly slippery eel, but I do know that it is good for me, from how it makes me feel, and also from numerous consultations with legit ayurvedic doctors and self-administered online quizzes. I am (they all tell me) Vata through and through and it means that I am super-dry, prone to getting anxious, and with a tendency to spend a lot of time in my head. If you don’t already know your dosha (WHAT?) I recommend you just do a quick Google and find a quiz that will tell you which of the three – vata, pitta, or kapha – you are.

Ayurveda is all about oil and steam. It is about long treatments – an hour of abhyanga, half an hour of shirodhara, half an hour of being pummeled with a herbal potli (poultice)… these are time-heavy, oil-heavy medicinal practices that are intended to get into every orifice, to literally soak through your seven layers of ‘dhatu’ tissue; in english these are plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow, and reproductive tissue. In sanskrit, they are rasa, rakta, mamsa, medas, asthi, majja, and shukra. Ayurveda works, first, on your lymph system  to help transport everything from blood to emotions and all the other bits of you that feel stuck to get all the gunk out that’s causing you worry, pain, or just the sort of stiffness that’s often written off as being the unavoidable byproducts of the passage of time.

Ayurveda works to get all the gunk out that’s causing you worry, pain, or just the sort of stiffness that’s often written off as the unavoidable byproducts of the passage of time

All this oiling and pummeling helps the lymphatic system do its clearing thing, which in turn addresses the circulatory system, which then works with your body’s fat and tissues, which are wrapped around your bones, which contain your marrow, which is tied to your nervous system… it is all inextricably bound and woven to everything else, and so the lymph is the primary system that most ayurvedic treatments address, and vata is the first dosha that it looks at because it is the dosha that governs the other two as well.

I have body oils, a slew of hair oils, face oils, butters and salves for my lips and body, scrubs in which I stir through warm sesame and coconut oils… I have them all and I use them all. I also have (another vata tendency) eczema which flares into painful, often weeping patches on my arms and legs when I’m particularly stressed, and a hefty dose of steroid cream is only thing that actually dials it down, but prevention is key with that sort of thing, and chilling the fuck out is my prescription, aided by things like meditation and massage, or ritual oils to help soothe my nervous system (and, by extension, me).


Forget flossing. I’m pulling.

My mouth rarely gets the attention it deserves in my beauty routine, which is why I was surprised when my top takeaway from Mini’s talk was oil pulling. So simple, so quick, and so easy to incorporate into my morning, and yet I never had. If you don’t already know, oil pulling is one of the elements of the ayurvedic panchakarma cleansing programs. In principal, certain oils have chelating effects on fat-soluble heavy metals and pesticides, and panchakarma practices are intended to draw these from the body’s fatty tissues. In isolation, oil pulling is a dental care technique that involves swishing a mouthful of sesame oil around your mouth on an empty stomach for up to twenty minutes (or less, don’t freak out).

I use Organic India’s sesame oil, one big glug immediately upon rising and then I just swish-swish-swish it around my mouth while I do all the other stuff I need to do – make my smoothie, make Gaurav’s coffee, pack lunch… if I had to stand around and do it with sole focus on the task (as you are, no doubt, meant to do it) I’d probably last a minute, but now that it’s just a swish-swish-swish while I get on with other things, I don’t even notice it. Do I do it for twenty minutes? Probably not, but it’s a solid five to seven minutes at least which is good enough for me at the moment.

You’re meant to keep swishing and then spit it out when you’ll see that the oil’s turned a milky white. Don’t spit it into your sink or shower drain unless you love blocked pipes but just send it right into your loo. Purported benefits include healing bleeding gums, soothing throat dryness, boosting immune system function, and relieving jaw tension associated with TMJ, and I can vouch for the first and the last. The same stress that causes my eczema to flare also causes me to clench my jaw at night, which in turn causes my gums to bleed, and only one week into doing this every morning I found that it just…stopped entirely. Seriously. I’ve meditated before bed, and I’m at my dentist regularly for cleanings, but a week of oil pulling soothed by angry gums in a manner that even that awful mouthguard my dentist keeps sending me away with never was able to achieve.

Despite the tendency of the internet to prescribe coconut oil for everything, for these purposes use sesame oil. If you really (really) find the taste of sesame oil offensive, just choose any high-quality organic oil and yes I suppose coconut will do, but I use this stuff from Organic India and honestly, I can’t even taste it, bar a pleasant nuttiness that I actually quite enjoy.

Find Organic India’s sesame oil here. It also makes a great cooking oil and is fantastic in salad dressings.