Ayurveda is all about having just enough of what you need, which can make it hard when people want to buy you gifts. There’s nothing wrong with acquiring things that make you happy without a specific purpose, but we can also derive a lot of happiness from the tools that bring us health every day. The daily practices that the dinacharya comprises can be elevated from have-to-dos to love-to-dos with the right tools—making even the most banal hygiene beautifying acts of self-care and self-love.
They may not look like white dresses or bright copper sleigh bells, but the list below has a few of my favorite things, which have made for some of the most best and well-loved gifts I’ve received in years past. Remember to shop local and independent stores when you can, since taking care of our communities is integral to the Ayurveda way.
The Sanskrit word talia means both sesame (the plant) and oil, reflecting the many different uses of sesame oil in Ayurvedic self-care. Because of its warming and unctuous qualities, sesame oil is the first choice for abhyanga, nasya (nasal oiling), oil pulling, and even enemas (used to relieve vata imbalances in the colon; i.e., constipation, gas, bloating, etc.). The only place to not use sesame oil is your head—your mind is already a seat of pitta (fire and water elements), so you don’t want to heat it up any more than it already is. While there are many ways to enhance oils’ medicinal properties with herbs and essential oils, there is a lot to be said for keeping things simple; and this oil all on its own is a powerhouse of healing. When buying sesame oil, choose organic and untoasted oil (toasted is great for sushi, not for self-care :)). Spectrum brand is easily found in most grocery and health-food stories.
One of the essential pieces of dinacharya, or the daily routine, is tongue scraping upon waking. This ritual supports oral hygiene by removing built up bacteria and other waste, known as “mala” in Sanskrit, that collects on the tongue overnight. Without all that gunk covering your taste buds, you’ll be able to taste and digest your food better, as well as create a more harmonious environment for oil pulling (with sesame oil) to support your gums and teeth. When you wake up, check out your tongue and notice any coating—its thickness, color, and location, which can be an indicator of imbalance. Use the scraper to remove the coating, gently scraping from the back of the tongue to the tip, 5-10 times total, and rinsing it off in between each scrape. Don’t scrape so hard that you make your tongue red, bumpy, or bleeding! Sterling silver works well for most and is antimicrobial, but if you know your dosha you can choose a specific metal (vata=gold, pitta=silver, kapha=copper). In a pinch, I have also used a regular old spoon from my kitchen to scrape my tongue, and it works just as well!
None of the Ayurvedic texts talk about Mason jars, but having non-plastic vessels for storing herbs, spices, and other kitchen concoctions is essential for an Ayurvedic lifestyle. I prefer clear upright Mason jars with screw lids and a wide mouth. They stack neatly and provide a uniform appearance in my kitchen, while making it easy to identify the jars’ contents.
Buying pre-ground spices in those tiny, ridiculously expensive jars is great for the occasional cook—but when cooking the Ayurveda way, spices are nothing but occasional. Whole (and ground) spices bought in bulk allow you to have plenty of stock for your daily meals and special occasions, and you can use them to toast and grind your own whole spices into powders whenever you need (whole spices are also used quite frequently in Ayurvedic cooking). An electric grinder will make a fine, homogenous powder that blends well into dishes, or in spice blends. I love my Krups, since it’s easy to clean and will hold just enough for a few weeks’ worth of ground spices. If you also grind your own coffee beans, have a separate one for spices so the flavors don’t cross.
Mortar & Pestle
The analog version of a spice grinder, this kitchen staple connects you to spices in an embodied way. Hand-grinding won’t produce as fine a finished product as the electric grinder (though if you really go at it you can get pretty fine, depending on the spice), but that’s fine for most cooking purposes. What’s more useful about this tool is the way you experience your ingredients through this tactile, old-fashioned “processing.” Choose one that’s relatively small—so your hand can cup over the top opening—which will allow you to control the grinding and make just enough spice for your recipe. I let mine sit on my counter all the time since it’s so pretty—and as a reminder to slow down and involve all my senses in the cooking process.
This is a fairly general category, since straining and steeping are both used quite a bit when making herbal teas and other food and self-care recipes. For loose-leaf teas that require steeping (letting the herbs soak in hot water to release their volatile oils and compounds, rather than cooking them in water), I love a small metal tea ball; a reusable tea bag is also great, but a little messier IMHO. When you need to make a decoction (cooking the herbs in a liquid), you’ll probably want a fine strainer or sieve with a handle; even if you’re using powdered ingredients, straining will make the drink smoother, though there’s no harm in consuming the cooked herbs. When making nut milks, a nut milk bag (which is reusable) or unbleached cheesecloth will allow you to squeeze out all the liquid most easily. For herbal oils and other more medicinal preparations, you may also want to have some coffee filters on hand, which get out the finest particulates.
They may remind you of elementary school lunch boxes, but thermoses are the way to go for storing and carrying prepared food and drink on your way to work, school, or travel. Unlike other types of food containers with unreliable lids, thermoses are basically spill-proof, and their streamlined design make them easy to tuck away in bags when on the go. They also are quite multipurpose, since drinks, soups, and more solid foods all fit inside, and will stay warm so you don’t have to worry about reheating the microwave. Have a variety of sizes for drinks and meals, so you can sip, slurp, and spoon to your heart’s desire.
Pick a plant, any plant. Whether you have an outdoor space or a windowsill or a shelf with a sunlamp, living with plants brings the energy of our home—the Earth—into your home. Numerous studies indicate how plants improve overall well-being, including those recovering from illness, and the revival of the art of forest bathing suggests we are all pining to return to our roots in the soil. They are natural detoxifiers, with the ability to remove impurities from the air and thereby improve respiration and sleep. Caring for plants offers opportunities to practice patience, awareness, and tenderness as well; getting to know your plants’ water and sunlight needs, watching how they grow slowly then all-at-once, and enjoying their steadfast and silent company are all balms for our frayed human nerves. Pick plants that appeal to you by their color, scent, shape, or overall vibe.
A little light goes a long way, especially during the dark winter season or periods of low mood. You might say that hygge got it’s inspiration for light-filled coziness from Ayurveda, since candle gazing is a form of meditation in the yogic tradition, but having spots of light around you even without meditating will help balance the pitta dosha, whether you need focusing or warmth. Beeswax candles burn smooth and steady without scent, which can irritate some individuals. They are also thought to purify the air through negative ions (which balance the positive ions emitted by electronics). I love Sunbeam brand, which is local to me (NY), engages in sustainable practices—and has some pretty nifty candle shapes.
Someone else might not be able to wrap you up in a package, but doing what you need to bring your full self to every moment is the best and most essential self-care tool of all. This will take a different form for everyone—perhaps it’s a day of solitude sans kids or work, or maybe it’s a fancy outing or vacation you’ve been dreaming of, or maybe it’s an item that sparks the kind of joy Marie Kondo would be proud of. Checking in with yourself this season and determining what you need, what you want, and where they overlap will allow you to participate fully in the gift-giving experience. Not only will you be an appreciate recipient, but you’ll be giving the gifter something, too—the chance to make someone else happy, and continue the cycle of love at the heart of Ayurveda.
Check out these suppliers for a variety of Ayurvedic, herbal, and wellness tools:
Frontier Co-Op (available on iHerb)