The preciousness and healing power of pure water is once again being treasured as more of us carry around stainless steel bottles of purified water and rediscover the benefits of various hydrotherapies. Maybe that is as simple as choosing a relaxing herbal bath rather that a quick shower, getting an aromatic steam bath at a spa or the adventure of visiting a local hot springs. There is no doubt that our clients, in rapidly growing numbers, are more aware of the healing properties of foods, herbs and water; but fewer are aware of the healing energies in the earth itself and the bountiful amounts of whole grains it produces. At this time, the time of the great rediscovery of the path toward natural beauty using natural products, let us not forget some of the most powerful agents for complete rejuvenation, mud or clay and wholegrain flour.
The use of mud dates back to the most ancient times and has been used by humans and animals alike on every continent. The ancient Egyptians used clay for purification, the ancient Greek physicians understood how mud restores our vitality, Romans used it to recover from the stress of battle and athletic competition and in the last century the great European naturopaths (such as Sebastian Kneipp) used it extensively in healing poultices for all measure of complaints. On the Indian continent, magnetizing healing power from the sun, air and mineral-rich waters of the Himalayas mud (from the sacred Ganges and Indus rivers) has been used for centuries to heal and beautify the skin and ease all kinds of ills by the Ayurvedic system of healing and rejuvenation.
Those of you that work with clay masks are most likely familiar with their gentle cleansing action and mud's ability to absorb toxins. Indeed, it has long been recognized that mud works deeply to open the fine capillaries in the skin, breaking up microcrystals that impede blood flow, allowing an enhanced flushing out of waste products and toxins. It has even been suggested mud can help remove excess radiation. You may have witnessed firsthand the subtle rise in skin temperature that eventually dries a mask and watched the drying pattern with curiosity as more problem areas dry first. But there is more to mud than that.
Natural mud banishes both unfavorable micro flora, bacteria and pathogenic germs that contribute to skin breakouts. By the same action, mud also deodorizes the skin so it once again smells sweet. Mud is rich in minerals such as silica, iron, calcium, titanium, magnesium, sodium and potassium that feed the skin and guard against deep dryness. Mud contains diastase and other enzymes that are able to fix free oxygen, which not only enhances purification but rejuvenates the skin much like an oxygen facial. But, even more than this mud is "living earth." Like our own bodies mud is a mass of highly charged particles. Just as iron filings are attracted to a magnet while holding onto their own powerful magnetic fields, so every mud particle retains a considerable amount of energy from that the large and powerful magnetic entity which the mud came, our planet earth. This subtle yet palpable energy transmits an extraordinary strength that is able to rebuild our energy reserves, reawakening our natural state of balance, while bringing a vitality and freshness to our face or whole body, in the case of a body treatment. Mud seems to act symbiotically, co-creating health by working with the body, feeding it, energy balancing it or cleansing it depending on the need.
Mud improves circulations, slightly raises skin temperature, hastens the removal of waste products and toxins, energizes and oxygenates the skin, and even provides nourishment! All these wonderful properties make it a fantastic base for skin care products where it enhances the activity of other natural ingredients. For this reason muds in India are blended with a wide variety of Himalayan herbs that gently cleanse, rejuvenate and re-energize the skin, then go on to bring similar benefits to the muscles and deeper tissues.
Like many muds, Ayurvedic mud comes in powder form. To make an active product, you simply add pure water; but use a container made of enamel, earthenware, porcelain, wood or glass – never metal or any kind of plastic. Mix the mud to the consistency of single cream and apply to clean skin (that is equal parts by volume). If working on a body treatment, dry brushing is a great preliminary treatment and using a large brush for application makes sense and provides a luxurious skin sensation. For obvious hygiene reasons, mix only the amount you are going to use. Ayurvedic mud makes a fantastic gently cleansing, revitalizing face mask. Simply apply, allow to dry and gomage off and cleanse with a moist cloth. Spray with pure water to keep the product active longer; 10 to 20 minutes works miracles (especially for dark circles or bags under the eyes). Deeper rejuvenating benefits can be gained by "masking" the whole body with the same type of mud mixture. Keep in mind that this treatment requires a shower or a good number of dark colored towels. Happily, the same benefits can be gained by painting the mud from the elbows down to the finger tips and the knees down to the toes. Wrap the lower arms and legs with dark colored towels that have been warmed in a hot towel cabinet, and then cover your client with a sheet and blanket to keep them cozy. A neck, shoulders, scalp and face massage or facial are ideal while the mud does its work. The mud can then be removed, first with the mud side of the towel used for the wrap then the clean side. You may need two more towels from your hot towel cabinet to complete the job. Work on just one extremity at a time, drying then covering the limb so the client does not get cold from the exposure of damp skin.
The use of a blend of grains and herbs (called an ubtan) applied dry as a dusting powder or mixed with water, tea, raw milk or yogurt as a mask is one of the defining features of a detoxifying Ayurvedic body treatment or abhyanga massage. First, warm oil is applied to the skin in a sufficient amount that a fine layer of oil is left visible on the skin surface. The client then rests five minutes under warm blankets or is seated in a steam box for 10 to 20 minutes. Once back on the massage table the warmed ubtan is then dusted on to each body part, gently rubbed on the entire body, and a mask mixture painted on the face. Allow the client to rest for an additional five minutes; the powder is dusted off and the mask removed from the face. Deep nourishing warm oil massage followed by a gently stimulating body polish, a divine blessing transmitted directly from healing Indian saints.
The use of ubtan came from the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, then as now its benefits were understood and treasured. As news of these benefits travelled the silk road and by ship eastward, various ubtans made with the local wholegrain flours and herbs became established in Tibet, Thailand and Indonesia. This may have even been the origin of the age old European oatmeal mask. Whatever the flour and herb combination used the benefits are very similar.
- It efficiently removes excess from the oil from the skin.
- The gentle rubbing action invigorates in pleasant contrast to the calming energy of the warm oil massage.
- Circulation, skin tone and color are improved.
- Toxins trapped in the surface oil are removed so the body does not "retox" as would happen if the oil stayed on and was gradually reabsorbed.
- The body feels light, not heavy or sluggish.
There are fewer aches the next day.
- The mind is rested but clear, alert in a relaxed, open way.
- The skin is silky soft, vibrant and clean with the need for a shower. If a shower is available, suggest the client does not need to use soap.
No doubt there are similar procedures in many cultures but the beauty of Ayurveda, the ancient rejuvenation system of India, which has been mentioned throughout this article has been practiced and preserved for hundreds of years by an unbroken lineage of healers. We invite each of you to join the lineage by finding ways to integrate these ancient ideas into your services and discover for yourself their distinctly, unique benefits as both Indian and Tibetan Ayurveda finds a new home in the west.
A certified Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor, Melanie Sachs' skill as a healer and teacher have made her sought after by some of the world's leading spas and schools of beauty. Her book, Ayurvedic Beauty Care (Lotus Light Publications), is considered a must for those interested in the expanding field of natural and conscious beauty and body care. Sachs is dedicated to bringing the timeless wisdom of Ayurveda to the West. She has especially focused her attention on the needs of women in these times when traditional female roles are expanding. Although certainly exciting, such changes in women's roles and activity create additional stresses and demands, for which Ayurveda offers nurturing, supportive solutions.