2 South Asian women on the ancient Indian wellness practices that help them connect to their roots

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The Hindi phrase ‘Khush raho’, meaning ‘stay happy’, is likely to be familiar to legions of South Asian people residing around the world. It’s a short blessing, spoken every time we part ways with our elders; a simple, seemingly mundane expression, uttered without much consideration. And yet, in light of the pandemic, the phrase takes on a new meaning.

So, what can we do to stay happy? It’s a question that underlies countless conversations across the globe, and one that is often intertwined with discussions about self-care. But what exactly is self-care? Before COVID-19, self-care was simply something we slotted into our busy lives without much thought. A facial here, a gym class there. However, the pandemic has forced us to reexamine this. How do we prioritise our wellness, rather than trying to fit it around an already jam-packed schedule?

At the core of ancient South Asian wellness practices is the idea of carving out time to take care of yourself. Think of it as meaningful prevention, as opposed to damage control practised only when we are on the brink of burnout. For older Indian generations, such as that of our parents and grandparents, self-care is something they incorporate daily into every aspect of life, from the way they cook a meal to beauty practices that are centuries old.

This was something we were able to reconnect with during the pandemic as we moved back in with our families for the first time in a while. Watching them engage with these practices was transformative and we have spent the past year benefiting from them as a result.

There is a lot to be learned from this way of thinking, and the best part is that anyone can do it. Here are five of the most beneficial and mood-boosting practices for you to try.

1. Grounding helps refocus and align both body and mind

One core Indian wellness practice is that of ‘grounding’ or ‘earthing’—walking or standing barefoot on the soil in a bid to realign oneself with the present. It’s a ritual that is said to encourage gratitude and an outdoor connection. Doing this for approximately 15 minutes a day—perhaps in the morning ahead of a hectic day—can help increase focus and dissipate anxiety.

2. Hair oiling encourages intimacy

Hair oiling is a multigenerational practice upheld within the vast majority of traditional South Asian households, with benefits including stimulating hair follicles and circulation, promoting hair growth and keeping locks glossy. It’s a way of honouring your hair and taking care of yourself, a practice passed down from our mothers and generations before.

This meditative routine normally begins by warming a small amount of oil in a bowl—usually a blend of amla (Indian gooseberry), coconut, castor and almond oil—and then gently running it through dry hair, massaging it into the scalp and ends. Doing this at least once a week, just before bed, does wonders.

3. Opt for a natural approach to skincare

Growing up, our grandparents would scold us if we were seen to be spending money on packaged skincare masks and remedies. Instead, we were urged to opt for natural alternatives.

Keeping a simple routine, featuring only natural ingredients, is key to helping build a base for radiant skin. Turmeric, for example, is often used in the lead up to South Asian weddings with the bride being covered in a turmeric paste as part of a beautification process, which helps reduce blemishes and dark spots.

Then there’s Manuka honey. In addition to its antibacterial properties, it’s used to reduce the appearance of burns and scars. Elsewhere, mashed papaya can be used topically as a source of vitamin A and enzymes, with its anti-inflammatory properties leaving you glowing from within. Combining all three ingredients in a DIY skincare routine for 20 minutes per week has been our go-to for years.

4. Scents are key to creating a relaxed environment

Burning incense is a soothing way to uplift the spirits and deepen attention during meditation. For us, practising this routine during this past tumultuous year was vital, and took us back to the experience we had when we were children. These familiar scents brought up feelings of nostalgia and warm memories of loved ones (sandalwood or lotus fragrances are particularly comforting). Whatever your day brings you, find a few minutes to prioritise incense burning (just five to seven minutes is recommended) so that you can relax and clear the mind.

5. Making spiced tea can help break up a monotonous routine

During a period where so many of us have, and still are, working from home and glued to computer screens, something as simple as brewing a cup of masala chai quickly becomes a lifeline.

Crush spices (try fennel, cardamom and cinnamon) using a pestle and mortar and strain them into a tea. It’s a short task that not only serves as an instantaneous mood-booster and includes dietary benefits (it can aid digestion), but it also allows you to take a step back from emails for a short period and tends to bring the whole family together despite busy schedules.

Khush raho (stay happy)

Also read:

8 ancient skincare practices from India and around the world that are still relevant

Vata, pitta or kapha—what is your dominant Ayurvedic dosha?

Why slow beauty is the new clean beauty

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