Applying Ayurvedic Healing Herbs and Oils to the Skin

It is so exciting to talk to an ayurvedic expert from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians about the healing and rejuvenating qualities of anointing the skin. In both the East and the West, anecdotal references to the tradition of applying healing herbs and oils to the skin are common. Now, through modern science and the investigation of trans-dermal delivery systems, we are seeing the tremendous power of these oils and herbs to really rejuvenate the skin, allow it to be more youthful, and even broader implications for our health. What is the importance of the skin and why should we be paying so much attention to its health and vitality?

A: The skin plays many roles. It is, as you know, an organ, supporting both our physiology and our psychology. That's why in ayurveda we talk about the psychophysiology of the skin. The skin is a barrier between the outer universe and the inner universe, the outer world and the inner body. It has a very strong connection with the brain — in ayurveda we say that Vyana Vata governs the skin's overall physiology through communication and circulation — the sensitive feeling aspect of the skin, while Prana Vata governs the mind; they are closely connected all the time. The sensitivity part of the skin — its sensuality — is very powerful, so it is not just an organ, it's a sense organ and a very powerful sense organ at that.

And moreover, it's a defensive barrier. As an M.D., you know that the skin protects us from allergies and infections so it is an immunological barrier also. It is our skin that allows us to sense heat, sense cold — the information goes via Vyana Vata to Prana Vata — from the skin to the brain. If I am feeling cold, this information flows from the skin to the brain. Now, from the mind back to the body, flows the knowledge that I need a blanket or hot water to protect myself from excessive cold. When you know in depth all the vedic knowledge of the skin and try to correlate that with the western knowledge of the skin you find that they go together. Like my father would tell me — you don't need to feel the pulse if you understand the language of the skin — if you can "listen" to the skin and just visualize the skin of a person, you can tell a lot about that person's physiology and psychology.

Q: That's beautiful. In western medicine, we talk about the skin's incredible ability to be semi-permeable: it allows in the good and has the intelligence to keep out the bad. What accounts for the skin's remarkable intelligence in that regard and how can we enhance the creative intelligence of this major organ of the body?

A: As you said, it's very important to enhance the creative intelligence of the skin — basically, how best we should take care of the skin. In turn, that means how we take care of our inner intelligence and the three pillars of beauty — our inner beauty, our outer beauty and our lasting beauty.

Here we will talk about our inner intelligence, because now we know that the skin is intelligent; the skin has a deep and ongoing connection with our being, our consciousness. Practically speaking, that means applying the soothing touch, the nurturing touch — applying combinations of balanced and nurturing herbs, oils and pastes.

The first thing you need to consider is the kind of massage or therapy you are getting, and the kind of material you are applying to your skin. For example, how settled and blissful is your massage therapist? How much of a nurturing hand, healing hand, does he or she have?

I would say that this is very necessary to know before he or she touches your body, because your massage therapist's level of healing touch and level of positive energy is going to have an immediate impact, through your skin, on your entire psychophysiology. What I am trying to convey is that the consciousness — the inner intelligence — of your massage therapist should enhance and support your own through the performance of the healing massage, it should not be damaging or distracting or disorienting to your own inner rhythm and balance.

And in the same way, whenever we select any herb or we do any processing or extraction or mixing, I'm always saying this: the main objective in this whole process of selection of herb, processing, and mixing or refraining from artificial means of preservation is to protect nature's own healing intelligence in the product. If there is any negative intelligence; or if there is any imbalancing intelligence or lack of intelligence from nature, the purpose of using that formulation; whether it is internal or topical, won't really be served. The product will not really help enhance the inner intelligence, which is at the basis of real beauty. That only happens when all three pillars of beauty are enhanced. Everyone needs outer beauty: everyone would naturally like to look better, with radiant skin and excellent health. And everyone would like to possess gunam or inner beauty, which is manifested as a good mind, body, sense and emotion connection. A formulation, whether it be an internal supplement or a skin cream, that has nature's healing intelligence and nurturing power can, in turn, awaken the skin's own memory of perfect functioning.

Q: You are making some excellent, excellent points. In the east, there is a reluctance to touch one another, it is more common to greet one another with folded hands and a respectful "Namaste" as opposed to, say, in America, where it's not unusual to greet one another with a big hug. And I think it's in part out of regard for the powerful influence that comes through the skin.

In Western culture we talk a lot about something really touching us, touching our heart, and we also recognize an unpleasant influence from a person in our vicinity, so the skin is really an extension of our nervous system. We can either have a very sattvic, positive influence or more of a tamasic, more negative influence from another's touch.

Beauty is an essential aspect of Being. As human beings, we invest a tremendous amount of energy in how we look. How does the application of the anti-aging cream enhance our own Being?

A: That is a beautiful question. On the surface, MAPI's Youthful Skin Cream looks like a product, but I call it a product with a lot of intelligence. And, if you look closely at the unique processes that go into the making of this formulation, you will see that all the principles are based upon protecting nature's intelligence in all the ingredients. I would like to share with you how we accomplish that. We know the processes and principles from ayurveda regarding how to protect that intelligence, but sometimes the western knowledge of quality control is also important. I think that's why nature helped me learn about western quality controls also. Of course, as you know, nature's intelligence cannot be quantified in a lab; it is very difficult to quantify chetana — the quality of intelligence — or to quantify even its subtle presence. You just have to feel it, you have to protect it. But whatever herbs are there in our formulation, and whatever research is there on those herbs, I try to quantify some of the finest molecules of those plants based on that research. Modern science says isolate that chemical, use that chemical and forget about the rest of the plant. But here, in ayurveda, we are not isolating individual chemicals, we are not talking about isolated parts here. However, by measuring some part, whatever be the physiological or mechanical measure, we understand more about the intelligence that is present.

Q: Your insights have helped tremendously in expanding our understanding of the psychophysiology of the skin from the ayurvedic perspective. Could you tell us how the specific ingredients in the Youthful Skin Cream help nurture and enhance the inner intelligence of our being? And what are the implications for the health of the skin cell?

A: Good question. The first ingredient in the Youthful Skin Cream and the Youthful Skin Oil is Gotu Kola. And I like to talk about Gotu Kola because Gotu Kola is very famous in both the East and the West. It is called a kind of Brahmi. And Brahmi chetana means higher states of consciousness. It has anti-aging properties — and it can enhance unity among cells, between mind and body, and among the senses. So here for this cream we are making an intelligent extract of Gotu Kola, and including a therapeutic percentage of the extract in the cream. There is a chemical in Gotu Kola called asiaticoside and it has research — a French scientist has done this research — that says it stimulates collagen formation. Collagen is the protein that is the main component of connective tissue, like cartilage in the joints. We measure the presence of asiaticoside in our extract, but we are making the extract in a very intelligent, unique manner. Then we send it to an American lab to see what percentage of asiaticoside is present in the extract. That is another step in the quality control process. We do all the Eastern quality control measures, harvesting Gotu kola at exactly the right point in time, trying to grow it under ideal conditions, so that it has all the minerals and other components that are needed.

Also, the extraction is done very carefully so that it happens without losing any of the natural intelligence of the herb. We are doing all these processes, but to make 100% sure that lab-wise also it works well, we do tests and we keep records of the quantity of asiaticoside present in our cream. And the research says yes, it has collagen synthesis enhancing effect.

While this is important, equally important is the process of combining Gotu Kola with other herbs. The second main ingredient in the cream is Sensitive Plant. Sensitive Plant has research that shows that it enhances nerve regeneration by 30-40% more as compared to corticosteroids. The first time I was introduced to this plant was when in my childhood my father took me to a prairie where Sensitive Plant was growing in the wild. When I touched this plant, the leaves immediately closed up, shrank. was amazed: I thought it was a magic plant. My father explained to me that this is how it balances and nurtures the sensitivity of the skin. Nurtures the sensitivity, balances the sensitivity. Today's researchers are talking about tactile nerve theory. All the nerves connect to our chetana, our consciousness, through the brain. Each square inch of skin contains about 1,300 nerve endings. So there is a very direct connection to our mind and our emotions through our skin.

Now when we apply this powerful extract of Sensitive Plant on that square inch of skin, through this trans-dermal delivery system, it can nourish and balance the mind and the emotions through the nerves. We also have other intelligent extracts in the formulation, I could write a book on this theory of formulation! But I think that this was a good example of why and how this cream is intelligent, and how it is nourishing and supporting. When the Brahmi is applied to the skin, researchers say yes, it can get absorbed through the trans-dermal system and eventually to the brain. I am getting lots of feedback that says that when people apply this cream, it helps balance the mind and emotions. Many people tell me, "The first thing I feel is relaxed. Nourished in mind and emotions."

Q: Let's take this a step further. There is 4% Gotu Kola extract in the cream as well as in the oil, and that has a healing and rejuvenating effect on the brain as well as being relaxing. There is a great deal of excitement in Western medicine now about these trans-dermal delivery systems, because they can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and have an effect then, of course, on the whole body. Would you say that the Youthful Skin Cream and the Youthful Skin Oil could be used if there is a break or a wound in the skin and would there be an additional benefit for wound healing?

A: Yes, yes. This is the reason I was not ready to compromise on the therapeutic ratio of the extracts in the cream, and it was quite a process of solving problems to preserve it at 9.5%.

Q: That is astounding, to have a skin cream that has a 9.5% herbal extract, even in the world of natural skin care.

A: Gotu Kola is present in the cream and the oil in therapeutic quantity and Gotu Kola has research that shows that it has great impact on wound healing, particularly scarless healing. In ayurveda there is a term for this — it is called rohini, it is in the category of rohan herbs. According to the ayurvedic anatomy of the skin, the third layer of the skin is called rohini. This layer supports all healing and regeneration of the skin. So that is why the cream is good for skin health — because 4% of Gotu Kola extract is there in it and there is research that says that due to the presence of several phytoactives, Gotu Kola is healing.

Q: In the ancient herbal tradition of ayurveda, as you have emphasized, Gotu Kola has been used for its many benefits with respect to collagen, but also especially to promote mental clarity. People who are using the Youthful Skin Cream are reporting that they feel clearer and more blissful. This has huge implications for the first line of prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's Disease, which baby boomers of course are very fearful of. Gotu Kola inhibits the formation of brain plaque, and should be taken in a properly balanced and synergistic formulation. Now that we know that the trans-dermal route is a very powerful way to reach the brain, this gives us a whole new vision of the anti-aging cream, because it means that not only does this cream help enhance the youthfulness of the skin, but it is actually a very powerful way to feel younger. Could you comment further on the role of the Youthful Skin Cream vs. the daily herbalized sesame oil massage (abhyanga). Should we now be using the Youthful Skin Oil and Cream for our daily abhyanga or in addition to — how would you recommend they be used?

A: Basically, the Youthful Skin Cream is very powerful, so we cannot use it on the whole body. The amount that we are using on the hands and face, I think, is enough for the trans-dermal benefit on the physiology and the psychology. (I generally recommend that people use the cream on the skin of the face and the hands only) Usually nowadays when I lecture or talk to people I always suggest that when they are going to attend a meeting at work or a situation where they need to use their brain a lot, or to face especially stressful situations, they should apply this cream on their face and go to address this meeting, or read, or study. To tell you a secret, I do the very same thing: when I need to read some critical material; I apply this cream and it renews my mind and spirit. However, for our daily ayurvedic routine, we have the Youthful Skin Massage Oil for Men and Women. These are great for abhyanga, the daily ayurvedic full-body self-massage. The biological needs of men and women are different, and these oils have been especially formulated to take into account structural and functional differences. I think that due to my traditional background, and the blessing from my ancestors, I can make formulations that take into account those precise kinds of differences between men's skin and women's skin.

Q: Some people use the Youthful Skin Cream before a major speech or presentation at work. The results have been truly remarkable, it literally gives people more confidence, not on a mood making level but directly enhancing the concentration, the mood and vitality of the individual.

A: Let us go to the East now, and talk about the most critical ability of Brahmi (Gotu Kola). Another name for Gotu Kola is mandookaparni. That translates to "looks like the leg of a frog." Mandooka is Sanskrit for frog. The leaves look like the leg of frog, hence the name.

The original researcher of Gotu Kola was the sage Mandooki. A Maharishi, like other rishis or sages of the time, he lived deep in the forests of India. He noticed during his sojourn in the forest a dramatic change in the wild, violent animals like the lions. They would come to listen to his vedic preaching. They were very quiet, very calm and docile, and he wondered what the reason was. Why were these wild animals not wild? And then he thought that the aroma of Gotu Kola was all over the forest, and they were inhaling this aroma all the time, and that this, along with the calming influence of his yogic presence, was the reason for their unusual calm. He started to research Gotu Kola and he discovered that it has a specific value called medhya value.

Medha means intellect, and medhya means that which enhances intellectual power — dhi, dhriti, smriti vardhini- that which enhances the coordination among dhi, the power of learning, dhriti, the power of retaining knowledge, and smriti, the power of recalling knowledge. Now we know that Gotu Kola has that medhya value, and we have a therapeutic 4% extract of Gotu Kola in this Youthful Skin Cream. So the skin is "happy" with the application of this cream. And, happiness arises because we metabolize the experience through our skin. When you use this kind of medhya trans-dermal approach, the ability to speak powerfully and resolve problems is also going to be enhanced. Because what you need for your intellect is powerful medhya-powerful ability to learn, retain that knowledge, and recall past knowledge. That is why I think your patients are feeling great before their speech or any other such situation.

Q: You are quite modest, but it is very clear why you are the leading exponent of ayurveda, particularly with regard to inner, outer, and lasting beauty. With the science of ayurveda and its approach to trans-dermal nourishment, we will see an incredible capacity to prevent some of the most serious illnesses baby boomers are now prone to and to create a life of increasing bliss.

A: Let me share with you something my father used to say when he was teaching me. Once when we were discussing beauty, he said: "All blissful beings are beautiful, and all beautiful beings are blissful." So there is no beauty without bliss, and no bliss without beauty. With the trans-dermal approach, it is easy to see how the power of the ayurvedic herbs in the anti-aging cream translates into inner bliss for the user through the medium of the skin.

Q: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights with us today. Your incredible knowledge and great contributions are really valued.

A: Thank you. It's a great joy for me to see the best of the Vedic tradition and Western knowledge come together.

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.