The Four Purposes of Life: Discovering Your True Purpose with Ancient Indian Philosophy
I recently dropped a kid off at college and found myself stressing over how she’d take to adulting. Eighteen years of stability, comfort and organic food given up for a tiny box of a room, unhealthy food, and the freedom to binge on alcohol and god knows what else teenagers binge on. I suddenly seemed to be afflicted with amnesia, unable to recall any risky behavior I might have indulged in when I left home for college. My mom asked me if I’d taught her to cook. I rolled my eyes and said, “There are thousands of YouTube videos that she can watch to cook anything she wants. The correct question is, “Does she want to cook?””. What about managing money? We live in a world of digital currency. No more worrying about cash when there’s Venmo. The question is, what will she spend money on? As this conversation went on, I realized, somewhat triggered by Yuval Noah Harari’s works that I’d been reading, that two important questions to answer on our journey to adulting is “What do I really want?" and “Why do I want it?” As Google becomes our most trusted friend and guide, TikTok and Instagram tell us what we should like, and Amazon tells us what we should buy, do we have free choice anymore? “Know thyself” is age old wisdom but is probably more relevant and important today than it has ever been.
The oldest seeds of human self awareness can be traced through the hazy maze of history to almost ten thousand years ago. The roadmap for human life lies like a diamond in the rough within the cryptic, archaic Sanskrit literature called the Vedas. Aptly called Purushartha (literally translated to “self meaning”), the Vedas alluded to four objectives of human life: earn one’s living, experience life to fulfill one’s desires, live a life of balance to understand and abide by what’s right, and finally, learn to let go, be “free” of desire. Detailed works expounding upon each of these four objectives were subsequently recorded by various scholars. We can distill some core principles from this ancient wisdom and use them as a compass to help us live with awareness.
Artha, pursuit of material objectives: The Purusharthas advocate for the pursuit of wealth and material comforts. However, this needs to be done within the boundaries of Dharma. Dharma is a word that is impossible to translate into English. In this context, it implies that the pursuit of wealth must be done without harming others and in an honest manner. The guidance is to work with utmost focus without being attached to the work, or the fruits of the work. Through our work, we contribute our bit to the betterment of humankind. How do we interpret this in modern society? Some thoughts:
tips to heal dry skin
Chances are that you suffer from dry skin for at least some parts of the year unless you live in a tropical, humid country. Environmental factors like weather as well as diet that is low in fats can make your skin rough, dry, and flaky. The good news is that there are simple routines you can incorporate to get that much needed moisture in your skin.
The outermost layer of the skin, called the epidermis, is where drying happens. There are three classes of ingredients that can help relieve the feeling of dryness: humectants, occlusive, and emollients. Humectants attract what little moisture there is to skin and include things like glycerin, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid to name a few. Occlusives are things that form a protective barrier on the skin and prevent loss of moisture by evaporation and include Vaseline, waxes like beeswax, emulsifying wax etc. Emollients are generally small molecular weight oils that penetrate the epidermal cells and fill in the spaces between them. For the harsh winter months, I highly recommend emollients – heavy oils like olive oil and sesame oil in particular.
In Ayurveda, skin issues are treated holistically by treatment protocols to balance the three doshas in the body – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Dosha imbalance can be caused by internal and external factors such as weather. In the winter months, Vata dosha tends to get aggravated causing excessive dryness. This is the reason that “warming” oils such as sesame are used in body massages in the cold months. Back when I was growing up in India, the ritual on Diwali, which falls in winter, was to be woken up at 5:00am by my mother, followed by a thorough oil massage on the head and body using sesame oil warmed with a few peppercorns in it. While I would moan and groan in protest back then, I crave for these simple rituals in America. So much so that this ritual was the inspiration for the Vata Body Oil.
We can also see herbs and spices to balance Vata. These include ginger, cardamom, shatavari, ashwagandha, clove etc. Any and every spics is great for balancing Vata! So in the winter months, eat warm foods and have fun with the spices (lots of ginger tea).
Hair care routine
What are your hair woes? Mine is a smelly scalp. I tend to sweat a bit on my head when I go for walks or exercise. So my personal nightmare is repulsing someone with scalp odor. Of course I could wash my hair several times a week to avoid this. But when you shampoo too often, you're cleaning the dirt at the expense of stripping your scalp of sebum, the natural oils that protect it from overly drying and keeps hair healthy. Read this article for a description of how shampoo works.
My hair care routine is as follows:
Oiling the scalp increases blood circulation to it and is important for healthy hair. A good hair mask must provide nourishing ingredients without stripping the scalp of the oils. You can customize hair masks for different purposes example, dandruff, hair fall etc. Some stellar ingredients suggested by Ayurveda are aloe vera gel (fresh from the plant), brahmi and bhringraj for hair fall, neem for dandruff, hibiscus for conditioning etc. Shikakai and aritha powders gently cleanse and restore pH balance to the scalp.
A note on conditioning: modern day conditioners are made of oils, waxes and silicones. While they can make your hair shine and are great for detangling, the waxes just draw more dirt and if you put the product on your scalp, can block the pores and interfere with sebum production. Unfortunately, most commercial shampoos are so harsh that shampooing without conditioning is almost impossible. This is why it is important to pick a gentle, naturally conditioning shampoo. Saroya's Coconut Eucalyptus powder shampoo has conditioning coconut milk and is gentle enough that you don't need conditioner.
For modern day bathing in showers, shampoos work best to remove the oil.
This is what I advise my clients to do to achieve healthy hair that doesn't smell bad if you go a few days without washing.
If you'd like to know more about the Ayurvedic perspective of hair, I recommend this article.
Do you have a hair care routine? Comment below!
read this if you have acne
Do you, or your loved one, suffer from acne? Do you feel like you've tried everything but nothing seems to work? There's good reason why most acne products don't work. The fundamental issues are:
What is acne?
Acne is characterized as a chronic inflammatory disease. It presents as closed or open comedones - i.e. whiteheads and blackheads - and inflammatory lesions - i.e. pimples, nodules, pustules. Typically acne is prevalent in young adults with girls being affected at a younger age (average 12 years) than boys (average 15 years). Adults also suffer from acne, typically women, due to hormonal issues. Since acne is characterized as a disease, it is a medical condition.
Causes of acne
There are multiple factors that cause acne. Below are a few well known ones:
Current treatment for acne
Modern treatment of acne falls under four categories:
The current practice for treating acne combines multiple methods and ingredients in the hope that one or more of them will address the patient's particular acne.
The major drawbacks of such an approach are side effects of using too many products, bacterial resistance to antibiotics rendering them ineffective, and expense involved in buying multiple products.
Ayurveda and acne
Given how ancient Ayurveda is, it is quite remarkable how many of the modern acne pathways it covers. Below is a table tha summarizes the Ayurvedic treatment modalities:
Unfortunately, from my study, Ayurveda does not delve much into female hormonal issues in general. So this is a topic that I need to spend more time researching.
In summary, both modern scientific research and Ayurveda point to multiple factors that cause acne. Therefore the most effective solution is one that is customized to your particular TYPE of acne. While there are many over the counter products for acne, you need to understand the cause of your particular type of acne and the ingredients that are suitable to address it for the products to be effective. The concentration of the active ingredients is also crucial in the efficacy of the products.
The Ayurvedic approach offers the following benefits:
To learn more, book a consultation with Saroya today!
Preservatives in cosmetics
I am part of a Facebook group of female founders in beauty where someone asked the group to provide inputs on preservatives in cosmetics. Below is what I sent. Please note that there is a lot of misinformation around the use of preservatives. It is true that Saroya as a brand attempts to minimize products that have water and thereby remove the need of preservatives. But that choice is driven by many reasons beyond the need for preservatives.
Why are preservatives important in cosmetics?
Preservatives are important in cosmetics for pretty much the same reasons they are important in other products, including food. They extend the shelf life of the product by inhibiting the growth of bacteria, mold, fungus, and yeast. Typically all cosmetic products that contain water need a preservative to have a shelf life that extends beyond a few days.
What preservative(s) do you use in your products? Why?
- My brand focuses on waterless formulations so I do not use preservatives in a lot of my products. For the few products that do contain water like creams and lotions, I use a preservative combination of gluconolactone and phenoxyehanol. Phenoxyethanol is a very easy to use preservative in that it does not impact the stability of cosmetic formulations. It is also effective. However, it is a skin irritant and I am personally allergic to phenoxyethanol. This particular combination works for me as I am able to reduce the concentration of phenoxyethanol to a point where it does not cause a reaction while being effective in doing the job of extending the shelf life.
What is your opinion on parabens?
I believe parabens have got a bad rap not necessarily backed by science. I personally have never used parabens but as a scientist I believe that a lot of things said about them are taken out of context or are not backed by facts. Some of the reasons that people believe parabens are bad are:
a) They are endocrine disruptors. Yes, but so are many other things that contain phytoestrogens, including a lot of foods like soy.
b) They cause cancer - this is really not backed by facts. The reason people believe parabens cause cancer is because there was a paper published that found parabens in breast cancer cells. Somehow this came to mean that parabens was the cause of the cancer.
Do you use natural preservatives?
Vegetable glycerin is not regarded as a preservative but it can enhance shelf life by binding to water. In that sense, yes, I do use naturally available ingredients as preservatives.
Skin care with roses
Roses are abloom where I live (northern California). A friend asked me to share beauty recipes using roses - so here goes. But first, a quick introduction. Ever since the world changed with the spread of Covid 19 and we were asked to shelter in place, I started a self study of Ayurveda. I discovered the ancient texts of Charaka and Vagabhatta - the Charaka Samhita and Ashtanga Hridayam. Once I started reading these texts as well as numerous papers published by Indian academic institutions on the science of Ayurveda, I was completely blown away by the simplicity and consistency of this approach. I cannot go back to my old way of doing skin care.
According to Ayurveda, every substance in the universe can be used as medicine provided you know what you're doing and how to use it. Every substance has certain properties which should be understood so that the maximum benefits are derived from it. So before we talk about how to use rose, we need to understand what to use it for.
Rose is Bitter, Astringent, and Sweet in taste.
It has Light and Slimy properties.
It is Cold in potency.
Therefore, in Ayurveda, rose is used to soothe Pitta dosha and any disorders due to this dosha,. Rose is especially good if you have sensitive skin that tends to get inflamed easily. You can use rose externally as well as internally; use it fresh or dried. But first things first:
The best way to use roses for skin care is via face masks.
Use fresh or dried rose petals to make these masks.
Or drink a rose tea.
To make rose tea, pour just boiling water on 3-4 dried rose petals. Let it steep for 2-3 minutes and drink the tea. Rose is good for the heart and balances Sadhaka Pitta - a sub-dosha of Pitta that influences emotions. . You can consider making a nervine tea by making a tea of rose, chamomile, and lemon balm. This combination is calming to the mind and helps the nervous system. Drink a cup before going to bed to set a calming ritual.
I hope you find these recipes useful. Comment down if you plan to try any and how they worked out for you!
To use a toner or not?
Every so often, I get questions from clients on skincare. Here's an interesting one from my sister: “Should I be using a toner?” Read on to find out.
There are multiple categories of skin care products: cleanser, toner, essence, serum, moisturizer, mask … what else am I missing? The function of cleansers and moisturizers are the easiest to understand. Cleansers remove dirt and oil from your skin. Moisturizers add hydration (or moisture) to your skin. Toners fall into a grey zone in terms of functionality. Some define the function as cleansing of your skin pores. Some define the function as adding more hydration or other additives. Hyaluronic acid and vegetable glycerin are examples of humectants that help with extra hydration while vitamins are other beneficial additives that can be added.
A toner, essence, water, or serum can all provide similar functionality. They are typically used after cleansing and before applying moisturizer and are watery in consistency. Some toners have alcohol in them. These are sometimes labeled as astringent toners. They are marketed as products that "tighten pores". Technically, pores do not open, close, or tighten. What happens is that the skin around the pores tightens because of dryness (alcohol is very drying) giving you the impression that your pores are tighter.
Coming back to the question “Should I use a toner?” - below are three reasons to use one
I personally use real soap to cleanse my body and sometimes my face. The reason is because I made a choice to eliminate plastic from my skin care regimen as much as possible. (Saroya offers a solid shampoo bar that is neutral in pH that can double as body soap, but I prefer real soap because it can be made from scratch from plant oils.) The pH of the soap I make is around 8 so I use an acidic toner immediately after to neutralize the alkalinity.
This toner from Keihl’s has calendula and burdock botanical extracts meant to soothe sensitive skin.
This toner from Neutrogena is just water and butylene glycol and not terribly useful in my opinion. Other than a humectant and panthenol, it has no other nourishing ingredients.
Some toners contain witch hazel, a bark with astringent properties, that constricts skin and gives the feeling of tightening pores. It is debatable if astringents do any good. However, witch hazel extract contains other beneficial skin nutrients such as polyphenols which are antioxidants. But beware of commercial products containing witch hazel as they can contain significant amounts of alcohol which is extra drying.
Saroya makes a botanical toner called Queen of Hungary Water. Apple cider vinegar is used to make a tincture of ten different botanicals selected to manage acne as well provide a bunch of antioxidants. The toner also serves the purpose of balancing the pH of skin (as vinegar is acidic) This product can also be used on underarms to fight body odor as acetic acid, a key ingredient of vinegar, is an effective antibacterial. It’s a truly multi-purpose product.
(You will rarely find skin care products containing vinegar. SW Basics, a natural skin care company sells a toner with apple cider vinegar).
Vinegar is chosen as a solvent for extracting the actives from botanicals. In herbalism, some common solvents are alcohol, vinegar, and glycerin. These solvents are good because they are unfriendly to mold and bacteria while being good solvents to extract the actives. While none of these solvents is ideal (alcohol is too drying, vinegar stinks, glycerin is too sticky), they do a good job of extraction to deliver high doses of actives than would be possible in a cream for example.
In conclusion, consider a toner if you would like to get some new functionality that you aren’t getting from your regular routine. Do not simply pick a product based on the cover - read the ingredients and understand what they can do for you!
Several years ago, I fell for it too. Browsing the hair color section in Whole Food, I saw these green packages of hair color boldly claiming "NO AMMONIA", "NO PARABENS", "With ingredients of NATURAL origin". Without a second thought, I picked up a box and colored my hair. It was cheap, quick, and fast. The color didn't stay very long but hey, I could keep doing this every 3 weeks and no harm, right? WRONG!!! So here are five things you most probably do not know (but should) about hair color.
One: It does not matter what the brand is, the fact is almost all dark hair dyes contain a monstrous chemical called para phenlylenediamine (or PPD). This chemical can also be found in "black henna" - also used to color hair or in instant temporary tattoos. Read more about PPD on the EWG database.
So why is this chemical so terrible? According to this paper, exposure to PPD can cause "primary sensitization, resulting in subsequent allergic contact dermatitis. Skin and mucosal manifestations may differ, but they are usually characterized by pruritus, erythema, and vesicular or even bullous dermatitis in severely affected patients". To translate - symptoms of allergic reaction to PPD include itching, reddening or rashes on skin, or in the extreme cases, inflammation of skin accompanied by pus.
The scary part is that sensitization of the skin to PPD is cumulative - meaning the more you're exposed, the more sensitized your skin becomes. So even though the green box with the leaf logo says "Contains natural ingredients" run away from dark hair dyes.
Two: what is in a developer? Most semi or permanent hair dyes come with a developer. This cream contains hydrogen peroxide - a bleaching agent that penetrates the hair cuticle to enable the color to bind with hair. Hydrogen peroxide is a very reactive molecule - all the antioxidants that are the rage of the day are intended to quench this molecule that is produced as part of a chemical reaction when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays of the sun for example. So treating your hair with hydrogen peroxide is going to damage your hair eventually.
Three: "With ingredients of natural origin" is a marketing phrase intended to cheat you.
You see the green color packaging, the two leaves on the box, a stamp "With ingredients of natural origin" and you pick up the box with a smile thinking "here at last is a product that is safe for my hair. It has no ammonia, no parabens, no sulfates, no cyande". Here's the thing - if you make a dish of meat with some vegetables thrown in and present it to a vegetarian as "Gourmet dish containing fresh, locally, grown organic vegetables" that is not the same as "This dish is vegetarian". So next time you see a line like this, tell yourself that the brand is not to be trusted.
Four: A product that advertises what it does NOT have is also not to be trusted. "No parabens", "no sulfates", "no ammonia", "no artificial fragrance" ... can mean NOTHING. In the case of the Naturtint dyes, "NO AMMONIA" but "YES PPD". What good is that? "NO SULFATES" in a shampoo but "YES DMDM hydantoin" (a preservative). How is a consumer expected to make choices when factually a product advertises it does not have one ingredient that is bad but does not advertise two that are terrible???
And finally, Five: There is a gene that has been linked to going grey. While genetics is not the only reason why hair becomes deficient in melanin (the pigment giving it its color), it can be one reason why some people grey faster than others. And if that happens to be a predominant reason, there is not a thing you can do to stop it! So the healthy options to deal with dark hair going grey are:
1) Use plant based dyes - a mixture of henna and indigo works well. However this is time consuming and messy
2) Let it go grey!
Leave a comment with your thoughts!
Disclaimer: I am not an expert in Ayurveda by any means.
Ayurveda, like Yoga, is seeing a resurgence in popularity. Both as an alternative medicine as well as in skin care. I am going to focus on skin care as that's where my personal interest lies.
My research on Ayurvedic skin care is entirely based on published papers. Thankfully, there are a few obscure academic groups in India that have published papers on subjects such as chemical composition and biological action of Ayurvedic remedies. In addition, my mother and mother-in-law have passed on to me some personal grooming traditions that they grew up with that are based on Ayurveda. Of course, this knowledge is protocol based and has almost no scientific explanation. Having grown up in India, Ayurvedic methods were part of daily life. I went through the phase of discarding these grooming practices and now have come full circle to adopting some practices primarily because I found scientific backing for some of these methods and ingredients. I have also found that there are some ingredients used in Ayurveda that are "primitively" made - there are much better ways to make them today since we understand what is the exact chemical composition of these substances. I am quite fascinated by Ayurvedic methods - the kashayamas, thailams, Bhasmas, churnas - they have this mysterious, alchemical appeal. But I am careful not to romanticize this approach - I always look for chemical compositions and how they work. In the end, molecular identity is the truth no matter what method you take to get to it.
Recently, I have been focused on what causes hollowness under the eyes as we age. Mainly because I have them and I don't like it (all that stuff people say politely to me about not looking like a mother of a 15 year old has gone to my head. I am doing yoga to stop being so vain - but that's another story). Anyways, my research led me to a fascinating paper on an Ayurvedic "anti aging" preparation involving cow ghee, flaxseed oil, a resin called Shorea robusta, and Yashada bhasma. The Yashada bhasma caught my attention - it has this mysterious ring to it, doesn't it? Yashada is zinc. Bhasma is ash. So I put the two together and figured that Yashada bhasma must primarily be ZnO or zinc oxide. The paper did not really talk about the composition of this bhasma but the conclusion was that this particular combination of ingredients showed better wound healing and collagen content in skin compared to a control group. I found out that Yashada bhasma is made in a rather elaborate way - see below the materials needed to prepare this bhasma:
Zinc metal is melted, quenched in sesame oil and then treated with a variety of liquids - buttermilk, cow urine, kanji etc. The idea is to treat the metal with acidic (buttermilk) and basic (cow urine) media to enable the end product to be easily incinerated to a nanometer size granular powder. The function of the other herbs is to assist with purification of the zinc. In the end, the composition of the powder was determined to be ZnO with a particle size between 150-800nm. This is basically nano zinc oxide powder that can be found in sunscreens, diaper rash ointments etc.
It is indeed impressive that all this could be done using commonly available material without a well stocked chemistry lab. Simply amazing. However, would I make nano zinc oxide using this method today? I don't think so.
So now, let's talk about what ZnO does for skin. I found a very comprehensive paper on a variety of studies done on animals and humans using topical application of ZnO. Since my original goal was to see how to prevent hollow eyes non invasively, I will put this in the context of aging.
So it may be beneficial to use products using ZnO - like a sunscreen for example.
The global personal care industry is a whopping $500 billion annually.
Let's put that in some perspective. I work in the semiconductor industry the size of which is about $412B in 2019. That's basically saying that all the companies that make silicon chips that power servers, cloud storage, computers, phones, tablets, cars, flash drives, cameras and everything else that uses a chip is SMALLER than the personal care industry.
The personal care industry is about five times larger than the US automobile industry.
Given that a given personal care item sells for not more than $50 (in several cases less than that), that is a LOT of product to make $500,000,000,000 annually - 10 billion or more products consumed annually globally. For reference, the world population was 7.7 billion in April 2019. So that's over one product per individual in the entire world.
Lifecycle of a product
The first step to becoming a conscientious consumer is awareness. Let's start with the life cycle of a product - from the moment you buy it to the moment you are finished with it. Although I focus on personal care products, the argument applies to any product.
This is the sight in most stores selling personal care products - products come in some sort of packaging (paper or plastic), inside which is the product housed in a plastic bottle in most cases, or a plastic tube, or in rare cases, glass bottles or jars. You buy a product and now starts a series of actions.
1) What do you do with the box in which it came? Or the plastic wrap?
2) You use the product. Where does the product go? For example, when you use a body wash, a lot of product goes down the drain. What happens to the water going into the sewer? According to a 2017 United Nations report, only 20% of sewer water is treated and recycled (the number drops to 5% in countries that are under developed). The remaining 80% is released into the environment. Think about the consequences of this.
Or if you use a can of dry shampoo, what happens to the aerosol being released into the air?
3) What impact does the product have on you when you use it? For example, could the product ingredients enter your blood stream? Could they impact your health? There is a growing awareness of ingredients leading to the natural and organic beauty movements.
4) Finally, when the product is used up, what do you do with the container in which it came?
Or as is usually the case, if you have multiple products and you can't finish them up before their expiry, or you tire of it for whatever reason, what do you do with the left over product? Think of a lotion pump out of which it's impossible to get every last bit of product. What do you do?
5) What is the impact of buying products that are made a certain way? For example, products containing palm oil are under the spot light because of unsustainable practices leading to massive deforestation. Or consider the Vegan movement - what is the impact of using products like beeswax, milk etc. that come from animals? Also consider the carbon foot print of your product - was it made across the world and transported in an airline? Was it mass produced in a factory using a lot of energy?
In follow up posts, let's delve into each one of the above and see how we can slowly make changes to how we buy and consume to have a positive impact.