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Pratima Spa’s Modern Approach to Ayurveda

I had heard about Pratima Spa in SoHo long before I finally made an appointment to meet one-on-one with Dr. Pratima Raichur, an Ayurvedic doctor and holistic skin expert who has something of a cult following in New York City.

Dr. Pratima’s name was always offered up in reverence to what many people told me was her fantastic focus on healing and treatment, rather than gimmicks. As an Ayurveda newbie and longtime skin junkie, I really wanted to meet with her and discuss traditional healing and my own “dosha”, which, in the world of Ayurveda, is one of three bodily constitutions that make up one’s constitution– Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are the three types (but more on that later).

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I met with Dr. Raichur this past December at what is frankly one of the most beautiful and soothing spas in SoHo– an alcove in the SoHo Building that took me by surprise because a magazine I used to work for is housed in that same building, and I never knew Dr. Raichur was so close!

I was sort of nervous– giddy in the way one gets when they are told they’re about to meet a mystic– but when I entered the spa, I was immediately met with a resounding sense of calm. There’s a tranquility to the lowlights in Pratima’s practice space that invokes the doctor’s core principles of relaxation, mindfulness, natural wellness, and holistic beauty.

After waiting a few moments in the foyer, an assistant to Dr. Raichur took me into her office and there she was– luminous behind her desk as some golden rays of sunlight streaked through the curtains and onto her desk. I felt as if I had known her all my life. Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 11.50.11 PM

What follows is the formal interview I conducted with Dr. Raichur to supplement the more personal health assessment I underwent that day. (GC CEO Daisy Helman is a huge fan of Pratima, and she told me our meeting would be amazing.)

In the course of our meeting, Dr. Raichur walked me through the principles of Ayurveda before assessing my dosha (I’m a Vata-Pitta, which means that I have a lot of “fire”). After my assessment, she recommended a specific regiment of herbal supplements and botanical skincare in concert with a prescription advising me on natural healing methods that would help get rid of my excess fire (aka stress) which includes such self-soothing measures as personal massage, breathing exercises, and most importantly: an eating plan meant to bring everything back into equilibrium.

This latter suggestion forms the basis of Ayurveda, which is an ancient Indian practice in which food parlays as medicine. “You are what you eat” moreso in Ayurveda than in perhaps any other natural-healing tradition known to man.

GC: Could you tell us about the title of your book, Absolute Beauty, and how this came about?

Beauty is only an external manifestation of all the things that happen inside; it is just a side effect of peace and happiness. There are three types of beauty: inner beauty, outer beauty, and everlasting beauty, and my book is about the three of them and how to achieve them through the balance of the body, mind and soul. This is ultimately the meaning of Absolute Beauty.

GC: As an Ayurvedic doctor, what inspired you to write a book devoted specifically to skincare?

I have always been interested in beauty and as we all know, everybody wants to be beautiful. Therefore, since beauty is something we all relate to, I use it as the vehicle to teach the foundation and knowledge of Ayurveda in a more approachable way.

So while my approach begins from the viewpoint of skincare, it is truly a complete lifestyle. The skin is just an outer reflection of what is happening within. To me, beauty is not defined by any particular feature or form, but rather the health and wellness of the mind, body, and spirit.

GC: Based on the recipes in your book, if you could only choose a few herbs and plants to use for natural skincare, which ones would you choose?

For body oil recipes, sweet almond oil is tri-dosha and makes a wonderful base for most skin types. Rose and sandalwood are Pitta’s best friends due to their profound balancing and anti-inflammatory properties; they also work aroma-therapeutically to sweeten sharp moods.

Vata’s can find incredible therapeutic effects from the grounding and nourishing quality of rich sesame oil, especially applied to the feet every day and particularly during the winter season or stressful times. Kapha types will soak up extra oils with eucalyptus and elevate sullen moods with lavender. For those struggling with acne, neem will work some magic with its antibacterial and antimicrobial healing agents.

“The skin is just an outer reflection of what is happening within. To me, beauty is not defined by any particular feature or form, but rather the health and wellness of the mind, body, and spirit.”

Amla (Indian Gooseberry) is highly regarded for its anti-aging qualities, is another beneficial herb that can be used by all doshas. Sandalwood, is also a popular Ayurvedic staple that purifies, while gently soothing and cooling the skin.

Turmeric is a wonderfully-balancing herb with antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to having a high antioxidant content. Ayurveda is a science that details incredible customization to the individual, so it is hard to narrow it down to a few herbs and plants for all, but hopefully this points your readers in the right direction!

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GC: Your book emphasizes natural skincare as a holistic lifestyle that includes being in tune with nature’s cycles. How do the seasons and the environment play a role in adopting a natural skincare routine? And what are your thoughts on sun protection?

Ayurveda believes in the principle that “like increases like”. Therefore, when a cold, blustery, and dry season surrounds us, these qualities also increase their presence within our bodies, minds, and on our skin.

This means that changes in season could also influence the skincare choices you make. In the cold, dry months of winter, everyone tends to feel more dehydrated. Therefore, even people with oily skin should lean more towards nourishing skincare to balance the drying energies of the season by including warm, grounding ingredients such as sesame, geranium and sweet orange oil, which are incorporated on our PRATIMA Vata Body Oil.

Similarly, summer months might influence all of us towards lighter, more cooling products to complement our regular routine. Therefore, cooling and calming ingredients are ideal to pacify the heat of the season, coconut, rose, vetiver and brahmi oils are ideal to keep the skin balanced, these are also included on our PRATIMA Pitta Balancing Body Oil.

Regarding sun care, when I first started practicing over 40 years ago, far less research had been done on the effects of the sun and the consequences of not protecting ourselves from harmful UVA and UVB rays. However, Ayurveda, founded over 5,000 years ago, addressed sun protection by utilizing natural herbs, like Neem, as a natural skin protectant. Unfortunately, our environment today is very different and, with the effects of the thinning ozone, we need to protect ourselves even more.

The sun can prematurely age our skin and in serious cases, cause disease. This is why I felt that sun care products were a necessity in my line, both for face and body. My SPF formulations (Neem Rose Sunscreen and Neem Vetiver Body Sunscreen) incorporate non-nano, micronized zinc oxide, as well as nurturing herbs and botanicals that protect the skin while nourishing and hydrating. And don’t forget: sun protection is a year-round necessity, not just in summertime!

GC: What do you think has changed in our culture’s approach to natural beauty and skincare, if anything, since the release of your book in 1997?

I believe the biggest change is that nowadays people is more aware of everything that affects the skin. Before nobody thought that everything we eat, think and feel has an effect in the body thus it also shows in the skin, people didn’t know that there is a connection.

I also think our culture has really embraced natural beauty and skincare and this something to truly celebrate. When I first started my line, there was no one talking about the importance of ingredients or purity, and of course there was no internet for people like me to communicate how important this truly was. Even what is considered “healthy food” has had a big evolution. Now, we have a much more conscientious consumer that wants to patronize companies that are transparent and that use honest ingredients.

The positive “ripple effect” of conscientious consumers is in and of itself a beautiful thing– I think eventually it will change the world. There’s a yearning to return back to nature, ethically and with all the conveniences of modern day accessibility. And the industry has responded (and in fact exploded) in kind.

“The positive ‘ripple effect’ of conscientious consumers is in and of itself a beautiful thing– I think eventually it will change the world. There’s a yearning to return back to nature, ethically and with all the conveniences of modern day accessibility. And the industry has responded (and in fact exploded) in kind.”

GC: If you were to write another book in this field, what would you focus on? Have there been a recent developments in the world of Ayurveda?

In terms of another book, I always want to speak directly to the heart and soul of everybody and these days because we are living much longer, people is very worried about aging. Ayurveda also teaches us how to age gracefully and healthy, how every dosha ages differently and how aging is really not a one-way-fits-all process.

We don’t all benefit from the same moisturizer or exercise routine, and the same goes for aging. I feel like I have a lot to offer on this subject, as it is very important for people to understand their individual constitution and to follow a different approach to aging accordingly in terms of lifestyle, nutrition, and of course skincare. This way, we will be able to achieve beauty but more importantly to live a longer and healthier life. Now, I just need to find the time to write it!

In regards to recent developments, Ayurveda, as a complete, holistic science, is deemed to be the first documented form of medicine, dating back over 5,000 years. So while all of its incredible wisdom comes from centuries and centuries ago, new developments in the application of Ayurveda are constantly emerging.

There’s some exciting work regarding the treatment of autoimmune diseases, as well as Alzheimer’s. I have also been working with a scientist for several years now who has developed ionized herbs, a process that involves using bio-magnets to align the molecular structure of plants and botanicals for optimal potency and targeted therapy. I use these ionized herbs exclusively at my clinic.

GC: What have been some of your inspirations and research sources for Absolute Beauty?

I have many different sources of inspiration. I grew up surrounded by the principles of Ayurvedic philosophy, this knowledge and wisdom was part of my upbringing. From my grandfather to my mother and later my teacher and Vaidya in India, have been all a source of inspiration through this path.

Moreover, it was intriguing to me the way the world and particularly Americans are in the quest for eternal beauty, but people still don’t understand that beauty doesn’t come from a bottle, it comes from within.

GC: What have you found to be the most rewarding or exciting outcome since publishing this book?

In addition to a personal life goal finally achieved, writing Absolute Beauty has been an success in terms of awareness, where people have been able to not only learn a new way to look at their skin, but also a new approach to beauty. Absolute Beauty gives the reader an understanding of the connection between body, mind and spirit through the Ayurvedic knowledge.

Also, my book has connected me to people all around the world! The most rewarding moments come every time a person comes to me or writes to me saying, “you changed my life.” That reaffirms everything I know about my life’s purpose– to spread the knowledge of Ayurveda; this profound wisdom that puts health and happiness into the hands of the beholder and offers a journey of unyielding gifts. This was my purpose with the book and is also my purpose when I go to work each and every day at my spa clinic. Every time I help someone, it is a gift.

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GC: What is one of your favorite skin-care recipes from Absolute Beauty?

While I love all the recipes in Absolute Beauty, I would say my body oils, especially since the application of oils on the skin is really the most important skincare step of all. Even the word for oil massage in sanskrit, snehana, has the same root as the word for love, sneha. It is a deeply cherished Ayurvedic tradition for a reason.

Since essential oils, carried in the proper base oils, share a similar density and particle structure to the skin’s own sebum, it has the ability to penetrate to the deepest layers and make the most impact on the skin’s condition. Oil application also involves touch, which is so important for our central nervous system and for keeping our fluid systems of the body flowing. The 3 dosha-specific body oil recipes also have wonderful aromatherapeutic effects for the mind and senses.

GC: From your experience, what would you say is the most fundamental idea people don’t know when it comes to the skin and natural skin-care?

Many people don’t know that the skin is a reflection of what is happening inside, and even if they are aware of this connection, many still need to understand that skincare is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Also, when it comes to natural skincare, people need to be aware that even if an ingredient is natural, it doesn’t mean that it is good or effective for everyone. Every individual constitution is different, therefore their approach to skincare should be also according to their specific needs.

“Each and every herb, root, flower or mineral is an active ingredient, synergistically blended to produce the best combination of healing care for your skin. Ayurveda understands the intelligence embedded within the gifts nature bestows upon us.”

Also, it is important to understand that our skin indiscriminately digests whatever it is fed, whether that is beneficial nutrients or harmful chemicals. These substances, for better or worse, are then absorbed into our bloodstream, causing a direct impact on our overall health. This is why natural skincare made from pure, organic ingredients is so critical, while also being far more effective in the long run when it comes to skin solutions. They are easily recognized by the body as nutritious, beneficial food that heals and nourishes the tissues, creating long-term benefits, not superficial results that you get from the harmful synthetic, chemically-altered products so widely used today.

Each and every herb, root, flower or mineral [in my skincare line] is an active ingredient, synergistically blended to produce the best combination of healing care for your skin. Ayurveda understands the intelligence embedded within the gifts nature bestows upon us. Learning what’s best for you and making conscious decisions towards your health is not only an investment in beauty, but in your future. And as always, if you’re in doubt, read the ingredient list. If there is something listed that you wouldn’t eat, it’s not worth putting it on your skin!

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