Svedana also spelled Swedana, is an Ayurvedic practice that offers numerous health benefits to the body. The treatment involves the application of heat using a variety of unique techniques to induce the body into a sweat. In the previous post we explored all the benefits that this practice provides but now let’s look at the many ways you can incorporate Svedana.
The primary method used to induce perspiration is the induction of heat. The body is equipped with numerous innate processes to ensure its homeostasis. The body’s internal temperature is critical to the health of our internal organs. Therefore, humans require a means to govern their temperature. The action of sweating is regulated by the hypothalamus. When the body senses its core temperature has risen, the body begins to perspire. As the sweat reaches the surface of the skin, it evaporates off and cools the skin through a process known as “evaporative cooling”. Once the core has become efficiently cooled, the hypothalamus signals the sweat glands to cease perspiration. Typically, changes in our core temperature come from either external or internal stimuli; External stimuli would be equated to the outside ambient temperature while internal stimuli are commonly experienced through exercise or fever. While external heat generally encompasses the entire body, heat can also be applied locally through the use of hot pads or a hot water bottle. This is especially useful when using Svedana for issues of pain and/or stiffness. Localized Svedana provides very effective site-specific relief because the therapy takes place directly over top of where it is needed. This serves to help guide the body into healing itself directly at the source of the imbalance.
A naturally occurring, and perhaps also one of the simplest ways to induce a Svedana, is to exercise. By performing some gentle exercise, the body burns calories to provide the necessary energy for movement. This internal combustion through caloric metabolization, causes the core temperature of the body to raise. As the alteration of temperature is detected, the hypothalamus signals the sweat glands to begin perspiring. The more extreme the activity, the higher the amount of energy needed to become metabolized, thus leading to a significant increase in body temperature. This results in even further sweating being required to take place in order to effectively cool the body. When exercise is combined with external heat, diaphoresis (The process of perspiration) takes place at an elevated rate. Examples would include: Exercising outside, such as going for a run in the summertime, or hot yoga to name a few.
While the body’s core temperature is the prominent driving factor leading to perspiration, herbs can support and even induce the act of sweating on their own. The category of herbs which supports/induces perspiration is known as “diaphoretics”. The main actions of diaphoretics are to: Promote sweating, increase circulation, relieve aching muscles/joints, support fevers, remove toxins from the body, and dissipate swelling. Most diaphoretic herbs are of a warming nature. This is because heat prompts these actions to be carried out. Typical heating diaphoretic herbs include Basil, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Sage, and Thyme. While a majority of diaphoretics are of a warming nature, cooling diaphoretics do in fact exist, two common examples are Chamomile and Peppermint. There are two main modes of herbal ingestion: Internal and external. Internal ingestion of the herbs is fairly self-explanatory, the herbs are either drank as tea, or consumed throughout the diet. External ingestion takes place by using herbs and water to steam the body or to be medicated into a medium such as an oil or a paste, which is then applied topically on the body. While both methods are useful alone, the maximum benefits can be achieved when they are used in tandem. By consuming diaphoretic herbs prior to a svedana therapy, which then would again use diaphoretic herbs externally, maximum diaphoresis will take place.
While an authentic Ayurvedic Svedana can be quite relaxing, the therapy is at its essence, more of a description of an action: To sweat. Sweating can be done at any place and any time, not solely in a spa or on a football field. An easy at-home application involves using your shower’s hot water to facilitate the production of steam. Follow the directions below to transform your shower into a home sauna.
At-Home Shower Sauna
- Turn on the shower to its hottest water temperature.
- Point the shower head towards the shower wall while taking care to mind where the water is splashing in comparison to where you will be positioned during the steam.
- Optional: Using a plastic chair/stool, position the seat away from the splashing water.
- Once the water is up to temperature, place a washcloth over the drain. This will slow the drainage, resulting in a shallow layer of water at the bottom of the shower basin.
- Apply 15-20 drops of the diaphoretic essential oils of your choice into the water in the shower basin.
- Sit in the steam-filled sauna for approximately 15 minutes.
- Optional: In Ayurveda, because the head should never be heated, place a washcloth soaked in cold water across your forehead to combat the heat of the steam for the duration of the therapy.
Essential Oils are the hyper-potent and most volatile aspects of the herb. Due to their volatile nature, they are especially sensitive to heat. This characteristic will be exploited to atomize the medicine into the air when it comes into contact with the steaming water at the base of the shower. The main essential oils to be used are the same diaphoretic herbs aforementioned: Basil, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Peppermint, Sage, and Thyme.
Bathing for Svedana
Another type of home-application style Svedana involves taking a hot bath. While the hot water alone could be enough to bring the body into a sweat, diaphoretic herbs can be included here as well. While drawing your bath, add 1/2 cup of dry ginger powder into your bathtub. The ginger will help to increase circulation and induce diaphoresis.
Note: Ginger can cause skin sensitivity/irritation in some cases, especially around sensitive areas and/or open wounds. Exercise caution until you have seen how your body will react, dip your arm or foot in the ginger-infused bathwater for a few seconds before slowly entering the water with your entire body.
An additional at-home application of Svedana is a steam of the face/sinuses. This can be quite therapeutic, especially during acute periods of illness, as it helps to relieve pressure in the sinus cavity due to congestion. It can also be used to help hydrate the skin when the face has been recently oiled. The concept of pore dilation (Through sweat) helping to increase the absorption of oil into the skin is the same principle as in Abhyanga. This can be a lovely self-care activity to help restore hydration and increase circulation to the face, providing you with a beautiful glow. The process of facial steam involves heating up water to a low boil and then adding it to a large shallow pot or frying pan. Then herbs may be added if desired. The herbs can be used either in their whole form or as essential oils (Eucalyptus, Peppermint, and Thyme are wonderful to clean/clear the sinus while opening up the lungs in the process). A couple of handfuls of fresh/dried herbs or between 5-10 drops of essential oils will be sufficient to receive the medicinal benefits. A bath towel is then placed over the head to enclose the pot. Breathe the steam in through your nose for 10-15 minutes. The nose typically runs during facial steam, you can keep a handkerchief nearby just in case. These facial steams also function well to bring humidity and moisture into the nostrils, which can be helpful during the fall when they tend towards dryness.
There are many methods of achieving the goal of perspiration. While the core principle of its methodology is through the usage of heat, the practice of Svedana can lead towards Pitta vitiation when used in excess. However, the use of cooler diaphoretics and a shorter duration of the therapy can both make the practice acceptable for usage within the Dosha. Through this practice, many benefits are notable such as an improvement in circulation and Agni, as well as reduced stiffness/pain in the joints and muscles. While the concept of sweating may seem like a nuisance in our day-to-day life, its therapeutic value has been proven both in the ancient world and our own modern era. Perspective is important when viewing any concept, including this one. Next time perspiration takes place, rather than hoping for its cessation, remember all of the benefits which can come from its implementation!