When I became a student of Ayurveda, the first hurdle I remember wanting to dodge instead of sail over was getting accustomed to the copious amounts of oil used in pretty much every Ayurvedic practice. Oil in the ears, oil on the skin, oil in the eyes, up the nose, on the hair and, as it relates to this blog, in the mouth. After years of work integrating Ayurvedic practices and principles into daily life – I’ve reconciled myself to the Ayurvedic Oil Factor. Mostly because I can’t deny the luster is gives to my skin, hair, eyes – or the strength of my immunity or the way that my nervous system has changed. Can oil really change all that, you ask? Mmmmhmmm. I’m a calmer less stressed more resilient person through and through after 7 years of Ayurveda. So, folks, my advice regarding Ayurveda and Oil…Give it a Whirl!
There’s been a lot of talk about Oil Pulling recently in mainstream western media. What many don’t know is that this isn’t a new ‘thing’; it’s been practiced for thousands of years in India, the birthplace of Ayurveda. If it sounds strange to gargle or swish oil in your mouth for 5-10 minutes, be reassured that this simple act, practiced regularly, imparts amazing benefits to you and your loved ones. Kind of makes the wierdness seem like a small barrier to a powerful preventative health tool, right?
What are the Benefits?
Although Ayurveda is an ancient medical science – both it and it’s foundational practices are new to most westerners. There’s an ancient (like, thousands of years old) Indian text called the Charaka Samhita which is one of the main compilations and sources of Ayurvedic knowledge. It has this to say about the benefits of Oil pulling – or Gandush, as it’s called in Ayurveda’s Sanskrit language of origin:
“Keeping of oil gargle provides strength in jaws and voice, development of the face, maximum taste and relish of food. One does not suffer from dryness of throat, lip cracking and teeth become firmly rooted. The teeth do not ache or become sensitive and can chew the hardest food items.”
Remember — that’s ancient Indian talk there, that is.
In more modern lingo, there are a number of studies that support statements made by the Caraka Samhita more than 3000 years ago. Today’s science tell us that Oil Pulling effectively reduces plaque, removes bacteria, acts as a natural cleansing agent for the teeth and gums, prevents tooth decay, oral malodor (stinky breath) and bleeding gums.
As an added bonus, research suggests that this practice benefits heart health. Gum health has been linked to the heart in many studies over the years. This is one of the reasons why dentists take such care to support healthy gums. Poor gum health may allow foreign microbes to infiltrate the blood stream and irritate arterial walls. Interestingly the same bacteria, Strept mutans which peaks in the mouth after a high sugar diet is also found in unhealthy levels in the arterial walls of heart patients.
How it Works
Why is the practice called “Oil Pulling” instead of, say, “Oil Swishing?” One exception: it’s sometimes to refer to as gargling. And, to be fair, you can knock your head back and gargle, if you want. Embrace the practice. Find your own personal style. But I don’t think I could gargle for that long if my life depended on it. Well, maybe I could — but I’m pretty sure it would be super uncomfortable. You can’t do the dishes or multitask half as well in the gargling position as you can in the swishing version of the practice. I tried this morning just to be sure. And you will draw some attention to yourself if you’re making breakfast for the little ones while in gargling mode. And what mother has time to stand there and gargle? Just gargle? Not me. One exception, though… if you’re getting a sore throat – adding some turmeric powder to the oil and then doing some dedicated gargling will work wonders to reduce infection.
Back to “pulling vs. swishing.” The name refers to oil’s way of binding with bacteria and toxins, thereby ‘pulling’ them out of the tissues of the body and allowing you to eject them from your system with the oil you spit out. And lord knows that today, build up of environmental toxicity in the human body has reached dangerous levels. Heavy metals, radiation, man-made synthetic chemical compounds, the hormone disrupting plastics and other petroleum by-products… It’s all around us. And IN us. These toxins cause disease. Not just in us, but in our offspring. The average level of toxicity in a modern mother-to-be is much higher than her mother before her, or her grandmother, for that matter. Unless effective detoxifying practices become a part of daily life, the base cumulative load of toxicity that each new generation begins with gets higher and higher. Toxicity is transmitted through the womb and through breast milk, according to Ayurvedic wisdom. A child is knit of the fabric of your body and nourished from the milk that you produce. If you’re carrying toxicity – it follows that this will transmit to your child in-vitro through the building blocks that your body provides… and it can effect development. We’re seeing an explosion of new diseases for which allopathic medicine has no ‘cure’ and higher rates of cancer (at younger ages) and autism than ever – and the rates keep rising.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, these “dis-eases” in the body, or “imbalances,” are in large part due to accumulations in the tissues and channels of the body that block flow and prevent absorption, circulation, use and elimination of nutrient and waste. That’s a long way of saying that now, more than ever, healthy detoxing practices are vitally important. If Ayurvedic claims that Oil Pulling is a powerful tool for deeply detoxifying the body are true – all the more reason to take this practice and run with it.
The Fine Points of The Practice
It’s important to note that there are a couple of versions of this practice. Daily oil pulling is a preventative measure for health. It’s done for a shorter period of time than the medicinal version of the practice (which incorporates herbalized oils for pre-existing conditions and requires a longer period of ‘swishing’).
So — how is it done?
Place approximately 1 tablespoon of oil (traditionally organic, unrefined sesame oil is used) in the mouth and ‘swish’ it around while sucking it through the teeth for 5-10 minutes.
When you spit it out, look at the color. It will be white and — when put under a microscope — the bacteria count captured within it is off the charts. Doing this daily, or at least a few times a week, will allow you to reap the benefits.
While plain unrefined organic sesame oil makes for the easiest use, oils that are herbalized with turmeric and/or other herbs enhance the effect of the practice. There are a few different takes on when and how best to do it. Really, it’s better to do than not — so fit it in where you can.
Here’s how I do it on a good day:
When: In the morning after I’ve brushed my teeth, scrapped my tongue and flossed and before I eat. It’s an Ayurvedic ‘thing’ to clean your teeth and mouth before you eat so that you’re not swallowing bacteria that accumulates throughout the night when you eat breakfast.
Prep: I announce to my daughter “Oil Pulling!” so that she knows not to expect to have a conversation with me for a bit. She inevitably forgets and tries to talk with me anyway. I just glare at her and point at my puffed out cheeks as they swish the oil. Keep a writing pad handy for impatient family members. 😉
How: gentle swishing of oil around the mouth combined with pushing it through and between my teeth. You’ll end with more fluid than you started with. Saliva mixes with the oil. By the time you finish the oil will be largely diluted.
End: with a flourish. Spit the oil into a garbage bag lined trash can instead of down the sink. Spare your septic. Finish with a quick gargle with warm water to clear residual oil from your mouth.
It’ll be hard to track the benefits of the practice… after all how can you tally up dentist bills, doctor visits and sick days that never happened? 🙂