Getting burned seems like an inevitable part of life. Sometimes we get a little clumsy when removing toast from the toaster, sometimes we don’t realize that the hot water tap was turned all the way on, and sometimes our skin simply comes into contact with a harmful chemical. Whether we get a burn from electric shocks, intense heat, scalding hot liquid, radiation, or chemicals, it is an injury to the skin that can result in pain, scarring, and sometimes more intense health complications.
Burns are identified in the West by the severity of their impact on the skin and other tissue, and there is currently a transition in how this severity is labeled. The traditional system identifies the severity of a burn by degrees; first degree burns are the most superficial and tend to heal without causing blisters, second degree burns are more severe as they cause blisters and more intense pain, and third degree burns can leave severe scarring and permanently destroy the skin’s ability to experience sensation.
The latest system of identifying a burn’s severity regards the level of thickness as to whether it is partial or full, superficial or deep. The most severe burns can be fatal if not treated, and they can lead to other life-threatening health complications such as infections.
The Western response to managing and treating minor burns tends to favor applying cool but not cold water to the burn area and managing the pain with pain killers. Major burns require more involved medical attention, and the most significant burns can even result in a skin transplant —known as skin grafting.
Though a hot surface, hot liquid, or another cause for burns on the skin can happen regardless of whose skin comes into contact with these agents, Ayurveda generally associates issues and the balance of the skin with the Pitta dosha.
Pitta is responsible for stimulating the digestive process, and an imbalance of this energy can result in symptoms related to the skin. If a person’s digestive fire burns too intensely, this can make him or her more susceptible to fiery emotions like anger and irritability. When a person feels aggravated like this, or if he or she experiences other heated imbalances in the body, they can break out in rashes, hives, acne, or other maladies of the skin. Likewise, these fiery qualities also make the person more sensitive to burns.
Though people with abundant Kapha and Vata energy are just as likely to experience pain and other symptoms that result from burns, the Ayurvedic treatment of both the surface of the skin and the body’s general balance is to cool off the fire associated with the affected area. A burn victim will also benefit from using food, herbs, and other remedies to cultivate more cooling qualities throughout the body and ultimately enhance the healing and recovery process.
Along with generally reducing the heat in the body through a Pitta-balancing diet, herbal regimen, and other related remedies; Ayurveda provides several topical remedies to apply to burn sites in order to facilitate proper and efficient healing. For the purposes of self-healing and the use of this application, it is only advised to administer remedies for minor burns. Responding to more severe burns, such as what may be labeled as second- or third-degree, is best done under the treatment of a trained medical professional.
If one is not available, then cooling and healing herbs like aloe vera plant gel, turmeric, mint from the kitchen cabinet, or ice should be applied to the area. However, if it is a burn from harmful chemicals, wash the area with soap and cold water to remove the chemicals, dry the area off, and apply aloe vera or other cooling herbs mentioned below.
Though Ayurveda works to establish the root cause of diseases, the burns explained and responded to through the use of this application are obviously caused by the skin’s contact with harmful agents. This section is typically intended to teach how to modify one’s lifestyle in response to the incidence of the disease. However, the main change to be made in response to getting burns is to simply avoid the responsible agent (e.g. not touching the toaster’s heating coils). The following remedies can be applied to burns if and when such an incident takes place. Apply one of them to the site of the burn.
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices. We then have the opportunity to make deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room in the stomach later, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and should be fresh and not left over for more than a few hours. The following foods can help curb the general build-up of heat in the body, which will lessen the burning sensation of pain associated with minor burn:
Rice (white basmati)
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha.Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha.Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods increase the amount of heat in the body and should therefore be avoided to expedite the healing of burns:
Chocolate, especially dark
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.
Hot water, especially during meals, first thing in the morning, and a few cups during the day.
Herbal tea of cumin, mint, coriander, and fennel.
Avoid cold and frozen drinks.
Avoid sugary or fizzy drinks that blend with the digestive juice and make it weak.
Avoid alcohol, coffee, and black tea, which will heat up the blood.
Aloe vera juice.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water.
Aloe vera gel
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and build up from there once the body becomes more flexible.
Ear to knee
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
To help control and resolve burns, repeat the syllable “Aum” (pronounced ohm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
As a Pitta-related disorder, it is helpful to both outwardly chant this syllable and internally repeat it for the duration of time it is practiced.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body, and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress.
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