Oil pulling (holding or swishing of herbal oil in the mouth for cleansing / detox / freshening) is a popular trending herbal therapy in the West. This therapy finds its roots in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine and wellness. Various celebrity Pullers have so far advocated different techniques and oils for good results. Let us see what the authentic Ayurvedic texts have to tell us regarding this. (Yes, you can expect to find some great herbal swishing formulae and scientific tips & tricks, as usual.)
BUT FIRST, SOME AYURVEDA FAQs
Q: What is the original Ayurvedic form of Oil swishing / Oil pulling?
A: Oil swishing and oil pulling classify under the ‘Kaval’ and ‘Gandoosh’ therapies respectively in Ayurveda. I say ‘classify under’ since these are much broader therapies where oil is not the only medium used.
Q: Kaval or Gandoosh?
A: The difference between Kaval (swishing) and Gandoosh (holding) is mainly that of quantity. In Kaval, the quantity of liquid is small enough to comfortably swish in the mouth, while in Gandoosh, you fill the whole mouth and can’t swish the liquid. While Kaval works better for teeth and throat ailments, Gandoosh is better for gums, tonsils and sinuses etc. In general, Kaval (swishing) is easier and recommended for daily use, while Gandoosh is used more in medical therapy.
Q: Coconut oil or Sesame oil?
A: Ayurveda endorses sesame oil as the best medium for all therapies involving oil (with only a few rare exceptions). However, coconut oil is recommended nowadays for home use, as it is cheaper, more easily available and not much lesser in efficacy. There are in oils what IPad and Lenovo are in laptops. However, note that oils are not the only media used in medical Kaval or Gandoosh.
Q: Speaking of serious medical treatment, is Gandoosh or Kaval really that good enough?
A: The answer is YES. Medicinal Kaval/Gandoosh can give outstanding results in a wide range of oral / ENT diseases, most specially inflammations (everything ending with an -itis) related to any part of the head/neck. Still, some of the overbounding claims, for example that it can cure cancer or diabetes, are just misinterpreted translations from the original Sanskrit texts, in most cases. They definitely do have palliative value in these diseases, but their curative potential is currently a subject of further research.
Q: So what exactly can a medicinal Kaval/Gandoosh cure or improve for me?
A: Here’s the list. (Well, only a major part of it actually)
brittle teeth, loss of Dental enamel
Tongue and Mouth problems
Lack of taste sensation
Tongue and dental plaques
Bad smelling breath and mouth
Dry chappy lips
Strained eyes (Yes, try it if you don’t believe)
Migraine, common headaches
Nausea, lack of appetite
Itchy / sore throat
Vocal cord dysfunctions
Cervical spondylosis (reported, but not confirmed by clinical research yet)
Lack of concentration
Q: What formulae are used in the medical Kaval/Gandoosh, apart from oil?
A: It is done using a huge variety of liquids which are selected as per the patient’s specific physique (Dosha Prakriti), disease, age, season, sustainability and immunity etc. These can range from oil, herbal decoctions, milk, buttermilk, honey, ghee, alkaloids, to metallic colloids even; or herbalized mixtures of multiple of these liquids.
Q: Why are the scientists so skeptic about it mostly?
A: What the modern scientists have studied so far is the common oil pulling with plain sesame oil, which is only a wellness therapy, not a medicinal Kaval or Gandoosh. For the effects they were looking for, such as antibacterial properties comparable to chlorhexidine, one needs to use a medicated Kaval or Gandoosh, which nobody seems to have told them (or maybe they were just too anxious to prove chlorhexidine’s superiority….). Never mind, I will be giving you a trailer of what a medicinal Kaval can do, further down this article.
Q: So how does it actually work then?
A: You may have heard the traditional answer a hundred times by now – it flushes out the harmful doshas, detoxes and cleanses all the cavities of your head, and yes, kills bacteria. Very true, but for the skeptics who like it put in a scientific way, the oral cavity shares a lot of its blood and nervous supply with much of the remaining head and neck. Kaval/Gandoosh acts as a topical medication that directly affects these areas; much like how an ointment applied on an aching back relieves the spinal joint inflammation deep inside the surface.
Q: Okay, enough of this med stuff, where are my home recipes?
A: Here they come!
(Note – Some of the ingredients are common herbal powders available over-the-counter in herbal shops. In case you don’t know them well, just opt for a renowned brand and you’re safely set to start; and in case you are still not sure of the brands as well, drop me an email or comment at the bottom of this article.)
For what : Dental and tongue plaques, foul breath, common cold, Kapha disorders
Composition : Equal amounts of
Trikatu powder (a combination of dried ginger, long pepper and black pepper)
Vacha (dried Acorus calamus root)
Powdered Mustard seeds
Haritaki (dried Terminalia chebula fruit)
+ A couple of powdered cloves
+ Pinchful of salt
Medium : Infuse in Sesame/coconut oil or drape in honey for three days and add some water before use.
For what : Oral infections, dental plaques, bleeding gums, preventing cavities, Pitta disorders
Composition : Equal amounts of
Licorice powder (Glycyrrhiza glabra bark)
Neem powder (Azadirachta indica leaves)
Babool powder (Acacia arabica bark)
Triphala powder (a combination of Emblica officinalis, Terminalia chebula, Terminalia belerecia fruits)
Medium : Infuse in Sesame / coconut oil; alternately a decoction in water can be used.
For what : hypersensitive teeth, loosened teeth, dry chapped lips and all Vata disorders.
Ground sesame seeds gravy
Medium : Make infusion in hot water or milk.
For what : An all purpose, all time ready-made formula for the real Ayurveda enthusiasts
Use Irimedaadi Taila, the standardized combination of 48 herbs. This medicated oil, available in all leading Ayurvedic pharma brands, is the gold standard of home based oral care in Ayurveda.
Medium : Start off directly with thrice lukewarm water. In case you find it a bit expensive, which you probably will, for regular use, just dilute it with equal quantity of sesame /coconut oil.
So that’s the recipes for you today!
Now about the proper technique (a.k.a. the practitioners’ tricks for effectiveness) –
1. Ideally start in the morning. Brush/floss your teeth sometime before a medicinal Kaval. You want the medicine to do its precious job, not to be wasted half in doing what even your toothpaste can do.
2. Always boil the recipe before use and allow to stand till lukewarm. When using oil media, its a good idea to add some lukewarm water if you feel uncomfortable swishing the oil only.
3. Before you start, massage your face , neck and shoulders with lukewarm sesame or coconut oil. Then take some steam on the face, or atleast a good hot-air blowing with a hair dryer. This technique, called Swedanam in Ayurveda, increases blood circulation in the cheeks and head overall, and helps in the subsequent absorption of the medication and flushing out of the Doshas.
5. Do the swishing until you feel your nose or eyes moist and watering, or until you feel your throat full with mucus. These are the prime symptoms that you are doing it the right way, and appear in about 5 minutes for most people. Now spit it out, rinse your mouth with lukewarm water, rest for a moment, and repeat the steps. Do 3 to 7 repetitions in all. (Actually, the number of repetitions is determined by the Dosha test in medical therapy, but we won’t be entering the minute technicalities here.)
6. After you finish, don’t let anything cold touch your face or head for a few hours, not even cold air. Wash the face with lukewarm water if you have to. Take rest for a few minutes, and keep away from burning sunlight, if any, for 2 hours.
Ta da, you are all set to try your first medicated oil swishing session, folks! Actually, there’s a LOT more to it, but I will write that someday later, maybe. Till then…
Try this out and don’t forget to share your experience! If you have something to ask or need help with the ingredients etc., leave a comment at the bottom of this page, or ask at the About page .
Stay healthy, stay happy !!!
About the Author – Dr Harshad Rajandekar is a medical practitioner specializing in Ayurveda and integrative medicine. He holds an Ayurvedacharya degree from the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, and runs a practice in Integrative medicine and holistic wellness therapies at Nasik, India. Login to read his complete profile here on LinkedIn.
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