Health is not the source of well-being; well-being is the source of health.
Ayurveda declares the spiritual truth of our health as being intricately and incessantly bound in our life. Therefore, restoring well–being and balance to our life becomes a necessary measure in reclaiming health of the body and mind. This indisputable truth, known to the sages of Ayurveda for over five thousand years in India, is perhaps so obvious that it is either dismissed as common sense, and consequently life and disease are put in two remote compartments; or, cutting edge scientists research the same fact through clinical trials, all over again. Today, research is trying to establish the connection between lifestyle choices and disease; or between stress and immunological disorders.
Modern research has demonstrated that when an organism is under prolonged stress, the body produces immune eroding stress hormones.
Modern research corroborates ancient wisdom
Modern research has demonstrated that when an organism is under prolonged stress, the body produces immune eroding stress hormones. In the realm of western medicine, it was in the 1930’s when endocrinologist Dr. Hans Selye first connected stress of living to various diseases such as high blood pressure, gastric and duodenal ulcers, and various types of mental disorders as “diseases of adaptation.”The important concept of stress in disease process forwarded by Selye has spawned several studies in this regard.
Healthy lifestyle triggers genetic changes – a clinical study
A study on lifestyle improvement and its effect on prostate cancer-causing genes in 2008, led by Dr. Dean Ornish, head of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California and a well-known author advocating lifestyle changes to improve health, can be quoted to substantiate Ayurveda’s age old insistence upon day-to-day monitoring of our health through what we eat and how we live and related recommendations of meditation, yoga, etc.
In a small study, the researchers tracked 30 men with low-risk prostate cancer who decided against conventional medical treatment such as surgery and radiation, or hormone therapy. The men underwent three months of major lifestyle changes. It included a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and soy products; moderate exercise such as walking for half an hour every day; and an hour of daily stress management methods such as meditation. As expected, they lost weight, lowered their blood pressure and saw other health improvements. But the researchers found more profound changes when they compared prostate biopsies taken before and after the lifestyle changes. After the three months, the men had changes in activity in about 500 genes. The activity of disease-preventing genes increased while a number of disease promoting genes, including those involved in prostate cancer and breast cancer, shut down.
Developing life strategies to deal with stress
According to the spiritually manifested science of Ayurveda, life problems and disease are inseparable and this is an irrevocable fact that requires no further research or burden of proof. So, rather than leading our life in happy ignorance and mindlessly eating away “tasty food” till the food literally kills us; or, allowing ourselves to be seduced by the promises of a profession so grand or a relationship so complex that it takes us something like a “stroke” to revisit our material goals and commitments to others…perhaps, with timely deliberation upon Ayurveda’s calm age-old wisdom, we can reexamine what it takes to achieve what we want. But not without first creating a foundation of well–being that is reaped from a life lived consciously, imbued with gems of moderation, self-reflection, self-restraint, and respect for nature.
Biological, environmental, seasonal, emotional, social and even spiritual factors and stress can build up and ultimately dislodge the human essence; corrupt day-to-day food and lifestyle choices which disturb the precious supply of immune essence called Oja; and finally, bare and expose the human fort – body, mind and soul, now vulnerable to disease.
Ayurveda’s concept of stress eroding wellbeing
The concept of stress is well-described by the Sanskrit concept of dukkha, which literally means pain or sorrow; and this sorrow may be a physiological or emotional/mental reaction (or both) to various etiologies of pain – aadhyatimika (physical or mental factors that arise within living organisms), aadhibhatika (miseries caused by factors that operate on the living beings from outside), and aadhidaivika (miseries effected by providence or factors beyond human comprehension or control).
Thus, dukkha is a factor of human existence. How to navigate this challenging journey called life in spite of the dukkha, how to minimize the effect of the variety of stress factors, how to walk the path that invites least stress, specifics on what to do when the being is stressed due to climate, toxins, emotions, age, etc. is precisely the Ayurvedic path, none other.
Indeed, pain or dukkha is an omnipresent factor in our lives and it lies at the heart of each disease. The purpose of the science of life – Ayurveda, is often described as dukkhanivritti or freedom from the three categories of pain.
Centuries before the concept of stress and behaviors adversely affecting health were known to modern medicine, Ayurvedic sages laid down details for the recovery of health via the right personal, social and morally responsible choices that translate into harmonious attitude and healthy interpersonal interactions. These were codified under the topic of preventive health called Swasthavritta.
The great Ayurveda sage Rishi Charaka declares: One who wants to protect the heart, the great vessels and the Oja, should avoid particularly the causes of affliction of the mind.
By correlating the human being with its multi-dimensional environment and defining the impact of this interaction on disease process, Ayurveda’s spirituoscientific laboratory delivered a premier approach in the task of medicine and healing of the self. This is why, in the healing science of Ayurveda, the purusha and loka, or individual and his larger environment (societal, interpersonal, climatic and geographical) are so precariously intertwined that the “quality of life” becomes a life and death issue. The delicate relationship between the microcosm (pinda) and the macrocosm (brahmanda) takes on a critical and urgent quality in the Ayurvedic context.
According to Ayurveda, a harmonious interrelationship is a must, failing which, discomfort or dukkha is the outcome and this in turn disturbs the inner working of the doshas in the body (subtle matter/energy) and gunas in the mind (subtle vibrations), causing all varieties of disease.
This is why, along with the concept of wholesome and unwholesome diet, Ayurveda furnishes details on leading a positive lifestyle, including following a diurnal routine (dinacharya), nocturnal routine (ratricharya) and seasonal regimen (ritucharya), along with living by the recommendations laid down under sadvritta – a noble code of conduct incorporating health attitudes and behaviors.
Thus, Ayurveda has been delivering, from time immemorial, natural health and correcting the so-called “incurable” or chronic disorders via restoring sanity to out-of-control lives. Many receivers of Ayurveda’s goodies are surprised at the immense and far-reaching benefits reaped from apparently minor lifestyle variations. The recovery appears almost too simplistic to be medicine.
Our behavior dictates our health
Recommendations that constitute sadvritta, conceptualize health gained and nurtured from a larger life, that is lived in balance, with due respect to the immediate environment and natural laws, and the ability to create a socially healthy society.
Ayurvedic sages cautioned that abnormal interpersonal relationships produce psychological stress, which in turn causes psychosomatic disorders. An honoring of sadvritta rules ensures proper socialization of the individual and better health of the society due to enhanced well–being of each individual – be it in a family, a neighborhood, an entire nation or the entire planet.
Ayurveda as a system asks for personal responsibility and becomes so integrated that you crave the appropriate lifestyle rather than a system that externally tells you how to be.
Ayurveda lays down ethical rules and teaches consequences of self-destructive actions and thought processes. Personal transgressions, sinful acts, avoidance of responsibilities and duties are all root causes of psychic self-afflicted misery – such as anxiety, worry, anger, regret, etc. Thus, for optimum health, good conduct and proper personal behavior in every sphere of life, is advocated by the Ayurvedic sages.
Life is not compartmentalized. One cannot abuse the dog in the street and pet the dog in the house. The process of giving and receiving is a continuous process. There are no breaks; that is the nature of consciousness.
So, how we think is how we become; what we do is what we get; how we act is how we reap; and how we reap is how we grow; how we are is how we will become; and what we were is how we are today. Our choices in every realm – be it moral, social or personal – affect, feed and define each other and, ultimately, affect our well–being, which in turn determines the status of our health. This is the application of the law of Karma in day-to-day life, literally applicable minute-to-minute, momentto-moment. This is why Ayurveda recommends the science of healthy behaviors (Aachar Rasayana) and healthy choices that benefit the individual, the society, the environment and the entire universe.
It is all about daily practice
Practice makes perfect, so goes an age-old saying. The path of conscious living that is imbued with well–being, as exemplified by Ayurveda, is all about daily practice till we become one with the knowledge that is dictating the practice.
Health does not come easy. Especially if we have squandered it away over the decades in the bazaar of life where sensual delights and dizzying experiences insidiously entered our being, took possession of our mind and rocked our lifestyles, and robbed us of our inner peace. Where foods of all shapes, sizes, colors and varieties – some even of dubious genetics and questionable cultivation, have deposited in our body and that’s when toxins declare a coup inside our delicately balanced bodily systems!
But the Ayurveda sages calmly reassure us that with daily health care and disease prevention practices that are mindful and dedicated to our higher Self, slowly and steadily, with commitment established in knowledge, we can regain well–being and enjoy good health.
It is our choice
The tree of our life draws its health giving ingredients from our lifestyle, our food habits and from our day-today social and professional experiences. These inputs can be either flung into our body “unconsciously” as in fast life, fast food, chaotic and jam-packed schedules and conflicted interpersonal interactions; or, these inputs can be offered into the being as flowers would be offered to an altar – with mindfulness, loving care, fine attention, discrimination and a sense of responsibility.
Our life then dictates the foods we eat, where we obtain them and how we cook them. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves: Are our foods generally natural and organic, or, are they (more often than not) canned, frozen and preserved, old and stale leftovers; or freshly cooked, inspired food?
It all begins with choice. Consciously or unconsciously, we engage in making choices about what we eat, what we choose to pay attention to, what we smell, what we hear and what we touch. All of these stimuli enter our body to be digested at various levels. What is important to understand is that our health is a product of well being, and that well–being in turn depends upon the quality of our life, and whether we choose to remain conscious in it or not.
It is not just about how you are eating, but really how you are living – so the choices all around you are exactly that – choices – and they can be transformed to become right choices by committing to wanting right choices and by understanding what the right choices are for you. Ayurveda as a system asks for personal responsibility and becomes so integrated that you crave the appropriate lifestyle rather than a system that externally tells you how to be. Eventually you know it and want it from within.
Deep within each one us, is the spiritual womb of the Self and from there emanates a profound wisdom to self-heal. Some sages gave it an external manifestation as in the science of life – Ayurveda, so perfect and so complete.
Wellbeing is hard earned indeed
Thus, our well–being is a precious ingredient indeed, not to be found on supermarket shelves, or inside beautifully designed jars and tubes, certainly not waiting for us inside pharmacologically manufactured state-of-the-art drugs and least of all present in chemically synthesized vitamins and supplements.
Our well–being is right inside us, ready to sprout forth with our calm and nurturing choices tempered with wisdom; fragile to the abuse of wrong foods, chemically manufactured drugs and havoc causing lifestyles. Well–being cannot and will not thrive in flooded bodies, stuffed digestions and stressed minds. Well–being will come forward spontaneously in a life lived consciously, peacefully and in harmony with all that one sees, thinks, does and is.
Ayurveda’s spiritually grounded science understands the rather unfashionable humdrum, old-time word Santulan or “moderation.” Yes, this word does not set fire to our imagination, it certainly will not fund millions of dollars in research and clinical trials, and it will not spawn industries of canned foods and infomercials. This word “moderation” will do nothing of that sort, mainly because moderation is a spiritual choice that lives in the realm of the individual’s personal field. This choice is ours to adopt or abandon. Moderation and adaptability to the unique constitution is the scientific contribution of Ayurveda to this world. One who follows Ayurvedic science listens to wisdom within and learns to seek moderation in everything one eats, thinks, and does.
At every moment when faced with a myriad of conflicting choices, we can decide if we want to go overboard and follow some short-lived logic, fad, connection, hunch or even so-called clinical proof that fails us in time; or do we follow the good old middle path of sanity, moderation and memory? Why memory? It is for us to remember the truth of human existence and the truth of our eternally healthy spiritual essence deep within, buried under the external wrappings of our lives.
Deep within each one of us, is the spiritual womb of the Self and from there emanates a profound wisdom to self-heal. Some sages gave it an external manifestation as in the science of life – Ayurveda, so perfect and so complete.
A message from our true self
Today, Ayurveda reminds us of what we are not. We are not the body and mind; we are the Spirit. We are not cursed to suffer ill health; we are healthy by default. Death is certain, but disease is optional. We are not born inadequate; we are perfect as is, by design. Life is not tomorrow and yesterday; life is today, here and now – in the choices that we are making in the present moment. And this realization is the most important realization… and this shift in our consciousness, from fighting the disease “out there” to re-evaluating our choices within us, leads us to enjoy the magical fruit of well–being within.