Ayurveda – the Science of Life, describes many methods of healthy living, to help bring us into harmony with the rhythms and elements of life.
Although put into writing by wise sages of ancient times, Ayurvedic principles are surprisingly easy to adapt to our modern life, and refreshingly simple to apply.
The science of Ayurveda is a sister science of Yoga, and each method supports the other, as they both have the same goal – to bring the mind and body into peaceful health, to more easily fulfill the purpose of human life.
Both Yoga and Ayurveda see one’s real eternal identity as individual spirit, and that the goal of one’s earthly journey is spiritual perfection.
The spiritual quest is facilitated when one’s body is strong and flexible, and the mind clear and peaceful. Both Ayurveda and Yoga teach ways to promote the health of both mind and body.
Yoga Philosophy explains that everything in the universe is made of eight elements. The five primary elements or building blocks – earth, water, fire, air and ether – make up all bodies, environments, and everything we see around us. Each individual constitution has its own unique proportion of elements, usually with some type of imbalance as well. Ayurvedic methods – using diet, herbs, color and aromatherapy, massage, and other life choices – seek to bring our bodily and mental elements in tune with the elements around us.
The senses take in impressions – or “eat” sensory input – that can cause ill health or improve wellbeing. Not just the food we eat or the water we drink, but the very air we breathe, the sounds we hear, the sights and images we see, the odors we smell, and the information we take in through the mind – all have strong affects on our wellbeing. There are daily and seasonal habits that can bring about greater physical, mental and emotional peace and wellbeing – Ayurveda really is a Science of Life to help bring individuals into balance and has been taught and practiced since great antiquity, not another novel fad.
Modern life is very stressful – modern technology seems to make changes happen faster and not always for the better. Simplicity often has gone by the wayside, and “economics as if people mattered” now seems a quaint notion. Families and personal relationships are often hard to maintain, and fear hems many of us from all sides. Modern medicine offers very little in the way of managing stress other than dangerous pharmaceuticals or feeble guidance to “exercise” or take time for one. Fortunately, Ayurveda offers a wide and often colorful array of methods to help stressed out people find peace in the midst of a speeded up life of pressure.
First of all, it does help to know one’s constitution and specific imbalances. Most people have a more or less dual constitution with one dominant Dosha or constitutional quality, with a secondary one. Knowing your constitution will help you make choices that are balancing and healthy for you.
Stress manifests in different constitutions differently. A primarily Kapha person may react to stress by compulsive eating, sleeping more than necessary, depression or hopelessness, a feeling of futility, becoming numb, unnecessary shopping or collecting, or retreating into denial and not communicating with others.
A primarily Pitta individual may react to stress by succumbing to anger and irritation, intolerance and short tempter, heightened anxieties, giving in to harmful or unnecessary cravings or desires, or trying to control situations and other people.
A primarily Vata person may react to stress with increased fears, feelings of weakness and nervousness, alternating frantic energy with exhaustion, restlessness, nightmares or sleep difficulties, or loss of appetite. People can also experience various reactions to stress not necessarily related strictly to bodily constitution.
Since each individual is unique, each person will react individually to stress, and by gauging one’s own reactions, a person can choose practices that will help alleviate unwanted stressful symptoms. However, there are many methods that will help people of every constitution experience relief from unwanted stress reactions, and can be adopted with little expense or effort. These include dietary, home environment, exercise, and other aspects of daily life.
Stress Treatment Methods for Everyone
No matter what a person’s constitution, Ayurveda has methods, which are help harmonize the body and mind, thus helping increasing Sattva, or the mode of peacefulness and clarity. Keeping one’s personal environment neat and clean helps promote a peaceful outlook. Traditional Yoga practices teach cleanliness and simple living in order to enhance mental calm; some ideas that can be followed by everyone are:
Keeping shoes outside or in a box by the door. The outside world is a dirty place – and by keeping our home clean, this not only helps keep actual dirt and microbes outside, but keeps subtle unwholesome influences outside as well. Using house slippers inside is also relief for feet rather than keeping them in tight shoes all day, thus helping energy flow in the body.
Urban and suburban areas have more and more “light pollution” – constant lights, day and night, disturb the natural rhythms of the body. It is helpful to make sure you have heavy curtains in your bedroom to block out unwanted light, place outside lights so they don’t shine into your bedroom, or turn out any outside lights at night. Eye pillows or an eye mask can be worn at night to create peaceful darkness for sleeping.
Using natural home products as much as possible helps everyone, as the number of toxic chemicals is a heavy load for the body to have to deal with. Artificial fragrances can not only cause headaches, skin and digestive problems, but longer term health problems, and even effect emotions. The skin absorbs chemicals readily, so it’s common sense to use products which are as natural as possible.
There are many books describing how to make our own cleaners using simple substances like baking soda, borax, vinegar and essential oils, and there are more and more natural products available as well. Instead of toxic air fresheners, a better choice is fragrant plants like peppermint or basil, spraying essential oils into their air or using a purchased device using essential oils.
The human body has subtle energy channels, and the free flowing of this energy – Chi or Prana – is essential to physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Wearing manmade fibers interrupts this flow of energy, creating tangible static and contributing to an underlying feeling of unwellness and irritation.
It is important to use natural fibers not just for clothing but also bedding. When people are used to sleeping on cotton sheets and wearing natural fiber clothing, they notice a tremendous impairment when using polyester, acrylic or other artificial fibers.
Physical and mental health need to be supported by proper digestion – both to maintain energy and reduce toxic accumulations. All constitutions benefit from these Ayurvedic dietary habits:
- Eating only when hungry – generally several hours since the last meal was taken
- Eating only the amount that can be digested easily, “stuffing” never promotes good health
- Eating in a peaceful atmosphere; arguing and debating should not happen at mealtime; best is silence, quiet conversation or peaceful music
- If angry, upset or afraid, best to wait until calm to have a meal. A cup of warm milk or other beverage is better when upset
- Eat when the right nostril is open
- Do not guzzle cold water or iced drinks before, with or after a meal – sipping hot water is fine and promotes digestion
- Eat seasonally and according to constitution (prakriti) and any imbalance (vikriti) – best to eat simple foods rather than elaborate or gourmet feasts daily
- Use foods without preservatives, food colorings, preservatives or artificial flavorings – these are all “non-food items” and the body must eliminate them or store them as toxins. Hydrogenated oils and cottonseed oil in particular are harmful for everyone
- A one day a week fast or reduction of eating helps gradually reduce toxins in the body without causing hardship or weakness, different constitutions can use different foods or beverages as a mono-diet
One’s home should be a refuge from the “cold, cruel world” – and there are many ways to make our own homes, no matter how humble, a place where we can feel peaceful and at rest. Leaving the TV, radio and harsh or loud music off rather than on as a background sound is important, as sound especially affects the mind and emotions for good or ill.
Using appropriate colors in home decoration and clothing, keeping artwork and decorations peaceful and uplifting rather than trendy and edgy are all helpful. Yoga principles as well as Feng Shui tell us that having one area in our home as a shrine, meditation or prayer corner is extremely beneficial – a place where we can leave aside the cares of the world and focus on finding Divine peace within.
The northeast is the best direction for such a meditation or prayer corner, or an entire room if possible. Plants, an altar with pictures of Deities and saints, candles, indirect lighting, incense and a comfortable place to sit promote peace of mind.