CHAPTER 12: AYURVEDA AS A WAY OF LIFE
12.1 Pillars Of Wellness
Ayurveda describes 5 pillars of wellness which are essential to good health. As we all know, a yogic lifestyle is about balance — a dynamic dance unique to each of us. These five pillars include rest, movement, food and nutrition, meditation and emotional well-being.
- Rest is defined as a situation of physical and mental ease. Adequate sleep is important to ensure that your mind is well-rested, and often includes dreams. The correct relaxation practices help in recalibrating the nervous systems and prepare us to meet the energy of growth and change.
- Movement, especially daily movement of the body, is an indispensable part of leading a healthy life. It is important to engage in some movement – running, walking, exercising, gyming, yoga etc. so that your body remains active and the organs are able to perform their function to the best of their capability.
- Food and Nutrition is essential to all-round health. Always try to include warming and carminative herbs and spices in your diet (ginger, cumin, cardamom, coriander, orange peel, as well as culinary herbs like rosemary and basil) as they support healthy and active digestion.
- Right Meditation is an aspect that many lack in their routine, yet can truly do wonders to the body. It is the art of bringing some intentional and powerful pranayama into our daily routines to deepen the breath, strengthen the lungs, expand their capacity and resilience. Although present in varying forms, an ideal meditation routine is best recommended as per one’s dosha type.
- Emotional Wellbeing is evident through happiness, contentment, patience, and satisfaction. Ayurveda also encourages you to express all emotions freely and openly, either positive or negative
These five pillars are also interconnected to one’s energy and productivity levels. However, the right balance of these pillars is not the only factor to influencing productivity. One must tune into their bodies and minds – as well as their emotional state from within – so their body can truly soar high and deliver results.
12.2 How to find focus to maximise productivity?
Vata, pitta and kapha are not only the three mind-body doshas that determine our physical features, yet also affect how one deals with stress and work. They are those energetic human forces that connect you to the universe and establish a rhythm. By setting your tasks, schedule and lifestyle with the rhythms of nature, your inner and outer worlds balance themselves automatically.
Different hours of the day account for varying emotions and energy levels. Some bring more mental clarity, whereas others tire you out. The closer you are to your day’s schedule as per the energy, the more energised and refreshed you will feel.
The art of connecting your daily routine as per the energy cycles is a powerful one. By moving away from these natural cycles, you risk your health, happiness and balance in life. Grasping control of your natural cycles and routine makes you wise and capable of decision making – ranging from your food, your habits and your lifestyle.
In today’s hectic world, we often neglect the importance of unwinding and recharging. This is probably one of the most important elements influencing productivity. Ayurveda recommends massages (namely, Abhyanga and Shirodhara), mantra chanting, and plant-based therapy (phytotherapy) as ideal relaxation techniques.
12.3 Benefits of Massages – Abhyanga and Shirodhara
The term Sanskrit term ‘Abhyanga’, meaning massage, is composed of two words- ‘Abhi’ meaning towards and ‘anga’ meaning movements.
ABHYANGA IS A SYNCHRONIZED BODY MASSAGE DONE TOWARDS THE DIRECTION OF BLOOD MOVEMENTS. PRACTICALLY, IT MEANS MASSAGING IN THE DIRECTION OF BODY HAIR. THE SCIENTIFIC REASON BEHIND THIS MOVEMENT IS TO INCREASE THE FLOW OF BLOOD TOWARDS THE MOST DISTAL PARTS OF THE BODY.
Abhyanga is generally done using oils, herbal powders and pastes or ghee. It is a great tool to relieve pain, stiffness or tiredness, and is also effective in maintenance of one’s dosha balance. It also enables stress reduction, healthy skin, vision, lymphatic damage, and the reduction of muscle stiffness among other factors.
The term shirodhara literates to ‘shir’ which means head and ‘dhara‘ which means pouring something in a stream.
SHIRODHARA IS A TECHNIQUE OF POURING WARM OIL, OR ANY OTHER MEDICINAL SUBSTANCE, IN A CONTINUOUS STREAM OVER THE FOREHEAD WHERE NERVES ARE CONCENTRATED. NOT ONLY DOES THE OIL SATURATE ONE’S FOREHEAD AND SCALP, DIRECTLY PENETRATING INTO THE NERVOUS SYSTEM, BUT IT ALSO CREATES A PRESSURE ON THE FOREHEAD WHICH STIMULATES HEALTHY VIBRATIONS, THUS CALMING THE MIND.
This has been a unique Ayurvedic body therapy which has been an old component of the natural Ayurvedic medical system. The movement of oil has been proven to instantly calm, relax, and cleanse the mind and the nerves. There are broadly three types; namely, Sneha dhara (includes use of herbal oil or ghee), Ksheer dhara (includes use of milk with herb infusion) and Takra dhara (includes use of buttermilk with herb infusion)
Moving away from physiological forms of relaxation (such as massages), let’s look at spiritual methods of revitalisation and gaining peace of mind.
12.4 Benefits of Chanting Mantras
THE WORD MANTRA IS DERIVED FROM THE SANSKRIT TERM, MANANAT TRAYATE, WHICH TRANSLATES TO PROTECTION OF ONESELF (TRAYATE) THROUGH CHANTING (MANANAT).
Mantras are Sanskrit terms and phrases loaded with power and sounds. They are highly capable of penetrating our body into deep levels of consciousness by their unique sounds and the vibrations they create. On chanting mantras, hormones and neurotransmitters throughout the body communicate with each other through vibrational powers. This ensures our physical and mental health. This indicates that our cells are in harmony and the body is functioning well.
The body, mind and breath can be best tuned through the pulse of sound. Chanting mantras stimulates positive energies, while also enhancing energy and blood circulation. Repetitive chanting of a mantra enables diffusion of sound energy and vibrations, which gets distributed to the physical body and mind. This also helps in aligning the chakras of your body and helps you feel relaxed. Some popular examples include:
- OM, which is the sound of creation, inspiration and spiritual focus
- SO’HAM, which is the sound of breathing, and awakens power
- OM Namo Narayanaya, which is the sound of benevolence and peace
- OM Shri Durgayai Namah, which is the sound of protection and righteousness
- OM Shri Ramaya Namah, which is the sound of duty and harmony
- OM Gan Ganpataye Namah, which is the sound of removal of obstacles and hurdle.
- OM Namah Shivaya, which is the sound of transformation
- OM Shri Maha Lakshmyai Namah, which is the Sound of beauty, patience and generosity
- OM Aim Saraswatyai Namah,which is the sound of creation and production
Moving beyond the individual, the elements in our environment can be incorporated into our lives to bring us peace and happiness. Phytotherapy is an example that employs plants and herbs as traditional healing methods.
12.5 Phytotherapy – A Plant Based Therapy
Phytotherapy is a popular form of plant – based medication in Ayurveda.
Phytotherapy is a science-based medical practice. It differs from other traditional healing systems, such as medical herbalism, which completely relies upon empirical appreciation of medicinal herbs.
A common herb such as the Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis) is known as a reactive, bitter tonic, liver stimulant and a mild laxative. This herb is used in treating pitta and kapha types. It should be avoided by a vata person, unless it is properly balanced with other plants and herbs. This is due to its strong bitter taste, which can increase the elements of ether and air in a vata person.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is another diaphoretic and an effective stimulant. This herb works very well in stimulating the digestive metabolism of Vata and Kapha but it generates too much heat for Pitta types. All pungent, heating herbs tend to aggravate pitta dosha, unless balanced by other herbs.
Therapy and good hygiene go hand and hand when discussing well-being. The following section looks at the importance of tongue cleaning as a daily hygienic exercise.
12.6 Tongue Cleaning Exercise
Tongue cleaning is an exercise that has been in practise since ancient times. Tongue cleaning has several benefits in keeping our breath fresh and in maintaining oral hygiene.
12.6.1 Correct Practice of Tongue Cleaning
Ideally, a proper tongue cleaner should be used for this task. Hold the ends of the cleaner and extend the tongue outwards. Place the cleaner on the tongue’s surface and gently pull it forward to clean the surface of your tongue. Rinse your mouth and as well as the tongue cleaner to ensure oral hygiene. This entire process can be repeated as many times as you wish, until you feel your tongue has been cleaned nicely.
12.6.2 Benefits of Tongue Cleaning
Your body is constantly exposed to toxins that enter your body through the food you eat as well as from the environment. So much so, even your metabolic waste contains unresolved toxins. When these toxins are not properly digested and excreted, they accumulate in the body and begin to affect your health and immune system. Tongue scraping is a basic measure that ensures such toxins are flushed out of your body. This exercise not only enhances the sense of taste but also manages overall digestive health. It gently stimulates the internal organs which in turn increases your awareness about your body.
Bodily awareness is isolation, however, is insufficient. Ayurveda views the internal and external facets of life to be seamlessly interlinked. Vastu Shstra is a branch which discusses the balance of these energies.
12.7 Ayurveda and Vastu
AYURVEDA AND VASTU SHASTRA ARE TWO BRANCHES OF SCIENCE, WHICH ORIGINATED IN INDIA. THEY TALK ABOUT THE IDEAL BALANCE OF ENERGIES IN YOUR BODY. VASTU IS ALSO KNOWN TO HAVE DERIVED ITS ROOTS FROM ANCIENT VEDIC CULTURE.
Ayurveda talks about balancing your internal energy while Vastu aims at balancing the outside energies. Vastu ensures that the energies absorbed by your body are all pure and positive. However, if your body’s internal energy balance is not correct then the positive energies created by vastu would be wasted and can even prove to be counterproductive, having serious after effects. Vastu is a simple practice that can practised in daily life by adopting certain habits and systems. Organising your home is one of the simplest steps you can take towards attracting positive energy.
12.7.1 Tips on organizing your house through Vastu Shastra
- Facing the house entrance, living room and prayer room towards North and East
- A minimum of two shutters to the main door, preferably opening outwards
- An even number of doors and windows in the house in total
- Avoid using black doors
- The staircase should be undamaged, and should ascend clockwise.
- Avoid using extremely bright colours in the house
- Avoid pictures of war, sadness or erotic content at home
- Jewellery and money boxes should face East to promote prosperity
- Kitchens and bathrooms should never face the East
- Walls facing the West or South should be thick and tall, while those facing the North or East should be thin and low.
Positions of objects are merely one aspect of healthy living. The very material which objects are made of, however, is an often neglected aspect of everyday living.
12.8 Interaction of Human Body with Materials
Cooking utensils are one of the biggest examples of objects which our bodies frequently interact with. Ayurveda says that a large degree of nourishment and nutrition enters into your body through utensils. Provided below is a list of metals and their advantages and positive effects on the body.
- Copper is considered as the best metal for rice preparation as it boosts agni (which enhances digestion), detoxifies the body and increases haemoglobin
- Brass increases the immunity and strength, strengthens the body, pacifies burning sensations, increases haemoglobin count, improves the general condition, and controls anger and annoyance
- Silverware controls dizziness, excessive thirst, inflammation in organs, increases sperm count, and is best suited for Pitta body types
- Bronze helps with dry skin, nervous temperament, irritability, obesity, improves eyesight and poor skin condition (although, it must be noted that ghee shouldn’t be stored in this vessel for too long).
- Gold – improves sperm quality, rejuvenates the body, enhances memory, and is regarded to be an aphrodisiac
- Clay holds a great amount of immunity benefits
Moving back to the body, our skin is one organ that requires a balance of both internal and external healthcare measures to stay bright and glowing.
12.9 A healthy skincare routine
Skin types are defined by Dosha in Ayurveda, as per which appropriate healthcare measures are recommended.
- Vata Dosha deals with thin and delicate skin and is prone to dryness, wrinkles, fine lines and pores. Those falling into this category must keep their skin hydrated and moisturised.
- Pitta Dosha deals with sensitive skin. People of this skin type frequently develop breakouts, which can result in oily skin and rashes.
- Kapha Dosha deals with oily skin, accompanied with large pores and blackheads. This may potentially grow into acne or skin eczema.
Fortunately, Ayurveda recommends simple natural steps that can be taken to counter such challenges, through herbs as well as skincare tips.
12.9.1 Natural Ayurvedic herbs for beautiful glowing skin
- Neem oil is effective for treating blemishes, and also has antibacterial properties
- Manjistha is one of the best ayurvedic herbs for glowing skin, and can be used internally or as a face pack
- The Padmaka plant can be powdered and used to improve skin complexion
- Nagkesar can improve skin complexion, making it smooth and supple among other benefits
- Vetiver is also known as usheer or khus, and is effective in fighting acne and blemishes, as well as giving off a radiant skin tone
12.9.2 Tips for Internal and External Skincare
- Internal skin care tips include yoga for glowing skin, adequate sleep and rest, and maintenance of a healthy diet
- External skin care tips include cleansing, nourishing and moisturizing, and facial massages
Penetrating a layer below the skin, ayurveda also recommends measures to detoxify the body from within – which likewise will show externally as well.
12.9.3 Detoxification of the body
Detoxification implies the purification of blood in the body. It is done by eradicating the impurities from the blood, where all the toxins are processed for elimination. The body is also capable of eliminating toxins through the kidneys, intestines, lungs, lymphatic system, and skin among other parts. However, body imbalances tend to affect the process in which impurities are effectively filtered.
Some basic tips that can promote detoxification are:
- Drink enough hot water and ayurvedic tea (eg. Ginger tea, Basil tea)
- Practice intermittent fasting
- Increase you bitter food intake
- Use pungent spices such as ginger, turmeric, black pepper etc.
- Move your body on a daily basis through various exercises
- Consume green vegetables and seasonal fruits
As you may have guessed, each of these Ayurvedic tips are best practiced under the expertise of a doctor or medical expert. For this purpose, there are a number of branches of Ayurvedic sciences which offer distinct areas of knowledge regarding the mind and body. Find out what these are in Chapter 13 here.
You can refer back to the broader course outline here.
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