Ayurveda is the original owner’s manual for the human body. It offers a framework for understanding our individual differences and how to harmonize with them to maintain balance in an ever-changing world in order to protect health, increase vitality and maximize longevity. In short, Ayurveda encourages us to enjoy bliss and avoid suffering.
Ayurveda is commonly associated with India. This is largely a historical accident. Ayurveda transcends that country and culture. It originally manifested as an oral tradition during the Vedic Age, millennia before the classic Ayurvedic texts were compiled. It thereby took on the character of that time and place. On the great strength of that tradition, Ayurvedicpractice has best been sustained there. Even so, much of Indian cuisine does not conform to Ayurvedic ideals.
Ayurveda is not a cure-all. In the face of serious, life-threatening conditions, modern medicine is superior. But in the post-acute phase, Ayurveda still has much to offer to help mitigate side effects and restore a semblance of balance.
For these reasons, Ayurveda has become the guiding light by which I understand, interpret and evaluate practices of other healing traditions including “modern” medicine and the fads that sweep popular culture.
Here are some uniquely-Ayurvedic ideas:
• Our bodies are machines for transforming food into Consciousness
• Ayurveda is for immortality
• The one-word definition of health (Swastha) means established in the Self— the source of Life and of the body’s inner self-repair intelligence
Ayurveda fills the need for practical guidance better than any other system I’ve encountered. Ayurveda is descriptive, not prescriptive. It applies a deep understanding of the Laws of Nature to make predictions, which we can either embrace with potential benefit or ignore at our own peril.
For example, here are some basic Ayurvedic recommendations to preserve health:
• Awaken by 6 AM without an alarm
• Exercise outdoors daily, preferably in the early morning
• Don’t resist natural physiological urges such as to yawn, cry sneeze, pass gas or eliminate urine or stool
• Take your main meal at mid-day—don’t skip lunch
• Favor a lacto-vegetarian diet
• Eat with your attention on your food
• Avoid taking cheese or yogurt in the evening
• Go to bed before 10 PM
The rationale for these simple, specific recommendations can be understood from first principles of Ayurveda which I will be introducing you to slowly throughout the year so that we can explore it together.
In case I successfully inspire you to entertain some life changes, I want to throw out a note of caution: don’t allow the process of change to create undue stress for yourself or your loved-ones. Whether or not your current habits of diet and daily routine are optimal for health, your physiology has adapted to them. Sudden changes send a shock to the system that can create discomfort and collateral damage. If instead you undertake changes in a gradual way, you’ll be more comfortable and more likely to succeed in establishing new habits.
A change of seasons will soon arrive. Next time we’ll look at how that will affect your physiology and how to take advantage of the opportunity to mitigate the risk of illness.