Religion, the disempowerment of India and her people

by February 13, 2022

Have you ever thought that accumulating religious beliefs could bring about your downfall? Having lived in India for the last 2 decades I have found a culture that uses ‘god’ as an excuse for inaction where action might be more useful .

Here are some terms that have destroyed India over time:

  • Karma means action not inaction. However, the word is used as e.g., ‘it’s my karma’ so there is nothing I can do about it. This way of thinking brings about disempowerment for it implies that there is nothing you can do about your situation. However, if we look at the Bhagavad Gita, the core teaching is ‘do your best and leave the best’.  Furthermore, the word ‘karma’ means action. So would it not be better to adopt the latter viewpoint than the popular view of ‘nothing I can do about it’ cos karma is at work. I am not denying the doctrine of karma but I do believe that doing one’s best is paramount in life; ambition to reach one’s full potential is not a bad thing – it is the fire within us that helps us achieve and become happy. The word karma is helpful when we think ok, we have done our very best but now need to leave the result to the powers that be. The question is where do we stop to achieve our desired goal; I would say we find more and more ways of achieving what we want provided our desires are based on ahimsa which means nonviolence. There are infinite ways of trying our best but if we ‘give up’ early and rely on the karma doctrine we may block those infinite ways and rely on the doctrine for solace. 

In fact, I do believe that the misinterpretation of the karma theory was one of the causes of the downfall of India. I suppose India gave up and let things be in the hands of ‘god’ so to speak. Where was the karma of action to fight for dharma, to fight for the nation? Dharma is the ultimate teaching of life and entrenched in this is ahimsa (nonviolence). Let us now look at these two words of dharma and ahimsa.

  • Dharma is loosely translated as duty. Duty to your nation, to your people, to your environment and so forth. Where was dharma when it came to protect the nation -why did India get trampled over? Where was Dharma when it came to protecting the historical/spiritual heritage? In this context, dharma was about protecting the nation and it did not happen; had it happened the universal teachings of Yoga, Ayurveda as well as the ancient education system would be alive today. 
  • Ahimsa is the parama dharma, in other words the supreme duty and it translates as ‘respect’. Had we respected our fellow beings and our traditions, India would not be in the tatters it is today. India’s tradition was entrenched in ahimsa for ourselves, others, the greater environment and all that exists. Was ahimsa followed? No, it clearly was not. Ahimsa is not a passive state; it requires action where it is for the protection of dharma. Where dharma is protected dharma protects us. Dharma cannot protect us if we do not act in the interests of dharma.
  • Kripa (grace/mercy) is a word that is commonly misused. Have you not hear people say that they are fine due to your kripa. What does this mean; one minute it is your grace and the next minute they stab you in the back; do you stab someone in the back who showers grace on you? Today someone said it to be; it is just an empty expression in my world view.

These are just a few words that get my back up; maybe because I never grew up in this culture. I am of Indian origin but born abroad; a lawyer, Ayurveda practitioner by profession as well as a truth seeker and a believer in transparency and honesty.

I would suggest that one is careful with the use of words that carry the enormity of the highest traditions of the world; think before you speak and stop stabbing people in the back when you are using such words. The purpose of the spiritual traditions of India is unity; not disharmony which is what is created when body, mind and spirit is in sync.

The Indian philosophies and the teachings of sanatana dharam are close to my heart as they are timeles, logical and apply across space. However, it is the usage of the associated terms that can be most unhelpful and in contradicition with the true teachings.

Sattva in Food and Thought – By Dr Anita Duggal

by September 17, 2021

You are what you eat 

It is often said that you are what you eat. This certainly holds true from the Ayurvedic point of view, hence the stress on diet and its quality. However, Ayurveda teaches us that are we not just what we eat but also what we consume in the broadest sense. We are constantly consuming through our five senses and this inflow of sensory impressions shapes and moulds the mind as much as the food we eat. In modern culture, we do not give this type of consumption the importance it merits or even fully recognise the potential impact on our health and wellbeing.  

The mind, like the body is constantly turning over and being renewed. Ayurveda regards the mind as a subtle form of matter which is shaped by the food we consume, in that the subtle essence of the food forms the mind. It is also being influenced by the incoming Pranic flow through the senses. We know that whatever we experience, colours our thoughts and emotions, but we are often unaware of the subtle effect that everything that we take in has on our state of mind. 

Everything in this manifest universe has its specific qualities and properties. There are three inherent aspects or qualities of nature known as the three Gunas – SattwaRajas and Tamas. These are present throughout nature and are likewise present in our minds. The mind is formed from Sattwa and this is therefore its essential nature. The mind is disturbed in its functioning by Rajas and Tamas which are therefore known as the Doshas of the mind. Rajas activates the mind and Tamas dulls it. It is these three qualities that continually exert a subtle influence on us. They are present in all phenomena and in every human being to varying degrees. They are in constant flux and at one time one may predominate and at another time another may predominate. 

The Sattwic quality promotes harmony, calm, clarity, purity and stillness in the mind. The Rajasic quality is exciting, stimulating and promotes activity, the passions and ambition. The Tamasic quality is dulling, clouding and promotes somnolence and inertia. 

Let us start with the diet. Each item of food has its specific nature and associated qualities. All that we consume is made of these three gunas in varying degrees. Sattwic food broadly speaking is freshly prepared wholesome vegetarian food which has a calming and pleasing effect on the mind. Many fresh vegetables and fruit are Sattwic in nature. Fresh milk, ghee, whole grain pulses, nuts, seeds are also some examples of Sattwic foods. Rajasic food is stimulating, tasty and spicy food which excites the mind and makes it active. Examples are meat, fish, eggs, garlic, chillies, pickles, caffeine, chocolate and so on. Tamasic food is dulling in its effect. Stale food, processed food, meat, mushrooms, fermented food like bread, hard cheeses, vinegar and alcohol are a few examples. 

And when we turn to the sensory diet the same principle applies. Sensory food has its properties and thereby exerts its effect. What we consume through our senses also has SattwicRajasic or Tamasic qualities. 

Broadly speaking Sattwic sensory impressions are harmonious, clear, uplifting and calming.  whether these be sounds, sights, fragrances or touch. A Sattwic environment is clean, light, clear and harmonious. The colours are gentle pastel colours. Music and chants which are harmonious and peaceful generally have a Sattwic effect. 

Religious/spiritual music and chants and other spiritual activities generally have a Sattwic effect on the mind. Not only this but the mind is nourished and uplifted with positive thoughts and tendencies. 

Rajasic sensory impressions activate and stimulate the passions. This includes sounds, music, images and odours that stimulate and excite the mind. Watching thrillers, passionate dramas, listening to rock music or other exciting music will all activate the mind. Bright colours have a Rajasic effect. 

Tamasic impressions have a negative and clouding effect. These are dark images, negativity, discordant sounds, bad language, unpleasant smells. Negativity in the content of what is seen or heard will have a dulling or agitating effect. An environment which is dark, dull and neglected will have a Tamasic effect.

Enhancing Sattwa may accord a certain mental peace and stability. Rajas has a role in achieving goals and being dynamic in society. However, in excess it can cause anxiety, restlessness and agitation. Tamas is also important in inducing sleep, without which we cannot function. However, in excess it can cause heaviness, lethargy, dullness and feelings of depression. 

Our five senses are constantly consuming impressions, and these are a form of diet which shapes the mind. Everything we do has an influence on us and shapes what we become. Hence the importance of our sensory diet, our environment and our company. As Rajas and Tamas are the qualities which when in excess are said to cause disturbance of the mind, these need to be kept in check. 

All three Gunas are essential in nature but strong Sattwa is helpful for a clear and calm state of mind. Mind being the subtle part of the body is influenced by everything that the body takes in through its diet and senses. And it therefore follows that you are indeed what you eat! If we are what we consume in this very broad sense, then this gives us a degree of control in shaping the way we want to be and to take charge of the forces that govern us. 

Learning to Change With the Times

by July 15, 2022

While it is good to live with the values learnt in your childhood, sometimes you have to break free, says RENU GULATI

All of us are bound by rules and regulations we acquire from our family, society, culture and environment. I am not asking you to give up discipline and run wild, but check which rules are helpful and which must be discarded as you grow up. Some disciplines are the need of the hour but they can be outdated. They might have worked for you in the past, but may not do so any longer. Put yourself to the test and see what happens when you release old patterns of thinking, speech and behaviour. The more you believe and trust in yourself, the happier you will be.

When you were a child, did you ever have to train yourself to think and act in a particular way? But after a certain age, you were molded by discipline through your family, school and society. This would have had a profound effect and has made you who you are today. An upbringing based on ahimsa would have been ideal and that ahimsa starts with yourself; how many of you were taught to be kind to yourself, especially if you came from a family of high achievers? I speak from this point of view as this was the way I was brought up. Good ethics was the foundation, but the feeling to be ‘this or that’ was not a healthy one in the long run. I finally learnt what is good for me through self-discipline. Sometimes as they say, you have to be ‘cruel to yourself to be kind’.

I was exposed to religion in my late teens, and this was the time when what you should or should not do suddenly became important. I had entered into the ‘religious/spiritual’ world, although now I must admit that I am not particularly fond of either these days as both worlds are mostly used to divide rather than unite. At this point, I acquired more baggage. I don’t come from a ‘blame’ culture or perspective, but I can honestly say that the baggage I accumulated from such traditions were so entrenched in ‘guilt’ that it has not been easy to let go of them.

Renu Gulati

Now with the advent of the ‘new age/self-improvement’ methods, one often hears that ‘fear is harmful’ and that one must focus on trying to dissipate ‘fear’. Earlier we were told that ‘the more you put your energy on anything, the more it increases. So, then you often find yourself in the midst of a stalemate.

It is for precisely these reasons that in ancient times, one took the guidance of a ‘guru’ and that guidance was holistic and individualistic; furthermore, you were advised not to share the practices given to you by the guru with another because they believed that the more you discuss your practices, the more confused you could become after receiving a multitude of opinions. Everyone is unique with different traits and needs a different approach to life which can keep changing. It was for this reason that one generally had the same guru for a lifetime. The parents too are your gurus, as they know their child well.

The point that I am trying to make is that yes, we do need to follow certain ‘rules’ but not to the point where we become fixated on them even when they have become outdated and counter-productive. It is, therefore, helpful to have a wise guide to share perspectives with and to know when to shed old baggage. Everyone has an inner, healing intelligence and the less we suffocate it with old baggage, the more it is able to breathe and function like we did when we were children.

By writing this, I am not attempting to put down any form of religion or evolutionary-based teaching, but simply to make sure that they are a help, rather than a hindrance. You should be able to recognise what teachings from your past are still valid, and what you should discard or change with the times. Eventually, if you don’t change with the times, your rigid beliefs will lead you on a guilt trip. Guilt is a destructive emotion for it is self-punishment about the past. Guilt has its uses, though, for it can sometimes be an inner voice preventing us from making the same mistake again.

Ultimately, the lesson to be learnt here is that first and foremost, ‘be kind to yourself’. From this point onwards, allow your inner intelligence to flow smoothly and guide you in life. Even gurus acknowledge that and often say to their disciples: ‘You are your own best healer’.


Renu Gulati is a lawyer from the UK and holds an MSc in Ayurveda from London since 2006. Based in Rishikesh, she consults, teaches and writes in the field of Ayurveda, internationally. 

More Stories by Renu Gulati

Website: https://www.streewellness.com

Please contact the Stree team for wellness consultations.

Featured photo by Skyler Ewing by Pexels

Women’s Empowerment and International Women’s Day

by March 8, 2022

What is the purpose of Women’s Day?

UNESCO states, “The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on February 28 1909, which the Socialist Party of America dedicated in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York where women protested against harsh working conditions.

International Women’s Day, also known as IWD , was borne out of the labour movement and thereafter became an annual event recognised by the United Nations. The seeds were planted in 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote.

International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, aims to focus global attention on the status of  women when in the areas of gender equality, bias, stereotypes and discrimination; the purpose is to make the world more diverse, equitable and inclusive for women.  This is a big statement and there would be endless opinions based on culture, creed and social status

Employment for women is not necessarily the same as empowerment of women. Of course it makes sense that women ought to be given equal rights to men in the areas of employment, education and voting and in fact every walk of life. Why would they not be, I would ask the question. In the main, particularly in western societies such rights are in place however, there are  societies where the laws are more supportive of men than women and the same applies to religions. Why did this happen in the first place? Of course, men and women are different ‘species’ so to speak but nevertheless equal rights should be in place. Without getting into a discussion on politics and religion, I would like to move onto the subject of women’s empowerment, a popular slogan used in today’s world ( sometimes even for marketing due to its political correctness). I shall now relate my personal experience.

I have been working with women’s rights for many decades in the Western and Eastern worlds; I worked in  the areas of law, abuse, employment, empowerment with skills development and awareness on the pride of being a women. Having been born and raised in the west, yes I did witness and experience the oppression of women but not in the same way as I have seen in the eastern cultures. I currently run a women’s empowerment organisation in Rishikesh by the name of Stree ( streewellness.com) and have worked hard to skill women, employ them and support them in any way possible. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, I did it because I felt a genuine need for women to be treated equally. In fact I felt a need for all humanity to be treated equally and not just women. My organisation is based on Ayurveda which is founded on the principle of ahimsa ( non-violence); one of the interpretations of ahimsa is equality for all. Of course different species have different qualities and the definition of equality would be variable but this is another discussion in itself. In my work with Stree, I have in the main experienced a pattern of behaviour amongst many women. It looks like this:

Poverty to employment to enhancing their skills – to greed – to wanting loans and more possessions to ruthlessness about how they achieve their ultimate aim of wealth. So ahimsa is lost in the process. When the women come to be they are timid and kind and then when greed takes over they become manipulative and greedy. I will not say that they have all turned out like that but this is a pattern I have seen repeatedly in many. Gratitude goes out the window despite my attempt at promoting awareness sessions based on ahimsa and the fact that wealth is not a bad thing when acquired on the basis of dharma.

Sounds like a sad story and a disheartening one too but that is my personal experience. So now what to do? What is the best way to ‘empower women’? I am shying away from the word empowerment now and prefer to use the word employment for I think in the main that is what empowerment has come to mean in the modern world.

My views of empowerment are quite different as they are based on fulfilling one’s innate potential which is borne from dharma and this is not exclusive of men by any means whatsoever. However as this blog has been written for women’s day we shall address women here.

Women are the creative force of nature and woman is symbolised as nature or prakriti in the Samkhya system of Indian philosophy whereas the masculine force known as purusha is considered the unmanifest from which all originates. Without purusha and prakriti  the cosmos and all it contains would not exist. Through the primordial dance (tandav) of purusha and prakruti, it is believed that  the cosmos was borne. This in turn suggests that we are inherently a combination of purusha and prakriti. Women however are made up more of the prakriti ( feminine) energy whilst men of the purusha ( masculine) energy; in terms of the Japanese tradition we would define yin as the feminine energy and yang as the masculine energy. In yoga terms we would define the moon energy as feminine and the sun as masculine.

This is all philosophical it may be seen but how does this apply in the practical world. 

Let us look at some of the qualities of prakriti since we are addressing women here:

  • Creative
  • Soft
  • Gentle
  • Warm
  • Affectionate
  • Nurturing
  • Sensitive
  • Emotional
  • Physically weaker than men

For me women’s empowerment would be to bring these qualities out to their fullest potential. When we say a woman has a more sensitive nature it does not necessarily mean that e.g. she can’t become a leader. A woman can even lead as a president, as we have seen in many nations, but her leadership is far more effective when she does her work through enhancing on her innate qualities rather than the purusha qualities. This is not to say that the purusha qualities should not be used; indeed they must be but the purusha must not over the prakriti or else it will disturb the balance of a woman on all levels  of her health. Women are to be women and men are to be men.

With the rise of feminism, we see that this is not happening and many a woman deny their prakriti in place of purusha which results in disharmony and many a disease.

A woman is in fact more powerful and fulfilled when she taps into her feminine qualities than when she tries to embody man. It was only the other day that a feminist friend of mine ( almost a man hater) said to be that women are happier when they have a male partner for women need protection from the barbarism of the world. Of course this would only be helpful if the woman and man can nurture a wholesome relationship between themselves and I would say this would be more likely if the woman stays the woman and the man stays the man. It is when this does not happen that disharmony happens.

On a final note, I would like to stress that a woman is very highly revered in many traditional societies though this may not seem to be the case nowadays. It is even said in the Bhagavad Gita that where a woman is not respected, families and societies go to ruin. In simpler terms lets say ‘happy wife means happy life’ and ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’.

Living a Wholesome Life the Ayurveda Way

by March 1, 2022

Our everyday actions, speech and thought affect our well-being says Ayurveda practitioner and psychiatrist, DR ANITA DUGGAL

How we behave affects our health and wellbeing as does our diet, lifestyle, environment and seasonal changes. We also know that mental stress, positive or negative attitudes also affects health and recovery. This is equally true of our conduct and behaviour. Modern medicine is relatively silent on this subject. Modern science and morality are discrete and separate domains; science steers clear from moralising, leaving this to religion to guide us on how we should live and behave. In modern society, religion has become a faint and distant voice on the margins of society, often regarded as irrelevant.

What is Sadvritta?

The ancient science of Ayurveda however tackles every area of human experience on how it impacts human health and happiness; everything is interconnected, and associated with qualities that ultimately exert their effect. Ayurveda looks in detail at what constitutes wholesome and ethical conduct from the point of view of health and wellbeing; this is known as Sadvritta. This code of conduct pertains to the use of the body, speech and mind. The underlying principles are timeless and universal, not specific to any particular culture.

Why is such a code necessary? It helps in preventing disorders which occur through the incorrect use of our senses, our intellect and judgement. The senses should not be overused, underused or used in a distorted way. For example, the overuse of the sense of sight might be through sitting in front of screens all day or reading in low lighting; underuse of the sense of sight would imply spending too much time in the dark and abnormal use would be when one uses eyes to watch disturbing images.

Likewise, for the use of the intellect. These are considered causative factors in disease development. These rules guide and steer us. Let us touch on the principles in turn. The rules themselves are too detailed to be given here.

Dr Anita Duggal

Body

— Ayurveda emphasises cleanliness of body, clothing and environment. Cleanliness and purity are Sattvic properties that enhance feelings of peace and wellbeing. We know how unpleasant it feels when we feel unclean or when we are in a dirty, messy environment. The mind feels unsettled and restless in a chaotic environment. Lack of cleanliness increases tamas, the property of dullness and inertia in the mind.

—Guidance is given on the protection of the body from the elements which can have a disturbing effect on the doshas (functional energies). One is advised not to stress the body by overexercise or by using it in an unnatural way. We should not overburden the sense organs; through our mind, we should exert some control on their use.

—Ayurveda stresses how  regularity in daily regimens such as sleep/wake cycles, mealtimes and so on are important. It dvises against excess sleep or night vigils. The body/mind thrives on regularity and prepares itself in anticipation for sleep or the meal to come. This enhances digestion and our metabolic processes. Irregularity leads to disturbances in the  digestive processes (Agni) and pushes the Doshas out of balance.

—Ayurveda states that our actions should not harm or injure another as this will inevitably disturb the mind and impacts the body. We know how wrong actions affect wellbeing making the mind restless.

—Actions such as stealing, and illicit sexual relations are considered harmful as these create disturbance in the mind. Wrong action creates guilt and veiling of the mind which disturbs peace and obstructs the experience of joy.

—Actions which are helpful to others such as service to parents, elders and those in need, increase humility, sense of respect and loving duty. Selfless service of others gives us joy and expands the spirit. These actions are encouraged.

Speech

—Our speech should be courteous and respectful. We should speak softly and pleasantly. Consider what others might want to hear rather than simply expressing our opinions loudly which only serve our own ego.

—Always speak the truth. This gives clarity, peace of mind and strength to the spirit. When we do not speak the truth, as it is, we are disturbed.

—We should not speak harshly or injure others through our speech. We should not lie, gossip, criticise or quarrel with others or disclose secrets. All this creates dis-ease in the mind, disturbs and pollutes it as also the minds of others participating in such conversations. This affects the whole being as mind/body are interrelated and ultimately leads to disease.

—The manner and tone of speaking impacts the mind. So, one is advised not to speak with too high pitch, low or a deranged voice or to speak too fast or too slowly and so on.

Mind

—We should exercise self-control over our passions and exert a certain self-discipline to keep the mind in check. Allowing the mind to become our master and we the slave, will pull us hither and thither according to its endless desires and whims.

—Patience, forbearance and courage are extolled as virtues giving us the strength to endure whatever life throws at us without losing our balance, and to accept success and failure, gain and loss without excitement or depression. Maintaining equanimity of mind and remaining cheerful in all situations is encouraged.

—Avoid jealousy as this robs us of peace of mind, disturbs us and pollutes our relationships.

—Humility and a respectful attitude are health-promoting.

—We are advised not to act under anger or excitement as these inevitably affect our judgement and lead to wrong actions which further disturbs our minds.

When we study in detail what has been written by our ancient Vaidyas, we can understand their wisdom and see how all that we do, say and think has a potential impact on the body/mind. We know from personal experience that it does. When anything wrong becomes a habitual way of being, speaking and thinking, the effect is cumulative, and creates disease.

No domain of human experience should be neglected in the holistic understanding of human health and happiness. The way we behave with others, how we speak and the nature of our thinking all exert an important influence. Hence the stress in Ayurveda to exert self-control and discipline. These may sound old-fashioned in the modern world which values freedom of expression but this self-control is what allows us greater freedom from the demands of the mind. Thus, we are able to experience more of what is our true nature when the mind is not disturbed or clouded and it is this that gives us greater freedom to become masters of our mind!


Dr Anita Duggal is a retired psychiatrist resident in the UK. She studied Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science and was awarded an MSc with distinction in 1992. She has also studied Ayurveda in the UK as well as in India and was awarded an MSc in Ayurvedic Medicine from Middlesex University in the UK in 2007. Although she has worked mainly within mainstream Mental Health Services, she has always maintained a strong interest in Ayurveda and its approach to mental health.

Please contact the Stree team for wellness consultations.

Website: www.streeayurveda.org

Consumption of Cows milk: the pros and cons

by February 25, 2022

Ayurveda recommends daily consumption of milk for all healthy individuals and for all ages, it pacifies vata and pitta dosha and increases kapha dosha. However, modern milk is not the same as it was in ancient times and can have a detrimental effect on many people due to the high levels of hormones and other chemicals contained within it. Traditionally, Ayurveda viewed milk as a nectar and indeed it still would be but for the commercialisation of milk which has caused the following:

  1. chemical pesticides and fertilizers for cow’s food
  2. hormonal injections to increases the milk output
  3. the limited freedom of cows to roam and be happy thereby injecting a feeling of emotional distress with them.

These are some of the causes that explain why the milk as mentioned in the ancient texts are not the same as the milk of modern times. Due to the heavy overload of chemicals, milk is indigestible for many and so we find many resorting to other forms of milk such as almond milk, coconut milk, oatmilk and such like. Lactose intolerance has  become an issue for many now and this may well have been caused by the factors associated with the commercialisation of milk as mentioned above.  So now we beg the question ‘to have milk or not?’ I would personally say ‘no’ unless it is organic or non-commercially produced. This may be a harsh statement given that most of what we consume has pretty much the same amount of chemicals or more than milk itself.  There are ways we can purify the milk with spices so as to make it less toxic and one would be by adding 2.5g turmeric into a 200ml glass of hot milk.

Where organic and non-commercially produced milk are available, here are some tips on how to consume it:

When to drink milk?

Morning milk  can increase the  strength of  the body, provide nourishment and help with weight gain for the emaciated. However if  drinking milk at breakfast makes you feel lethargic, heavy, dull and causes acidity, then it should be avoided in the morning. 

Midday milk increases strength, improves appetite, helps those who are suffering from difficult or painful urination and kidney stones. It is particularly recommended for children as a supplementary source of nourishment

Night milk pacifies all 3 doshas. There should be at least a 2 hour  gap after dinner and it is ideally consumed at  least 30 minutes before sleeping.

 How to consume milk?

Milk can be consumed plain but should be had hot to eliminate its mucogenic properties; furthermore it becomes easier to digest when hot. Where the digestive system is weak, milk will become  heavy to digest therefore  black pepper, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon or cardamom can be added in milk.

When to avoid milk?

During  fever, indigestion, cough, obesity, increased kapha dosha in body, diarrhoea, certain skin diseases and intestinal worms. Milk should not be consumed with meals, fruits or most food items including fish and meat.

If in doubt about whether it is appropriate for you to consume milk, please contact the author for any queries.

Food and the Mind; the Ayurveda perspective

by February 23, 2022

Whilst food along with sleep and creative energy are considered the three pillars of life to sustain mind and body, there are a number of other factors pertaining to the mind are somewhat ignored. I have seen people who eat the best food in the world, from organic, to vegetarian or vegan and much more yet they are often unhealthy. In Ayurveda and yoga, the first layer of the body is dependent on food and this is called the annamayakosha. We also know that ‘you are what you eat’. So why is it that people who are eating the ‘best’ foods of the world get sick or are not in their optimum state of wellness. I have seen terminally ill cancer patients and others with chronic diseases become sick though they have consumed the best of the best. I have also seen the reverse; that people who eat ‘junk’ are lively, energetic and well. I am not by any means suggesting that we eat ‘junk’ but I beg to ask the question why so many health foodists are convinced that food is the only way for remaining well. A healthy mind can even turn ‘junk’ into nectar and an unhealthy mind can turn ‘nectar’ into junk. This statement might sound a bit over-fetched but what I am really trying to say in simple terms is that we eat with a negative state of mind we will not digest and assimilate well. I know we are not Lord Shiva but did He not turn poison into a harmless substance in the legend of Neelkanth Mahadev.

I would say that the primary part of wellness comes from the mind and if you believe in karma then you can add that to the equation too. It is stated in Ayurveda in the first verse of a 3000-year-old text ‘Ashtanga Hrdayam’ that many diseases come from the mind ‘(ragadi rogan); and believe it or not this is the first verse of this classical text. Why would that be? Because so much emphasis is placed on the connection of mind and wellness.

Wellness is defined by the WHO as:

“A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” – WHO Constitution

a state of physical, psychological, emotional, social and environmental health (check exact words). It therefore follows that although food no doubt contributes to some of these health indicators, it is not the be all and end of all of health.  Have we not heard of illnesses caused by e.g.:

  • Unwholesome thinking
  • Emotional vulnerability
  • Lack of social support and loneliness
  • Living in a concrete jungle with air and sound pollution

There is no doubt that good food, provided it is digestible by the individual will raise immunity to protect against the adverse impact of some of the above factors. However, we must bear in mind the following to protect our health and well-being.

  • Avoid negative thinking patterns as this weakens digestion and assimilation
  • Use our higher intelligence or buddhi to counter unhelpful emotions
  • Create a healthy and positive support circle
  • Live in as natural an environment as possible; even if u live in a high rise, you can maintain nature with plants and flowers
  • Protect yourself from sound pollution by listening to healing music and possibly wearing ear plugs at night

These are some very basic points and perhaps obvious but I do strongly suggest that we see our mind body organism as a whole and keep the focus there rather than on just food. Furthermore ‘organic health food’ is not available everywhere and is not affordable by the majority.  There is also a lot of politics around the organic food industry with false certifications etc so what may appear organic may not be. Of course, the best thing would be to grow your own food if time and space permits.  Where all this cannot be done, we could focus on the following when it comes to food:

  • cook in a calm serene environment
  • cook in a mood of love and gratitude
  • eat with gratitude
  • say prayers or thanks for the food we consume
  • consume fresh foods rather than processed
  • enjoy your food and chew it well
  • present your food beautifully

There are many other guidelines in Ayurveda regarding food but I have come up with the some of the most important to be getting on with it.

To conclude, eat as healthily as you can but do keep in mind the other pointers mentioned above as we are all interconnected organisms at the level of body-mind and spirit.

What is wholesome conduct?

by February 23, 2022

Can the way we behave affect our health and wellbeing? We know that our diet and lifestyle, the environment and seasonal changes all affect our health. We know also that mental stress and even positive or negative attitudes can affect health and recovery but what about our conduct and behaviour? Modern medicine is relatively silent on this subject. Modern science and morality are discrete and separate domains; science steers clear from moralising, leaving this to the domain of religion to guide us on how we should live and behave but in modern society, religion has become a faint and distant voice on the margins of society, often regarded as irrelevant.

The ancient science of Ayurveda however does not exclude any area of human experience in terms of its impact on human health and happiness, as everything is regarded as interconnected, and everything is associated with qualities that ultimately exert their effect. Ayurveda has looked in detail at what constitutes wholesome and ethical conduct from the point of view of health and wellbeing, and this is known as Sadvritta. This is a code of conduct which pertains to the use of the body, speech and mind. The underlying principles are timeless and universal, not specific to a particular culture.

Why is such a code necessary? It helps in preventing the development of disorder which occurs through the incorrect use of our senses and our intellect and judgment. The senses should not be overused, underused or used in a distorted way. For example, the overuse of the sense of sight might be through sitting in front of screens all day or reading in low lighting, underuse spending too much time in the dark and abnormal use may be using eyes to watch disturbing images. Likewise for the use of the intellect. These are considered important causative factors in disease development. These sets of rules help to give guidance and to steer us. Let us touch on the principles in turn. The rules themselves are too detailed to be given here.

Body

  1. Ayurveda emphasises cleanliness of body, clothing and environment. Cleanliness and purity are Sattwic properties and they enhance the feeling of peace and wellbeing. We all know too well how unpleasant it feels when we feel unclean or when we are in a dirty and messy environment. The mind feels very unsettled and restless in a chaotic environment. Lack of cleanliness increases Tamas, the property of dullness and inertia in the mind.
  • Guidance is given on the protection of the body from the elements which can have a disturbing effect on the doshas (functional energies). One is advised also not to stress the body by overexercise or by using it in an unnatural way. Examples are given. We should not overburden the sense organs that is through our mind we should exert some control on their use.
  • Ayurveda stresses the importance of regularity in our daily regimens such as sleep/wake cycle, mealtimes and so on and advises against excess sleep or night vigils. The body/mind thrives on regularity and prepares itself in anticipation for sleep or the meal to come. This enhances digestion and the metabolic processes. Irregularity on the other hand leads to disturbance in the optimal functioning of the digestive processes (Agni) and pushes the Doshas out of balance.
  • Ayurveda states that our actions should not harm or injure another as this will inevitably disturb the mind and this then impacts on the body. We know how a wrong action affects our wellbeing and makes the mind restless.
  • Actions such as stealing, illicit sexual relations are considered harmful as these create disturbance in the mind. Any wrong action will create guilt and veiling of the mind which disturbs the peace and obstructs the experience of joy.
  • Actions which are helpful to others in terms of service to parents, elders and those in need, increase our humility, sense of respect and loving duty. Selfless service of others also gives a feeling of joy and expands the spirit. These actions are encouraged.

Speech

  1. Our speech should be courteous and respectful. We should speak softly and that which is pleasant to hear. We should consider what the other might want to hear rather than simply expressing loudly our opinions which only serve our own ego.
  • We should always speak the truth. Speaking truth gives clarity, peace of mind and strength to the spirit. We know from experience that if we do not speak the truth, as it is, we feel disturbed.
  • We should not speak harshly or injure others through our speech. We should not lie, gossip, criticise or quarrel with others or disclose secrets. All this will create a sense of dis-ease in the mind. The mind becomes disturbed and polluted as do the minds of others participating. And this can affect the whole being as mind/body are interrelated and can ultimately lead to disease.
  • The manner and tone of speaking are also important as this has an impact on the mind. So, one is advised not to speak with too high pitch, low or a deranged voice or to speak too fast or too slowly and so on.

Mind

  1. We should exercise self-control over our passions and exert a certain self-discipline to keep the mind in check. If we allow the mind to become our master and we the slave, we are pulled hither and thither according with its endless desires and whims.
  • Patience, forbearance and courage are extolled as virtues. They give us the strength to endure whatever life throws at us without losing our balance, to accept success and failure, gain and loss without excitement or depression. Maintaining equanimity of mind and remaining cheerful in all situations is encouraged.
  • Avoidance of jealousy is advised as this clearly robs us of peace of mind. Not only does it disturb the mind, but it pollutes our relationships.
  • Humility and a respectful attitude are considered health-promoting.
  • We are advised not to act under emotions of anger or excitement as these will inevitably affect our judgement and lead to wrong actions which will further disturb our minds.

When we study in detail what has been written by the great Vaidyas of old, we can understand their wisdom and see how all that we do, say and think has a potential impact on the body/mind. We know from our personal experience that it does. When anything becomes a habitual way of being, speaking and thinking, the effect is cumulative, and it can create disease.

There is no domain of human experience that should be neglected in the holistic understanding of human health and happiness. The way we behave with each other in society, the way we speak and the nature of our thinking all exert an important influence. Hence the stress in Ayurveda to exert a certain self-control and discipline. These may sound like dirty words in the modern world which values above all freedom of expression but actually this self-control allows us greater freedom from the demands of the mind. Thus we are able to experience more of what is our true nature when the mind is not disturbed or clouded. It actually gives us greater freedom to become master of the mind! Such is the wisdom, depth and farsightedness of this ancient science of Ayurveda!

Subscribe to our newsletter

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Proin porttitor nisl nec ex consectetur.

[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]
    ×

    Hello!

    Click one of our contacts below to chat on WhatsApp

    × Live chat