Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Ayurvedic Concept of Health

Ayurveda defines health as being complete well-being, physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.Thus health is defined positively and holistically rather than negatively and restrictively as the absence of a particular disease or illness. Charaka, sometimes referred to as the 'father' of Ayurveda defined health as the balance of doshas, dhatus, agni and malas (qualities, tissues, digestive power and wastes respectively)''with that blissful and lucid state of body, mind and soul''

Physical health is determined by constitution, lifestyle choices, environmental factors, food, air, water, sleep and exercise, all of which affect the body, for good or ill. Physical health can be improved by putting good habits into place, rather than focussing on giving up negative habits. Moderation is also the key. For example a very restrictive diet is not healthy, nor is too much exercise.

Mental health is also determined by what we allow into our minds and what we exclude, just as physical health is determined by what we allow into our bodies and what we exclude. It is important to avoid or counter negative thoughts and assumptions which create anxiety, fear or anger in the mind. Ayurveda says that 'anger is the root of sin' and that a peaceful or empty mind is best True mental health would be the ability to perceive the truth, that is the reality of life, rather than our images of it. We should be realistic and objective about our abilities and this ability comes from a calm mind.

Social health is determined by our society and our place in it as well as the people in our lives and our relationships with them, ie everything that surrounds us. While 'sattva' ('mental stamina') is important, 'sanskara' (the ethics and norms of the family and society) are also crucial to our social health or ill-health. For example, in countries where war and/or poverty and oppression are present, the social health of the individual is harmed. On an individual level, self-harming behaviours, such as addictions and eating disorders may be the result of unhappy parent-child or husband-wife relationships. In turn these problems impact the relationships further, sometimes causing complete rupture and further difficulties. Feelings of uselessness and lack of purpose affect the whole society and the next generation.

Spiritual health could be defined as the capacity to see the truth all the time, not intermittently. This includes the willingness to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences, including our thoughts, speech, learning and physical actions. This entails building our characters (our souls) moment by moment, habit by habit, through studying ourselves and committing ourselves to the truth. What we practice and focus on becomes our character. Krishna, for example, focussed on right actions for their own sake. Buddha practiced non-attachment so thoroughly that he lost his fear of death, not only in the abstract but even when his life was actually in danger. Focussing on what life has given us and continues to give us every day, rather than on what we lack, fills us with gratitude. Practising gratitude until it becomes a habit and part of our character will make it easier for us to find the silver lining in even difficult times.

Ayurveda sees all these factors as intrinsic to optimum health, each playing its part in our overall well-being and happiness.

The Ayurvedic Concept of 'mind'.

The word Ayurveda is a compound noun made by linking the word 'ayu' (literally 'life') and the word 'Veda' (literally 'science') Thus Ayurveda is often described in layman's terms as ' the science of life'.

Ayurveda is holistic in concept and practice, seeing the human mind, body and soul as indivisible.'Life' - including simple forms of life such as bacteria and viruses, as well as more complex forms, such as animals - has been defined as 'continuity of consciousness'. This leads us to ask what exactly consciousness is in Ayurvedic terms.

Ayurveda teaches us that there are three types of mind; firstly the merely ' conscious', conscious here corresponding to 'awake' rather than 'aware'. This mind is narrow but accurate in its reactions which are instinctive in nature. The conscious mind is not capable of exceeding its programming for survival and reproduction and does not learn from experience or grow. This mind corresponds to the Ayurvedic concept of 'tamas',which could be understood as 'unthinking' or 'inertia'.

Secondly, Ayurveda conceives of the 'sub-conscious' mind, which goes beyond the survival instinct- food, water, shelter from the elements, etc – and is capable of speculative thinking, learning from experience, and is both more sophisticated and larger in scope. However, the clever subconscious mind (which includes both deliberate reasoning and emotional reactions) is not always accurate or wise. Its ability to perceive the truth may be clouded by selfishness and it sometimes sees threats where none exist, based on assumptions which are incorrect. This mind corresponds to the Ayurvedic concept of 'rajas' ('action')

Thirdly, the 'super-conscious' mind is both huge is scope and completely accurate, capable of perceiving the ultimate truth, which is that we are all one and that love is who we are. Spiritual masters like Jesus, Buddha and Krishna exemplify this mind. They perceived our true nature with such complete clarity that they became love itself. This mind corresponds with the concept of
'sattvic' ('purity' or 'balance').

Ayurveda says the peaceful mind is found in the heart region, while the busy mind is found in the head region...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

emotional luggage allowance

They say that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Or a plane ticket.

So my journey seems to start on the 18th May when I leave Barcelona to study Ayurveda with Dr Arun Sharma BAMS and Dr Vinod Kumar BAMS in Himachal Pradesh.

And yet what looks like a single step is part of an already begun process of decision and indecision, shifting weight from one foot to the other, raising one of them and deciding exactly where to put it down. False steps in the wrong direction also teach us when we need to step backwards into ourselves and stand still for a while before starting again.

And long before that first step in the right direction, we start tracing steps in our heads, under our closed eyes, just before we fall asleep, imagining the step we´re about to take and how the ground will feel under our feet. Part fantasy, part second-hand information, part hope, part fear. We start checking out where we´re going, trying to imagine what to expect and getting a head start on the learning we hope to do there.

While the rules of our airline company determine the limits of what we carry physically, forcing us to prioritise - to consider not only what we want and need to take with us but what we can manage to do without - no-one can help us set our mental, emotional and spiritual luggage allowance. That´s a very personal responsibility.

Do we need to take everything and everyone with us that we have in our lives right now? Exactly how far do our emotional arms stretch?

 And if we do need all of it, how can we ever leave? 

And just as we always pack items we never end up using (the wrong battery charger) and forget something crucial that can´t be found where we are going (a torch), how do we know until later which of our experiences to date will prove essential?

Experienced travellers, returning to a country they know and  love, often  travel with almost empty cases, so that they have room to bring back all the beautiful objects they can find. With this in mind, I´ve decided to empty my suitcase of everything I´ve been studying over the last six months and pack only the following for my trip to McLeod Ganj: innocence, curiosity, excitement, trust and gratitude.

What emotions are you taking with you?

Bye for now


I would like to express my appreciation to everyone whose help and advice brought me to this ´first step´, including Dr Vinod Kumar BAMS of Barcelona; Dr Khan, alternative practitioner specialising in the central nervous system and Padma Thapa, masseuse and beautician, both of S.K.Salud of Barcelona, and Ayurvedic practitioners and bloggers Ivy Irving (USA) and Bhindi Shah (UK)