[7 MINUTE READ] Excerpts from a book on holistic health
Principles of Ayurveda
It is useful to understand the philosophy of Ayurveda as it is linked with the principles of holistic health and healing. Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical system that is based on the unique natural constitution of each person.
According to Ayurveda, the body is made of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and space. The hard parts of our body correspond to the earth, the liquid parts to water, the warm parts to fire, the parts that move other parts to air and the vacant parts to space.
From these five elements and their properties come the three energies known as doshas – Vata (Space & Air), Pitta (Fire & Water) & Kapha (Water & Earth) – that construct and maintain our physical bodies. The three gunas of Sattva (transcendence), Rajas (activity) and Tamas (inertia) are the primal qualities that create the essential aspects of nature – matter, energy and consciousness – and underlie the mind.
In our natural state, the three doshas arrive at a natural equilibrium which determines our physical constitution, with one typically dominant dosha. People with a dominant Vata constitution would be more agile, reflecting the elemental qualities of air and space. A Pitta constitution would similarly indicate a fiery personality while a Kapha one would lend itself to a calmness akin to earth and water.
The gunas determine our mental constitution and can be consciously refined and balanced by our environment, thoughts and actions. Sattva combines the energy of Rajas and the stability of Tamas to maintain health and wellness.
The natural equilibrium of doshas is influenced by our thoughts, emotions, actions, the food we eat, our lifestyle and all other stimuli that affect our minds and bodies. When we live in a sattvic manner that is aligned and consistent with our own intrinsic nature, these doshas remain in balance and keep us healthy. When we deviate from our natural state, our doshas get imbalanced and affect the intrinsic harmony of the body and mind. When these imbalances are left unchecked and allowed to grow they result in the manifestation of disease.
For example, a person with a dominant Pitta would be more prone to heartburn when eating spicy foods and a blander diet would allow his Pitta dosha to not get aggravated and imbalance his system. Ayurvedic treatments are accordingly customised for each person based on their nature and usually involve changes in diet, lifestyle modifications and herbal treatments.
The basic principles of Ayurveda provide us with an appreciation of:
- our interconnectedness with nature and the elements
- the natural energy balance within us
- the influence of our thoughts & actions on this energy balance
- the importance of living in alignment with our own nature to lead a healthy and happy life
Prana – The Original Life Force
To effect positive changes in the mind and body, we must understand the vital life energy that transforms into the doshas. This energy is called the prana, the primary energy or life force and the common link between Ayurveda and Yoga. While Ayurveda dwells on the critical role of this life force on physical and mental health, Yoga studies how this life force can raise the level of consciousness of a human being.
There is an anecdote from the Upanishads about an argument between the five main faculties of our nature – the mind, the breath (prana), speech, hearing and vision – with regard to who was supreme amongst them. To settle this matter it was decided that they would each withdraw in turn to see who was the most indispensable. And so the body went through a spell of being mute, deaf, blind and unconscious. But when the prana began to withdraw, all the faculties lost their energy with it and life itself was drawn away from the body. Prana is the universal force that not only energises all our faculties but connects and combines the elements and permeates the entire world.
For those familiar with the Star Wars movie franchise, the enlightened Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi explained the force to his young apprentice Luke Skywalker as an energy field that surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. What he described in that movie is the life energy otherwise known as prana. The prana is the total energy that pervades the entire physical system and acts as a medium or bridge between the body and the mind. The breathing process – inhalation, exhalation and retention does not constitute prana by itself, but is an indication that the prana is working. We cannot see the prana, but we can infer its existence by the process of respiration. It is the prana that makes the heart beat, the lungs function and the stomach secrete juices.
The Seven Energy Centres
While the prana suffuses us with life and energy, its restless nature does not allow either the mind or body to be at peace. Understanding how this life energy works and learning to control and regulate it are therefore key aspects in our journey towards a life of health and equanimity.
Human Beings have seven energy centres that absorb life energy and distribute it throughout the physical body. This distribution to the muscles and organs is done through biological systems such as the endocrine glands and the nervous system, to keep the person balanced and healthy. Any physical ailment first appears as an energy disruption before manifesting as a problem in the physical body. And these energy disruptions can occur when we neglect the health of our mind and body. As with everything else in nature, there is a cause and effect cycle at work.
When the flow of energy through these energy centres is blocked, the basic life force slows down. The individual may feel listless, tired, out of sorts or weighed down. Doshas will be imbalanced affecting physical bodily functions and thought processes. To understand how this occurs, one needs to examine how the energy centres are linked to our bodies. Each energy centre in the body is paired with endocrine glands and organs as noted below and governs their function:
A disturbance in the flow of energy through any centre affects the corresponding glands and organs. For instance, when the throat energy centre is blocked you may experience sore throat, neck pain, or laryngitis. Similarly, when the heart energy centre is out-of-sorts, high blood pressure and heart-related problems can arise.
In addition to their physical aspects, the energy centres have a powerful influence on our emotional, mental and spiritual states. When the flow of energy through each centre is balanced, the mind is at ease and a state of well- being is experienced. When we are stressed or worried, the negative energies block our energy centres and cause an imbalance in the energy flow through the body. This often weakens the affected energy centre and is the precursor to illnesses and diseases – at all levels – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
In India, when a daily wage earner dies, his family can instantly be thrust from a fragile lower middle class livelihood into abject poverty and isolation. Under such circumstances it is the 1st ‘tribal’ energy centre of his wife that would get affected as she battles to find the means to survive. She needs to battle through the crisis to heal it.
When there is unfinished business between the deceased and the bereaved leaving a sense of guilt in the bereaved, it is the 2nd ‘partnership’ energy centre that is weakened. When people lose a spouse from whom their sense of personal identity stemmed, it often leads to them defining themselves by that loss. This affects the 3rd ‘self’ energy centre. If the bereaved experiences anger, resentment or bitterness towards the deceased or their passage, it weakens the 4th ‘love’ energy centre.
When we suppress our emotions and sadness it blocks the 5th ‘communication’ energy centre. Allowing ourselves to go through the grieving process allows the flow of energy through this centre. The 6th ‘intuition’ energy centre is what enables us to feel a sense of peace and acceptance even as we grieve. When grief evolves into a more authentic connection between us and the divine forces of the world, it is the 7th ‘transcendence’ energy centre that supports this process and is energised by it.
Cultivating Life Energy
Loving and sharing with an open heart, going with the flow of events, being absorbed in action without fear or distraction and listening to our conscience and inner wisdom – all these everyday actions and approaches strengthen the flow of energy within us.
The foods and activities that can heal and strengthen each energy centre are indicated in the diagram. The common thread through these various lifestyle aspects are their cultivation of a quiet mind, a healthy body and a steady balance and vibrancy in our energy levels.
The two practices that help us draw on the universal life force are:
Energetic Hygiene : Positive emotions, a balanced diet and physical exercise contribute towards keeping our energy clean and healthy. While all of us are familiar with the positive feelings associated with these practices, a conscious awareness and sensitivity towards how they influence our energy levels is the tool nature has provided us to guide our efforts towards wellness.
Conscious Breathing & Meditation : Conscious breathing through Pranayama techniques enable us to draw huge quantities of life energy to boost our vitality. Meditation involves stilling the mind and the flow of thoughts, which allows a greater flow of energy within us. This is what enables the calm that we experience during the practice of inner silence.
A holistic view of health places the individual at the centre of the healing process. The long road to good health is to eschew the ‘air freshener’ and instead ‘clean the room’ through our attitude and lifestyle choices. Having a clear understanding of the basis of holistic health is the starting point of this journey.
(A copy of the book can be ordered on Amazon at the below links)
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