Health is Wealth: A Brief Guide to Ayurveda
Most of us will agree that health should be our top priority, however, it can be hard to make time for our own health over work and family commitments. Often in work we strive to get the next promotion to earn more money and have the lifestyle we think will make us happier. So many people spend their health to gain their wealth, and then must in turn spend their wealth to regain their health. We must value our own health because no one else will take more care of it. Ayurveda, a natural and ancient system of medicine provides several guidelines on how to achieve this practically.
What is Ayurveda?
The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge), and translates to knowledge of life. Based on the idea that disease is due to an imbalance or stress in a person’s consciousness, Ayurveda encourages certain lifestyle interventions and natural therapies to regain a balance between the body, mind, spirit, and the environment.
According to Ayurvedic science, there are three principles collectively known as Doshas, that make up the body: Vata, the life force of the body, Pitta, the digestive fire, and Kapha, which helps maintain muscle, strength and stability. It is these 3 doshas that work together to maintain our body. Changes to our consciousness, diet, relationships, emotions and environment can lead to an imbalance in these three doshas and manifest as a physical or mental ailment.
An external symptom is a flag that indicates a deeper problem. Ayurveda looks at the root of the problem and operates on prevention rather than cure. Lifestyle changes such as cultivating a healthy diet, mental strength, and taking herbal supplements help restore the balance between the three Doshas, leading to good health.
Ayurveda the Mother of all Healing
Just like a mother, Ayurveda caters to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of its practitioners. It recognizes that each of us is unique and responds differently to the many aspects of life, each possesses different strengths and weaknesses. Through insight, understanding and experience Ayurveda presents a vast wealth of information on the relationships between causes and their effects, both immediate and subtle, for each unique individual.
Mental disturbances and diseases can often be the cause of a physical one. According to Ayurveda, practising mindfulness (the ability to non-judgmentally observe the mind and its thoughts) can help control the mind. One may ask “how is this possible since we so often find ourselves identifying with the mind and its projections?”. The answer lies in realising that our identity is beyond the mind and body, thereby allowing us to distance ourselves from both. Being situated on a reality of consciousness allows objective reasoning to deal with the problem accordingly.
Ayurveda is also known for its range of herbal medicines. This includes Ashwagandha; a stress reliever and immune booster, Turmeric; an antioxidant, as well as Brahmi which relieves neurological tension. Herbal medicines can be as potent as pharmaceutical drugs for healing and recovery. Unlike pharmacological medicines, they do not generate toxins that weaken the body. Ayurved practitioners often incorporate these herbs in daily use and cooking to get the most benefit out of them.
It is said that “Without proper diet, medicine is of no use. With proper diet, medicine is of no need”. Following an Ayurvedic diet encompasses not only what you eat, but when, where, and how you cook and eat the food as well. For the diet itself to be healthy, it must incorporate the six kinds of tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, pungent and astringent. This is essential because having only sweet or salty foods causes imbalances in our body leading to diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. One of the easiest ways to introduce more flavour is by adding spices such as turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom.
Ayurveda also introduces the idea of food combination, where certain foods taken together can be very unhealthy for the digestive fire, causing indigestion. Examples include beans and cheese or yoghurt and milk. Now this can seem a little confronting at first, as these combinations are quite common. But the science behind their incompatibility is that the pairs have distinct post-digestive effects that can overwhelm the digestive fire. So perhaps even reflect in the past where you might not have felt so good after you had a cheese burrito or a smoothie.
After preparation, plan the time of day you are going to eat it. Creating a healthy routine helps the digestive fire prepare for the incoming food in advance, resulting in better quality digestion. Having meals regularly, at 3–6-hour intervals, with minimum snacking in between, means that we are fully able to digest our food before introducing more food.
Consciousness in meal preparation
The importance of consciousness in Ayurveda is embedded in what we choose to eat, as there are foods which help elevate our consciousness and others that degrade it. There are three rungs on the ladder of our consciousness: the rung of ignorance, passion and goodness. Healthy food choices help us climb towards the rung of goodness. Foods in the rung of ignorance include stale food and impure foods such as garlic, meats, and alcohol. These should be avoided as much as possible. On the rung of passion, are salty snacks, extremely pungent foods such as onion as well as hot/spicy dishes. Lastly, food in the mode of goodness are dishes that promote longevity, virtue and happiness such as fresh juicy fruit, rice, lentils, legumes and dairy products. Transition between these food “rungs” is not always easy but following the diet with friends provides encouragement.
Making your meal truly healthy and enriching for your soul means offering it to God before you partake in the meal yourself. Offering makes the entire process of procuring and cooking your meal as an act of loving service towards God. When offered to Him with love and care, the food gets accepted by the Lord, giving it both nutritional and spiritual value beyond comparison. It not only becomes healthy in a dietary sense, but a simple prayer also removes negative tendencies in the eater.
Health and Ayurveda
Ayurvedic science is all encompassing and takes care of all the needs of the user. It should be noted that Ayurveda is not a replacement for Western medicine but can be used as an adjunct. Current practices see the two side by side in pharmacy, physiotherapy and even surgery. Try to imbibe an Ayurvedic way of life by practising mindfulness or tweaking your style of cooking and watch as your meals become tasty, nourishing and wholesome. To try a physically and spiritually enriching meal, why not join us each Sunday at our Albert Park temple for our Sunday Feasts?