Having officially discovered Ayurveda (the ancient Indian medical science and art of healing) as a 22 year old, and having grown up in mainstream American culture, I have definitely seen and been part of what I often think of as a “throw-away” society. In this modern society, which is rapidly spreading all over the world, we constantly seek out the ‘latest and greatest,’ only to very quickly tire of our various toys. These ‘toys’ range from electronic gadgets, reflecting the most recent technological advances, to fad diets, to fashionable clothing, to designer watches and purses, to expensive vacations meant to relax us, but that only end up tiring us out even more, to relationships we pick up and then easily drop and replace for seemingly more interesting or otherwise attractive people. Reflecting on the biggest surprise from my studies of Ayurveda, I would have to say it has been the principle of “Svasthasya Svasthya Rakshanam.” “Svastha” is a Sanskrit word meaning “health,” and “protecting the health of the healthy” is the meaning of this phrase.
From my first official Ayurveda class, where my teacher, Acharya Shunya ji, recited the “Svasthasya Svasthya Rakshanam” shloka (poetic verse), I have been fascinated by it. Ayurveda is unique in how it stresses to all of humanity the true value and purport of not only managing disease in the best manner possible, but also actively protecting whatever amount of health we are presently blessed to have. Far from the consumer attitude I have grown up with in America, inherent to my Indian roots is an art and science that teaches us that health is our birthright, and that there is, in fact, a deep part of us all, our innermost essence, which is always completely healthy. We don’t need any external toys or objects to fulfill us, once we can connect with our inherent fullness. In Ayurveda, I have found so many amazing, all-natural, drug-free ways to reconnect with the true health that this science teaches me is my essential nature.
Ayurveda has taught me the value of investing in my health. I have learned that the more I take care of my health, the more it will grow, and the stronger it will become. Learning Ayurveda has also inspired me to more broadly appreciate the art of preservation of wealth, which I am learning through studying the principles of investment management. After all, wealth operates a lot like health: the more you ignore it, the more it goes away. Inherent to the notion and concept of “Rakshanam,” or protection and preservation of what is positive in our lives (with health also being a powerful form of wealth), is a profound sense of gratitude. One of the Yamas (observances) of the spiritual science of Yoga is Santosha, which I understand to be synonymous with the value of contentment, being happy with, and appreciative of what we have. Whatever we express gratitude for in our lives tends to grow, so why not express gratefulness for our health in as many ways as we possibly can?
The emphasis on living by higher ideals to achieve health at all levels has also been a pleasantly surprising discovery from Ayurveda. It’s hard to imagine learning about the importance of cultivating spiritual values, such as Satsangha (keeping wise company), Sadhana (dedicated spiritual practice), and Seva (selfless service), when visiting a modern, western medical practitioner. But one can’t really achieve abiding health through Ayurveda without cultivating the virtues of patience and perseverance, amongst many others, because of the amazingly detailed health promotion protocols Ayurveda lays out through the path of Svasthavritta (a Sanksrit word meaning “maintenance of health”). From Ayurveda, we learn that it is not enough, or even a good idea, to take prescription pills daily to attain “health” – we must work to promote health through our every thought, word, and action, which demands of us the continual application of consistency, clarity, and conviction in everything we think, speak, and do. Reflecting further on ideals, I love how Acharya Shunya ji once shared that we can find insights on how to best deal with toe fungus, as well as realize the truth of we are, in the very same Ayurvedic text. What other science can that be said for?
Having grown up with the standard “eat healthy and get plenty of exercise” health advice (with a blanket statement about health given by the FDA in the form of one pyramid to guide all, irrespective of an individual’s particular needs and attributes), it has been a beautiful surprise to learn the value of Satsangha (keeping wise company) for physical health. It is, however, hard to imagine choosing health-promoting habits when in the constant company of those who are addicted to various substances, whether they be drugs, or even hamburgers, or frozen yogurt (my own former favorite substance!). I look forward to working to spread knowledge of the sacred science of Ayurveda so that we can all have more and more people in our lives who know how to be healthy, practice promoting health, and support and inspire us to live in truly healthier ways.
More generally speaking, the value of Satsangha (staying in the sangha, or company, of Sat, which is truth) has been an amazing molding instrument of my mind. Even when I am not able to be physically surrounded by people who follow an Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle, I have found it incredibly important to give my mind the company of positive thoughts, especially those recorded by the ancient Rishis (seers) of India, whose every Shloka (poetic verse) can truly unlock so many answers.
The Shloka that defines Ayurveda, in and of itself, holds so much truth…
hitahitam sukham dukham ayustasya hitahitam manam cha taccha yatroktam ayurveda sa uchchyate
The very first word of the Ayurveda definition, “hitahitam,” is so brilliant…in delineating what is “hita” (beneficial) and “ahita” (non-beneficial) for us at all levels (body, mind, senses, and even soul), Ayurveda not only lays out a clear, individualized path of health for seekers – it also inspires discrimination. It takes discrimination to follow Ayurveda. In a world where we are given so many different recipes to attain health, as well as overall ‘success’ (normally defined in primarily a monetary way), it takes discrimination to determine that which is truly beneficial for us. I believe and trust in Ayurveda because it has withstood the test of time, and has proven to be just as powerful in my modern life as it was in the ancient times in which it was revealed and recorded by the Rishis of India.
I think we all generally know that eating well is essential to good health, but only in learning Ayurveda have I been able to view the kitchen as being like a magical medical clinic, in which we have the power to create as much health as we please, with our very own two hands. I never thought of cooking as a spiritual practice before learning Ayurveda. Having struggled with eating disorders as a teenager, I have really experienced the power of food to heal my whole being.
Sadhana (dedicated spiritual practice) has now truly become the best way to describe my entire experience around eating, from the act of selecting and chopping vegetables, to the beautiful prayer of gratitude I’ve learned to recite prior to eating, to connecting with my deepest reservoirs of inner power and health, while aiding my digestion by sitting in Vajrasana (a special Yoga pose) after meals. Before learning Ayurveda, I used to treat my body like a trash can, consuming so much junk food, eating beside the sink, while driving, or working on the computer. Now, the entire act of eating has transformed itself into a sacred ritual and art in which I can really connect with the divine in the food itself, in the person(s) who grew, cultivated, and cooked the food, and in the act of cooking.
Before studying Ayurveda, I never realized just how much our personal relationships play a role in our physical, as well as mental, health. In this aspect of life, the concept of preservation has also proven powerful and transformational. While it has become all too commonplace to replace relationships, one after the other, in search of the elusive ideal of the perfect ‘other,’ I have learned from Acharya Shunya ji the value of preserving and protecting the relationships we have. It is more important for us each to work on becoming the ideal partner, parent, relative, and friend that we may wish to have in the form of another. I love that the Ayurvedic texts mention Seva (selfless service) as a way to cultivate one’s health, by going beyond wishing to fall in love, or to receive love from someone else, to teaching us to actually become love. Seva, to me, is really love in action, and an important value to practice in the context of relationships. How we treat others determines how others treat us, as the fruit of our karma (actions) do eventually return to us, even if not immediately.
In a culture where casual sex has become the norm, and commitment a rarer phenomenon, the value of preservation and protection, once again, is an essential teaching of Ayurveda. It is inspiring to me how Ayurveda teaches that the same fluid that gets released and exchanged during the sexual act is utilized to create health, vitality, immunity, and beauty in each and every cell of the body, when mindfully contained. Where, when, why, how, and with whom we exchange these vital fluids become essential questions to ask of ourselves in regards to sexuality. In this way, Ayurveda promotes more meaningful, rather than more frequent, sexual exchanges. It is about quality versus quantity (a philosophy that can be extended to many aspects of life).
Ayurveda has more broadly taught me the invaluable lesson of conservation of energy: a very active way of promoting the principle of protecting the health of the healthy. I now really scrutinize my every movement, via car, plane, and train, and always ask myself if the purpose of my excursions are truly worthwhile and meaningful to me, or if they are not actually fully necessary. This is because I have now learned that excessive traveling can easily lead to the buildup of many imbalances in the body that are connected with Vata dosha (a state of matter, consisting of air and ether, which is responsible for creating a tremendous amount of diseases).
Speech is also a form of energy, and too much speaking can also deplete the body of vitality. I never imagined the power of conserving my speech prior to studying Ayurveda, but in learning to do so, I have come to really appreciate how much power each word can possess, when emerging from the potent space of silence. I cherish silence so much now that I take at least one full day per week to be completely silent, and find that this practice gives my mind the opportunity to receive so many insights, and the clarity I need to navigate my life with more peace and ease.
This Thanksgiving Holiday, I am overflowing with gratitude to the ancient Rishis of India, for gifting to humanity the sacred science of Ayurveda, and especially for the biggest surprise of my Ayurveda student journey: Svasthasya Svasthya Rakshanam, protecting the positive, in every way possible.