The beauty of Ayurveda, especially in the traditional way I have been blessed to learn this science, is that it touches not only the body, but also the mind and soul, enabling the potential for profound personal transformation. At the level of the body, Ayurveda has taught me tremendous responsibility. At the mental level, I have learned from Ayurveda the importance of anchoring. For the soul, Ayurveda has provided the keys to liberation, and deeper connection with who I really am, beyond the body and mind.
Ayurveda has impacted me at the physical level by inspiring me to take responsibility for my own health. This is because, unlike modern, western medicine, which works at the level of mere symptom management, Ayurveda addresses the root causes of not only physical, but also emotional, and existential, suffering. Through Ayurveda, I have learned to become responsible for everything I allow to enter through the doorways of all of my senses. That is because I now know the significance of everything I put into my mouth, all that I see, what I put onto my skin, what kind of books I read, the television shows and movies I watch, the music I listen to, and the kind of company I keep.
The word “responsibility” can be broken down into the words “ability” and “response.” Responsibility is, thus, in a very real sense, our ability to respond, rather than react, to any given situation that may come our way. When we are unaware of what is causing the health problem(s) we face, it is only natural to feel a sense of helplessness. Before I knew why I would always feel (sometimes excruciating) pain at some point during my menstrual cycles, I used to dread that time of the month – even wishing I was a man, just to be able to not have to go through the torture of abdominal cramps and lower backaches.
From Ayurveda, I have become aware of every morsel of food and each liquid that enters my body, as well as the potential these substances have to create either ease or disease, depending on how much I consume, in which season, and with what state of Agni (digestive fire). I never would have thought that, by eating dry foods, like chips, crackers, and popcorn, drinking very cold water, and consuming spicy foods, like green and red chilies (that are so common to the modern Indian diet), I was actually further aggravating my period-related aches and pains. Having changed my diet and lifestyle according to Ayurveda’s detailed period protocol, with as simplified of a food and lifestyle plan as possible during periods, I now hardly experience any pain at all – something I never even imagined could be possible prior to my studies!
And even when I do experience some occasional period-related pain (which feels very slight compared with what I went through before), I know how to respond: time to boil water with ajwain seeds! It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly relief washes over my entire body, from such a simple solution that I can create for myself from virtually anywhere. I no longer need to have the once-a-month drug dependency I used to have on Motrin and Tylenol, nor do I have to simply suffer pain. Instead of carrying around heavy-duty-Advil pills, I now just carry my tried and tested, simple ajwain seeds with me, wherever I go. It works like magic, each and every time. Who would have ever thought that one of the solutions to my period problems resided right inside the spice box my traditional Indian mother has kept stocked 24/7, 365 days a year, since far before I was born? This has been just one of so many wonderful discoveries from my culture of origin that I have been truly blessed to find since I first began my Yoga journey, as a stressed-out second-year undergraduate business student living in New York City.
At the level of the mind, Ayurveda has taught me the importance of anchoring. Where does the mind dwell when it is unplugged from its usual power sources? For so many of us, work, personal relationships, cell phones, computers, newspapers, and bank accounts become very real anchors, upon which we begin to rely over time. But what happens when there is no electricity? When our loved ones pass on (as we all inevitably will, one day)? When the financial markets fall into a state of recession, or even worse, depression? What, then, is left to hold onto? Through my never-ending studies of Ayurveda, the Sun has become an amazing anchor, which I find myself plugging into, more and more.
Ayurveda worships the Sun (called “Surya” in Sanskrit) as the ultimate bestower of Arogyam, or amazing health. The Sun is, literally, the source of all of life. We are all solar-powered creatures, and living in harmony with nature’s rhythms, as dictated by the course and direction of Surya, empowers us to live the healthiest, and therefore, happiest, lives possible. Anchoring my mind in the Sun has meant, first and foremost, training myself to arise before it rises, to offer prayers, gratitude, and my desire to embrace my own innermost nature, which is as strong and powerful as the Sun I see in the sky.
Surya is completely independent – it shines whether or not it receives recognition or approval for doing so, simply because the nature of the Sun is to shine. A big source of mental stress arises from our expectations and desires not being fulfilled by others in our lives, whether it is our parents, siblings, teachers, friends, lovers, children, co-workers, or friends. The mind constantly wants to feel loved and seen. In learning to give love, rather than simply wish to receive it, we are able to expand, rather than constrict, our consciousness, which inevitably blesses us with more abundance, joy, and true love. Rather than becoming small by our desire for fulfillment from outside sources, I have learned, through my Ayurveda studies, ways we can fill ourselves up with love from the inside, and actually become love itself. The Vedic spiritual tradition teaches us that we are filled with abundant, universal love and light, at the truest, deepest essence of our own being. And, in being love, we need never miss that which we actively acknowledge we are. Being love is all about appreciating our fullness, and acting from a space where we feel full, rather than empty or lacking in any way.
There is a beautiful Vedic sun worship ritual I have been fortunate to learn called Surya Upasana. “Upasana” means “to worship.” In Surya Upasana, the first aspect, or quality, of the Sun that we invoke is that of a “Mitra,” which is “a friend.” When we chant “OM Mitraya Namaha,” we not only praise the Sun for being friendly and affectionate to all, but also actively invite this quality into ourselves. Practicing Surya Upasana is part of my daily morning routine, a sacred time in which I am able to observe and let go of the impurities of my mind, and anchor it, instead, in the auspicious qualities of Surya.
Our modern world is one of constant chaos and change. This, along with having Vata dosha (an Ayurvedic physiological constitution comprised of air and ether, which are both known for creating a lot of change and motion) in my mind and body, have made the anchoring of daily and seasonal routines, revolving around Surya’s cycles, incredibly healing for me. When my mind is confronted with a moment of doubt, anger, worry, fear, or any number of negative thoughts and emotions, rather than becoming buried in the endless abyss of my feelings, thanks to my anchoring, I now find myself chanting one of the many Surya mantras I have been blessed to learn, and coming back to my center, sooner and sooner than ever before.
For the soul, Ayurveda has empowered me with an incredible feeling of freedom, an ever-deepening, abiding connection with the spiritual part of me – my innermost essence, which remains untouched by the ups and downs, and transitory nature of life on earth. The goal of all the Vedic sciences is nothing less than the lofty goal of Atmabodha: the journey of awakening to our spiritual essence (with “Atma” meaning “soul” and “bodha” meaning “to know“). Ayurveda teaches us so many wonderful ways to care for the body, and tools with which we can anchor and train the mind, and it is all so that we can really come to know, understand, and ultimately, realize our true identity with the soul within, which is eternally one with the universal soul, existing everywhere.
The beauty of this ultimate freedom that Ayurveda connects us with is that, unlike the responsibility we must take in caring for our bodies, and the training we need to anchor the mind with auspicious qualities, we need not do anything to “be spiritual,” because we all already are spiritual beings. We need not “do,” but rather learn to “be.” In empowering us to strip away the layers of physical and mental disease and distress, Ayurveda sets us free, to become who we are, at the deepest core of our own being. And in that beautiful space of being, I have the opportunity to see the real “me,” which is eternally free. In my expansive state of being, my perception of “me” becomes “we,” as I begin to understand the nature of the Ultimate Reality, in which there is no separation, even between me and my so-called “enemy.” From Ayurveda, I have learned to see myself in others, more and more. From Ayurveda, I now recognize that the more I love myself, the more my definition of who I am expands into a much larger sense of Self, which is one with all that is, was, and will be.