(Originally published as “Featured Today” highlight, featured in “Popular Lately” and Top 10 Blogs of the Week on Elephant Journal)
‘Live in harmony with nature.’
We hear this expression all the time in the world of health and wellness. But, what does this expression really mean, and importantly, how can we actually start to do it on a daily basis?
Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga, and a complete medical system from ancient India, has so much wisdom to offer those of us wishing to live in greater harmony with nature.
The word “Ayurveda” stems from the root words “Ayush,” which means “life,” and “Veda,” which means “the study of.” Ayurveda, therefore, is the study of life. Unlike many modern means of study, however, the way Ayurveda was learned was by living it. As a spiritual science, Ayurveda is believed to have been ‘revealed’ to the revered Rishis (sages) of lore, in the depths of their profound meditations in the forests and mountains of ancient India.
These Rishis studied every aspect of nature. They spent time learning from animals, plants, trees, and the sun, moon, wind, and stars—and generously shared the knowledge they acquired with anyone fortunate to encounter them and/or read their words in the various sacred texts they recorded.
One of the discoveries these Rishis have carefully penned down for the benefit of humanity is a set of daily self-care rituals called Dinacharya. “Dina” means “day” and “charya” means “to follow,” so Dinacharya literally translates as “following the rhythm of the day.” The rhythm of each day is closely connected with the natural cycles of the sun, moon, earth, and other planets, and hence, we learn through Dinacharya how to keep our own daily cycles in sync with the natural world around us. In Ayurveda, we learn that we are a living composite, or microcosm, of the entire universe.
Hence, what goes on around us has a great influence on what goes on within us and vice versa.
Part of the brilliance of the medical science of Ayurveda is that it provides incredibly detailed protocols for not only how to counteract disease, but also how to actively protect, promote, and increase our health. There is a beautiful Shloka (poetic verse) that defines the purpose of Ayurveda as:
“Svasthasya svasthya rakshanam
Ayurasya vikara prashamanam cha”
Ayurveda protects the health (Svasthya) of the healthy (Svasthasya), first and foremost, and also effectively treats diseases (Vikara). The reason for Ayurveda’s effectiveness in treating disease is that it addresses the root causes of why ill health occurs in the first place.
Dinacharya is considered one of the best ways to protect the health of the healthy. Not following it is thought to be a causative factor for disease.
The Ayurvedic Rishis discovered that one’s daily routine is a much more powerful source of healing and wellbeing than even the strongest medicine a doctor could possibly prescribe. And while it may seem intuitive that one’s daily routine is one of the best sources of disease prevention, what’s even more amazing about Ayurveda is that it provides such detailed descriptions of what this daily regimen entails through many chapters of its traditional scriptures.
I have been grateful to learn many of these practices, and to now teach them to beginner Ayurveda students. Here are some of the ancient Rishis’ discoveries to live in greater harmony with nature:
1) Wake up early.
We are all solar powered creatures. In Ayurveda, the sun is deeply respected and regarded as the source of health, power, strength, and spiritual wellbeing. Awakening between 4-6 am gives us the opportunity to greet the sun, appreciate it, and welcome the sun’s amazing qualities into our lives.
The time between 4-6am is also known by Rishis and Yogis since time immemorial to be a spiritually elevated and charged time during which it is very auspicious to meditate and develop a more positive mindset. I can speak from personal experience in saying that I have seen a great positive change in my overall state of mind from waking up early.
2) Develop a morning practice.
Wonder what to do once you start waking up earlier? There are many morning practices recommended by Ayurveda to help ground you and give you more strength and clarity with which to proceed with your day. Having been a rather ungrounded person in the past, these morning practices have really changed my life and provided me with a greater connection to my inner source of wisdom and peace.
One of my favorite morning practices is gazing at my hands immediately upon waking up. It is amazing to consider just how much our hands allow us to do; we use our hands to work, create, and connect with others through writing, typing, gardening, cooking, shaking hands, and much more. By living according to the wisdom of Ayurveda and Yoga, we have the opportunity to really take our health and lives into our own hands, and so I always acknowledge the power, possibility, and freedom that resides in my very own two hands as soon as I wake up each morning.
Other morning practices ideas include taking a walk, doing Surya Namaskar (sun salutations), other Yoga Asanas(postures), meditation, journalling, chanting mantras, and repeating positive affirmations.
3) Make lunch your biggest meal.
We often hear about the merits of breakfast; it is commonly touted as the most important meal of the day. According to Ayurveda, however, lunch is actually the most important meal of the day. The sun is at its peak between 12-1pm, and so is our digestive fire, which is called Agni in Ayurveda.
We learn from Ayurveda that we are not just what we eat, but what we actually digest. The health of our entire body is greatly reflected by the health of our digestive fire, and therefore, we are advised to eat the most when we have the most capacity to digest the food we’ve eaten. Having grown up making dinner my heaviest meal, and having struggled for many years with digestive challenges, the practice of making lunch my biggest meal has greatly improved my digestion.
Following Ayurveda’s Dinacharya recommendations has made me a healthier and happier human being. I encourage you, too, to try one or more of Ayurveda’s daily routine recommendations and feel the joy of living in greater harmony with nature.