(As published on Elephant Journal in the “Popular Lately” section)
In a world where women are so often objectified, whether in the workplace, media, on the school bus, or the world wide web, one of the most powerful lessons from the ancient science of Ayurveda for me has been to see my body as my temple.
Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga. Deriving from the Sanskrit words “Ayush,” which means “life,” and “Veda,” which means “knowledge” or “the study of,” Ayurveda is an amazingly comprehensive study of life. Ayurveda sheds light on such a myriad of topics related to human life, ranging from detailed daily self-care practices (called Dinacharya) to the way we manage our relationships.
I learned from my Ayurveda teacher about how there are three primary relationships in life. One relationship we all have is with actual objects, like our cell phones, car, computer, etc. Another form of relationship we have is with other people.
The relationships we have with others often make us feel vulnerable, as different layers of our egos get exposed through our interactions. When we view people with the lens of what they can do for us, or only by how they may make us feel, it is easy to slip into objectifying others.
As a spiritual science, Ayurveda helps us learn to cultivate a third type of relationship in life, with our own higher Self, which transcends name, race, gender, and all other external differences.
One of the beautiful aspects of the Vedic spiritual tradition from which Ayurveda stems is the belief that one need not search far nor wide to find God, or a higher power, by whatever name we choose to call this presence. A higher power lives within us all, and hence the concept of higher Self is given a capital “S,” to connote its connection with the sacred in each of us.
As we learn to perceive and treat our bodies as our temples, we are able to not only respect ourselves more, but also to honor one another as living embodiments of divinity.
Ayurveda, as an ancient art of living, teaches us to take care of our bodies and minds so that we can achieve oneness with the higher being residing within, and connect with that without, as well. That is why Indians greet one another by saying “Namaste:” the higher being in me bows to that higher being in you.
Honoring others begins with honoring ourselves, as there really is no ‘other’ —we meet none but ourselves in one ‘another.’
One of the best ways I have learned from Ayurveda to honor my body as the home of the higher being residing within is by giving myself what my teacher calls ‘a royal experience of eating.’ I never thought of eating as a spiritual practice prior to learning Ayurveda.
Having struggled with eating disorders as a teenager, I have really experienced the power of food to heal my whole being. We are what we eat, no doubt. What I have learned from Ayurveda, however, is that how we eat can have as much of a positive and transformational effect as what we consume.
Before learning Ayurveda, I used to treat my body like a trash can, consuming so much junk food, and that, too, beside the sink, while driving, talking, walking, or working on the computer. Sadhana (dedicated spiritual practice) has now truly become the best way to describe my experience of eating. The entire act of eating has transformed itself into a sacred ritual and art in which I can connect with a higher power in the food I eat, the person(s) who grew, cultivated, and cooked the food, and in the act of cooking.
Many religious and spiritual traditions alike have prayers that are offered prior to eating. There is a beautiful mantra of gratitude we traditionally offer prior to eating in the Vedic tradition, which acknowledges consciousness present in the food, in the process of preparing and offering it (to ourselves and others), and in the digestive fire (called Agni in Sanskrit), to which we offer food. In Ayurveda, we view the state of our digestion as a key indicator of overall health, and thus revere Agni as a sacred being in and of itself.
When we are in a rush, it is easy and tempting to want to run as soon as we finish eating (if we are not already running while eating!). Even if we have sat and mindfully eaten, abrupt and especially very fast movement after eating does not allow the wonderful food we have just consumed to properly nourish our being.
In Ayurveda, we learn that there are three bio-psychic forces called Doshas, which comprise our physical and mental constitution. One of these Doshas is called Vata, which is made up of air and ether elements, and is responsible for movement. Vata dosha is responsible for 80 different diseases in the body. Moving too quickly after eating disturbs Vata dosha, which we want to keep healthy and balanced to prevent disease formation.
I love sitting in Vajrasana (the only Yoga asana that can be practiced after eating) once I finish my food, while visualizing what I’ve eaten converting into amazing immunity. This practice is very calming to Vata dosha and prevents the buildup of so many digestive disturbances. Having had poor digestion for many years prior to learning Ayurveda, I can see the dramatic difference that slowing down, eating mindfully, and following my food consumption with the practice of Vajrasana has had, even when I have to occasionally eat out in restaurants.
If you are feeling inspired to cultivate a more mindful practice of eating, start by taking a moment to pause and feel gratitude for the food you are about to eat. Then, try to chew your food up to 30 times. You can also mentally chant any mantra or positive affirmation you know while eating. Really feel the texture(s) and savor the flavor of each bite.
Try to eat in silence if possible.
Silence is the language of the soul; it connects us to our indwelling spirit and brings about clarity and peace. Sit still for a couple minutes after you finish eating (you can sit in Vajrasana if you know it) and visualize your food converting into amazing health and vitality inside the sacred temple of your body. All of this will bring about a spirit of reverence and joy in your daily life, as these small things really add up to make a big impact upon our overall health and lives.
Wishing you all a sacred experience of eating and seeing your body as your temple.