(As published in “Popular Lately” and “Featured Today” Highlight on Elephant Journal)
While Ayurveda has widely been restricted to the very elite or reduced to simply being about doshas (an Ayurvedic concept that roughly translates as fundamental constituents of the body), there is a lot more to Ayurveda than may initially meet the modern eye.
Deriving from the root Sanskrit words “Ayush,” meaning “life,” and “Veda,” meaning “knowledge or study of,” Ayurveda is a full system of healing that literally means “the knowledge or study of life.”
Yes, it is really that expansive.
Ayurveda touches upon each and every aspect of how to live a healthy, happy, and fulfilling life, from how to best manage digestive disorders, to what kind of daily and seasonal routines to adopt, to relationship guidance—it even provides insights on how to attain spiritual enlightenment!
Understanding, living by, and now teaching Ayurveda has made me appreciate its depth and profundity in more ways than words can express. These five lessons from this great science have been particularly life-changing for me, and I am thus happy to share them with you.
1. Dig deep.
What differentiates Ayurveda from many of the conventional medicine modalities is that it teaches us to dig deep to determine the root causes (called hetus) of why we manifest certain diseases in the first place. I was recently very saddened to listen to a client of mine describe how she was sent to various eating disorder centers as a teenager due to what was really a digestive disturbance, which caused her to lose a lot of weight. She witnessed many young girls with eating disorders hanging themselves out of deep mental despair, which was very traumatic—and actually unnecessary. She didn’t have to go to the eating disorders clinics, and those young girls did not have to hang themselves.
Had she been able to find her way to Ayurveda at that time, I or another practitioner could have told her then and there that it was her diet that was causing her weight loss problem, irritable bowel syndrome, and subsequent anxiety around eating. She could have been given a customized digestion balancing diet, taught the art of mindful eating, and guided to connect with that eternal part of herself that is beyond the body and mind rather than be fed through tubes as she watched other young girls kill themselves.
Eating disorders and other mental illnesses are so often more of a reflection of a deeper spiritual hunger than they are a matter of mere calorie consumption.
Having gone through eating disorders myself as a teenager, I am so grateful to Ayurveda for addressing the root causes of my problem, which were much more psychological than physical. I can see how my mental misperceptions created my physical imbalances, which have all been miraculously transformed for the positive with the healing power of Ayurveda. It is so unfortunate to me that the western medical approach typically targets the outer symptoms only, without looking deeper to address the cause of the problem. Eating disorders and other mental illnesses, in particular, cannot always be solved at the level of the body alone. We have to look at the real causes of the problems by examining every arena of our lives.
As Dr. William Stewart, founder of the California Pacific Medical Center’s Institute of Health and Healing reveals in Deep Medicine, his book about the need for ancient healing wisdom like Ayurveda alongside modern medicine: “every issue is a health issue. Everything you think, feel, say, and do is either health creating or health negating. Everything.”
Indeed, says Ayurveda. That is why even our initial intake form for treatment is so extensive—when practiced in its traditional way, Ayurveda truly leaves no corner of our existence unexamined in the process of inspiring patients to make health-promoting choices to reclaim wellness at every level—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
2. We are the living composite of the entire universe.
That’s right. There is no separation between each of us and nature. Everything we can see, smell, taste, hear, and touch in the external world can be found within ourselves. We are part flower, part shark and tiger, ape, tree, cloud, dog, part bird. We have it all within. Any characteristic that we see in nature, we can also find within ourselves. That is why we, too, can, in the words of Muhammed Ali, “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”
This principle of the unity between the macrocosm (the world outside) and the microcosm (the world within) is called loka purusha samya in Ayurveda. “Loka” means “world” and “purusha” is the term used for human being. “Samya” means “same.” This wisdom is succinctly expressed by the famous saying “as above, so below.”
This teaching has inspired me to become a deeper and deeper student of life by learning from everyone and everything that comes into my realm—every animal, plant, movement of clouds, wind, the sun, moon, and stars have all become my teachers. So, too, have the more difficult situations and people in my life. Knowing that we have it all within has made me less judgmental and more accepting of others, because I can see myself in others more as the understanding and appreciation of this wisdom grows and unfolds in me.
3. Like increases like.
This Ayurvedic principle is called “samanya vishesha.” The interaction of the microcosm with the macrocosm operates under the law of like increases like. In the classical Ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana, Rishi (sage) Charaka has revealed in Chapter 1, Verse 44:
“Similarity of all substances is always the cause of increase and dissimilarity the cause of decrease. Both effect by their application.”
Here’s a practical example of this principle in action. I have observed that my skin and joints become much drier and start to crack in the hot, dry summer months. The Ayurvedic remedy that helps to alleviate that dryness from the atmosphere is warm oil application. This is because oil possesses the exact opposite properties of dryness—oil is unctuous, and therefore reduces the negative effect of dry skin in my body, which is caused by environmental dryness.
In a more general sense, negativity begets negativity—the downward spiral of addictions of all kinds is a powerful example of samanya vishesha in action. Fortunately, the converse is also true. The more I implement positive choices in my life, the more positive choices I am able implement. Reflecting on the principle of like increases like inspires me to continue to make positive choices in each moment of my existence.
4. Follow the ebb and flow of the seasons.
Because our lives are so deeply interconnected with nature’s cycles, Ayurveda actually has a whole seasonal regimen that it prescribes everyone to follow for optimal health. It is called “Ritucharya,” which derives from the words “ritu,” meaning “season,” and “charya,” which means “to follow.”
Following Ayurveda’s Ritucharya recommendations is a very practical way to live in harmony with nature, and is a practice that has profoundly impacted my health in a positive way. Nothing is random in Ayurveda. Want to know the best time to conceive a healthy child? When you can maximally benefit from dieting, and when it can actually be harmful? What time of year is best to plan your yearly family vacation? Ayurveda’s Ritucharya guidance gives us answers to all these and more questions.
5. Live according to the sun’s cycles for a happy and empowered daily lifestyle.
In addition to amazing seasonal routines, Ayurveda also provides us knowledge of the best way to structure our daily routines and practices for optimal health. Ayurveda’s daily routine recommendations (called “Dinacharya,” which literally means “to follow the rhythm of the day”) all revolve around circadian cycles. We are recommended to rise prior to the sun, which demands that we sleep by 10pm at the latest.
Following Dinacharya has literally changed my whole clock around, from once going to sleep around 4am to now striving to wake up around that time! I have transformed my whole life, from being a very randomized one, in which I used to eat, sleep, work, and play at all different hours of day – and night – into a lifestyle that is grounded in Ayurveda’s amazing wisdom of when it is best to sleep, arise, eat, work, exercise, shower, and meditate. Doing so has ensured that I feel just as good in my day-to-day life as I do when I step off my yoga mat.
Living by Ayurveda’s nature-based wisdom has changed my life forever. In sharing some of the most powerful lessons I have learned from this ancient science, my hope is to inspire you to start to seek out and benefit from this life-changing knowledge for yourself. After all, in Ayurveda, we would not advise you to just take our word for it.
Try it, and experience for yourself the power and potential of this ancient art and science of life.