According to Ayurveda, we are spiritual beings having an earthly experience. Disease of the body and mind originate from misidentifying ourselves with matter. Healing thus occurs on the spiritual level as well as physically and mentally. Ultimate healing occurs when we reach a state of self-realization, attaining liberation from past karmic actions and awakening to our true spiritual identities.
Why does misidentification with matter lead to illness and disease? When we identify too strongly with matter, we look to material objects for satisfaction and may overindulge in bodily pleasures. Such overindulgences can lead to illness, as the physical body is meant to be nicely maintained, not extravagantly enjoyed. For example, we may stay up too late drinking alcohol or watching tv, eat too much cheesecake because it tastes good, or keep a job that causes us stress and strain because we want more money. We may exercise too much to achieve society’s ideal of a perfect body, or too little due to lack of motivation. When we identify ourselves with spirit on the other hand, we recognize the value of our bodies as important vehicles for cultivating spiritual practice, and therefore care for them nicely to maintain good health, rather than looking to our bodies as a source of pleasure. We then experience inner peace, no longer looking to bodily pleasures for happiness, and are better able to maintain good health, living less extravagantly and sensually, and with more wisdom.
There are three main causes of disease according to Ayurveda. One cause of disease is living out of harmony with our nature, or taking in objects with our senses that are not natural or conducive to good health. Each person has a unique physical and mental constitution, and needs to live accordingly to keep good health. For example, some people need to be very physically active, others are musically inclined, and others intellectually inclined. Each person should follow his/her unique nature and take objects into the consciousness that are harmonious and healthy. Spending time in nature for example, is harmonious to our bodies, whereas watching too much tv or taking in artificial sources of pleasure is not in harmony with our nature and can lead to imbalance or illness.
A second cause of disease according to Ayurveda is called prajnaparadha, or not following our higher wisdom. For example, we may know that we should eat a well-balanced and healthy diet, but instead of listening to that wisdom we may indulge in fast food – this would be prajnaparadha. We may know for example, that spending two hours driving in traffic to get to work each day is stressful, yet may avoid searching for work closer to home because we prioritize our work over our own personal health. In some cases driving far for work may be necessary, but this example refers to situations where the drive is causing undue stress in one’s life.
A third cause of disease is parinama – decay due to time and motion. As we age, our bodies and minds naturally decay, however the more of a fast paced life we live, the faster this aging process may occur. In Ayurveda, we learn to slow down the mind through meditation, yoga, and other such practices, and once the mind is slowed down, the body often follows suit. When we live a slower paced life, our stress is reduced, the mind becomes peaceful, and the body stays healthier. You can start slowing your life down by taking time each day to sit and meditate – like in mantra chanting, doing deep breathing, or another form of meditation suitable for you.
While Ayurveda can be used to treat illness and disease already manifested, Ayurveda is also largely a preventative science of healing. Through Ayurveda, we learn to recognize early signs of imbalance in the body and mind, and then take appropriate action to rectify these imbalances before they reach the state of serious disease. Ayurveda also aims to find and treat the root of illness, rather than just treating external symptoms, recognizing that a symptom is an external manifestation of a deeper imbalance. With Ayurvedic treatment, the symptoms may not always be alleviated immediately because it takes time to heal the root of the problem at a deeper level, but the healing is then long lasting.
According to Ayurveda, there are three basic doshas, or constitutions individuals have – vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth). Everybody has a combination of all elements, but each person has one or two dominant elements which influence one’s mental and physical tendencies, physical structure, and even personality to some degree as well as which diseases one may be prone to. Certain foods and lifestyles aggravate certain doshas, while others soothe and balance them. If a person who is by birth of a vata (air) constitution lives a lifestyle that is very vata aggravating (eating light, raw foods, traveling often, moving at a very fast pace, living in a dry and windy climate), such a person may develop a vata imbalance. Such an imbalance may at first manifest itself as small symptoms like gas or constipation, but can eventually, if left untreated, lead to more complicated illnesses of body and mind. This person would then need to alter his/her lifestyle to reduce or keep the air element in balance, perhaps by eating heavier, moister foods, sleeping with a humidifier, and having regular oil massages. A person of pitta (fire) nature will get aggravated by eating spicy foods, and one of kapha (earth) nature will get aggravated by living too much of a sedentary lifestyle or eating heavy foods. The key to Ayurvedic treatment is recreating balance amongst all three elements.
To balance the elements in one’s body, treatments include change in diet and lifestyle, intake of natural herbs, incorporation of meditation and mantra practices, yoga poses suited for one’s constitution, aroma and gem therapies, and deep purification and tonification treatments. Ayurveda treatment is teamwork between the doctor and the patient. The doctor can prescribe a certain lifestyle, but the patient must take control of eating right and living a right lifestyle for gradual healing and long term health. Ayurvedic treatment empowers and teaches the individual self-care which can be preventative of future disease.
Some basic Ayurveda health tips you can start to take into practice to keep your life in balance are as follows:
Start the day with a morning routine – try to wake before sunrise or as early as is practical for you. Do some morning meditation or yoga to start your day off right. In the Hare Krishna practice, we start the day by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. If you feel anxious or ungrounded, you can also massage your body in the morning with oil before showering, the process which is called abhyanga (Ayurvedic oil massage). Check with an Ayurvedic practitioner which oil is right for your body type.
Eat consciously – prepare your food with love, and offer it on an altar or to God if you practice spiritual life. Eat with attention – not while driving, walking, watching tv, etc. This leads to better digestion. Eating is a sacred process and should be done mindfully. Meditate on where your food came from. If you are trying to become vegetarian, such a meditation can help. If you are conscious before eating that your food has been slaughtered, you will be more likely to select vegetarian choices.
Eat foods that are as fresh and natural as possible, trying to avoid processed foods, artificial colors and flavors, and anything else unnatural. Avoid eating fruits in combination with any other food for best digestion, and avoid drinking cold milk. Milk is better digested warm and with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, or cloves.
Use spices in your cooking. Spices have much health value. For example, turmeric is a blood tonic, ginger and fennel help digestion, and cinnamon can stimulate circulation.
Spend time in nature regularly. We are surrounded by cell phones, computers, and so much artificial stimulation. It is essential to reunite and harmonize with beautiful nature.
Find and develop an occupation that is meaningful to you – something you feel you were born to do that can earn yourself a decent living while keeping you in good health and spirits.
For further information, you can look online to find an Ayurvedic practitioner near you, and above all, remember that your health is your wealth – take time to maintain it as your body is a temple of you – the soul.