The Three Pillars of Health
Life in the city can get busy to the point that we neglect our most basic human needs – proper eating, sleeping, and right use of energy. It is not uncommon in our culture to take meals while driving, grab fast food and eat it while sitting at the computer, neglect sleep and rest to study, work, or party, and spend so much time taking care of others that we forget to take care of ourselves.
According to Ayurveda, the three pillars of life and good health are proper eating, sleeping, and proper use of energy (traditionally known as bramacharya or celibacy, but also referring to not overspending energy on sensual pursuits in general). Ayurveda is a science of health that teaches people to prevent disease by living a right lifestyle, and aims to heal diseases, at their root cause, rather than treat the external symptoms alone, without asking people to change their disease-inducing habits. It is easy to take a pill to reduce painful symptoms, but for ideal health, we ultimately need to take responsibility for the daily choices that we make in terms of food, rest, attitudes, exercise, and lifestyle.
Our society values money, work, outward beauty, and material success. While trying to achieve these values, we work hard, yet may neglect basic practices of self-care. America then spends trillions of dollars each year on healthcare, wondering why our country suffers from so many stress and diet-related diseases. Last week, while driving through northern California, I saw one billboard promoting cancer research, while the next billboard advertised steak. This is not to say that eating one steak will cause someone to develop cancer, but that in general, despite our country’s health issues, we are still fed the message through billboards and advertisements that fast food, crash diets, red meat, and so forth are things to be desired. Can we see the connection between lifestyle and health? In addition to advocating for the research of treating diseases through medicine, let us change our habits and values, and treat diseases at their root cause, by creating daily habits that create good health, mental peace, and longevity.
Following are some details about the three pillars of health, and some simple intentions we can create around them to try to live healthier lives.
Eating should be regular, with meals taken around the same time each day, and with the main meal taken at lunchtime. It is optimal to allow 4-5 hours to pass between large meals so that the food has time to properly digest before new food is taken in. Saying some form of grace before each meal, and eating mindfully (not while watching TV, talking, working, walking, or driving) increases proper digestion. Improper digestion is a root cause of many health problems, as food not properly digested can turn toxic, and these toxins can spread to various areas of the body and even the mind. Food should be fresh (canned or frozen food lacks prana, or life energy), organic when possible, chemical free, and prepared consciously and with love. Processed foods do not give our bodies the nutrients and life energy that our bodies require. The purpose of food is to nourish our bodies and minds, not to just satisfy the taste buds alone, so focus on choosing nutritious foods, and listen to your body’s internal wisdom, telling you what it wants. You deserve to eat healthy food. Spending money on healthy food is an investment into your lifelong energy and strength. Your health is your wealth!
Restful sleep (at the proper time) is vital for allowing the tissues, muscles, and organs of the body to relax, rejuvenate, and restore themselves. Poor sleeping habits, repeated over time, can contribute to disease and health problems. The sun tells us when it is time to wake and time to sleep. Sleeping before 10 PM and rising early with the sun (or before sunrise if you are doing early morning meditation or prayer) is ideal for optimum health. Creating nighttime rituals can be helpful, such as avoiding TV and computer usage right before bed, drinking bedtime or chamomile tea, taking a warm bath or shower with lavender oil, doing pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, reading positive, inspiring books, or journaling before bed can all be helpful in putting us in a relaxed state of mind ideal for restful sleep.
3) Proper use of energy:
Our senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell) certainly need a healthy degree of stimulation; however, overindulgence in the senses is a misuse of human energy and can lead to disease or ill health over time. Moderation is a key word – knowing when enough is enough, and learning to listen to our bodies’ cues to know when it needs a break from our sensual endeavors. For example, after working on a project for a few hours at a desk, we may feel some neck and back pain. Rather than listening to the body telling us it needs a break, we pop a pain killer and keep on working. Or, the body tells us it is full, but we keep eating because the food tastes good. We should listen to our bodies’ wisdom, and respect our bodies’ limitations. Give the senses enough stimulation to stay healthy, but look inward for happiness rather than trying to satisfy the senses to the point of overindulgence.
In summary, your human body is a precious gift. You alone are responsible for the choices you make in your daily life in terms of what you ingest, how much you rest, and in putting your sensual self-control to the test. You choose your lifestyle – your work, your recreation, your relationships, your diet, exercise, and so forth – all of which can enhance or decrease your health. Make your health a priority! Take simple, daily steps toward better self-care and feel the difference. Start with one change, and gradually increase until you are always treating your body the way it deserves to be treated – with love, care, and respect. After all, your body is a temple of the soul.