Advice for Healthy Living
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We live in a dynamic world which bombards our senses, challenges our mental capacity, and buffets our physiology. We remain healthy if we are able to compensate for all these influences and maintain balance (homeostasis). If awareness is permanently established in the transcendental reality, this happens automatically because life is lived spontaneously in complete accord with natural law. Otherwise, it's all too easy to make mistakes. In the current era, few have claimed their birthright to enjoy Cosmic Consciousness. What is more, many question whether God or any transcendental reality exists.
Thus, for most of us, there is a great need for practical guidance on how to maintain balance. Ayurveda (Sanskrit for the “Science of Life”) is the owner’s manual for the human body. It explains our individual differences (see The Doshas) and how to harmonize with them to maintain balance, improve vitality, and resist disease through choices of diet and lifestyle.
This page summarizes general Ayurvedic recommendations to prevent imbalance, enliven self-repair, and boost strength and immunity (Ojas). Imbalances in the body most often result from unsuitable habits, improper digestion and metabolism of food, and the accumulation of environmental toxins. Healthy habits can go a long way towards preventing and reversing disease. This regimen may differ from your current habits. If so, take it slowly. Focus on one change at a time. Phase out the old habit and phase in the new over the course of a week or more so as not to create stress and discomfort. To a certain extent, your body has adapted to whatever unhealthful habits you may have acquired.
As you make this journey to health, always respect and generally follow your spontaneous desires. Desire is the expression of the physiology in seeking what it needs to achieve balance at a given moment. Nevertheless, be aware that some non-life-supporting desires may arise due to old habits and imbalances. In other words, when you have a choice to make, also use your intellect and judgment.
Ayurveda emphasizes daily and seasonal routine. A routine is helpful because it provides a stable platform of rest and activity. Modern science has demonstrated many bio-rhythms that govern hormonal activity, wakefulness, etc. We have all experienced how these are disrupted by air travel across time zones. Therefore, if you develop a regimen is in harmony with the prevailing daily and seasonal cycles of nature, you will gain nature’s support in maintaining balance in your physiology while dealing with all the other changes which are inevitable in life. If you are irregular in your daily routine, you will face that much more change with which to cope. An erratic routine especially aggravates Vata.
The importance of routine also applies to diet. While variety in food whets the appetite, irregular mealtimes disturb digestion. When the digestive process is faulty, it generates a toxic products known as Ama. Otherwise healthy foods can turn to poison if taken in excess, at the wrong time or in unsuitable combinations. When Ama accumulates, it blocks the channels of the physiology (Shrotas) which maintain the circulation of nutrients and waste products. This can be gross or subtle. The cholesterol plaques of atherosclerosis are an example of Ama. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Alzheimer's disease are examples of serious problems resulting from Ama accumulation at a more subtle level.
To maintain balance, diet and activity must adjust with the seasons (see sidebar Diet for Season and The Doshas). The hearty food that helps keep us warm in winter would fail to refresh in summer. Conversely, while it is enjoyable to stroll after dinner in the cool evening breeze of summer, the experience would be quite different in winter.
In seeking better balance, consider making Transcendental Meditation a fundamental component of your daily routine. Hundreds of scientific studies have validated the short and long term health benefits of this practice. Most importantly, it will open your awareness to the transcendental reality of life. A taste of that effortless experience may surprise you. It's simply a home-coming: waking up to the fullness of your inner being. It fulfills the primary goal of Ayurveda, which is to help us reconnect to the source of Life. It would be a waste of a lifetime not to have this experience. It makes everything else better.
Sip water or other beverages during your meals at room temperature or warmer according to your preference. Avoid cold or iced beverages since they interfere with digestion. Also, avoid taking large quantities of liquids before, during, and within an hour of eating.
If you want to get full benefit from Ayurveda, forget the artificial categories used by western food science to describe nutrition. In the long history of humankind, no one worried about protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and micronutrients. Even the idea of "Dairy" as a category is confusing because it includes eggs that were often sold by dairy farms.
Instead, learn about the six tastes that affect the influence of various foods on the Doshas:
Also think in terms of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans/lentils, milk products, oils, nuts/seeds and spices/herbs. In other words, use the natural categories. At your main meal, the plate will ideally contain abundant fresh vegetables, some whole grains and some beans along with a glass of lassi. Vegetables are mostly bitter tasting. Legumes are astringent. Grains primarily contribute sweet taste. Sugar should not be the main source of sweet taste. Whole cane sugar can be used in small amounts like a spice for Vata and Pitta. You won't necessarily see the oil, nuts/seeds and spices, because they are used in relatively small amounts. The same goes for sour, salty and pungent tastes which deliver flavor. Oil and spices combine to make food unctuous and delicious. The healthful amount of oil used in the cooking depends on your Doshas and the season: liberal for Vata, minimal for Kapha. Fruit probably won't be there except as a garnish or condiment, because it delivers greatest value when consumed by itself. You also won't see processed or fast foods, which enrich the companies that aggressively market them and put you on the fast track to illness.
You don't need to count calories to manage your weight with Ayurveda. Most people spontaneously normalize weight and eliminate cravings when they adopt an Ayurvedic vegetarian diet appropriate for their Doshas, digestion and current state of balance.