|| श्री दिग्विजयरामो विजयते || || हरिः सर्वोत्तमः वायुः जीवोत्तमः ||
|| श्री दिग्विजयरामो विजयते || || हरिः सर्वोत्तमः वायुः जीवोत्तमः ||
As per the suggestion from some clients and instruction from my preceptor, I have uploaded a couple of video content on YouTube. This provides a way to connect with clients and provide instructions when other means are not available/limited during this time of social distancing, and assist geographically dispersed clientele. However, the video content themselves should not be construed as a substitute for consultation and advice from health practitioner(s). If you are an existing client, please continue to refer to your individual 'Pathya-Apathya' charts for your personalized dietary guidelines.
One of the most frequently-used preparation in my practice is Kashaya/herbal decoction as many of you who seek my services would know. And you would also know that it is recommended that it be prepared and consumed fresh. Additionally, an overwhelming majority of the cases I deal with involve some sort of digestive impairment. With this in mind, I have uploaded a video that addresses your needs by way of illustration of preparation while targeting the most commonly encountered gut issues.
Here's a video on Jeeraka Kashaya to your right. It is an easy preparation with just two simple ingredients if you can believe it. It is potent nonetheless. Named after the star ingredient, cumin, this concoction is an excellent digestive aid. Known as Jeeraka in Sanskrit, its name say it all. Its name literally means the one that digests. Jeeraka is a must-have spice in everyone's kitchen cabinet.
Spring is in the air! The period between mid-March to mid-May is called Vasanta ṛtu (spring season) in the Indic culture. It is a season that brings much joy, hope and freshness. Spring season is a gentle reminder for us about the amazing rejuvenating capacity of nature. The appearance of fresh green sprigs, sweet smelling flowers, fresh breeze and the chirping of the birds is a multi-sensory feast served up by nature that even the ascetics would find hard to ignore. Such is the wondrous quality of nature. When everything seems lifeless, dull and cold amidst winter, there comes spring to blossom hope in our hearts. A reminder that fresh life can emerge even from the toughest of conditions. A promise of arrival of better days for those who endured the cold winter. Perhaps it was set in motion long time ago. Perhaps it was in the making all along but it just escaped our senses. Either way, it is a time to bid winter goodbye and usher in spring.
Ayurveda prescribes a practice known as ṛtucharyā (seasonal regimen), which involves observance of a set of season-appropriate dietary and lifestyle guidelines. Observance of ṛtucharyā protects one from seasonal disorders and helps promote good health. Here is an excerpt from Charaka Samhita that describes the seasonal features of spring and offers some health tips appropriate for the season. Reference: Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana Made Easy by Dr.J.V.Hebbar.
What happens during spring?
During spring, kapha that is accumulated in winter gets liquefied by the sun's heat and disturbs the digestion power. It leads to many diseases. Imagine kapha as ice or cold, dense substance. During winter, the kapha dośa consolidates and stays at one place. But during spring, due to strong sun rays, kapha dośa melts and moves into other places of the body, and causes / worsens kapha disorders such as asthma, indigestion, cold, cough, etc. (This phenomenon offers an Ayurvedic perspective on why we observed a rapid rise in Coronavirus incidents during March/April). This process is called as kapha dośa prakopa. Therefore, spring season is an excellent time for undergoing detoxification programs.
Here are some general tips that can be followed during the spring season.
One should avoid:
guru – heavy to digest foods
snigdha – oily, unctuous foods
amla + madhura – sour and sweet foods.
One should avoid sleeping during daytime.
At the advent of spring, one should habitually resort to:
vyāyām – exercise,
mardana – palm massage,
gaṇḍūṣa/ kavala – oil pulling/gargling, and
añjana – collyrium.
Of all the above, my personal favorite is gaṇḍūṣa. It is popularly known as oil-pulling but its origin is Ayurveda. gaṇḍūṣa is excellent for removing kapha dośa from the ENT region. It is excellent for treating disorders of mouth, nose and throat. It is effective in strengthening teeth and improving oral health. It is effective in healing dry, chapped lips and toothache. It also stimulates vagus nerve, the main component of parasympathetic nervous system. In addition, it improves lung health and strengthens the digestive system. What's not to like about gaṇḍūṣa, right?
How to do gaṇḍūṣa?
Wash your face gently with warm water soon after you wake up in the morning. Sit in a comfortable position and give yourself a gentle neck and shoulder massage for 3-5 mins. Mop your face with a towel dipped in hot water and allow the steam to foment for 2-3 mins. After this mild fomentation, keep your face slightly tilted upwards and rinse your mouth with a tablespoon of sesame oil (the choice of sesame oil is suggested for those living in temperate climate; for those living in tropical climate such as southern India coconut oil or triphala tea would be suitable) for at least 10-15 mins and spit it out. You may swish it around your mouth if you wish as a gargle, in which case it would be called kavala. If you are hard-pressed for time, you may simply rinse/gargle for 10-15 mins as suggested above. It is most effective when done on empty stomach in the morning.
After gaṇḍūṣa/kavala, rinse your mouth with warm water, brush your teeth and wash your face.
Here is an excerpt from Ashtanga Hrudaya, Sutrasthana (ṛtucharyā adhyāya ) about vasanta ṛtucharyā.
दक्षिणानिलशीतेषु परितो जलवाहिषु ॥२३॥
अह्र्ष्टनष्टसूर्येषु मणिकुट्टिमकान्तिषु ।
परपुष्टविधुष्टेषु कामकर्मान्तभूमिषु ॥२४॥
विचित्रपुष्पवृक्षेषु काननेषु सुगन्धिषु ।
गोष्ठीकथामिश्र्चित्राभिर्मध्याहं गमयेत्सुखी ॥२५॥
During spring season, a person should spend his midday in the company of friends engaged in pleasant games, pastimes, story telling etc., in forests (or gardens). The gardens should have cool breeze from south direction, with plenty of reservoirs of water all around, invisible or poor sunlight, the land covered with shining crystals, with the cuckoo everywhere making pleasant sounds and engaged in love-play, with trees and different kinds of beautiful and sweet smelling flowers.
Note that the classical texts of Ayurveda were written in the geographical context of the Indian sub-continent. The climate in Canada is vastly different from that of India. The sun is very sharp in India during this time of the year especially at midday, and this is why the above verse suggests that one should stay away from sunlight during midday. This is not the case in countries like Canada for instance. In fact, we do not get nearly enough sunlight due to a combination of geography and lifestyle factors. So please get enough sunlight, even if it is during midday.
सौमनस्यक्रुतो ह्र्ध्यान्वयस्यैः सहितः पिबेत् ।
श्रुङ्गबेराम्बु साराम्बु मध्वम्बु जलदाम्बु च ।
Drink of mango-fruit juice mixed with fragrant substances, in the company of beloved women which has been made more pleasant by the sweet scent of their body and the grace of their lily-like eyes; the drink, thereby producing satisfaction to the mind and heart. He should also make use of unspoiled beverages such as āsava (fermented infusion), arishta (fermented decoction), sīdhu (fermented sugarcane juice), mardvika, madhava (honey water) or water boiled with srngavera or sarambu or jalada (musta),
I think we can agree that even if we currently do not have the means to engage in the activities suggested above, the very thought of these pleasant imagery is enough to transport us into a positive mood and put a spring in our steps. So on that note, I shall sign off.
I would like to share this beautiful story of the musk deer which I stumbled upon while contemplating on the kastūri tilaka adorned by the Mother Divine. For those unfamiliar, kastūri is regarded in Ayurveda as the most prized scent in the world. It is part of the paraphernalia used in deity worship in the Vaishnava tradition and in some Ayurveda formulations. It is used in its purest form in the famous Jagannath temple of Puri even to this day. kastūri is the musk of the Himalayan deer, named after the Himalayan musk deer (known as kastūri mrga ) itself. It is an intensely aromatic substance. It is said to overpower any odor that comes in contact with it. In other words, it retains its aroma even after coming in contact with the foulest smelling substance and neutralizes any stench spreading nothing but its sweet scent far and wide. In fact, one of the tests to detect fake kastūri from the real one involves blending it in a solution of asafoetida (known as hingu in Sanskrit). Real kastūri will have no trace of hingu but a fake one would smell like hingu after contact. While this characteristic of kastūri is in itself very enchanting and awe-inspiring, the story of the musk deer is even more so.
kastūri , the musk deer inhabits the rough, high terrain of the Himalayan range. They are a rare species and now endangered. Note that the picture above is not that of the musk deer. Musk deer do not have antlers. At a certain age, they begin to secrete the most ravishing scent through their musk pods situated in their navel (नाभि ) and rectum (गुड) region. This scent emanating from kastūri is said to fill the mountain air of the Himalayas. kastūri gets very attracted to the scent and goes in search of the source of the scent frisking the trees and rocks of the Himalayas. They roam the mountain range sometimes brushing their musk pods against the rocks and trees in their journey but never realize that its their own musk pods that carries the scent. After spending much time in hopeless captivation towards the scent and incessant wandering, kastūri finally looks down at the deep cliff and takes a leap into the cliff hoping to find the source of the scent. It meets an unfortunate end but the hunters find a treasure in the fallen kastūri and harvest the musk pod for its all-expensive scent.
The story of kastūri is very much akin to the story to our lives. We keep seeking joy and happiness from various sensory experiences without realizing that all that we are seeking is already within us. If only kastūri had brought his nose close to his navel he would have discovered all that he was looking for. But perhaps this is what is called animal consciousness. kastūri did not know better. Perhaps it is for this reason that kastūri is used as a paraphernalia in the deity worship. Perhaps Lord Jagannath and Lakshmi Devi would like for us to be reminded that we as human beings should rise above to a higher consciousness each time we adorn the ūrdhvapundra (the hallmark mark that adorns the foreheads of Vaishnavites) or adorn the deity with kastūri . Perhaps it is a reminder for us to seek within and not let our senses go awry lest we meet an unfortunate end like kastūri . As someone famously quoted that the only way out is the way in. Perhaps a reminder to control our sensory indulgences.
The practice of sense withdrawal or control (known as indriya nigraha ) is encouraged in Ayurveda. Ayurveda holds that we become prey to diseases when our senses are employed in inappropriate manner - excess, under or wrongful utilization.
न पीडयेदिन्द्रियाणि न चैतान्यतिलालयेत् |
na pīḍayedindriyāṇi na caitānyatilālayet
Translation: The sense organs should neither be troubled (strained) very much nor should they be coaxed (fondled) very much.
Reference: Ashtanga Hrdayam, Sutrasthana, verse 29
अनुयायात्प्र्तिपदं सर्वधर्मेषु मध्यमाम् |
anuyāyātprtipadaṃ sarvadharmeṣu madhyamām
In all activities, one should adopt the middle mean only (avoid the extremes).
Translation: Overeating, engaging in gossip, excessive use of television or screen devices, excessive sleep, prolonged suppression of natural urges, listening to loud/unpleasant music, excessive talking are some of the examples of practices that violate this rule.
Reference: Ashtanga Hrdayam, Sutrasthana, verse 30.
One may ask how to gain better control over our senses. This is the topic of many yogic and vedic literature. Ayurveda provides some insights into it as well, although not extensively dedicated to this subject. Diet is chief among the methods along with lifestyle. The intake of sāttvik diet is recommended. Food's effect on mind is well established in Ayurveda. We are what we eat. Our thought is a byproduct of the food we ingest. By consuming a healthy diet, we can cultivate healthy thoughts which in turn can be utilized towards performing healthy actions.
We can change our consciousness by changing our diet. Let us be saved from the fate of kastūri.
This post was originally intended for International Women's day and it is a tad too late because of the recent turn of events. But it is timely nonetheless.
On my recent flight to Cuba, I had the opportunity to be seated next to a nice family of four. During the course of the flight, my co-passenger - the wife - and I started to strike up a conversation. We inquired about each other. The usual where are you from, what you do etc. When I returned the question on her occupation. She replied with an apparent humility that she was just a housewife and she quit her job to care for her kids. I told her that it was commendable and her choice should be applauded! This is a rare case. Today, we hear more accounts of women rejoining workforce shortly after the maternity leave. We cannot blame women for this choice. As a society, we are responsible for incentivizing women to make such harsh choices. Sadly, we have come to value everything in monetary terms. We have come to view success of everything in economic terms alone. A woman who earns a handsome paycheck is viewed more favorably by the society over a woman who is a good homemaker. The unfortunate reality of our times is that we have made women feel less worthy for making right choices that benefit not just the immediate family but the society as a whole. This viewpoint will have unimaginable consequences on our society down the road.
Women are natural care givers. Motherhood is an intrinsic quality of a woman. A mother's nurturing, which is crucial for a child's development cannot be replaced by other means. The mother-child relationship is delicate during the formative years of a child and decisive for the child development. By projecting a societal pressure on women to maintain uninterrupted careers, we are putting the health of our society at great risk. A woman today feels pressured to maintain a career even in situations when there is no economic necessity.
There is an entire branch of Ayurveda dedicated to the care of women during pregnancy, childbirth and post-partum. By incentivizing women to join workforce during this delicate period, we are risking the future health of our children. Women need to be cared for and protected. I am aware that this statement elicits some strong reactions from feminists. Once a colleague protested expressing how a seemingly progressive woman like me can say that women need to be protected. Note that I am not implying any weakness by stating that women need to be protected. Quite the contrary. I am implying strength in a woman. Because they are precious, they need to be protected. Do we not protect our wealth? Do we not keep all our money, jewelry in a safe? Does that imply money/wealth is weak? Far from it! We protect what we value. According to Vedic injunctions, the duty of a king (government in our times) is to protect all citizens especially the wise/learned men (brahmanas), the cows, the elderly, women and children. This is essential for proper functioning of a society.
Even a tiny island nation like Cuba seems to get this message, at least a part of it. Care to guess the criminal offence with second longest jail time after manslaughter in Cuba? Killing a cow! Under Cuban law, a person can get a sentence of up to 10 years if he/she is found guilty of killing a cow. I was told by a native Cuban that this is because they recognize that cows give nourishment to the children so they want to protect cows. Cubans recognize that cattle are central to their agrarian economy.
Every life-form in this universe has a unique role to play. Societal harmony lies in creating a conducive environment for successful discharge of duties for all lifeforms according to their innate propensity and characteristics. Einstein noted that the human population would perish in 4 years if bees disappeared from the face of the planet. What to speak of other creatures! In a similar manner, we need to recognize each person for his/her individuality. The duty of a parent is to recognize the innate qualities of a child during early years and encourage them to blossom into their own individual self. Again we seem to allow our choices to get blinded by money. Asian parents, particularly Indians and Chinese are guilty of boxing their children to their pre-conceived identities basing their career choices on the income potential rather than their innate abilities. Not every child needs to become an investment banker or IT professional. We need nurses, mailmen, public officials, counselors, entrepreneurs etc. Violating the inner propensity of an individual not only kills individuality but creates disharmony in a society - an unintended consequence.
For all women out there, please embrace your femininity and be pleased with who you are. There is no need for women to prove their worth by competing against men. There is no contest between men and women. Women are already special in their own right. Women are gifted with the unique ability to give birth to and raise another human being. The contest should be against ourselves - how can we become better versions of ourselves. Both men and women are essential part of a society, each one is important but differ in their roles. This is the beauty of diversity.
A woman's primary role is to care for and nurture her family. This is not to say that women should not pursue a career. But it should not come at the expense of fulfilling her primary role. Today, sadly women are abandoning their fundamental duties in droves. This must be checked. It is our collective responsibility.
There are many diseases that are in the making due to our misplaced priorities. We need to treat this with the same level of urgency as we are treating the current pandemic.
Again, you may wonder what has this got to do with Ayurveda. So here it is...
About two generations ago, almost every household in India had a woman who was knowledgeable about Ayurveda. She applied her knowledge skillfully in her cooking and made effective home remedies. It is this knowledge that built a healthy society. It is this practice of traditional knowledge that gave rise to the popular "Indian immune system" - an envy of the world. Women's role in community health cannot be underestimated. Even today, most women across the world take on the role of cooking for the family. This is a major contribution of women to society. A healthy child will help create a healthy society. However, women today are torn between their career and domestic responsibilities and are left little time to cook a proper meal. Women are pressured to favor store-bought meal solutions over home-cooked meals to save time. The knowledge of Ayurveda or other wisdom traditions is fast disappearing from households. Even if there are a few rare, often elderly women left, they are scorned upon. The effect has been disastrous, particularly in India where almost every household now battles with chronic diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure etc. The problem is further exasperated for countries like India because of limited access to good quality public healthcare. Today Ayurveda is sought only as an intervention when a disease occurs. But the role of Ayurveda is far greater than disease management. It has a major role to play in disease prevention. When it is applied on a daily basis via cooking, your family will not have to seek such interventions, Ayurveda or western. Unfortunately, glorification of a career-woman has entered the psyche of all societies today (India included) due to the fallout of globalization. And women are showing less interest in acquiring this vital skill of cooking. Is it wise to invest in vaccines for every epidemic and pills for every disease out there OR is it prudent to invest in one system that defends us against all diseases and helps prevent diseases? Our ancients knew the way. Let us make wise choices. Our choices today shape tomorrow's society.
Stay home. Cook healthy. Stay healthy.
Women's role in community health
If you are one of those people who reads the fine-print of every contract then you would be very familiar with the term "force majeure". Now is a good example of times when the clauses pertaining to force majeure would be invoked.
Just under two months ago, a large part of humanity went about their daily lives feeling in control. Eight weeks forward, a tiny microscopic organism has paralyzed the entire world. Not 100s, not 1000s, not 100,000s but many millions of human beings - human beings infinitely larger in size than this tiny organism which is invisible to naked eye. This is a wondrous phenomenon that we are witnessing. I say this out of deep fascination towards the workings of the universe. It should be recalled as a humbling experience for each one of us. A divine act! Of course, everything around us is the manifestation of the divine and all acts are of the divine. As Acharya Madhwa puts its eloquently "tEnavinA truNamapi na chalati", meaning without the divine will even a blade of grass will not move.
This tiny microorganism has single-handedly disrupted world markets, industries, global affairs et al. It has raised questions about our self-worth. It has caused stress, panic, fear among millions. It has raised the fear of death in many even while the fatality number is not astronomical by any stretch of imagination. And some are left seeking solace in activities they enjoy. And yet, for some this has been a time of much-needed relaxation. The object is the same but the experience is subjective. Why is that? Why is it that one individual from a family unit contracts a disease while others from the same family unit do not? Why is that while one individual is a symptomatic carrier of a virus while another is entirely asymptomatic? Why is our experience subjective? The answer lies in the understanding of our "self".
The Vedic tradition offers a very detailed explanation into what constitutes our "self" and the reasoning behind such subjective experiences. It is not possible to cover those details in one post, but I shall attempt to provide a glimpse into it. We are comprised of 3 bodies of which we can only see one which is the physical body. The 3 bodies are:
1. Sthula sharira - Gross / physical body that is perceived by our sense organs
2. Sukshma sharira/lingadeha - Subtle body that is beyond ordinary sense perception. Affliction to this body will cause distress to the physical body via the law of downward causation.
3. Karana sharira - Causal body, the seed principle responsible for the other two bodies. This is the storehouse of our karmas. It is a blueprint of our existence.
All our desires, emotional make-up and mental tendencies are ingrained in patterns known as samskārās , which are unique to us. Our responses and actions are driven by these patterns. And hence, the subjective experience. The reason why death is a dreadful word for many is mostly due to the lack of understanding of the Self. When we die, we only lose the gross body but the other two bodies remain. There is no death for the Atman or the "Self" which is the essence of each one of us. In fact, Bhagavat Gita says that there has never been a time when we did not exist. How profound is that?! It is not just Sanatana Dharma that propagates this message. For a tribe in East Africa, there is no such word as death in their language/vocabulary. The nearest equivalent to convey the same meaning as what we refer to as death in their language translates to "going westward"!
There are 5 sheaths known as paṃcakośa that envelopes the Atman, out of which only one is visible to the naked eye. We are a bundle of energy. Clairvoyants are able to see these subtle bodies that we carry. For example, it is documented that when the king of Vijayanagara empire, Krishnadevaraya of 15th century approached the great saint of Dvaita order, Sri Vyāsatīrtha to pay obeisances, the saint appeared as a ball of brilliant light to the king, even while other bystanders only saw the saint in the usual bodily form. It takes a great personality to spot an enlightened personality! The point is that every experience of ours is unique to us - immaculately dished out at an opportune time based on our karmic profile. Vedic astrology is one of the many useful tools to understand this karmic profile of ours.
When we come to this understanding that we are beyond this physical body, we can bring ourselves to a higher platform - a platform that is not just occupied by satisfying the needs of this physical body but a platform from where our activities are targeted towards satisfying the needs of our true self that remains hidden to the naked eye but remains active nonetheless, beyond death of the physical body. Each one of us is unique and seek different experiences. Who is the one who desires this experience? Who is the one who experiences it? What has caused us to desire an object? The esoteric texts of the Vedas provide very lucid explanations on these subjects. According to one school of Vedanta, the union of the knower and the knowing is known as the state of liberation.
Be that as it may. The point of this post is to bring to light that there is a whole world within us that remains untapped! And very often the outer world is a reflection of our inner world. Earlier times there were wars; this time the war is against a different enemy - an unseen enemy. And unlike war times which divided us, this war is uniting us. We can see that this war has brought out good qualities out of so many people. I was particularly delighted when Canada donated medical supplies to China amidst an outbreak in the region. Our Prime Minister stressed that it is a moral obligation to help countries in need in times of a crisis. Despite his own difficult personal situation, our Prime Minister has demonstrated extraordinary leadership during this crisis. Thank goodness we have such leadership. Such acts of kindness matter! We can see the outcome - Canada has had far fewer cases than our neighbors south of the border (USA) or much of Europe. And India has been a beacon of light for the world. India's leadership has pulled out all the stops to contain the spread - an impressive feat for such a populous country! Sometimes we need a crisis like this to purify us from inside out and allow us to clearly separate good from the bad. The enemy is not outside. It is within us. Corona virus or not, we should strive to bring out the best of us and get rid of the " śaḍripu"s, the six enemies - lust, anger, greed, hatred, jealousy, and arrogance. Just as gold attains purity when subjected to intense heat and pressure, we need to take advantage of situations like this to purify ourselves. Let us give, let us help, let us be kind, let us shine our good qualities. We know it is there. Human spirit is a rare gift indeed. Let it shine.
People of the Vedic culture just celebrated the birth of Sri Rama recently. It is said that Sri Rama was the embodiment of all good qualities that exist! The divine Himself of course, but we learn better when we hear the stories of their personalities through their enactment of values.
How is all this relevant to Ayurveda, you ask? Well, be assured that there is a method to my madness.
आयुः कामयमानेन धर्मार्थसुखसाधनम् |
आयुर्वेदोपदेशेषु विधेयः परमादरः ||
A person desirous of long life which is the instrument for achieving dharma (righteousness), artha (material wealth), kāma (sensual pleasures) and mokśa (spiritual liberation) should repose utmost faith in the teachings of Ayurveda.
Thus said sage Atreya and other great sages, Vagbhata, aṣṭānga hrdayam, Chapter āyuṣkāmiya (desire for long life).
Ayurveda was born out of the minds of great sages of ancient India while in deep contemplation seeking solution to the problems afflicting the society. It is only through a healthy body we can perform our duties, good deeds and activities required for spiritual evolution. So why not make use of this precious time we have been granted by this divine act of the Providence? Why not add an important life skill to your repertoire? Why not learn the basic principles of Ayurveda so you can cook your way to good health every single day? Why not create a healthy family and community while we practice physical distancing? If you answered in affirmative to all of the above then you are in luck. By the blessings of my preceptors, I am pleased to announce that I will be conducting an online course on the fundamentals of Ayurveda. This will be delivered in an online format slated to begin tentatively on Sunday April, 26th. More details to follow. In the meantime, for those of you who are interested you may send your queries to email@example.com.
Stay home. Stay healthy. Do good.
Light of Knowledge
kalāv asmin yuge janāḥ
manda-bhāgyā hy upadrutāḥ
~ Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 1, Chapter 1.
In this age of Kali, people are usually short lived, lazy, of dull mind, are unlucky and, always troubled.
The above verse of Srimad Bhagavatam speaks to us like an oracle reminding us of our unfortunate status today.
For those of you who have sought Ayurvedic intervention would be familiar with the dietary do's and don'ts known as pathya-apathya, that is part of the treatment protocol. This list of dietary do's and don'ts is much disliked by many and is often ignored. Quite a number of people are invariably interested in a magic pill for their short term malady instead of a dietary plan. Ayurvedic professionals are trained to see signs of illness even before their clinical manifestation. This stage of premonitory signs is known as "Purvarupa" in Ayurveda. Meaning Ayurvedic professionals are able to spot a disease process in the making before its full-blown clinical manifestation. Dietary guidance is an important aspect of managing and arresting this disease process. It is intended to prevent further progression of disease and prevent other major ailments from occurring. But unfortunately, we have become creatures of short-term thinking today. We are looking for that magic pill that cures our current immediate condition without much hard work on our part so we can quickly return to our old ways - the very ways that led us to this condition - and without due consideration about other ailments that are in the making. The current outbreak of COVID-19 should serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. While this outbreak has manifested now, its seeds were sown long time ago. What seeds do we want to sow now? We cannot expect to see better outcomes without breaking our current patterns.
In Ayurveda, eliminating causative factors is the first line of treatment for any disease. For most of the illnesses enumerated in classical texts of Ayurveda, unwholesome diet is a causative factor. Specifically for an infectious disease caused by pathogens, here are some of the causative factors:
Intake of animal meat, paneer, fermented foods (alcohol, cheese for e.g.)
Incompatible foods (egg combined with dairy for e.g.)
Uncooked, unwashed leafy vegetables (think of raw salads)
Heavy intake of masha (black lentil), sweet, sour and salty foods
Lack of physical exercise
Sleeping during daytime (not waking up before sunrise counts towards this)
Consumption of unclean or unhygienic foods
Consumption of stale foods
Consumption of cold foods (ice-cream for e.g.)
Thinking of ordering that greasy cheese-laden pizza and salad for dinner? Think again. This is but a small list. There are many others that are considered unwholesome in Ayurveda. At the risk of becoming really unpopular, I will go ahead and say it anyway in the interest of genuine seekers. Foods that have come in contact with menstruating women are considered stale. Foods that are reheated multiple times is considered stale. Think of all the leftover foods that are laying in your refrigerator which you intend to stick in the microwave during the week. Based on this small list alone, we may decide for ourselves if we are eating healthy.
We need to reshape our diet in order to reshape our health. Ayurveda shows us the way to do that. We are indeed blessed to have access to this divine knowledge. We should take advantage of it now and apply it in our lives. For who knows what time will make of it in due course! Or, who knows what we will make of it with our dull minds in the future! Much to my disappointment, I have observed traditional Indian dishes that were rooted in Ayurveda have now come under the influence of unhealthy practices. As as example, cheese, raw fruits such as grapes and pomegranate have made their way into main dishes of grains, which is a very recent phenomenon in India. It was not part of the traditional cuisine when I grew up in South India. Notwithstanding these minor alterations, the food from that part of the world remains largely wholesome even to this day when compared to the rest of the world. Having traveled to over 20 countries, I can assertively state that the cuisine of the temple town of Udupi remains the best in the world, not just gastronomically but from a health perspective. It is truly soul food. Not surprising in the least because it is the town of Sri Madhwacharya who had exemplary mastery in culinary skills among others.
A wholesome diet is the one that is simple, easy to digest, clean, well-balanced and freshly cooked. Such a wholesome diet is not only good during infections but also in fighting other ailments - reported and unreported alike.
We can attribute the health and immunity of the people to their diet. We can see this for ourselves based on the incidence and prevalence data of COVID-19 cases reported from various parts of the world. We have a golden opportunity today to learn an important life skill and practice healthy home cooking while we practice self-isolation.
Stay home. Eat healthy. Stay blessed.
In light of the current global situation in regards to the COVID-19 outbreak and in response to some of inquiries regarding the Ayurvedic perspective, this blog is a humble attempt to bring forth some much needed calm and peace to those seeking it.
First off, if this outbreak is sounding alarm bells, let us put things in perspective.
Approximately 282,680 Canadians died in the year 2018 due to various causes (Roughly 0.7% of the population or 7% per 1,000).
Over 80,000 deaths were cancer-related (roughly 30% of the total fatalities);
Over 50,000 deaths were cardio-vascular related (roughly 20% of the total fatalities);
Over 13,000 deaths were related to road accidents, drowning, violence and falls (roughly 4-5% of the total fatalities); and
Over 3000 deaths were opioid related (roughly 1% of the total fatalities).
In comparison, 20 COVID-19 related deaths have been reported in Canada thus far at the time of writing this blog. The incidence rate in countries like India is even lower at less than 0.4% per 1 million population! Furthermore, over 95% of those infected recover from the disease, which is a very promising statistic.
So how deadly is COVID-19? It can be deadly but not any more than other deadly diseases and risk factors playing out there! We are at more risk of dying from cancer, heart disease or road accident than COVID-19! Should we panic? Absolutely not. Should we take precautions? Absolutely. We should pay heed to the advice of health officials. Is there help? Certainly. If anything, we should feel reassured that the governments all over the world are stepping up to contain the spread of the virus in the interest of the health of their citizens. We should put our hands together for all the front-line workers and healthcare workers around the world in appreciation for their courage and hard-work. We as Canadians, should thank Ottawa for all the measures it has announced in relief of the affected citizens and the citizenry at large. We live in times when staying put at home is not nearly as uncomfortable or punishing as it would have been during the times of, say for instance, tuberculosis outbreaks of the past. Thanks to technology, quite a number of us can work from home which was not possible 2 or 3 decades ago. We have entertainment and information at our fingertips. And communication with our dear ones is just a touch or click away! Therefore, there are plenty of things in favor of us even amidst the apparent despair.
And, the word 'unprecedented' is being thrown around too loosely all too often. We should note that while this outbreak may be unprecedented in our recent memory, an outbreak of this scale or magnitude is hardly unprecedented in the history of humanity or even our distant past! To illustrate this, let us take a step back in the memory lane. Cholera outbreak of 1918-1919 claimed about 500,000 lives in India alone. Even today, it is believed to claim 21,000 to 143,000 lives globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In 1993, WHO declared Tuberculosis a global emergency with the outbreak leading to 7-8 million active cases and 1.3-1.6 million deaths, annually. Most recently, Ebola virus epidemic of 2013-2016 claimed over 11,000 lives in West Africa alone. So epidemics and pandemics always seem to crop up every now and again, and while the characteristics of virus may be new the emergence of new pathogens is hardly unprecedented. Even in times when globalization had not quite taken so much hold, epidemics had reached pandemic proportions in the past when tuberculosis outbreak of India traveled to much of North America and Europe. The difference, however, is in the speed of circulation made possible by air travel.
Now to the subject of keeping healthy and staying fit amidst the pandemic. Note that this blog does not present a remedy to COVID-19 but rather an Ayurvedic perspective on general preventative care.
Ever notice the word play of the word LIVE? It is an anagram of the word EVIL - arranged backwards. Metaphorically speaking, when we conduct ourselves properly we live, and when we do not live properly we invite evil. This may across as simplistic or even insensitive to some at these troubled times. Quite the contrary. It stems from a seat of well intentions for those of us who are seeking wisdom and healing. Furthermore, what I present below is not my opinion but it is well supported by Ayurveda and ironically, a small component of my MBA curriculum. During a class on Complexity Science, I recall vividly, it was gleaned that truly complex behaviors or situations stem from simple rules and conversely, often times the answer to truly complex situations lie in simple solutions! Social distancing is a good example of this during the current pandemic outbreak.
Ayurveda holds that diseases take hold of individuals who are in an imbalanced state of body / mind. In other words, we become victims to diseases when our body / mind is in an imbalanced state - our body loses much of its ability to defend against vectors such as pathogens. In the modern parlance, this may be construed as a state of weakened immunity. Medical science and evidence support the fact that individuals with weakened immune system are at more risk of contracting COVID-19 than normal healthy population. Individuals with low immunity are susceptible to not just COVID-19 but a host of other pathogens that could be out loose around us. The secret to staying healthy lies in keeping our immune system strong and fighting.
How do we keep our immunity strong and stay fit? Chapters have been dedicated in Ayurvedic classical texts on this topic alone. Apart from various discussions on diet, lifestyle, a great deal has been written on good conduct known as सद्व्र्त्त (sadvrtta), which is known to affect our health. Here are a couple of the verses (सूत्र sūtra ) from the classical texts that offer a brief insight into what constitutes a healthy living.
नित्यं हिताहारविहारर्सवी समीक्श्यकारी विषयेश्वसत्कः |
दाता समः सत्यपरः क्षमावानाप्तोपसेवी च भवत्यरोगः ||
nityaṃ hitāhāravihārarsavī samīkśyakārī viṣayeśvasatkaḥ |
dātā samaḥ satyaparaḥ kṣamāvānāptopasevī ca bhavatyarogaḥ ||
Reference: Ashtanga Hrdayam, Sutrasthana, verse 36.
He, who indulges in healthy foods and activities, who discriminates the good from bad of everything and then acts wisely, who is not overly attached to the objects of the senses, who develops the habit of charity, of considering all as equal (requiring kindness), of truthfulness, of pardoning and keeping company of good persons only, becomes free from all diseases.
षड्त्रिंशतं सहस्राणि रात्रीणां हितभोजनः| जीवत्यनातुरो जन्तुर्जितात्मा सम्मतः सताम्||३४८||
ṣaḍtriṃśataṃ sahasrāṇi rātrīṇāṃ hitabhojanaḥ|
jīvatyanāturo janturjitātmā sammataḥ satām||348||
Reference: Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana, verse 348.
A self controlled person, blessed by noble-man lives for hundred years free from diseases by the intake of wholesome food.
कालबुद्धीन्द्रियार्थानां योगो मिथ्या न चाति च| द्वयाश्रयाणां व्याधीनां त्रत्रविधो हेतुसङ्ग्रहः||५४||
kālabuddhīndriyārthānāṃ yogo mithyā na cāti ca|
dvayāśrayāṇāṃ vyādhīnāṃ trividho hetusaṅgrahaḥ||54||
Reference: Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana, verse 54.
The cause of the diseases relating to both (mind and body) are:
Atiyoga – excessive utilization or indulgence
Heena Yoga - less utilization or indulgence
Mithya Yoga – wrong utilization of
Kala – time (like prolonged summer, short summer or heat of summer in other seasons),
Artha – objects of sense organs (smell, touch etc) (like excessive smelling, not at all seeing, or seeing in dark areas, seeing of sharp objects etc
and Buddhi – mental faculties – like excess thinking, less thinking or wrong thinking and doing etc.
The aim of the work in Ayurveda is to bring balance to all these factors in the body.
The classical texts also emphasize practice of good personal hygiene as illustrated in this below verse, which is very relevant in these times.
नासंव्र्तमुखः कुर्यात्क्शुतिहास्यविजुम्भणम् ||
One should not sneeze, laugh or yawn without covering their mouth.
Ashtanga Hrudayam, Sutrasthana, verse 35
Let us practice good personal hygiene. Let us eat wholesome food. Let us utilize this time in our life as a reminder that we need to bring balance into our lives in order to achieve good health. Let us resolve to good conduct and moral living. Let us be kind to one another. Let us inculcate values of charity, truthfulness and sensibility. Next time we are on a grocery run and tempted to grab that extra roll of toilet paper or hand sanitizer to stockpile, let us remind ourselves that we may be snatching it from those who might really need it. Good health cannot be achieved overnight but certainly the earnest resolve to begin a healthy journey can be made now.
In closing, I would like to end with this brief prayer for world peace.
लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु, समस्त लोकाः सुखिनो भवन्तु
lokāḥ samastāḥ sukhino bhavantu, samasta lokāḥ sukhino bhavantu
Meaning: May all the beings in this world be happy and peaceful. May all the worlds remain at peace.
Stay healthy. Stay balanced.
P.S: I will be posting some recipes over the course of the next few days that are generally considered a good antidote for fever, cold and respiratory infections. So stay tuned.
Sadvrtta - Key to balanced life
For all the health aficionados who are on the lookout for a new health tip, this one is one of the most fundamental and effective of good health practices. And best of all, it does not cost you a penny!
ब्राह्म् मुहूर्त उत्तिष्टेत्स्वस्थो रक्षार्थमायुषः
( brāhm muhūrte uttiṣṭetsvastho rakṣārthamāyuṣaḥ )
A healthy person should get up during brahma muhurta to protect his/her life.
~Vagbhata's aṣṭāṅga hṛdaya , chapter 2, verse 1.
Before we delve into this topic, I would like to point out that this is the very first verse in the दिनचर्या अध्याय dinacaryā adhyāya i.e., daily regimen chapter of aṣṭāṅga hṛdaya which discusses daily routines for those desirous of a long healthy life. I find that the ancient classical texts and compilations were written and organized with a great attention to detail. Notice that this is the first of the 48 verses of this chapter - not verse 2 nor 3 nor 24. These verses are organized in the fashion in which we begin our day and the order of importance. Therefore, we must confer prime importance to this verse. Rising early is one of the most important element of a healthy lifestyle.
Now to the definition of brāhm muhūrta . A muhūrta is a measurement of time in the Vedic system which equals to approximately 48 minutes. A brāhm muhūrta is the muhūrta that is previous to the one preceding sunrise. In other words, it begins 1 hour and 36 minutes before sunrise and ends 48 minutes before sunrise. It lasts for approximately 48 minutes.
Rising early confers various health benefits. brāhm muhūrta is deemed highly conducive for contemplation, meditation, intellectual pursuits and pursuits of self knowledge because it is said that the atmosphere is super charged with सत्त्व गुण "sattva guṇa" i.e, quality or essence of purity. And since the guṇas are the subtle elements known to affect our mind, mental activity carried out during this hour is said to yield best results. Remember that spark of wisdom, a flash of brilliance or that novel idea that we have had occasionally? They tend to come when our mind is clear and not when our mind is cluttered (rājo guṇa) or dull (tamas - mode of ignorance). Wisdom arises from a seat of purity or sattva guṇa.
What has mental well-being got to do with physical health, you ask? A lot. In Ayurveda, health is studied both from a physical and mental perspective and they are believed to be connected closely. Remember, we are every thought we have thought of. Every cell of our body has intelligence and every thought affects our cells in our body. If we harbor negative thoughts, we are sure to fall prey to physical ailments. Starting our day on a positive note and a clear mind invites positive energy to carry through the day.
Nature's rhythm is orchestrated by Sun via day-night cycles and seasonal cycles. All lifeforms have an inherent rhythm that is working in tandem with this cosmic rhythm. The sleep cycle, eating cycle, resting cycle, breeding cycle, play cycle are all ingrained in the life forms. This phenomenon is readily apparent in the animal kingdom to a keen observer. The birds and animals rise before the sun comes up, eat only during daytime - with the exception of nocturnal animals and birds. Here is a simple illustration and a page from my life's book. Over the years I have come to enjoy bird feeding and it is now part of my daily ritual. The little ones teach us quite a few things if one is willing to learn. First off, they do not overeat. Secondly, they eat only during daytime. Even when you put out their favorite grain in abundance before them, they refuse to eat after sundown! We may be inclined to think that this is no big deal. But it is a big deal when we come to think of it. For a creature as tiny as a bird which has no food security to speak of, to forego a meal must be a difficult choice. To forego a meal not knowing when it will find its next meal or even worse if it will find food at all the next day is a big deal! But somehow it places trust in the universe, abides by the law of nature and remains true to itself obeying its internal instincts. This is one of the simplest illustrations of dharma - one of the four pursuits of human life. Living true to oneself and living in accordance with cosmic law is dharma in its simplest terms. Birds seem to honor this code. The birds, it seems, are not greedy - at least not at the expense of violating cosmic law. How many of us have it in us to forego something we like just because it is the right thing to do? Why are we as humans, supposedly more evolved, falling short?!
How many of us have faith that the universe will provide for us the next day or week? We like to not only stuff our refrigerators with food that will perhaps last an entire month or beyond but also do everything in our power to not go hungry! Sometimes, even when our body is telling us otherwise! Why do we stuff ourselves at dinner at 9 p.m. when the rest of our diurnal friends are resting? Why do we have this obsessive need to prolong shelf life of food items? Why do we want milk to last a month? It seems human greed knows no bounds.
Our avian friends also rise on time - every day! Almost like clockwork. In fact, I can tell with certainty the position of sun in the sky based on their arrival in my balcony. They do not feign any excuse for not showing up in the morning! No poker nights or pub crawls or seemingly innocent binge-watching of TV series to mess with their sleep cycles. 100% attendance. Imagine that! The productivity in our schools and workplaces would go through the roof if we showed up on time every day!
What is even more delightful is when some birds display very endearing qualities. Not all birds have the same attitude towards food. When the house sparrows are fed (my fav btw), they never eat by themselves. When one sparrow spots the "treat" they give a shout-out to their community so that everyone in the family partakes in the feast. Now isn't that something to cheer for?!
One can know the divine and learn by observing the world around us as so poignantly stated by none other than the greatest intellectual, scholar, philosopher and saint Srimad Madhvacharya in the verse below:
Bahu chitra jagat bahudAkaraNaat parashaktirananta guNah paramaH
(The universe has vast diversity with many diverse activities, ability and qualities of myriad lifeforms)
In this rich diversity of nature, we can find interconnectedness and nature hangs in a delicate balance. Living in harmony with nature is the way to a good life. Therein lies our good health.
If you are wondering why I am concluding this post on diversity, it is because it is a segue to my next blog. So stay tuned.
And, next time we are tempted to reach out for that cookie jar at midnight or tempted to hit the snooze button on our alarm clock, let us remind ourselves that we ought be wiser than our avian friends!
After all, the old adage "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise" is not dead. Ayurveda is in congruence with it...at least, the healthy part of it.
As a sun-worshipper, I can attest to the wondrous and magical qualities of the sun. Perhaps it is the years of my living in the cold region that has made me appreciate the warmth and glow of the timeless day-maker. Amidst thick winter, even a few uninterrupted moments of sunshine can melt away the heaviest of our winter blues just as it can effortlessly melt away the thick snow cover of our driveways. No wonder sun has been hailed as तमोघ्नाय ( tamoghnāya means the vanquisher of dullness/darkness in saṃskṛtaṃ) and हिमाघ्नाय ( himāghnāya means the vanquisher of snow/cold) in the popular Vedic hymn, आदित्य हृदय (āditya hṛdaya).
The people of the Vedic culture have known and extolled sun's healing qualities since time immemorial. In fact, it is customary among the people of Vedic culture to offer obeisances to the sun on a daily basis at twilight hours as part of a practice known as संध्या वन्दन (sandhyā vandana : sandhyā is derived from the word sandhi meaning cusp; the twilight hours are at the cusp between day and night; and vandana means salutation). It is believed that the veil between the heavens and the earth are thinned during twilight hours thus making it conducive to connect to the spiritual worlds.
Sun's amazing qualities can be observed even at the mundane level. The ubiquitous chirping of the birds at the crack of dawn should clue us into the sublime effect of solar energy on the life on earth. Sun governs many physiological functions in our body including the now widely known circadian rhythm - an attribute that was mentioned in the same आदित्य हृदय in the verse एष सुप्तेषु जागर्ति भूतेषु परिनिष्ठितः। It is the rays of the sun that wakes us from our sleep state and supports us to carry out our daily activities. Sun is vitality. In fact, no life on earth can be sustained without the sun. Any attempt in the pursuit of health is incomplete or dare I say, futile without understanding the solar energy. It is for this reason that this is the topic of my very first blog.
Sun will undoubtedly appear as the king of sky to a curious observer of nature, a mystic, and a sky watcher alike. Sun is dutiful rising every single day illuminating the world and spreading warmth to all those who come in its path serving the humanity tirelessly. It is little wonder that the most ideal king of all times, Lord Rama appeared in the dynasty of सूर्य देव ( Sūrya deva ), the Sun deity. It is the sun that illumines our vision. It is the sun that allows for the truth to be seen. It is the rays of the sun that makes us disciplined as mentioned in the verse पायत्येष तपत्येष वर्षत्येष गभस्तिभिः Most successful people are known to be early risers and find the crack of dawn to be the most productive time of the day.
Curious to know if you are receiving adequate solar energy? Simply bring your finger about 1 cm horizontally below your nostrils at about noon time and feel the breath. If your breath under the right nostril feels weaker than the one under the left nostril then there is a good chance that you may be lacking in solar energy.
If you are one of those reflecting on the virtues to build for the new year as we wrap up the year 2019, look no further than the sun as a model to emulate. Perhaps we want to bring positivity into our families or communities. Perhaps we want to be the beacon of light spreading knowledge and wisdom on topics that matter to our community. Or, do we resolve to seek truth and speak truth? Do we want to motivate others to rise up to their full human potential? Let us join our hands in prayer to the Sun to guide us inside and out, illuminating our minds and heart in our daily quest for our well being - so eloquently put together in the famous verse of Gayatri, भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात् (bhárgo devásya dhīmahi dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt). Always shining, always guiding!
Copyright © 2019 Sri Ranga Ayurveda Centre - All Rights Reserved.
|| श्री परिमळाचार्य अन्तर्गत भारतीरमण मुख्यप्राण अन्तर्गत श्री कृष्णार्पणमस्तु ||