Ayurveda, an ancient system of illness prevention and treatment, centres on maintaining mind and body balance through healthy lifestyle practices that combine traditional and complementary medicine.
Don’t try to do everything at once. Use a gradual approach to discover what works for you. Ayurveda respects the idea of small incremental changes as being more lasting than large sweeps; if you draw the pendulum too far in one direction, it will swing back farther in the opposite direction.
Oiling your body
Massaging oil into your body brings immediate benefits: it not only improves the texture of your skin and brings a healthy glow, but improves your sleep and reduces vata dosha in your system. Allowing vata dosha to accumulate can lead to mental agitation. Vata dosha has qualities that are rough, dry, light, mobile and cool, so an application of warm oil works as an antidote to all these qualities.
The best time to oil yourself is in the morning before bathing or showering. Because it’s light, slightly heating and penetrates well, sesame oil is good for general use for everyone. Apply oil in the direction of the growth of the hairs on your body to prevent friction. Then shower or bathe in warm water to allow your pores to open and the oil to penetrate more effectively.
Drinking hot water
Due to keeping an irregular schedule, eating inappropriate food and dealing with the general stress of everyday life, something called ama accumulates in your body. Ama translates as ‘undigested food juice’, and it floats around your bloodstream looking for places to lodge and start the disease process.
The qualities of ama are heaviness, cold, dampness and dullness; hot water, with its opposite properties, helps to allay the production of ama in the digestive system.
Boil water for ten minutes, decant into a flask to keep it warm, and sip it about every half an hour throughout the day. (Heating makes the water lighter in quality.) You can put a couple of slices of ginger in it to improve the effect. Check your tongue throughout the day and you’ll see it getting cleaner – meaning that it’s pink and doesn’t have any coating on it.
Saluting the sun
Staying flexible is the key to health in the long run, and performing the yoga sun salutepromotes a full range of movement in most of your joints. It keeps your synovial fluid circulating in your joints and helps to allay stiffness and arthritis. Yoga treats your tissues to a wash of fresh blood, lymph and prana, the vital energy force.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to you though, is that performing the sun salute is a super stress buster. Your breath moves with your body in rhythmic tandem, so that your body and mind become realigned.
If you, like many people, sit at a desk all day, it’s so easy to forget that you even have a body. Almost while you’re not looking, poor posture sets in and your breathing becomes distorted. So try three rounds of the sun salutation twice daily in the morning and evening and notice how well you feel afterwards.
Eating warm fresh food
Stress in your life leads to an increase in adrenalin, which in turn shuts down the digestive system. Warm cooked food needs less digesting. A meal of warm foods, slightly on the oily side, makes you feel satisfied with what you eat, and you’re more likely to fully digest it.
Try to cook something fresh every day. Fresh flavours alone are so much more satisfying than processed foods. Commercial products are laced with salt, sugar and preservatives, as well as being old and not giving you the vital prana you need to tackle your daily life.
Microwave ovens are bad news: they take the moisture out of food and increase the rough qualities that aggravate vata in your body. Heat your food on a hob or in a traditional or convection oven.
Getting good sleep
Deep, regular sleep is one of the main pillars of health in Ayurveda, and you need to be protective of your sleep time. Ayurveda says that abuse of the senses leads to disease, and a good rest lets the senses switch off and regenerate.
Obviously, how much sleep you need varies with age. Babies sleep most of the day, and the elderly generally sleep for five to six hours per night. If you have to catch up on your sleep, it’s far better to do this before midnight rather than sleeping late into the morning.
Sleeping during the day is not generally recommended in Ayurveda, because it’s said to disturb gases and the blood flow of your body. Sleeping on a full stomach is also discouraged, so beware of eating before bed, and let a few hours elapse after meals before you retire.
Start making your way to bed by 10 p.m. This is the time when kapha dosha’s qualities – heaviness, dullness and slowness – make you feel sleepy. Stay up later and you start to wake up when pitta is increasing.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary – the one place in your life where you can be really free of the cares of the world. Resist having a television in your bedroom. Television images change at such a rapid rate that they over-stimulate your brain.
Meditating for mental health
There are many ways to meditate. The important thing isn’t how you do it, but that you do it. Start with 20 minutes of meditation twice daily, and once you make the commitment, events will conspire to help you.
Meditation gives your mind much-needed nourishment when you just switch off – it’s a deeper relaxation than sleeping even. Over time, you’ll notice that you’re able to make better choices and more easily ward off the effects of stress. It’s said that through meditation, both left and right hemispheres of the brain begin to work synchronously, creating a calmer, happier you.
What meditation does for you on the mental level, triphala can do on the physical. This herb is held in high esteem in the Ayurvedic scriptures for its rejuvenating properties. You can use it for many purposes, but it’s most widely used to keep the colon cleansed and toned.
Triphala is available as a tincture and in powder and tablet form; the powder form is best, because it’s been messed about with the least and the potency is better.
Triphala improves immunity, slows the ageing process, improves mental faculties and serves all the different tissues of the body. It’s very safe and quite economical. Having triphala powder in the house is useful for cleansing the teeth and treating bleeding gums. Rinsing your hair with a triphala decoction adds lustre and prevents greying.
Get into the habit (particularly between seasons) of taking half a teaspoon in a cup of warm water before bed – you can add honey if you want.
Deep breathing for stress relief
Breathing is one of the vital activities of life, and the only one you can usually easily control. The science of breathing is known as swar yoga, and it says that you should breathe through both nostrils for most of the day rather than through your mouth. Your blood chemistry is in a state of equilibrium when your nostrils are working in harmony. So take a deep breath in through your nose whenever you remember to.
When you use the full capacity of your lungs, you feel energised and remove all that accumulated carbon dioxide which has been sitting there while you’ve forgotten about it.
Breathing is intimately connected to your nervous system, so deep breathing can dramatically help with your mood.
Honouring natural urges
Staying in harmony with what your body is signalling to you is important. There are several natural urges to be aware of – some easier to recognise and heed than others.
Some urges are very clear – sneezing, for example. The explosive force of a sneeze can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, so you can imagine what holding that back can do to your delicate pranic balance. The other urges are belching, blinking, breathing, coughing, crying, eating, drinking, farting, sleeping, urinating, defecating, ejaculating, vomiting and yawning. Suppressing your physical urges is not recommended, but you have to be sensible and express your urges appropriately – give yourself time to cry when you’re sad, for example.
The more your system gets in balance, the more you’ll know when to eat, sleep and make love in the right measure.
Listening to your inner voice
When you’re in balance and centred, there’s always a connection to a part of the mind known as the buddhi, or pure light of reason. Your thinking from here will be clear and your choices right both for yourself and those around you. So, once a day, remember to pause and just connect to this part of yourself and its invaluable wisdom.
The buddhi is a fount of knowledge that’s always available to you whenever you need it. The only prerequisite is that you’re in a calm and balanced state to receive the messages it has to convey. You can connect with the buddhi in the stillness you get from meditation or quiet contemplation.