Destruction. Construction. These two words sum up the ideological difference between the modern medical approach and the Ayurvedic approach to health.
Both systems of medicine serve a similar purpose, namely that of freedom from disease. However, the traditional scientific approach seeks to destroy or annihilate disease by virtue of its chemical arsenal or surgery options, while Ayurvedic medicine seeks to heal the disease creatively by employing several measures that target the ill-lived life itself.
Drugs are one aspect of Ayurveda – no doubt an important one – but they are certainly not the only means by which Ayurveda ushers in health. Ayurvedic medicine also recommends leading an optimum, health-friendly lifestyle.
Ayurvedic texts incorporate suggestions for positive rituals in our day-to-day life, such as self-massage (a form of self-loving), and yogic exercises. They also recommend social prescriptions that encourage a well-adjusted psyche over one that is conflicted and stressed and moral injunctions that emphasize expansive but responsible living for one’s own spiritual health and the ecology of the planet.
All these measures help reconnect the individual to the groove of harmony with the macro elements, such as the flow of season and time.
Ayurvedic medicine understands that an entangled, conflicted, stressed individual (microcosm); who just exists somehow or the other, pulling along, where every day is a struggle – such a person is basically out of harmony with the larger environment (macrocosm). This unhappy interaction is a hotbed for disease to take seed and ripen.
After all, “dis-ease” occurs when there is loss of ease, stopping of flow, and resistance to what is occurring in the individual’s life. The Ayurvedic way is to look for causes – singly or in groups – that have brought the individual to this impasse, and then employ measures of prevention and also restoration of original flow.
The Ayurvedic way may feel like a waste of time – all this pampering, probing, and analyzing of the individual again and again – especially when a one-size-fits-all pill can literally invade the body like a bullet and kill the rebelling symptom or, even better, a knife can cut out the worrisome organ. Ayurveda offers a full spectrum well rounded approach that looks at disease from multiple angles and then addresses each angle separately as well as an intrinsic part of a connected whole
According to Ayurveda, as long as the original conditions that created the disease still exist, the disease will inevitably re-manifest – whether in a different form or by gathering even more force. Symptom management is a waste of time unless and until the root cause is addressed. In fact, the symptom is an intelligent entity’s intelligent messenger that self-examination and self-enquiry are overdue: that we need to examine the manner in which we choose to live our precious life, and that changes are called for to restore balance and harmony with ease, gentleness, adeptness, and inner conviction.
After understanding the patient and the dilemma they are facing, the Ayurvedic doctor first slowly “constructs”: a healing plan that may include several interconnected therapeutic measures, and subsequently informs the patient of realistic expectations, time frame, dosage of herbs, the individual’s role in the healing process, and essential dietary and lifestyle changes.
The well-informed patient then works on living the same life but with a difference.
The patient continues to live, eat, walk, and talk – but consciously and mindfully. Aware now of how everything is connected, the patient learns to observe his or her own life – the felt emotion, suppressed memory, incredible physical pain, chosen food, wake-up time, chronic bowel movement, persistent attitude, social conflict, action outside and reaction within, acting out of habits, addictions and their power, cravings and their hold, and literally everything else that the patient has been – albeit mechanically and unmindfully – doing and experiencing previously.
As the interconnected web of life becomes gradually illumined, the patient begins to feel the difference within the inner Self – the birth of a creative, constructive, synergy that carries, within its womb, real healing at last with all its magical abundance.
Natural Versus Artificial Health
Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of healing, delivers multidimensional health through facilitating deep healing for the body, mind, and soul. And the science of Ayurveda is well-equipped to deliver both preventative and palliative care.
Unlike modern biomedicine, Ayurveda does not consider disease prevention a lesser goal, an add-on, or an afterthought. In Ayurveda, preventative health care is truly the priority – of paramount importance – since there is nothing quite like natural God-given, wholesome health that is scientifically and consciously “protected” from birth onwards. The Sanskrit term “swasthasya swāsthyarakshanam” refers to the Ayurvedic concept of “protection of health of the healthy” and this is no less important than the goal of disease reversal “aturasya vikāra prashamana cha.”
The wellbeing of body, mind, senses, and soul that organic health exudes is quite different from the so-called “health” of modern medicine.
The modern medical concept of health is no more than a fraction of relief, achieved occasionally, from uncomfortable symptoms via synthetic or chemical drugs. When health is literally wrested from the clutches of disease, after great hospital and insurance battles and multiple prolonged drug protocols that often leave us addicted and reeling from side effects, we feel more dead than alive!
Lessons From History
History reveals that several ancient cultures – especially those that have survived the ravages of time, such as India and China – made disease prevention and quality of life enhancement their pivotal medical focus. They even developed an entire cultural technology – an art and science of living – geared towards positive health optimization and disease prevention.
In these cultures, disease prevention was never ignored or minimized, and indigenous scientists continued to research and develop advanced methods to tackle full-blown disease, which sets in primarily due to a lapse of preventative health routine.
Modern nations have something to learn here: to recognize the gap in health care that is growing every day.
The Gaps In The New Medicine
The biomedicine that has held sway for almost a century now has brought great relief to the suffering. Yet there is still a wall that cannot be traversed in spite of developments in biotechnology: the wall of not knowing why disease occurs in the first place.
Lacking this fundamental knowledge, the gap is filled predominantly with symptom management, prolonged sickness, and the naming of multiple, complex disorders that defy cure.
A Paradigm Shift
Our world is ready for a new vision in health and healing. New leaders, new concepts, and a new review of our global requirements are the needs of the hour. Must we continue to blindly spend natural, financial, and human resources in fighting disease when we can prevent it? Is humanity ready to travel a different path - the path of embracing health versus fighting disease?
If we are open-minded enough to examine our collective human wisdom heritage, we will recognize the wealth of teachings and practices that an ancient and matured science of healing like Ayurveda can offer us in the much needed dimension of disease prevention and health promotion.
Ayurveda’s Focus On The Root Cause Of Disease
Fortunately, Ayurveda is focused on the question of why we manifest disease in the first place. Ayurveda begins with understanding the similarity between living creatures and the universe and points out the endogenous and exogenous imbalances that cause disease. Ayurveda also lays down – in exquisite detail – methods to both prevent the imbalance (science of disease prevention) and restore health (science of disease resolution).
In Sync With Natural Laws
All along, from prevention to restoration to the final step of rejuvenation, it is only within the fold of natural laws – never outside of nature – that health is conceived in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is never at war with nature to deliver health; instead, it works with nature. Ayurveda uses nature’s own laws, toolbox, and abundant medicine chest filled with naturally available medicines and remedies to restore health and vitality in a short time with practically no side effects.
Swasthavrtta – A Path To Health
The preventative health recommendations in Ayurveda are encapsulated in an entire branch of this medicine called “Swasthavrtta” which literally means “the regimens followed to keep one healthy.”
Individual Health Protection
Swasthavrtta is an entire subset of teachings, recommendations and practices that ensure good appetite and elimination; strength of the body; and enhanced flexibility, virility, and immunity. At the individual level, Swasthavrtta resets our biorhythms to be in sync with nature. Due to additionally accrued psychological, social, and spiritual benefits, the follower of Ayurveda’s preventative protocol experiences non-tangible wellbeing, inner flow, and happiness. While these parameters cannot be accounted for statistically, they make all the difference in the quality of our lives.
Community Health Protection
It is worth noting that this Ayurvedic concept of disease prevention does not begin and end with the individual. The Ayurvedic sages had the foresight to recognize the community as a living organism with its own unique concerns, such as vulnerability to epidemics. Therefore, specialized principles – recorded under Samājika Swasthavrtta – were to be followed by the community for maintenance of the health of the whole society. This shāstra (treatise) includes methods to purify air, water, and soil; proper excreta and dead body disposal; prevention of infectious and epidemic diseases; immunity measures inside the community; and many other public health measures.
Crafting Health In Backyards Versus Doctor’s Office
The science of Ayurveda has been focusing upon disease prevention in an exhaustive manner for over 5000 years. This preventative focus is just now being entertained in the current era as more and more world governments (including in the USA) are advocating the need to actively craft a paradigm shift in health care – from only battling disease, with its inherent expenses and need for large-scale intervention, to promoting viable means of preventing disease at the grassroots level, through healthy choices and timely preventive checkups, etc.
Ayurveda goes beyond preventive health checkup at the local MD’s office back into the patient’s home. It is only in our personal lives, in which scientifically implemented changes in food, lifestyle, exercise, and incorporation of simple herbs grown in our gardens can make a recognizable difference. Such comprehensive food and lifestyle changes can drastically reduce the expense and number of MD visits.
Ayurveda’s sustaining ideology gives hope to humanity that we all have the right to natural wholesome good health. We can all learn to do what it takes in our homes, gardens, and kitchens to remain ahead of the disease-drug-surgery game and related drama and expense.
Preventative Ayurvedic healthcare is not only economical but also empowering. No one needs to be left behind – period. Each individual has the right to both traditional and current knowledge, and to health-promoting, disease-preventing skills. This knowledge is as or more important than the extensive spotlight of modern medicine on disease battling, immunizations, and associated biotechnology interventions.
Incorporating Swasthavrtta Wisdom in Daily Life
Ayurveda’s science of Swasthavrtta describes in detail how our activity and food intake should flow over the course of day and night.
This flow is designed to honor the solar and lunar rhythms and to understand their effects on the living systems. For example, the dinacharya (day routine) recommendation to eat our largest meal at lunch allows the abundant solar energy to lend a helping hand to our own metabolism. In the same way, we are asked to keep our dinner very light – an additional reason is that our metabolic rate slows down when we fall asleep shortly afterwards, often resulting in inadequately digested food which produces heaviness, heartburn, or constipation and – over the long term – compromises our immunity.
Experimenting with these simple suggestions quickly reveals how our health improves without extra expense, side effects, or dependency on drugs. Books on the fundamentals of Ayurveda further elucidate lifestyle recommendations, and serious seekers of wellbeing can also attend workshops and classes on Ayurveda Swasthavrtta.
Seasonally-Customized Protection and Purification – Ritucharya & Ritushodhana
The sages of Ayurveda had the insight that just as the seasons affect the plants and trees, seasonal changes impact living beings as well. In Ayurveda, the individual is neither immune to the flux of seasons nor impervious to its attributes (in spite of our air-conditioned surroundings).
Different seasons clearly permeate the environs with their qualities, such as hot, cold, and dry, affecting plants, animals, and, of course, us humans. The concept of consuming the same diet or performing the same level of exercise throughout the year does not appear rational in light of this variability in seasonal attributes. Hence, Ayurveda recommends specific protocols for spring, summer, monsoons, fall, and early and later winter. Very detailed guidance exist about food groups, tastes, and activities that, when practiced daily, prevent seasonal infections and protect us from ailments, such as summer heatstroke and spring allergies. For example, incorporation of more bitter taste in spring and sweet taste in summer helps counteract increasing Kapha and Pitta Doshas (bio-forces), respectively.
Ayurveda Swasthavrtta recommends undergoing bio-purification measures on a seasonal schedule to account for the peaking of different Doshas at various times of the year: Kapha in spring, Vāta in summer, and Pitta in autumn. Kapha dosha, accumulating due to the cold of early and later winter, is good to expel from the body in spring via emesis (vamana). Summer dryness increases Vāta, and should be ejected in the rainy season via oil enemas (asthapan basti). Pitta, accruing during the rains, can be removed in the autumn by means of purgation (virechana) and blood-letting (raktamokshana). This protocol is called Ritushodhana.
This concept of purifying the body from time to time of seasonally accumulated energies – also known as Pancha Karma – is a remarkable treatment method in Swasthavritta, and can prevent Doshas from building up to the point of causing disease. These procedures should be performed under the eye of a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner.
Three Pillars Of Health – Āhāra-Nidrā-Brahmacharya
The three pillars of āhāra (food), nidrā (sleep) and brahmacharya (regulated sex drive) have been extensively studied and interrelated. When these three are in balance, they make for a rightly nourished (not over or under), adequately rested (not more or less) and sexually active (but balanced) human being. Without this critical stability, the individual will suffer from a myriad of disorders ranging from headaches to infertility.
In the preventative protocol, rather than recommending an “herbal pill,” Ayurveda focuses on education about types of sleep, nighttime rituals to sleep better, proper times to fall asleep and to wake up, and understanding which foods promote sleep. In the sexual arena, Ayurveda defines healthy sexual activity, signs of healthy semen, how to preserve semen, and how to regulate this all-important urge which, in excess or suppression, generates not only physical but also psychological disorders.
In the area of food, I personally have never encountered another system with more information and comprehensive dietary recommendations than Ayurveda. These guidelines have been tried and tested over millennia in India and nearby countries.
There are classifications of foods including the relevance of foods and recipes in common disorders, such as digestive complaints, colds, coughs, parasites etc. The list is exhaustive and includes many more facets of food, including special regimens for pregnant or lactating women, geriatric needs, foods to nourish children from day one till adulthood, fertility protocols, convalescence diets, and much more. In addition to an extensive general list of pathya and apathya, Ayurveda provides specific details based on the individual’s prakriti (natural constitution), vikriti (disturbed constitution), agni (metabolic capacity), ritu (season), vyādhi (specific disease), kāla (age) and bala (strength).
It is now the individual’s personal responsibility to make choices that are beneficial to one’s condition – from a customized list of pathya and apathya, or wholesome and unwholesome foods and behaviors – that do not promote disease and, in fact, endow the body with strength, immunity, and longevity.
Understanding the fundamentals of the science of Ayurveda along with these food principles can transform one’s life.
This all-important concept of pathya/apathya enables Ayurvedic medicine to take a radically different approach from contemporary western medicine, which has you mostly pop a pill or undergo surgery, and eat foods prepared for one-size-fits-all scenarios with minimal or no dietary modifications. I personally know of patients with asthma and bronchitis who have been admitted into the ER and received a glass of ice and icy water when thirsty. Ayurveda considers cold icy water is apathya or unwholesome in the case of bronchial asthma, since it increases the Doshas Vāta (cold) as well as Kapha (wet), and recommends instead sipping hot water or ushna jala to soothe and relieve the cold and wet that the patient is experiencing in the lungs.
When I recommend hot water to individuals suffering from chronic allergies, bronchitis, sinusitis, or other types of phlegm-related conditions, they return amazed as if I have provided them with a guru mantra or magic self-healing ‘hot’ potion. When something as simple as ushna jala or hot water can do the trick, do we really need more complex solutions?
Healthy Conduct and Science of Positive Behavior – Sadvrtta & Āchāra Rasayana
Socio-moral healthy behavioral recommendations in Ayurveda fall under the heading of Sadvrtta – the noble code of conduct incorporating healthy attitudes and behaviors – which conceptualizes health sprouting from a larger life lived in balance, with attention to the immediate environment and natural laws, along with psychological health and socially healthy interactions.
Mental and psychosomatic disorders are addressed since the Ayurveda tradition is deeply aware of how these disorders arise from psychological stress stemming from abnormal interpersonal relationships.
Sadvrtta rules ensure proper sensitization and socialization of the individual. Sadvrtta teachings include general injunctions such as: choose happiness among nourishing things, choose detachment amongst enhancers of nourishment, greed is the main culprit causing sorrow, the wicked must be shunned, and teachers with words of wisdom must be faithfully followed (sadvachanam).
Sadvrtta includes detailed guidelines on sense control and mental faculties (e.g., to perform actions only after thoughtful analysis), rules related to personal hygiene (e.g., bathing daily; cutting nails, hair, beard thrice every fifteen days), rules in speech (e.g., speaking less, in a timely manner, conducive to others, only the truth), dos and don’ts in religious practices (e.g., not offering ritualistic oblations to fire or gods when impure), rules regarding partaking of food (e.g., taking food only after bathing and chanting mantra, avoiding stale food), injunctions on what natural urges to suppress (e.g., greed, excess grief, anger) and what not to suppress (e.g., urine, stool , hunger, flatus), rules regarding study (e.g., not studying under incorrect lighting, not chanting incomplete mantra), rules regarding social interactions (e.g., incorporating non-sexual relationships, detachment, peace, friendship, wisdom), and much more.
Āchāra Rasāyana is a special teaching to all human beings – a timely message from the sages of Ayurveda. Under the heading of Āchāra Rasāyana, Ayurveda lays down ethical rules, and teaches consequences of self-destructive actions and thought processes. Personal transgressions, sinful acts, and avoidance of responsibilities and duties are all root causes of psychic self-afflicted misery, such as anxiety, worry, anger, and regret. Thus, Āchāra Rasāyana was advocated by the Ayurvedic sages for optimum health, good conduct, and proper personal behavior in every sphere of life. Āchāra Rasāyana recommendations include always speaking the truth, as well as refraining from anger, alcohol, sexual acts, and violence (of thought, speech and actions).
Thus, Swasthavritta practices not only impact physiological rhythms but also contain insights on how to promote wellbeing in the individual’s psychological, social, and spiritual realms for all rounded wellness.
Health does not necessarily create wellbeing, but wellbeing definitely does create health.
A Co-Creative Process
In Ayurvedic medicine, patients actively participate in their own healing.
The patient cooperates with natural laws, understanding the operation and rhythms of the living system and its bio-forces called Doshas. Informed of the knowledge of wholesome and unwholesome choices according to the science of Ayurveda, and implementing this knowledge in daily life, the patient begins to experiences immediate and long term benefits, gradually becoming aware of and then finding the capacity to deal with an inner mental world of resistance, destructive behavior patterns, habits of laziness, and even sensory addictions.
As they begin to work at this level of awareness around their health, patients embrace the knowledge and life skills that actively prevent disease through the positive promotion of health and wellbeing, which is another and deeper level of healing that Ayurveda offers. The net result is a society comprising healthy individuals, now in charge of their own health and taking ownership of any disease they manifest. They are actively sculpting a life around optimum lifestyle, foods, behaviors, thoughts, and practices that gift the being with happiness, balance, vigor and enthusiasm for living life to its fullest potential.
In light of the limitations of allopathic biomedicine to fully heal the multi-dimensional human being and its inability to prevent disease and related suffering, the Vedic model of healing represented by Ayurveda has again become important in the twenty-first century.
Global health seekers who want true health – no longer satisfied with mere symptom suppression at great costs to self, society, and environment – will benefit from Ayurveda’s strength. Ayurveda’s in-depth understanding of the fundamental root causes of sickness– a knowledge that still eludes the allopathic system – and its teachings on avoiding or reversing those causes constitute the elaborate science of disease prevention, or Swasthavritta.
It is the need of the hour to learn how not to fall sick. As more and more of us turn to the comforting refuge of Ayurveda – with its warm, nourishing, and heartening teachings on both preventing disease and promoting health – we can adapt these choices and practices within our homes, kitchens, and hearts, and empower ourselves to self-determine the course of our health, in an otherwise power-tipped system.
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Acharya Shunya is a globally-recognized spiritual teacher and Vedic lineage-holder who awakens health and consciousness through the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda, Vedanta and Yoga. She is the driving force behind an online wisdom school and worldwide spiritual community, and the author of best-selling book on the Vedic art of mind + body + soul well-being and health, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017) and forthcoming second book with Sounds True to be released in 2020, Sovereign Self. Acharya Shunya is a keynote speaker at national and international conferences, and serves as an advisor to the Indian Government in matters pertaining to global integration and cultivation of Ayurveda and Yoga. Receive her free online teachings and browse her current eCourse offerings here or see more about her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram. Subscribe to her YouTube Channel where she holds live Global Satsangs once per month. Study Ayurveda with Acharya Shunya in her online course, Alchemy through Ayurveda.