There’s a reason certain ancient practices and rituals have stood the test of time and quietly crept into our modern, fast-paced lives. As our world gets more digitized, our devices “smarter,” and our lives more distant from the natural world, there is a deep calling within many of us to return to the roots. Doctors and medical experts are prescribing holistic healing, people are choosing organic over synthesized products, and there is a resurgence of all things natural and herbal. And at a time like now, when the world is coming to terms with the “new normal” caused by the pandemic, there is a spike in home remedies and traditional fixes to build immunity and keep infections and flu at bay. But there is a lot more wisdom behind these simple remedies.
Ayurveda, which literally means Knowledge (Veda) of Life (Ayur), is an ancient Indian science that seeks to heal and promote physical and mental health by balancing the elements in our system.Unlike modern medicine, which focuses more on managing the symptoms rather than addressing the root cause of an ailment, this 5000-year-old wisdom focuses on the primary cause of all dis-ease: an imbalance in the energy or elements in our physical/emotional body. The 3 primary energies in our body are:
- Vata, the energy of air and space: It is related to movement and governs heart beat, breathing, muscle and tissue movement.
- Pitta, the energy of fire and water: It is related to metabolism and governs digestion, nutrition, and body temperature.
- Kapha, the energy of earth: It is related to physical form and governs the body’s structure like the bones, muscles, tendons — and is the glue that holds everything together.
While these might seem like a bunch of unscientific hogwash to some, millions of people have benefitted from ayurvedic remedies. What’s interesting is how Ayurveda is perfectly in sync with Yoga, the ancient Indian practice, which was first recorded by Patanjali sometime between 500 BCE and 400 CE. Although modern understanding of yoga is often reduced to its fitness and weight-managing benefits, and you have yoga experts at the click of an app to guide you through various poses, the wisdom of yoga is multifold. The term quite literally translates to “union.” The union of body and mind, of the creator and creation, and of One with the All.
As we celebrate International Yoga Day on 21 June, during a global health crisis, it would be the perfect time for us to explore these ancient practices with more focus on holistic healing rather than struggling to keep ailments at bay. The eight-fold path of Yoga (Ashtanga) can guide you through this journey as it includes not just physical postures (asanas), but also important aspects like:
Prāṇāyāma: working with your breath. This would be a useful practice to explore especially now as it is said to improve the health of your lungs.
Dhyāna: Meditation and contemplation. With our social calendar empty and extra time indoors, we can use the time to reflect on our inner self and spend time in Silence.
Pratyāhāra: Diet and balanced intake of nutrition. We are what we eat and drink. Herbal remedies, often passed down by our beloved Indian grandmas, can provide a range of physical and mental health benefits.
For example, turmeric is known for its antioxidants, antibacterial properties, and ability to stimulate the adrenal glands and build immunity. Ginger, a common ingredient in most Indian dishes, is known for its anti-inflammation properties and its ability to relieve congestion. Black pepper, known for its power to fight free radicals and help fight diseases, is also excellent to relieve sinusitis and nasal congestion. And what did our moms, aunts, or grandmas give us as kids when we had the flu or a nasty bout of cold? A simple mix of these ingredients in hot milk, and we were back to normal the next day. This wisdom, which much like Ayurveda itself, was passed down by oral traditions through generations. Many ingredients used on a daily basis in Indian kitchens also make excellent brews. A few unique spices and flowers such as lavender and chamomile also have mental health benefits. The more conscious we are in our lifestyle choices and what we put into our body, the better is our overall well being.
After all, health is not just the absence of disease but the presence of life energy that flows freely, allowing us to live joyfully. Now is perhaps the perfect time to go back to our native wisdom and focus on the two things that we all need as individuals and as communities: balance and synergy.