To be whole is to be healthy. The Sanskrit word Swastha is defined as, ‘to be established in self’. Seen this way, to be healthy is not merely to be physically fit. Nor is it mere absence of physical ailments. The ancient medical practitioners, not only in India but elsewhere, took into account all dimensions of existence while recommending healthy ways of living.
There was also much importance on preventive methods. It is said that in China the family doctor was paid his annual honorarium if nobody in the family fell ill during the year. What an advanced concept!
The ancient health exponents have recommended five basic principles to be inculcated into daily life. These are in terms of food, work, rest, mental purification and direct contact with the five basic elements.
- Food: When you go to an Ayurvedic Doctor for any ailment, first the doctor ascertains the composition of your three basic humours known as bata, pitta and kapha. According to Ayurveda the imbalance caused in the three humours is the main reason for all ailments. Hence food can be divided into three categories in terms of their effect on a particular or a combination of humours. – (1) Foods that suppress, (2) Foods that aggravate and (3) foods that bring in balance. The humours are also related to the mental attitude of a person. Hence food for a particular individual is decided keeping in view the ratio of humours in one’s body, one’s mental state, the type of work one is engaged in and the time of the year. It is good for everyone to know his or her dominant humour so that food can be chosen or avoided accordingly. One should never over eat. To have a balanced diet one should have food consisting of all the six tastes –
- Work: Here work implies physical labour. Most of the lifestyle diseases today are attributed to lack of physical activity. Physical activity is also closely related to hunger and food. These days, there are many who never feel hungry. Hence they try to compensate this by inventing ways to make the food more and more delicious and thus palatable. People, whose nature of work is sedentary, must find time to do some physical exercise. Combined with other forms of physical exercises, yogasanas and pranayama are very good for overall mind body balance.
- Rest: Along with food and physical activity, rest is a vital need for life. Rest and activity are complementary. Sound sleep in the night rejuvenates the body. Usually people give rest to the body but not to the mind. Body may lie still but the mind keeps on moving, even in sleep in the form of dreams. Meditation is the best way to give rest to the mind. Likewise, living a pure life keeps the mind away from unnecessary agitations. It is only when both the body and mind rest that one gets rests in the true sense.
- Mental purification: there is a close relationship between the body and the mind. Now even modern medical science is slowly waking up to the fact that man is a body-mind complex. When the mind is purified one gets positive thoughts that give rise to beneficial actions for self and the society. When the mind is agitated due to excessive greed, anger or envy, the body’s defence mechanisms get weak and it is an invitation to hosts of diseases. To keep the mind cool and be in a pleasant mood one should engage oneself in doing good deeds, reading good literature and avoid bad company.
- Direct contact with the five basic elements: Our body is made up of the five basic elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Ether. Direct contact with these elements in their purified forms depending upon the seasons is beneficial for health. Modern lifestyle in cities dotted with skyscrapers and filled with smoke emitting vehicles prevents one from being in direct contact with these elements in their purified forms. It is good to go to a remote place once in awhile to be in touch with mother nature. While in college, I spent most part of my vacation in a remote village, either my own or somewhere else being part of the NSS team. I made sure that for the most part of the stay, I walked barefoot, swam on the water bodies in the surroundings, sat near the blazing fire in the kitchen or a yagnakund if it was happening, remained outdoor as much as possible and slept under the open sky on the village cemented chouraha. After a few days it gave me a feeling of ‘returning to source’, even though I did not do any’ formal’ meditation then. Now such an experience would be the ultimate luxury. May be one has to cough up hefty sums to a health resort or nature cure centre and book months in advance to get such an experience.