five simple principles of holistic health

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.

  1. 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 –

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

yoga #2: common yoga myths

yogaThe celebration of international yoga day has brought a lot of limelight to the ancient Indian practice of yoga. However, the myths surrounding yoga still continue.

In fact, as more and more people take to yoga in various capacities as practitioners, teachers, propagators and entrepreneurs new myths are created and propagated to suit vested interests. Here, let us explore a few of such myths.

 

  1. Yoga is all about asanas and body contortions

Now a days many forms or rather distortions of physical postures and activities are practised and are passed for as yoga.

In a wider context yoga is all about bringing integration to one’s various levels of existence. The word yoga which has been derived from the root ‘yuj’  means to join.  The English word ‘yoke’  has originated from the word yoga.

Asanas or the physical postures are part of the branch of yoga known as ‘Hatha’ Yoga. The broader context of yoga can be understood from the fact that various chapters of Bhagavat Gita are named as various types of yoga. Like Arjun Bishad Yoga, Sankhya Yoga, Gnana Yoga etc. Lord Krishna is also known as yogeshwar even though he is not known to have taught any kind of asanas. However, whenever there is talk of yoga, people understand the physical part of it.

  1. Maharshi Patanjali is the harbinger of yoga

Interestingly the word asana occurs in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras only a couple of times. Patanjali’s compilation of Yoga Sutras explores the basic philosophy of yoga. It does not contain any technique or procedure regarding how to do yogasanas or prayanama etc.

Various forms of yoga including Hatha Yoga have been in existence long before Maharshi  Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras  around 200 BC. Proof of yogic postures have been found to be in existence in the lost civilization of Mahenjodaro. Like the Upanishads whose writers preferred to by anonymous, the exact inventors of ancient yogic postures and practices are not known.

  1. With so many fake gurus around, it is better to self learn yoga. 

There are black- sheep in every profession. There are fake or fraud doctors. That does  not prevent us from going to a doctor when a need arises. Nor, do we brand the whole profession as frauds because of the existence of a few fraud doctors. Ravana came to abduct Sita in the garb of a saint.

In the Yogasara Upanishad it is said, “Gururantike yogabhyaset”-  Learn yoga under the guidance of a Guru. Similarly, setting aside their friendship, Arjuna accepts Sri Krishna as a Guru and seeks his advice for his existential dilemma. (Shishyasteham trahi mam prapanna… thus goes a stanza in the Bhagavat Gita)

Authority from the scriptures apart, let it be known that any kind of yoga, even hatha yoga is not just a kind of sundry exercise.  Many subtle energy centres and channels get activated while doing yoga.  So, the presence of a master or an expert is always a safer option.

Self learning of yoga is a kind of self medication where trial and error may sometimes lead to  dangerous consequences. Even if one may not face any kind of danger, one has to do a lot of trial and error and spend a lot of time unnecessarily to find out what form or pattern of yoga would suit one, considering that various combinations of yogic practices may run into thousands. Either way, it makes sense to seek the guidance of a master.

It is better to learn yoga first under the guidance of a master- a genuine master.

what is all that fuss about yoga?

idy.pngWith the International Yoga Day round the corner, posters pop out from every street corners and there is a buzz in the air, even the unlikeliest people suddenly joining the discussion to break a few myths associated with yoga. Of course,  there will be controversies galore as yoga may seem threatening to the perceived identities of certain belief systems. But how much do we really understand the various concepts and ideas associated with yoga?

Contrary to the often propagated concept that yoga is all about creating contorted body postures and holding on to them, it has a broader connotation encompassing all areas of life.

While Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras expounds the basic philosophy of yoga, each chapter name of the Bhagavat Gita ends with yoga, Arjuna Bishada Yoga, Gyana Yoga and so on. Interestingly these two popular scriptures do not give any description about the body postures which are so passionately propagated as yoga. Sri Krishna – the Lord of yoga did not teach even a single asana to his foremost disciple Arjuna during the entire length and breadth of the Bhagavat Gita. Nor did Arjuna had to do a Sirsashana (head stand) on a yoga mat amid the battle cries of Kurukshetra to a get a distorted view of the prevailing state affairs so as to fall into such depression that Sri Krishna took eighteen chapters with 700  verses to bring him to his senses.

By the way, references to various body postures and other physical yogic techniques can be found in Hathayoga Pradipika. However, Many of the asanas have been handed over to us in master-disciple tradition, some of them refined and  some distorted, in their long passage through 5000 years of the yogic history.

The meaning the word yoga is to join, to connect. So purpose of yoga is to connect all the loose ends of life. At a basic level it is to connect with oneself. Surprisingly, the first chapter of the Bhagavat Gita is Arjunabishada yoga – the yoga of Arjuna falling into depression and the last chapter is Mokshasannyas Yoga- the yoga of enlightenment . When one is happy, one spreads out and forgets oneself. But it is during the times of misery and depression that one starts to remember oneself. But that is only the starting point. As it happened in Bhagavat Gita, through the guidance of a master of yoga like Lord Sri Krishna, Arjun was led from the state of depression and dismay to the state of ultimate awareness- from Arjunabishada Yoga to Mokshasannyas Yoga. In the Gita, Lord Sri Krishna is referred as Yogeshwara – the lord of yoga. At one place He says – Samatwam Yoga uchyate – to be in a state of equanimity is yoga. So, the scripture is full of description of the yogic state and how to attain that state.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as yogaschttabritih nirodhah. Even though different authors translate it in different ways, keeping in view the spirit of the book, I feel the nearest would be – Yoga is all about mastery over the modes of consciousness. Unlike Bhagavat Gita, the Yoga Sutras start with Samadhi pada – the state of ultimate bliss and equanimity. With scientific precision it describes,  explores and categorises the inner world of a human being.

Different religions and scriptures use different symbols and techniques. When one goes beyond those symbols or when one tries to decipher the real indications of those symbols, I feel, one may find those things touching upon some concept of yoga, even though they may  not be using the word.

Anything that you do, whether it is religious activity or secular activity, whether it is dictated by tradition or something new, if it gives you a glimpse into your real nature, if it brings you bliss, peace calmness and contentment, that is your yogic path.

If at the basic level yoga joins you with yourself, in a larger context yoga is being in harmony with your surroundings and the humanity at large. Thus, it starts with the well being of oneself but, ultimately it must spread to the society.

Do not all religions claim it to be their basic purpose in spite of the disagreements as to the methods to be followed to do this?

Of self discovery and spirituality

May be somewhere at the age of twelve I started to have deep feelings of uselessness of life. The feelings continued off and on. Pressing responsibilities and needs, first of a student life, then of a professional and family life drowned out the inner call.

Of course, since childhood I had been interested in yoga and meditation. I used to do certain practices following the instructions in some books that I had come across. However, I was not having any deep  feeling or any significant progress as an amateur self taught pilgrim of the spiritual journey. But my self taught yogic practices continued from high school till the first year of college. Then, sometime in the second year I discontinued the yogic practices and my lifestyle took 180 degree spin off.

Indian BloggersIt is said in esoteric spirituality that every spiritual / non-spiritual  cycle lasts twelve years. It may be a matter of pure coincidence that after my third 12 year cycle,  I started again to search for answers to some of the existential questions that had bothered me every now and then: Who am I? What is the purpose of life? Is there any use in this thing called life? yeh jina bhi koi jeena hai yaro? These feelings of inner emptiness, uselessness, meaninglessness continued for quite some time. I turned my attention to a variety of spiritual literature. But nothing satisfied me.

One day while channel surfing on TV, I got stuck with an interview of Sri Sri Ravishankar taken by Pratibha Advani. I do not remember what exactly was the question or what was the answer, but I had a feeling that I  got a starting point for the answers to some of the disturbing questions in my mind. Then, one day out of curiosity I went to the Art of living center to inquire about their workshops. It was a Tuesday and I was told the next workshop known as the Art of Living Basic Course was to start in two hours.Without thinking much I enrolled my self. Then I was in Hyderabad.

The six day workshop, for me was sheer bliss. By the end of the course my journey of self discovery had begun on a serious note. After that I visited the Art of Living International Centre in Bengaluru and met with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I also did many advanced courses.

Of course till now I have not got the final answers to my ‘existential’ questions. The quest of self discovery is still on. But the difference is, now I have the feeling that  I am on the way. As I continue with the spiritual practices and knowledge, I experience many positive changes in my attitude towards life and society.

Different people may have different experiences and opinions about Art of living and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. But one thing I know is that the word bliss cannot remind me, first of all,  anything other than the Art of Living.

I have realised that one need not be a believer of anything to experience the bliss of meditation, yogic practices and mystic glimpses into the nature of truth.

sri sri quote.jpg

In addition to Sumelika Das, I must thank Cattie’s World  for being the inspiration for this post.

Connecting Blissfully

bliss

 

I am killing two birds with one stone. The above photo is my response to both ‘Bliss’ and ‘Connect’ challenge of #developyoureye I. The best method I know to experience bliss is meditation, which also connects one with oneself.

The header image, which is of the Art of Living International Centre at Bengaluru, also reminds me immediately of bliss. I have experienced many beautiful moments of bliss here.