I first heard about the practice of Ayurveda from Deepak Chopra back in the early 90s. Just as Chopra’s work became internationally recognized, we attended a three-day workshop and then read many of his books. But even though much of his spiritual and practical insights came from that five-thousand-year-old system of health and healing, I never really understood much about it. So when offered a review copy of a new book written by Acharya Shunya titled, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom I was intrigued. I was especially attracted by the subtitle of, “A Complete Prescription to Optimize Your Health, Prevent Disease, and Live with Vitality and Joy. Clearly, Ayurveda sounded a lot like living SMART 365.
The author of the book is a woman born and raised in Ayodhya, a city in the north of India. There, under the training of her grandfather, a renowned spiritual teacher Baba Ayodhya Nath, Shunya inherited the ordained lineage of her family. Embracing the authority and scholar of the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda, yoga and Vedanta, Shunya has become one of the most well-known teachers of Ayurveda in our county. Not only does she train others at her school in Northern California, she also speaks regularly at colleges and conferences around the world sharing the wisdom of this ancient way of life.
So what is Ayurveda? The source literature of this lifestyle wisdom reaches back to the Vedas (written in 4500 BCE) and translates from the Sanskrit language as, “the knowledge of life.” According to Shunya, “Ayurveda is a science of conscious living,” and it, “teaches a lifestyle that, when lived, prevents disease and optimizes health and well-being.” Like all holistic teachings, Ayurveda puts a focus on our natural wholeness by combining our body, mind, and spirit in everything we do.
Unfortunately, Shunya is concerned that since the 16th century most teachers of Ayurveda put the majority of focus on the “prescriptive model” of health and disease much like Western Medicine. Many practitioners today attempt to merely fix problems or diseases rather than address the underlying cause within the lifestyle of the person. Shunya instead says, “I deliberately bypass the paradigm of disease management and, instead, focus on evoking health of body and mind through lifestyle teaching, plus personal empowerment through connecting with a disease-free, ageless higher Self as the underlying reality.”
At its core, Ayurveda is a state of well-being in balance with nature and life itself. It includes the physical body, the senses, the psyche and the spirit. Within that balance is a major focus on three areas of health: sleep, sex, and food. Sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it? But if anyone thinks that Ayurveda can be understood and mastered after a short period of time you would be wrong. Fortunately for anyone who really desires a deeper understanding, this book is filled with detailed instructions to get you started.
Just to give you a taste, here are seven of the most interesting things I discovered about Ayurveda that just might make you interested enough to want to learn more:
- Each and every day there is an ideal time to wake up for the purposes of a balanced life. That idea time is before sunrise and never later than 6:00 a.m. As Shunya says, “Every day is a twenty-four-hour wheel, and the choices we make for every part of this wheel impact our resulting state of health.”
- Never forget that elimination is a critical part of the daily purification of the body and mind. Something that we all know but seldom talk about, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of staying regular and eliminating the toxins in our body as a key to optimal health and wellbeing. And yes, there are many tips and suggestions.
- Begin your day with healing and helpful spiritual practices. Ayurveda is rather disciplined in when and how you are supposed to begin your day. This includes regular oral hygiene along with daily self-massages. According to Shunya, “In India, oil massage is as much a part of daily physical hygiene as bathing, shaving and shampooing are in Western culture.” But this type of massage is more about the oil and self-care than about the pressure. When done correctly, ten minutes of this type of massage can improve blood flow, increase oxygenation, release stress, help us to feel lighter, reduce pain and stiffness and bring about deep relaxation. Best of all it encourages heightened spiritual awareness.
- Ayurveda puts a great emphasis on good sleep. While most of the information shared in the book isn’t exactly new, it is amazing to note that the ancient teachers of Ayurveda recognized thousands of years ago that certain practices could improve the quality of slumber. Shunya advises that most of the time when students or clients come to her with sleep problems it is one of three things: too much stress, too much stimulation before bedtime and an inconsistent sleep schedule.
- Because Ayurveda is a holistic practice of overall wellbeing, there was no surprise that good sleep is also tied to good exercise. While an extremely important part of any healthy and happy lifestyle, Ayurveda suggestions a balanced approach. Shunya says, “Ayurveda recommends undertaking judicious and deliberate physical movements that produce tiredness but ultimately impart firmness and strength. “ But a key to that “judiciousness” is recognizing “when enough is enough.” And while she believes yoga is a sister science of Ayurveda, overdoing it and making it extreme can cause imbalance. In fact, Shunya warns against “the yoga of more” being taught in most yoga studios today.
- Also tied to the practice of good sleep, is an emphasis on the roles that sex plays in a balanced and happy life. Ayurveda does not encourage celibacy and does not promote the idea that becoming sexless would result in becoming more spiritual. Shunya says, “The Ayurveda tradition celebrates human sexuality not only because it enhances physical and sensual pleasure, but also because it enhances emotional intimacy and mutual respect and can, even in the act of physical union, bring individuals to the experience of their own divinity.”
- And then there is the food. If I remember anything from the talks and books of Deepak Chopra, it was in the exotic spices and different types of foods that offer different benefits to each of us. In fact, my husband Thom doesn’t put ice in his water, even in summer because he learned that his body responds better to room temperature beverages. That is basic Ayurveda. It is also recommended that you never eat fruit at the same time as dairy. Who knew? The book includes a number of recipes with a heavy emphasis on flavors and how they match not only different types of people and conditions, but also the seasons themselves. There is much to learn and practice.
Am I going to take up Ayurveda in the future? I was pleasantly surprised to see that some of my existing daily practices are similar to some of the suggestions offered in the book. But even then, I found it interesting to read other ideas about how I might regularly incorporate more of them. Most especially, I appreciated the heavy focus from the book on how we are not only physical beings living in a material world, but at our core, we are spiritual beings. Ayurveda blends the spiritual and physical together in a very balanced way. That harmonious blend, along with the combination of the natural world of seasons, sunlight, and nighttime remind us that health, happiness, and well-being go hand-in-hand.
Ayurveda is a reminder that we all live with an “abidingly healthy nature.” And for anyone who is in search of living in a more SMART, joyful and masterful way, Ayurveda just might offer a path worth exploring.
Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom is scheduled to be released on Feb. 1, 2017