Have you ever had the feeling that you were desperate to detox yet craving a pizza? Eager to sleep but with so much energy you find yourself running laps in the evening? Or perhaps you wanted to create change in your life but you lacked will and motivation. In Ayurveda, these are all tell-tale signs that you’ve become ‘out of balance’.
Ayurveda teaches us that optimum health is only attainable once we establish equilibrium between all aspects of our lives that govern our mind, body and spirit. From what we eat, to how we exercise, right down to the recovery we allow ourselves are all important factors in ensuring we maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle. However, in Ayurveda, health is not portrayed in the same way that we understand it in Western cultures. Rather than being free from disease or illness, health is considered a state of wellbeing and takes into consideration the whole of who we are. Illness on the other hand, is considered a blockage of an otherwise free-flowing energy permeating mind and body. Symptoms of sickness such as lack of or excess energy, food cravings and even the inability to rest are seen as direct signals that we need to restore balance and regain a healthy flow of internal intelligence.
As science plays an integral role today in researching just how much the mind can affect general health and wellbeing, Ayurveda has been interpreting this notion for centuries. What we do know for sure is the mind and body are inextricably connected and that both have the potential to inadvertently compromise the quality of life. This justifies the theory that not only do our thoughts strongly influence our behaviour but so too does our physical health affect our state of mind. Incredibly though, through meditation, yoga and mindful eating, we have the capacity to transform this process into a prosperous two-way street.
What is often considered a physical practice in the Western world, yoga traditionally did not focus on asana (postures). It was developed as a complete system of which the physical component although useful, was only a small part. The purpose of yoga was spiritual in nature to awaken and liberate one from the limitations and delusions of the senses. Translated from Sanskrit the word yoga simply means ‘union’, which is attained by bringing conscious awareness to the breath, body and mind.
This conscious awareness is the first step to meditation and is often how a yoga practice is introduced. Though movement in yoga is great for maintaining physical strength and endurance, meditation reduces the activation levels of stress in the body, which over a long period of time can negatively impact personal well-being and overall health. By quieting the mind, we are able to reduce stress by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. A consistent meditation practice allows us the ability to regulate our reaction to stress in the future which has a further calming effect on anxiety levels, emotions and nervousness – all of which are often attributed to looking or feeling ‘unwell’.
Holistic harmony would remain incomplete however, should we overlook the nutritional value of the foods we consume, as a healthy digestive tract is crucial in maintaining a strong immune system. Improving digestive function is one of the most vital steps for promoting health and so a diet consisting of organic, wholesome foods free from chemicals, artificial additives and preservatives is paramount for keeping the internal body functioning as it should. Gastrointestinal disturbances are a common result of poor food choices and high stress levels, which when serviced independently through yoga, meditation and mindful eating enable the mind and body to revert back to their natural state of balance, ultimately resulting in what Ayurveda describes as ‘optimum health’.