What is health and how can you experience it? Consult any combination of ‘experts’ — doctors, nutritionists, acupuncturists, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, chiropractors, naturopathic doctors, meditation teachers, yogis, shamans, spirit guides, reiki masters, chefs, farmers, athletes, health coaches (and beyond!) — and you might find yourself lost in a maze of contradicting ideas and opinions. HIIT training or yoga? Is a paleo lifestyle healthier than a vegan one? To be or not to be…gluten free? Which recommendations should you follow? When do you incorporate them? How? Why?
Ayurveda, a medical system originating in ancient Northern India, helps make sense of one’s own health by teaching us to ask not ‘what input is best’ but ‘what input is best for me?’ As a science of individualism, Ayurveda understands each person — in fact, each thing — in the world, both natural and manmade, that can be perceived by our senses as unique in and of itself. Many things are similar, but no two are identical. Practicing Ayurveda, then, means realizing health using dietary and lifestyle tailored to the needs and conditions of each person. Health is a different experience for each of us, and one which we must take responsibility for cultivating on our own.
What is Your Unique Nature?
What makes Ayurveda as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago, when its tenets were first described, is that it is a science of Nature. Ayurveda endeavors to make sense of the formation, perpetuation, and dissolution of the natural world — human beings included. Two observations at the heart of Ayurvedic philosophy are:
- everything in the world is comprised of building blocks of nature
- each of the building blocks contains easily recognizable and perceptible qualities like hot or cold, moist or dry, heavy or light
One of the major goals of Ayurveda is to identify the proportions of these building blocks within you. This is considered your constitution, your personal nature, your unique selfhood. Developing an awareness of your own nature provides insight into the qualities you innately possess: do you tend to be warm blooded, or do you always pack an extra sweater? Is your skin typically dry or oily? Do you speak with a sharp tongue or a soft one? Ayurveda invites you to notice how you feel.
The next step is to turn your inward observation outward to the world around you. What is the arrangement of the building blocks in all the things you engage with every day? Consider the food you eat, the air you breathe, the environment — climate, terrain, urban/country — you live and operate in, the humans, animals, plants you interact with, the soundscape in the background of your life. What are the qualities of these inputs and how are they influencing you? Every input, from the most obvious to the mysteriously subtle, is leaving a direct imprint upon you — whether you’re conscious of this cause-and-effect relationship or not. These imprints manifest as physiological and psychological shifts in your chemistry, contributing to an ever-changing state of body and mind.
How Do You Want To Feel?
Nothing in nature is static; everything is perpetually shifting, transforming, evolving. So, a conscious mind will not ask ‘what input is best for me?’, but ‘what input is best for me right now?’ Ayurvedic wisdom invites you to move into observing yourself in the present moment, then from there to identify the qualities of the sensations and emotions your body and mind are experiencing. It is your current state, your present feeling, that determines the way you perceive the world, then project yourself back out into it.
Everything you experience through your senses influences the way you feel right now, including (but not limited to):
- Environment (climate / region, time of day, time of year)
- Age (time of life)
- Diet (what, when, how, and how much you are eating and drinking)
- Air, Breath, Scents/Smells
- Light, Colors, Imagery
- Movement (of body/exercise and mind/thoughts)
How Do You Want To Feel?
Do you want to feel stimulated? Do you need to sharpen and focus your mind? Do you want to calm down or cool off? Ayurveda teaches us how to become an observer of single input impact. From this perspective, every input becomes a tool to cultivate the state of body and mind of your choosing. Learning Ayurvedic theory is incredibly empowering! With this knowledge accumulated using your awareness, you become the driver of your own life, the expert of your self, directly able to manage the health, vitality and longevity of your physical body, which is the vehicle and container for your mind.
As you begin to take the steps of gathering information about your relationship with inputs, you can use the scaffolding of the Ayurvedic system to create a clear strategy to select which inputs to include in your life, along with when and how. For instance, when you need more warmth in your body, Ayurveda would recommend incorporating tastes, visuals, colors or sounds that contain the ‘hot’ quality; imagine things like salt, cinnamon, ginger, reds and yellows, upbeat music. The ‘why’ (are you doing what you are doing?) emerges! You have a premise! You are making decisions to generate a feeling, a state of body and mind.
How to Make Intelligent Decisions
The substratum of intelligent decision-making combines awareness and patience; when you give yourself permission to observe yourself and the world, to bear witness to that which is, your mind will naturally remove the labels of good and bad, right and wrong, positive and negative. It will remove any judgement from the object of your observation. You will witness yourself and the world around you through a rational, neutral mindset, conscious of simple cause-and-effect relationships between qualities.
So, a spin class is not good or bad, a slice of pizza is not healthy or unhealthy, classical music is not necessarily better for your ears than heavy metal; these inputs are simply combinations of the building blocks of nature, each containing qualities, each interacting with everything around it. Everything is right for someone at some time. What is right for you right now? If you listen, you’ll hear yourself asking for exactly what it needs to experience perfect health.
Your consciousness has a preference, and is quietly waiting to be asked.