What is Ayurveda and the best lifestyle?

By Monica Bhatia, PhD
Students of San Diego College of Ayurveda

We asked our students to give their interpretation on the four types of lifestyles described in Ayurveda, as well as the three types of sufferings described in Vedas. These four 'lives' are:

Ayurveda is the knowledge of 'life'. There are four life paths that we may choose to live -- Hitayu, Sukha-ayu, dukhha-ayu, and, Ahita-ayu. I will mention them later in this article.

1) hit-ayu: A Life with righteous living, truthfulness, living in harmony with nature
a-hit-ayu: A Self absorbed life, conservative , not living in harmony with nature, other entities and environment
3) sukh-ayu: Good Health with sound body and mind, life with comforts. Partial consideration to the nature.
4) dukh-ayu: Disturbed mental and physical state. Negative Karma Accumulation. Harming the Balance of Nature, environment and other entities.

Vedas, as well as the Bhagavat Gita describe three sufferings -- for all living entities -- caused by environment, caused by other entities, caused by physical and mental suffering.

So, if we look at the above four kind of lives, we can actually say that Ayurveda is the systematic knowledge of life.

A student answered, "We have learned that Ayurveda literally translated means life knowledge. This is fascinating to me as the word Ayurveda brings together two words or concepts that independently each hold definitions that are both quantitative and absolute and qualitative and interpretive. In this way the term Ayurveda can represent both the finite and the infinite depending on the balance of the elements and knowledge being considered at any given moment. In this way Ayurveda encapsulates our level of being by interpreting our level of consciousness with what we understand to be our live environment and the knowledge we access to construct that understanding at any given time.

With this in mind, my understanding of Ayurveda is that it is a way of engaging life that embraces a constructivist approach to engaging our presence through a dynamic interplay with the universe - not through an adherence to structure laws of nature but rather through our adaptive capacity to our metaphysical environments. In this regard I was drawn to Ayurveda for it's dichotomous connections with both systems theory and chaos theory two elements that assist me in understanding disease through Ayurveda.

What is most compelling about an Ayurvedic approach to health is it's acknowledgement of the body beyond it's mechanics and form. Emotion, stress, over attachment, lack of attachment, resistance and even persistence all impact our health. Sun, rain, snow, wind all inform our cell structures. Most strikingly - balance in ourselves lies beyond ourselves in our appreciation of that part of ourselves that we see in others (positive or negative). This initiates the connection between the internal cosmos of humans and collectively amongst human beings and the universal cosmos. More concretely - in order to heal ourselves we can support that in those around us that we have nurtured within ourselves.

Response # 2. Ayurveda, defined as the science or the study of life carries with it a description of 4 different types of Life. These types of life are based on the lifestyle of the individual, and takes into account our existence as mulit-dimentional beings.
I have interpreted the text in the passage as a way of describing causes of illness and disease based on these four types of Life's or "Ayu".

According to Ayurvedic Science, our karmic balance of our exsistance (on all levels), determines our likelyhood to develop disease, as well as the type of disease we will likley develop.

For example, if an individual has a life of Hit-Ayu they are less likely to develop disease of any kind. While a person who has a life of A-Hit-Ayu may be more likley than most to develop mind and body illnesses (Adhyatamika). A person who is more Sikh-Ayu may be at risk to develop diesases caused by other living things (Adibhautika). While a person more on the Dukh-Ayu side may be more likely to experience seasonal or environmental diseases (Adhidaivaka).

This is my understanding of the quoted text. I Believe that it describes very well the connection of our exsistance (Physical, Soul, Energetic, Mind and Intellect) and how it comes into play with our lifestyle and finally the diseases we are likley to encounter throughout that exsistance.

Based on the above statements, Ayurveda, as a holistic philosophy, teaches us quite simply that every thing that we do affects our health. From our life styles to the food we ingest, to the good or ill works we do towards others and the planet.

Response #3. These separate parts of our being; physical, spiritual, intellectual, as well as our behaviors, are often seen by western society as statically separate from one another. Ayurveda, like TCM and other Asian philosophies teaches us that these components of self are deeply interconnected and interdependent on one another.

You cannot possibly be physically well if the mind is out of balance. You cannot be emotionally well if the body is unbalanced and so on.

There is much to be said in this earthly life for the laws of attraction. It can be associated with the Vedic viewpoint on karmic balance. If one is consistently thinking negative thoughts and doing negative deeds, they will in fact create and be more susceptible to disease and negative consequences, whether immediate or in the distant future.

Conversely, if one focuses on balance of body, mind, and spirit, strives to do good works and stay positive, the majority of the time good health and wealth is bestowed upon this person. This is not necessarily because we are being rewarded by some cosmic power but rather because our entire universe responds to this energetic law.

That being said, we still suffer, obviously from things that are outside of our control. No one chooses to be affected by earthquakes or to be accidentally hit by a car. No one wants to be infested by a parasite or even to have allergic reactions to their household pet. Most of these things are outside of our power and have little to do with karmic balance. We can, however, influence the healing process with Ayurveda and return once more to homeostasis to the best of our abilities.

All of our being, physical, mental, emotional wants to work toward homeostasis. When we eat foods that are “anti-doshic”(yes I just made up that term), when we are too sedentary or too stressed, when we think ill thoughts of ourselves and harbor hate, grief, and pain, when we do not forgive, when we are unkind to others, when we do not breath and allow in new experiences and love, when we use drugs or become dependant on mood altering substances, when we ignore divinity; these are all contributors to disease.

Karma and kleshas in Ayurveda

Four Types of Ayus (Life) and Three Karmik Kleshas (Three fold miseries)
By Nandita Gaur, Block 1 Student

Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya |
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya |
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

A Sanskrit shloka which means

Om, Lead us from Unreality (of Transitory Existence) to the Reality (of the Eternal Self),
Lead us from the Darkness (of Ignorance) to the Light (of Spiritual Knowledge),
Lead us from the Fear of Death to the Knowledge of Immortality.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

This shloka sums it all. Each and every word points to the life that we, as humans should lead. All these words have much deeper meaning than it appears at the surface.

As of now, let’s not talk about the big words or words with deeper meaning but even smaller words like “us” “from” “to” “the”. For example in this prayer they use the word “us”, “lead us” therefore it is not for one individual but it is directed towards the whole mankind, whole society we live in and that is what “Hit-ayu” is; a life with righteous living, truthfulness, living in harmony with nature.

As a result of partial darkness or insufficient spiritual knowledge we are digressing from our real path. Instead to living and aiming to live hit-ayu we are leaning more towards Sukh-ayu; a life with good health, sound body and mind, life with comforts and partial consideration towards nature. There is no harm in living such life but it is slightly self-centered. One just considers self and “I” becomes important aspect of life.

I feel sorry for some unfortunate human forms that are in complete darkness. They might be literate but not educated. What Mark Twain said holds true here, “Never let school interfere your education” There are people who forget their real goal in life. They lead a life of Ahit-ayu; life that is completely selfish, there is no consideration for other life forms or environment. The sad part is that these people don’t even realize that there is something missing.

People who live Sukh-ayu or sometimes ahit-ayu have the choice to change and indulge in hit-ayu but there are some people who are forced to live Dukh-ayu. Opposite of Sukh-ayu is dukh-ayu. It is a life in which people are disturbed on mental and physical levels. It is the result of negative karma that has collected on them over lives. They don’t have a choice but to lead that miserable life without having slightest hint of what action resulted in such loss or pain.

This leads me to think about actions. Our actions decide our course life, so if we live hit-ayu we accumulate good karma and vice versa.

Karma is ones action, which produces good or bad results as per their actions. According to Ayurveda karmic balance is important for ones health and wellness. There are three-fold miseries or sufferings that we as humans have to go through.

1. Adhibhuatika;

These are the result of our material life like money, relations etc.

2. Adhidaivika;

These are the result of the things that are out of our control like floods, earth quakes, Tsunami etc.
3. Adhyatamika;

These are the result of lack of our spiritual enlightenment, absence of self-realization and our ignorance. Sage Patanjali enumerates some miseries in his yoga sutra that are adhyatamika in nature;
Ignorance (avidya) Ego (asmita) Attachment to Pleasure (raga) Aversion to Pain (dvesa) and Fear of Death (abhinivesah)
The miseries that are not in my control I am not going to think about them but ones that are adhyatamika in nature, I plan to take them up one at a time. Having this knowledge about four types of life and our karmic kleshas enforces me to be more vigilant about my actions and that will result in leading more wholesome life

Karma-of-food

Spiritual and Karmic effect of Food

By: Alexis A. Arredondo, Block 1 Student

“You are what you eat” is a common phrase that we often hear when it comes to food. This may simply mean that if you eat fatty foods you will gain weight, but it can also have an alternative meaning. In Ayurveda, we learn that everything we eat has a spiritual and karmic effect on the body, mind and soul. What are some other ways that food can have a spiritual and Karmic effect on us?

In the Aghor Yoga tradition of India, there is a strong spiritual connection to the Sun. The Sun, unlike humans and the ego, does not judge anyone. In other words, the “Sun provides light uniformly to every person, state, country or continent without discrimination”(Mandal,1991). The Sun also provides the energy needed for plants to grow. By eating fruits, vegetables and grains grown and ripened organically, we are taking in that same spiritual energy that the Sun provides to all living beings. The same can be said for meat eaters, but only if eating organically fed and free-range animals, because they eat a natural diet and receive the energy from the Sun as well.

Now what about the Karmic effect of eating an animal? We already know that in Ayurveda, meat has a negative connotation because by eating that animal we are taking the karmic effect of that animals death. Practitioners of Spiritual Nutrition also believe that by eating animals, you are increasing “the animal-like tendencies in the body and it brings into operation more animal-like tendencies such as the vibration of anger, lust, fear, aggressiveness, and murderous impulses. It communicates the energy of destruction to the cells and brings the energy of death into our auric fields, reducing the flow if higher prana into our body.”(Cousens,2009)

Think of the way most animals are treated, grown in factory farms and never seeing the sun or eating a natural diet. If we are what we eat, then we are basically eating all the karmic effects of these poor animals who never truly live.

Now if you do eat meat, and I do on occasion when my body craves it, buy organic and free range. Go to the farmers market where local farmers are more than happy to tell you about how their animals are raised and treated.

There is still the question of how the death of an animals affects our karma. Factory farmed animals have fear and suffering as they are forced through slaughter houses. Local farmers don’t always see how their animals are treated during their slaughter so I highly advise you talk to those who do or perhaps even do it themselves, more humanely than processing slaughter houses. This is important because “the lives of the creatures we’ve eaten weigh down our astral body with their negative feelings of fear and suffering at their time of death.”(Cousens,2009)

One key phrase we often hear is Prana, or life force. Every living thing has Prana, but that life force begins to fade the minute that the living entity is cut, plucked, or killed. This is why it’s important to by fresh organically grown or raised food in order to benefit from the maximum amount of Prana within it. By partaking in that Prana we will bring balance and counteract the negative spiritual and karmic effects within our bodies that we acquire through our daily thoughts and deeds.

There is one other way we can help maintain the spiritual and karmic effects of food. This is done through prayer, offerings and spiritual practice. How many times do we offer food to the Divine? In Hindu and African traditions, food is often offered to the Deities before it is ingested. This is not only a sign of reverence but a way to bring blessings from the Divine to your food, thereby relieving some of the negative karmic effects. African, Jewish and Islamic traditions perform Ritual slaughter where the animals are not only killed humanely, but are given full spiritual reverence beforehand. This is infinitely better than how most animals are slaughtered in modern day processing plants.

Lastly, praying over food is a tradition that is slowly losing its luster among current society.

By praying over our food, or praying for the animal that died in order for us to eat, you are elevating your spiritual and karmic ties to the food as well as elevating your own self spiritually.
The question boils down to this, if we are what we eat, wouldn’t we rather eat organically grown foods that have long healthy lives of sunshine, rain and exposure to all the spiritual elements? Most people would rather eat the cheaper food than the more expensive, but we have to remember this simple analogy. If you have a brand new car, are you going to give it premium oil and gasoline, or a lower cheaper grade? Treat your body like a brand new car and you will avoid the negative karmic and spiritual effects of food.

REFERENCES:

Books

Mandal, Aghor Seva; Two World of Human Life: An Aghor Perspective,
1991, p162

Cousens MD, G; Spiritual Nutrition: Six Foundations for Spiritual life and Awakening of Kundalini, 2009

Popularity of Ayurveda in the United States

By Mariam Campos-Marquetti
Block 1 Student

I liken Ayurveda to one of the oldest known trees on the planet, the Bristlecone Pine. With a root system dating back more than 5000 years, scientists have been trekking to the White Mountains of California to learn more about the ancient Bristlecone, its properties, and how this pine species has outlived surrounding gymnosperms. As the world’s oldest known system of medicine, Ayurveda has existed for over 5000 years, outliving failed systems of healing and rather uniquely coming full circle to the forefront of alternative healthcare in the West. Ayurveda is attracting a great deal of attention from both the scientific community and average citizens, each in search of understanding the body’s natural processes and how to manage health in a very demanding world.

When I initiated research on the popularity of Ayurveda in the United States, I had no idea that I would discover a sea of books and websites on the subject. Even more surprising was learning that there are numerous US-based companies manufacturing dosha-balancing packaged foods, VPK herbal teas, and newly-found ancient beauty and environmental products -all in line with Ayurvedic principles and teachings. Only a few minutes into my online research, I was astonished by the presence of practitioners in nearly every US metropolis. I located a few accredited medical schools, including the University Of Connecticut School Of Medicine, that offer general Ayurveda courses. There are also options for Western Medicine students to study abroad in India for a semester of Ayurveda immersion. I even discovered that a former NFL running back, Ricky Williams, is an ardent student of Ayurveda and sits on the Board of a national Ayurveda college. Most surprising was to learn that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), through its National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, has devoted substantial resources to the study of Ayurveda, and has sponsored clinical trials on Ayurvedic procedures ranging from the treatment of anxiety to muscle-nourishing procedures in hemiplegia.

From an NIH-sponsored, double-blind, randomized, controlled, pilot study comparing classic Ayurvedic Medicine, Methotrexate, and their combination in rheumatoid arthritis, the outcome was reported as the following:

“In this first-ever, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study comparing Ayurveda, MTX, and their combination, all 3 treatments were approximately equivalent in efficacy, within the limits of a pilot study. Adverse events were numerically fewer in the Ayurveda-only group. This study demonstrates that double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized studies are possible when testing individualized classic Ayurvedic versus allopathic treatment in ways acceptable to western standards and to Ayurvedic physicians. It also justifies the need for larger studies.”

When reading that a federally funded study reported a favorable outcome for traditional Ayurvedic procedures, I am filled with hope that Ayurveda has truly garnered viable attention and respect from the West, and will undoubtedly be the focus of larger studies in the future. I am also confident that as the numbers of educators and practitioners grow in the US, so will the implementation and practice of this great system of healing.
The Affordable Care Act (Section 2706) also contains a provision for licensed complementary and alternative medicine providers. In a June 3rd, 2013 Huffington Post article, entitled: Non-Discrimination: A 'Big Honking Lawsuit' to Advance Integrative Medicine and Health? author John Weeks wrote, "The law was hailed as a breakthrough for integrative treatment. Consumers could access licensed acupuncturists, massage therapists, naturopathic doctors, chiropractors and home-birth midwives. Medical specialists could more comfortably refer for complementary services knowing that doing so would not require patients to pay cash. A critical barrier keeping patients, doctors and systems from exploring optimal integration via inclusion and referrals would be history."
While many licensed complementary health providers are waiting to see measurable and lasting impacts of the Affordable Care Act, the law is still a favorable sign that the US Government is making room for an easier delivery of complementary healthcare.
When considering regulation, according to NIH, “no states in the US license Ayurvedic practitioners, although a few have approved Ayurvedic schools.” In order for practitioners to be recognized by states, it is important that lawmakers implement and approve steps towards national licensing to ensure that Ayurveda is given an equal opportunity to flourish under the Affordable Care Act.

A further look at regulation brings into focus the FDA, which often represents a huge hurdle for holistic health modalities. Without Federal approval, Ayurveda formulas and herbal medicines, especially those manufactured overseas, will not be readily available to meet the demand of the market, and skeptics in our society will always question why the FDA stamp of approval is missing.

As Ayurveda continues to grow in the US, there are some legitimate public concerns regarding the governance and accountability of practitioners, especially in states that have passed the Freedom of Health Act, which allows complementary and alternative health modalities (Ayurveda) to be practiced by non-licensed individuals. While I am a firm believer that individuals have the right to choose how their bodies will be maintained and healed, I feel strongly that some level of governance is necessary to ensure that the best treatment protocols are carried out and ethically practiced. I am happy to share that on some level ensuring this accountability is the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), which represents the Ayurvedic profession in the US. NAMA is the only nationally recognized certifying body of practitioners, and oversees Ayurveda colleges throughout the US. According to NAMA’s mission statement, the organization operates “to preserve, protect, improve and promote the philosophy, knowledge, science and practice of Ayurveda for the benefit of humanity.”

I am certain that Ayurveda will someday become mainstream in the US. I believe that we are witnessing the process of this unfold at this time, as demonstrated by the mounting interest of the Federal Government and the public. I advocate that students and practitioners educate and lobby to ensure that Ayurveda is afforded the same rights historically allotted to Allopathic Medicine and its practitioners, and that patients have access to affordable and ethical treatment based on the highest principles of Ayurveda.