Most people are under the myth that Ayurveda is an ancient herbal system where plants and substances are used to fix health ailments. Untrue.
Ayurveda literally means the “Science of Life.” It is not the science that just fixes diseases and treats symptoms. Huge sections of Ayurvedic ancient texts are dedicated to how one can keep himself in balance naturally. As we all know it, prevention is always better than cure.
In fact the three pillars of health in Ayurveda are Food, Sleep and Appropriate amount of sexual activity. (Ahar, Nidra and Brahmacharya). The Goal of Ayurveda is to keep these three pillars strong so we can be in a state where all doshas, dhatus (tissues) and malas (waste products) are balanced.
In terms of action, some important aspects to keep oneself in balance are –
- The Daily Regimen (Dincharya)
- Factors to consider before consumption of food (Ahar Vidhi Visheshayatan)
- Brahmacharya (Appropriate amount of sexual activity)
- Sleep (Nidra)
Dincharya – The Daily Regimen
Ayurvedic shastras provide a detailed regimen that is to be followed everyday. While it may be hard for us to inculcate all the routines mentioned, we can pick and choose the ones that we deem most important. But the order of the routines must not be compromised. The order is designed to keep your Agni protected as well as the doshas balanced given the specific time of day. Agni or the digestive fire, when compromised is the starting point for most diseases.
These routines can be slightly altered for each dosha as well as for the season.
- Waking Up – A healthy person should wake up at Brahma Mahurat, i.e 96 minutes before sunrise. The timing would differ from season to season. Individuals with Vata or Pitta imbalance can wake up a little later, around sunrise. But it is highly recommended for those with a Kapha constitution to wake up at Brahma Mahurta. This is also the ideal time to meditate, introspect, pray and study. The brain is fresh and open to receiving.
Contraindication – If the meal from the previous day has not been digested well or if the quantity of sleep has been seriously affected, then a person may need to sleep in longer.
- Elimination (Vega Shaman) – As soon as nature calls, one should urinate and have a bowel movement. When a person is able to pass feces in the morning, his Agni is kindled and he feels natural hunger. This is important for overall health.
- Brushing (Dantadhavan) – Traditionally, twigs of certain trees like khadira, karanja etc were used to brush. These did not just serve a mechanical function but the medicinal properties of the twig also helped with the environment of the mouth in the morning. Additionally, herbs were chosen depending on the season and person’s dosha. While it is ok to use modern day toothbrushes and toothpaste, we must be mindful about the toothpaste we use. Artificial chemicals and additives are not only harmful for the teeth but also for health, in general.
Contraindication – Individuals suffering from fever, indigestion, facial paralysis, mouth ulcers, heart diseases are advised not to brush.
- Gandush (Gargling) – Gargling or rinsing the mouth with decoctions of herbs like khadira, lodhra, arjun make the teeth strong. If this is not possible, we can use just plain clean warm water.
- Tongue Cleaning (Jivha Nirlekhan) – A tongue cleaner made of copper, silver, gold or wood can be used to scrape toxins and kapha accumulation off the tongue after gargling. Tongue cleaning also helps to stoke the Agni. The edge of tongue cleaner should not be very sharp.
- Washing Face, Hands and Feet (Mukha – Hasta – Pada Prakshalan) – Next, the shastras advise us to wash our face, hands and feet. Slime accumulates in the pores at night as the skin also goes through a metabolism process when we are asleep. Those with dry skin can use milk to wash their face; with red/hot skin can use either cold water or milk and those with thick oily skin can use a warm decoction made of Amalaki or Udumbar. Hands and feet can be washed with lukewarm water.
- Kohl (Anjana) – Morning is the when Kapha accumulates in the eyes, thus Ayurveda recommends the application of a natural Anjana to clean the eyes as well as provide sharper vision.
Sauvira anjana, surma, natural kajal or rasanajana can be used. For the eyes to function well, a delicate balance needs to be maintained between excessively heating or excess cooling substances exposed to the eyes. (soma and tej gunas).
- Nose drops (Nasya) – Nasya or nasal drops are advised and safe to administer every single day. One or two drops can be inserted in each nostril with the head tilted slightly.
The nose is considered to be the gateway to the head and nasya strengthens the mind as well as enhances the function of the senses. Nasya also greatly improves eyesight, quality of skin and hair. Anu taila is a safe nasya oil that is easily available in Ayurvedic pharmacies.
Contraindication – Nasya is not advised when a person is intoxicated, hungover, has a runny nose, is hard of hearing, infested with worms, or has a period of excessive travel.
- Garling – (Gandusa and Kavala) – After Nasya – once again Gandusa or Kavala are advised. They are both variants of gargling. In Gandush, the substance is held in such great quantity in the mouth that the person is unable to move it. While for kavala, the substance is swished from side to side. Usually, oil, medicated decoction or plain water can be used for both.
Gandush is gaining tremendous popularity in the west and some dentists advise patients to perform kavala and gandush to prevent gingivitis and bad breath. They also help with dry lips, dry mouth and quality of voice.
- Medicated smoking (Dhumapan) – Medicated smoking is recommended for those who are prone to Kapha and Vata disorders. This is rarely done today. However, medicated dhumapan prevents cough, colds, runny nose, hiccups, discharge from eyes, nose and mouth. Tobacco-free medicated cigarettes are available in Ayurvedic pharmacies.
Contraindications – Those who are prone to pitta related diseases, intolerant to heat, have acne, rosacea or dryness and redness in the eyes.
- Chewing Pan (Tambula Sevana) – Most people are unaware that Ayurveda recommends chewing betel leaf paan for the healthy individual. However, the ingredients are slightly different from our modern day paan ingredients. The ingredients used are betel nut, lavaṅga (clove), jātīphala (nutmeg), catechu (kathā), kaṅkol, marica (pepper), chuṇa (limestone) and betel leaves.
The action can vary according to the ingredients used. But generally, it creates a cleansing action, promotes voice quality, increases libido, promotes digestion and fights mouth odor.
Contraindications – Tambula sevana can be very heating and is not advisable to those who have heat related disorders, bleeding disorders, are weak or emaciated, have high libido or for children.
- Massage (Abhyanga) – Massage or application of warm oil is highly recommended and gives innumerable benefits. Abhyanga is performed before one exercises, bathes or even eats breakfast. It protects the nervous system, skin, muscles and joints; pacifies vata, delays aging and relieves fatigue.
One should massage for at least 15 minutes. If the entire 15 minutes is not possible, then the granthas advise application of oil at least to the soles of the feet, ears and top of the head. Sesame oil can be used in the winter and coconut oil or ghee can be used in the summer. A few drops of a fragrant essential oil can be added to the abhyanga oil and the oil should be warmed before it is applied.
Contraindications – Abhyanga is not advised for those suffering from Kapha related disorders, excess lethargy or are suffering from indigestion. It is also strictly contraindicated right after eating.
- Exercise (Vyayam) – Decades before the western world discovered the benefits of exercise, Ayurveda recommended exercise, but only on an empty stomach and after Abhyanga. Exercise as we all know it, makes the body strong and steady as well as helps to keep all the fluids moving and joints supple. For individuals who are strong and who indulge in rich fatty foods daily; or in winter and spring, exercise can be undertaken to half of one’s strength. In all other conditions, it should be done mildly so that the body’s strength and tissues are not depleted.
Contraindications – Vyayam is strictly contraindicated during indigestion, extreme vata or pitta aggravation, when a person is feeling weak, lack of sleep or when excessive sexual intercourse is undertaken. Mild yoga-asanas can be practiced with discretion if these conditions are present.
- Bath (Snana) – Bathing relieves exhaustion, kindles Agni, promotes good hunger, removes dirt and sweat and keeps the thoughts clean. Mild hot water can be used for all body parts below the navel. However, cool or lukewarm water should be used for parts above the navel. Hot water is strictly contraindicated – especially for the eyes, heart and head and in heat rashes.
Contraindications – Bathing is contraindicated if one has fever, indigestion, excess cold and cough or paralysis. Sarira marjana or sponging is advised in these conditions.
- Clean clothes and fragrance – Ayurveda advocates the use of pleasant fragrances to keep the mind and senses fresh and active. Clean clothes that are of one’s choice are advised. How one dresses and feels about himself determines his attitude towards the day.
- Prayers – Pujanam – Finally, before a person takes on his dharma, artha or activity for the day, he must spend a few minutes praying. Praying reminds one of his life’s purpose as well as invites energies from the universe to support his cause.
- Nightly Routine (Ratri Charya) – Dinner should be eaten within three hours of sunset. Ideally, closer to sunset. It should always be the lightest meal of the day. Curds are contraindicated during dinner.
Ayurvedic texts state that one should end the day with introspection. He must recall all his activities and emotions in the day and ponder upon how he can become a better person and find true happiness. Progress befriends the person who introspects daily.