A beautiful word “Yam-Niyama” is described in Ayurveda by Patanjali. One may place the term into a simplest context of an approach that is based on social and individual conduct and behaviour. Yama entails a man’s social behaviour and social conduct within society, whilst Niyama are mental and habitual aspects related to the positive perspectives one would adopt regarding his/her lifestyle.
Let’s understand health first, the concept of health has two components: true health and diagnosed health. Many times, the person is declared to be healthy, but he is stressed, has disturbed sleep, and is bloated. The patient battles with her natural urges in the toilet every morning and feels something is wrong.
Every person knows the causes of his/her illness and stress because we are born with that gift. Some have natural talent for it, but the majority of us have to re-learn, to remember how to treat ourselves naturally. We need to see the connecting threads that exist between the disease and our way of living. This capacity demonstrates the profound intelligence of the body. The body needs to be cared for. Especially in this era, the body requires greater attention. If our body is neglected, we will not be able to find inner harmony. The body is a great gift. It is a miracle, A mystery.
We are in the midst techno-civilization, an age characterized by that of turmoil, tension and transition and genetic modification. This awakening of consciousness has resulted in a yearning for inner balance, self-actualization and freedom. Given that we have taken human form in this life, direct results of the above would be stress relief, increased energy, greater awareness; etc. This is all but a process of change and transition. Balance in the physical realm is an inevitable by-product of self-actualization. There is merit to the practices and systemic approaches that have existed hitherto and which have been relevant for specific periods in time. Prior studies, philosophies and practices have provided an important foundational understanding of health, origin, etc. however it is the individual experience that is the best teacher for there is no danger or fear that you are doing something incorrectly when you are guided by the voice within.
In every era man has searched in thousands of ways, for true health, for what is not evident, tangible and solid. The path towards this somewhere is yet unknown, a rough sea, or a land mined filled with dangers … such as tricksters, gurus, healers, doctors, and so-called masters wanting to impose their vision of things.
I think there are many modalities of healing, like corners in a room. Each one is different but each one is relevant. Each one giving a different perspective on the whole, but each one belonging, and without each corner the room is weakened.
In the context of health, our body is an “organization” established in a balance between the natural forces of creation and destruction. Nature has created the human being with an inbuilt warranty of 100 year lifespan without any sickness and disease. When the natural balance is disturbed our body and mind reacts in the form of symptoms of stress and sicknesses. It is of importance to take note of the three main connecting threads between a human being and nature which include: breathing in Ayurveda termed as Prana, food also known as Ahaara, and impulses through our senses better known in Ayurveda as Indriyas.
The cleansing of the blood is not the only purpose of breathing. Nature is the very master at economy. Nature quietly makes man take in with every breath the very essence of Life. Many times, vaster than the envelope of atmosphere is the all-pervading Life essence. Within this ocean of Life that pervades all creation, like water in a sponge and around it, all creation subsists.
Nature makes man take in something much more than just oxygen with every breath.
Breathing is the mechanism by which we introduce the outside elements into our system. They are impulses reaching our nerve centres in us, causing the ‘grey matter’ to give out its reactions. Or, in other words, we receive coded incoming impulses by which the mental pathways give out decoded thoughts.
Similarly, when we eat and drink we introduce outside elements into our system. These are also impulses reaching our nerve centres from which the ‘grey matter’ gives out reactions. Or, in other words, we receive coded incoming impulses and the mental pathways send out decoded thoughts.
Finally, in the same manner we receive from outside elements coded impulses through our sense of touch, sight, hearing, smell, and also magnetic, electrical and cosmic impulses. All these coded impulses reach our nerve centres within us, and the grey matter gives out reactions. Or, in other words, the brain centres send out decoded thoughts on receiving such coded impulses.
There is a way to select such impulses. We can note their incoming, become aware of their effects, and our reactions and satisfaction or overindulgence, of these appetites in respect to the emotional, mental and sex appetites. This involves a study and a method. The scientific approach to this study is called Ayurveda.
When the balance is upset, our normal rhythms and health are disturbed and we either over-create or over-destroy. This gives rise to the development of toxins – which cause disease and ill-health – because they are not in harmony with the cosmic organization. If the disease is left unattended during the initial stages, the toxins grow and challenge the existence of the physical ‘organization’. The energy and activity of the body is directed to nourish the toxins and slowly the whole being becomes out of tune with cosmic harmony.
This is what a disease entails. At the initial stage, pathological material or toxins are transitory and simple practice can help restore the natural balance in the patient.
The role of the Ayurvedic physician is to restore natural balance by intervening in the pathological cycle and reinvigorating healthy processes with the help of appropriate diet and herbs, as well as individualized treatments and medicines.
Dosha or Prakriti is the most popular and most misinterpreted part of Ayurveda. We need to look at different aspects before making a decision about someone, Prakriti. We must understand that our basic constitution is decided at the time of fertilization of sperm and ovum (Condition of sperm-ovum) and is affected by our upbringings.
According to Ayurveda, everything in this universe is made up of five elements, namely, earth, water, fire, air and ether (space). These elements combine to form the three doshas: Vata, Kapha, and Pita, or metabolic types and are represented in the human body in different forms.
For instance, bones and teeth are earth, blood and lymph are water, the metabolism is fire, oxygen is air, and ether is the spaces found between matter, represented best by vibration or sound.
We must bear two things in mind; firstly that Prakriti cannot be determined by reading books or surfing on the internet. Secondly it is most difficult to find a pure Vata or pure Pita or pure Kapha person. Prakriti always exists in a different combination of the three doshas
The term Prakriti is derived from a Sanskrit word that means, ‘nature’, ‘creativity’ or the ‘first creation’. Prakriti is the physical and psychological constitution of an individual, which is determined on the basis of three doshas. One of the very important concepts of Ayurveda is that one’s basic constitution is fixed throughout his lifetime. But some pathological changes affect this. The Ayurvedic physician’s role is to treat these changes and to bring a person on to his/her basic Prakriti. Knowing our Prakriti is helpful as it not only helps us know our self-better but also helps us in getting rid of diseases. It helps in understanding certain important characteristics.
Diet-It must be made clear that no standard diet is ideal for every individual (i.e. for all people in general). How we eat is as important as what we eat. How we cook is as important as what we cook, what kitchen equipment are used, and with what feelings food is prepared. All these aspects affect us as human beings.
One simple way to begin to reconnect with the earth is to give thanks before we eat by imaging the food in our bowls as it once was, growing from the earth. In this thanksgiving we begin to acknowledge our inter connectedness with nature on a level far deeper than the intellectual one. Our body is a mystery with millions of cells working in perfect co-ordination. There is no agent on this planet that can turn bread into blood as consistently as does the human body.
Various factors need to be kept in mind while working out the ideal diet for each person based on his/her specific constitutional characteristics. Selection and preparation of ingredients which balance the body and mind play an important role. Utensils for cooking need not be fancy and expansive. Stainless steel pots, pans and serving ware, in sizes you need, are more than adequate. Heatproof glass enamel or ironware can also be used. Aluminum ware of any kind, light, heavy or alloyed, is not recommended.
Whenever possible, let your uncovered pot simmer out excess Vata or air, into the air around it. Slow cooking helps excess Vata escape from foods. This also supports digestion giving rise to less excess “wind” for all types. At the same time, tastes have a greater chance to mingle and integrate as they simmer. Cooking is a transformation of the substances or ingredients with added heat that allows for a combination of flavors, that stimulates our sense of taste. When pressure cooking, leave the pressure cap off until the first burst of steam comes through. Then put the cap on. This will also help disperse excess Vata. Slower cooking methods calm the air more.
Yam -Niyama (Allowable Variance)
Yama and niyama are more than enforced social rules and disciplines. Normally the steps Yama and niyama are described by ayurvedic scholars as rules of conduct for normal behaviour. My idea is to explain these at great length.
How a normal person can in his daily life take conscious action regarding these steps. Along with these we shall also see how pranayama can be done successfully. We presume these have never been rendered in books clearly enough to explain the great thoughts hidden behind those obvious looking eight steps.
Right to ‘Free will’. Let us first see how we use our so-called free will in the trifles of daily life. Why should there be a difference in the various actions of our daily life? Because, we presume we are conscious of the results attendant thereon. The fact that comes out is our ‘consciousness’ in relation to the act. This consciousness can be due to ‘punishment’ administered on man by God or Nature. This is the most primitive but essential step in awareness or consciousness in our daily life made up of many trifles.
The next step in this ‘consciousness’ is our own desire to act in a particular manner even if there be no resultant punishment. When that stage of consciousness or awareness dawns on us and we act out of choice and natural inclination (and not when we are guided or frightened into behaving by the operation of man-made laws or God’s and Nature’s laws) then only do we earn the right to use free will!
Few trifles. Let us examine in brief a few trifles, and our desire to use our free will, or our desire to follow the line of least resistance, will be put to the proof.
In 24 hours-Constructive work / day- A day (including night) is made up of twenty- four hours. How do we spend this day of twenty-four hours? How much really constructive work do we do without either being paid for it or without any motives of praise or recognition?
Weekly off to cell workers- Suppose we owned a large factory and worked in three shifts round the clock. We have to provide a weekly break or a staggered weekly break to all the employees. There would be in addition some public holidays and some paid holidays. We have to give the annual leave and the other leave mandatory under law. Such a factory running to full capacity for three shifts a day at the end of the year declares profits and, for the employees, bonuses whenever permissible. Now our wonderful factory of the stomach works for three shifts, where millions of millions of workers (cells) work in three shifts, round the clock, for three hundred and sixty- five days of the year under conditions worse than in the days of the ancient Romans and their galley slaves and we do not even revolt at this thought.
What should be the working hours for those cells in the stomach? In what manner should they be given rest and holidays and pay and bonuses? Do we care to think? We even laugh at this thought as an ancient Roman captain of the galleys would have laughed if such thoughts had been suggested, by the trade-unionist of our present day, for his galley slaves. Are we at least fair, if not merciful to these workers (our cells) within the stomach?
While eating do we care? Whenever we are eating, do we care whether we are standing/sitting, whether we are silent/talking, whether we eat with pickles or wash down the food with drinks, whether we are arguing, angry, sad, moody or thinking about some pressing problems? Do we care whether we are eating fast/slowly and so on.
Breathing- The other very important function is that of breathing: let us examine this now. All of us breathe. We begin our life with the first breath and with the last breath it is all over on this planet for us. A normal person breathes eighteen to twenty breathes per minute, i.e., in twenty-four hours, a normal person breathes between 25,920 to 28,800 times.
What should be the duration of each breath? What are the cubic contents of each person’s lungs? Is it the same or in the same proportion in all cases? Are lungs like the limbs in proportion to the size of the body or like the eyes or nose, which may be out of proportion in size? What is the ideal number of breaths for each individual or is it the same irrespectively? Should we breathe through the nose only, or often through the mouth also? Is it bad to breathe through the mouth? Should we smoke even if smoking violates the basic principle of breathing through the nose? Do we fill up the lungs properly to give oxygen to each of the millions of million cells in the lungs?
Wondering why? These are commonplace daily functions of eating and breathing and you may wonder why so much attention is being paid to these functions, but in these trifles, we buildup unconsciously a mental make-up or we create a certain mental pattern, based on which unconsciously we weave other mental patterns for more serious consequences. Thus, slowly we build up that unseen but much respected web, we call ‘character’.
Tolerance factor in allowable variance- We have compared the stomach and the lungs to factories and our body cells to workers. If we take this analogy a little further and bring in the very important factor of tolerances, i.e., the allowable variance in the manufacturing processes in the factory, we realize that there are very strict tolerances in all processes in factories, and beyond a certain tolerance (which is very minute) we cannot go! In some cases there is no tolerance at all! In the same manner, we should also lay down certain reasonable tolerances for the important functions of eating, breathing, sleeping, thinking and sex. However, with the passage of time our mental tolerances go beyond a limit, which is not safe. That is why, we observe that with age, our frailties and weaknesses grow, and what was possible to control in youth, becomes increasingly difficult in middle age and becomes impossible in old age, until with repeated failures we willingly give up even trying?
A few Morsels of food and a thought for charity
We all know that blood circulates and replaces the worn-out dead cells and tissues. Worn out and dead tissues are a result of expenditure of energy of that part of the body. Continuously hundreds and thousands of cells die all over the body and hundreds and thousands are replaced all over the body.
In our body, all cells similar to that of the human race split up into nations, groups, camps, into big and small groups based on similarities. It has in remote places traditional or “old school tribes just as we have in Central Africa and Australia and such other places. Even among the civilized class, there are groups of cells that form the criminal group, as also the disabled like the blind, the mute, the deaf, i.e. (with permanent disabilities), the leprous, the cancerous, the mutilated, the physically sick, the mentally sick, the emotionally sick, and so on.
As in our structured world today may be seen as the cells which are normal (slightly better than the common masses) are too busy with their own trifles and their own routine activities to care a hoot for any higher code or purpose. This is the sorry state of affairs, this is an exact picture of the inside contents of a human being.
Greatest social service
If you have a flair for social work and have time and energy, be prepared to render your utmost attention; for it would not only be a social service rendered but a duty fulfilled. If by correcting your inside, you cure one human being, i.e. yourself. Consider it as you have rendered indirectly social service to the world, to God and to nature and you will be suitably rewarded. We would repeat that your first duty demands that you put straight this vast world of cells within you. This is a sacred duty. Only those who have been able to render this service within them, has been able to render service to mankind.