No we are not talking about your bank account – this article introduces a simple, yet powerful system of medicine from ancient India, and explains how it can be used to improve your health and well-being.
Before continuing, it is important to point out that from an ancient Indian perspective, every individual is seen as a reflection of the entire universe: there is no distinction between the internal and external world. This makes an enormous difference to the healing practice: when an individual sees the outside environment as part of his or herself, they will understand how adapting to the environment or simply changing it can be part of the healing process. For example if a person is experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety, instead of trying to change themselves to cope with the situation, a change of job, lifestyle, or place of residence may provide a more permanent solution.
An amusing illustration of this, is the time the guru Papaji asked a number of spiritual teachers what a student should do when he has construction work going on in his building all day, making it difficult to meditate. Apparently the teachers came up with many elaborate techniques the man could use, whereas Papaji said he would just advise him to move house! In the West it is very common for people not to take the environment into account, instead viewing themselves as defective or unwell; in the Ayurvedic tradition this would be impossible as the person and environment are one and the same. The way that we build our relationship with the external world will determine the quality of the harmony within: what is going on “outside” of us is essential to what is going on “inside”.
The system of Ayurveda (literally translated to mean “knowledge of life”) views all reality as being made up of five elements: Space, Air, Earth, Fire, and Water.
If these concepts seem overly simplistic given what modern science has revealed about the makeup of the material world, they can still be extremely powerful is viewed simply in the metaphorical sense.
Space is required for the other elements to exist within. Air is essential for our survival: we can go for weeks without food, days without water, but we die in a matter of minutes if we are unable to breathe -the importance of breath in the ancient Indian tradition cannot be overstated. Fire represents transformation (an analogy with modern science being the transformations that are constantly occurring within the cells and organs of our body). Earth is the grounding force, our foundation. Water again is essential for our survival – and we now know our bodies are composed of 70% water!
So how can these concepts be used to heal somebody? Well take the example of a person who is depressed: they feel heavy, like they are being pulled down. Often you can see this literally in the way they sit or stand. In Ayurveda this would indicate an excess of Earth: the antidote may be to exercise more, eat less heavy food, or perform practices such as Yogic postures designed lighten the body and mind.
A person with in imbalance in the air element would typically be ungrounded, often lost in the realm of imagination: absent-minded and forgetful – maybe prone to insomnia and anxiety or forgetting to eat. Here the solution would be to strengthen the earth element, through grounding exercises such as certain Yogic postures, changes in diet or specific Ayuravedic herbal medicines.
Fiery people are prone to anger and hostility: here often a change in attitude would be helpful – encouraging the person to slow down and not push themselves, or even a cold shower every now and again! Complicated spiritual practices are not always required: it is really just a common sense approach.
Water is supposed to flow freely, however some people may become bloated and swollen. Emotionally, a blockage in the water element may represent repression, or a difficulty in letting go of painful past experiences. Treatment in this area may involve working through emotional problems or dietary changes, maybe even a period of fasting.
Often you will find the person will be doing the exact opposite of what they should be to restore: the depressed person may be sleeping all day and not exercising – so the Ayuravedic healer would prescribe a complete change in direction. The idea is that we should not go against our nature, which tends toward a state of balance.
An advantage of this system is that it empowers the individual to take charge of their own recovery rather than placing the power in the hands of the doctor. A genuine Ayuravedic healer would teach the person how to heal themselves, promoting responsibility over dependency.
Although this is such a simple, common sense approach – it is difficult for many of us because we simply do not take the time to check up on ourselves and see how we feel. A person may wake up, grab their phone, and eat breakfast while checking their emails and social media accounts, head to work on a crowded train worrying about an important meeting, work all day then head to the pub for a few beers before heading home for television and bed. It is even harder for a person with family as well as work responsibilities to juggle. When do we get the time to ask ourselves if we feel balanced?
The good news is that we don’t need to take hours out of the day to check up on ourselves – if we cultivate a mindful attitude and an awareness that we are part of the natural world, not something cut off and separate, we will become more aware of any imbalances we may hold. Booking a session with an Ayurvedic healer may be of great benefit for all manner of aliments and may offer a very fresh perspective on whatever problems you may have if you have not experienced this type of treatment before. You do not have to travel to India, Ayurvedic clinics, and practitioners can be found all over the world.
Even without the help of a professional, becoming more aware of your feelings, and using the concept of the elements can provide a common sense approach to healing yourself. Turning inward in itself is vital to anybody wishing to find harmony and become their optimal self.
Often the solution is even simpler still, just take a step back and let our energies balance. In Ayurveda, it is understood that we have a naturally tendency to move toward a state of balance. Often our attempts to interfere with the natural order of things are what get us into trouble, so sometimes it is best to simply let nature take its course.
R.D. Laing, the famous psychiatrist and social commenter, who was an outspoken critic of the interference caused by modern psychiatric practice wrote:
“There is a great deal of pain in life and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain.”
By having a deeper understanding of ourselves we will better understand what causes us pain, and be able to take appropriate steps – rather than using avoidance methods that make our situation worse.
So take a moment to check up on yourself. Do you feel balanced? If not, what can you do to facilitate change?