The primary aims of Ayurveda are to maintain health, prevent disease, cure disease, promote longevity and to attain inner peace. Ayurveda offers diet, lifestyle and herbal therapies to bring balance and ease into our lives. We begin on the physical level and move towards the more subtle levels. In the Yoga Tradition the physical asanas (yoga poses) and pranayama (breath work) are practiced as a way to open the body and focus the mind to prepare for meditation. By quieting the mind we open ourselves up to experiencing the True Self. There are many Sanskrit words to describe this experience… Samadhi (bliss), Sukha (happiness), and Swastha (to abide in the True Self). This is a common thread in the Science of Ayurveda and Yoga, as well as many other spiritual paths. Through self-knowledge, acceptance, and awareness we can experience Moksha (liberation) from physical, mental and emotional suffering. As stated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, “ Future suffering is to be avoided.”
Ayurveda offers us common sense approaches to living a healthier life with less suffering, but sometimes making these changes is easier said than done. But why is it so difficult at times to do what we know is right? What we know is best for us? Yoga has a word for this too- Samskara. Samskaras are impressions of the mind. All actions and experiences leave their mark on the mind. These “scars” are stored deep in the psyche and can be understood as our latent tendancies toward pleasure and pain. Positive and negative samskaras are memories, mental and emotional patterns, repetitive behaviors, and deeply ingrained habits. Repeating samskaras reinforces their strength- creating grooves in the brain called neuropathways that are easier to follow and more difficult to resist.
Modern science now recognizes that our thoughts directly affect our biochemistry. Negative thoughts release cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) into the body which can decrease immunity and weaken the digestive system (remember Ayurveda sees “agni” as the foundation of good health). This adversely affects our health when experienced long term as a chronic state of being in the “fight or flight” response of the Sympathetic Nervous System. Being perpetually stressed out contributes to anxiety and depression and leads us to make poor choices in all aspects of our lives.
Between samskaras and being stressed, sometimes it can be a struggle to create healthier patterns for ourselves- eating healthy foods, exercising, practicing yoga, meditating, spending time in Nature, nurturing loving relationships. Engaging in these activities helps to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System which is the “rest and digest” mode where healing and rejuvenation can occur. Consider this struggle as a part of the human condition. The good news is, as my teacher Vishnu Dass says,”The key to a healthy lifestyle ultimately lies within each person.”
By practicing awareness and redirecting our thoughts we can use the power of positive thinking to heal ourselves. When we feel happy and relaxed all the cells in our body feel happy and revitalized. It takes time and effort to make this shift, to create new pathways in the brain and new habits in our daily life. Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of yoga, mediation and mantra (like positive affirmations) to bring us closer to a state of balance. By finding stillness through these practices we can experience an equanimous state of mind. It is in this state of calm awareness that we can set the intention of making positive changes, releasing old samskaras, and adopting a healthier way of living.
This intention is called a Sankalpa- “a call to awakening.” Once we have made our sankalpa we need Tapas, the discipline to follow through. There is a certain comfort in the familiar, repeating old habits even when they are destructive and unhealthy. By having awareness we have the opportunity at each moment to choose to strengthen our sankalpas and steer clear of negative samskaras. This light of awareness comes from connecting to our True Self. By cultivating this practice of being present in the moment we open ourselves up to new possibilities. We release fear and choose love. We can commit to making the changes we truly desire to make and to loving ourselves enough to follow through. Today is the day to begin a healthier, happier life.
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not yet come. We only have today. Let us begin.”
– Mother Theresa