The 3 Tenets to Good HealthJan 25, 2024
There are a lot out there on how to achieve good health. This includes studies on sleep, meditation, exercise, and healthy eating. Yet, I’ve seen these not be enough. My most recent blog honed in on the #1 overlooked practice for good mental health, which if you focus on nothing else, will get you there much of the way. Today, I want to share with you what Ayurveda has to say.
Native to India, Ayurveda, which means Science of Life, is one of the oldest forms of whole-body healing systems. What I love about Ayurveda is that it focuses on just a few basic principles that help you thrive, and because this modality is holistic, it means that healing and strengthening one aspect of yourself positively impacts your whole self. These tenets ask you to pay attention and understand yourself. Ayurveda is a practice of self-awareness, of realizing what makes you whole, and what depletes you, to find your prescription in this way rather than swallow a pill to mask your discomforts and plow through your day, only to deplete you further over time, breaking you down. Its guidelines help you make decisions that bring peace and wholeness. They bring the right balance to all of the above according to your individual make-up and season, allowing for changes to your practices as your body and your life changes. Remember that there is not one solution meant for every one of us across the board, or for an individual’s entire lifetime. Times change, needs change, and so must we in our self-care to support a healthier, more joyful life.
Here are Ayurveda’s three ingredients to good health:
Balanced mind-body constitution
Balanced Mind-Body Constitution
Knowing how you were baked, and what’s going on with you today, is essential to knowing if naps work for you, what type of exercise is best for you, what you’re best to take on right now, where you’re better off partnering with others, and what foods give you energy and clarity. One person’s medicine is another person’s toxin. If you’ve ever experienced certain foods that worked for you stop working for you, it’s because your mind-body composition and needs have changed.
When you drive a car, you attend to the wheel to keep the car on the road, amongst other things. If you stop making slight adjustments to the wheel, you may wind up in a ditch, or worse. This is self-care: to pay attention to your mind and body and make adjustments when appropriate to stay on track. You can ask yourself if your current decision or action makes you feel empowered and energized or depleted and overwhelmed. Remember that being afraid of something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s depleting. Check in with yourself.
Here are some things that impact your energy and sense of wellness:
The foods you eat and everything else you consume (sounds, television, conversation)
The seasons and climate
Your location (city, beach, temple, bar, natural light, no light…)
Your age, personal season and chapter of life
Your current activity levels
Your current body type
The quality of your decisions
I can go into the different doshas, or mind-body constitutions, to assist with more guidelines (which I may on another day), but really, the key is in practicing self-awareness by connecting the impact of each of these areas on how you feel: more depleted or whole. If you take a moment to be fully present with yourself, you will sense the impact almost immediately after eating, taking something in, putting something out, making a decision, or taking action. Self awareness simply requires stopping, being still for a moment, and checking in. It’s the opposite of justifying, defending, grading, and reacting. I’ve heard many say that they don’t have time to stop to do this. Stopping to check in - which is different from second guessing - will not only save you days, months, and years through right action, they will uplevel the quality of your life. It’s worth the time.
Your ability to discern what is good and true for you, and what is not, is everything. Discernment isn’t necessarily logic-based. It’s listening to something much deeper than that. It comes from the ability to trust yourself and be self referred rather than externally referred. Self referral means to look inward to make decisions based on your deepest values, priorities, and desires. External referral means to look outward and make decisions based on what others might think of you, whether or not this is going to make waves, or if others are doing this.
Self referral allows for the truest of connections, healing, wholeness, service, and abundance. External referral leads to a sense of isolation even amongst friends, depletion, dis-ease, a sense of purposelessness, and an unquenchable well of not enough.
Self referral leads to equanimity. External referral leads to vulnerability to the direction of the winds.
What we’ve all learned about stress and anger is to first stop, take a breath, and count to ten. What yoga teaches is stillness, which is to stop, be still, look in. This is to say, remember who you are and take action (or non-action) from that place of self-referral. Caveat: just as you wouldn’t wait for a cavity to start brushing daily, don’t wait to be desperately depleted, overwhelmed, and sick to stop and go inward. Get preemptive and live on your terms, it’s the best way to live. Committing to daily practice, no matter how chaotic or busy your life becomes, is an important part of sharpening your discerning mind.
Once you’ve stopped to really think about this, this one seems too obvious: bliss (joy) must exist to have good health. How can it not?
I once worked with a macrobiotic chef who said no sugar. Then I started working with an Ayurvedic chef, and I remember telling her how much I loved whipped cream (still do). To that she said, We’ll make that next week. To which I said, I can have whipped cream??! And she said, Yes, you can have whipped cream!
While you can enjoy whipped cream without sugar, she said sweet is one of the five tastes (the others being: salty, pungent, astringent, bitter) and all of them are necessary to maintain balance, to be satisfied, and to have good health. We’re not talking about candy bars and highly processed junk food. What I’m saying is that sugar in itself isn’t evil. Not in food. Not in allowing Joy in your life.
As an Asian growing up in my generation, I was taught that happiness is superfluous. I believed that if I was enjoying myself I was wasting time, being selfish and unproductive. It was a difficult one to unlearn. There was nothing to celebrate, just more obligation to attend to, more mistakes to correct, only non-fiction books to read. I remember hating my life. Hence depression, anxiety, and loads of self-criticism.
What is Bliss? It’s a state of mind that is accessible now and to everyone. It feels like belonging, connection, innocence, lightness, ease, awareness, clarity, energy, sincerity, and response-ability.
To be clear, a person who can access bliss can more easily access other emotions than one who cannot. They feel sadness and weep when they see something unjust or experience loss. They feel anger and take a moment to temper their reactivity and then seek accountability (not revenge). They laugh when something is funny or delightful. They allow themselves to experience life sincerely and walk away from things that would cause them to see things through the lens of fear. They don’t put their head in the sand. They’re living in actual reality. Here’s the distinction: fear isn’t reality; this one is the illusion. Love is reality. We continually seek peace, purpose, connection, good health, and justice not because of fear but because of love. Fear is what gets in the way, and by focusing on it, we think it’s real, and from it, we become suspicious of ourselves and others. We insulate ourselves in the familiar creating deeper chasms between us and them. We try desperately to educate others on the relevance of our own fears and think we are being helpful (it most certainly is not).
Bliss is letting go of all of that and seeing the beauty in a crisis of people coming together as they cry and take action. Bliss is letting your body attend to sadness and anger so you can be present to it and focus on what’s possible rather than impossible. It’s seeing the strength displayed in every moment, and the crystallization of values and desires emerging through life’s ups and downs.
Bliss comes from discernment, a balanced mind-body constitution, sincerity, laughter, and paying attention to those things you want to grow. Because what you pay attention to grows, always. Bliss comes from knowing and honoring yourself, which makes you more capable of knowing and honoring others. It comes from being still and tapping in, which takes energy and functionality, which takes personal power and value, which feeds on itself. It is the ultimate sign of good health.