Western medicine and science are only just starting to catch on to the benefits of preventative healthcare rather than focusing on treating symptoms as problems arise. Exercise, meditation, eating the right foods and natural stress management techniques have all been gaining traction in recent times to cope with health issues such as obesity, depression, anxiety and heart disease that are soaring thanks to modern lifestyles. However, Ayurveda, an ancient Indian holistic healthcare system, has touted these same benefits for thousands of years.
While its practices are relatively unknown in New Zealand, it’s such a recognised science in India that you can do a Ph.D in Ayurvedic Medicine. The concepts may seem relatively out there to the average Kiwi as it talks about doshas and universal signals, but translate them to Western science and they actually make a lot of sense. Things we are just starting to recognise like the FODMAP diet have been key concepts in Ayurveda for a long time (i.e. just because a food is healthy doesn’t mean it’s healthy for everyone; individuals digest and process different foods uniquely).
I learned a little about Ayurveda during my 200-hr yoga course last year as it was a subject for one semester. However, I recently signed up for a free two week online Ayurveda course to find out more about it (if you’re keen to do the same course it’s Sister Science: Adventure Beyond Asana. From what I’ve seen so far it’s amazingly informative, comes with Facebook forum support from the tutors and is definitely free with no strings attached as part of a ‘pay it forward’ intitiative).
In the Western world we tend to think of yoga as a standalone physical activity – almost like a sport. It’s actually part of a greater philosophy or way of life that nurtures your body, mind, and spirit (regardless of your religion or your beliefs), and goes hand-in-hand with Ayurveda which is the scientific side of the equation.
This holistic medical system is highly individualised as it recognises every person is unique, but there are practices anyone can do for better health and wellness. Give these a go and try to perform them with good intention, mindfulness and belief in your actions.
Here are seven simple Ayurvedic practices that you can add to your daily wellness routine.
1. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning
Did you know that just the act of thinking about eating or drinking helps start the body’s digestive processes? That’s how connected our mind and body are.
Drinking a glass of water at the start of your day takes this a step further, helping to reset and kickstart your body’s digestive system so it’s fresh for your day’s actions. You’ve probably heard of people adding lemon juice or cayenne pepper and other weird stuff. Not necessary, just drink a glass of plain lukewarm or room temperature tap water.
2. Practice gratitude
This is also a good thing to do in the morning as it sets intentions for the day ahead. Not going to lie I used to think gratitude journals were a crock, but whether you choose to write down the things you’re grateful for, verbalise them out loud to someone or just think about them (a.k.a. meditation), it still puts your mind in a positive space and helps to break negative thought patterns.
If you’re really struggling, think small. Be grateful you have a roof over your head. Be grateful you have clean, running water. Be grateful you have an internet connection to be able to read this. Practice gratefulness every day like you’re learning the piano and it will get easier.
One of my favourite yoga teachers once gave our class a homework task to tell a loved one at home why we appreciate them. I now tell my husband why I appreciate him all the time (especially on the days when I lose my sh*t at him for some reason to try and neutralise my own anger!) and guess what – he started doing the same thing in return. If you’re feeling unappreciated, you might find verbalising your appreciation out loud to others may come back to you.
3. Self massage
Massage encourages good circulation, hydrates the skin, and is a practice that helps foster self love and acceptance.
Traditionally you would use warm oil (coconut, sesame, jojoba or similar) and gently rub it into your skin. If oil’s not your thing, you can still get benefits from using a natural moisturiser. Try it just before bedtime to help encourage better sleep.
4. Exercise daily
Exercising on a regular basis gets talked about a lot in modern times, but Ayurveda and Yoga recognise the need to listen to your body above all else. If you’re feeling exhausted, pushing yourself through a full-on bootcamp workout after a long day at the office will leave your nervous system on edge and your body depleted (even if the endorphins make you feel great for the next hour or so).
Daily exercise is important to keep your body healthy, but there are many different ways to do it to keep you motivated in the long term and prevent you from reaching burnout. Gentle stretching, a brisk outdoor walk or kicking a ball around with your kids may be a better option on some days to help keep exercise fun and interesting.
Ideally you would do this at the beginning and end of your day for however long you feel is right. I’m pretty appalling at meditation at the best of times; if you struggle like I do, find a phone app or YouTube clip with guided meditation tracks. There are many different types with different intentions, but all are designed to help clear your head and restore a sense of calmness and balance to your mind.
A good place to begin if you can’t stop thinking is to just focus on your physical breathing; take 5-10 deep inhales and exhales through your nose focusing on the qualities of that breath. How does it feel going through your nose? Warm? Cool? How does your spine move when you breathe? Does your breath travel into your chest? Widen and lift your ribcage? Lift your belly? Focusing on these physical aspects can help slow your mind and takes focus away from everything else going on in your life.
Breathing may seem like a simple task but many of us (including myself) constantly take shallow breaths and just breathe into the top part of our lungs. Spend a little time each day focusing on taking full, deep breaths that fill your entire lungs from the base of your throat right down towards your navel. This helps train the supporting muscles in your back, around your ribcage and diaphragm to ‘breathe’ better as well, which helps with energy levels and posture too.
Short, shallow breathing can trick our body into thinking it’s more stressed out than it actually is, so this is a great way of introducing a sense of calmness and encouraging stronger lungs to promote oxygen flow through the body.
7. Find your routine
Early to bed, early to rise, and meal times at set times of day. While realistically this can’t happen all the time, it’s good if you can get as close to a routine as possible with your key daily activities.
All of nature runs on routines; seasons, tides, day/night cycles… We shouldn’t be an exception to this rule but we interfere with it by having bright lights in our houses at night, blackout curtains to help us sleep at different times of day, and meal times affected by the activities on our timetable.
Creating a routine can help provide a sense of balance, plus our bodies tend to respond well to them. Think about little babies; when we are trying to teach them to sleep at night it usually helps to do a full bed time routine with them – a bath, pyjamas, story time. As grownups we often lose these cues which can actually make a lot of difference to feeling balanced.
Image / Pixabay