Busy, hectic and sensory overload are a few key defining themes of the urban lifestyle. Our senses are heavily influenced by constant stimulation from computers, cell phones, videogames, television, radio and other electronic devices. These gadgets are having real impacts in our daily lives, especially for children and young adults. Besides these stimuli, the pace at which we live is very demanding on the nervous system and leaves us with no time to relax or eat food properly. The stressors of modern life, including poor nutrition, lifestyle and departure from our natural rhythms have overwhelmed our coping mechanisms. When Science turned away from Spirit, its mission dramatically changed. Instead of trying to understand the “natural order” so that human beings can live in harmony with that order, modern science embarked one goal of control and domination of nature. The technology that has resulted from pursuing this philosophy has brought human civilization to the brink of spontaneous combustion by disrupting the web of nature (Lipton, 156). The fundamental principle of Achar Rasayana “behavioral medicine” in Ayurveda is how to adopt right choices in order to live with ease and in harmony with nature.
As a society, we have become increasingly disconnected from our True Self. We are rapidly moving away from our essence, which is “mother nature.” The signs and symptoms of an over- achieving, competitive society are reflected in our collective health and well-being. Stress is a major factor in disease and has been linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, inflammation, digestive disorders, hormonal disorders, insomnia, depression, obesity etc. A striking recent discovery about stress is that it depletes the immune system of the body (Chopra, Creating Health, 60). Connecting with “mother nature” we can relieve our stress and return to balance. The five elements which are collectively present in all of nature, are likewise present within the body. These elements are ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Ether represents space in our blood vessels, organs, and bones. Air is the constant circulation of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our entire body by means of inhalation and exhalation. Fire is the metabolism of food into nutrients, tissue metabolism or cellular intelligence which helps keep healthy tissues and shed unwanted ones, as well as the digestion of thoughts and emotions. Two thirds of our body mass is water in the form of plasma, blood, and waste products. Earth is the stability, muscles and bones in our body. When we connect to these elements in nature, it helps us to arrive at a deeper understanding of ourselves. In the past, we did not have all of the mental stimuli present today, and consequently people spent more time with one another and in nature. Despite scientific breakthroughs in medicine and technology, the modern day world is plagued by disease and people are increasingly dependent on medications to relieve the pain and suffering of daily life. To continue evolving and progressing in life, you must make the right choices for yourself, day after day, minute after minute. The choices are endless because the challenges of life are endless, so to avoid all the wrong choices seems impossible. But Ayurveda says that in fact it is easy – once you begin to listen to your own deepest nature (Chopra, Perfect Health, 192).
A brief history of Ayurveda and its approach to health and views of modern science
Aurveda is considered one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world. It was developed in India during the period 2000-1000 B.C. The sages, through direct observation, experience and communication with nature, developed a unique system known as Ayurveda, “the science of life.” Ayu=life and Veda = knowledge or wisdom. The “Vedas,” an ancient text, describes Ayurveda as a system to promote the mind, body and consciousness. This holistic approach to life is four dimensional: physical, mental, emotional, and sensorial.
The three goals of Ayurveda are to preserve the health of a healthy person, to prevent disease, and to promote longevity, improving the quality of life in mind, body, and spirit. Sushruta, one of the great scholars of Ayurveda, described the essence of Ayurveda as “Sama doshah samaˉgnis’ ca sama dhaˉtu malakriya prassannaˉthemendriya manaˉh swastha ityabhidhiyate” (Susruta Samhita 15:38), meaning health is the state of equilibrium of doshas (biological humor), agnis (transformative physiological system functions), dhatus (tissues and organs), and malas (metabolic byproducts), along with sensorial, mental, and spiritual well being. As stated in the preamble to its charter, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as the following: “ Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” < “http://www.who.int/en/” http://www.who.int/en/>.
Despite the innovations of modern medicine and scientific breakthroughs for dealing with current threats and epidemics, the overall wellbeing of the population in the United States and the broader world is decreasing. Modern medicine primarily focuses on treating the disease and not on prevention, while Ayurveda goes to the heart of the problem treating the cause to remove or prevent the disease. When dealing with an illness or an imbalance, treating the symptoms and physical body alone will not cure the problem. The heart of the problem goes beyond the symptoms or results seen in a scientific lab test. Ayurveda effectively treats chronic conditions by removing the cause, which is often related to the habitual patterns of our diet and lifestyle.
This approach offers a solution to the crisis of unaffordable and unsustainable healthcare costs and unmanageable chronic diseases, such as obesity and overweight. “Closer examination of the epidemic of obesity and overweight in recent decades reveals that the change in our diet, the polluted environment, and lives lacking physical activity, love, and intimacy are the roots of this epidemic and high incidence of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions that are consuming more than 75% of U.S. health dollars. Recent investigations in healthy and long-living (100 years and beyond) societies of the world reveal that they have diet, lifestyle, and environment remaining essentially unchanged over a millennia and conducive to good health and lifespan” (Cox and Guyer 2004). According to the data from the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. life expectancy rose slightly from 78 years to 78.2 years between 2008 and 2009 < HYPERLINK “http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lifexpec.htm” http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lifexpec.htm>. This may be indicitave of the progress of modern medicine, “However, the progress and phenomenal success in the past 150 years or so in the field of medicine, based on a Cartesian/Newtonian biomedical model in terms of communicable diseases, emergency medicine, and technology-driven surgical and other procedures, has practically obliterated the importance of food and lifestyle on one’s health. Our fast-paced, stressful lives, processed convenience foods, and over-reliance on drugs and the high-tech procedure-driven medical system of “disease care” are simply unable to deal with the chronic disease crisis and ever-increasing healthcare costs” (Patel 1998). In addition, there is still a considerable deficiency in our knowledge with regard to psychosomatic and stress disorders, which are rapidly becoming prevalent. As a result, it has not been possible to prevent the growing incidences of such disorders nor has it been possible to control them in an effective manner. In fact, some of these disorders are becoming the main “killers” in modern society. Therefore, there is an obvious need to study these disorders from a different angle, from both the preventive and curative points of view, by using an integrated approach as described in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda’s first line of defense in both prevention and cure was most simply stated as “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” (Hippocrates). The world’s wisdom on health is captured by this prophetic pronouncement from the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates. This statement on food reflects the critical importance of food and lifestyle on one’s health. Àhaˉrasambhavam vastu rogaˉs’ caˉhaˉrasambhavaˉh, Hitaˉhitavis’ esaˉs’ ca vis’ esah sukhaduhkhayoh (Caraka Samhita Sutrasthana 28:45, Chapter 1; Susruta Samhita, Chapters 27–30). The physical body is the product of diet and sensory inputs (i.e. lifestyle). Similarly, all ailments are the product of faulty diet and lifestyle and health is the result of right diet and lifestyle. This concept is the basis of health promotion and disease prevention.