So fun to look at Ayurveda in context: India!
It’s not my first time here, but I can’t help but be wow-ed again and again. Everything is a ceremony. The cows in the street, the clanging of bells at dawn, midday, dusk. Why, even the treatment table for oil massage is shaped like a yoni in the temple. You can see that Ayurveda recognizes the interconnection of all things. It gently teaches us that the mental constructs we hold affect our health the just as food we eat.
In fact, when Vagbhata, author of the classical text I’m studying, wants to remind us to eat right and take care of ourselves, he tells us poetically so as to emphasize the point. He tells us to imbibe of only that which is pathya — meaning, that which is healthy, or ‘suitable’–and avoid apathya– unhealthy stimuli. Just prior to this, he’s been talking about food and drinks, so the reader knows that’s what he means. Still, Vagbhata chooses these beautiful words, ‘pathya’ and ‘apathya’, when he could have simply said ‘foodstuffs’.
With two words, Vagbhata broadens our idea of what we consume, taking it beyond the gross level. In asking that our choices be ‘suitable’, he gives us a picture of nourishment beyond a rulebook of right and wrong. Instead, he wants us to contemplate our individual needs, the season, place, even our personal preference. He wants us to investigate what we eat with our minds and hearts as well as our tongues, but he graciously leaves it up to us to draw the lines outward from there without inserting a limited dogma.
It is as if he joyously proclaims: Do healthy stuff! Do it your own way! (Just, y’know, listen honestly and carefully to nature an’ all.)
What are we eating? At home, at work? What are we eating for pleasure? Television, radio, the book on our nightstand are consumed. Relationships, power dynamics, the feeling of the dinnertime conversation, all must be digested. Every sensory stimulation in our daily routine makes up our diet, our minds, our lives.
Ayurveda asks us to live in accord with Nature and points us toward self-reflection, but it does so in the most spacious and gentle way. It shows us a picture of personal health integrating activities body, speech and mind, while its technical theory offers a seamless connection between practical application and higher philosophy. In this way, Ayurveda is truly holistic, serving anyone who recognizes their basic identity as a part of the web of life.