Our everyday actions, speech and thought affect our well-being says Ayurveda practitioner and psychiatrist, DR ANITA DUGGAL
How we behave affects our health and wellbeing as does our diet, lifestyle, environment and seasonal changes. We also know that mental stress, positive or negative attitudes also affects health and recovery. This is equally true of our conduct and behaviour. Modern medicine is relatively silent on this subject. Modern science and morality are discrete and separate domains; science steers clear from moralising, leaving this to religion to guide us on how we should live and behave. In modern society, religion has become a faint and distant voice on the margins of society, often regarded as irrelevant.
What is Sadvritta?
The ancient science of Ayurveda however tackles every area of human experience on how it impacts human health and happiness; everything is interconnected, and associated with qualities that ultimately exert their effect. Ayurveda looks in detail at what constitutes wholesome and ethical conduct from the point of view of health and wellbeing; this is known as Sadvritta. This code of conduct pertains to the use of the body, speech and mind. The underlying principles are timeless and universal, not specific to any particular culture.
Why is such a code necessary? It helps in preventing disorders which occur through the incorrect use of our senses, our intellect and judgement. The senses should not be overused, underused or used in a distorted way. For example, the overuse of the sense of sight might be through sitting in front of screens all day or reading in low lighting; underuse of the sense of sight would imply spending too much time in the dark and abnormal use would be when one uses eyes to watch disturbing images.
Likewise, for the use of the intellect. These are considered causative factors in disease development. These rules guide and steer us. Let us touch on the principles in turn. The rules themselves are too detailed to be given here.
— Ayurveda emphasises cleanliness of body, clothing and environment. Cleanliness and purity are Sattvic properties that enhance feelings of peace and wellbeing. We know how unpleasant it feels when we feel unclean or when we are in a dirty, messy environment. The mind feels unsettled and restless in a chaotic environment. Lack of cleanliness increases tamas, the property of dullness and inertia in the mind.
—Guidance is given on the protection of the body from the elements which can have a disturbing effect on the doshas (functional energies). One is advised not to stress the body by overexercise or by using it in an unnatural way. We should not overburden the sense organs; through our mind, we should exert some control on their use.
—Ayurveda stresses how regularity in daily regimens such as sleep/wake cycles, mealtimes and so on are important. It dvises against excess sleep or night vigils. The body/mind thrives on regularity and prepares itself in anticipation for sleep or the meal to come. This enhances digestion and our metabolic processes. Irregularity leads to disturbances in the digestive processes (Agni) and pushes the Doshas out of balance.
—Ayurveda states that our actions should not harm or injure another as this will inevitably disturb the mind and impacts the body. We know how wrong actions affect wellbeing making the mind restless.
—Actions such as stealing, and illicit sexual relations are considered harmful as these create disturbance in the mind. Wrong action creates guilt and veiling of the mind which disturbs peace and obstructs the experience of joy.
—Actions which are helpful to others such as service to parents, elders and those in need, increase humility, sense of respect and loving duty. Selfless service of others gives us joy and expands the spirit. These actions are encouraged.
—Our speech should be courteous and respectful. We should speak softly and pleasantly. Consider what others might want to hear rather than simply expressing our opinions loudly which only serve our own ego.
—Always speak the truth. This gives clarity, peace of mind and strength to the spirit. When we do not speak the truth, as it is, we are disturbed.
—We should not speak harshly or injure others through our speech. We should not lie, gossip, criticise or quarrel with others or disclose secrets. All this creates dis-ease in the mind, disturbs and pollutes it as also the minds of others participating in such conversations. This affects the whole being as mind/body are interrelated and ultimately leads to disease.
—The manner and tone of speaking impacts the mind. So, one is advised not to speak with too high pitch, low or a deranged voice or to speak too fast or too slowly and so on.
—We should exercise self-control over our passions and exert a certain self-discipline to keep the mind in check. Allowing the mind to become our master and we the slave, will pull us hither and thither according to its endless desires and whims.
—Patience, forbearance and courage are extolled as virtues giving us the strength to endure whatever life throws at us without losing our balance, and to accept success and failure, gain and loss without excitement or depression. Maintaining equanimity of mind and remaining cheerful in all situations is encouraged.
—Avoid jealousy as this robs us of peace of mind, disturbs us and pollutes our relationships.
—Humility and a respectful attitude are health-promoting.
—We are advised not to act under anger or excitement as these inevitably affect our judgement and lead to wrong actions which further disturbs our minds.
When we study in detail what has been written by our ancient Vaidyas, we can understand their wisdom and see how all that we do, say and think has a potential impact on the body/mind. We know from personal experience that it does. When anything wrong becomes a habitual way of being, speaking and thinking, the effect is cumulative, and creates disease.
No domain of human experience should be neglected in the holistic understanding of human health and happiness. The way we behave with others, how we speak and the nature of our thinking all exert an important influence. Hence the stress in Ayurveda to exert self-control and discipline. These may sound old-fashioned in the modern world which values freedom of expression but this self-control is what allows us greater freedom from the demands of the mind. Thus, we are able to experience more of what is our true nature when the mind is not disturbed or clouded and it is this that gives us greater freedom to become masters of our mind!
Dr Anita Duggal is a retired psychiatrist resident in the UK. She studied Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science and was awarded an MSc with distinction in 1992. She has also studied Ayurveda in the UK as well as in India and was awarded an MSc in Ayurvedic Medicine from Middlesex University in the UK in 2007. Although she has worked mainly within mainstream Mental Health Services, she has always maintained a strong interest in Ayurveda and its approach to mental health.
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