By Bhaswati Bhattacharya
How do you create an environment that teaches exactly how to master the basics of being human, how to resolve problems in health, relationships, and getting around in the world? Reconnect to ancient Bharatiya wisdom and traditions without blinding adopting any customs or rituals.
The basics of movement, nourishment, focus, exploration, play, rest and joy are EXACTLY what ancient Bharatiya wisdom and traditions gifted us. The 64 kalaas (the arts) and the 14 vidyas (science/logic) along with ayurveda for self-care and adhyatmika were the biggest wealth kept by grand families. They produced sons and daughters who comfortably took positions in society, to contribute and uplift their communities.
To reconstruct the skills of mastery for being human — destroyed over the past centuries by the British holocaust on Bharat, the first priority is for all members of a family to develop manōbala. Exercises exist to help each member grow to his/her aptitude by developing the 5 senses and keeping them connected to body, heart, and mind. Manōbala is mental and emotional resilience, strength (bala) of the mind (mano).
The first two practices that develop manobala are ektvam and sukshmatvam. Ektvam is the wisdom to do one task at a time; it is the opposite of multi-tasking. Ektvam rebalances turbulent tides in the body, understood as vitiated vata in ayurveda. People who can learn to resist the impulse to multi-task, especially with their early morning routine, will find they are more calm, peaceful and organized. They will be able to think more clearly over time, noticing that their decision-making is cleaner and on target.
Sukshmatvam is the power to move into the fine spaces of being that exist between particles. In practice, this occurs when the mind focuses on only one thing. We move into an intense focus, where we lose a sense of time and space and focus only on the action or task we are doing. This brings intense training and strength to the mind because it is undiluted. This power develops strength and confidence in our body-mind connection.
Authentic Ayurveda understands that families invest in manobala as the key to a good future, because skills of trust, goodwill, gut instinct, and faith are among the basics of being human. The family environment is one of the only spaces where shared values and biological similarities can bond diverse members into a sense of safeness. Epigenetic factors are strengthened among people who live, eat and share air together. The microbiomes are similar, and body patterns develop in harmony.
In addition, families are structured to be unable to abandon each other easily. This develops tolerance, trust and interdependence as we grow. An environment of feeling needed, of feeling wanted, of shared laughter and joy develops an open heart. But this develops only when each member is an investment by all others, to develop and mature mentally and emotionally, as well as physically and in skillsets.
Constant emphasis on work in western cultures has obliterated the therapeutic need for deep rest. Ancient wisdom tells us that rest through shifting activities, a strong yoga practice, spending time in nature, trading massages with family members, a good two-minute stretch routine of each body part, early bedtime, and sitting after long walks are elements for rejuvenating the body.
Several rest stops during each day, especially between tasks, are essential for allowing the body to reset, recalibrate, and realign the mind’s intents with the body’s abilities.
Reconstructing wisdom requires each person to understand the science (veda) of longevity (ayus). Ayurveda provides tools for developing a daily routine, seasonal rituals and shifts in routine and food, and simple interventions through food, lifestyle, and knowledge of local plants, with skills teach where and how to intervene early with easy remedies just after imbalance occurs, so that most issues do not turn into severe disease.
The basics of nourishment and the practices that build the digestive fire in the belly are enforced by understanding simple food combinations such as rice and beans, dahl and roti, vegetable combinations for different weather, and spices that enhance taste but also remove unfavorable aspects of food. Profound understanding of milks, oils, sweeteners and the role of alcohol is understood for therapeutic properties.
Basics of movement, hygiene, and bathing must be re-understood to fully understand ahara, or nourishment. Seasonal variations on the levels of exercise, how much we should walk, and how to construct movements are part of building the cellular hunger that calls in nourishment. Festivals have specific rituals to encourage movement, and specific festival foods at specific times of year to appease the doshas in the body. Festivals also teach exploration, play, and joy as key components for developing the heart and keeping the body healthy through happiness. Happiness is not an emotion only, but a necessary rasa or fluid that lubricates our life and keeps it moving smoothly.
The South Asia Times Columnist Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya is a Fulbright Specialist 2018‐2023 in Public Health and Clinical Asst Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York. Her bestselling book Everyday Ayurveda is published by Penguin Random House.