In this unprecedented period in the world’s history where health has come a constant source of concern, a pure devotee can give us some secrets of health.
What is the most important secret of health? Srila Prabhupada reveals it in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 1.1.10:
Ayurveda explains that one of the main causes of ill health is stress. Stress can result from natural changes like the fall in temperature from day to night. When the stresses of material life occur, an imbalance in the body’s energies (doshas) may prevent the body from adjusting adequately. The result is the disease. Regulating our lives, however, will minimize the effect of stress, and therefore it may be said that the more regulated one’s life, the healthier one will be.
To aid the regulation of life, Ayurveda prescribes daily and seasonal regulations.
The briefest possible healthy scenario would include:
1. Preparing the night before
2. Arising before dawn
3. Urination and defecation, to empty the digestive tract so that it has space to take in new nourishment.
4. Washing the hands, feet, face, mouth, eyes, and nose (all the senses), so that with purified sense organs we may accurately perceive the sense objects. Bathing.
5. Contemplation of the Deity.
6. Light massage, exercise
Srila Prabhupada cooking a simple vegetarian meal
A healthy morning regimen begins the night before, with sound sleep. Proper sleep has many benefits, such as helping to balance the energies of the body. Sleep gives complete rest to all the senses and the mind. Just as food helps restore carbohydrates, minerals, and other elements lost through physical exertion, sleep helps restore mental balance and gives freshness and inspiration to the mind. Deep sleep is a natural form of meditation.
Sleep not only helps maintain body weight but also aids in the formation of subtle energy, which gives the body luster and provides determination as well as intelligence.
One’s work determines how much sleep one needs. A manual laborer will usually need more sleep than an office worker. As a general rule, the need for sleep declines with age. According to the Bhagavad-gita:
“One who eats more than required will dream very much while sleeping, and he must consequently sleep more than is required. One should not sleep more than six hours daily. One who sleeps more than six hours out of twenty-four in certainly influenced by the mode of ignorance. A person in the mode of ignorance is lazy and prone to sleep a great deal. Such a person cannot perform yoga.” (Bhagavad-gita 6.16, purport)
Elsewhere Srila Prabhupada explains that different persons may require different amounts of sleep, but in any case, one should try to minimize it:
“Similarly, sleeping also. Sleep, you require some rest, but don’t sleep twenty-six hours. Not like that. Utmost six hours to eight hours; sufficient for any healthy man. Even the doctor says, if anyone sleeps more than eight hours, he is diseased. He must be weak. A healthy man sleeps at a stretch of six hours. That is sufficient. That’s all. And those who are, they should reduce sleeping also. Just like the Goswamis did. Only one and a half hours or utmost two hours.” (1.5.35, Vrndavana, August 16, 1974)
Too much sleep can cause mental imbalances or such physical problems as indigestion, excessive yawning, and disjointed limbs. One who has a severe throat problem, one who has been bitten by a snake, or one who has taken poison should sleep at night only under the direction of a qualified physician.
Irregular sleeping times can also create problems, such as sinusitis, headaches, loss of appetite, and even fever. One should generally not sleep during the day, but taking a nap during a long summer day is okay.
Insufficient sleep can produce such symptoms as physical pain, heaviness in the head, yawning, indigestion, and drowsiness may cause insanity. According to Vagbhata, an authority on Ayurveda, “One who is celibate, who is not sensuous, and who is self-satisfied will get natural sleep at the proper time.”
Insomniacs may try the following remedies:
1. Regular habits of eating, sleeping, work, and recreation can help overcome insomnia. Go to sleep at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning.
2. Massaging the back of the head and neck and the soles of the feet with sesame oil (summer) or mustard oil (winter) can help induce sleep.
3. Take a warm bath.
4. Drink a cup of hot milk with 1/2 tsp of ghee.
5. Place one or two drops of oil in each ear.
6. Meditating on the Supreme Lord and His pastimes can induce peaceful sleep.
7. Physical labor helps induce sleep.
Physical exercise reduces mental strains, stresses, and anxieties, which may cause sleeplessness. When the brain is calm, sleep comes automatically.
Rising before sunrise has many benefits, one of which is that the body can more easily synchronize itself to the sun’s rhythm. At the end of the night vata predominates, and its quality of lightness interferes with sound sleep. Since vata is also involved with elimination, it is best to eliminate the wastes from the body before dawn.
Emptying the Digestive Tract
In a fireplace, a fire will burn best if you clean out the ashes first. Similarly, you will digest your food better if you can eliminate bodily wastes before eating.
Washing and Bathing
The skin is an important organ of elimination. Others, such as the kidneys and intestines, are less burdened and thus can more easily eliminate bodily wastes if the skin is eliminating normally. Regular bathing and washing greatly aid this process.
Meditation on the Deity
As the body has to be purified, so does the mind. According to the Charaka Samhita, a standard Ayurvedic text, chanting the holy names of the Lord is the best way to purify the mind.
Light massage and exercise
The body has different channels, called srotas. When clear and open, these channels efficiently distribute nutrients to each cell in the body and draw off waste products. Exercise and massage help to open and cleanse these channels. When properly done, exercise also helps increase the intake of prana, or life force, within the body and mind. Thus exercise enlivens the senses, improves digestion, and produces a general sense of well-being.
Now that the body has been cleansed and the fire of digestion awakened, one can take food to provide energy for the day’s activities. One should eat light during the warmer months and heavier during winter. This simple routine will help prevent disease and keep our energy level high so that we can perform our devotional service enthusiastically, free of mental and physical impediments.
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Prahladananda Swami’s book “Hope This Meets You in Good Health” Srila Prabhupada and devotees on health. Available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. Can be ordered from ISKCON Yogapitha, Zibertova 27, Ljubljana, Slovenia 1000