If you go by modern medical definitions, good health means the absence of disease. According to Ayurveda, however, good health is understood as a positive, balanced state of being based on the synergy between each individual and the environment. Health, in this context, is not merely a biological process but one of utter harmony with nature, which helps maintain physical (including physiological), mental and spiritual balance. If you have decided to live a truly sustainable, environment-friendly lifestyle, then following the Ayurvedic path can help you the most by ensuring that both you and planet Earth stay healthy. Here’s what you need to know about the Ayurvedic path of sustainable living.
The two pillars of AyurvedaA study titled Ayurveda and medicalisation today: The loss of important knowledge and practice in health? published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine in 2020, explains that the term Ayurveda is not limited to medicine, cure or therapy. Instead, Ayurveda provides holistic lifestyle approaches and solutions to all your problems. At the base of this lifestyle are two pillars: dincharya (daily routine) and ritucharya (seasonal routine).
There are, according to another study published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health in 2016, titled Exploring Ayurvedic Knowledge on Food and Health for Providing Innovative Solutions to Contemporary Healthcare, ten factors used to determine the state of your health as per Ayurveda: body tissues (dusya), residing location (desa), physical strength (bala), time (kala), digestive and metabolic processes (agni or anala), genetic and phenetic constitution (prakriti), age (vaya), mental strength or temperament (sattva), habituation (satmya), and food (ahara). Both dincharya and ritucharya are time-regulated methods to ensure that all these factors of good health are in perfect working order.
There is a lot you may have heard about dincharya in common parlance, particularly how following a daily routine of healthy practices—like waking up early, bathing, meditating, eating balanced meals, getting exercise, and sleeping on time—can help you stay fit. Ritucharya, a method aligned with nature, is more of an annual routine. If dincharya is the micro aspect of your life, then ritucharya provides the big picture, the macro aspect. Since Ayurveda is all about balance, a healthy sustainable life should include a good dincharya based on ritucharya tenets. Wondering what these tenets may be? Read on.
Ritucharya: A natural lifestyle attuned to the seasonsWith every change in season, the environment we live in changes. Plants have a particular flowering season, animals have seasons for mating and hibernation. As human beings, we are part of the same ecology, and so, like everything around us, we too must adapt to these seasonal changes. A study published in AYU: An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda in 2011—titled Ritucharya: Answer to the lifestyle disorders—explains that if your body is unable to adapt to these seasonal stressors and minute changes, you may be susceptible to all types of health issues, ranging from viral fevers to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Ritucharya, which is prominently discussed in the most illustrious Ayurvedic Samhitas, including Charaka Samhita, is the prescribed routine of dietary and lifestyle changes that help the body adapt to natural seasonal changes. In doing so, this routine boosts the immune, digestive, neural and other systems, and equips the human body and mind to keep lifestyle disorders and diseases at bay. At the same time, since this lifestyle is in perfect harmony with the rest of the environment, it promotes and protects biodiversity too. Consciousness and sustainability are at its very core.
How to adopt RitucharyaWhat’s more, this lifestyle system is based on the seasonal changes of the Indian subcontinent, which means this ancient system is regionally, culturally and ecologically best-suited to you. There are six seasons that the Indian subcontinent experiences, and ritucharya has do’s and don’ts prescribed for each of these. The Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS), Ministry of AYUSH, lists the following ritucharya prescriptions you can adopt.
1. Hemanta: The period between mid-November and mid-January is known as Hemanta or late autumn season. As the cold winds start to blow, a chillness in the air starts to set in. During this season, you must consume sweet, sour and salty foods including new grains, sesame, honey, milk and milk products, healthy fats, lean meats, sugarcane products, and fermented products. Avoid foods that are cold or dry. Starvation and fasting will lead to negative health effects, so avoid both. Get plenty of exercise, wear warm clothes, sunbathe and ensure your living space is warm. Avoid exposure to strong winds at all cost.
2. Shishira: The period between mid-January to mid-March is known as Shishira or winter. Naturally, exposure to cold or cold winds must be avoided by wearing warm clothes and bathing with lukewarm (not hot) water. Massaging your body with oil before bathing is recommended. Sleeping late at night must be avoided, but exercise is highly recommended. Among the foods to eat more of are cereals and pulses, corn, ginger, garlic, ghee, honey, sugarcane products, milk and milk products. Avoid cold, bitter and astringent foods.
3. Vasanta: The period between mid-March to mid-May is known as Vasanta or spring season. This is the season of ecological rebirth, so eat plenty of seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains, including barley, wheat, rice, pulses, lentils, honey, light roasted lean meats. Avoid hard to digest foods like rich curries. While winter is over, it’s recommended that you still bathe with lukewarm water, get enough exercise, and massage your hair and body with oil. Avoid sleeping during the daytime.
4. Grishma: The period between mid-May to mid-July is known as Grishma or summer season. As you may have guessed, intense heat and unhealthy hot winds are prevalent in this season, so stay in cool places, shelter indoors, wear light cotton clothes and apply naturally cooling pastes like sandalwood on your body. This is the season of lethargy and high humidity, so a daytime nap when you feel too tired is fine. However, excessive sexual indulgence and alcohol consumption can add too much heat to your body, so avoid both. Consume light and easy to digest sweet, unctuous and cold foods. Your diet must include plenty of fluids, like water, buttermilk, fruit juices, cold soups, churned curd or lassi, etc. Avoid spicy, pungent and body-warming foods.
5. Varsha: The period between mid-July to mid-September is known as Varsha or monsoon season. With rains and thunderstorms, flora and fauna in water bodies tend to thrive. So, preventing water-borne diseases on the one hand and avoiding fish and seafood on the other is important. Consume boiled or purified water, light cereals, barley, soups, salty and sour foods. Avoid heavy and hard-to-digest foods, and keep your body, hair and surroundings dry. Also avoid getting wet in the rain, daytime sleeping, outdoor exercises and staying near water bodies like rivers, ponds and lakes.
6. Sharat: The period between mid-September to mid-November is known as Sharat or autum season. As the transition between monsoon and winter, this season is marked by spells of wet and cold winds. Avoid exposure to these winds, daytime sleep, excessive eating and excessive exposure to sunlight. Bathing with lukewarm water is recommended. Consume foods that taste sweet, and are light on your digestion, but only eat when you are hungry. Wheat, green gram, sugar, honey, amla and ghee should be part of your diet. Avoid spicy, bitter and astringent foods, or food items containing fat, oil, curd, fish and seafood. The CCRAS says that water exposed to sunlight for the whole day and to moonlight for the first three hours of the night during this season is auspicious. Known as hansodak, this water may be used for rituals.