Health and Nutrition
The Indian tradition: A depiction of the "subtle body", with its network of wheels (chakras) and fibres (nadis). In this holistic view, the question of health is not restricted to the gross body". It looks upon the human being as a whole consisting of body, mind and spirit.
Health is the most basic quality that a body must have and, in any given society, there is a spontaneous recognition of the paramount importance of health. In fact, health is felt so precious that special beliefs about it are common: for instance quite a few people feel that talking about their good health could provoke the fall of the Damocles' sword of ill-health upon them. Another example is the feeling of beating the odds to remain healthy in old age, as if the norm was to expect bad health to prevail sooner or later. One finds in quite many people a fatalistic element in their perception of health which nearly turns it into a twin sister of destiny.
There can be no denying that destiny plays its role in health: recent discoveries in the science of genes have shown that the initial health capital bestowed on human beings at birth varies considerably, from excellent to downright catastrophic. But it is equally clear that similar or identical bases can produce very different end-results. Ultimately, in most cases, the way of life is the determining factor of health. To remain healthy is not merely a matter of luck: having given due recognition to the power of genes, circumstances and accidents, fatalism about health is unwarranted.
Excessive preoccupation with health is also not helpful: hypochondriacs, as they are called, due to an excessive preoccupation with their health, often suffer the effect of their apprehensions physically.
Hypochondriacs can become really sick from their thoughts because the mind has such a power on the state of the body.
To find the right balance in attitude, one which is neither fatalistic, nor indifferent, nor unduly apprehensive calls for an exercise in proper consciousness. Each human being is unique and the complex blend of psycho-physiological elements in each person demands a personal synthesis. Health can be obtained and maintained in many different ways' according to cultural backgrounds and personal inclinations.
Health merits our keen and sustained attention. After all, without health, most of the potentialities of life cannot be fully developed. It is an unfortunate but recognized fact that a large majority of the human race still lives in rather poor health, even without being "sick". We are nonetheless convinced that for most people good health is attainable, provided they understand that it is first and foremost their responsibility. Unfortunately, people seem to have been much mesmerized by the belief that sickness is natural, that sickness occurs as part of the rhythm of human life and that one has simply to suffer illness when it grips the body. There is also the common idea that body's health and illness are matters for doctors and that only doctors, by their prescriptions and medicines, are able to maintain a person's health. People are often strongly advised that for any problems in regard to their health, they should immediately rush to doctors for they alone can tell what is wrong and what should be done.
These ideas and conceptions have some elements of truth: it is true that there are rhythms in the body and cycles of health and illness; it is also true that doctors have expert knowledge which is helpful in diagnosis and cure. But this can in no way justify the individual's abdication of personal responsibility towards maintaining health. The primary responsibility for health must rest upon the individual, and every individual should receive adequate education so as to become conscious of this responsibility with the capacity to discharge it.
What does actually health mean? What specific experiences does one have when one is healthy? Different systems of medicine give their own specific accounts of what constitutes a healthy body. Though there are some differences, all of them agree that a healthy body enjoys a general state of equilibrium, a state in which every organ of the body functions smoothly and in harmony with the other organs. Real health is the experience of freshness and adequate energy for whatever work
that the body is required to undertake. Real health provides a natural enthusiasm and even an urge to give exercise to the body with a sense of pleasure. There should be good appetite and thirst at right intervals, and an easy process of digestion.
One must know that if this state of equilibrium is disturbed or if there are signs of fatigue or deterioration, one must be vigilant and immediately set about putting things in order. In such cases expert advice from good and experienced doctors is very useful and often necessary. At the same time one must strive to gain enough personal knowledge and experience to know one's body, its usual tendencies, its weaknesses and strengths and some specific means by which one's body can be brought back to the normal state of equilibrium. It must be understood that even the most serious illnesses can be avoided by intelligent self-care of the body. The basic and essential point is that one must feel responsible for one's health.
Personal responsibility is then what should count more and could bring real solutions to the problems that most nations are facing today in terms of managing their health systems. It is not merely by having more medicines, more hospitals and more doctors that the basic problem of health at the collective level can better be solved. Education is what can be and should be the most potent remedy in the long term.
The present quasi-ignorance of most people, even in developed societies, about the inner processes of the human body is an indictment of all educational systems: how is it possible that so many men and women have spent years in schools and yet often have only hazy notions about the human body and its basic functions? How is it that even most dedicated parents do not seem even to think of the importance of imparting even a minimum knowledge of the human body to their children ? Moreover, what could be more beautiful to teach than the mystery and excellence of the human body? If this fundamental knowledge could become one of the important parts of all curricula for all ages, a serious and useful understanding of the body and its complex processes could gradually be built. Indeed. no matter what methods are found to reform national health systems, their success will probably depend a great deal on whether a new and deeper conscious ness about health can be developed in the public at large.
There are reasons to believe that the traditional concepts about life and health which are still to a large extent prevalent, belong to an.
already obsolete vision of reality: in the world of physics, the under standing of what reality is has changed radically. Some researchers in advanced physics wonder whether the objective reality is not grounded in subjectivity or whether objective and subjective are not simultaneous aspects of the same reality. It is also becoming more and more apparent that, to understand the concept of health, one needs to realize that health is a holistic concept, that physical health and mental health are interdependent, and there are even deeper moral, aesthetic and spiritual factors which combine together to influence the general state of health. The considerable influence and power of mind upon body is now recognized, and positive thinking is more and more used as an important, even essential part of a cure, particularly in the most serious diseases.
Miraculous results in certain difficult cases have been obtained by visualization. A pioneer of such methods towards the beginning of the 20th century, Emile Coue, a Frenchman, said that Imagination is a far greater power than Will. He helped many patients to cure themselves simply by making them repeat twenty times morning and evening the following formula: "Every day, at every point of view, I am getting better and better". As long as there is a persistent adherence to the now obsolete frozen view of reality, where bodies are seen as separate objects with "parts" to be eventually "repaired" through specialized methods which generally do no take into account the totality of the per son, the "patient" (what a significant denomination!) is too often reduced to be a passive and apprehensive spectator of his own treatment. The treatment being carried out is rarely explained to the patient in a way that is easy to understand and very often the patient is simply required to surrender to medical authority. No doubt, there are signs that things are changing and more and more doctors are treating their "patients" in ways that elicit a real participation in the fight for health. Larry Dossey in the USA is one of the leading doctors in that category and we have selected excerpts of one of his books where he reflects upon health in the context of the revolutionary perspective brought by modern physics.
The idea that health is not mechanical but organic in character was developed in India in ancient times. The Vedas speak of the organic and holistic harmony of spirit and body as a condition of true health. Each organ and limb of the body and all of them together were required to be
concentrated upon by the seeker of perfection. Aspiration to live a long and full life of hundred years in perfect health was a cornerstone of the Medic endeavour. "By performing actions here on the earth, one must aspire to live for hundred years", — such was the injunction of the Yajurveda. Another Vedic prayer expresses the aspiration, "May we live for hundred autumns, may we see for hundred autumns, may we speak for hundred autumns, may we hear for hundred autumns, and may we even live more than hundred autumns." In another hymn. the seeker prays for spiritual well-being supported by the physical body and nourished by contentment of all the organs and limbs made capable of stability for the entire span of life. The secrets of longevity and perfect health were known to the Vedic seers and they constituted an important part of their quest of immortality. The capacity of the body to bear the pressure of the universality of consciousness was considered to be an indispensable element in the Vedic ideal of perfection. It is for this reason that the ancient Indian system of medicine was named the Science of Life, Ayur Veda, and the concept of physical, mental and spiritual equilibrium was its first principle. The Ayurvedic concept of health is organic and holistic, and it lays a special emphasis on the concept of health as a condition of happiness which transcends mere worldly happiness. It looks upon the human being as a whole consisting of body, mind and spirit. Even the gross physical body is conceived as consisting of dhatus,substances, which are rather subtle in character. It declares that dhatus consist of Vata (wind), Pitta (bile), Kapha (phlegm). They also include Rasa, the essential sap of life, Rakta, blood, Mansa, muscle tissue, Medas, adipose tissue, Asthi, bone tissue, Majja,marrow, Shukra, semen. It also consists of upadhatus, subordinate substances, like Rajas, the force of dynamism and impulsion, etc. It describes health as equilibrium of all these dhatus.
It is impossible within the limits of space available here to give a full account of the Ayurvedic system of health, healing and nutrition. We have therefore attempted to bring together a few elements of the science of Ayurveda: certain specific descriptions and prescriptions to be found in its system of therapeutics which have a direct bearing on its understanding of the problems of health and healing.