We each have the ability, based on our own choices, to improve our health. We are not the victim of our environment. We are the creators of our well-being.
This sense of empowerment is what attracts me to the study of Ayurveda. I am now roughly a third of the way through the academic portion of the Ayurveda Health Counselor curriculum and I am amazed at how often the prescribed treatment for various ailments goes back to lifestyle adjustments. There are herbal remedies and detoxification programs, but it is taught that lifestyle is the best preventative medicine. Ayurveda means “the science of life” and requires personal responsibility to improve to one’s health conditions.
How can we choose what we experience and how can we improve our experience? One method I employ, and have experienced great results from, is the practice of Karma Yoga.
Karma Yoga is the yoga of action with the intention of service. It is one of four branches of yoga. The other three are Raja Yoga, or the yoga of ethical, moral and physical practices, Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotional practices, and Jnana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge and of self-inquiry. Each of these methods is tailored to our varying temperaments, but they all have the same ultimate goal which is quieting the mind so we can experience the bliss within.
Karma Yoga, as described in great detail in the Bhagavad Gita, is the practice of doing the work in front of you with the intention to serve and without the expectation of the fruit of that work. If you are inclined to a devotional path, it can be thought of as working to the best of your ability and leaving the results to God. It can also be thought of as doing your work with kindness. This thought process is a very important aspect of my practice.
It is said that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. I can attest to this truth. I am not one that functions well sitting quietly, at least not yet. I have mentioned before that I use Japa Yoga as a method to focus the mind (mostly to block out all of the thoughts I would rather not have). Japa, in conjunction with performing actions with the intent of kindness, helps to quiet and focus the mind.
My mind is happier when I have a project. It is more at ease if these projects relate to personal growth, or the improvement of my family’s well-being, and even MORE at ease if it is aimed at improving the lives of those by whom I am surrounded, family or not. If I am working with a positive outlook, I feel more at ease, and my life reflects this positivity from an emotional, physical and spiritual level.
Again, this is a practice, which implies less than perfection. But I have experienced great results so far. Life seems to flow with more ease. There are still problems, sure, but my reactions to them are now from a level of understanding that they are mearly stepping stones, not road blocks.
Karma is not a voo-doo law nor does it mean God is out to strike vengeance upon you. It is simply the law of cause and effect. Newton’s third law. If there is a reaction, there will be an equal but opposite reaction. For me, this understanding has been enough to motivate a change in habits.
The truth is, what you put out into the world you receive back. Do we want to fill ourselves with love or hate? Do we want to fill our selves with health or disease? Hate, and anger, is a hard, hard habit to break. I know. Just ask my siblings. Or my husband. But if I can work towards change, anyone can.
“You sow an action and reap a habit. You sow a habit and reap a character. You sow a character and reap your destiny.” -Swami Sivananda
While I do not yet have a deep understanding the physical effects of emotions, and therefore I cannot write it in detail, I offer the following articles as introductions into this mind-body connection. Neurogastroenterology is an emerging field, but it is once again proving that the knowledge of the ancients is applicable now in our current era.
If you are so intrigued and would like to read up on the gut-brain relationship, please read this short article by Harvard Health.
“The brain has a direct effect on the stomach. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.”
John Dillard, an Ayurvedic practitioner based out of Colorado, has just written a timely article on various lifestyle adjustments to help balance vata energy and improve overall health.
“New science has confirmed that our neurotransmitters, which regulate how the nervous system reacts to stress and stabilizes moods, are produced and stored within the intestinal tract. In fact, 95% of the body’s serotonin is found inside the large intestine, and only 5% of that is found in the brain at any given time. “
Maybe Karma Yoga is a practice you would like to try. It would certainly make the world a better place, and we need all of the help we can get these days. And perhaps your body will notice the difference as well.
I am looking forward to learning the intricacies of the biological responses to our mental and emotional stimuli. But for now, onto another lecture.
Until next week, with deepest gratitude.
For more on the concept of the power of thought from a yogic perspective, please read Swami Sivananda’s article on The Dynamics of Thought: