by Nidhi Chaitanya
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 80% of the emerging world’s population relies on traditional medicine for therapy. There is a growing awareness about healthy & natural lifestyle practices as effective tools for disease prevention and management. Plenty of these lifestyle hacks have been unearthed from the time-tested wisdom of Zhong-Yi (Traditional Chinese Medicine), Ayurveda (Traditional Indian Medicine), African Plant-Medicines, Tai-chi, Yoga, Ancient Egyptian Practices, etc.
And there is no doubt that these techniques are time-tested, natural, usually harmless and highly effective in prevention and treatment of both physical and mental illnesses. Adopting these lifestyle practices can introduce the basic principles of these ancient modalities in our modern lives, thus ensuring overall health and wellbeing while preventing and better managing different types of lifestyle diseases.
So here are 20 unique daily practices from Ancient India that can help us prevent lifestyle diseases:
Create & Curate your food consciously
Though processed, canned, frozen and packaged food was not a thing back in those vintage worlds, ancient Indians believed that food prepared with personal attention and love nourished the body and refreshed the mind, while food made without mindful emotions does create ‘ama’ or toxins in the body. So whether it is a raw salad or a full-spread meal, it is always more beneficial if what you are offering to your body is prepared with awareness and love. Conscious cooking is considered to be a therapeutic experience in itself, known as ‘Annayoga’ or ‘Food Yoga’ in Sanskrit .
Drink your herbs
Herbal teas or tisanes are beverages made from the infusion or decoction of herbs, spices, or other plant material in hot or cold water. Herbal beverages when consumed within a balanced diet, may improve the antioxidant status, and reduce oxidative stress in humans.
Use food as medicine
Ayurveda uses spices, herbs, barks, roots, peels, seeds, vegetables and fruits to heal the body because disease is just a way of the body asking for special care and nurturing. Ayurveda does not attack a disease with medicines, but rather helps the body to come back to balance so that our biological intelligence can kick in and we can heal on our own.
Ancient Indians had natural kitchen-remedies and food-based solutions for nearly every ailment of the body and mind. And using these tips and hacks in our daily life can not only prevent us from succumbing to all the side-effects of the pill-popping culture of conventional western medicine, but also be easier on our pockets!
While Intermittent Fasting(IF) is a blazing health trend all over the world today, ancient Indians practiced fasting as a general way of life. The digestive system is called ‘Udara Agni’ in Sanskrit. Ayurveda believes that regular fasting is needed to give rest to our Udara Agni, and thus revitalise it. Fasting also detoxes the system, helps improve immunity and aids regulate metabolism.
Warning: Fasting is a complex and highly customised practice, and needs to be undertaken under the guidance of a medical or wellness professional after evaluating overall health, lifestyle and body-condition of the patient. Irresponsible fasting can put your health at risk.
Drink your food, chew your water!
No, that is not a typo! While there are various theories about how many times one must chew one’s food, the simple rule is: Chew till you can drink it! Yes, food needs to be nearly liquified in our mouth before gulping it down, so that it can be easily assimilated by the body without putting excessive load on our digestive system. Complete chewing allows complex carbohydrates, sugars, oils, proteins, and other minerals to reach maximum levels of absorption.
Water needs to be moved around in the mouth before we swallow it. This helps the alkaline saliva reach the stomach to neutralise acid levels in the stomach.
Scientifically, the body does not require our help to detox. The natural systems of the body release toxins on their own. So detoxification just means aiding the process from time to time. This is needed more today, considering the toxic lifestyle practices we have all adapted ourselves to, which in ancient times were unheard of. You can practice daily or weekly detoxing depending on your comfort and need.
In ancient India, excretion was a mindful activity, usually done in the yogic posture ‘Malasana’, also known as the yogi squat. One was not allowed to talk or engage in any other activities at this time. Our state of mind is directly connected to our gut, and practicing deep breathing and conscious silence while passing stools and urine can ease many chronic excretory issues like constipation, inconsistent bowel movements, etc.
Eat in silence or in laughter
Along similar lines, mindful eating - either in silence or giggling over deep & happy conversations with loved ones, helps promote better digestion, keeps us full with less food and helps balance our metabolic hormones by associating food with a peaceful and happy state of mind.
Watch your intake
According to Ancient Indians, ‘Aahaar’ or intake encompassed everything we consume, including but not limited to food. In other words, from the movies we watch to the company we keep, from the news we read to the gossip we listen to, from the music we hear to the posts we see on social media - everything is intake or Aahaar, and everything affects the overall condition of our body and mind.
Abhyanga or massaging your skin with warm (sometimes herbalised) oils is one of the most potent acts of self-care. Touch is our most powerful sense and largest organ because it never goes off! And when we touch and knead our own selves into a nice massage, it makes our brain release endorphins and oxytocin, improves blood circulation, helps the body detox, improves self-love, relieves locked stress and tension, slows ageing and strengthens muscles and joints. So go ahead, be your own master masseur!
Do Neti Wash
Neti is an ancient yogic practice of flushing the nasal passages with warm saline water using a simple kettle-like pot called a neti-pot. It helps cleanse your nostrils and sinuses from all the toxins, pollutants and allergens, allowing you to breathe freely and comfortably. Clean and clear breathing by itself is healing and can prevent disease, besides ameliorating digestion, mental wellbeing and immunity.
Practice Oil Pulling
Oil pulling is known as "kavala graha" or "gundusha" in Sanskrit. It is an ancient Ayurvedic technique of swishing a tablespoon of oil in your mouth on an empty stomach for a few minutes and then spitting it out. This action is excellent for dental hygiene & health and also draws out toxins in the body.
Scrape your tongue
All that we eat and drink passes through our tongue. Keeping our tongue clean is very important to ensure our body is not absorbing toxins continuously. Tongue scraping or jiwha-prakshaalan removes volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that build up on our tongue causing mouth odour. Tongue scraping also boosts immunity, aids digestion and activates taste-buds.
Go for walks
Ayurveda considers walking as a tridoshi exercise - in other words, it balances the three doshas (kapha, pitta, vaata). Balancing the three doshas is believed to lead to health and wellbeing. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular brisk walking can help you maintain a healthy weight, prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease and high blood pressure, strengthen your bones and muscles, improve your mood, and improve your balance and coordination.
Practicing yogic postures or Asanas can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, keep off weight, improve cardiovascular health, strengthen immunity and improve metabolism - hence maintaining optimum health and wellbeing.
Do some deep breathing
Deep breathing (sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing) is a practice that enables more air to flow into your body and can help calm your nerves, reducing stress and anxiety. It can also help you improve your attention span and lower pain levels. Taking 5-minute deep breathing breaks about 5-6 times a day can go a long way in preventing diseases and keeping us healthy.
Pranayama(conscious & healing breathwork) also helps in reducing stress, lowers inflammation and helps in alkalizing your blood PH levels.
Meditation has been linked to larger amounts of gray matter in the hippocampus and frontal areas of the brain. More gray matter can lead to more positive emotions, longer-lasting emotional stability and heightened focus during daily life
Talk to yourself
In ancient Indian philosophy, they call this Mananam - the act of having deep heart-to-heart conversations with yourself. May sound crazy at first, but talking to yourself in your mind can lower stress levels, improve self-image and release the happiness-hormone serotonin. You can talk to yourself mentally in silence, or audibly in the mirror, or in written through a journal.
A study was conducted at Michigan State University. Researchers monitored the brain activity of 29 students. These participants were asked to review a few neutral and disturbing images. They were also asked to explain how they felt while referring to themselves in the first and third person. It was concluded that "third person self-talk" allowed participants to regulate their emotions and they experienced better stress-relief.
So, start fixing up those rewarding appointments with yourself.
Sleeping as much as you need and want to, aids better hormonal balance, rejuvenates mental health, enhances skin texture, improves immunity, aids metabolism and increases overall stamina of the body. An ancient Indian quote goes ‘Nidraa samadhi-sthitih’ meaning, good restorative sleep is equivalent to a deep calming meditation. Always aim at catching more shuteye! Turning in earlier is a great way to add more quality and quantity to your night-naps.
The World Health Organization has officially classified night shift work as a probable carcinogen as it interferes with our body’s natural sleep cycles. The Ivy League Harvard Medical School stated that good quality sleep reduces the risk of chronic life-threatening diseases including cancer.
Connect with Nature
Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behavior, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people.
Ancient Indians believed that we are all a part of ‘nature’ and that all of existence is one natural whole! Hence great significance is given to connecting with nature - which implies not just climbing mountains, bathing in rivers, swimming in beaches, walking on grass, hugging trees, talking to birds, cuddling animals, admiring the stars or watching the rain! It also means climbing the tedious mountains of self-love, swimming in oceans of introspection, hugging all our facets with equal acceptance, admiring the gifts we hold in us, and truly connecting with our own inner nature.
Studies have also found that self-connection induced higher parasympathetic activity in participants, promoting stress reduction and emotional regulation on a physiological level; while lower levels of self-connection have been associated with mental health concerns like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
When a particular disease is categorised as a ‘lifestyle’ disease, it must be treated through ‘lifestyle’ shifts and not necessarily using medicines alone. While it is not encouraged to start, stop or change the dosage of prescription medicines without consulting a health professional, it is important to know that following a healthy, intuitive, stress-free lifestyle can go a long way in not only preventing the onset of lifestyle diseases, but also in managing or even reversing certain chronic conditions. It all begins with curating a lifestyle that heals & nurtures your life!