Ayurveda - Hygiene, Diet, Exercise & Massage
The nature of Ayurveda is prevention rather than curing. In Ayurveda, great importance has given to hygiene, diet, exercise, massage, etc. Several chapters in Ayurvedic treatises are spent on these topics. When a good balanced diet, adequate hygiene, proper exercise, etc maintain the health of a human being, no other medicine is required. Due to this preventive nature, the term Ayurveda is very appropriate. Though it can cure, Ayurveda is a preventive science which as the name explains is the 'Science of Life.'
Maintaining hygiene is the most important factor in the preventive medicine, among which the bath is very crucial. Manu also states about bath as,
अद्भिर्गात्राणि शुद्ध्य मनः सत्येन शुध्यति ॥
विद्यातपोभ्यां भूतात्मा बुद्धिर्ज्ञानेन शुद्ध्यति ॥
adbhirgātrāṇi śuddhya manaḥ satyena śudhyati |
vidyātapobhyām bhūtātmā buddhirjñānena śudhyati ||
Tr. - Human body is purified by water; mind by truth; soul by learning and penance; intelligence by knowledge.
According to Sushruta Samhita the bath removes somnolence, heating up and fatigue, it fights thirst, itching and sweating; it is depurative, purifies the sense organs, clarifies the blood and stimulates the digestive fire.
It must not be too cold in winter or too hot in summer. One should not use hot water on the head; it is hazardous to eyes, hair. Bath should not be taken immediately after a meal. Bath in inadvisable in case of fever, diarrhea, headaches, indigestion or sickness due to a disturbance of the wind.
Oral hygiene is also very much important which includes cleaning the teeth, scraping the tongue and rinsing the mouth. The rules of oral hygiene are mentioned in Ayurvedic treatises. One of them is,
एकैकं घर्षयेद्दन्तं मृदुना कूर्चकेन च ।।
दन्तशोधनचूर्णेन दन्तमांसान्यबाधयन् ॥
ekaikam gharṣayeddantam mṛdunā kūrcakena ca |
dantaśodhanacūrṇena dantamāmsānyabādhayan ||
Tr. – Teeth should be rubbed one by one with soft brush without hurting gums by using teeth cleaning powder.
Ayurvedic treatises recommend chewing regularly a certain number of aromatic substances, such as nutmeg, areca nut, cubeb or java pepper, clove or betel leaf, at the beginning of the day and at the end of day and at the end of the meal, to perfume the breath or because of their stimulating or digestive properties.
According the all the authors of Ayurveda the nutritious value of foods depends on their properties (guṇa) which are related to the basic five great elements and which predominate in it. Ayurveda stresses on the importance of a well balanced diet, both from the quantitative and the qualitative point of view.
According to Caraka Samhita the quantity of food depends on the capacity of digestion so much so that even foods considered as very easy to digest must not be consumed in excessive quantity. It is also said that even fasting individual or starving individual should be careful not to consume too much food precisely because in his/her case the digestive fire is weakened.
Ayurvedic treatises systematically enumerate all varieties of edible products indicating their different properties, according to the temperament, behavior, and state of health of each individual having regard also to the season, the time of the day, the quantity and the quality of the food taken. Hence different type of food is proposed for different seasons. A special emphasis has been given on the food while discussing seasonal routine.
Preparations of food (cooking, seasoning, etc) and the composition of menu are also discussed in various Ayurvedic treatises which gave a birth to new branch of knowledge called sūpaśastra.
Ayurveda also speaks of what each person should or should not do before and after a meal. For example, it is inadvisable to take food when one is tired or after much exertion. He who has just eaten must avoid activities that cause exertion such as sexual activities, running, drinking and singing, etc. He should take rest.
'Dehavyāyāma' which means physical exercise has been emphasized in preventative medicines. Body light, increases its capacity for work, diminishes the doshas and stimulates the digestive fire. But physical exercises should be practiced with moderation. Yogic asanas constitute before all else, a totality of techniques that put into practice the physiological and psychological theories developed in Ayurvedic circles. There is a big difference in physical exercise or Dehavyayama and the practice of Yoga Asana. (read here)
The practice of yoga presupposes a healthy body. Hence it is not a therapy. Many of the postures and the breathing exercises associated with them were thought to prevent or cure all kinds of diseases.
Massage or Abhyanga
Today’s famous massage practiced all over the world under the title of 'Ayurvedic Massage' is first cited in Ayurvedic treatises. Treatises quote about the different techniques, indications, counter-conditions, etc.
It is mentioned as one of the regular activity and suggested as to observe daily for good health. It is not just a therapy as it is portrayed, but it is the most effective means of preventive medicine. Daily massage is called as 'Abhyaṅga' Aṣṭāngahṛdaya narrates about the benefits of abhyaṅga as,
अभ्यङ्गमाचरेन्नित्यं स जराश्रमवातहा ।
दृष्टिप्रसादपुष्ट्यायुः स्वप्नसुत्वक्त्वदार्ढ्यकृत् ॥
abhyaṅgamācarennityam sa jarāśramavātahā |
dṛṣṭiprasādapuṣṭyāyuḥ svapnasutvaktvadārḍhyakṛt ||
Tr. - Abhyaṅga should be observed daily as it postpones ageing, fatigue, vāta; clears vision; strengthens body; increases life; gives sleep; softens skin.
There are several types of Ayurvedic Abhyanga massages which are done with bare hands, sometimes even with the feet; with or without oils, sometimes with herbal powder. Different types of techniques such as effleurage, rubbing, pressing, kneading, pinching, rolling, etc are involved in Ayurvedic massage. They are sometimes used individually or combined one or two together; or to get an advanced effect they are also used with the Panchakarma therapy. A type of human on whom the masseur should operate, their gender, age, temperament, their state of health, etc are also considered before giving Ayurvedic massage to receiver.
During massage a special attention is suggested to be given at extreme ends of human body. Oil massage of the head and the feet has the effect of removing fatigue and inducing sleep.
Caraka and Sushruta suggest Sesame oil for massage which penetrates the tissues very quickly and warm up the body. Alternatively coconut oil, almond oil, ghee made from cow or buffalo milk is also suggested for the use.
The numerous and elaborate rules of hygiene, diet, etc in Ayurvedic treatises take into account not only the climatic conditions, seasons and circumstances but also the temperament of each individual. This was just a birds eye view of preventive medicines of Ayurveda. We will see all more topics in separate articles...