By Faraaz Tanveer
Most spiritual practitioners take responsibility for their health, by following alternative systems, exercising and moderating their diet.the result: vibrant good health
The best six doctors anywhere
And no one can deny it
Are sunshine, water, rest, and air
Exercise and diet.
These six will gladly you attend
If only you are willing
Your mind they’ll ease
Your will they’ll mend
And charge you not a shilling.
The wisdom contained in this nursery rhyme becomes a credo with those who move along the path of spirituality. They begin to gradually shed their dependence on allopathy, and the compulsion to pill-pop. As the body and its mysteries become clearer to them, they lose their fear of illness, and learn to take control of their health themselves. Most shift to holistic health practices such as ayurveda, homoeopathy, siddha, acupressure or energy systems like reiki and pranic healing. Not only do these systems heal the body, mind and spirit, they do so gently with few side-effects; most can also be practised by oneself, freeing one of the need to approach doctors. Even in cases where a healer is required, one is still expected to be responsible for one’s health, because all of them come with injunctions to exercise, change one’s diet, and practice other health-giving methods.
As one frees oneself from the mind and the compulsion of the senses, body wisdom becomes more and more audible. Says a Marie Claire editor, Aekta Kapoor, “I tell people I get ‘vibes’ from food! It’s weird, but I can actually tell what food is good for me and what is not. I converted to vegetarianism eight years ago and I never regretted it. “
The whole idea of health itself undergoes a definition. Health is no longer an ideal that needs to be wrested free from an army of marauding bacteria and viruses. It is seen as our natural state, and disease is the aberration, the consequence of unwise living. Eliminate the cause, and the body will return to its state of perfect balance and health. This is Vedanta at the physical level. We are already That – which in this case, means health. This perspective is the perfect antidote for the paranoia of our times, swamped as we are by pandemics like bird flu and SARS. Instead of fearing the invasions, we only need to increase our immunity – our inner health preserver – and all will be well.
As we move along the path, we also learn to love and respect ourselves more. We find a new meaning to living and a love for life. This makes us that much more committed to health. It gives us the motivation to say no to a second helping of carrot halwa, and to getting up in the morning to go for a walk. Says Rajaque Rehman, a dedicated Art of Living teacher, “I am in love with myself, hence I have become more aware of my health. My practices, especially the Sudarshan Kriya, keep me perfectly healthy.”
Management consultant and writer, Anita Vasudeva, also echoes the changes that have occurred once on the path, “I am more conscious of being good to my body and have started going to the gym. My diet has also changed on its own to a simpler, more or less vegetarian diet. I tend to wait out health problems and assume they will resolve themselves! Social drinking is down to a minimum. I was a smoker 10 years ago – just quit one day.”
Sunshine, water, air, rest, exercise and diet – all come to our aid, now that we are in tune with our body and the rhythms of life, and help us remain in great physical shape.
From health to happiness
Vibrant good health is definitely one of the biggest gifts and fall-outs of spiritual practice. Indeed, it is through a pursuit of health that the majority enter the spiritual path. Stress, chronic ailments untreatable by allopathy, and dreaded diseases like cancer and AIDS provoke many to take up either yoga, reiki, ayurveda or homoeopathy. Slowly, the holistic nature of these practices become apparent, and the practitioner, usually in far better health than before, finds herself willy nilly on the path, walking eagerly towards self-transformation.
Alka Kapoor, a regular yoga practitioner for the past 12 years, narrates her experiences which are reflective of most seekers: “Yoga has quite literally changed the way I live my life. On the surface, nothing has changed, and yet everything has changed. I feel that I have gained a much larger perspective that has transformed my own perception of everyday experience. For me, the path of yoga has provided many benefits at different levels, and the systematic methodology of my lineage has provided a gentle but sure guidance into the possibilities for transformation, and developing an inner world of experiential learning. At the physical level, I have more energy today than I did 10 years ago – astonishing for someone on the wrong side of 55.
My body is much more flexible, and I am managing arthritis without drugs. So far, I have avoided a genetic disposition to high blood pressure, insulin resistance and heart disease.”
Initially, starting with a simple routine of asanas, pranayama and mudras, her interest deepened over the years, and she went on to complete a yoga studies module offered by Satyananda ashram.
She believes that regularity of practice is the key to success. “At the practical level, it is most important to have a daily practice, even if it is no more than 15-20 minutes.” She adds that with a healthy routine, the body is naturally predisposed towards making the right choices of diet and lifestyle. She says, “There is no need to emphasise ‘giving up’ things by suppressing one’s needs and desires. In my personal experience, as one strengthens internally and develops respect for oneself, one moves naturally into lifestyle changes which are healthful. There is less inclination to overindulge and to obsess over ‘forbidden’ sweets. As I tell people – I didn’t leave smoking. Smoking left me!”
Gulshan Dudani, an ardent follower and sevak of Dada Vasvani is another who has experienced remarkable changes in her food habits after entering the path, “There was a time when I was very fond of non-vegetarian food. Now, I am a staunch vegetarian.”
Delhi-based senior electronics engineer S Raghavan started his career on a high note as a researcher with a multinational. Over the years as every promotion brought more workload and longer hours, it started telling on his health. “My work occupied almost all of my time during the day. I was always preoccupied with meeting deadlines, and getting ahead,” he remembers. The sedentary nature of his work meant that there was no scope for any exercise. His diet was also erratic. “Attending regular conferences and parties in five-star hotels meant eating and drinking without control. All this made me and my colleagues more prone to lifestyle disorders,” he says.
During a routine health check-up at his company, his worst fears came true when he discovered that he was suffering from hypertension and diabetes. He was jolted out of his complacency, and decided to take proactive action before the situation got out of hand. The in-house workshops organised by his company didn’t go far. “These nine-to-five ‘health’ workshops were effective only on paper. We never practised the tips they recommended! I needed an overhaul in my entire approach towards work and daily routine. Nothing short of that would have sufficed,” he says.
It was at this juncture that a few of his friends recommended Vipassana. At first the thought of a rigorous 10-day camp with a vow of total silence made him think twice! But once he decided to try it, he plunged right in with full enthusiasm. Remembering his experience, he says, “I was fascinated by the unique approach of this technique. Those 10 days gave me an opportunity to introspect on what is really important in my life. I realised that I require very little to be content. Also, my happiness is in my own hands!”
Today, he meditates for half-an-hour daily, and reports a sea change in his attitude towards life. He is also successfully managing his health conditions. “I recently went on a holiday to Chennai to meet my relatives. They were pleasantly surprised to see the change in my attitude. They found me calmer and more loving than before!”
Regular schedule and moderation are the key elements towards a healthy lifestyle, according to Mr Raghavan. “Choose a practice which suits you, and then follow it with sincerity. You may do it for a short time, but try and not skip your practice. I have also learnt to be moderate in my diet, and to listen to the body before making a choice. Following these simple, time-tested principles keeps me fit even at my age!” he says.
There are some for whom the connection with the spirit becomes so acute that they need no other form of healing. Life skills coach Chitra Jha says, “I gave up taking allopathic medicine the day I studied homoeopathy. For a time I relied on both reiki and homoeopathy. Then I started speaking to my cells. Today it is all ‘consciousness’ healing through meditation, reiki, thought therapy, emotional freedom technique, and conversing with my cells. I take responsibility for my dis-ease. I don’t look at it as illness any more. I look at it as ‘issues in my tissues’ that need to be resolved. I know that body never ever lies. It heals itself. As a last resort, it tries to communicate with me through some symptoms. The moment I assure it that I have taken cognizance of my deviant thoughts, it feels reassured. When I learn my lesson, it comes back to a state of ease.”
Return to health
Incorporating holistic principles in her life helped cancer survivor Renuka Prasad deal with her condition more effectively. Her experience prompted her to set up Prashanti, a holistic healing centre for cancer patients in Delhi. An army wife based in Delhi, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. “I was operated with a radical mastectomy in which my complete left breast was removed. I felt devoid of all femininity as the very epitome of womanhood, my breast, had been lost! I was put through eight courses of chemotherapy. It was my faith in the Gayatri mantra which gave me the inner strength to cope. My husband’s unqualified and dedicated support was also invaluable,” she remembers.
“In between the treatment, I had many side-effects like loss of appetite, nausea, insomnia and pain in my joints. I was advised by a friend to take holistic treatment for them, as my body was already full of toxins as a result of the heavy chemo drugs. Reiki was very beneficial; as was a good body massage in which the therapists gave acupressure to soothe the pains,” she says. To combat the osteoporosis and high blood cholesterol brought about by the strong medicines, she turned to regular practice of yoga, meditation and reflexology. These holistic practices not only improved her physical well-being and supported her recovery, but also helped her cope with the psychological upheaval accompanying her condition.
Inspired by the love and support she received from all quarters during her illness, she decided to give back in equal measure. First she set up Prerna, a support center at Army R&R Hospital, with the help of Army Wives Welfare Association. Prashanti, the holistic healing center for cancer patients, followed. She is currently the joint secretary (honorary) of Indian Cancer Society. “Today, 10 years later, I am a totally healed person and give the same advice to all who I come into contact with – place your trust in the Almighty, and have faith in yourself. That will give the courage to fight this dreaded disease,” she says.
Spreading the word
Col PS Nijjar was diagnosed with asthma in 1996 at the age of 34.
“I had my first attack in 1993. I did not take it seriously, and thought it was a one-time happening not likely to recur. After a few attacks, I realised I needed to get myself examined,” he recounts. His condition put him in many uncomfortable situations in the course of his challenging postings. The winter months were especially difficult. “When I had attacks during winter months, I was struggling. Sabutamol inhaler provided relief. By the winter of 2003 and 2004, I was inhaling steroids,” he says. The conventional methods of therapy only provided temporary relief, but a lasting cure was still wanting.
That was the time when his mother came to the rescue! She introduced him to a yoga instructor who tailored a programme specifically to his needs. “He asked me to do pranayama every day in this sequence – bhastrika, kapal bhati, bahya, anulom vilom, bhramri and udgeeth. I have been doing the exercises since Dec 2005; asthma is fully under control,” he shares. The effect of the exercises was immediate and lasting. He has now made yoga and pranayama an integral part of his daily routine, and recommends it to others as well.
So inspired was he by his experience that he has introduced holistic corporate wellness workshops at HCL’s Noida office. “I was introduced to the gift of yoga through my quest for personal health, and now I want to share this gift with others. My position as an HR professional provides an excellent platform for me to introduce my team members to these simple and scientific techniques, which are often ignored by many,” he says.
Mind over matter
As more and more people wake up to the benefits of holistic practices and a spiritual lifestyle, the ‘mainstream’ is opening up to their influences. And who better to vouch for it than a psychologist herself! Maalti Naidu, a psychologist working in the corporate sector, is a regular meditator. She finds that her daily dose of ‘quiet time’ is a great way to rejuvenate her energies. “Meditation is a way of life for me. Half-an-hour of meditation every morning really helps me stay focused, relaxed, and in tune with the present without meandering into the past or future. This magic mantra is perhaps the best gift I have received in life. Come what may, I know I am in charge of my life and my destiny.” Regarding her choice of food, she likes to quote Ekhart Tolle, when he says, “I recommend listening to the body. When you look at a food item or imagine ingesting it, become still and alert. You will then feel the body either opening up (saying “yes”) or you may notice a slight contraction, which means the body is saying “no”. The body knows more about food than your mind ever will.”
“WHO defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. I believe this goal can be achieved if conventional methods of therapy are complemented by holistic healing methods as well,” she says.
Interacting with all these inspiring people and learning from their varied experiences reinforce the importance of the basic principles of healing. Discipline and moderation. Listening to your body and following its signals. These principles work every time, without fail. Life really is simple, it seems, unless you want it to be otherwise!.
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