In the indigenous medical science from India, Ayurveda, there is great emphasis on harmonizing daily life with the natural cycles of the Sun and seasons. The focus on lifestyle and routine (rhythm) was also an integral part of traditional Western medicine in ancient times. The word ‘diet’ originally referred to not just what we eat, but – as in Ayurveda – the whole construct and pattern of our daily life.
When, what and how we eat (‘food’); how we exercise and the balance between sleep and waking (‘sleep’); plus how we use our creative energy and the quality of our relationships (‘sex’) are the three pillars of health. Yet, these three essential components of human life are commonly overlooked in the quest for ‘silver bullet’ solutions and quick fixes for our symptoms. Whether it is a vaccine for a novel flu, a superfood to prevent cancer, special diets, the latest pharmaceutical creation, and even – ever more popular – herbal concoctions, we spend huge amounts of money and create entire industries dedicated to finding the ‘right’ remedy for what ails us.
But what if the key to our health is less about treating what’s wrong, and more about remembering what our bodies already know – that we are inextricably intertwined with the cycles and rhythms of the Earth, the Sun and even the planets?
Some years ago, I spent a month in an Ayurvedic ashram in India, undergoing a detoxification and renewal process called ‘panchakarma’. Rising time, meal times, even when I could get hot water for a bath were all consistent, structured, and based in Ayurvedic teachings. In one of my last conversations with my doctor, as we were discussing some of the herbal medications he was sending home with me, he pointed out that herbs are wasted if the client does not adhere to basic healthy lifestyle practices. As someone with a deep respect for all life, he – and many of us who work with plants and other natural remedies – preferred not to offer herbs to someone who was looking for an easy fix while continuing destructive lifestyle practices.
When I work with clients on wellness, my first go-to ‘prescription’ is regulating mealtimes and sleep schedules, with an emphasis on have the largest meal in the middle of the day when possible. Other simple – but not necessarily easy – recommendations include not eating or drinking anything past seven p.m.; getting up with or before the Sun; and creating rituals around daily tasks, especially eating. It is quite easy to get much more elaborate in outlining a daily routine consistent with Ayurvedic teachings. For those who more fully integrate Ayurveda and yoga into their lives, or live in yoga ashrams (spiritual communities) the instructions can become even more proscriptive and detailed. In fact, this is likely why so many people with a little familiarity with Ayurveda see it as complicated and time-consuming – which, of course, it can be.
Yet the greates benefit to our health can come from the smallest efforts. One of my teachers used to say the single most important practice anyone can implement to improve their life is that of eating consciously. When you eat, just eat. Practice mindfulness over your food by putting away the TV, computer, and books, and focus on your food as the sacred gift from the Earth that it is.
This ritualization of daily life, bringing back the sacred to the mundane, is the great work that will bring balance back to the Earth and our bodies.
I like to dream of a time when food is truly seen and felt as the sacred body of the Earth. If eating were an act of worship, I sincerely doubt we would engage in ‘factory farming’, or look for lab-grown meat and ‘protein’ to fill our plates. Rather than meat production, perhaps we would return to animal husbandry and plant-tending in a time-honored co-creative relationship with the beings who nourish us.
This movement back to partnership is just as important in our relationship with plants, which provide the bulk of our food and medicine. Whether the grains that have adapted with us and for us, or the fruits that tempt us to spread them wherever we go like Johhny Appleseed, or the herbs that offer their medicine in our yards, the gracious presence, intelligence, wisdom and beingness of plants deserves our honor and appreciation as much as the two- and four-legged creatures, bees, and other animate creatures on whom we depend.
I do not believe we can reach my version of Utopia until we learn to see the deeper meaning of, and on, our dinner plates. As long as food is a means to an end, something to manipulate and analyze in an endless quest for the ‘right’ diet, the ‘right’ weight, the ‘right’ nutrition and the cure for what ails us, we will continue with our tunnelvision of the Earth, plants, animals, and even microbes being ‘out there’ rather than part of the continuum of material existence that includes our notion of our physical selves. Forget the idea of your body as a discrete human entity. What you call ‘you’ is mostly other – microbes outnumber human cells by a factor of ten to one.
We can turn to modern research to corroborate the ancient wisdom regarding how aligning our lives with natural cycles can support our health. And we can turn to our hearts to underscore the importance of honoring the lives that support our lives. Best of all, we can just begin where we are with our bodies as our laboratories. Pick one thing – getting up earlier, or eating a lighter dinner, or starting your morning with some sort of mindfulness practice – and try it for a week or two. See what works for your body, your heart, your mind.
Want to find out more about how to incorporate nature’s rhythms into your own life, and support your well-being naturally? Check out my Signatures of Health consultations. Your birth chart is also your health chart! And, coming in May, 2021, I’ll be leading a seven-week online course on Diet as Medicine. Registration opens in mid-April.