From yoga and Ayurveda to Vastu Shastra and philosophies of ahimsa, knowledge from ancient India has been influencing the modern way of living in India since time immemorial. Here are a few aspects of the past that can be followed today for leading a more balanced, aware and healthier life.
Just after US President Donald Trump returned to America after visiting India, he surprised the world by announcing that the Indian way of greeting with folded hands is ideal to maintain social distance and would prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The image of President Trump’s namaste went viral online, and photographs of other world leaders doing the same started making the rounds.
In Britain, Prince Charles opted to use the Indian greeting over a handshake and so did French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The word namaste (or namaskar), is a form of traditional salutation and is mentioned in several ancient Hindu texts, including the Rig Veda. The Vedas say that ‘namaha’ or the act of bowing to god or the creator removes all egos. Experts say that when we fold our hands in a namaskar, various pressure points in our palms and fingers, connected to our eyes, ears and brain, are pressed, which help us to remember the person we are meeting for a longer period of time.
Not just the namaste, today, several philosophies from the ancient Indian value system, that our elders used to practise and advised us to follow, seem extremely relevant. While yoga has been gaining global popularity in recent times as a natural booster of health and well-being, currently the focus is also on traditional breathing exercises that are a part of yoga. Medical practitioners often stress on the importance of controlled breathing to keep stress at bay and strengthen our immune system.
Another example that comes to mind is the common advice to wash hands and feet immediately after entering the house. In some households, shoes would be removed outside the main entrance and hands and feet would be washed there. It is an ancient Indian custom for people returning home from outdoors to wash their hands and feet before entering the house. In villages, entrance to houses had a small area with a tap or a vessel filled with water where one could clean up.
The same practice is followed while entering a place of worship in several religions. The logical purpose behind this is applicable in recent times too – we may have passed by filthy and unhygienic locales, brushed past many strangers and harmful germs may have entered our body through our hands and feet. Taking a bath and washing our clothes ensure that we are clean and do not let the microbes spread in our surroundings. Also, the traditional practice of drying clothes out in the sun is more effective in killing germs than in an electric dryer, a fact supported by modern science as well.
Most evaluations of the incubation period for several bacterial and viral infections range from one to 14 days. The incubation period is actually the time between getting infected and beginning to have indications of the syndrome. Is it not surprising then that way back our ancestors took precautions for the precise number of days. Among Hindus, a 10-day isolation period used to be strictly observed by the family of a deceased person. This period was often referred to as the time when a departed soul finally passed over from the realm of the living. From the point-of-view of modern-day medicine, it can be viewed as a protection period for others to check if any infectious diseases or microbes were present and as such, have been eliminated. During this time, family members close to the deceased were kept away from touching or cooking food for others, and on the 13th day they would be allowed to cook and pray for moksha of the departed soul. Today, time constraint often forces us to give up this practice born from a deep and scientific thought process.
If vegetarianism is widely prevalent in India, it can be attributed to ahimsa or non-violence – the mind-set of not to harm any living being. Hindu sage Patanjali says in his Yoga Sutras, compiled in 400 CE, that getting to grips with ahimsa can tame wild animals and render vicious criminals harmless. He says it is a benevolent approach towards the much-needed universal compassion. As youngsters we have been admonished from eating from the same plate, taking a nibble from a friend’s lunchbox or a sip from a common glass. This practice of avoiding eating jootha (food eaten by one person) can be related to the fact that several diseases get transmitted via spittle.
Another ancient philosophy is Vastu Shastra – a systematic and precise study of directions to generate positive vibes and a sense of well-being in one’s living area and surroundings. It deals with the concept of balancing the five elements of nature – air, water, fire, earth and space – to bring about equilibrium, for maximum advantage. For instance, the most ideal direction for the cook to face while cooking is supposed to be east to allow the morning sun’s UV rays to destroy harmful microorganisms in food. The tulsi (holy basil) tree worshipped in every Hindu house, has over the years ensured that every house has access to the leaves of the tree, which have many beneficial properties.
While in today’s age we embrace modernity and contemporary values of living, our curiosity has helped us find the intelligent and simple logic behind the many traditional practices that were until recently, thought to be of religious significance only. It is important to remember these traditional habits, to incorporate them in our day-to-day routine as they are rooted in scientific values and logic that promote a healthier, more holistic lifestyle.
Gita Hari curates healthy Sattvic cuisine for premium hotels. Her recipes have been featured in the health columns of leading newspapers. The recipient of Women Achievers’ Awards, Hari has conceptualised, scripted and hosted shows on television and the digital platforms as well.