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Health In Our Traditions

Pratibha Shah

In the fast paced 21st century, it sometimes feels good and modern to discard old traditions and practices. Somehow it seems easier to fit in over a conversation on bariatric surgery for fat, botox for skin and the latest magic pill in the line of painkillers. How old fashioned to talk about turmeric and cumin seeds to fix something right at home, without going to an expensive clinic or spa. Nah, that wouldn’t do for our iphone handling, ipad strutting, Mac surfing society. So what is this ‘old fashioned’ mumbo jumbo about herbs and food after all? Let us take a short journey into our Eastern health traditions of yore and decide for ourselves if they are worth our attention or should they be relegated to history.

Ayurveda is an integral part of Indian culture and heritage. Dating back about 5000 yrs, it is one of the world’s most ancient holistic systems of medicine. Ayurveda advocates a whole range of preventive practices woven into daily regimen and seasonal regimen. The use of herbs and spices for the purpose of maintaining health and alleviating disease has been so deep and rich in the Indian sub continent that a lot of such practices have become integrated in traditional grandmother wisdom, in the form of what we call home remedies. Today we hear a lot about Yoga. So many new forms of Yoga have emerged that it is difficult to keep count. But at least this new age Yoga movement has brought Yoga to the doorsteps of the common man. Ayurveda, the older sister of Yoga, is yet to achieve this status.

In this series, I am going to share with you the story of people in our own community and our own neighborhood, who still take pride in practicing these ancient gems of traditions and have amazing stories of health and vitality to share. With no or minimum hospitalizations or major illnesses, they are the success stories of the power of prevention as purported and emphasized in Ayurveda and Yoga.

I would like to start with the story of Anand and Geeta and their college graduate son Mukul (names changed on request). Anand and Geeta are 55 yrs old, run their own business and have been living in the US since 2001. They grew up in Maharashtra and Gujarat, both states known for a strong practice of traditional wisdom at home, even today. Their life in US has been a reflection and replication of all those practices without any dilution. And it is no surprise that they have never suffered any major illness nor have they ever been hospitalized for any disease or condition. The entire family is fit. They swim and play tennis depending on the season and practice yoga daily.

Here is a typical day in their life – wake up around 7 AM. Their day starts with a 1 hour practice of yoga, which includes the 5 pranayams and a set of yogasanas. Tea at 8 AM is followed by a traditional but sumptuous breakfast around 9.30 AM. Their only full meal of the day is at 4 PM and it is again a full traditional fare. They don’t eat anything after that. Yes, no more meals after 4 PM. Maybe some fruits or a cup of milk before bed, but that is it. Bedtime is around 9.30-10 PM. During the day they may have coconut water or a fruit juice but no snacking on cookies or crackers. What a disciplined routine of eating – very much in line with the principles of Yoga and Ayurveda.

Some of their health and wellness practices – occasional Neti, meditation - without indulging in ritualistic religious practices, a regular exercise routine, eating well and eating right, in the right proportion and at the right time. Geeta shared with me how she had used traditional herb formulations pre and post delivery. She believes the traditional herb infusions, preparations and practices, helped her recover faster from the trauma of birthing and also in regaining strength.

Worth mentioning is that the entire family has never needed to take antibiotics. They do fall sick now and then, but using traditional knowledge of herbs and spices, they are able to get well sooner and without the unwanted side effects of modern medications. Since their entire lifestyle is healthy and disciplined, their immune system is in all probability stronger than other people of the same age. Geeta, the self-appointed family wellness expert () mentions these as her favorite herbs and formulae: Triphala powder, Sitopaladi powder, Sudarshan tablets, honey, ginger, pippali, Mahanarayan oil (for topical massage), to name a few.

Kudos to this family for using the ancient wisdom of our traditions wisely and to the fullest. It is a folly not to harvest and utilize the rich knowledge that has accumulated and evolved over the past so many centuries. Modern medicine is a boon and should be used like one – in acute and life threatening situations. For the rest, we can use the abundant resources in nature around us – just like we have always done.

Hope this article will provide some inspiration to all of us to step back and revisit our traditional practices one more time. Will be back soon with another interesting story!!

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