Striking a balance between opposites is key to good health
With today’s technological advances and information boom, there are countless options to maintain good health. And yet, a dispassionate observer can clearly sense that, somehow, somewhere, something deeply fundamental is missing. Even the so-called holistic systems often don’t seem integrated enough to deliver on their promises! The reason is not difficult to find.
For any approach to good health to succeed, there are various factors or aspects — we will call them sub-systems — to be reckoned with. These subsystems, the structure and organisation within each and the interconnections must be clearly understood. For example, a person’s body, breath and mind form one sub-system, affected by food, family, society and the environment. And changes in one subsystem will affect all the others. To understand the full impact of these changes, we need to understand the nature of the interconnections among subsystems and their effects, and then we must integrate them into our life. All of this is necessary if we are to formulate a system of physical and psychological health care that can be considered truly holistic.
The ideal approach to good health has been clearly spelt out — in Yoga and Ayurveda. However, it is important to recognise right at the outset that, whatever proposed in these two are completely non-sectarian. Based as it is on natural laws, it is universally applicable to all peoples, times and places. It is comprehensive in scope, articulates the components of all the subsystems, and acknowledges the interconnections and effects of one subsystem upon another.
A basic tenet of yoga is the presence of pairs — of opposites, all around us. In the environment heat is balanced by cold. Physical (bodily) movement is made with gravity or against gravity. When we breathe, we either inhale or exhale. Mentally, the balance is between habit and change. With food, the balance is between heating and cooling. Health is obtained and sustained when there is equilibrium between the opposites.
To understand how the overall system works, we can try a simple experiment on ourselves. To relax and quiet down our system and to fall asleep easily at night, we can simply extend the length of our exhalation while lying down in bed. This will quiet down our mental activity and decrease the overall activity in our system. It is such a simple act, and a far healthier alternative to a glass of wine at bedtime.
Conversely, if we wish to energise our system mentally and physically, in order to prepare for the day’s activities, we can increase activity by doing upward arm stretches (moving against gravity) in conjunction with long inhalation (breath in). This is much healthier than drinking strong black coffee in the morning! The systems approach can be easily integrated into your life — in your own time and at your own pace.
However, it must be clearly understood that what is proposed is not a quick fix to health problems. Permanent results will rarely be seen overnight, and they should not be expected by a serious practitioner. Patience, dedication and fortitude are expected and, if followed, lasting results will be seen. What can be said in unambiguous terms is that regularly following the systems approach will lead to long lasting health benefits. This will include greater mental and emotional stability, physical and psychological well-being.
This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.