Written by John Immel,
Is Ayurveda really about your health? We say no. At Joyful Belly, we believe Ayurveda is about something greater than health. Ayurveda literally translates into "the science of life." As a practitioner, I have come to realize that Ayurveda's focus is exactly what its name implies - not health, but living. The science of life simply asks one question: "How can we have life and have it abundantly?"
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Health obviously plays an important role in living well. Yet everyday we see in our clinic how excessive concern for one's health often leads to disease due to stress, worry, and perfectionism. Orthorexia, or excessive preoccupation with healthy eating, is itself a disease. What then, if not health perfectionism, does practicing the "science of life" look and feel like?
Instead of perfect health, Ayurveda cultivates a perfect love for life. Ayurveda practitioners are life-lovers. They "love living things." They may love gardening and growing their own food. Perhaps they own a few chickens or pets. They love children, family, and people. They choose to surround themselves with life, giving their attention to things that are alive. They devote themselves to increasing life and celebrate the birth of life. They preserve life with medicines, encourage others with philosophies that affirm life, and live life fully and completely. They cultivate love of living things as a virtue.
Loving and tending livings things is a character choice that affects each and every part of a practitioner's existence. This disposition also brings them into communion with all that is necessary to support life, and gives practitioners an uncanny knack for living well. This sentiment of a society organized in the support of life is eloquently captured in the gospel of John, where Jesus states, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)
The practice of loving life naturally leads to a certain "bio-passionate" lifestyle and personality. The habit of life-loving may be compared to tending a garden. To tend a garden, you regularly water the garden, fertilize it, and let it grow. Tending the garden is simple, peaceful, and quiet. It is a wholesome, structured activity requiring time, patience, daily attention, and a gentle hand. Ayurveda is similarly wholesome, gentle, and patient. Practicing Ayurveda means inviting routine, regularity, and slowness to your life. To love life, one must tend to the body. This includes cultivating joy for all the activities necessary to support one's biology, from cooking, to fitness, to cleanliness, to getting to bed on time. Supporting life also requires pruning some branches every now and then.
Yet, a garden is insufficient to give humans all that they need to thrive. Humans are also social beings. In short, life-loving people recognize they need each other to support life well. So the personality of life-loving is not only a habit of care-taking in the garden, but includes warmth and affection towards those closest to us. Ayurveda works best in a structured environment of mutual support, such as that found within a family. Family is the foundational societal unit for creation and maintenance of life, so the "science of life" flourishes naturally in this context. In India, Ayurveda is practiced by traditional families. It is anything but exotic. Instead, the feeling of Ayurveda is more like going to grandma's house for Thanksgiving. It is not an escape from social norms, but a return home.
As you deepen into your practice of Ayurvedic life-loving, health perfectionism naturally transforms into a healthy appreciation for the miracle of life. With this change, a spirit of nurturing will replace diet, health austerity, and rigidity. Ayurveda's gentleness will reassure you that you truly can be flexible with your diet even as you follow some simple guidelines. Let Ayurveda cultivate this wholesome practice as a way of life. You will enjoy the stability and contentment Ayurveda offers.
Then, let Ayurveda's generosity extend to those individuals in your family or close circle of friends, even to those that have hurt you. Harness your new strength and resilience, the gifts of Ayurveda, to be an inspiring example of love to those who need it. The joy that results is the true practice of Ayurveda.
Here are some ways you can participate in life-loving activities:
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
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I LOVED THIS ARTICLE, JOHN! Thank you. So many people I know have the impression that Ayurveda requires you to be a slave to rigid routines and live a very "non-fun" life. I like to say "Live well to be well" and this article confirms my sentiments that that which heals should feel good :) And what is MOST important to life is love for living beings!
Love this article! This way of looking at Ayurveda truly resonates with me.
Thank you for this helpful article. I tend to be in that "rigid, perfectionist" category and to learn that there is a different path feels like a life line.