Editor’s Note: Andrew Weil, M.D. is a world-renowned leader, best-selling author, and...
In this very moment you are seamlessly connected to the cosmos. The same deep intelligence that streams through the rivers flows through your bloodstream, and the same breath that nourishes your cells animates the life of a rain forest. Although it may seem like you are separate from the world “out there,” in reality your body and the universe are made up of the same molecules, obey the same principles, and are inextricably connected.
More than 5,000 years ago, the Vedic sages of India understood what quantum physicists are just beginning to recognize: we are all part of an infinite field of intelligence that orchestrates all of the activities in the universe. With every breath, we exchange our personal energy with the energy of the universe, and we are constantly taking in impressions via the five sense organs – the ears, skin, eyes, tongue, and nose.
In Ayurveda, sensory impressions are considered crucial to health. Just as the food we eat creates our bodily tissues, our sensory impressions determine the quality of our thoughts and emotions. If we want greater physical and emotional well-being, we can use sounds, feelings, sights, tastes, and smells to balance and heal our selves. At the Chopra Center’s Perfect Health program, patients learn how to awaken their inner pharmacy using the tools of the five senses. Here are a few suggestions that you can use in your own daily routine.
Every sound has a physiological effect. When you listen to a beautiful piece of music or inspirational words, a cascade of pleasure-producing chemicals course through your body, supporting health and wholeness. In contrast, studies of urban environments show that people subjected to ongoing noise pollution are more likely to suffer from stress and lowered immune function.
Ayurveda recognizes that music is a valuable therapeutic tool for balance and healing. The specific sounds that will benefit you most depend a great deal on your mind-body type, known as your dosha in Ayurveda. If you don’t know your dosha, there is a complete dosha questionnaire at www.chopra.com/doshaquiz. It is also important to simply tune in to your body and discover which sounds are healing and inspiring for you. If you feel refreshed, joyful, and alert, the music is working.
The visual impressions you take in have a surprisingly profound effect on your mind, body, and emotions. Watching violent movies or television shows triggers your body’s stress response, creating jittery cells and suppressing the immune system. In contrast, looking at peaceful or beautiful images creates a cascade of soothing neurochemicals in the body.
Surrounding yourself with images that uplift your spirit is as important for your health as nutritious food. Spending time in nature is healing for your mind, body, and soul. When you view a gorgeous sunset, look into the eyes of your beloved, or see a magnificent painting, you cultivate the power of your inner pharmacy.
The most primitive of the senses, smell connects us directly with our memories, emotions, and instincts. When we smell something, we are actually absorbing some of its molecules, making aromatherapy a form of natural medicine. Here are some specific suggestions for balancing fragrances:
Invigorating Cooling Calming
Lemon Jasmine Lavender
Orange Mint Vanilla
Clove Lime Sandalwood
Cinnamon Rose Neroli
You can also use a process known as neuroassociative conditioning to consciously link a healing response to a given smell. First choose a favorite aroma and inhale it whenever you are feeling relaxed, calm or happy. Your body will begin to associate pleasurable feelings with the smell. Before long, just a hint of the fragrance will invoke your inner healing response.
The Sense of Taste
Ayurveda categorizes food into six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Each of the tastes has a unique effect on our mind-body physiology and provides the flavor that makes eating a pleasure. If you include the six tastes in a meal, you will get the nutrients you need and will feel completely satisfied and energized. If one or more of the tastes are missing from a meal, however, you may feel full but unsatisfied and find yourself snacking two hours later. You can find more in-depth information on the six tastes here.
Touch is fundamental to health and well-being. When your skin is stimulated by loving touch or massage, it releases many healing chemicals that enhance immune function, improve circulation, and promote restful sleep.
You can give yourself the healing benefits of touch every day with an Ayurvedic self-massage or abhyanga. For those who are feeling excessively stressed and ungrounded, use heavy, warm oils such as sesame or almond. If you are feeling irritated or overheated, try cooling oils such as coconut, sunflower or olive. Finally, if you are feeling sluggish or lethargic, massaging yourself vigorously with oils such as safflower, sunflower or mustard will help invigorate you.