Wellness, Well-Being & Happiness- The Āyurveda Way

The last few years have seen a rise in interest in Wellness, Well-Being and Happiness. As I read literature, it is surprising that happiness is seen as a skill, rather than a state of Being. This has happened probably because human beings have got stuck with the concept of the brain as the center. Seeing our brain as the center, and happiness as a skill seems like clinging to the fleeting and transitory information of the leaves, rather than going deeper to the wisdom of the roots.

As per an anecdote, long ago humanity was suffering from various physical and psychological ailments. The Rishis, who were full of compassion for the suffering, had a round table. They felt a need for foundational correction and a knowledge that can create health and well-being, essential for happiness. Ṛṣi Bhāradvāja, reached out to Indra and Brahma for the Knowledge of Āyurveda. This knowledge was revealed to the Rishi born out of compassion for humanity. This story or Itihasa of Āyurveda is narrated in Caraka Saṃhitā, sūtrasthāna, 1.18. Literally, the word Āyurveda is translated as Veda- the Knowledge of Āyu or Life.

Unfortunately, like yoga being understood and practiced more often as Hatha Yoga, or Āsana and Prāṇāyāma, Āyurveda has been limited to treating diseases. When Ayu is life, then what kind of knowledge does Āyurveda give us about life? Āyu, when translated as Life, usually is seen as lifespan. When we look around the world, even with growing lifespans, are we content? If not, let us see why and also see what Āyu is.

With many countries participating in World Yoga Day, the world is still far from being a better place to live. What is missing? An immature scholar looks for superficial knowledge (Saṃskṛta saying – Pallava Gṛhī Paṃḍitam, implying that real knowledge is in the roots, and not the leaves). Similarly, to understand Wellness, Well-Being and Happiness we need to go to the roots, not just cling to the leaves. The roots are in the philosophy and worldview of the philosophy of Yoga and the twin Āyurveda. In Vaidika literature, Yoga and Āyurveda are not seen as separate branches of knowledge.

When we connect with the roots, we connect with the essence of knowledge. Āyurveda’s definition of life is of critical importance in contemporary times. Of course, it means longevity; however, the description includes life in life. Āyu is known by various terms in Āyurveda, like Dhari- “that which upholds, prevents the body from decay”, Jīvitama- “that which is living”, Nityāga- “that which keeps the soul, mind and body intact, integrated”, and Anubaṃdha- “binding, connection, attachment, uninterrupted succession”. Merely living long without these qualities seems futile. How does this kind of longevity unfold? Old age reflects how one has lived life from childhood. What has been the driver of life? Are wellness and well-being priorities? How is happiness defined and achieved? Āyurveda answers such questions. It is almost like a manual of how to live life. The ‘how’ unfolds from the ‘why’ of life. Positive psychology, a very recent field, has now integrated some of the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ in research, however, the major missing foundation from positive psychology is the totality of Life- body-brain-mind-heart and Spirit or Consciousness.

Āyurveda describes what is Āyu, then also goes deeper to describe 4 types of Āyus or lifestyles which are lived by human beings. They are described as Hita and Sukha, Ahita and Dukha Āyu. Hita is a Saṃskṛta word, meaning one that is beneficial, blessings, creating happiness and welfare. It is very interesting to note that in the Āyurveda texts, Hita precedes Sukha. So, well-being is connected with living life in a holistic and meaningful way, rather than chasing happiness. Hita Ayu is one where an individual is enjoying physical, emotional, spiritual health, is interconnected with
community, environment and focusing also on the larger picture, the life beyond this life. This attitude requires keeping relationships in harmony and generating prosperity.

Virtues of truthfulness, peace, lack of jealousy, charity, pursuit of knowledge, strength of character are integral in the life of a person who is leading a Hita life. Even if physical and emotional health is to be achieved, one needs to have the meta-skill of self-awareness and know what kind of lifestyle choices, food, and relationships are beneficial to my well-being. The absence of disease is not synonymous with health. Health as per Āyurveda is a holistic balance of body-mind-consciousness. The texts describe and prescribe the pathway to be in the zone of health. There is an emphasis on self-responsibility to be in this zone. It is not about medical consultants and nutrition supplements. Hita requires a full understanding of the totality of life and its impact on us. Even a single thought to harm someone can create vibrations that may lead to a compromised quality of life. This kind of mindfulness was a way of life millennia ago. This needs to be the definition of whether a nation is developed, developing or underdeveloped. Expanded awareness and conscious living are the parameters for Hita Āyu.

The idea of Happiness when drawn from “Sukha” enriches our understanding from mere high-arousal, instant gratification of desires, and indulgence in what gives us pleasure- even if it harms health or wellbeing. Sukha is creating the environment or Kha, where one experiences Su (denotes aspects of well-being, welfare, auspiciousness, and deep connection with Consciousness). Sukha is a state of Being, following universal laws of life called Dharma.
‘Beingfulness’ is the higher level from ‘Mindfulness’ in a way that it is an awareness of our existence beyond just body and mind and includes our interconnectedness with Nature and Cosmos.

My journey to Yoga and Āyurveda began with the quest for ‘real psychology’. The more I read and learned, the more it woke up my desire to delve deeper into the ocean of wisdom. The dots started connecting themselves as I journeyed through life in various roles as a teacher, human resource professional and journalist, education and psychology became my passion. I realized that happiness is not a skill to be learnt, maybe it is more about unlearning and deconditioning our brains from external definitions of happiness. In contemporary times, the role of Heart, as the center of Consciousness, is absent in our lives- both in society and in the teachings of most educational
institutions. Hence, we realize how our myopic understanding has led to a life that is described in Āyurveda as Ahita or Dukha. The center of our Being is not the brain, but the Heart. The Heart knows through Consciousness what Hita and Sukha are. The Centre of our being is the Heart where consciousness resides. On a lighter note – this is why we can be brainwashed but not ‘heart washed’. Wisdom must be earned through life’s experiences or facilitated by going deeper into our own Heart.

To conclude, Āyurveda begins at the roots of consciousness and gives us a holistic understanding of ourselves, the world, and the Cosmos. The rishis codified these truths as Dharma, the sustainable laws of the Universe that hold and nurture us. This year may the International Day of Yoga take us deeper into the roots and heart of Wellness, Well-Being, and Happiness.

​Written by Dr. ​Mala Kapadia, originally published in the OM RISE Magazine, #​10​, ​June 2022 | ​Yoga, Āyurveda, ​and ​Society

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