by Parmjit Singh, PhD
In the age of high-tech answers to health problems, it is refreshing to see a book which prescribes easy and natural methods to restore health. But it asks different questions and proposes different modalities. How many of us would think that ‘our purpose’ in life has something to do with our mental and physical health? This line of thinking has gone out of the corridors of medicine since long. The role of existential dilemmas or anguish on health does not bother medical specialists these days anymore and if any one dares rake these issues they are conveniently pigeonholed into ‘new-age thinkers’.
This short 100 page book is packed with natural prescriptions to reclaim our health and well-being. “It provides a simple systematic approach to diet, exercise, breath awareness, positive use of emotions, relationships and meditation…so that the whole person—body, mind, spirit—can achieve radiant health” (Foreword, IX). What makes this small book stand out from all others in a bookstore is that it explores the concept of health from the perspective of our purpose in life. “What is your purpose in life?” it asks, and “how are you going to achieve that purpose?” It is hardly a question we think about when talking about health and wellness. We are more given to healthy physiological indices and measurements and the whole field of science is devoted to correcting these indices or bringing them back to ‘so-called’ normalcy. But here lies the difference between Swami Rama, who amazed scientists at Menninger Foundation of Topeka, USA in the 70’s by willfully controlling his involuntary physiological functions such as heart rate and conventional experts. Conventional wisdom in science at that time was of the opinion that one cannot control vital functions of the body.
Thinking of health in terms of existential purpose or dilemmas is natural to a person who spent a large part of his life meditating and mastering his inner processes. Holistic health to Swami Rama is to understand the entire human being, its preferences, strengths and weaknesses and not simply the physical body. “When we start to analyze our self…we know that we are not body alone. We lived with the body so much, and have been told so often that our body is who we are, that we constantly identify with it. This belief is so strong that no matter how much we read or study, no matter how much someone teaches us differently, our entire consciousness comes back to the body alone” (pg. 7). But are we body alone?
The book is divided into seven convenient chapters. It talks about holistic health, cleansing, nourishing, exercise, being still, emotions and finally self-training. But all these issues are dealt with added context of ‘higher purpose’, ancient yoga practice and Ayurveda. Cleansing does not just mean simply throwing out physical waste from body. To Swami Rama, cleansing is much more profound and should be undertaken consciously so that we get rid of all the toxins that lie in our body because “[I]f cleansing systems are not functioning properly, the nourishing system (the second stage, added) cannot do their work; the body will begin to break down” (pg. 17). Cleansing, in this case, is not limited but extends to breathing as well. Lungs are a powerful channel for expelling toxins. Alternate nostril breathing can help to purge toxins from body. The author recommends that “You should be aware of inhalation and exhalation and make sure they are regulated properly, for this will clean the lungs” (pg. 19). In addition, the book comes with a suggested intake of foods, fluids and appropriate method of fasting so that our body is cleansed properly.
After talking about cleansing the body of unnecessary physical and mental toxins, next comes the nourishment: what should we eat and how it should be eaten? “Watch carefully what and how you eat…Gulping down food and drinks without chewing properly, or without resting between the meals, or eating during stressful circumstances, leads to poor digestion” (pg.30). By staying away from bad foods, too much sugar or salt and chewing foods properly, one sets the stage for good health and can avoid digestive problems. Proper exercise is the next important factor which each one of us should follow to maintain good health. But he emphasizes a ‘proper’ exercise, not just mindless panting-puffing running or jogging we often witness on the roads. Swami Rama recommends combining yoga (gentle in nature) with jogging (aerobic) to reap maximum benefits. Ill-health is largely a symptom of physical and mental breakdown and “[I]llness often follows inactivity and depression, but it can be removed with exercise and sense of purpose and well-being” (pg. 53). Through proper mindful exercise, we can reclaim our vitality, awareness and “only when you are healthy and strong can the mind, will and emotions be trained, and this is essential for spiritual growth” (pg. 54).
Next prescription is ‘being still’—to create a sense of inner peace and tranquility because it is not possible to have a healthy body without a healthy mind. Mind and body run hand in hand and influence each other profoundly. As mind is usually made of habits and impression, it is imperative that we develop a discipline to unlearn all those negative habits and impressions. When you sit still and delve deep beyond your ordinary thoughts and patterns, you “come in touch with your inner potential for creativity, happiness and truth” (pg. 57). Another important factor given prominence in this book is emotions because correct emotional expression can lead to creativity and freedom. However, in order to get in touch with our emotions, we need to master our thoughts because “it is the bridge between consciousness and creative thought” (pg. 74). Understanding the origin and effects of emotions such as anger, jealousy, love, pride, attachment etc. can open the door for creating a life full of happiness and joy. As our emotions become more fine-tuned and we are able to control their expression without going to extremes, it exerts positive effects on our health and well-being. Research has shown that positive attitude, happiness, good relationships and humor have powerful health-promoting effects. Additionally, “positive emotion leads you to self-reliance and self-confidence, and motivates your mind, action, and speech in joyous and creative way” (pg. 84). Health is all about understanding and accepting one’s inner reality. Resistance of any kind to our inner reality leads to self-condemnation and generates various physical and mental problems and “there is no way to over-come self-condemnation except to rely on your own inner mirror, your conscience. Going against your conscience is suicide” (pg. 86).
And the only way we can let this not happen, is to embark upon a personal ‘self-training’—a purpose-driven quest where we know why we are doing what we are doing. This book is about creating health and well-being. But rather than dishing out conventional recommendations about proper diet, exercise etc. so common in health arena these days, it challenges us to find the purpose of our life so that we become in tune with our mental, physical and spiritual calling. When we are in touch with the higher purpose of our life, ordinary stresses, depressions and meaninglessness related to daily grind disappear or turn into mere inconveniences of life. In that case, we become truly independent and self-reliant and minor disappointments do not send us on a binge-eating or the blood pressure soaring.
If you are looking for perennial remedies for health and life, you should not miss this book. It is a no-nonsense, practical guide from a person who knows what he is talking about—from direct experience. And most of the resources he suggests to be used are well within us—without any extra cost.