|Publisher: Penguin Ebury Press|
Originally Published: 2015
Author: Dr Bhaswati Bhattacharya
Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya’s Everyday Ayurveda does an exceptional job of clarifying the complex concepts of Ayurveda and relating them to modern medical knowledge. This is a feat that very few other books on the subject have achieved.
For years, people extolled Ayurvedic applications but also acknowledged they didn’t know much about the domain. The main cause was the use of the Sanskrit language in which the majority of texts had been composed.
Dr. Bhattacharya’s book is manna from heaven for all those people. It provides a more accessible way to learn about Ayurveda.
When translated from Sanskrit to English, Ayurveda means “Science of Life”. For centuries, people in India have practiced Ayurveda. In fact, even today, you will usually find someone in every Indian family who prefers the ancient medical system over Western medicine.
Dr. Bhattacharya’s family relocated from Kolkata to the US in the ’80s. She was raised in a household where both her parents were strong advocates of Ayurveda. After completing her Ph.D. in pharmacology and neuroscience in the ’90s, she gravitated back to Ayurveda. She remarks, “I wanted a science that was more aligned with Truth“.
In the first few chapters, she talks about the fundamental principles of Ayurveda, which hold that the human body reflects the qualities of a blend of five elements – water, air, earth, fire, and space/ether.
The combination of these elements makes up three mind-body types, also called Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. It’s important for anyone looking to develop a deep knowledge of Ayurveda to understand Doshas first.
Once the basic details are out of the way, Dr. Bhattacharya goes on to talk about a variety of remedies and treatments to keep the body and mind fit.
For the convenience of the modern-day reader, she has skillfully sliced the book into six sections:
I. Early Morning Rituals
Dr. Bhattacharya’s writing combines Ayurvedic teachings with examples of how they were applied in her own home.
She stresses that our physiognomy corresponds to what happens in the universe. Thus, it is essential to know and understand our own bodies and align them with nature. She suggests starting each day by waking up between 4 AM and 6 AM, consuming warm water, listening to soothing music, and engaging in meditation practices.
She recommends natural alternatives such as using pure ghee (clarified butter) over chemicals-laden moisturizers for skin care, switching from fluoride-based toothpaste to a ground mixture of cinnamon, cardamom, and clove for dental care, and many more. Some may view such practices as unverified, but those who have tried and tested these methods swear by their benefits.
What may not go down well with some readers are her sweeping assertions w.r.t the superiority of Ayurveda over modern science. She claims, “Ayurveda has observed patients for thousands of years, using clinical experience with humans, not mice and rats, as its foundation for evidence-based conclusions.”
It is true that many studies on Ayurveda lack scientific evidence. But this is not because the practice is not valid, rather it is due to a lack of financial support for research.
II. Opening the Five Senses
In this section, Dr. Bhattacharya delves into the methods of cleaning the five senses, specifically the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin.
Techniques discussed include using Karnapurana (a clove of garlic in warm sesame oil), Nasya and Strotosodhana (purifying nostrils by inhaling warm water), Gandusha (cleansing of the mouth with warm water and sesame oil), and Raga Chikitsa (the therapeutic use of music therapy to affect the body’s physiology).
For the well-being of the eyes, she recommends Trataka (looking at the rising sun). The celebrity neuroscientist Andrew Huberman has popularized the benefits of early morning sunlight in his podcast. However, this concept was first discussed in ancient Indian texts such as Matsya Purana and Atharva Veda.
Ayurveda doesn’t distinguish between mind and body as much as modern medicine. It also advises that too much of a good thing is not therapeutic.
III. The Bath
Everyday Ayurveda promotes the use of sesame and mustard oils as a daily hygiene practice, particularly before bathing. Dr. Bhattacharya advocates for natural fats over lotions and soaps.
She also advises using plant-based oils instead of petroleum-based products and encourages readers to be mindful of what they apply to their skin.
The book also includes various tips on daily hygiene such as skin, hair, and nail care, and taking care of feet, including the suggestion to take a cold shower before a meal for better digestion.
IV. Activities of the Day
The author argues that true Yoga goes beyond physical postures on a mat. It also encompasses how we interact with others and conduct ourselves in daily life. She recommends integrating practices such as spending time in nature, building strong relationships, and taking time for self-reflection to calm the often chaotic mind.
In a later chapter, she urges the reader to fit fasting and mindful food choices into the regimen.
This is the shortest section of the book. Mainly, the author has a couple of recommendations based on Ayurveda:
a) Eat freshly prepared food, and
b) Know when the food was last living and connected to the earth.
If you can’t establish when the plant or animal you are eating was last alive, it may not be safe to consume. It’s not food, says Dr. Bhattacharya. Instead, it is dead, processed stuff that can permeate into your living body and cause harm in the long run.
VI. Ratricharya (Routines for the night)
Long before “intermittent fasting” became fashionable, saints in India had been advocating eating less. In the last section of the book, the author shares specific guidelines on proper food combinations, when to eat what and what to avoid. I think I used my highlighter the most in this section – annotating and scribbling notes.
She also dispels a lot of misconceptions about Ayurveda. Contrary to popular perception, Ayurveda doesn’t forbit the consumption of alcohol or other indulgences. However, it does endorse moderation and adherence to a regimen.
I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon Everyday Ayurveda. Dr. Bhattacharya, as it turns out, is an author of exceptional intellectual and spiritual caliber.
Her book is a great starting point for anyone who seeks to build his knowledge about the ancient Indian tradition. But what makes the book even more interesting is how it also resonates on an emotional level with the reader.
The heartwarming accounts of her parents’ struggle and how they instilled the values of Ayurveda in their children’s lives render the reader both emotional and inspired.
Finally, I recommend Everyday Ayurveda for all those who are looking for a book that explains Ayurveda in a modern-day context. It packs solid knowledge, and the engaging style of writing keeps you riveted page after page.
I wish other books about Ayurveda were written in a similar style and spirit.
©BookJelly. All rights reserved