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Ayurveda for Health in the Workplace

by Carl Lyons(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 90 - July 2003

One of the most useful and often overlooked ways of utilizing Ayurveda lies in its proactive and conscious management of health and performance in our professional lives. The principles are practical but very powerful, and the result is living a balanced life with total awareness and maximum contribution. Ayurveda considers our health as a launch pad for our other life experiences. By achieving our personal optimum health we can achieve extraordinary things in other areas of our life: energy levels can soar, concentration improve and we can perform to our full potential all of the time, without compromise. Here we will take a very brief look at some of these practical tools that have been combined with techniques from other systems, such as visualization and NLP, to provide amazing results in the workplace.

Figure 1: Ayurvedic energy cycles thoughout the day
Figure 1: Ayurvedic energy cycles thoughout the day

Philosophy in a Nutshell

The basic premise of Ayurveda is that we were actually designed for high levels of energy and consistently good health.

Swasthavrittam is the Sanskrit term that refers to the positive management of health. Its underlying philosophy is summarized under three pillars: Ahara (food), Vihara (activity) and Vichaara (Thinking).

By optimizing our health through the skilful use of food, exercise and thinking, we balance and support the three vital energy forces, or doshas, of Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

There is a certain rhythm about nature that is reflected in daily, seasonal and time-of-life cycles. Ayurveda relates these rhythms to the predominance of doshas throughout the day and the year. It describes a daily routine, called dinacharya, that utilizes these natural energy fluctuations and, when used skilfully, makes them work for us rather than against us. Ayurveda breaks the day into the following six energy peaks.

Skilful Eating

Our eating habits are so fundamentally important to our energy levels and performance that they are often overlooked. The digestion of our food takes more energy than anything else we do and energy is a little like money; no matter how much people have, they can always usefully use a little more. Ayurveda describes the eight-fold discipline of food which includes not only what to eat, but also when, how and where to eat. Often the timing and quantity of our food has as much impact on our available energy as the nature of the food we ingest.

When we Eat

• The best time for us to eat is when our digestive fire (agni, a component of Pitta dosha) is at its' peak. This is at midday, between the hours of 10.00 and 14.00, and, if possible, our main meal should be eaten during this period. (See Figure 1 above).
• One classification of food in Ayurveda describes food as being light or heavy in terms of ability to digest. For example, rice is considered light and meat is considered heavy. If you are going to consume heavier foods such as animal proteins, then this should be included in your lunch time meal giving your body all day to digest it.
• Make your evening meal lighter, vegetable based if possible, which should be finished before 20.00 and at least two hours before you go to bed.
• This cycle means that your digestion will not interfere with your sleeping pattern and your food should have been fully digested and eliminated by the time you get up in the morning.
• This, coupled with a light breakfast, will give you high energy throughout the day, but particularly good intellectual clarity during the pitta period of the day.
• Avoid drinking tea and coffee after lunch as this will aggravate the vata period in the afternoon, which starts from about 14.00.

How and Where we Eat

• Put the ceremony back into eating. Ayurveda states that we absorb subtle energies through our food, not only from the food itself, but also how it has been cooked, by whom and our state of mind as we eat. If you're reading e-mails from your boss whilst eating your lunch, you will absorb some of that trauma through your food. If you can't enjoy a relaxed environment, cultivate a serene state of mind as you eat.
• Food is much more than just fuel for our physical body – we have a complex emotional relationship with what we eat. By getting in touch with the subtle messages our bodies are sending all of the time, we can overcome the years of conditioning that have lead us to lose contact, or suppress these messages. Aim to separate your cravings from your body's true needs and eat with awareness – you will notice that you will grow to love the things that your body loves.
• Notice the smells, colours and tastes, chew your food properly and your body will love you for it, rewarding you with efficient and complete digestion and super-energy.

How Much

• Yogis state that we should have ½ our stomach filled with food, ¼ with fluid and ¼ empty for effective circulation and manipulation of the contents. Get used to tuning in to these quantities. (See Figure 2)

Figure 2: Ideal stomach contents after a meal
Figure 2: Ideal stomach contents after a meal

• We only become aware of parts of our body if there is a problem (you only 'feel' your head when you have a headache!). If you become aware of your stomach as you are eating, you've probably eaten too much.

Understand your Digestive Indicators

• Only eat when you are hungry! We often eat out of habit rather than need.
• Before you eat, score your hunger on a scale of 1-10. Anything over 6 or 7 and you probably need some nourishment; anything less, go and find something more interesting to do to distract you from your craving.
• Alternatively, go and drink something like water or a fruit tea as we often mistake dehydration for hunger.

To help us develop this intuitive relationship with our body, Ayurveda offers some indicators to check the efficiency of our digestion:

Indications of poor digestion are:

• You don't feel hungry before eating
• You have frequent headaches
• You experience bloating or wind
• Your have strong food cravings
• Your bowels are irregular
• You feel sluggish
• Your tongue is coated

• Eat like a child. Much of the advice offered in Ayurveda is based upon keen observations of nature. For example, if you observe children before they are conditioned to do otherwise, they generally eat when they are hungry and only as much as they need.

Skilful Activity

As with eating, our activities are not just about what we do, but also about when they are undertaken. Ayurveda explains that the activities you adopt at the beginning of the day set the mood for the rest of it.

Wake-up Routine

• Yogis state that the healthiest time of the day to rise is during Bramha Muhurtham – or just before sunrise! This is when vata dosha dominates which is energetic and dynamic. This avoids the following kapha period which is characterized by a heavy, sluggish energy.
• Splash your face seven times with cool water which disperses residual pitta energy; the eyes are an important 'seat' of pitta and seven is auspicious as it is the number of chakras in the subtle body. It also rehydrates the skin and prepares it for the daily onslaught of heat, stress and pollution.
• After 6.00am, kapha pacifying activities should be undertaken. This is the best time of the day to complete your yoga routine, breathing and meditation.
• Scrape your tongue. That layer of fuzz on your tongue is ama – a form of toxin according to Ayurveda and you should avoid ingesting it with your food. Tongue scraping should be done from back to front and not only gets rid of ama, but also stimulates the taste buds and awakens your senses.
• Gargle with some sesame oil. This is called gandusha in Ayurveda and strengthens the teeth and gums, as well as improving the voice. Spit out the oil and massage the remainder into your gums.
• Massage your ears with a little sesame oil. There are some important energy channels connected to the ears and this simple oil massage will protect the whole body and stimulate all of your senses.
• Finish your routine by rubbing a small amount of the oil inside your nostrils. Ayurveda considers the nose as the pathway to the brain and this will ensure mental clarity, as well as cleaning the sinuses.
• After eating a light breakfast, you are ready to head into work with a lightness and energy that will set the tone for the rest of your day.

Working with Awareness

Your body was designed for movement. We often suffer more in the workplace than anywhere else, as this is the place where we get stressed, sit for long periods and often in positions that are harmful. Sitting in an office in front of a computer prevents your body and mind from doing what they are designed to do and performing at their best.

• Aim to be aware of your posture and any points of stress or tension in your body as you sit. You should move at least every half hour, just for a few minutes; programme a screen saver or put a post-it note on your desk to remind you.
• After eating, Ayurveda says that you should take at least one hundred steps to aid your digestive process. If you cannot walk around, complete some simple desk-top yoga exercises.
• Movement improves our digestion (by increasing agni), helps to improve circulation, eliminate waste products and balance all three doshas. It is easy if we are sat at a desk to complete these simple but powerful exercises, starting at your neck and moving down your body to your legs, moving all major muscle groups and joints.

Breathing and Visualization at Work

Yoga not only includes physical movement, but also active use of the breath and positive control of our mental processes. Following the desk-top yoga, try the following simple breathing techniques:

Yogic breath: Most of us do not utilize our full breathing capacity, particularly when we are stressed. A full inhalation should engage your diaphragm and push out your abdomen, your ribs should expand outwards and your chest rise into your neck. An exhale should reverse this process. Practise getting this gentle wave-like movement without straining. Once you have the movement flowing and natural, inhale for a count of five, hold for a count of five and breathe out for a count of ten. Take about five of these breaths and do this whenever you are feeling stressed or anxious;

Alternate nostril breathing: This is another technique and may take a little more practice, but once mastered, helps to combat stress, clear sinuses, raise body temperature and balance all three doshas in the body. Place your index finger of your right hand between your eyebrows, your thumb on your right nostril and your ring finger on your left nostril. Closing your right nostril, breathe in through your left for a count of five (using your full yogic breath as described above). Close your left nostril and breathe out of your right for a count of ten. Breathe in through the right nostril for a count of five and then out of the left for a count of ten. This is one round. Complete three rounds;

Energetic Light Visualization: find a few quiet moments each day to use visualization to bring you positive energy. Sit is a quiet place and take a deep breath. Take your mind to your eyelids and, on the exhale, feel the tension drain from your body; from your eyelids, over your head, down your body and out through your feet. Take another deep breath and, on the exhale relax your mind, as you see yourself slide into a personal sanctuary, such as a beautiful garden. Visualize yourself sat there and bring a healing light into your body. See it fill you from the top of your head to the tips of your toes until it radiates from your skin. Keep this glowing energy with you throughout the day and top it up often.

Skilful Thinking

Our thinking is arguably the most important pillar of the three as it drives the way that we eat and the way we behave. By practically applying Ayurveda, we are provided with the physical and mental resources to achieve those things we desire to experience in life. Here are some tools that help us to be clear about who we are and where we are going:

Raise your Standards

We are often challenged in our society to lower our expectations and accept much less than we are capable of, particularly where our health is concerned. Raise your standards; your body was designed to achieve the best level of health it is capable of, all of the time, without compromise. This is not just an intellectual ideal – once you have set your new expectations, behave consistently with them.

Understand your Personal Values

Be clear about what drives you. What is important to you? What are you passionate about? What would you like to be remembered for? By understanding your basic motivators and aligning your activities with them, you can live with breathtaking clarity.

Have a Strong Enough Reason Why

Make your reasons why stronger than your reasons why not. Make your health a key project and aim to manage it with fierce discipline, rather than letting circumstances dictate your outcomes.

Monitor your Thinking and Speech Patterns

Be aware of your mental and verbal 'wallpaper' – those patterns that you developed many years ago and have not bothered to revisit since. Your thoughts create your reality and, therefore, concentrate only on the positive. Wear an elastic band on your wrist for two weeks and whenever you catch yourself thinking a negative thought, or using negative vocabulary, 'snap' the band and remind yourself to change your habits. Concentrate on where you are going, not where you have come from; develop a consciousness of health rather than battling disease; move towards abundance rather than fighting poverty.

Have a Clear Vision

Having clarity of vision is the most powerful thing that you can ever do in your life. Decide who you wish to be, what experiences you desire and get very, very clear about how you will look, feel and act. Turn your vision into two key goals and write them out every day religiously, until they become a reality in your life. Build your goals into daily visualizations and engage all of your senses when you experience them.

Is This Who You Wish to Be?

Everything you do and say is self-defining. Stop before every activity; before taking that job, going into that relationship, or eating that chocolate biscuit and ask yourself if it is consistent with your personal vision. By living with this kind of awareness, you turn everything you do into a decision and, suddenly, everything becomes a conscious choice.

Living Your Life Skilfully

Combining these powerful techniques on a daily basis leads to living your personal and professional life deliberately, consciously and skilfully. Skilful Living is about taking control of your life and actively designing the outcomes. What is more important than that?

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About Carl Lyons

Carl Lyons is a qualified Ayurvedic consultant, Yoga teacher, clinical hypnotherapist and life coach. He has studied in England and India where he trained under a traditional master of Ayurveda and Yoga. He runs ReCreate, a values driven company that specializes in helping organizations and individuals to meet their full potential and make a lasting difference. He can be contacted on Tel: 020-8694 1195 or Carl.Lyons@ReCreate.ws

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