What is health?
Is health the absence of disease? Is health a birth right or simply luck? According to Ayuveda, India's ancient art of healing, the meaning of health is a single word: Swastha. Swa = self + Stha = established. Thus a person is healthy when '"established in the self." Immunity is much more than T-cells, B-cells and antibodies. Health depends upon a well-integrated core of identity. Thus, health is a birth right.
The Self as defined by Ayuveda is not identical to the western concept of ego. It is the power of individual identity that fosters one to have an existence apparently separate from all other beings. In Sanskrit this is called Ahamkara - literally, the "I-former." You are you and not he, she, we or they because of Ahamkara. It is the creative power that gives you your sense of "I am." Ahamkara consistently identifies with an individual body, mind, and spirit enabling them to exist together as a living being. It is the center of your awareness and from it come feelings of my: my body, my emotions, my thoughts, my personality, etc. Where there is my, there is I.
Each of the millions and millions of cells that make up you has a center of awareness. Ahamkara is that center. How well your self identifies with these cells determines your resistance to disease. Just as a strong central government protects its citizens, so too a strong central identity protects the body. Because the body and mind are intimately connected, (contrary to western thought) your self-esteem is your cells' self-esteem. Without sufficient self-esteem and self-love the cells become more vulnerable to the harmful effects of stress.
Stress is an insidious precursor to disease. In simple terms, stress occurs every time you adapt to a new situation. Consequently, every time your environment changes you must create a new equilibrium with it to stay healthy. 'Environment' includes not only your physical space, but also your mental, emotional, social, and spiritual surroundings. Only by being centered and stable in your self can you have the adaptability to roll with life's punches and face the innumerable challenges to your well-being.
It can be said, you have a body self, mind self, and spirit self. Health requires establishment in each of these selves. You need to have a sound mind, in a sound body and a healthy relationship with Universal Spirit. Vertically body, mind and spirit needs to flow in dynamic interplay. Horizontally you need to have a harmonious relationship with your family and society and your self needs to remember its debt to the one who created it.
Health as defined by Ayurveda is not the mere absence of disease. Swastha is a positive state of multi-layered well-being. Each level of our being affects and reflects the others. A happy, contented mind projects health into the body. Love, trust, and compassion needs to be developed if you are to be healthy. Modern neuropsychiatry has discovered specific neuropeptides associated with joy and happiness that communicate with the body's trillions of cells. Likewise, the health of mind and emotions depend upon bodily health. Physical toxins and poor digestion impair mental digestion creating mental toxins like fear, anger, greed, attachment, envy, and judgment. The old saying 'the body is a temple of the spirit' is a factual reality. A firm (as in healthy) body 'firms-up' ahamkara and she reciprocated by projecting health into it.
Establishing one self into one's self is not an egotistical attempt to become bigger, better, or more important. Over investment in self is as dangerous as its opposite. Selfishness can only lead us further away from each other and our source in Spirit. Without empathy and compassion for all other living beings, we become destructive to them and ourselves. Invest in your self so that your health and harmony act as a harmonizing influence on those around you and contributes to the health of your environment. This is Swastha.
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD