We live in an incredible universe, on a beautiful planet. Our personal health is inextricably connected to the health of this globe – our home – which spins so silently through space. The elements that make up our bodies come from stars whose inner heat burned out, leading to implosion, and explosion, which scattered the building blocks of the universe far and wide. We are made of stardust, intimately connected to every part of this eco-system in which we find ourselves so generously provided for.
Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, is brought to us by the rishis of ancient India, who perceived so much about existence here on earth both visible and invisible. They explained that everything in the material world is made of the elements, and that balance is needed for life to exist.
The rishis explained that when we are living in balance with our nature and the natural world that surrounds us, the human body constantly regenerates. They understood this natural symbiosis between us and the eco-system we are part of. This regeneration is made possible by an incredible community of tiny creatures: found in healthy soil, water, and air. They take up residence in the folds of our skin, within the inner workings of our body, and make the renewal of our life a reality, day in night out; albeit within the gradual progression towards the winter of our lives.
When the balance goes, regeneration is compromised. Just as that sudden lack of balance – caused by a star’s inner heat burning out – causes that star to implode, so our modern approach to living has created imbalance within the system of our mind and our body. When this isn’t rebalanced, our health starts to collapse.
Ancient Ayurveda shows us how to live in happy interdependence with our home: this twirling world that came from stardust, and evolved the elements that brought us into existence – along with all the other material things in this incredible universe. It offers us an approach to personal healthcare that is rooted in the rhythms of nature, eating healthy food, and other sensory experiences that we consume.
Ayurveda recognises us as nature. It reconnects us back to the soil: that beautiful earthy substance teaming with life. Literally, teaming with all those tiny life forms that collaboratively make up the ground upon which we exist: the soil beneath our feet that enriches the plants, which nourish us in turn.
Those billions of tiny creatures collaborate inside us as well – keeping our mind and body healthy by supporting our innate immune system, the functioning of our cells, the development of our tissues. Without them we could not exist. We would never have existed.
Ayurveda teaches that gut health is the foundation for a happy healthy life and that – as Western science is beginning to flag up – the microbiome within our gut is in a symbiotic relationship with the microbiome within the soil, within the water that flows in streams and oceans and raindrops, and within the air that swirls its way across this blue green globe of beauty. We need to nurture this relationship. If we want to sustain our health and life on Earth, the two cannot be separated.
Western science is now beginning to acknowledge what the rishis of ancient India perceived: that we are connected to the soil beneath our feet, the water, and the air, and need to exist in collaborative harmony with them.
When NASA searches for life in the universe, its motto is ‘follow the water’. The journey from birth to death is one of gradual dehydration. When the cells can no longer absorb and hold onto water, the body will age and die.
There is no survival without water. Water makes possible this paradise we call our home. It provides energy for life, by supporting photosynthesis. It allows our cells to make the energy that enables us to live, by breaking down food molecules – as well as through the chemical reactions that occur within our brains. Without water we cannot not exist. We could never have existed.
The Earth’s water cycle is a beautiful thing. That fiery star, the sun – a hot ball of glowing gases at the centre of our solar system, which is 109 times bigger than the Earth, and 4.6 billion years old – evaporates some of the water on this blue-green gem of a planet, which rises upwards as vapour. This creates rain clouds, which allow the gift of life to rain upon us once more.
Everything seems to work in cycles. The cycle of water, of seasons, of day and night, of youth, old age, death, and life once more. And of civilisations as they come and go. Perhaps, of learning, of evolving from focusing on me to we, of growing from ignorance to wisdom – through witnessing choices made.
Ayurveda understands all about cycles. It can reconnect us to the cycles of nature we need to live in balance with, to support our own balance. It reminds us that, without healthy water, we cannot exist. Without healthy soil, we cannot exist. Without healthy air, we cannot exist.
The same is true of beneficial bacteria and viruses. I learned from Zach Bush M.D. that viruses have provided the biological updates that allow us to survive. Without viruses, mammals would never have evolved.
Ayurveda is based on a view of life that shows that it makes no sense to kill the tiny creatures within the soil, upon which our life depends; to pollute the water and air with chemicals that destroy our health; or to feed ourselves food drenched in poisons, which destroy the tiny creatures within us that manage so many of the functions within our body.
We are at a point in history where some people feel that none of what I have just written matters, because we can reinvent nature from scratch. That if the body collapses, we can just create a better one.
But if you, like me, would like to reclaim your innate health, and reconnect to the natural systems that we are all a part of, Ayurveda shows a way to do this.
When you follow an Ayurvedic approach to health and healing, you reconnect to this beautiful gem of a planet, to the rhythms and cycles of the natural life of which we are a part. Life becomes very simple. You just learn to live in balance with nature: your own, and the wider eco-system of which you are a part. It isn’t hard once we remember how.
There is no opposition to Western medicine in this approach. Rather, they can work side by side, in collaboration – recognising that, when our focus is on living a healthy life, in a healthy world, the need for drugs and surgery will be greatly reduced.
We were born from such a rich and intelligent source. Would you like to step back into the ground of resilience from which you grew? If your answer is yes, Ayurveda can hold your beautiful hand along the way.
The health of human beings and the health of our planet are intimately connected. This book has been written to share an approach to healthcare that roots us back to nature.
Ayurveda is an ancient approach to healthcare, which teaches that a healthy digestion is required if you want a strong immune system. We live in a world where the chemicals and methods used by the mainstream global food industry have been killing off life in the soil and our guts, with disastrous consequences. The good news is that regenerative farming can bring the life back to the soil, and that our bodies are also regenerative, when we create the right conditions. An Ayurvedic approach shows us how to create those right conditions.
For 15 years, I was plagued with a variety of digestive issues and accompanying symptoms. Within just a few months of trying an Ayurvedic approach, they had all gone. What’s more, my immune system was stronger than it had been for a long time. After this transformative experience, I began training with the American Institute of Vedic Studies, so that I could help others. Towards the end of my training, I began writing this book. I want to share with others who are suffering with digestive challenges, how an Ayurvedic approach could help them too.
When I was suffering from gut problems and trying to find a way to heal myself, it was so confusing. There are so many ideas out there, but none of them seem to work for everyone. As I trained in Ayurveda, I discovered that this was due to people having different constitutions and that each constitution needs a slightly different approach to support its healthy digestion. I also discovered what a fantastic preventative healthcare approach Ayurveda is. This book has been written to get you started creating your own preventative healthcare plan, with a good digestion as the foundation for this.
Ayurveda comes from the same Vedic tradition as Yoga. The two traditionally went hand-in-hand, but Ayurveda got rather left behind when Yoga was embraced in the West. So, if you are a Yoga teacher or student who would like to discover how to apply the benefits of Ayurveda for your health and to enhance your Yoga practice, this book is also for you.
Ayurveda holds a systemic view of the world, which connects us with nature and teaches us a different mindset: one which give us the power to address the global challenges that lie around us, through the choices we make and how we bring ourselves to the way that we make them. It offers a simple model for understanding how the things that we consume – through our food and life choices – determine how balanced, driven or closed our mindset is (how we bring ourselves), and what we can do about that. The modern world is a product of the nature of the minds that create it.
I will introduce the Ayurvedic model for understanding the nature of our minds in this book. It is called Triguna Theory and it is rooted in a subtle view of life. Chapters One to Four introduce digestion, Ayurveda, and the science behind it. If you prefer, you can begin with Chapter Eleven, ‘Putting it All Together’, to see where it is all leading, and then return to Chapter One.
Western culture has grown out of a materialist/reductionist view of the world that has set us apart from nature: holding a view of nature as something that we need to dominate, rather than seeing us as a part of it – as a part of a collaborative system. This is a problem for addressing our environmental challenges. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that our governments seem so disempowered to make the necessary changes.
I believe that it is up to us to make a start towards a better world: to build on all the amazing community initiatives that are already out there, in whatever ways we can, to support each other in a more sustainable way of living. In that vein, ‘Your Peaceful Belly’ is intended to be more than an informative book. It has also been written as a resource to support the soil movement and community food projects. How? One third of the royalties will be going to regenerative farming and community food projects. I am also offering to share what I have been learning about Ayurveda, stress management, and no-dig gardening with inner-city community groups in gift.
One of the people who has inspired me greatly is Scilla Elworthy – the founder of Peace Direct and a three times Nobel peace prize nominee. She wrote in her book ‘The Business Plan for Peace’:
…if a critical mass of humanity can make this shift, an entirely new way of living can emerge. The challenge is for an evolutionary shift, a leap in our ability to move from thinking about “me” to thinking about “we.”
Ayurveda supports this change, by reconnecting us back to nature – and, in the process, enabling us to develop the mindset that is needed to create a more peaceful world.
Our global health systems have been facing enormous challenges for a long time. Since the advent of COVID-19, this is even more the case. So, I have a question: ‘Could we better manage our health and wellbeing by combining the best aspects of a Western approach with the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda?’ Research suggests that shifting to a healthy lifestyle could prevent fifty percent of cancer deaths and that an integrative approach may give patients the best chance of survival.
Through his work and research, Zach Bush M.D. has demonstrated that our systems have been creating an unhealthy lifestyle for us, which has led to a huge increase in cancers and other chronic diseases. Zach lays out the connection between the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry. After World War II, the chemicals of war started to be used within the global food system, and derivatives from the oil industry were used in the pharmaceutical industry – creating drugs to treat the diseases caused by the chemicals repurposed by the food industry, that have been killing the life in our soils, our food, and our bodies since that time.
One of the main areas adversely affected is our gut microbiome, and the result is an immune system constantly diminished. Research since 2020, in relation to COVID-19, showed that there is a connection between the state of a person’s gut and the severity of their COVID-19 symptoms. The preventative healthcare approach that Ayurveda offers focuses on gut health, eating food grown in living soils without the use of chemicals, and living in balance with nature – with the aim of strengthening your immune system and innate regenerative abilities. Could now be a time for the ancient preventative healing system of Ayurveda and the positive aspects of Western medicine to come together, to help people to create the best of healthcare plans?
In relation to our environmental challenges – which are intimately connected with our individual health, the health of our communities, and the minds from which we act – Ayurveda offers so much wisdom, in the form of triguna theory. Throughout this book, I have mentioned the theory of the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas (different ways the energy that underpins our existence can express itself) – and how we are creating them within us all the time, through our choices.
You can see the gunas playing out in our consumer culture, which is predominantly rajasic and tamasic. We drive ourselves (rajas) to have lots of stuff until we burn ourselves out (tamas), taking the world and planet along with us. This driven aspect of rajas, which is strong in our culture and our minds at the present time, has led to a society that depletes the resources of the individual, along with the eco-system that we are all part of. This rajasic expression of energy has come to underpin our lives and, as it becomes ever more tamasic, our societies, people, and eco-systems are decaying. A 2018 UN report said we have less than twelve years left to do something about this.
Dr Frawley, Vedic scholar, and founder of the American Institute of Vedic Studies has written: “Ayurveda contains the secrets not only for healing the individual, but also for uplifting society, all creatures and the planet itself.” This would involve nudging our rajasic/tamasic minds towards sattva, through the choices we make. By contrast, if we come at our challenges with a rajasic/tamasic (frenetic, destructive, driven, competitive, aggressive) mindset, we are likely to perpetuate the problems. What we need now are the sattvic qualities of clarity, positivity, truth, serenity, balance, peace, and empathy. These qualities can then guide our drive to continually grow (rajas) and ensure that we evolve in a way that is sustainable for all.
If we allow the passion, over-activity, and selfishness that too much rajas can express to run, unchecked by sattvic qualities within ourselves and our cultures, we will end up with the qualities of tamas (misperception and decay) taking over our minds, our lives, our systems, and our communities. If we allow tamas to develop and become entrenched in our minds and systems, we will not have the clarity or ability to address our collective challenges. Perhaps this has already begun to happen?
In chapter two, I introduced the concept of Agni: the ability to metabolize – to transform both food and the things we take in through all our senses to nourish ourselves. Is there a collective need to metabolize our experiences of the post-war period? That economic, technological, and political development, which grew out of the mindset of the scientific revolution, and is rooted in a materialist/reductionist paradigm, which is inherently rajasic and tamasic? Do we need to transform our choices collectively and individually, in order to support the natural eco-system that we are all a part of? Does it start with us, right here, right now, with every seemingly small choice we make?
As I reflect on these things, we are slowly coming out of a COVID-19-related lockdown here in the UK. It is a sunny day – bright blue sky, gentle breeze rippling through the leaves on the trees outside. My favourite falling-down-trees wood, so easy to walk to from the centre of town, still has signs of wild garlic leaves. The little streams, which cause some of the trees to fall, are twinkling and sparkling. You would hardly know that there is so much catastrophe going on in the world.
I’m drawn back to the dance of the gunas. Tamas brings material existence, but too much allows for decay and destruction. Within the mind, tamas dulls and blinds our perceptions. Rajas brings change and within the mind, drive. Yet too much rajas in the mind leads to relentless ambition and desire, and ultimately a tamasic state. Sattva brings peace and balance – and within the mind clarity and compassionate intelligence. Will we utilise the qualities of rajas, guided by the qualities of sattva, to address our challenges? Or will we allow rajas to run unchecked until tamas is all we have left?
Zach Bush said it succinctly: “We cannot separate our individual health from the health of the planet anymore.” And this is in more ways than one. It isn’t just what we do, it is how we bring ourselves to do it too.
I would like to finish as I began, with a quote from Scilla Elworthy’s book ‘The Business Plan for Peace’:
“We are going through such fundamental changes, changes that may be un-nerving and frightening, but which are necessary disruptive precursors to a new stage in the evolution of humanity. We are being invited to be part of a leap in human consciousness, a shift that will enable us to act as balanced, empathic, whole people capable of working together for the benefit of us all. The most powerful and lasting way to counter war and violence is to build a culture of peace.”
That is sattva – brought into being through the balanced dance of rajas. You see, none of the gunas are wrong. We just need to orchestrate the dance.