Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020 issue.
Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that regards nature as our greatest healer, teacher and guide. In Ayurveda, it is said that we are in our best state of health and vitality when we are living in harmony with our natural environment in its cycles. In modern society, we’ve in many ways lost our innate and primal connection to nature since we designed our cities and our lives to be protected and separate from the natural world.
While it is beneficial for our stability and overall survival to be more securely protected from the elements and threats of the natural world, we’ve also lost a part of what makes us creatures of the earth: connection to and awareness of our natural environment.
Before commercial farming and indoor housing, humans had to rely more on their senses and their external environment for food, water and shelter. The health of our bodies is literally wired to function based upon our surrounding environment. Since awareness of our environment has become less necessary in order to survive day to day, the majority of our culture has lost touch with the impact of the environment to our bodies, and vice versa. Below are a few ways to explore how to reconnect to the natural environment in your own life:
BALANCE YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM:
Our bodies rely on the light and temperature of the sun and moon in order to know when to secrete certain hormones. For example, melatonin, a hormone known for its ability to put us to sleep, is secreted when the body receives signals from the environment that it is nighttime, including a drop in temperature and darkness. With artificial lighting and heating our bodies receive mixed signals about what time of day it is, which could be one contributing factor to the rise of insomnia and various hormonal imbalances that we find. Likewise, exposure to sunlight throughout the day gives our bodies a signal that it is daytime. Sunlight has been thought to stimulate the release of serotonin, a hormone connected to our feeling of happiness. Seasonal Affective Disorder (seasonal depression) is linked to lack of sunlight exposure and, with many modern people working indoors rather than in the elements, most of us do not get outside enough each day to receive the amount of sun exposure and vitamin D needed for optimal health. Try sleeping in cooler temperatures at night and, if you’re able to, use candles or lights lower than 45 watts as your light source after the sun sets. Try to get at least 30 minutes of sunlight exposure each day (while taking necessary UV precautions to protect your skin from sun damage).
Eating seasonally used to be our only option. Humans only had access to the fruits, vegetables, roots and plants that were growing in the natural environment. Nowadays, most of us have access to a huge variety of foods from all around the world at our local commercial grocers, whether they are in season or not. However, new research has shown that our microbiome is meant to shift and change with the seasons. Dr. John Douillard, a leader in the field of Ayurvedic medicine, shares that seasonal microbes optimize our digestion, mood and immunity based upon when and how we need to eat. As the seasons shift and change, so do our bodies and doshas, including what we need in order to remain in balance. Do your best to eat local, seasonal, organic food and go to the farmers market for your food supply. Eat for your dosha and the dosha of the season you are in — eat a pitta balancing diet during summer through early fall, vata during late fall through winter and kapha during late winter through spring.
PURIFY YOUR WATER:
Another important consideration is the quality and source of your water. Since the advent of commercially used pesticides, synthetic hormones, chemical based weed killer and other pharmaceuticals, environmental pollution often runs off into our drinking water which can create imbalances in our body. Many people nowadays use reverse osmosis water filters, which are great at removing glyphosate, fluoride and other substances from our water, but also deplete our water supply of the natural minerals the body needs for health and balance. Consider using a water filter for your home that not only removes harmful substances, but also remineralizes.
Our systems tend to be overstimulated and desensitized due to all of the stimulus we have in our modern-day life; advertisements, artificial lighting, artificial smells, television, radio, news and magazines and so on. There is simply more information coming into our system than we could ever successfully digest and absorb. Immerse yourself in nature for some time each day with no electronics and allow your senses to relax and be nourished by the natural world. If you don’t live near a calm place in nature, you could consider finding a quiet, natural environment for taking a personal retreat.