Dinacharya Series # 3 Personal Hygiene
Dinacharya Series # 3 Personal Hygiene
Ancient Greek medicine shares several similarities to Ayurveda concerning the theories related to health. A sneak peek into the history of hygiene takes us back to the time of Hippocrates when medical science achieved a divine and royal status. The term hygiene comes from ‘Hygeia,’ the Goddess of Hygiene in Greek mythology. She was one among the five daughters of Asclepius, who was proclaimed as the God of medicine. When her father was more into the treatment and cure of the diseased, Hygeia was keener on the preventive aspects of illnesses. She was an epitome of cleanliness and wellbeing, and as an honor, the word hygiene was derived from her name. This also signifies the prominence of personal hygiene in the society of ancient civilizations.
Fast forward to the year 2021. The term personal hygiene has never been this relevant. Even when we boast of the advancements in medicine and technology, a minute organism that we cannot see with the naked eye is ruling the world. What started as a fever and breathing trouble in one person spread in the blink of an eye and locked down the entire planet. With experiments to discover vaccines against the virus is in full swing, there is one thing that scientists and medical professionals repeatedly say to the common man – “practice personal hygiene”. Ayurveda gives immense importance to personal hygiene and considers it a primary step against disease prevention. Read on to know what Ayurveda says about personal hygiene and innovative ways to implement it on what is considered as your ‘new normal life.’
SHOUCHAKRAMAM / MALOTSARGA VIDHI
“If one’s bowels move, one is happy and if they don’t move, one is unhappy. That is all there is to it.”
Each one of us must have encountered situations in our lives where we had to ignore nature’s call owing to our busy lives or due to some other reasons. Ever thought about the consequences? Have you noticed feeling low, the heaviness of the abdomen, or slight headache when you have constipation or when you do not eliminate a day? Attending to natural urges on time and following a daily pattern according to the body’s rhythm contribute to a sound physical and mental state. Ayurveda considers a regular bowel movement every day as a sign of perfect health. The ancient Ayurveda Acharyas must be well aware that our body tends to work best when it follows an ideal everyday rhythm. That is why they have included Malotsarga (excretion of fecal matter from the body) as a part of the daily regime as it is a natural detoxification and cleansing process of the digestive system.
In Ashtanga Sangraha’s third chapter, Acharya says, after waking up, one should wait for the natural urge for defecation to set in, and never do it forcefully. This is a very important aspect because regular forceful defecation can pressurize the anal region’s veins and is an important cause for piles, fissure, and fistula. Malotsarga is included among the Adharaneeya vegas (urges that should not be suppressed), and Acharya has mentioned several symptoms that might result from suppression. So, think twice before you ignore the natural urge for urination or defecation as you are opposing the body’s natural mechanism.
It has become a habit to read newspapers or scroll through mobile phones while using the lavatory for some people. The sages were too intelligent not to foresee this obsession of future generations, that they have strictly instructed to maintain silence and concentration during a bowel movement. Following this advice always helps in a complete evacuation of the bowel. It is advised to face the northern side during the daytime and south during the night while performing Souchakriya. The modern-day architecture combines the idea of Vastu, and such ideas of direction are also taken into consideration when constructing a toilet. After each elimination, the anal area should be cleaned thoroughly with water, and the hands should be washed thoroughly.
Not a single day passes in most of our lives without taking a bath. It has been a part of the daily routine since the day we are born. For a common man, it is just normal practice to keep the body clean. But Ayurveda considers snana ( bath ) as a therapeutic ritual that should be practiced every day. In Ayurveda, snana is a part of many treatment procedures like Abhyanga (therapeutic oil massage). Snana with different medicated herbs is advised for persons with skin diseases, pregnant women, Vata predominant conditions, etc. since time immemorial. Do you know this external purificatory ritual can affect your digestive activity in many ways? A close look at how Ayurveda elaborates snana can change the way you perceive bath as just another cleansing habit.
According to Ayurveda, snana is a part of a daily regimen that should be done in the morning hours, after Vyayama (exercise). Based on the climate, bathing can be done once or twice a day. Depending on the season, you may choose hot or cold water but never use hot water for a head bath as it is not suitable for the hair and eyes. Bathing in cold water during winter or extremely cold temperatures tends to vitiate Kapha and Vata doshas. Similarly, using hot water during the summer season can vitiate Pitta and Raktha. So, choose the temperature of the water wisely according to your prakruthi and seasons. If you are habituated to bathing after the intake of food, you may want to rethink. Digestive activity demands increased blood circulation through the gut. When you shower immediately after meals, the body temperature lowers, and blood circulation tends to be more towards the skin to balance the heat. This process affects the normal digestive fire inside the gut and may lead to indigestion. Thus, it is ideal to wait for about 2 hours post-meal if you could not shower in the morning.
Now, when we talk about snana, water is the first thing that comes to our mind as its medium. But ever considered other types of snana? As explained in Yagnavalka, there are 7 types of snana.
- Mantra snana (bathing by uttering hymns)
- Bhouma snana (mud bath)
- Agneya snana (bathing by applying bhasmas/ ash)
- Vayavya snana (an ancient type of auspicious bath with dust that arises when cow walks)
- Divya snana (sunbath combined with rain)
- Varuna snana (bathing in the river)
- Manasa snana (thinking about a sacred soul).
Among these, Mahabharatha considers Varuna snana as the best. In this era, Vayavya snana might be challenging to practice, but what about the other six? Do you feel like it’s worth giving a try once in a while?
Apart from the general external purification it does, Ayurveda elaborately describes the benefits of daily snana. Nothing is more soothing than a hot water bath after a long exhausting day. It brings about energy, appetite, virility and is considered auspicious. Bathing with cold water is considered good for bleeding disorders. It will constrict the blood vessels (vasoconstriction) and use hot water for the body to impart strength and improve blood circulation (vasodilation). It is best to use some natural herbal powders like green gram or besan as an alternative to soap. Instead of using plain water, mixing some lime juice, Tulsi leaves (holy basil), mint leaves, and jasmine will provide a refreshing aroma and help get rid of bad odor. Adding sandalwood, vetiver grass, aromatic essential oils, etc. to the water also gives a similar effect and provides a cooling effect to the body during the summer. Try adding neem leaves to your bucket of water, boil and cool it before use. It has excellent antiseptic effects, helps in relieving generalized itching, and is suitable to practice during and after chickenpox.
Bathing is not going to be the same anymore if you consider it as daily refreshing therapy. There is no better way to spend time with your body and listen to how it converse back to you in surprising ways. Your body is your greatest asset. Doesn’t it deserve a little bit of extra care?
Vastradharana And Anulepana
If there is something that the whole world is equally crazy about, it would be the changing trends in clothing. Hence, it is crucial to understand what Ayurveda has to say about outfits as a part of our hygiene. If you think our ancestors had only limited knowledge regarding this, you may be surprised at the detailing given in Ayurveda classics. Vastradharana and Anulepana were considered as the post-operative procedures of snana.
Anulepana is the smearing of the paste of aromatic herbs like Chandana (sandalwood), Agaru (Aquillaria agallocha), Kesar (saffron), etc., all over the body. This process may be correlated to applying perfumes and deodorants of modern times, just that they are sprayed instead of daubing. In the 24th chapter of Susrutha Samhita Chikitsa Sthana, it is explained that the application of the pastes of aromatic herbs after bath gives mental pleasure and brings Ojas and strength to the body. Apart from removing the bad odor due to sweat, this smearing also helps increase the body’s complexion. Anulepana is contraindicated in those suffering from facial paralysis, diseases of the eyes, mouth, and ears; indigestion, abdominal distension, diarrhea, running nose, and soon after the intake of food. Pure organic pastes of such aromatic herbs are presently available in the market. So instead of using those skin irritating perfumes and deodorants, once in a while, try using such natural products and experience the goodness of Ayurveda.
Vastradharana is the process of wearing fresh, clean clothes after taking a bath, which essentially means it should not be the same cloth worn before bath. In this context, Yagnavalkala smruthi mentions that if you wear the same cloth repeatedly, you will have the qualities of an Asura or demon and should take a bath once again. This is an important thing considering the hygiene aspect also. Once worn, the clothing will be drenched in sweat, dirt and is unhygienic in all aspects.
Clean clothes are pleasant to the mind and the body. The cloth fabric and colors should be selected according to the seasons. It should be comfortable, neither too loose nor too tight. Tight clothing interferes with normal blood circulation and hence should be discouraged. Make it a point not to wear unwashed clothes as they are the abode of bacteria. Clothing reflects your personality all the time. Wear it confidently.
Achamana must not be a familiar word for most. But as a part of most religious beliefs, some of you must already be practicing this daily. Excited to know what it is all about?
Well, Ayurveda considers body and mind as separate entities that mutually coordinate each other’s functions. So, it is necessary to maintain the health and hygiene of both these elements for optimum functionality. Achamana is a purificatory procedure of sipping holy water twice or thrice before performing any auspicious activity. During the Vedic period, Achamana was performed before every religious performance.
In Ayurveda, only Ashtanga Samgraha describes Achamana in detail. The person performing the ritual should face the east or north direction while holding his right hand with the left. The position of the hand should be maintained while pouring and sipping the holy water. If you look at this description of the position closely, the same position is maintained by the devotees in most Hindu temples while receiving the holy water from the priest. The believers of other streams also have a similar ritual, especially before offering their daily prayers. Although there are slight differences in the way they perform, all religions conduct this based on a common faith – purification of body and mind. Ashtanga Sangraha recommends a sitting position facing east or north, with both the hands not outside the knees, not looking elsewhere, without talking, wearing an upper garment, with water held in the right palm near the root of the thumb; the hand being held neither very high nor very low. The water used should be pure, free from the foul smell, should not be alkaline in taste, froth, or bubbles, and should not be boiled.
Achamana is described as a part of a daily regimen in Ayurveda texts immediately after defecation. But, apart from that, it may also be performed after contact with inauspicious things like tissues (blood, muscle, fat, etc.,) excreta, tears, muscle-fat, hairs, nails, etc. of animals; after taking a bath, before and after meals, after sneezing, at the commencement of worship of Gods and after the usual daily cleanups. The Brahmin community in India still follows this ritual judiciously by reciting specific mantras (hymns) and touching the holy water on different parts of the body, apart from sipping it.
According to Ayurveda, whatever you do with proper belief will have the desired effect on your body, whether it is food, medicine, or any activity. Achamana is not meant for any specific religion and can be done by any individual as per their custom and belief. If the idea of Achamana excites you, incorporate this in your routine to cleanse the body & mind, and for a refreshing experience every day.
We are facing a never-before pandemic and are panicking to some extent for all the right reasons. But human-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 virus can be effectively controlled by maintaining proper personal hygiene. Ayurveda considers personal hygiene as the cleanliness of both body and mind. Apart from maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, and repeated washing of hands, adopting Ayurvedic measures in your daily regimen contributes to added protection. Implementing such innovative ideas and going back to the basics is nothing but pure bliss. Using natural products for these practices also helps improve your general immunity. Ancient Ayurvedic pieces of literature are a treasure house to many vital rituals and habits that can be instigated in our day-to-day life. How accurately you practice them is not important, but how effectively and practically you can implement them in your life during this crucial time is what it counts. Stay hygienic! Stay safe!