Views On Health PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Felicia M. Tomasko, RN   

We may think we know what it means to be healthy and we may see health as the absence of disease. But in many traditional systems of medicine, including Ayurveda, health is so much more. Truly being healthy also includes our outlook on life, our relationships with others and with the Earth, and the ability of our spirit to soar. According to yoga, health in its purest form involves a connection to spirit and a recognition of our divine nature. Our health may have nothing to do with the state of our body, or everything to do with how well we digest and process our food as well as the sensory input that comes in from the world around us on a moment by moment basis. In this feature, LA YOGA has asked several noted teachers and practitioners for their views on health and healing, with some illuminating responses. –– Felicia M. Tomasko

Vaidya Rama Kant Mishra
Vaidya Rama Kant Mishra
Q: How would you define health?

A: Vaidya Rama Kant Mishra

Swathaya is the Sanskrit word for health. Swasmin tisthati iti swasthayah: this verse is an elaboration of this term swathaya, health with the Sanskrit words sthiti: being in and swa: the inner self. This is the real health, being ensconced in the light of the soul.

How does this work in the practical world we might ask. When the mind is connected to the light of the soul, the mind has the innate power of being able to properly utilize the senses. Prajnaparad is the term for the misuse of the senses and of wisdom. Disease originates from overuse, misuse or underuse of the senses. If a person can use their senses properly and live mistake-free, they can live free of disease.

The following analogy exemplifies the mind, the inner self and the relationship with health. The senses are like wild horses, while the mind is the charioteer. Sattva, the experience of being in a state of balance and connected to the inner soul is the perfect guide for the charioteer of the mind. The untamed horses of the senses are here to enjoy life, and even at the cost of our own health, they will take off and run wild, racing in any direction after experiences and gratification, eating whatever they want without any consideration as whether or not it is healthy or unhealthy. The only way to keep the horses on track and to prevent us from falling into the trap of prajnaparad is to guide and use them properly. The ability to do this comes from practicing the yoga of the mind and experiencing sattva – the light of the soul – this the mission of Ayurveda and yoga.

Vaidya Rama Kant Mishra graduated from the Ayurvedic College of Medicine and then spent years studying with his father to learn the secrets passed down from thousands of years of his family’s Ayurvedic lineage. Vaidya Mishra has pioneered the use of Ayurvedic vibrational medicine in the West, gives courses on the ancient text the Charka Samhita and practices and teaches throughout the world:

David Newman, aka Durga Das
David Newman, aka Durga Das
Q: How do you define what it means to be healthy?

A: David Newman, aka Durga Das

To be healthy, for me, is to consider health on many levels. These days, my self-evaluation of health involves looking at the many aspects of my life and asking whether they are converging to enable me to serve most effectively and also to be rooted in joy. This is only possible when I am attuned on all planes from the spiritual to the physical and everything in between (of course it’s all interconnected).

At the deepest level, I inquire into the maintenance of my spiritual connection and to whether it is rich, alive and nourishing me in a way which is bringing sustenance to my core. For me, this is the foundation of health! Through meditation, chanting and devotional practice, I attend to this inner connection and through it become fortified and sustained. In other words, at the most basic level – it feeds my soul. This is where the balance in my life and in my health begins. From there I am guided as to how to distribute my energy and on what level care is most needed.

My health, these days, is very much connected to my lifestyle. Although singing kirtan is deeply nourishing and even blissful, the realities of constant travel and ever-changing environments require attention and a watchful eye on every aspect of my being to make sure that I am avoiding depletion on any level. Some things that help me are rooted in basic Ayurvedic principles of living such as eating a balanced vegetarian diet, proper exercise and pranic management through yoga practice, abhyanga (self-massage with oil), use of herbal supplements and other forms of self-care, energy awareness and lifestyle choices.

From devotion comes service and in order to serve, I must feel capable in body and mind. I remember a story that discussed a survey to find the common link between people who lived to ripe old ages. Rather than diet, exercise, genes or other factors, the commonality that was found among the group was a sense of life purpose. Each of these people felt that they were alive for a reason; they had a sense of mission.

Being healthy is not just about physical health but being in touch with my life’s purpose or dharma. This awareness brings me the energy and inspiration to ensure that I am strong and vital on all levels so that I may fulfill what I have come here to do. This relationship of self-care and service to others go hand in hand. For me, they provide the balance that is health.

Chant artist David Newman, aka Durga Das is celebrating the release of his Nutone Music release Love, Peace, Chant with a soulful evening of sacred music accompanied by Mira and Philippo Franchini. Saturday, October 18, 7:30 P.M. at Exhale Center for Sacred Movement in Venice. (310)450-7676.;;

Byron Katie
Byron Katie
Q: What do you feel is the most important thing a person can do to remain healthy?

A: Byron Katie

Question your stressful thoughts. There’s only one true yoga and it’s mental. Twenty-three years ago, I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but when I questioned them, I didn’t. This is true for every human being. The body is never our problem. Our problem is always a thought that we innocently attach to. The Work deals with our thinking, not with the object of thought. That means that we can always be happy, whatever our body is going through. I sometimes ask people, “If you had to choose, which would you rather have: a body that’s young, healthy, and flexible, or a mind that’s young, healthy, and flexible?” Most people understand that only the second choice can bring you happiness.

I have a friend who is paralyzed from his neck to his toes. He used to see himself as a victim, and he had all the proof – the mind is good at that. He was certain that life was unfair. But after doing The Work for a while, he came to realize that reality is just the way it should be. He doesn’t have a problem now. He’s a happy man in a paralyzed body. And he didn’t do anything to change his mind. He simply questioned his thinking, and his mind changed.

When your heart is cheerful and at peace, it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, whether you’re sick or healthy, whether you live or die. You can appear to talk or stay silent, and it’s all the same. Some people think that silence is more spiritual than speech, that meditation or prayer brings you closer to God than watching television or taking out the garbage. That’s the story of separation. Silence is a beautiful thing, but it’s no more beautiful than the sound of people talking. I love it when thoughts appear to pass through my mind, and I love it when it appears that there are no thoughts. Thoughts can’t ever be a problem in my reality, because I have questioned them and seen that no thought is true, so nothing can ever be wrong with the world.

A lover of What Is looks forward to everything: life, death, disease, loss, earthquakes, bombs, anything the mind might be tempted to call “bad.” Life will bring us everything we need to show us what we haven’t undone yet. Nothing outside ourselves can make us suffer. Except for our unquestioned thoughts, every place is paradise.

Byron Katie’s simple yet powerful method of inquiry into the cause of all suffering is called The Work. Her three bestselling books are Loving What Is, I Need Your Love – Is That True? and A Thousand Names for Joy; her newest book, Who Would You Be Without Your Story?, will be published in October. For more information about Byron Katie and The Work, please visit

Katchie Ananda
Katchie Ananda
Q: What do you feel is the most important thing a person can do to remain healthy?

A: Katchie Ananda

A spiritual practice – in order to have a connection to the bigger picture. We have such a tendency to be completely absorbed in our everyday life and when you don’t have a regular practice where you can connect with something outside or inside, you spend your life reacting to things rather than creating them. We are constantly reacting and holding on to one thing and rejecting something else. Without a spiritual practice, we have a tendency to cut and paste the past onto the future. Through the mindfulness of a spiritual practice, we can interrupt that cut and paste and make the choice to recreate something new.

A regular spiritual practice that includes yoga, meditation or hopefully both, addresses the identification with that small sense of self. Yet even in yoga you can fall into the trap of identifying with the self. If you identify with having a strong physical practice and then become sick or injured, even the good identification can trip you up. By chipping away at the way we hold onto the identification of the self, it can become more fluid and then prevent becoming stuck in our preconceived notions of who we are.

Julia Butterfly Hill, an activist and friend, told me a story that relates to becoming stuck and to repeating the past. A hang gliding instructor found that students landing on a huge open field would repeatedly find the only three trees around, and would land in the trees. As they were landing, they focused on the trees so much they would land there every time. He began giving them specific instructions to first survey where they wanted to land, notice the trees, and then forget about the trees and intentionally focus on where in the field they wanted to land. By shifting their focus and attention, they could direct their landing spot away from the trap. Similarly, spiritual practice helps us to pay attention to whatever is tripping us up, so we can see the trees are there, and land in a different place on the field.

Katchie Ananda teaches yoga and facilitates workshops in spiritual activation at Yoga Kula in San Francisco and Berkeley and 7th Heaven in Berkeley: She will be teaching at the Ojai Yoga Crib in October:

Devi Mueller, CAS
Devi Mueller, CAS
Q: What is the first suggestion you would make to someone to improve their health?

A: Devi Mueller, CAS

According to Ayurveda, our health begins with our digestion, since this is where what we take in becomes us. One of the most important practices to stimulate and balance our digestion is to stop drinking cold drinks. I see a lot of change with people who are addicted to iced tea or other cold drinks and have all kinds of digestive issues. And it’s the easiest one for them to do and yet it is the hardest one for them to do. They say, “It’s hot; it’s summer.” And I always say to them, But, think about what’s happening, really, what you’ve got going on in your digestive system, you’ve just put all that ice in and now it’s not digesting as well. It’s not really cooling you down, because from a practical standpoint, from a physiological standpoint, it’s actually now causing all the heat your body internally to try to warm you back up. And you’re not cooling down because as soon as that ice is through and gone, then you’re going to be hot again.” So I say, “Ice is for the outside of your body. If you’re hot, put some ice across the back of your neck or someplace where you can lose the heat. When I see people who can’t give up ice, I see so much fear in their lives, because the cold is such a vata (air and ether energy) vitiating concept.

You can drink room temperature water, but ice water is always going to cause more problems than it is going to solve. In my own life, I don’t drink ice anymore and I just find that it’s amazing. Even though I have so much internal heat, if I go back to iced drinks, I know I will cause more problems with my own ability to regulate my heat. I’ve seen it dramatically improve the way people digest and they all feel better, so that’s my number one suggestion for almost everyone I see.

Devi Mueller practices Ayurveda in Seal Beach and teaches at the California College of Ayurveda: She is on the National Ayurvedic Medical Association board of directors and the planning committee for NAMA’s October conference:

Rama Jyoti Vernon
Rama Jyoti Vernon
Q: What advice would you give someone to support their own health?

A: Rama Jyoti Vernon

After a lifetime steeped in natural medicine, folk remedies, herbology and a vast array of processes for mind/body health, I began to view health as more than something we eat or don’t eat, but perhaps as something we “are.”

As I discovered from deep practices in yoga, the body/mind relationship happens simultaneously. Once emotions are triggered due to inner or outer conflict, a host of physiological changes occur such as increases in blood pressure and heart rate, irregular breathing and a high adrenaline arousal state. When the situation that set off the emotional storm is over, the body still registers and stores the stress at a deep intracellular level creating a chronic state of tension. This is a state of non-ease. If this becomes habitual or accumulated it can open a door to dis-ease.

Miraculous healings and sustained states of good health can happen when one transcends the mechanical and biological function of the body. It can be as simple as breathing out our joy for one another. It can be a letting go of worries of our past and future dropping into the faith of the moment. It can be as simple as opening our hearts and spreading our wings to soar beyond body, mind and intellect to know our oneness with a power greater than our own. It can come in an instant with a spiritual emergence out of the reparative consciousness into the realization of our oneness with all beings.

Pema, a young healer from the Andes comes from a long line of medicine men. He was addressing a group of yoga teachers in my living room. One teacher asked what she could do for a painful knee joint. We expected a graphic description of an exotic herbal South American poultice. Instead, Pema surprised us all. In a quiet voice that seemed to radiate out of his heart he said “Just love it.” “WOW,” I thought. “Just love it.” This applies not only to our body but to our life. When our blood count is down, can we love it into its highest potential, like those within our lives? When our pancreas is not secreting enough insulin, can we place our hand on it and love it into the fullness and sweetness of its own being, like those within our lives? When our liver is sluggish, can we detoxify it with our attention and love allowing that love to spill onto all people and situations in our life? Health is not a struggle or a war that needs to be waged. We do not need to see ourselves as a survivor.

As I learned that day with Pema, health is the outpouring of love especially to the forgotten. We can eat brilliantly, drink the right fluids, take the right supplements but if the heart is not open, it may not open the channels of light for outpouring of a universal power to enter into every pore and cell of our being.

Rama Jyoti Vernon has been studying yoga and spirituality since childhood. One of the pioneering founders of Unity in Yoga, Yoga Journal, the American Yoga College and the Center for International Dialogue, she travels the world with a heartfelt desire to bring the wisdom of yoga to people in all cultures and situations: Rama is one of the featured presenters at the Yoga for Health conference in Marin County, October 3-5:

Dana Flynn
Dana Flynn
Q: How does yoga contribute to health?

A: Dana Flynn

“Health is wealth, peace of mind is happiness,” ––Swami Sivananda.

I may have been too young and healthy to really understand this at the time I heard it in one of my very first yoga classes and yet it had a nice ring. I didn’t realize until much later how much my thinking kept me from my own freedom and happiness – that it was my mind that made me suffer so deeply.

So, the practices of yoga: breathing, chanting, the movements, the shapes, all had a direct and positive effect on my mental health. After practicing, I immediately felt better, my mind was free-er. I felt happier. And my body that loves to hold onto stress was lighter. The yoga practices created space for my body to connect with spirit and loosen the hold on stress that made me feel so tense and kept me from my connection to God.

I sure didn’t know when I took my first class that yoga, this language of health and healing, would connect me to cosmic oneness, that the feeling of separateness would dissolve and I would suffer less and feel more connected to everyone and everything. This was the health I had really longed for, to feel the connection to the whole, yoga. Yoga made this link for me, a reunion with myself on every level.

The body-mind connection has been well-documented, of course, but to actually move the body and be moved with the breath, so that the mind is quiet, this mantra of health is wealth, peace of mind is happiness, truly comes to light, a living breathing mantra. No money, nothing outside of yourself, can give you true health and this rich soulful experience of yourself.

Dana Flynn is one of the co-owners and yoga teachers responsible for creating the Laughing Lotus centers in San Francisco and New York: Laughing San Francisco celebrates their first anniversary October 4. She will be teaching at the Ojai Yoga Crib October 24-26:


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