The 4 Pillars of Health

The healthier you are, the better your chance to get through the coronavirus pandemic relatively unscathed. The latest research shows that people who are overweight, who have diabetes and other chronic diseases, or who smoke are more at risk of becoming seriously ill with this virus. However, there are things you can do right now to improve your health and reduce your risk.

There are four pillars of health that create a strong foundation for total wellbeing:

  1. A calm, peaceful mind and the cultivation of self-awareness.
  2. 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted, deep, restful sleep.
  3. Plenty of activity and exercise.
  4. A good diet, and appropriate fasting (especially if you are overweight).

All four pillars support each other. However, the most important is a calm, peaceful mind, which cultivates self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the most important thing you can have at this time. It is even more important than toilet paper.

There are two viruses in the world at present. One is the coronavirus. The other is psychic contagion… fear and panic.

It is because of psychic contagion that the development of self-awareness and a calm, peaceful mind is key to your health and survival. Self-awareness, which improves with deep rest and a healthy lifestyle, is critical. Self-awareness enables  you to:

  • Stop touching your face while you are potentially exposed to coronavirus.
  • Monitor your state of health and tune into your needs.
  • Know what to eat and how much exercise you need to improve your health.
  • And most importantly, self-awareness cultivates good mental health and prevents unnecessary anxiety, panic, and catastrophizing.

Every time you step outside the boundary of your front door, you are potentially exposed to coronavirus. Self-awareness enables you to move through the world outside of the relative safety of your home and remain safe and connected rather than disconnected out of fear, thereby becoming more vulnerable.

The cultivation of self-awareness and connection enables you to absorb information and process it so that you gain a sense of confidence that is grounded in reality. It is from this position that you can access your intuition and creativity to respond intelligently.

You will need a lot of self-awareness to adapt to the new world that is emerging in these next months.

The first pillar – Develop a calm, peaceful mind and self-awareness

The development of a calm, peaceful mind and self-awareness is the most challenging of the four pillars. It is much easier to modify your diet or start doing some exercise than to deal with your mind, yet your mind influences all the other pillars.

It is relatively easy to create physical health, but the mind is a much bigger fish to fry. This is because much of it is unconscious. You are only aware of a small fraction of your mind, your conscious mind, which is like a wave arising out of the ocean of the unconscious mind, which is the realm of your psyche and spirit.

Your psyche is an autonomous force, outside of your control. You need to be able to dive into the psyche via meditation to form a healthy relationship with this bigger part of you. The way to do this is by regular meditation practice.

From the point of view of the ego, the psyche is chaotic, because the forces and impulses contained within it do not conform to social norms. You can see your psyche reflected in the strange world of your dreams. There is a constant tension between your ego and your psyche, and this tension needs to be managed if you are to remain healthy, both physically and mentally.

Dark forces can arise from the psyche at any time and take over your mind, overturning your stability. The aim of yoga and meditation practice is to form and maintain a healthy identity and sense of self (a strong, adaptable ego) so that you can remain stable while facing adversity on all levels, physical and psychic. This is essential if you are to face and manage the current physical contagion, the coronavirus, and the psychic contagion. This panic is arising from the world’s psyche, spreading mainly via media throughout the world.

Attempting to calm the mind is a huge task at any time, but especially now. The images we see from many parts of the world are horrifying and difficult to come to terms with. They tend to cause the disintegration of societies, where we form smaller and smaller groups. Yogis call this base chakra (mūlādhāra chakra) consciousness, which is a herd state formed on animal consciousness based on individual survival. The survival instinct starts to dominate your consciousness, leading to animal-like behavior in shopping centers, for example.

To keep your awareness above the herd, you must be able to withstand the negative forces within the mass-psyche, which are presently creating enormous anxiety and insecurity. Although there is a good reason for this fear, you have to be able to remain calm and stable, practicing equanimity, if you are to get through the next months relatively intact.

Cultivate equanimity!!!

This time of crisis is a great opportunity to really focus and do the work required to achieve equanimity and inner peace under all circumstances, called the steady-state of wisdom (sthita prajñā) in the great yogic texts (such as the Bhagavad Gita). Sthita prajñā means steady wisdom and judgment that is free from phobias and hallucinations (that can spring up from the psyche causing hysteria).

Before you can attain equanimity and true inner peace, you need to develop a relationship with your mind. To do that, you need some techniques. There are three meditation techniques that give you the best of all worlds in terms of meditation.

  1. Yoga Nidrā, which enables deep rest, recuperation, revitalization and rejuvenation
  2. Ajapa Japa, which combines the best of physical health, by using throat breathing (ujjayi) to move prāna in the body between chakras, and the development of higher awareness through the repetition of a mantra
  3. Inner Silence, which is mainly focused on the development of steady mindfulness and self-awareness while you undergo purification of your individual unconscious.

Ajapa Japa and Inner Silence are best combined into one practice session that enhances self-awareness, mental strength, emotional resilience, and physical health. Both techniques forge a link with your unconscious mind, enabling you to align with it and use the powers of the psyche for your benefit and the benefit of others. By working on your relationship between your mind and your individual unconscious, you develop the ability to come into a relationship with the universal or collective unconscious. You can become a global force for good, for calm, peace, and sanity.

The second pillar – Deep, restful sleep

Deep, restful sleep is a great blessing. It is during sleep that you turn off your ego-thinking mind and dive deep into the unconscious psycho-spiritual dimensions of your being where you can tap into pure spiritual energy (ātmā shakti).

Yoga Nidrā enables you to relax and to integrate psychic power into your life.

Though the majority of people use meditation for relaxation and calming the mind, the higher aim of meditation is to connect you to your psyche and spirit, the deepest part of you. Most people need Yoga Nidrā because their awareness is caught up in the thinking mind and superficial consciousness, a state that is very tiring. It requires a great deal of rest to undo the wear and tear that results from the demands of daily living, an overactive mind, and emotional stress. Few people attain the depth of blissful deep sleep that leads to complete rejuvenation of body, mind, and spirit and the awakening of psychic power, especially during these times of great turmoil.

Lack of proper rest, mainly because of poor sleep, is one of the main causes of a dysfunctional immunity.

Lack of rest is often the result of poor lifestyle (e.g., too many screens), poor eating habits (e.g., eating too much and too close to bedtime), poor stress management (e.g., not taking time out to rest and recuperate) and excessive worry (much of which is unnecessary). Even one bad night with less than 6 to 7 hours of sleep can have devastating repercussions in terms of health.

Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in his acclaimed book Why We Sleep, states, “Two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep… Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure.”

Yoga Nidrā is the best way to recuperate energy to rejuvenate and regenerate health and wellbeing.

As we said in part 1 of this series of articles, if you are not getting enough sleep and you need to rest deeply, then Yoga Nidrā is probably the most important relaxation meditation you can practice. It enables complete rest and recuperation. It is a passive technique in which you simply take your awareness through the layers of your body and mind, removing tensions, contractions, and blockages to prāna. Some people prefer Prāna Nidrā, which is similar to Yoga Nidrā, to rest deeply, build prāna, and to optimize health.

You can use Yoga Nidrā whenever you are tired and need to recoup energy. Here are a few scenarios of how to use Yoga Nidrā.

  1. If you have woken up early and can’t get back to sleep
  2. If you wake up at your normal time but don’t feel refreshed, either do Yoga Nidrā before getting out of bed, or get up, do some stretching and meditation, and then do Yoga Nidrā
  3. In the afternoon after lunch for between 10-30 minutes
  4. Practice body rotation before sleep – it is best not to do a complete Yoga Nidrā in the evening as it makes some students feel too energized.
  5. If you have only a few minutes, rotation of awareness through the parts of your body will reset your nervous system. We have produced a short Yoga Nidrā as part of the 3 Easy Steps to Deep Relaxation training MP3. This 10-minute Yoga Nidrā is really the practice of shavāsana with rotation of awareness through the parts of your body. It is excellent for people who need a short reset in between the demands of life.

The third pillar – Exercise

This is probably the simplest of all the pillars of health. There are three basic things you need for a holistic approach to exercise:

  1. Cardio – raise your heart rate up to a level where you are at least a little short of breath so that you improve the strength and functioning of your heart and lungs. Do this at least 5 times a week for half to one hour, depending on intensity. For example, high-intensity workouts need only a short time to gain a lot of cardiovascular health.
  2. Strength training – research has shown strength training to be the most important aspect of exercise for longevity. Strength is the thing you need most as you age. The number one cause of death in old age is the loss of muscle (called sarcopenia), which leads to immobility and stagnation of the body and mind.
  3. Stretching – an essential part of any routine to support cooling down from a workout and relaxing your brain and muscles. Yoga āsana takes stretching to a whole new level by increasing self-awareness. Performed correctly, they link your awareness to the holistic experience of your musculoskeletal, nervous system and mind. This is why people feel so good after both an appropriate amount of exercise and/or a yoga class.

The fourth pillar – A good diet

Recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that older age, greater than 70 years of age, obesity, and pre-existing chronic illness such as diabetes and heart disease, increase the risk of severe illness and death from the coronavirus by two to three-fold.

There are several things you can do to improve your health and reduce your risk.

  1. The first tip is to never overeat!!! Remember, you can eat anything as long as you can digest it. This often means eating small quantities of foods that can be harmful in larger amounts, such as raw sugar.
  2. Stop simple sugars and reduce grains. The modern diet is often full of carbohydrates and low in vegetable fiber, causing an epidemic of dysbiosis (imbalanced levels of gut bacteria) and inflammatory diseases.
  3. Eat plenty of plant foods, salads, soups, and lightly cooked vegetables, which provide both soluble and insoluble fibers that feed the bacteria in your gut.
  4. Have plenty of healthy oils. Stop fried foods and refined seed oils, such as canola and sunflower oils, which can’t be digested and form āma. Use olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, avocado oil, nuts, and avocados as your source of good fat. This is important.

Yogis (and many Eastern medical traditions) have said for millennia that the stomach is the root of most diseases and that the key to health is to never overeat. Yogic texts prescribe filing the stomach half with solid food (approximately the size of a fist), one-quarter water and one-quarter air. This supports healthy digestion and prevents the build-up of metabolic waste products and undigested food (āma, which means undigested, uncooked, unripe, immature, toxic).

If you overeat, your system cannot properly digest your food, making whatever you have eaten unable to be assimilated into your body. For example, too much sugar cannot be utilized and rather is stored as fat leading to obesity, one of the causes of inflammation and chronic degenerative diseases such as diabetes. Even good food in excess becomes indigestible and forms āma. Obesity and chronic disease make you prone to a much more severe coronavirus illness with potential complications.

Use fasting to improve your health

Fasting, adjusted to suit your constitution and needs, along with prānāyāma, is one of the most powerful and important methods of increasing digestive fire (agni) and building prāna and their physical manifestation of mitochondria.

The key to healthy fasting is to make it appropriate to your age, constitution, and needs. There are different ways of fasting, depending on whether you are healthy or suffering from illness, whether you want to lose weight, and so on.

Perhaps the best definition of fasting is that you reduce your food intake sufficiently so that you get rid of stored glucose (which usually takes 24 hours) and start to burn stored fat. The body switches into a whole new way cleaning up old accumulated and toxic material such as āma (undigested food), potentially senile pre-cancerous cells, and so on and prepares the body to build new healthy tissues.

Research into fasting is showing that this ancient method of healing is probably the best, easiest, and cheapest way to reduce inflammation, support healing, and prevent disease. For example, research has shown that fasting by eating a reduced-calorie diet for 5 days combined with chemotherapy reduces the side effects of chemotherapy and also the recurrence of cancer.

The 3 main ways to fast.

  1. The first form of fasting, called Intermittent Fasting occurs when you fast for longer at least 24 hours, say from dinner on one day to dinner the next day (24 hours) or to breakfast, the following day (36 to 48 hours), depending on when you eat breakfast.
  2. The second form of fasting involves longer fasts on a regular basis, for example, twice a year, or even every three to four months, depending on your goals and needs. The simplest way to do this is through a water fast, however, this can be taxing and is not advised for everyone. A gentler way, especially for older people or for those suffering from illness, is to eat a restricted-calorie diet of 700 to 800 calories, low protein, and mainly vegetable soups and herbal teas.
  3. Time-restricted eating (TRE), which has mistakenly been called intermittent fasting, is not strictly fasting but is one of the best, easiest and most accessible ways to quickly put you on the road to health. Basically, you simply eat all your food within an 8-10 hour window and do not eat for the rest of the time. You can do this every day for the rest of your life if you want to, except perhaps when you are traveling or celebrating. For many people, time-restricted eating may be enough to promote and maintain good health, energy, and immunity.

How to start

The advice given in this article will lead to a very healthy life. Each one of the four pillars helps the other three to function optimally. Sleeping well is the foundation. Eating well gives you the energy to exercise and build physical strength. Eating well and adequate exercise enable you to sleep well. Self-awareness enables the other three pillars. Each pillar is one leg of a four-legged stool, if one is broken, you will fall over. Self-awareness enables you to become aware of which of the pillars you need to start with. This is why we put such a strong emphasis on meditation.

But where do you start, especially at this time when we are facing so much upheaval and social disruption? Here are a few suggestions. Start with one or two things and build from there. Here are three example programs:

  1. Stretching (āsana) and meditation.

Practice stretching, especially before meditation or after a strength training program. Decide on the meditation sequence that is appropriate for you, for example, do prāna meditations in the morning, and/or Yoga Nidrā in the afternoon, and/or Ajapa Japa in the evening or night to improve the quality of your sleep.

  1. Stop the bad oils, reduce your sugar intake, and do 10-20 minutes of cardio a day.

Get a large can of olive oil and use that for most of your cooking and salads. Reduce sugars and carbohydrates by 30% and increase vegetables and nuts. Some people will need to stop all carbohydrates for some time until their health improves. You will feel the difference. Skip run, or dance, even if only on the spot, for a minimum for 20 minutes a day. If you’re out of practice, start with 3 minutes then increase from there.

  1. Time-restricted eating (TRE) and strength training.

Try time-restricted eating within an 8 to 10 hr time frame on a regular basis to clear āma. You can’t go to the gym right now, so either use weights if you have them or strength-training bands. Jayne and I studied with a former Cirque Du Soleil gymnastics teacher who said bands are as good as if not better than weights for strength training. YouTube offers basic to advanced workout with bands.

As you become comfortable with one of these programs, gradually add other elements so that you increase calmness and resilience exponentially.

Please note there is a lot of advice in this article, plus suggested programs to get started. If you would like a personalised consultation please visit my consultations page.

{raw image by meineresterampe}


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