Written by Ruhina Mehra, Authenticity Coach & Guide;
Website; Instagram: @ruhinamehracoaching
Disclaimer: While won’t touch the controversial topic of cultural appropriation in this essay,- we acknowledge it is a heavily debated topic and may address it in future blog posts
How many times a week do these words pop up in your regular conversations? These terms, alongside mental health and self care, are probably familiar to you, and have become a prominent part of Western society and the Western zeitgeist in recent times. Lately, we are surrounded by people telling us to slow down, to get to know ourselves better, and to take care of our needs from a mind-body-soul perspective. This push towards wellness as we know it is deeply necessary in today’s times, guiding us individually to a place of self-awareness, and ultimately to a more evolved, and healed society.
But did you know that many of these discussed practices have existed for thousands of years in various indigenous cultures before they became mainstream in modern Western times? South Asian culture in particular is rooted deeply in taking care of oneself from a holistic lens – from the body, mind, and soul. Let’s talk about some of these Wellness & Mindfulness practices passed down from our ancestors that we can incorporate into our lives.
Many of us are familiar with Yoga from the Western lens – we hear of sun salutations, downward dog, and child’s pose often. “Yoga pants” have become almost ubiquitous with workout gear. But Yoga is much more than just a simple form of stretching and exercise. It is a deeply layered practice about preparing the body to go into a meditative state, to connect our mind with our true self, with the reality outside our human existence.
Yoga is an ancient practice from the Indian Subcontinent going back 3000-5000 years, that is based in the Sanskrit language. It is a practice that is rooted in Vedic ideology, & has ties to religions like Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. It consists of eight limbs, through a combination of which a person who practices regularly is often led to a transcendental state. It is so enmeshed in ancient South Asian culture that many of our grandparents and/or parents likely practiced Yoga as a regular part of their routine. My own grandmother often led my cousins and I through Yoga sessions by teaching us the physical movements (Asana), guiding us through breathwork (Pranayama), and ultimately taking us into meditation (Dhyana). Laughing Yoga was also a big part of our practice to help release stuck energy, and also to simply bring some joy into our day.
Yoga in it’s entirety is about bringing our focus to the present moment. It is about focusing on our limbs & breath as we stretch and strengthen them when we are practicing Asanas. It is about focusing on our breath & moving the energy through our body when we practice Pranayama. It is about meditating – focusing on who we are beneath the layers of anxiety and ego that we hold onto – as we practice Dhyana.
In the West, the practice of meditation has gained extreme popularity in the last decade or so. For those of us from South Asian cultures that practice meditation that want to deepen our connection to ourselves, or to our culture, learning Yoga from an informed teacher is an easy place for us to start.
Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga. It is about preventing and treating illnesses & balancing the mind-body-soul connection via our lifestyle, as well as focusing on what we eat & drink.
Many of us from South Asian families include Ayurvedic practices in our daily lives without even realizing it. We eat fennel seeds after a meal, known in Ayurveda to assist with digestion. We oil our hair, incorporating scalp massage to stimulate hair growth (and help sustain that enviable, thick hair that many South Asians have). We incorporate spices and herbs like turmeric into our daily meals, naturally strengthening our immune system, and keeping inflammation at bay. The Neti (pronounced “Nay-ti” in Sanskrit) Pot, and the nasal passage cleansing associated with it, comes from the Ayurvedic practice. There are so many more practices that Ayurveda recommends, and by incorporating and understanding some of these suggestions rooted in our culture into our lifestyles, we can maintain our health & naturally integrate wellness practices into our lifestyle while honoring our culture.
Yoga and Ayurveda are two ancient South Asian practices that hold millennia of wisdom and methods for us to keep ourselves intact- body, mind, and spirit. The hustle and grind of the modern world is bringing us back to practices from our countries of origin, which are readily available for us to utilize, allowing us to strengthen the sense of kinship we have with our roots, our lineages, and our ancestors, if we so choose.