The human body is equipped with a wide range of organs, cells, and proteins that make up the immune system. Modern science tells us that there are two main components to the immune system: the innate immune system that we are all born with, and the adaptive immune system that your body develops as it is exposed to germs and viruses. The understanding of immunity as a biological defense system against invading microbes led to the development of the range of antibiotics and vaccines in the 20th century that have become commonplace today. Despite the steady rise in average lifespan in the modern world, excessive sanitization of our environments has led to a host of new problems, including antibacterial-resistant disease strains, auto-immune problems, and generally weaker adaptive immune systems. Perhaps our modern understanding of disease immunity needs to look outside of itself to gain a fuller picture of what it means to keep human bodies healthy and happy.
Ayurveda, the ancient Indian body of knowledge concerning health and wellness, has for over 3000 years offered insight into how human beings can keep their bodies fit and healthy. In Ayurveda, bodily ailments, or rogas, come in two broad forms; disease caused by internal imbalance of the body is called Nija, whereas aganthu is a class of ailment caused from without, such as external injury and infection from foreign microbes. Ayurveda anticipates several basic insights about disease and health that modern science has since confirmed, such as Ayurveda’s concept of janapadodhwamsa, which literally means “annihilation of people/community.” Janapadodhwamsa has been compared to our modern concept of an epidemic, and Ayurveda explains that ailments that people suffer in common originate in the environment that we all share in common; Vayu (air), Jala (water), Desha (land) and Kaala (season).
Beyond diagnosing these problems, Ayurveda also offers a holistic, natural approach to curing them. Ayurveda explains that there are three components to resisting aganthu and preventing Nija: First, Bala (strength) is the body’s innate ability to resist disease, akin to the innate immune system. Second, Vyadhi Kshamathwa is the concept of resistance to illness gained through healing from an infection. And Last, Ojas (vigor) is the fundamental strength and energy we take from what we consume and convert it into our own. In other words, ensuring that we eat wholesome, healthy diets ensures that we have strong Ojas, which in turn bolsters our defenses against invasive germs.
Aside from our diet, Ayurveda has actually preempted modern science in one aspect of staying healthy: the effects of mood and mental health on our immune system. Ayurveda is a holistic body of knowledge, meaning that when one speaks about one part of the human body system, one must include every other part of it in order to get the full picture. In regard to immunity, Ayurveda has taught us (and medical science has confirmed) that excessive negative emotions such as anger, depression, and anxiety lead to a host of negative health outcomes, including obesity, disturbed sleep, and a weakened immune system.
In short, there are several key takeaways about Ayurveda and our immune systems:
- A healthy diet and exercise are crucial to maintaining our body’s strength.
- Mood and mental health have a major effect on body health.
- Maintaining the natural cycles and rhythms of life (sleep cycle, mealtimes, work schedule, etc.) keep your body in balance with itself and the outside world.
- Pollution and corruption of the environments we live in contributes to a host of health issues.
With both the discoveries of modern medical science and the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, we can all take steps to live healthier, happier, fuller lives.