We all are aware about the importance and benefits of proper hygiene, and most practices in hygiene are ingrained to us in childhood and followed quite as a ritual. The concept of hygiene in its existing form that takes care of physical cleanliness using chemical microbicidal soaps and detergents is getting questioned also on the other hand because of its effect on the friendly microbes, ecosystem and natural immunity development. Recent studies also reveal that the number or microbes that permanently colonize inside and outside our body exceeds the total number of cells in our human system. Most of these bacteria are known to have a symbiotic relationship with the host, which means human and the microbes benefits from each other. It would very interesting to look at Ayurveda and what was the concept of Hygiene as it is advised in the ancient text called “Astanga Hrudaya” which combines physical hygiene to mental aspects bringing to us the concept of Holistic Hygiene. How concerned should we be about holistic hygiene related practices and how would it impact our psychic and somatic health is worth examining.
Astanga Hrudaya in its “dina-charya” chapter mention about daily regimen in depth. It is very interesting that there are equally important sections explaining physical regimen that includes oral hygiene, nasal cleansing, eye care, exercise, self-massage, herbal baths and the ethical regimen or what I would call as Mental Hygiene. These are a set of instruction known as the “saddvritta” or “The code of healthy conduct” which explains the impact of physical cleanliness and order of the mind along with various ethical factors on maintaining homeostasis. For me proper mental hygiene would mean control of actions, words and the senses leading to a stable personality in any varied state of positive or negative external impact.
Five levels of maintaining holistic hygiene explained in Ayurveda is as follows,
1. Physical Conduct (Sharirik Sadvritta) it includes not just the aspect of general cleanliness, but also elaborates specifically the importance of scrapping of the tongue daily morning to remove the mucous, necessity of regular exercise, maintaining oral hygiene after every meal, self-massage of the body using oils and herbal scrubs, daily bath, wearing weather appropriate clothing, fragrances etc.
2. Ethical Conduct (Vyavaharika Sadvritta) : Always speak the truth, avoid addiction to sensory pleasures, actions according to time and place where you are present at that moment.
3. Social Conduct (Samajik Sadvritta) In the society one should be concerned about their conduct to fellow beings. Socializing doesn’t have to be just meeting, eating, talking and drinking, but it can be adding positivity in the lives of fellow beings through our actions, words and thoughts. Starting conversation with pleasant & smiling face, show kindness and compassion to ones in need, respect all especially teachers and elderly can all be part of it.
4. Mental Conduct (Manasik Sadvtitta): The materialistic affinity of our sense organ and mind always leads to a confusion that physical pleasure and pain as the sole deciding factor for our thoughts and actions. Ayurveda teaches about the real eternal nature of our soul and its nature of equality with the eternal consciousness or divine energy. Feeling that divinity within and fellow beings through breathing exercises, yogic practices and meditations thus is emphasized in its ability in maintaining one’s mental hygiene and there by physical actions hygienic.
5. Moral Conduct (Dharmika Sadvritta) Dharma encompasses ideas such as duty, rights, character, vocation, customs and all behavior considered appropriate, correct or morally upright. The actions of a person when it is considered as something having impact beyond self and when it is done to benefit the entire society it is Dharma. In modern context, the concept of using only sustainable sources of food, avoiding food wastage, charity, being part of any greater cause etc. can be also considered as a part of this dharma. Practicing only deeds that has a positive purpose and positive intention behind it, is the essence of dharmic sadvritta or proper moral conduct.
Isaac Ray, one of the founders of the American Psychiatric Association, defined mental hygiene as "the art of preserving the mind against all incidents and influences calculated to deteriorate its qualities, impair its energies, or derange its movements”. In this era of maximum stress and anxiety related to change, choice, desires, attachments and underperformance, it is most relevant to understand and master the art of maintaining our body and mind equally clean and hygienic.
This article is the first one in the series of two articles I’m writing about Holistic Hygiene and Spiritual fitness. The next article will be coming soon which will talk about the concept of spiritual fitness and simple methods to achieve it.