5 “Healthy Habits” that Can Actually Be Harmful.

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Editor’s Note: This website is not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. For serious.

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As members of our modern, globalized society, we are continuously exposed to a variety of magazine articles, television and radio shows and other forms of online media that bombard—and often confuse—us with contradictory information.

One research report negates what another confirmed to be proven true, leaving us in quite a quandary as we seek to form and follow healthy habits.

I, too, was once lost in the quagmire of modern media when it came to health.

Having encountered, studied, practiced and then taught Ayurveda, however, I now feel certain about how we can not only obtain, but sustain, amazing health.

Ayurveda is a Time-Tested Science

Whereas our modern medical system is relatively new, and therefore, continuously in a state of change and flux, Ayurveda, India’s ancient medical system, has been around for 5,000 years, proving as effective today as it was thousands of years ago. The reason many of us may not have heard of it is because Ayurveda was banned for many years by the British colonists.

Because it delivers incredible results where other systems of medicine often fail, Ayurveda is seeing a great resurgence in our era. In my own life, I truly believe that only Ayurveda, with its four-dimensional approach to healing (addressing body, mind, soul and senses), could help me overcome anorexia nervosa: a problem that involves all four dimensions.

Ayurveda Gives Equal Emphasis To Health Promotion

While being a complete medical system (one of the original authors of the ancient Ayurvedic texts, Rishi Sushrut, is known in western medicine as the grandfather of modern surgery), one of the most inspiring aspects of Ayurveda is its active promotion and teaching about how to become—and remain—healthy at all levels.

These teachings together comprise an entire sub branch of Ayurveda called Svasthavritta. Svastha means health, and Svasthvritta literally means the actions, behaviors and habits that keep us healthy.

Ayurveda’s time-tested health-promoting wisdom sheds light on why the following habits touted by modern media as healthy can actually harm us.

1. Make breakfast your biggest meal.

We learn as part of Ayurveda’s prescribed daily routine (called Dinacharya) the importance of eating lighter at breakfast and dinner, and eating the most quantity at lunchtime instead. The reason for this is that Ayurveda follows a natural circadian rhythm. We are solar powered creatures, and so we must follow the sun’s course in our daily lives to be abidingly healthy.

The state of your digestion is believed to be a reflection of one’s overall health in Ayurveda. We have our greatest digestive capacity at the time of day when the sun has fully risen, which happens between 12-1 p.m., the time Ayurveda recommends we eat a large lunch.

Having grown up eating larger breakfasts and dinners, my health and digestion definitely thank me now for making lunch my heaviest meal.

2. Drink eight glasses of water daily.

Ayurveda teaches us to only drink water (or any other liquid, for that matter) when we are thirsty—but not otherwise. Excess water intake (which occurs when we drink beyond our thirst level) is, in fact, a causative factor for obesity, skin problems, digestive, and many other health challenges.

If you’re actually thirsty enough to drink 8 glasses, do so. If not, don’t.

3. Avoid fat intake.

As a society that has unprecedented rates of obesity, it is very easy to want to practice avoiding fat consumption altogether. Modern western and ancient Ayurvedic medicine both agree that we actually do need some fat to be healthy, regardless of how fat we may be—it just must be the right kind of fat. The fat derived from ghee (clarified butter), mustard and coconut oils, nuts and avocados is considered healthy.

What Ayurveda additionally teaches, however, is that these fats can only increase your health to the extent that you can digest them. While an obese person will benefit from having some fat in his or her diet (ideally in the form of ghee), it must be a relatively small quantity to be able to help.

Having a relatively strong digestive capacity, overcoming the fear of fat and mindfully consuming it has given me a greater overall sense of satisfaction from eating. Anyone close to me, in fact, can attest to my now undying love of ghee!

4. Make up for lost sleep on weekends.

There is this idea that we can accumulate sleep debt during the work week and repay it over the weekend by sleeping in. Having once heavily subscribed to this belief, I now strive to maintain a regular sleep pattern, as good sleep habits are considered one of the three pillars of health, according to Ayurveda. Try sleeping by 10:30 p.m. at the latest and awakening no later than 6 a.m. regularly and you, too, will feel the difference.

5. Exercise vigorously daily, no matter what. 

I will proudly raise my hand to tell you I fell (hard) for this so-called healthy habit, too, and suffered from all sorts of aches, pains, and cracking joints as a result. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for exercise in Ayurveda—how much, how long, what kind, when, as well as our own individual strength are all factors that play important roles in determining our ideal exercise habits. A woman should never exercise during her menstrual cycle and exercise is also contraindicated when we are ill, infirm, or already completely exhausted from excess travel, work, study, etc.

Ayurveda’s seasonal wisdom teaches us that we can exercise more vigorously in the winter and spring months, as we feel physically stronger during these times. The heat and dryness of summer and early fall cause very vigorous exercise to deplete and exhaust us; a gentler routine is recommended at this time.

Following Ayurveda’s health promoting wisdom has truly changed my life in countless, amazing ways. But don’t just take my word for it—try following even just one of these tips and you, too, will start to see and feel the difference for yourself.

 

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Reference:

1. Lochan, Kanjiv. Ashtanga Hrdayam. New Delhi: Chaukhambha Publications, 2011.

2. Sharma, Priyant. Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana. Varanasi: Chaukhambha Oriental, 2003.

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Relephant Bonus:

Ten Things that are Bad for Us that can be Good for You if Practiced Mindfully.

 

It’s More Than What We Eat: 12 Ayurvedic Tips for Healthy Eating. 

 

5 “Healthy” Foods that Aren’t that Healthy.

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Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Rosana Prada/Flickr

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Ananta Ripa Ajmera

Ananta Ripa Ajmera is author of “The Ayurveda Way: 108 Practices from the World’s Oldest Healing System for Better Sleep, Less Stress, Optimal Digestion, and More” (Storey Publishing, 2017). She is a Certified Ayurveda Health Practitioner and Yoga Instructor who continues to study closely with Acharya Shunya, a renowned master teacher whose lineage extends back to ancient India. She serves as Director of Branding and Yoga Studies at Vedika Global, a foundation Acharya Shunya established to awaken health and consciousness with Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She has taught Ayurveda at Stanford School of Medicine’s Health Improvement Program, California Department of Public Health, UNICEF, Mother Earth News Fair, NY Insight Meditation Society, NYU, SFSU, and is certified to teach Ayurveda staff trainings at all prisons and police departments in California. Ananta has spoken at ABC News, the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), Columbia Business School, UC Berkeley, Silicon Valley’s Health Technology Forum, and the Social Innovation Summit. Her work has been featured on Fox 5 News, Good Day NY, Reader’s Digest, MindBodyGreen, and Elephant Journal. She graduated from NYU Stern Business School, where she received an honors degree in marketing and was a Catherine B. Reynolds Scholar in Social Entrepreneurship. Learn more at Whole Yoga & Ayurveda.

Comments

33 Responses to “5 “Healthy Habits” that Can Actually Be Harmful.”

  1. Daphne says:

    Thank you for this, the information is very different from what most people know about health. I will investigate myself about Ayurveda, because I think my three bodies need to nourish and be healthier. Thank you so much, I appreciate what you do, you are enlightening a lot of people.

    • inspireyoga says:

      Thank you so much for your kind comments, Daphne. I am very happy to share some "new" health insights, which are actually very, very old. Many blessings on your wellness journey!

      Warmly,
      Ananta

  2. JustGames says:

    Give up SUGAR!

    • inspireyoga says:

      Ayurveda would not be able to give a blanket statement of health like this…it all depends on how much sugar your body can digest, which varies per person, season, state of imbalance, etc.

      • sylvie says:

        i dont think ayurveda knew sugar in the current form and quantities it's being ingested in current times. JustGames is right- sugar is deadly as we eat it. im not talking about eating fruit which is real food- im talking' hard core' processed sugar added to all man-made food-like products. you cant just say 'sugar' these days as the food quality is far far far far from adequate and qualified as real, so you have to be specific which sugar you mean. Sugar feeds systemic yeast- candida- that is so unimaginably detrimental to human health, and second biggest issue-it's inflammatory on the cellular level. im not even going to mention the effects on the pancreas/ liver and the domino effect coming from that.
        Anyway – man produced sugar needs to be banned, and im not kidding. just look around, actually most illness comes from sugar consumption. that's just the tip of the iceberg here. so yes, you will live eating sugar and human body will survive for some time DESPITE you ingesting sugar, but not for long. why do you think everyone is sick and allergic etc ect? if you understand bio-chemistry of human body you will understand the cause of most diseases. It is actually very simple. PS. sugar=is a carbohydrate.

        • Bhagavati says:

          Exactly. Modern day refined sugar – as well as refined salt – should be avoided if possible. Brown sugar is a healthy and tasty alternative, or jaggery, this also native to India. And many others, according to where on the globe we find ourselves.

  3. Camille says:

    Why aren’t menstruating women supposed to exercise?

    When I am starting my period, the thing that makes me feel the best is going for a run. I usually avoid cramps and give myself a boost of energy because otherwise I feel heavy and lethargic. I run 3x a week and try to continue this schedule while I am on my period too.

    • inspireyoga says:

      Dear Camille,

      I actually wrote this article about why menstruating women are better off resting during that time of the month; you can read it here: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/08/this-ones-

      Let me know if you have any questions.

      Warmly,
      Ananta

      • Audrey says:

        When I am menstruating I exercise less however your article (the one you provided in the link above) makes it seem like you think women should do nothing during that time of the month? I mean no disrespect but it's bad enough that we do have to menstruate every darn month but to top it off we shouldn't exercise or have sex during that time?!

        • inspireyoga says:

          I used to think along very similar lines for a long time, Audrey…but I have definitely experienced a profound reduction in the degree of pain I feel during my periods. The ancient Ayurvedic texts have recommended as little activity during menstrual cycles as possible as a preventative health measure, and as a classically trained Ayurveda practitioner, it is important for me to uphold the ideals. In our modern context, simply reducing all of our normal activities (i.e. saying no to extra errands and work that isn't entirely necessary and exercising less, like you do) is extremely helpful. Yes, it is also best to abstain from exercise and sex for just those 4-5 days…one still has the entire rest of the month to exercise and have sex. Both of these forms of exertion simply aggravate the Vata dosha more than it should be excited during this time..

          Sincerely,
          Ananta

  4. Buffy says:

    A woman should never excercise during menstruation!? What?? That's the only way I get the cramps to go away! I can't say I buy this article…

    • inspireyoga says:

      And there is actually no reason to "buy" it – Ayurveda is all about what you can experience for yourself, so rather than writing something off or even believing in it immediately, the more scientific thing to do would be to experiment and try it out for yourself before accepting or rejecting. Does following Ayurveda's menstrual health tips help you or not? Do read this article for more if you are interested in more on Ayurveda's take re: periods: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/08/this-ones-

      Best wishes,
      Ananta

  5. Mtreh says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article! There is a reason why ayurvedic traditions have stood the test of time. I struggled with health issues for years until I found a balance between western health teachings and ayurveda. Always listen to your body; it knows what it wants.

    • inspireyoga says:

      Dear Mtreh,

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective and experience. I am so happy to hear that you've been able to employ some of Ayurveda's health teachings to benefit you and your wellbeing. Yes, the body is a very communicative entity ~ we do well to listen to its guidance. And I could not agree more that there is, indeed, a reason why Ayurvedic traditions are still around, despite all the colonization of India.

      Warm regards,
      Ananta

  6. Michelle says:

    I agree with most of this except for water intake and not exercising during your cycle. You feel thirsty when your dehydrated and I go by the method of drinking half my body weight in ounces, and when I don't for a few days, I notice a difference in the hydration of my muscles (particularly back and shoulders) and when that happens I risk getting severe tension headaches. And If I didn't exercise during my cycle, I would totally get out of the habit of exercising regularly. Though, I do take it easier on heavier days… Everything else I do agree with, though.

    • inspireyoga says:

      Dear Michelle,

      Thanks for writing in…with regards to the hydration of your muscles, Ayurveda would investigate the root cause(s) of this imbalance with a very thorough intake session with you, as there are likely some underlying factors responsible for your present imbalance that need to be corrected in order to rectify your need for so much water, as well as your headaches.

      I personally find that I feel even more motivated and reenergized to exercise after my cycle completes…there is something so rejuvenating about following nature's cycles. I have personally benefited greatly from following Ayurveda's period protocols, after suffering from excruiatingly painful periods for so many years. Here's more if you're interested to learn more about why and how: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/08/this-ones-

      Warm regards,
      Ananta

  7. Emmanuel Taji says:

    An excellent piece, except for the little bit on water and fluid intake. Kudos!

    • inspireyoga says:

      Thanks for sharing, Emmanuel…yes, I am feeling like it may be a good idea to also write a separate piece soon to explore the concept of balanced and appropriate water intake.

      Warm regards,
      Ananta

  8. Schuyler says:

    Sorry, but your thoughts on the water intake is absolute hogwash. If you wait until you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. Additionally, most people mistake thirst for hunger, so they reach for food instead of water resulting in overeating and mindless eating – all which contribute excessively to obesity. Telling people to withhold their water intake is only going to fuel further weight problems.

    • inspireyoga says:

      Dear Schuyler,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, we all know that overeating and mindless eating lead to obesity. What has not been explored in the western science is the role that overdrinking and mindless drinking of water can contribute to obesity, which the ancient Ayurvedic texts say does contribute to obesity and other health challenges…there is a reason why weight gain is so closely related with "water retention." Also, I'm not asking people to 'withhold' their intake – simply to obey their bodies and only drink when they are thirsty, vs loading themselves with 8 glasses of water just because that's what the media says to do. That's how the water bottle industry has become so wealthy.

      Best,
      Ananta

      • Allison says:

        Drinking a healthy amount of water and 'water retention' have nothing to do with one another… You are either being purposefully deceptive or dense. I'm not sure which is worse. Stop spreading harmful pseudoscience!

        • elephantjournal says:

          Hi there – from what I can see, the part about water basically says to trust your body. There is no pseudoscience there, – Ed.

          • Scienceisbetter says:

            It is pseudoscience, because modern sound science illustrates how water intake decreases water retention for one thing, and that water is required to metabolize fats in chemical reactions. This is nonsense and this site is nonsense for defending it.

            • Bhagavati says:

              As a matter of fact, it is very much possible to have a too large water intake – this will result in the same as giving our plants too much water at a time: they drown, and a human being can drop dead, literally. Has been observed, sadly, more than once in sports such as marathon running. It is definitely true that water intake should be according to one's body's need.

              Now, those bodily needs however may have been falsely programmed in the first place: for instance, many people perceive as hunger feeling what actually is supposed to be a thirst feeling. Women have a tendency to not drink anything although thirsty because of bathroom worries, especially when on the move or working. Also, according to season, climate and physical activity, the body's need for water is different. This modern-day mantra of 3 litres of water per day is stupid, to say the least.

    • Empowerment creator says:

      It really bothers me when people use modern science to defend their stubborn views. This article was written to discuss what's wrong with the main stream views so it's counter productive to use mainstream views to attack it. I feel this article is so helpful for people who question mainstream and look for alternative ways and if you are not one then this site is not for you. It doesn't mean you have to attack the writers or the readers. There are plenty of main stream stuff you could be reading and agreeing with that won't challenge your believes and would keep you in your comfort zone that you can over indulge on so help yourself.

  9. LisaB. says:

    Why shouldn't a woman exercise during her menses?

  10. Bhagavati says:

    With all due respect – you're mixing up "Western" with (modern) "American": about food intake, only Americans believe that breakfast and dinner should be huge. Europeans don't. At least not in France, Germany, Italy, Spain… Modern Medicine is relatively new, you say – well, although I am absolutely not a particular friend of allopathy, it also has been around quite a while – because it grew out of the natural healing systems of ancient Europe. And those are by far not as far away or that much different from the Ayurvedic knowledge. I absolutely love Ayurveda and think it is great – for me, the best I ever came across. But it's not the only one with ancient knowledge and wisdom. The Chinese Traditional Medicine is very old and well renowned, and even the old natural ways of healing in Europe (what in North America is called "Naturopathy") are very old, and very wise, too. And so many others more. As for whether a woman should or should not exercise during her period… well. The Ayurveda doctors I know do not rule it out completely: it should be handled according to how the woman feels herself, for once, and the "better not" recommendation applies for some exercises only, by natural logic.

    • inspireyoga says:

      Thanks for the clarification on western vs American, Bhagavati. Yes, I agree that it is American food portions that are most problematic.

      And yes, there are definitely other great medical systems out there. Traditional Chinese medicine and Naturopathy actually originated from Ayurveda, which is considered the world's oldest system of medicine.

      Appreciate your comments.

      Warmly,
      Ananta

  11. Chica says:

    I don’t think Ayurveda always has all the correct answers for our health. Two times I have I have had “prescriptions” made for me, by 2 different folks, for my doshas or whatever. They both gave me terrible stomach cramps and diarrhea. Everyone said “oh, that’s just your body detoxing”…so I stuck with it for a little longer BOTH times. BIG MISTAKE!

    All i have to say is….i will never fall for that dosha crap ever again.

    I used to believe that Ayurveda was the king when it came to our health, but I have found that it is just as flawed as any other dietary theories.

    when it comes to my health, i will do what my body tells me to. Not what Ayurveda tells me. I’m sure it works great for some people, but we are all so different. There is no one health claim that works the same for everybody.

  12. Haley says:

    I drink 4 liters of water a day. If I only drink when I'm thirsty, my skin, digestive system, and brain function will suffer the consequences. If I don't drink a lot of water each day my skin gets dry, flaky, and breaks out. I also space out and can't pay attention in class or at work if I haven't had at least a liter in the last 2-3 hours. Water is so important to our health.

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