Even your five senses need a spiritual reboot from time to time — here’s how to do it.
Ayurveda — the ancient science of life — teaches you how to lead a healthy life physically, mentally and spiritually. The central purpose and quest of Ayurveda is to help you achieve moksha, a Sanskrit word signifying spiritual liberation, or a state of perfect equanimity amid the emotional ups and downs of life.
One way to find balance? Look to your senses. The five senses are like five sacred gateways for taking in information about the world around you, and impact your body and mind in various ways.
Atiyoga, Ayoga and Mithya Yoga
First, a short vocabulary lesson: In Sanskrit, the deeper meaning of the word “yoga” is to come into a state of union with your highest self. (Yoga comes from the root Sanskrit word yuj, which means to unite.) “Atiyoga”refers to the excess use of the senses for sensory gratification; “Ayoga”is too little use of any of your senses; and “Mithya yoga” indicates a harmful or destructive use of your senses.
To spiritually cleanse your senses, you have to first take inventory and discern if there are any senses you are overusing, underusing or using in a harmful manner. You can then try different ancient practices to spiritually cleanse yourself via your senses, to find greater emotional sovereignty over everyday habits that are not supporting your well-being.
Cleanse Your Sense of Taste
Let’s apply the framework of the three yogas to your sense of taste. Atiyoga (too much) would be overeating a certain food. We often do this when we subconsciously wish to use food as a way to numb painful emotions.
According to ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, certain tastes have specific impacts on your mind and emotions. Very pungent foods, such as red chilis, can arouse heated emotions like anger and jealousy. Sweet foods, including sweet fruits, breads, pastas, dairy, rice, coconut and meats, which are all considered to have the sweet taste in Ayurveda, can make you feel satisfied emotionally, which can lead to excess consumption of them. Salt is said to stimulate the emotion of greed — consider how tasting a salty chip tempts us to greedily scarf down the whole bag.
Ayoga (too little) means not eating enough food and restricting your intake to the extent that it harms you — which is the case with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa. Mithya yoga (harmful use of your sense of taste) means eating foods that are not good for you, that cause your body or mind to react negatively in some way. It also could mean eating packaged foods, which have a lower amount of vitality-giving energy (called prana in the yogic tradition).
To cleanse your sense of taste, try these tips:
1. Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating encourages you to slow down and focus on your relationship with food. If you savor each bite, you’re less likely to overeat. Plus, it’s a way to make each of your meals a sacred experience, wherein you look at the process of eating as making an offering to your own spirit — forging a deeper relationship with food. You can download a free guide to mindful eating from THE WELL here.
2. Consult with a Practitioner
It’s also wise to consult with a practitioner, such as myself or one of our Health Coaches, to advise you on a customized seasonal diet suited to your specific needs.
Cleanse Your Sense of Sight
When it comes to your sense of sight, assessing Atiyoga requires asking yourself: what do I spend the most time looking at? For many of us in the digital era, our eyes remain glued to our screens most of the day. Ayoga, on the other hand, could mean spending a lot of time with your eyes closed — perhaps by oversleeping. Mithya yoga could mean looking at harmful images, such as violent movies.
To cleanse your sense of sight, try these tips:
1. Look to Nature
Taking more time to gaze at the sights of nature is very therapeutic and cleansing for your eyes. If you are unable to venture outdoors, you can still cleanse your sense of sight by putting up photographs of nature.
RELATED: How Nature Heals
2. Seek Visual Inspiration
The ancient Vedic spiritual texts also recommend looking at something that inspires you when first waking up in the morning.
3. Apply Herbal Eyeliner
Under the supervision of an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner, you can apply a medicated herbal eyeliner to help protect your vision. Research has even revealed the efficacy of this eyeliner (known as anjan) on childhood and adolescent conjunctivitis.
Cleanse Your Sense of Touch
Overuse, or Atiyoga, of your sense of touch can happen in the case of excessive sexual stimulation. Ayoga can manifest from not having enough physical contact with your own body, or those of others. Mithya yoga of the sense of touch may involve purposely damaging your skin.
To cleansing your sense of touch, try these tips:
Depending on your skin’s needs and the season, using dry scrubs (like this coffee body scrub from Saya) can help cleanse and strengthen your sense of touch. The spring season is a great time to exfoliate, to shed away layers of old, dead skin, which makes way for fresh new skin.
2. Use Body Oil
Applying warm oils to your skin before taking a shower in the morning is a wonderful practice to show love to your own skin — it is, afterall, the vessel for your soul. Research has even proved the efficacy of oiling the body for pain relief in patients who had prior physical trauma.
Cleanse Your Sense of Smell
The sense of smell is connected with feeling physically and emotionally grounded in Ayurveda, so it’s very important to engage consciously with your sense of smell. Excessive use of your sense of smell is less common than not using this sense much at all. A damaging use of your sense of smell is when you inhale or sniff harmful substances.
To cleanse your sense of smell, try these tips:
1. Smell the Roses... or Lillies... or Peonies
Taking a moment to smell your favorite scented flower or essential oils is a perfect way to become more present and in the moment, and to immediately start to calm feelings of stress.
2. Apply Nasal Oil
Applying nasal oil or ghee to your nostrils (an ancient Ayurvedic practice called nasya) is also an excellent way to not only strengthen your sense of smell, but all the organs of your head. Research has shown how use of nasya oils have reduced pain, neck stiffness and numbness in those with cervical spondylitis.
Cleanse Your Sense of Sound
Ayoga, or too little use of your ears, is a lot less common than excessive use of them. Atiyoga of hearing happens when you consume too much noise — that could mean a blaring television or radio or listening to very loud music with headphones or even other people’s voices during video meetings. Mithya yoga, or harmful use of your ears, is when you listen to gossip or a lot of profanity or anger in speech (such as during arguments).
To cleanse your sense of sound, try these tips:
1. Listen to Nothing
The practice of mindful silence is very cleansing and restorative to your sense of hearing, whether you’re able to do it for a whole day or even just 10 minutes per day, to tune into the sound of your own inner wisdom.
2. Oil Your Ears
The Ayurvedic practice of oiling your ears before sleeping at night is also very beneficial for the strength of your ears, and in case of any ear pain you may incur from listening to loud music or even flying on planes too often. You can oil your ears with warm, organic sesame oil for pain relief. To learn exactly how, consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner.