You’ve probably seen the word rasayana mentioned many times in the articles on this site. So what exactly is a rasayana, anyway? According to the ancient Ayurvedic texts, the word "rasayana" means "that which supports rasa,” or life essence.
Rasa, or plasma, is the first of the seven bodily tissues, namely:
- Rasa: essential fluid — plasma
- Rakta: blood
- Mamsa: muscle
- Meda: adipose tissue or fat
- Asthi: bone
- Majja: bone marrow and nervous system
- Shukra: reproductive tissue
In other words, a rasayana is anything that supports good health, happiness, and longevity!
There are two different types of rasayanas: 1) super-healing foods and supplements, and 2) behavioral. Maharishi AyurVeda bestows the status of rasayana on foods and supplements such as ashwagandha, ghee, and above all, Amrit. In this article, however, we’ll focus largely on behavioral rasayanas—ways of being in the world that promote health and happiness.
Behavioral Rasayanas Defined
A behavioral rasayana is that which deals with the mind's influence on the body in a very concrete, observable way. For instance, when you are happy, your body releases certain feel-good chemicals that promote health. On the other hand, when you are stressed or unhappy, the body releases neurochemicals that put a strain on and harm the body's vital organs.
Many centuries ago, Ayurvedic physicians made this connection between the mind's state of health and its effect on the body's well-being. With that in mind, they laid down this comprehensive list of behaviors that a person must cultivate in order to achieve swaasthya, or perfect health.
Behaviors and attitudes to maximize:
- Speech that uplifts people
- Charity and regular donation
- Religious observance
- Respect toward teachers and elders
- Being positive
- Moderation and self-control, especially with regard to alcohol and sex
Behaviors and attitudes to be avoided:
- Harsh or hurtful speech
- Speaking ill of others behind their backs
- Coveting another's spouse or wealth
Another important rasayana, says Dr. Sharma, is "knowing the measure of time and place with propriety." In other words, a healthy and regular daily routine is an important behavioral rasayana. Modern science calls it chronobiology — following the natural rhythms of nature.
7 Behavioral Rasayanas for Health and Happiness
Beyond those basic behavioral guidelines, the ancient seers also offered a list of 7 behavioral rasayanas to help improve one’s ability to choose positive behaviors and avoid making mistakes that cause ill health and unhappiness. Here they are:
- Speak the sweet truth. There is a saying from the Vedic literature that goes, satyam bruyat, priyam bruyat, which means, "Speak the sweet truth." Speaking truth creates ojas in the body, the biochemical correlate of bliss and health. Speaking lies, on the other hand, creates ama, or impurities.
But at the same time, you should find a pleasant way to convey a truthful message. For example, suppose your child has not washed his face properly. It would be true to say, "Your face is dirty," but that could offend your child. Instead you could say, "Your face looks good, but if you were to wash it with lots of water and cleanser, it would look even better." If you say something encouraging first, a suggestion for improvement that comes later will be less likely to be taken in the wrong spirit. It's important to find a way to tell the truth without hurting anyone.
- Stay free of anger. Anger is within everyone in seed form. Like a fire with a small flame, if you put oil on it, it can flare up. By practicing unconditional forgiveness, you can prevent the seed of anger from becoming an uncontrollable wildfire.
In practicing forgiveness, it's important to also forgive yourself, or that anger will reflect to others. Sometimes people enjoy being angry, and they think it's their birthright to be angry all the time. But they should be aware that anger not only creates ama and amavisha — flooding the body with harmful hormones — but it also burns ojas. If you forgive yourself and other people, anger can be prevented.
In the Mahabharata, the great Vedic epic that contains the Bhagavad Gita, there is a story of five noble brothers who are in exile. At one point they try to draw water from a stream, only to find that a divine spirit wants them to answer a number of questions first. One of those questions is "What is more powerful than fire itself?" None of the brothers can answer the questions except Dharma, the eldest, who immediately answers, "Anger is more powerful than fire. Anger can destroy the world." That's why it's important to prevent the seed of anger from flaring up.
- Be respectful to teachers and elders. Teachers and elders can teach us invaluable lessons by sharing their wisdom and experience. It's easy to read a book to gain knowledge, but it's often very difficult to apply that knowledge in daily life. An elder or teacher can tell you how they tried to practice unconditional forgiveness, for instance, and what were the results. Only wise elders can share such valuable life experiences. They are the best guides. And it is when one respects teachers and elders that they will offer their advice freely.
- Gain Vedic knowledge. The Vedas contain pure knowledge — the knowledge of how to enliven pure consciousness and live an enlightened daily life. They reveal the reality of life, and give us the guideposts along the path to enlightenment.
Listening to Vedic chanting, such as the Sama Veda, helps enhance coordination between heart and mind, senses and mind, and aligns our awareness with the laws of nature, so we can live a mistake-free life.
Reading about practical ways to apply Vedic knowledge in Maharishi AyurVeda newsletters and books such as A Woman's Best Medicine for Menopause by Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., and The Answer to Cancer by Hari Sharma, M.D. helps us to make positive choices for our health and happiness.
- Practice meditation and stay balanced in sleep and wakefulness. By practicing the Transcendental Meditation® technique twice a day, you open your mind to pure consciousness, releasing stress and strengthening the intellect to allow you to make healthy choices in life. You'll find yourself naturally growing in positive behaviors without strain or effort.
Along with the practice of meditation, it's important to follow the Ayurvedic routine of rising before 6:00 a.m., and sleeping before 10:00 at night. This allows your body and mind to become attuned with nature's rhythms, creating maximum clarity and alertness during the day and deep rest at night. It is when people are tired and stressed that many behavioral problems begin. All of the facets of the Ayurvedic routine (massage, exercise, yoga, eating the main meal at noon, and eating lightly at night) help to promote positive behavior.
- Eat sattvic foods such as milk, ghee, yogurt, lassi, dates, mango, walnuts, and almonds. All of these foods are sattvic, meaning they are pure and convert easily to ojas. They are medhya, supporting the physical brain and enhancing the coordination of mental functions such as dhi, dhriti, and smriti (learning, retention, and recall). When the mind remains strong, it is able to effortlessly command the senses, like a skilled charioteer who can guide wild horses without force. The mind that rules the senses, rather than the other way around, makes positive choices and engages in positive behaviors.
Tamasic foods are the opposite of sattvic — they break down the coordination between mind and body and inhibit the experience of pure consciousness. They create darkness rather than light. Tamasic foods include alcohol, garlic, onions, red meat, leftovers, and packaged foods, which have little life force. Anyone who wishes to practice achara rasayana should avoid them.
- Keep the company of the wise. Even if you are committed to eating sattvic foods, meditating daily and practicing achara rasayana, it can become difficult if, due to social pressures, you find yourself drinking alcoholic beverages or eating tamasic foods. This is why it's important to stay in the company of the wise, to choose like-minded, sattvic friends who will support your desire to follow achara rasayana.
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