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The Path from Upavasa to Sukha

By Dr. Robert Svoboda

The Oberoi Sukhvilas Spa Resort, New Chandigarh helps you get in touch with yourself so that you live a life full of sukha words Dr. Robert Svoboda

The Caraka Samhita is Ayurveda’s best-known foundation text. Near its beginning appears a definition of what Ayurveda, the Science of Life, aims to accomplish. The first four words of that definition are: hita-ahitam sukham duhkham. The way that I like to translate this phrase is, “Ayurveda is concerned with understanding everything that promotes and disturbs sukha and improves and worsens duhkha.” Sukha is a word that indicates health, gease, comfort, pleasure and prosperity. The literal meaning of the word sukha is good space su “good” + kha “space”. What this indicates is that a person is happy only when the spaces of that person’s life are good, balanced and harmonious. This applies to all the spaces of life, both inside and outside the body.

The outer spaces of life covers house, office, car, refrigerator, any material possession one has, even the bank account. All these spaces need to be filled with just the right amount of material – not too much, not too little – for us to enjoy sukha. Ayurveda mainly focuses on cleaning what is inside the body. Our body has lots of space, within the heart, blood vessels, respiratory tract, digestive tract, even the brain and the bones. The key to live a life full of sukha is to ensure that all these spaces are open and healthy so that everything that needs to flow within them is uninterrupted. Life and health are all about the flow. When good flow gets disturbed, the result is duhkha: discomfort, displeasure and disease.

Although life would be easier if we could somehow cause all of these spaces inside us to remain in constant balance, but that is impossible, but the spaces are ever-changing. Throughout the day we intake many things. We breathe, eat and drink, and every time we bring something into our system, it effects the inside flow. There is high possibility that the healthy flow inside us may be compromised. The challenge of life today is that we have too much of everything: too much food, too many luxuries, too much data, and too many things to do. Many people confuse sukha with pleasure and believe that the more they indulge their senses, the happier they will be. But when you consume too much, your inner flow will become compromised, resulting in misery, duhkha. Only those people who enjoy wisely will be able to enjoy regularly, and to do so, one has to always include regular periods of upavasa in their life, practice abstinence from sensual gratification and give our organs a chance to rest. In today’s world, the two most important forms of upavasa are restriction of food and restriction of media. Food restriction helps to clear damaged cells from the body, through a process called autophagy. One way to promote autophagy is a dietary strategy known as intermittent fasting, a common version of which is popularly referred to as “16:8”. It means you eat all your daily food during an 8-hour period, and not to eat any food during the other 16 hours. For example, if you have breakfast at 9 am, you should finish your dinner by 5 pm. During the other 16 hours you should drink lots of water and herbal tea. If 16 hours of fasting doesn’t work for you then try 14 hours; even 12 hours of fasting, from 7 pm to 7am, will give you benefits. Another good way to fast is to have only water, or liquids, or fruits, or khichadi for one day every week. This method will also encourage autophagy.

Media restriction produces a mental version of autophagy. Instead of food, it helps remove damaging thoughts and emotions from your mind. You can practice it in a similar way by limiting yourself to 8 hours online a day, or being offline one full day each week. During the time you are offline, you can exercise, meditate, read books, interact with real humans, or do anything else that reconnects you with the real world.

While you are following a regular schedule, it is essential to avoid anything but water and air at least two hours before bed. This helps in proper digestion and even allows the spaces in your body and mind to enjoy sukha.

You have the full right to enjoy while you are still alive, but only when you set limits for yourself will you be able to experience enjoyment with proper health. Give fasting a try and see how it improves your sukha!


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