The Wisdom of Ayurveda: A Meditation for the 21st Century Mind (plus Golden Milk recipe)
In this month’s column, we learn an incredible trick for emptying the mind of thought and emotion, plus share a recipe for a soothing bedtime drink
by Shama Palmer
Ayurveda is not only for the health of the body – it also hopes to support the health of the mind. In fact, Ayurveda and yoga understand that the body and mind cannot be separated. The one impacts the other. We cannot open up the head and find the mind. It is not a thing, it is more an activity, a movement of thoughts. Mind, in a sense, is the most subtle manifestation of the body. Body could be said to be the grossest manifestation of the mind.
We experience this all the time. If fear and anxiety arise, we feel butterflies in our stomachs, and there is a change in the rate and depth of our breathing. When there is fever in the body, the mind becomes agitated. And when there is depression in the mind, the body can become sluggish and heavy-feeling. It seems more accurate to speak of a body-mind. Modern scientists are now starting to understand what the mystics of the East have known for aeons about this body-mind connection, and there is of course much research into the world of psychosomatics.
Sattva and Self
Ayurveda teaches us that the natural state of the mind is one of sattva. Sattva is one of those wonderful Sanskrit words that encompasses so much, but is difficult to adequately translate into English. A sattvic mind is clear, light, pure, balanced, harmonious, steady and calm. How far from this state of mind many of us have moved! For most, the mind is in a near constant state of movement. We have lost the way to turn off the mind. The mind should be our instrument, but it has become like an unruly servant: it has become our master and we are more or less forced to follow its movements, as on those nights when we so desperately want to sleep but the mind just will not let us.
When we live an Ayurvedic lifestyle and eat according to our constitutional type, and when we live in alignment with the teachings of Ayurveda for the seasons and for our age, the mind becomes more steady and balanced and we experience greater health and contentment. Of course, we also have to adapt the way we use the mind, and the path of yoga teaches us how to work directly with the mind and to bring the mind to sattva. My yoga therapy teacher told us that yogis practice Ayurveda to build sattva, to come to a state of harmony and equilibrium in the mind. In fact, the word for health in Sanskrit is svastha, which translates as ‘to be established in the Self’.
Self (with a capital ‘S’) in the classical text of yoga and Ayurveda is that part of us that is untouched by the wavering mind, and refers to the changeless witnessing consciousness. Without this steadiness in mind, which opens us to a connection with a deeper part of our interiority, we are in anguish much of the time. A steady mind therefore allows us to rest in that deeper part of our being, which can give us some sense of anchoring and the capacity to move in the world guided by a place of real knowing and not by the ramblings of the mind, is part and parcel of good health in Ayurveda. It is the happiness we are all seeking.
The fact that a steady sattvic mind supports us to rest, established in the Self in svastha or in the witnessing consciousness, is the reason that meditation has been the peak practice of so many spiritual traditions. Meditation supports that steadying of the mind, and the greater clarity of being and insightfulness that accompanies that. In meditation we simply sit and watch the flow of movement in the mind. A saying comes to mind: just like a glass of muddy water, when you don’t stir it, slowly and gradually everything settles and the water becomes clear. The movement in the mind gradually settles, the mind becomes clear and we sit as the silent witness of all movement in the mind during meditation.
Regular practice of meditation, supported by appropriate diet and lifestyle for our constitutional type, is called for if we are to begin to anchor ourselves in this knowing centre of consciousness within. It is the most direct way to steady the mind and to reach that point where the mind is in its rightful place, no longer in charge but an instrument for us to use for our own and for the greater good.
As we tend to live with such agitated states of mind these days, taking time to sit silently with the busy-ness of our minds can seem daunting, even painful, and the last thing we would want to do. Mostly we just want to escape our minds for a while and then when we sit initially for meditation, the mind seems to become noisier than ever. It can even feel like we are going crazy with a cacophony of thoughts and inner voices passing rushing through.
What is happening is that in finally sitting to watch the flow of movement through our minds, we are perhaps becoming aware for the first time of the crowd that fills our heads. This can be very uncomfortable to sit with. Do you remember how when exam times came during university and school days, we would find so many jobs to be done before we sat down to study and revise? Likewise in the case of meditation. We might quickly discover that we are adepts at discovering limitless reasons not to sit for meditation and a myriad tasks that need to be done first or instead of. It’s usual, and is even known as ‘the long walk to the meditation cushion’.
Osho and the power of gibberish
The mystic Osho understood that the minds of modern humanity are disturbed in such a way that it can be difficult to sit silently for meditation, and so gave a number of active meditation techniques which prepare the mind for silent sitting. The techniques generally engage the mind in a way which helps it to settle and ready itself for meditation, making the silent sitting more comfortable and less disturbed. I recently returned to one of these meditations, which is called ‘Gibberish Meditation’.
The gibberish meditation is said to be a Sufi technique and involves speaking meaningless sounds and sentences aloud. The sentences and sounds that come out from the mouth will carry a certain vibration, releasing pent up emotions and easing various agitated states of mind. The idea is to break old patterns in the mind, and to transform the nature of the energies moving through the brain. It is like throwing out all the garbage that we hold in the mind. Speaking, shouting, laughing or crying the senseless sounds of gibberish out loud means that no one person or event is being blamed for what is stored within you. This in itself is liberating, and lightening, bringing with it a sense of renewed vitality as old energy trapped within us is released.
It is an incredible practice. Making sounds which are like words but mean nothing to you has a powerful effect on body and mind. And strangely, though we can feel a little self-conscious at first, once we relax into and just go with the practice then the sounds take their own flow and it can happen that you find you are making sounds that seem to be of another language entirely. The flow of each type of language or sounds can seem to carry its own emotional vibration – anger, frustration, sadness, tenderness, quietness. And when you have thrown all this out in sound for 5, 10 or 15 minutes, an incredible stillness can arise in the mind quite effortlessly.
Why not give it a go and find out for yourself? Set yourself a challenge and try it for 5 or 7 consecutive days and see what happens. This practice not only breaks old patterns in the brain, but allows us to express without hurting others. It helps us to release long stored anger, grief, guilt. The mind can become more focused, improving concentration and enabling you to make better decisions as you come to rest more and more in this new state of being with ongoing practice. As with all meditations, we start to become more aware of our thought patterns and belief systems and to have a more healthy separation from them.
Here are the steps for a short version of a gibberish meditation. Sit alone in comfortable position in a room where you will not be disturbed and where you feel you can speak out without the self-consciousness of being heard. Set a timer for the two 10 minute stages of the meditation:
Stage 1 (10 minutes):
Close your eyes and begin to allow the ramblings of your mind to be expressed in senseless sounds. Make sure you are not expressing any actual words that have meaning to you. It is meaningless sounds that we make in gibberish meditation. If you feel self-conscious initially and it is difficult to start to speak gibberish, just start with the more familiar lalalalala or blah blah blah sounds. Allow feelings to come with these familiar sounds and then as the feelings, change new sounds will come.
Trust it all, don’t try to direct, allow all sounds to come without censorship.
The face and body may want to move and express along with the feelings behind the sounds. Allow this too.
Stage 2 (10 minutes):
When the timer sounds, lie down on your back and feel your whole body dropping down heavily into the floor.
Stay very still and observe the rise and fall of your inhale and exhale, feel your connection to the ground.
Witness and experience the new stillness in your mind having emptied it of so much content in the gibberish stage of the meditation.
Enjoy this healing state of restful awareness until the timer indicates 10 minutes is up again.
Stretch out the body with a big inhalation and move back into your day, perhaps feeling a renewed sense of energy and contentment in body and mind.
Golden Milk: A soothing drink with turmeric
Enjoy this lovely Ayurvedic drink at night before sleep, or in place of a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack to help stabilise blood sugar levels and keep the mind calm.
Warm a cup of your preferred type of dairy or non-dairy milk in a small saucepan with a good pinch of sweet ground cinnamon, turmeric powder, fresh grated ginger and 2-4 cardamom pods. You can also add a date for extra sweetness whilst you heat the milk. Strain and enjoy!
Turmeric is the key ingredient in golden milk, giving the drink its beautiful colour and adding antioxidants to help us fight off infection. Turmeric also adds an anti-inflammatory quality to the drink, and golden milk is said to support brain function, memory and mood. Buy a good quality organic turmeric powder from a herbal supplier: it’ll be more likely to have more of the beneficial properties of turmeric than supermarket turmeric powders generally have.
About the author
Sara Palmer (Shama) is an ayurveda practitioner and registered senior yoga teacher and therapist. If you’d like to learn more about agni, ama, ojas, your constitutional type and self care in ayurveda, Shama is running Ayurveda Living courses online.