The world has been learning some practices now (especially after the outburst of coronavirus infections) that have been practiced in India for many years. Their mention has been found in ancient texts written thousands of years ago. India is known to be the land of Yoga and Ayurveda, but what is not known that Indian masters and scholars have left behind a legacy of judiciously created lifestyle instructions scattered in countless books dating more than five thousand years back. This article compiles some of those instructions and their explanation – as to what practice must have been advised in what context, and how they all still hold valid today.
The world lifestyle has changed significantly over the last one year – face masks are common, everyone is carrying hand sanitizers, public places are being sprayed with disinfectants and everyone is keeping a distance from the others. All this is brought to us by a tiny troublesome new virus. It has revolutionized people’s work, school, examinations, and even weddings and parties. Everything is being held online because everyone is afraid –of catching the deadly virus we call coronavirus. These lifestyle reforms have been strictly implemented in people’s lives by various reputed health organizations and ministries all over the world, who have issued guidelines for preventing the transmission of this viral infection. At many places, people are even being punished for not following guidelines relevant in their area.
Prevention Guidelines the World is Following
Guidelines in the form of audio as well as video messages are being circulated via TV ads, phone caller tunes, etc. The guidelines repeatedly mention some instructions that emphasize washing hands frequently, not unnecessarily touching any objects, not touching one’s eyes, mouth and nose, changing and washing one’s clothes regularly and most importantly, maintaining a safe distance with everyone.
The novel coronavirus is a virus primarily inhabiting the upper respiratory system and then spreading to the whole respiratory system via cell multiplication. It then travels to all organs via bloodstream and suspends essential life processes. This is the reason why getting infected with the new coronavirus requires intensive care and caution. Also, the seriousness of any infection is highly dependent on the mode of its transmission, which also decides the degree up to which the infection is avoidable. The mode of transmission of coronavirus is via respiratory droplets i.e. very small drops of fluid originating from the nose and the mouth while breathing, yawning, coughing, sneezing and speaking.
Viruses are the causative agents of mostly deadly diseases because they have a special tendency – they act as non-living matter as long as they lie on a non-living surface; and upon reaching a living organism, they resume their behavior – survival, growth and multiplication – that of a living organism. Keeping in mind these properties of the virus, transmission prevention guidelines have been issued and are being practiced. The practices are also a slightly unwelcome change in many people’s lives and they are praying and waiting for the pandemic to be over soon.
Connection of the Guidelines with India
Interestingly, some societies do not appear to be troubled or discomforted by these guidelines. They have probably been practicing them in some way throughout their lives as household etiquette. What is the connection between the preventive measures the world is following, and the Indians’ conventional lifestyle?
To begin with, Namaste, the Indian way of greeting, is the epitome of social distancing practice. While the rest of the world shakes their hands, or exchanges hugs and La Bise kisses to greet someone, Indians join both of their hands together and bow forwards with a smile. It is the most respectable way to greet someone since ‘Namaste’ means “I bow to the divine that resides in you” This practice was seen as ‘too moralist’ until a few years ago, since it doesn’t include physical contact and hence is not as ‘modern’ as other forms of greeting.
It had gained popularity with Yoga travelling to the west. But it is now being practiced by so many other people, since it includes no physical contact and by doing Namaste; one can greet everyone with respect, without even having to speak, without removing their mask, without coming close and essentially without exchanging infections.
There are many other physical practices that were taught to children in every Indian household, which are now part of the public behavior protocol during pandemic, whose origin can be traced back to many-many centuries before the Common Era.
- Don’t Touch Your Mouth, Nose and Eyes: we have been advised to avoid touching our nose, mouth and eyes, because it could allow the microbes on our hands to enter our respiratory tract via the eyes, mouth and nose. This practice has clearly been mentioned in the Manusmruti which was written by sage Manu sometime around the 2nd century BCE. Here is the extract from the book:
- Wash Hands Feet & Face Before Meals: Sanitizers are now installed after every restaurant, and people are now taking more care to sanitize or wash hands especially when eating on the go – because doctors say so – but this advice had been given by the first surgeon of the world; Sushruta, in his book Sushruta Samhita which he had written around the 6th century BCE. The original instruction was:
- Wear Fresh Clothes: We are repeatedly advised to use fresh clothes upon bathing, since clothes could also be a transmission platform for viruses. This advice, too, has been published in the Markandeya Purana that dates somewhere between the 2nd and the 3rd century CE. The actual statement is:
- Don’t Share Personal Items, and Change Clothes Upon Arriving at Home and For Going To Bed: During the lifetime of Lord Krishna, known as the Mahabharata period which happened in around 3,000 BCE, there are two extracts from the instructions given to the kuru princes by their great grandfather, which are:
Both of these mean that we must use different clothes when we go to sleep, go outside the house and come back in. This practice now applies to not only clothes but also face masks.
Religious Practices That Have Health Benefits
There are some other practices whose mention cannot be supported with evidence because they are not written anywhere but normally practiced in almost all homes throughout India regardless of region.
- Use of Copper Vessels: – Copper pots, glasses and drums were used for storing drinking water in ancient India. Even now, small jugs and pots are specially manufactured locally in India just enough for keeping water overnight – and to be consumed in the morning or even throughout the day. It was believed that doing so is good for health. Now scientists agree that copper has antimicrobial properties, so much that copper is being used for plating surfaces at public areas where maximum touches are required such as elevator buttons, door knobs, etc. especially during the current pandemic.
- Blowing of Conch Shell: – A loud, clear, gentle yet enthusiastic sound of a horn blown out of a conch shell can be heard at dawn and dusk in many Indian localities. This is considered auspicious, and it is believed that one, who is healthy, can only blow a conch shell (just like a spirometer is a test for how healthy your respiratory system is). It requires great energy to blow the shell and surprisingly, blowing the shell is actually beneficial for the blower’s pulmonary and digestive organs and the senses.  Besides strengthening the respiratory and the digestive tract (which sites are the preferred residential choices of the coronavirus), the horn of the conch shell generates positive vibes all around.
Indian culture has had more attention than any other culture around the globe possibly due to Indians still practicing it even when they become internationally recognized personalities in the spheres of beauty, sports, science and business, etc. Some practices have even been made fun of, such as vegetarianism and personal cleanliness; but these are now globally being recognized as ideal practices by various research scholars and health organizations. There was no such technological advancement at that time as there is now. The world needs to learn and adapt these practices, especially the ones outlined here; for if it had already practiced such personal routines, the spread of contagious diseases wouldn’t have been as bad as it is right now. Namaste!
Dr. Vikram Chauhan (MD-Ayurvedic Medicine) is an Expert Ayurveda Consultant in Chandigarh (India). He has vast experience of herbs and their applied uses. He has successfully treated numerous patients suffering from various ailments, throughout the world. He is CEO and Founder of Krishna Herbal Company and Planet Ayurveda in Chandigarh, India. He researched age old formulas from ancient Ayurvedic text books to restore health and save human beings from the worst side-effects of chemical-based treatments.