Interview with Ram Rao, PhD
Welcome to the second installment of my new blog! In this follow-up blog post from my recent interview with Ayurvedic Educator and yoga teacher Melina Meza on the benefits of Ayurveda for our immune health during this Pandemic, I now turn to another expert in the field, Ram Rao, PhD for his unique take:
Baxter: Ram, you have an incredible blend of expertise as an Ayurvedic Practitioner and educator, a yoga teacher and a PhD researcher on Aging on staying healthy in during this Pandemic. I wondered if you would share with people some general ways that you feel Ayurveda promotes good health and addresses immune health.
Ram: Unlike the modern medicine approach of seeking pills or supplements to build immunity, Ayurveda relies on a comprehensive program that includes diet, lifestyle, behavioral and psychological intervention to boost and sustain immunity. The rationale for such a broad intervention is to restore the normal balance and functioning of all the systems simultaneously at the level of the body, mind and emotions. The entire approach is a customized and individualized approach that covers the scope of all interventions to promote and sustain the immunity thereby facilitating optimal health.
According to Ayurveda, optimal immunity arises from having optimal digestion, a balanced agni (metabolic fire), good quality sleep (nidra), maintaining regular routines, engaging in physical and mental exercises, periodical detoxification (Pancha karma), mindfulness practices and having good conduct. All of these interventions directly or indirectly build and promote optimal immunity (physical and mental).
Baxter: I continue to appreciate the holistic approach of Ayurveda in addressing health and well-being. And your list of the factors that contribute to optimal immunity seem quite accessible for the average person. Recognizing that recommendations made by Yoga Therapists and Ayurvedic specialists are always made for the individual you would be helping, do you have some more specific recommendations of the top three areas people might address to help prevent infection and boost immunity (in addition to social distancing and hand washing, etc.)?
Ram: According to Ayurveda (and Yoga too), we are a combination of (1) a physical body, (2) a mental body, and (3) an emotional body. If we believe this to be true and act accordingly, we have greater immunity and significantly increased protection from illness and disease. Here I list out top three actions that address all three facets of individuality (body, mind and emotions). These together with social distancing and hand washing will boost and sustain immunity and help ward off any infection.
BODY (Diet & Other activities)
1. If you feel stressed out physically, mentally, or emotionally, let go of your emotions, calm your mind and body to prepare for a stress-free dining experience.
2. After you calm down at all three levels, silently express gratitude for your meal by thanking nature (sun, moon, water, soil), farmers, other food workers (responsible for bringing the food from farm to store) and the person who prepared the food.
3. Bring your attention to the food, notice the colors of the food and pay attention to the aroma.
4. Ensure that you are eating organic, freshly cooked food that has lot of vegetables, spices and whole grains.
5. Chew each bite 25-30 times before swallowing; this count requires you to pay undivided attention to your eating, allowing you to eat mindfully, with a focus.
6. Do not indulge in any other activity while eating your food. Your attention, focus and awareness are on the food alone.
7. Keep at least 3 hours gap between two meals. Do not snack constantly. Eat a bowl of mixed fruits as a snack
8. Eat your big meal at lunchtime. Have a light supper.
9. Resist eating after your last meal of the day. Do your best to give yourself 12-15 hours between dinner and breakfast.
10. A typical day of 4 meals would be BF (8am), Lunch (Noon), Snack (4pm), Supper (7pm).
11. Keep a gap of at least 3 hrs. between dinner and sleep. If you go by the above schedule, you will get to bed by 10pm.
12. I like to combine BF and lunch. So my typical schedule calls for Brunch (11am), Snack (4pm) and Supper (7pm).
13. A 30 mins-1hr workout (physical exercise/yoga/swim/cycling etc.) can be incorporated either in the morning or in the afternoon. I have a daily workout (yoga+gym) of 60 mins before my brunch.
MIND (Selfless Service)
Engaging in acts of selfless service helps to control emotions and reinforces both the mind and body. People who incorporate selfless service into their daily lives achieve greater fulfillment, peace and happiness and thereby, according to Ayurveda, strengthen their immunity.
1. Selfless service is not a stand-alone tool for improving immunity, good health and wellness. This must be combined with good eating practices.
2. As you begin to decide how you can perform a selfless service, learn to create love towards the duty first. Let go of the ego, including feelings of desire, ambition, fear, judgment, and anger.
3. True selfless service calls for withdrawing any attachments to the service, reward, recognition or award.
4. In a situation like the present time, there are so many avenues to engage in selfless service.
5. Always place the well-being of others as a top priority ahead of personal gain or achievement.
6. True selfless service and its benefits result from going that extra mile - sacrificing time and effort
7. If you perform a selfless service, silently wish that any benefit from your charitable act goes to another individual who needs it the most. I call this ‘heightened’ selfless service.
Meditation is a combination of undivided attention, focus, and awareness. The end result is a complete integration of the body, mind, and emotions. Meditation brings about feelings of fulfillment and achievement and strengthens all the systems in the body, thereby promoting immunity.
1. There are many forms/types of meditation and the benefits are seen with a regular practice.
2. Eating consciously is meditation in itself
3. Selfless service done with a pure devotion is again a meditative act.
4. In these trying times, I like to suggest loving-kindness meditation as it encompasses feelings of affection, warm-heartedness and sympathy.
5. When you sit to meditate, focus and direct your loving-kindness toward other benefactors, such as parents, siblings, friends, teachers, pets, or anyone who needs support. As you direct loving-kindness to others, intend for the positive energy to be sustained, giving the receiver everlasting peace, good health, and wellness.
The above three tips for the body, mind and emotions can be safely incorporated from the comforts of your home. There is minimal physical interaction and together with social distancing and hand washing will go a long way to build and sustain immunity, ward off any infection and keep you in optimal health.
Baxter: That is incredibly comprehensive, Ram! I know that sometimes when I am working with a Yoga Therapy Client, and I present such a list of recommendations to them as you have for us here, they often seem at a loss for where to start. With that in mind, could you prioritize for us and give us a short mini practice as a way to start a much larger process that would be ongoing and expanding over time?
Ram: Yes, here are some simple things that anyone can do on an ongoing basis to build immunity.
1. Eat a wholesome, nutritious, freshly cooked warm meal that has lot of vegetables, spices and whole grains.
2. Eating is a meditative act so focus on your food plate and be attentive while eating.
3. Chew each bite 25-30 times before swallowing; this count requires you to pay undivided attention to your eating, allowing you to eat mindfully, with a focus.
4. Keep at least 3 hours gap between two meals. Do not snack constantly. Eat a bowl of mixed fruits as a snack
5. Resist eating after your last meal of the day. Do your best to give yourself 12-15 hours between dinner and breakfast.
6. A 30 min-1hr workout (physical exercise/yoga/swim/cycling etc) can be incorporated either in the morning or in the afternoon.
7. Engage in some selfless service and go that extra mile - sacrificing time and effort
Baxter: That seems like an excellent set of suggestions for people to try. Ram, if people want to learn more about your approach to introducing Ayurveda into their lives, is there anything else you can recommend?
Ram: Physical exercise or Asana alone may help but will not bring optimal changes. Diet and Yoga together will not help greatly if an individual is always angry or fearful. I use Ayurveda and recommend a personalized, comprehensive program that includes diet, lifestyle, behavioral and psychological intervention to boost and sustain immunity. The rationale for such a broad intervention is to restore the normal balance and functioning of all the systems simultaneously at the level of the body, mind and emotions.
Baxter: It has been enlightening to talk with you and it is wonderful that your book is now available for people who want to learn more and have a great tool to help them establish health-promoting daily routines! Thank, you, Ram!
And for those who would like to submit a question for me to address in a future blog post, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay safe and be well!