In my training programmes, I promote lifestyle change, so that by making changes to the way you live, you will feel better. The mechanism for this is a much-improved body bio-energies balance. The model is according to Ayurveda, which is a traditional medicine based on entirely natural methods. I have a postgraduate degree in this approach and I am clear about the complexities.
But I am now starting to questionthe easy, throwaway, roll off the tongue part of my opening sentence. I wonder why we have come to use the term life-style? Wouldn’t life-habits be better suited? And does style actually imply stylish by design? In other words, can those of us who haven’t begun with the design process use the word style? Is it “style” when we are still living with unchanged, unhelpful, unhealthy and unhappy habits of the past? It may be the case; Amy Winehouse being an icon for an unapologetically damaged lifestyle.
To unravel this predicament, I have taken the following journey:
The definition of life is: “the condition that distinguishes animals, humans and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death”.
I love the capacity for continual change; this makes me very happy! So, according to this definition everybody can change. As this change can be good, neutral or bad, we want to add a design process to it, so that the continual change will be deliberately positive.
The absence of a design process will probably result in bad choices, simply because there are very many unhealthy temptations in a capitalist society, and exploitative demands on the individual. When we live in a society where the healthiest, most eco-friendly products are considered a luxury item and not a human right, it is time to design and get creative!
The next part of the “definition of life” says “the capacity to grow and function”. Brilliant – oh dear! I have recently written a blog on “personal de-growth” and hence, a sub-plot predicament appears for me. If we have the capacity to grow, why am I telling people not to, and to even go the other way!?
In my blog “personal de-growth”, I make the point that less is more and living more simply is better, that escaping the mainstream rat race is not a bad idea. Personal de-growth refers to the consumption capacity of humans as economic entities and how we have lost our humanness in exchange for a predominantly economic function.
So, I wonder what does “growth” in the definition of life actually include? Is all growth included in this – physical, mental, societal, economic, emotional, altruistic, growth in experiences, memories and relationships, values and knowledge of self, etc.?
And can this growth be good, neutral or bad? In other words, can we grow in the wrong direction as human beings? I suppose it is possible as neither the right or the wrong direction is implied. So, we could talk about toxic growth, perhaps in the case of an individual or group who get better and faster at spreading disaster, destruction and unhappiness wider than ever before. Similarly, we talk about dysfunctional behaviour to denote the negative, unhelpful or unproductive function of an individual.
Going back to our lifestyle definition, it turns out it simply refers to the way in which a person or group lives, whilst style can have the additional meaning of design, or desire to make in a particular form. I would like to include the design aspect in my understanding of lifestyle; I find that very appealing. I am not implying you surround yourself with stylish products, nor the accumulation of designer gear. What my understanding of lifestyle refers to is that which you designed for yourself, in terms of a way of life.
A habit is “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up”. So, by this definition habits tend to be a predictable, regular, persistent, a little bit addictive and settled practices. There is nothing to say how the habit got there, whether by design or by default. It also doesn’t say whether this habit has a good, neutral or bad effect on the self or others.
When the habits within this lifestyle have a negative effect on the self and others, we speak about a damaged lifestyle. We already know that habits have an addictive element as they are hard to give up. When a person is addicted to drugs and alcohol they are sent to a clinic to help them change this addiction and achieve a turnaround in their lives, although even then, there are some who won’t manage this change in the long run.
I have read a statistic where a high number of open-heart surgery patients did not manage to change their life habits after the operation. One wonders what came first, the chicken or the egg? Has the need for open-heart surgery come about because they never managed to change their lifestyle in the first place? These people obviously failed at designing their habits and creating a better lifestyle.
The definition of the expression “rat-race”, I mentioned earlier is: “any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, especially a pressured urban working life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc.” and that doesn’t sound good at all, any which way you look at it, and it can’t be good for long term health.
A routine is “performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason” and “a sequence of actions regularly followed”. Comparing a routine with a habit, one could say a routine is not hard to give up and not a settled activity, whilst a habit has an addictive, hard to change element to it.
So, a life consists of habits and routines. When we purposely design a lifestyle, we want to include helpful and healthy habits and routines, leading to positive growth and proper human function. A damaged lifestyle includes habits and routines which are unhealthy and produce disease, toxic growth and dysfunction.
Is a damaged lifestyle a fixed thing, or does it fall into the category of spectrum disorders? In other words, do we all exist on a scale of one part healthy lifestyle and the other part damaged lifestyle, only the percentage of each varies from person to person? Is it actually possible to design the “perfect lifestyle”, or do we have to settle for a happy medium, with bit of damage too?
The Ayurvedic Definition of Health according to Susruta is “the body bio-energies (dosas) must be in equilibrium, the digestive fire must be in a balanced state and the tissues (dhatus) and wastes (malas) must work in a normal state. The sensory organs, the motor organs, the mind, the soul (atma) must be also in a pleasant state.”
This state of health according to Ayurveda is achieved by design. It is the accumulation of life choices, habits and routines, leaving an impression on mind, body and soul. “Choice involves decision-making. It can include judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one or more of them.”
So, when I promote lifestyle change, I am really saying review your choices, routines and habits, and by design create the most positive impact on your mind, body and soul.
We know from the traditional medicine of Ayurveda (which by the way is the only medicine system offering a definition of health for us), what we are aiming for. We are looking at holistic health of the whole body, mind and soul in the long run and at nutrition and lifestyle choices which bring about this state of health. Ayurveda gives specific lifestyle advice how this can be achieved, so there is no guesswork necessary. However, there are so many options to choose from, you will need to use your decision-making powers to select the one you want to use in your life.
In conclusion: Ayurveda, a traditional medicine, using entirely natural methods, offers us a holistic definition of health, which is achieved through an accumulation of specific life choices, habits and routines forming a lifestyle. To achieve positive growth and a functional balance, you need to change the default setting and purposely design a positive lifestyle. My work as a health coach and Ayurvedic practitioner is to help you design a lifestyle that gives you the power to live yourself happy and accompany you through the continuous changes which you will be able to make.
Sonja Breuer (MSc. ayur. med.) is tapping into a niche solution for improving sleep by combining the eastern medicine of Ayurveda and yoga. The products available are online courses and individual coaching. She encourages people to embrace lifestyle changes to bring about better sleep, leading to greater levels of well-being, energy and performance. Sonja is qualified with a postgraduate degree in Ayurvedic medicine and has more than 1000 yoga-teaching hours. She holds coaching and mentoring diplomas and has energy healing abilities. She has devised online programmes for better sleep: “7 Steps to Better Sleep” and “Yoga for Better Sleep”, so you can get started immediately, either before or whilst working with her in person, either online or offline.