The 3 Main Causes of Disease & Pratyahara
We all have a knowing that lives within us about our authentic expression and way of being. We generally know what we are willing to tolerate which sometimes gets overlooked due to the dynamic lifestyles we live. Factors we may experience include societal conditioning, toxic work habits, fear and busy lives. We also live in a world with beautiful wild nature all around, laugher and love. Some people lean more towards city life, while others retreat to the quiet mountaintops. Some of us are really sensitive to sensory input and lots of stimulation, while others thrive in bustling situations. We are all unique with individual needs and preferences, but there are 3 main causes of disease that apply to us all. The causes of disease may have you thinking of basic bad habits, but they have to do with deeper causes of misalignment of intellect, the senses and timing. These all vary individually depending on our culture, personality, character, where we live, where we grew up, what we are spiritually cultivating in our lives, etc.
Sometimes we may have an urge to take action, but can get caught in second-guessing, worry, fear, laziness or distractions. These urges can sometimes be repressed due to cultural conditioning and personal struggles with expression. We may have an urge to speak up in a miscommunication or raise our hand in class. There may be fear of saying the wrong thing or being judged. We may know we need exercise and not do it enough, or exercise too much to keep ourselves distracted. This is Prajnāparadha, which translates to an offense against ones own wisdom or misuse of the intellect. Our intellect may be telling us to not lift something, drink some water, eat a healthy meal, rest or spend some time outside. When we ignore our consciousness, we allow disease to manifest. Our body and conscience is trying to regulate eating habits, judgments, negativity, exercise, talking too much, not speaking up, actions run by love or fear and timing of bodily functions or urges. Ignoring the intuitive knowing about what our wisdom is telling us is one of the three main causes of disease in Ayurveda. The others are Asatmendriyartha Samyoga, which is a disrespecting or misuse of the senses and Parinama or Kala, the misuse of time.
We have an intuition about what we are okay to be exposed to and take in through our senses. By looking at Asatmendriyartha Samyoga (misuse/disrespect of the senses), we can think of things that involve our sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. We may watch something scary, listen to music too loud or be driving with a glare in our eyes for too long. We might tolerate a smell of strong incense for too long, eat something that we know we don’t like or carry something that is too hot. We may tolerate things like this out of politeness or lack of tools or mindfulness to make it better in the moment. It can also go the other way, where the sensory faculties may be under used. This could occur by staying in a dark room all day where proper light and stimulation doesn’t reach the eyes. The overuse or underuse of all the five senses can cause harm and lead to disease.
The third main cause of disease is Parinama or Kala, which translates to improper use of time. Time can be time of day, time of life, time of season, etc. By doing things in the wrong season, an unnatural variable is added that can throw off internal balance. An example of going against the season could be eating ice cream outside on a cold rainy night. It is so common in our culture to stay awake way past the sun going down, using excess lights in our homes and disrupting the circadian rhythm. Taking too long of naps in the day when the sun is high is also parinama. We may spend all day working on the computer and forget to incorporate a healthy balance with proper movement and nourishment. Throughout our lives, we experience decades of our constitution favoring a dosha that we would be wise to live by. This lifestyle that matches our age is called vihara. When we are kids, we are in Kapha stage. Midlife is Pitta stage and later life is Vata. Kids need lots of nourishing foods to help them grow and develop and they like sweet tastes the most. In midlife, our careers are in full swing and we tend to have a lot going on. We have big accomplishments and may also be at risk of burning out. In later life, we are slowing down and becoming more dry and light, arriving at the Vata stage. We wouldn’t be able to feed an infant bitter greens, nor tell a college age student to not be ambitious, nor have an elderly person frequently traveling the world by plane. By understanding these times of day, life and seasons, we are able to create more balance in the dimension of time and prevent disease.
Another way of looking at these three causes of disease is through the yogic principle called Pratyahara. It is considered to be the 5th limb of yoga and is the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses. This dives more into meditation and quieting of the mind. This does not mean becoming a monk and completely withdrawing from the world, but it is having control of how you react to stimuli in this life. It is healthy discernment. By applying pratyahara to the above 3 causes of disease, we can understand that it is unique to the individual. This includes your threshold for sensory stimuli, whether you’re more outgoing or introverted and details of your life that affect your time frame. Having discernment and withdrawing your senses could look like resisting being on screens late at night and instead reading, stretching and meditating. This could be realizing that you are in the Vata stage of life and a trip with four connecting flights just isn’t going to be good for the body. This may be deciding to leave a gathering early to cook a healthy meal when feeling under the weather. It is prioritizing the health of the body, mind and spirit. While living in this dynamic world, we can be aware of what is going on with a healthy separation of reactions that are calm rather than sudden and perhaps coming from a deregulated nervous system. Pratyahara is not a way to escape reality from withdrawing; it is an invitation to experience reality by coming back to the present moment, staying with our intuition and needs.
These concepts are an invitation to take a look at our lives and how in alignment we are living with flow, peace and truth. The practice of mindfulness and meditation can help us drop into this deeper questioning and provide clarity. It is all of our work to make good friends with our intuition and listen to it, despite expectations and pressures of life. No one knows you better than yourself and that knowing and listening will lead you to living a very healthy life.
To your health :)