We experience the world through our five senses. The sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and sensations that we ingest through our mind become how we define who we are. As food creates bodily tissues, sensory impressions create our thoughts and feelings. If our senses are well balanced, not only do they filter out negative influences, but they also help us derive energy.
But the physiological effect of our environment is not only about what’s “out there”; it’s also about how we ourselves process or metabolize our surroundings. The quality of our awareness can shape our consciousness as much as—if not more than—our senses shape our consciousness. There is an ancient saying in Ayurveda: “The world is as we are.” If you are experiencing wholeness and inner fulfillment, this is what you will find all around you.
The human body can make almost any healing substance it requires if supplied with the right ingredients. If we want to heal our bodies, a good place to begin is by substituting nourishing impressions for toxic ones. Whenever we have a thought or emotion, neurochemicals and neuropeptides are created. These substances tend to gravitate toward the digestive tract and to the immune-system cells, where they can affect the body in tremendously energizing or energy-depleting ways. Nourishing thoughts stabilize and calm our nervous system, whereas negative thoughts rob our bodies of vitality.
The Senses as Medicine
For thousands of years, Ayurveda has recognized the healing power of sound and music. Soothing sounds can help maintain biological rhythms and overall balance, whereas prolonged exposure to very loud or unpleasant sounds can cause potentially damaging stress.
Touch also can stimulate emotional responses that contribute to our health. Skin is the largest organ in the body, replete with nerve receptors and immune modulators. The Ayurvedic practice of abhyanga, or self-massage, is an enjoyable way of stimulating the flow of energy throughout the body.
Sight, which gives us the largest volume of perceptual stimuli, is the sense most prone to overloading. Spending time in nature, surrounding yourself with soothing colors, and limiting exposure to computer screens, television, and movies can translate into greater energy throughout the day.
The sense of taste is one of the cornerstones of good health. Ayurveda classifies food into six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent, and bitter—that ideally should be experienced every day. Eating a wide variety of foods not only improves digestion and immunity, but also adds zest to the way we live.
Finally, smell can have a potent effect on our mind/body system. An aroma can trigger deep-seated memories in vivid ways that often surprise us. The olfactory nerve carries its information to the limbic part of the brain, which regulates behavior and emotions. Smell in the form of aromatherapy can be used to treat insomnia, depression, and certain kinds of imbalances.
By treating the senses as the gateway to our own inner pharmacy, we tap into the most profound source of healing imaginable—our own consciousness. Think of the senses as portals through which we ingest the raw materials of our world and create our picture of reality. Our health depends on the positive input of our five senses as much as it does on nurturing food. What nourishes your soul nourishes your body. Take care to seek out moments of joy and beauty, which are the gifts that our senses continually provide.