Ancient wisdom for modern times

Why do we keep doing the things that we know are not good for us? The ancient science of ayurveda could offer some answers

Why is it that even when we know something is bad for us, we still do it? We might regularly miss our yoga practice, eat too much food, even though we are full, or put off bedtime when we are tired. A classic example is smoking: we know that smoking is bad for our health (it even warns us on the packet!) and yet still many of us cannot resist the next cigarette. Ayurveda calls this ‘prajnapradha ’– a crime against wisdom – wilfully ignoring our inner knowing and common sense.

“Sickness is nature’s tap on your shoulder, her reminder to you that you have strayed from the path. When you open yourself to her again, and allow her to work within you, she will re-awaken your body’s innate healing abilities to set things right.” Dr Robert Svoboda

In ayurveda the concept of prajnaparadha is seen as an important underlying force that creates disease. Prajna (‘wisdom ’in Sanskrit) splits into ‘pra ’meaning ‘special ’and ‘jna ’meaning ‘knowledge’. It is different from the knowledge we learn from books, at school, or from google. This ‘special ’knowledge is our wisdom, that deep and intuitive inner knowing that comes from a pure, untainted space within us. It is the fruit of living a life of purpose, a life that is characterised by discipline and determination to achieve what we are aiming for.

The cause of all disease
The Caraka Samhita says that prajnaparadha is one of the three main causes of disease:
1. Misuse of intellect (prajnaparadha)
2. Misuse of senses (asatmendriyartha samyoga)
3. Seasonal variations (parinama or kala)

Prajnaparadha may be mental, verbal or physical. When it is committed, the tridosha are aggravated, and rajas and tamas guna are stimulated, leading eventually to imbalance and allowing disease to take hold.

There are three main sub-divisions of activity for each of the three main causes (above). The three subdivisions of prajnaparadha are classified as:

  • Hina-yoga: deficiency or under-activity e.g. speaking very little (verbal), lack of intellectual or physical activity (mental and physical)
  • Ati-yoga: excessive or hyper-activity e.g. talking too much, excessive thinking or excessive physical activity
  • Mithya-yoga: incorrect or inappropriate activity e.g. gossip, lying, harsh speech, violent thoughts, suicidal thoughts, actions which come from greed, anger, attachment, jealousy, fear, grief or delusion.

Suppressing natural urges also falls under incorrect physical activity.

“Choosing to do something that we know deep down is not good for us – by ignoring or overriding our intuition or simple common sense – inevitably leads to trouble down the line.” Susan Hopkinson

So how do we change it?
How do we change the mistakes of our intellect, our over and under indulgences and inappropriate choices and actions, that are gradually wearing away our willpower, health and self-esteem?

Both the ayurvedic and yogic sciences offer the following reflections and practical advice:

1. Begin by being kind to yourself.
2. Don’t blame others for your own wrong choices.
3. Accept that you may have been acting against your inner knowing, health and wellbeing.
4. Be willing to change.
5. Respect and trust your intuition. We need to strive to embody the above through constant effort of refining our own habits.
6. Observe yourself in daily life and learn to recognise the gunas at play – are you in a state of hyperactivity, passion, agitation or restlessness? (rajas), or feeling dull, heavy, listless or destructive? (tamas). Or are you feeling calm, harmonious and constructive? (sattva). Recognise what state you are in and be constructive in doing something about it.
7. Cultivate sattva to let the voice of inner wisdom become louder and stronger than the voice of wilful disregard.
8. Mindful practices like yoga and meditation will rewire your brain.
9. Constant effort – full effort is full victory! You’ll succeed when you put energy into improving yourself.
10. Every day is a new day – never give up!

Only then will we be able to offer the very best to others, transmitting our essential powers and gifts for the benefit of our friends, family and the world around us. Why not give it a try?

“Cultivating sattva is the ayurvedic way to rectify crimes against wisdom. Inner peace and equanimity can only be attained in the present moment awareness we bring to what we do, think and feel.”  Susan Hopkinson 

Written by Shona Sutherland (

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