Mahatma Gandhi’s Guide to Health | Naturopathy Podcasts

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Now, onto today’s reading, which was edited and adapted from the book “A Guide to Health” by Mahatma Gandhi, published in 1921.

For more than twenty years, I have been paying special attention to the question of Health, and I have arrived at certain definite conclusions from that experience, and now set them down for the benefit of my readers.

As the familiar saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure.” It is far easier and safer to prevent illness by the observance of the laws of health than to set about curing an illness which has been brought on by our own ignorance and carelessness. Hence it is the duty of all thoughtful people to understand aright the laws of health.

As Milton says, the mind can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell. So heaven is not somewhere above the clouds, nor hell somewhere underneath the earth. This same idea is expressed in the Sanskrit saying that humankind’s captivity or freedom is dependent on the state of our mind. From this it follows that whether you are healthy or unhealthy depends on you. Illness is the result not only of our actions but also of our thoughts. As has been said by a famous doctor, more people die for fear of diseases like small-pox, cholera, and plague than out of those diseases themselves.

Ignorance is one of the root-causes of disease. Very often we get bewildered at the most ordinary diseases out of sheer ignorance, and in our anxiety to get better, we simply make matters worse. Our ignorance of the most elementary laws of health leads us to adopt wrong remedies or drives us into the hands of absolute quacks.

How strange (and yet how true it is) that we know much less about things near at hand than things at a distance. We take so much trouble to learn the names of stars and constellations, while we hardly think it worthwhile to know the things that are in our own homes and neighborhoods. We never care a jot for the splendid pageantry of Nature before our very eyes, while we are so anxious to witness the puerile escapades of popular culture.

And in the same way, we are not ashamed to be ignorant of the structure of our body, of the way in which the bones and muscles grow, how the blood circulates and is rendered impure, how we are affected by evil thoughts and passions, how our mind travels over illimitable spaces and times while the body is at rest, and so on. There is nothing so closely connected with us as our body, but there is also nothing perhaps of which our ignorance is so profound, or our indifference so complete.

It is the duty of every one of us to get over this indifference. Everyone should regard it their bounded duty to know something of the fundamental facts concerning their body. This kind of instruction should indeed be made compulsory in our schools. At present, we know not how to deal with the most ordinary burns and wounds; we are helpless if a thorn runs into our foot; we are beside ourselves with fright and dismay if we are bitten by an ordinary snake.

Indeed, if we consider the depth of our ignorance in such matters, we shall have to hang down our heads in shame. To assert that the average person cannot be expected to know these things is simply absurd.

We have got into the habit of calling in a doctor for the most trivial diseases. And where there is no regular doctor available, we take the advice of mere quacks. We labor under the fatal delusion that no disease can be cured without medicine. This has been responsible for more mischief to humankind than any other evil.

It is, of course, necessary that our diseases should be cured, but many cannot be cured by medicines. Not only are medicines often useless, but at times even positively harmful. For a diseased person to take drugs and medicines is often as foolish as to try to cover up the filth that has accumulated in the inside of our house. The more we cover up the filth, the more rapidly does putrefaction go on. The same is the case with the human body.

Illness or disease is Nature’s warning that filth has accumulated in some portion or other of the body; and it would surely be wise to allow Nature to remove the muck, instead of covering it up by the help of medicines. Those who take medicines are often rendering the task of Nature doubly difficult.

It is, on the other hand, quite easy for us to help Nature in her task by remembering certain elementary principles — by fasting, for instance, so that the toxins may not accumulate all the more, and by vigorous exercise in the open air, so that some of the pollutant may escape in the form of perspiration. And the one thing that is supremely necessary is to keep our minds strictly under control.

We find from experience that, when once a bottle of medicine gets itself introduced into a home, it never thinks of going out, but only goes on drawing other bottles in its train. We come across numberless human beings who are afflicted by some disease or other all through their lives in spite of their slavish devotion to medicines. They are today under the treatment of this doctor, tomorrow of that one. They spend all their life in a futile search for a doctor who will cure them for good.

As the late Justice Stephen (who was for some time in India) said, it is really astonishing that drugs of which so little is known should be applied by doctors to bodies of which they know still less! Some of the greatest doctors of the West also have now come to hold this view. Sir Astley Cooper, for instance, admits that the ‘science’ of medicine is mostly mere guess-work; Dr. Baker and Dr. Frank hold that more people die of medicines than of diseases; and Dr. Masongood even goes to the extent of saying that more people have fallen victims to medicine than to war, famine, and pestilence combined!

It is also a matter of experience that diseases increase in proportion to the increase in the number of doctors in a particular place. The demand for drugs has become so widespread that even the meanest papers and magazines are sure of getting advertisements for quack medicines, if of nothing else.

We will, therefore, assure our readers that in many cases there is absolutely no necessity for them to seek the aid of doctors. To those who find it difficult breaking their addiction to doctors and medicines, we will say, “As far as possible, possess your souls in patience, and do not trouble the doctors. In case you are forced at length to call in the aid of a doctor, be sure to get a good one; then, follow their directions strictly, and do not call in another doctor, unless the situation is serious. But remember, above all, that the curing of your disease does not rest ultimately in the hands of any doctor.”

Ordinarily a person is considered healthy if they eat well and move about, and do not resort to a doctor. But a little thought will convince us that this idea is wrong. There are many cases of people being diseased, in spite of their eating well and freely moving about. They are under the delusion that they are healthy, simply because they are too indifferent to think about the matter.

In fact, perfectly healthy people hardly exist anywhere over this wide world.

As has been well said, the only person who can be considered really healthy is the one has a sound mind in a sound body. The relation between the body and the mind is so intimate that, if either of them get out of order, the whole system suffers.

Let us take the analogy of the rose-flower. Its color stands to its fragrance in the same way as the body to the mind or the soul. No one regards an artificial paper flower as a sufficient substitute for the natural flower, for the obvious reason that the fragrance (which forms the essence of the flower) cannot be reproduced. So too, we instinctively honor the individual of a pure mind and a noble character in preference to the one who is merely physically strong. Of course, the body and the soul are both essential, but the latter is far more important than the former.

No person whose character is not pure can be said to be really healthy. The body which contains a diseased mind can never be anything but diseased! Hence it follows that a pure character is the foundation of health in the real sense of the term; and we may say that all evil thoughts and evil passions are but different forms of disease.

Thus considered, we may conclude that that individual alone is perfectly healthy whose body is well formed, whose teeth as well as eyes and ears are in good condition, whose nose is clean, whose skin exudes perspiration freely and without any bad smell, whose mouth is also free from bad smells, whose hands and legs perform their duty properly, who is neither too fat nor too thin, and whose mind and senses are constantly under their control.

As has already been said, it is very hard to gain such health, but it is harder still to retain it when once it has been acquired. The chief reason why many of us are not truly healthy is that our parents were not. An eminent writer has said that if the parents are in perfectly good condition their children would certainly be superior to them in all respects.

A perfectly healthy individual has no reason to fear death; our terrible fear of death shows that we are far from beings so healthy. It is, however, the clear duty of all of us to strive for perfect health.

The world is compounded of the five elements — earth, water, air, fire, and ether. So too is our body. It is a sort of miniature world. Hence the body stands in need of all the elements in due proportion — pure earth, pure water, pure fire or sunlight, pure air, and open space. When any one of these falls short of its due proportion, illness is caused in the body.

On the circulation of the blood depend all activities of the body. It is the blood that provides nourishment to the body. The chief agency for keeping the blood pure is the air. Indeed, of the three things that are indispensable for the subsistence of man and woman — namely, air, water and food — it is air that is the most important. Hence it is that God has created it in such large quantities as to make it available to all of us for nothing.

The oxygen of the air which we inhale purifies our blood and is assimilated into it, while the nitrogen absorbs the poisonous matter and is breathed out. This process goes on incessantly throughout our lives. Thus one of the most important things you can do to maintain your health is to get out in nature, take long walks, and breathe deeply the fresh air.

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