For many of us, ringing in the new year with fresh resolutions is a great opportunity to bring awareness and attention to our aspirations to break free from our current unhealthy habits.
Our vices fall under a category called Prajñāparādha, which is one of the most common hetu or causes of disease according to Ayurveda. It can be described in its break down of root words meanings “Prajña” (intelligence) and “aparādha” (error, mistake, offense, sin, or crime). Prajñāparādha is a universal struggle and something we all encounter in varying degrees.
According to an ancient Ayurvedic text, Charaka describes that “Due to lack of will-power and restraint, it is not possible to control the mind from sensual pleasures of unwholesome objects.” (Ca. Śa. 99-101)
There are three types of categories under which Prajñāparādha can fall. These include excessively overdoing, deficiently underdoing, and improperly wrongdoing. Examples of each could be overuse of a cell phone, beyond its practical daily needs; avoiding eating healthy green vegetables day after day; and using social media as a platform for mocking and discriminating others, rather than for connecting with friends and family.
Whatever the category in which our current Prajñāparādha fall, with the coming of the new year, we can begin to make positive changes to our habits.
Five Ways to Let Go of Unhealthy Habits and Create Space for Positive Change
Here are five ways to help mitigate Prajñāparādha as a cause of disease by using Ayurveda and other mindfulness techniques.
Intelligence helps us distinguish that which is good for us from that which is bad for us. One type of Prajñāparādha is “defective intelligence,” or mistaking poison for medicine (Ca. Śa. 99). Regular meditation helps us cultivate stability of mind, so that we can awaken our innate intelligence and become less distracted by the excessive thoughts and worries which may lead us to make poor dietary and lifestyle decisions or feed into addictions.
For example, if a person has a nervous habit of emotional eating, meditation can be a step in nipping the root cause of the impulse that makes a person mindlessly reach for a bag of chips every time they have to meet a stressful work deadline. When we are present in our space, we can fully appreciate and experience that which we are consuming with all our senses.
2. Acceptance and forgiveness
Ruminating on past mistakes does not change that they have happened. Kicking yourself over smoking too many cigarettes will not un-smoke those cigarettes. However, using the mental faculty of memory can prevent future occurrences of Prajñāparādha. Remembering how you felt the last time you ate an entire pizza at midnight can help to prevent the same activity again.
While denial that we indulged in something unwholesome will not allow the space to learn and improve from our mistakes, accepting our errors can become an important tool in our growth. While emotional baggage will cause imbalances in the subtle body, rather than feeling stagnated in guilt, we can stop and reflect on how we felt and why we committed that Prajñāparādha. Then, we can forgive ourselves with love and move forward with a better understanding.
3. Proactively balancing with opposites
Taking corrective steps to reduce the onset of further disease development is necessary to ensure that our Prajñāparādha does not manifest into deeply seated and long-term diseases. This can be done through observing “the law of opposites.” The 20 Gunas (attributes/qualities) can be used as medicine to reduce imbalances that have started to accumulate from our actions.
For example, if your negative habit is criticizing others with aggressive, harsh, and sharp words, we can correct that behavior by incorporating the opposite qualities of sweet, soft, and kind speech in communication. For someone who has a habit of arriving late to appointments because of scattered time management and forgetfulness, they can improve by consciously incorporating the Gunas of “stable” and “tangible” by noting appointments on a planner or setting reminders on their phone.
4. Dinacharya and Sadhana
Our Ayurvedic and yogic practices of daily routine, meditation, hygiene, eating sattvic meals at proper times, and treating all other beings with respect, are all disciplines that help regulate the functions of our body, mind, and spirit in a wholesome manner. When these practices are followed regularly, we can cultivate cleanliness in our mind and body by facilitating persistence of our patterns of good behavior, thus creating obstacles that separate us from negative behavior patterns.
If one has an unhealthy habit of staying up late binge-watching episodes or channel surfing, implementing a nightly routine is one way to help get to bed on time. This way, our good habits will start getting in the way of our unhealthy habits and there will be less of a sense of self-restraint in preventing Prajñāparādha. Sadhana, or spiritual practice, can help us maintain a positive demeanor and hopeful state of mind, even when we recognize our own Prajñāparādha and are in the midst of correcting it.
5. Sangha, or a nourishing community
Seeking companionship with individuals who have similar goals and interests is a significant way to know the difference between what helps us versus what harms us. Many times, in our own clouded, problematic state of mind, it can be difficult to distinguish medicine from poison, so we need a friend or mentor who we trust to steer us in the right direction. Sanghas are also a motivating factor to have accountability to continue with sometimes difficult good habits and restrain from old harmful habits.
For example, professional soccer players may not wake up every morning ready to hit the field, but their teammates are there to motivate them and prevent them from doing anything wild that might damage their ankles. Family, communities that we are born into, and old friendships are an important type of Sangha that are beneficial to keeping our root chakra in line with our origins, identity, traditional customs, and heritage.
Meanwhile, our new communities that we create should be with companions who are also on the path of seeking an intention as well as healing and balance, sometimes from ways of old Sanghas. That way we feel supported and accompanied in any positive changes we wish to make as our needs change, and we aspire for higher goals. As humans are social creatures, a sattvic Sangha can amplify our ability to overcome certain forms of Prajñāparādha.
Timing is also an important factor in improving habits and inviting in positive change. Let us take advantage of this time of transition into 2022 as a symbolic marker for moving out with the old and in with the new. These simple techniques can be considered as we write our resolutions for the New Year to indulge less in our vices, engage more with what we’ve neglected, and correct any improper behaviors. As we make positive changes, we can learn from our past while we apply the lessons to our present and plan for our future.