It’s been a month since schools have re-opened and school-based learning has begun. Learning is an activity that involves the entire body-mind and spirit. Like food and water that require transformation in the digestive tract before one can enjoy the nutritional benefits, learning (food for your mind) similarly undergoes transformation in the brain and nervous system before one can utilize the knowledge.
We learn in various ways and involve various parts of our bodies.
- Experiential learning takes place through our senses—vision, smell, hearing, touch and taste. This is usually non-academic learning but an essential foundational component in human development.
- Academic learning requires the complete engagement of the central nervous system. This learning is fundamental to memorizing and utilizing knowledge appropriately. Most formal school systems heavily base learning tools and outcomes on systematic and structured applications that challenge the central nervous system and thus help in the development of its function.
- Habituation learning involves repetition of the same style, same subject or similar environment of learning. The brain stimuli are decreased via the repetition and the brain accepts the knowledge and information as provided.
How Does Your Dosha Learn?
Through the lens of Ayurveda, each dosha prakruti (constitution) has its own unique strength for learning and applying knowledge.
Primarily Vata individuals learn and thrive with a sensory/experiential style of learning. Generally, their mental constitution presents strength with creativity and active motor activity.
Primarily Pitta individuals learn and thrive with academic learning consisting of systematic and structured knowledge/information with guidelines and grids to achieve high performance. Generally, their mental constitution presents strength with communication, organization and leadership.
Primarily Kapha individuals learn and thrive with habituated learning that provides unchanged and long-term steadiness in learning. Generally, their mental constitution presents strength with extremely good memory, able to follow instructions/rules and strong mental stability.
Regardless of the dosha strength of learning, students develop likes and dislikes to certain subjects and topics. This is merely because of positive or negative associations that a student may make between a topic and the learning environment, such as teachers’ methods, siblings’ preferences, peer pressures and other life circumstances. Outside stimulations may affect a student’s ability or willingness to comprehend the knowledge.
Using Ayurvedic Wisdom to Improve Brain Health and Learning
Ayurveda, the wisdom of life, encourages us to nurture and support the cognitive functioning that is governed by our thoughts and actions (achaar and vichaar). Regardless of your mental constitution and preferences in learning, thoughts and behaviors are the essence to one’s learning, be it a kindergarten student or a university post graduate student. The healthy psycho-emotional state of a student is important in reducing the stress of learning, performing and presenting—the lower the stress, the higher the cognitive functioning.
A healthy daily routine creates positive thoughts and behavior. Students of all ages require support during periods of active learning to enhance their overall development. A healthy routine involved incorporating the following:
- Well-balanced and combined diet and lifestyle
- Indoor-outdoor exercise
- Balanced learning and recreation
We must examine the quality and quantity of the diet such as the amounts of fat, protein and sugar we and our kids are ingesting. In accordance with Ayurvedic Medicine, the brain needs these four major nutrients for mental clarity and integrated functioning:
- Healthy fats, including ghee (clarified butter), olive oil, coconut oil, sesame seed oil and other seed oils. Even if it’s of good quality, it’s important not to eat too much fat.
- Healthy sugars, including that which come from fruits, dried fruits, honey and maple syrup.
- Proteins, including lentils, beans, legumes and small amounts of dairy and nuts/seeds.
- Vitamins and minerals from vegetables and grains.
Promoting Learning and Intelligence with Food Compatibility
Food combinations are important for nutritional balance, digestion and optimal absorption. There are certain categories of foods that, when combined, do not support proper digestion and absorption. This is one of the causes of a tired mind-body. From an Ayurvedic Medicine perspective, incompatible foods must be avoided. These are:
- Milk with meat
- Fresh fruits with dairy, grains, meat or fish
- Dairy with fish
- Physical and mental space goes a long way in creating a healthy lifestyle. An allocated space for studying and organizing the learning material is essential.
- Reduce the overload of information and high expectations that usually cause anxiety and undue stress.
- Timely food, sleep, study and extracurricular activities to maintain the balance between time and space for enhanced learning.
- Daily self-care such as: washing eyes or face twice a day, scalp brushing or massaging, stretching your arms up and feet outwards frequently in a day.
- Drinking a good amount of water and attending instantly to nature’s call such as urination and bowel movements.
Sleep is the most important function of the body and supports all other functions. Enough and timely sleep increases learning capability and thus reduces the brain’s efforts, allowing the brain to focus on other essential bodily activities. Quality sleep creates balanced emotions that can save one from over drained. For quality sleep, make sure you and your love ones have a proper mattress and pillow. Ayurveda recommends using mattresses, bedsheets, pillowcases and comforters made of 100% natural textiles and materials.
Hygiene goes hand-in-hand with health. Internal and external hygiene are both essential for maintaining proper metabolic activities. We always guide ourselves and/or our kids towards healthy living and eating habits such as showering, baths, washing your hands before eating, using a clean plate, using utensils, sitting upright and so on. In addition to basic hygiene, Ayurvedic Medicine emphasizes healthy habits that help support internal hygiene, which reduces contamination due to undigested food:
- Eating in relaxed environment.
- Chewing your food well.
- Eating ¾ of your stomach. (Eat until you are ¾ full.)
- Playing or showering at least an hour after eating meals.
- Giving at least 2-hour gap between two meals.
- Drinking minimum water with meals.
- Eating fruits and vegetables “with the seasons”.
- Keeping a daily meal time.
Ions from nature are essential for learning. Simple outdoor activities like walks, sports, bicycling or playing in the snow provide oxygen and ions for proper cellular activities. Indoor exercises such as yoga, meditation, Pilates and breath work can be a good family/friends activity that can help kids and youth with emotional release and confidence building.
General Care with Essential Oils and Herbs
Ayurvedic Medicine greatly emphasizes the importance of happiness and playfulness in children and youth. For adults, it focuses on contentment and keeping the inner child active. With stress so much a part of modern life, many children, youth and adults may have economic necessities met, yet are left unhappy and isolated.
A weekly oil massage and relaxing aromatherapy with Ayurvedic essential oils like sandalwood, jasmine, rose and cedar can be beneficial for all students. Make sure that students get plenty of affection and understanding. Incorporate daily stress-relief habits such as breathing exercise, stretching, singing, walks and family/friends time.
Herbs like Brahmi and Amla in equal parts taken with honey after the last meal of the day supports the brain, eyes and nervous system. The classical formula, Chavanprash, is a wonderful nutritional herbal jam that supports the central and peripheral nervous system, cognitive functioning, sensory organs and motor functioning.
As you can see, Ayurvedic medicine provides unique and practical ways to enhance learning.