What is Health?


Sri Swami Sivananda

This article is a chapter from the book Health And Happiness.

Health is a Great Treasure
Necessity For Good Health
Means For Good Health


What is health? It is that state of equilibrium of the three humours of the body, viz., Vata, Pitta and Kapha (wind, bile and phlegm), wherein the mind and all the organs of the body work in harmony and concord and man enjoys peace and happiness and performs his duties of life with comfort and ease.

Health is that condition in which man has good digestion, good appetite, a normal breathing and normal pulse, good quantity and quality of blood, strong nerves and a calm mind, a sound mind in a sound body, a free movement of the bowels, normal state of urine, rosy cheeks, shining face and sparkling eyes.

Health is that state in which a man jumps, sings, smiles, laughs, whistles and moves about hither and thither with joy and ecstasy. It is that condition in which he can think properly, speak properly and act with alacrity, nimbleness and vigilance.

Health is that state in which a man sleeps well, digests his food well, is quite at ease, is free from any kind of disease or uneasiness. When you are in a state of perfect health, all the organs, viz., heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, liver, intestines, work in perfect harmony and concord and discharge their functions satisfactorily. The pulse-rate and the rate of respiration are in perfect order. The bodily temperature is normal. This state is coveted by all. A life with good health is a great blessing indeed.

Health is a Great Treasure

Good health is a valuable asset to man. It is a great treasure. It bestows happiness and prosperity. Health is essential to happiness. Health is not merely absence of disease. It includes the full development of physical, mental and spiritual powers of a man. Health is a condition of physical and mental well-being: a normal state of body and mind in which all parts and organs perform their functions regularly, easily and satisfactorily and are free from disease, pain and weakness. A person who is endowed with good health, digests his food well, sleeps soundly and does his daily work satisfactorily. He is ever joyful and energetic. You should have a clear idea of what disease is and how it is caused. Only then will you be able to prevent a disease. Diseases can be averted if you understand the biological laws which govern life, the rules of health and hygiene and the importance of cleanliness. A general knowledge of the laws of health would help considerably in preventing sickness and death and improving the health of the people.

Of every hundred deaths occurring in India, Europe and other countries, sixty are said to be due to disease, which can be, to a very large extent, if not altogether, prevented, if the people are only wise and will take to those measures advocated by sanitary science.

Some persons are born with sound, healthy bodies: unfortunately others are not. How do you account for this? The doctrine of Karma will give you the best answer. Those who did good actions in their previous births get sound, healthy and strong bodies; those who did wicked actions obtain unhealthy weak bodies.

Many people make themselves ill by eating too much and by not eating the right thing at the right time. What are the ordinary things around you which help to keep you in good health? They are the Sun, fresh air and pure water. Sunlight helps growth and gives vigour. Breathe pure air, bask in the Sun, eat good nutritious wholesome food, drink pure water and observe cleanliness; you will possess a high standard of health, vim, vigour and vitality.

Life here is a continuous battle. It is a never-ending adventure. There are dragons to be destroyed. You will have to wage war with the enemies of health, viz., impure water, bad ventilation, overwork, unwholesome food, disease-germs, domestic pests such as flies, mosquitos, the rats and the fleas. You are surrounded on all sides by invisible foes–pathogens, microbes and bacteria. You should certainly learn all that you can about your enemies, their ways, habits and strength. In some cases you will have to attack them directly. In some other cases you must starve them out. You must adopt the most up-to-date weapons which modern sanitary science and preventive medicines have given you. You must tap your resources in every possible way.

Public health is not a matter that solely concerns Sanitaria, Municipalities or Health Departments. Every citizen, every individual, is directly and intimately concerned in the preservation of the health and welfare, not only of himself but, of the community as a whole.

Most of the diseases which are preventable are produced by some specific germs which are carried by air or water or food or clothing or other insects. A study of the life-history of these disease-causing germs and of the methods to exterminate them will be extremely helpful for the health and welfare of the community. Impure air, impure water, infected food, uncleanliness of houses and their surroundings, improper or bad disposal of excretion, play a vital part in the dissemination of disease.

Every individual must be educated in the science of hygiene and sanitation, so that he may be able to appreciate the value of sanitation, not only for his own health but also for that of the community at large.

The child must be protected before birth by antenatal precautions. The health and well-being of the child is the primary foundation of its education. Pregnant and nursing mothers must also be well protected. Maternity and child welfare centres must be established in each taluk and district. People must be protected from diseases like smallpox, plague, cholera, typhoid, etc., by taking recourse to artificial immunity through injection of vaccines.

May you all possess good health and vitality by observing the rules of health and hygiene and by the study of the science of sanitation and preventive medicine!

Necessity For Good Health

What is the earthly use of wealth and possessions, if a man cannot eat well on account of diseases of the stomach, if he cannot walk on account of rheumatism or paralysis, if he cannot see the beautiful scenery of nature on account of cataract or defective vision, if he cannot copulate on account of impotency? One great thinker says, “Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.” Life without good health is a miserable condition, even if one is the lord of the whole earth.

We should have good health to achieve the four kinds of Purushartha, viz., Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha (righteousness, wealth, desire and liberation). Without good health, you can hardly expect success in any walk of life. Even for spiritual pursuits good health is a prerequisite. Without good health you cannot penetrate into the hidden depths of the vast ocean of life within and attain the final beatitude of life. Without good health you cannot wage war against the turbulent senses and the boisterous mind.

Good health is your greatest asset. Without good health you cannot achieve anything. Without good health you cannot do any public service. Without good health you cannot pray and meditate. Without good health you cannot do Asanas and Pranayamas. This is the reason why scriptures declare that this body is a boat to cross this ocean of Samsara with, an instrument for doing virtuous deeds and attaining Moksha. That is the reason why in Charaka Samhita you will find: “Arogyam Moolam Uttamam–Health is the best thing in this world.”

What is that precious thing that makes life worth living? It is health. Will you sing today the song of “Sariram Adyam Khalu Dharmasadhanam–Body is indeed the foremost essential thing for the attainment of the goal of human existence (in other words, it is verily the first important means in the accomplishment of the object of human life).” Charaka Maharshi says in his Samhita, “Dharmarthakamamokshanam arogyam moolamuttamam, Rogastasyaapahartarah sreyaso jivitaya cha–Health is the best cause of virtue, wealth, enjoyment and emancipation, and is the blessedness of life. Diseases are the destroyers of health.”

Means For Good Health

Good physical health can be achieved and maintained by observing rigidly the laws of Health and the Rules of Hygiene, by taking wholesome, light, substantial, easily digestible, nutritious, bland food or Sattvic diet, by inhaling pure air, by regular physical exercise, by daily cold bath, by observing moderation in eating, drinking, etc. Good mental health can be attained and maintained by Japa, meditation, Brahmacharya, practice of Yama, Niyama and right conduct, right thinking, right feeling, right speaking and right action, Atma Vichara, change of thought, relaxation of mind by letting the mind dwell on pleasant thoughts, mental recreation and the practice of cheerfulness.

The whole universe, from the mighty Sun to the tiniest atom, is controlled by law. There is perfect order everywhere. The Sun performs its duties quite regularly. It rises at the proper time and sets at the proper time. The stars and planets revolve in an orderly manner. They are governed by laws. There are laws in the mental plane. There are laws of physics, of astronomy, of mathematics. There are laws of hygiene and health which govern our own being. In the vast universe, man alone is the breaker of laws and the violator of rules. He is the single example of lawlessness and discord. He wilfully disregards the laws of health, leads a life of dissipation and then wonders why he suffers from diseases and disharmony! He deliberately ignores the rules of hygiene and right living and then weeps when he is ailing from an incurable malady.

How wonderful is this magical machine–the human body, the moving temple of God or the chariot for the soul! Mother Prakriti has exhibited her marvellous skill and maximum dexterity in constructing this marvellous machine. If you seriously ponder for a while over the structure and working of this wonderful machine that is our body, you will be struck with awe and wonder.

Everyone of you should possess some elementary knowledge of diseases and their treatment with common medicines and their uses, of physiology which treats of the functions of the different organs of the body, of anatomy which deals with the structure of the human frame, of first aid to the injured. If you are endowed with this knowledge, you can help yourself as well as the suffering humanity at large to some extent. This knowledge will help you in emergencies, before you are able to get hold of a doctor. Have a knowledge of the important points for preserving health, for giving first-aid to the injured, for treating cases of poisoning.

Study of anatomy and physiology, hygiene and the science of dietetics, which will help you to keep the body in a healthy and strong condition so that all its machinery may work harmoniously, must be your first study. You have ignored the laws of health and the rules of hygiene. Hence you have a poor health, poor physique and a dilapidated frame.

Regular practice of Yogic exercises or Yoga Asanas even for fifteen minutes a day will keep you quite fit and soon make you hale and hearty. You will have abundant energy, muscular strength and nerve-power, a charming personality and will live long.

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