How Ayurveda Promotes Sustainable Health & Wellness
As it becomes increasingly clear that large-scale industrial and environmental practices are damaging the planet’s ecosystems in irreparable ways, sustainability is a top-of-mind priority on both an individual and global level. Sustainability is also a term that has become more prominent in the beauty and wellness industries. We’ve written before about how sustainability means different things in different contexts, and outlined how UMA practically and concretely commits itself to sustainability. But how can Ayurvedic philosophy itself inform our approach to sustainable beauty and wellness?
The Ayurvedic Perspective on Sustainability
A grounding principle of Ayurveda is that of Dharma, which signifies an understanding of how to live rightly within the larger order of the universe—in short, how to promote harmony, goodness and life itself.
In Ayurveda, it is believed that true health lies in maintaining the balance between the mind, body, spirit and external environment. Five elements—earth, air, water, fire and ether—make up all living beings, thereby connecting us with other people, species and ecosystems. An important part of maintaining the balance between self and environment is not just adapting our own practices to environmental changes, but also caring for the environment in order to ensure its continued wellbeing.
First developed thousands of years ago, the first Indian Ayurvedic practitioners directly farmed and harvested fresh Ayurvedic herbs, working slowly and carefully on a scale that ensured that these resources would remain fruitful. Based on the premise of organic, natural solutions to promote health and wellness, this ancient system of medicine prioritizes sustainable practices at its core.
How Ayurveda Maintains Sustainable Practices
In terms of farming and cultivation, Ayurveda has been driven by sustainable practices that promote the ongoing fertility and livability of the land. It is recommended to use local herbs, rather than spending energy and resources importing exotic plants. It also honors and celebrates the multitude of benefits of common, easy-to-grow plants like turmeric. Furthermore, Ayurveda makes use of as much of each herb as possible to minimize waste. In the case of neem, its twigs can be used for dental cleansing, its leaves for medicated soaps and its leaves for creating oils for external application.
Pharmaceutical corporations that use synthetic ingredients often end up in bodies of water, and they negatively—and sometimes devastatingly—affect local ecosystems. By contrast, as a system that utilizes all-natural ingredients, Ayurvedic waste is biodegradable, too. At UMA, we repurpose our waste into other products, like incense, or as fuel for our distilleries.
All in all, since its inception, Ayurveda has not merely been about improving one’s own individual health and wellbeing—it’s also about recognizing the deep interconnectedness between ourselves and all other living beings, and promoting a way of life that is mutually beneficial, harmonious and sustainable.
How You Can Ensure You’re Supporting Sustainable Businesses
As Ayurveda has gained exposure and popularity around the world, which is a great thing, an increase in demand for Ayurvedic products also risks the proliferation of production practices that do not adhere to its original principles. The over-extraction of resources can lead to major, irrevocable damage to the land. Furthermore, sustainability also refers to the human and economic dimensions of life, and as such, it’s important to make sure we’re supporting businesses that provide fair working conditions.
Here are a few things to look out for while cultivating a sustainable Ayurvedic practice. These factors are just a starting point—and you should feel free to do your own research and develop your own personal priorities when it comes to sustainable consumption.
Organic ingredients are those which are grown and harvested without harmful substances like pesticides, GMOs and synthetic fertilizers. As research has demonstrated, pesticides harm the environment in a multitude of ways: they can contaminate water and soil, decrease soil fertility and pose toxicity threats to other organisms like birds, fish, beneficial insects and other plants. Making sure the products you consume use organic ingredients helps to ensure that crops are sustainably managed and that they don’t harm the surrounding ecosystem.
Fair Trade Conditions
Fair trade is a system whose aim is to promote equitable social and economic conditions and sustainable environmental practices. When a product is marked as fair trade certified, that means the producers of ingredients and products are paid fairly. However, it’s important to keep in mind that in spite of the aims of the fair trade movement to establish more ethical trade relations, the benefits of such a system differ greatly depending on the context.
Sustainable Farming & Extraction Practices
If possible, it’s also immensely helpful to know how exactly a company or producer farms and harvests their ingredients, and what steps they are taking toward ensuring that the land remains fertile and not over-extracted. At UMA, for example, we can ensure that our crops are harvested sustainably because they are all farmed on the UMA estate in India, where each crop is planted with the highest-quality seeds and harvested no more than two times before replanting.
Now more than ever, sustainability is an important global priority. As individuals, we can also do our part to make sure that our own lifestyles support sustainable practices. Fortunately, Ayurveda as a system is based on the nourishment and care of the environment at its foundation—when we keep its fundamental principles in mind, we can begin to take the proper steps toward building a more sustainable future.