Hygiene and health care strategies for preserving the senses are a part of the Ayurvedic traditions. This beautiful section, excerpted from the unpublished manuscript Ayurvedic Ophthalmology, contains many lessons of importance (Bajracharya et al., 1998).
According the Ayurveda, the eye is one of the five sense organs, and is connected directly with the brain. It is a highly sensitive organ, very closely related to the functioning of the mind. The mind is not visible, but its activity can be partially monitored by observing the eyes. Fear, grief, lust, anger, peace, happiness, and suffering reveal the state of the mind as they alter the facial muscles around the eyes. Observation of the patient’s eyes is very important for the Vaidya (Ayurvedic doctor) to understand physiological problems.
The eye was created by the Fire Element. The eye captures within itself the Fire of the universe, allowing perception of the constant and ever-changing flux of colors and shapes of objects. Any radiation of heat or light, whether originating from the sun or from an electric filament belongs to the Fire Element. Because it captures Fire and heat, the physical structure of the eye requires immersing the cornea, lens and retina in the cooling liquid aqueous and vitreous humors. This is the Ayurvedic explanation as to why the eye is so adversely affected by excess heat.
Again, the eyes prefer cooling sensations, and they reject excess heat in any form. This is the central idea Ayurvedic Vaidyas (doctors) emphasize in caring for the eyes. Hygienic measures such as washing the face three to four times each day and taking regular baths, as well as living and working in areas with adequate ventilation or outside in the fresh air, the ancient practice of peering at the moon to benefit from looking into the distance at its cooling rays, and a healthy diet, are all ways of promoting the cooling sensations. Similarly, practical methods of avoiding excess heat include protection from the sun’s heating radiation, staying cool in the summer, and avoiding excess amounts of foods that have heating or inflammatory effects. Ayurvedic doctors routinely recommend protecting the eyes from the heat of a sauna, for instance, by holding a cloth soaked with cold water over them.
To maintain the natural power of vision, a collyrium (external application) made of a microfine powder of purified antimony can be painted across the entire bottom eyelid each night, making a line about 1/2 inch in width directly under the lash. This can prevent cataract formation. Eye drops made by dissolving a condensed paste extract of darvi root (Berberis asiatica) in water can be used to wash the eyes every fifth day or once a week. These eye drops clean the eyes and help keep the duct system open. They can also prevent and cure chronic conjunctivitis (see below).
Reading, writing and working with concentrated vision under poor or tense conditions is not good for the eyes. Examples are poor lighting, viewing minute objects, or prolonged eye work at either near or distance. The negative effect of keen concentrated vision can be the cause of refractive error, especially near-sightedness.
All foreign objects, including dirty water, sweat, dust, pollution, smoke etc., are harmful to the eye. They can damage the conjunctiva, cornea, lacrimal duct system and blood circulatory functions, potentially causing corneal ulcer, pterygium, and epiphora.
Sudden changes in temperature are not good for the eye. Examples are sudden immersion in cold water after exercise, hard labor, working near a fire or being outside in the sun. In excess, this type of practice can harm the natural function and elasticity of the optic nerve, veins and arteries.
Awakening frequently at night or sleeping during the day is not good for the eye. Night work, excess napping, and insomnia are common contributing problems. Waking at night can cause dryness of the eye, while sleeping during the day can cause excess exudation. Dryness and exudation are systemic problems that contribute to many eye diseases.
A diet high in liquids, and/or excess liquids at night such as milk, tea, coffee, is not good for the eye. This can cause of abnormal pressure in the eyeball, which is full of water. In another way, the lacrimal glands which are usually less active at night, can secrete excessively and disturb sleep.
The bad habit of withholding the natural urges to defecate, urinate, or expel gas is detrimental to health in general, and also is not good for the eye. It can be the cause of Vata dosha, which is related to refractive errors.
The eye reflects the negative and positive functions of the mind. These are anger, grief, suffering etc., which are first rejected by the mind, then concentrated in the eye, causing abnormal function. Repeated crying from unbearable suffering, mental weakness or tension, an angry or aggressive temperament, deep grief and so on, are not good for the eye. The negative effects of these emotions can harm the natural function of the optic nervous, venous, arterial and lacrimal gland systems.
Withholding the emotional urge to cry is not good for the eye. This can impair the natural function of the lacrimal glands, causing either dryness or epiphora.
Any traumatic injury to the head can damage the brain. In this condition, the eye, being directly attached with the brain and the brain being a source of vital energy of the eye, can have functional disorders affecting the optic nerve, vein and artery. Functional defects include paralysis of the eye, visual field loss, optic nerve ischemia, and hemorrhage. Excess use of alcohol is also bad for the eye. Alcohol can weaken the overall health of the blood and circulation, which is related to some eye diseases.
Prolonged poor weather, including abnormal levels of heat, cold or rain weakens the general health of all living beings. The outbreak of epidemic eye diseases like conjunctivitis is seen related to such weather problems, or problems of indoor ventilation.
The physical and emotional stress of poverty, poor diet, chronic progressive diseases, and emotional difficulties can impair the natural function of optic nervous, venous and arterial systems. Cataract and refractive error are very commonly seen related to these circumstances.
Overindulgence in sex is not good for the eye. This can impair the natural functioning of the optic nerve. It is considered a well investigated fact in Ayurveda that preservation of semen plays a major role to strengthen the function of nervous system.
Overindulgence in concentrated sweet foods also is not good for the eye, and can cause eye disease, especially diabetic eye problems.
Any eye disease that is not properly treated or neglected, can be the direct cause of another eye problem. Neglect of conjunctivitis especially can weaken the natural function of the optic nervous, venous and arterial systems, causing many eye diseases. This factor is very important for the doctor to understand when thinking about the health care of the eye.