The most common greeting in India is to bring your hands to your heart (similar to prayer position), slightly bow, and lower your eyes while proclaiming “Namaste!” The greeting literally translates as, “The divine in me bows to the divine in you.” “Nama” means “bow” and “te” means “to you” in Sanskrit. This lovely message shows respect and gratitude for the person you are greeting. We can use this concept to remember to recognize and honor that we are all the same.
The traditional Hindu system of medicine’s key focus is bringing balance to the individual through spiritual, physical, and emotional wellness. Indians consult Ayurvedic doctors for everything from holistic herbal treatments for ailments, massages for rejuvenation, diet plans to improve bodily systems and yogic breathing for spiritual healing. At an initial consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, they will count your pulse, test the elasticity of your skin, examine your tongue and read your aura. You might just walk away with a prescription for weekly massages or a natural remedy for whatever is causing you pain. We can use this concept to scale back on our addiction to overprescribing heavy-duty medications and remember that there may be a simple, natural cure to (at least) try first. I’ve found that neem solves my acne issues, ghee helps me digest, coconut oil keeps my hair and skin smooth, and turmeric helps reduce swelling in my body. That’s right, trendy turmeric milk has actually been a common drink in India for centuries.
3. Eating with your hands
As you wander into a local restaurant or a family home you’ll notice there is no cutlery. Head to the sink and wash your hands — you’re in for an experience that will forever change the way you perceive food. The first time I ate with my hands in India was the evening I arrived at the NGO I was working for in Jodhpur. Some of the young beneficiaries were having a cooking lesson and a shared meal with the founder. I sat in a circle with a group of teenage girls who were also vegetarians. They filled one large shared plate and we sat in a circle around it. The girls couldn’t stop laughing at me as I struggled to create the right combination of curry and rice to stay together long enough for it to reach my mouth. They expertly tore their chapati (similar to a tortilla) with their right hands as I struggled to use my wrist to hold the bread down with my left hand as I tore it with my right. In India, the right hand is always used for eating. In the south of India, the traditional meal, thali, is served on a large leaf and eaten with the right hand. Not using plates or utensils is very economical and environmentally friendly. I’ve become accustomed to eating with my hands but know that this practice would be considered rude in the West. Eating with your fingers is an incredibly sensual experience. Not only are you seeing, smelling, and tasting your food but now you are touching it as well.
4. Atithi Devo Bhava
The golden rule In India is the Sanskrit saying, “Atithi Devo Bhava,” which translates as, “The guest is God.” Hospitality in Indian hostels and hotels may be questionable, but when you have the chance to enter a family home you will see how seriously this verse is taken. Never go to the home of an Indian acquaintance with anything but an empty stomach. This code of conduct means that your hosts will go to all possible means in order to make sure you are comfortable, joyous, and most importantly, well fed. We can borrow this mentality to be more welcoming to our guests. Did your friend show up to your dinner party empty handed, sans wine or even flowers? Who cares? They are your guest, and you should treat them as you would treat a deity!
5. Bum gun
While I don’t think I will ever get accustomed to using a squat toilet I am fully on board with the bum gun. It is very rare to find toilet paper in Indian establishments unless it is a place geared towards tourists. The “hygiene faucet” is like a kitchen sink sprayer. It is operated with your left hand (never your right) triggering the flow of water which comes from a long hose to get every nook and cranny clean after using the restroom. Indians feel that this is a more sanitary and less wasteful option than toilet paper, and they’re right! It takes a lot of energy and manufacturing to create toilet paper which is usually placed on a cardboard tube and sold wrapped in plastic — far from eco-friendly. As long as you only use short blasts of water then the bidet-like spray hose will likely get you cleaner, and leave the world a little greener. Who doesn’t want to be so fresh and so clean?
You don’t have to spend three weeks in the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh, to make more room in your life for spirituality. Most Indians adhere to a regime of self-practice yoga that encompasses breathing exercises, mantra chanting, and meditation in addition to asana (poses). Yoga is Sanskrit for “unite”, meaning to connect your consciousness to the divine. Yoga is enhanced by meditation, which prepares the mind to get ready for a yoga practice, while yoga strengthens the body for long meditations. India is the birthplace of yoga, which can be traced back at least five thousand years to Indian yogis who started the tradition. Today there is an abundance of meditation and yoga mobile applications available. Give yourself some spiritual nourishment while enhancing both your mental and physical state. Honestly, couldn’t we all use a little bit more wellness in our lives? Just an hour a day can be very transformative for our mood and energy.
Modern day India struggles with women’s empowerment and suppression of sexuality, yet this is the land that gave us the Kamasutra all the way back in the 3rd century. Kama is the Hindu God of love, and the word “kama” means desire and “sutra” means guide. “Kama” is one of the four goals of Hindu life, so your pleasure is your purpose! Yes, the ancient text has a large assortment of sex positions, but it goes beyond physical touch to dissect sensuality and the art of human love. Samdamsha may be a bit harder for non-Indians to pronounce than “cowgirl”, but reading about its carnal properties makes it even more awesome. Read Kamasutra (not the Cosmo Kama Sutra sex manual) to learn about human behavior, secrets to a lasting relationship, and the art of living. Try to bring some of the lessons into your everyday life, your lover will thank you!
In 2014, the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation stated that India had one non-profit for every 600 people, adding up to two million do-good organizations. The statistic was quickly criticized by Indian nationals who felt the number should be much higher and believed it would be impossible to actually count the number of NGOs, social enterprises, and nonprofits in India. Indian people are dedicated to giving back and aid their local communities as they believe they could be born into a lower caste in the next life. Philanthropy is a pillar of Indian lifestyle. If the rest of the world adopted this habit perhaps we’d find ourselves in a state with less poverty and more literacy, less hunger and more empowerment, and less homelessness and more oneness. We can all afford to contribute a bit more to our local do-good organizations whether it’s through volunteering, fundraising, or donating.