India has been described by some traditional texts as Sa Prathama Sanskrati Vishvavara, the first and supreme culture in the world. To this day, the South Asian country remains a hotspring of ancient wisdom on mind-body health and spirituality.

This wisdom has been steadily permeating American life for the past century. Mindfulness -- the cultivation of a focused awareness on the present moment, a concept with origins in ancient Indian philosophy -- is "gaining its fair share of attention" in the West, with increasing numbers of Americans practicing meditation, according to a recent New York Times Magazine cover story. Words like "guru," "karma" "nirvana" and "om" are firmly situated in our cultural vocabulary, and yoga and meditation have become the favorite pasttime of everyone from supermodels to high-powered CEOs.

The Indian way has spread far beyond the U.S., and tourists from around the world are flocking to the densely-populated country in search of inner peace. India is the fastest-growing destination for wellness tourism, with an average of 22 percent annual growth, according to recent data from Stanford Research Center funded by Spafinder Wellness.

Here are 10 reasons we should look to India as an example of what it means to live well.

It's the birthplace of yoga.


Arguably India's most popular export, yoga (Sanskrit for "divine union") has been passed down from guru to student for many centuries. Traditionally, yoga is practiced with the goal of stilling the thoughts of the unruly mind so that the individual can eventually achieve moksha (liberation). Aside from yoga's spiritual aims, the physical and mental health benefits of the practice are extensive, from decreased anxiety to reduced neck and lower back pain to increased sexual function.

They view health from a holistic perspective.


The ancient Indian wisdom system of ayurveda is founded on two guiding principles: 1) that the mind and body are inextricably linked, and 2) that the mind has more power than anything else to heal and transform the body, according to The Chopra Center.

This Indian "science of life" has used natural remedies to treat a wide variety of physical ailments for centuries, and modern science is just beginning to catch on to its wisdom. Through dietary and lifestyle changes, ayurvedic principles are used to prevent and treat illnesses, and to help individuals achieve optimal health and well-being.

They embrace vegetarianism.

india vegetables

An estimated 80 percent of India's population identifies as Hindu, and the traditional Hindu diet is vegetarian. In the traditional yogic text the Mahabharata, a vegetarian diet is said to be sattvic -- meaning that it is linked with purity, goodness, and enlightenment.

"The practitioner of yoga has to adopt a vegetarian diet in order to attain one-pointed evolution and spiritual evolution," master practitioner B.K.S. Iyengar writes in "Light On Yoga."

Additionally, a vegetarian diet has been linked with major health benefits, including increased longevity and a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

They have strong family values.

india family

In Indian culture, there is a strong emphasis on family as the primary social unit, and families tend to be large, providing a strong social support system and network of community ties (a key factor in longevity). Indian families often live together in multi-generational "joint family" units.

"Through a multitude of kinship ties, each person is linked with kin in villages and towns near and far," according to the Asia Society. "Almost everywhere a person goes, he can find a relative from whom he can expect moral and practical support."

They cook with turmeric.

india spices

Turmeric is a popular spice in Indian cooking, and it's a superfood that can boost longevity and ward off illness. The spice has long been used medicinally in the Chinese and Indian traditions, and for good reason: Turmeric is packed with anti-inflammatory properties, and is also anti-carcinogenic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Plus, it makes a delicious (and colorful) curry.

They're making low-cost health innovations.

india hospital

Although the Indian health care system is often criticized (and is certainly an overburdened system), some Indian institutions have succeed in creating a model for good-quality health care at a low cost.

"U.S. hospitals would do well to take a leaf or two from the book of Indian doctors and hospitals that are treating problems of the eye, heart, and kidney all the way to maternity care, orthopedics, and cancer for less than 5% to 10% of U.S. costs," Vijay Govindarajan and Ravi Ramamurti write in a recent Harvard Business Review blog, explaining that the Indian hospitals they studied still met international care standards.

Low cost, in this case, doesn't mean low quality -- Govindarajan and Ramamurti argue that because patients pay 60-70 percent of health care costs out of pocket, Indian hospitals have had to cut costs while also improving their standard of care, doing so through task shifting, frugality, and a "hub-and-spoke" model of dispersement. More and more Indian corporations are also joining the fight to provide good quality, affordable health care.

They live in color.

india silk

Every year, India celebrates the arrival of spring with Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors, which ushers in the season with singing, dancing, and bright colors.

Many visitors to India (sometimes called the "land of color") are taken with the bright, beautiful colors everywhere. Many of these colors are symbolic in the culture and in the Hindu tradition -- and according to some color experts, these bright hues may have a positive effect on mood.

They have a culture that prizes compassion.

india poverty

Compassion is a traditional Indian value, and also central to Buddhism, which espouses a philosophy of compassion balanced by wisdom.

In Indian culture today, there is also a belief in karma. According to the law of karma, every action must have a reaction, and every individual reaps what he sows. In the yoga tradition, karma yoga, the path of selfless action and selfless ervice, is one path to liberation.

"Once you become selfless you are free from attachments," wrote Swami Rama, explaining that one can achieve freedom from both the laws of karma and from mental confusion.

They know that breathing is crucial to good health.

calm down

Breathing is a critical aspect of good health that's frequently overlooked in Western cultures, where we tend to focus more on the role of food and diet in preventative health care.

For thousands of years, the yogic practice of pranayama (Sanskrit for "extension of the life-force") has been used as a method for reducing stress and healing the body and mind through targeted breathing exercises. In Kundalini yoga, a traditional method of yoga popularized in the West by Yogi Bhajan, the breath is thought to be an individual's connection to the divine within, and breathing exercises are used to connect us more deeply with our own life force.

They celebrate the power of music.


The birth country of the legendary Ravi Shankar -- and the place that "transformed" George Harrison's life -- has produced some of the world's greatest music. In India, music is often a spiritual pursuit. Devotional chanting, also known as kirtan, is thought to be a healing practice.

When the reknowned Indian guru Paramhansa Yogananda performed a kirtan at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1926, the event had a strong impact on the audience.

"For one hour and twenty-five minutes, the thousands of voices of the entire audience a divine atmosphere of joyous praise," Yogananda later recalled. "The next day many men and women testified to the God-perception and the healing of body, mind, and soul that had taken place during the sacred chanting."

They know how to do a memorable tribute.

taj mahal

They value inner wisdom.

india meditation

Indian spirituality, stemming from the teachings of the Vedas, the source of ancient yoga philosophy and the early foundation texts of Hindu and Buddhist faiths, stresses the truth of inwardness. Within the Indian belief system, divinity is to be found by accessing the divine Self (atman) within the self. Liberation can be attained through realizing the unity of atman and brahman (the whole of the universe).

According to "American Veda" author Philip Goldberg, this inward-facing spirituality that has spread out from India is creating radical change in the West. Goldberg told the Huffington Post:

We’re becoming a nation of yogis. What I mean by that is that there are people whose orientation towards life and their orientation towards their spiritual life is very yogic. They may never set foot on a yoga mat, they may never do an asana in their lives. They have a meditation practice and turn inwards in their approach to whatever they define as spiritual –- their relation to the universe and their development of an inner connection to something bigger than themselves. People are taking charge of their spiritual lives in a very yogic way.

Clarification: Language has been amended to reflect that Yogi Bhajan's form of kundalini yoga is part of a much older tradition.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Half Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara)

    Sun Salutation sequences are traditionally performed as a way to awaken the body. "This is great to do upon rising, even before you have had your first cup of coffee," Bielkus says. To perform the sequence, stand up straight in <a href="" target="_blank">Mountain Pose</a> (<em>Tadasana</em>) with the feet together and arms at the side of the body with open palms. Sweep the arms up and extend them over the head on the inhale, then exhale and bow forward into a forward bend. On the inhale, lift the torso halfway up, place your hands at your shins and extend the spine. Fold forward again on the exhale. When you inhale, sweep back up and bring the palms together into prayer. Repeat this sequence three or four times. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here </a>for a video tutorial.

  • Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

    The gentle heart-opening stretch of the camel pose -- performed either with the hands on the lower back or reaching down to touch the heels -- can be highly invigorating for the entire body. "Camel is great because it's a total front-body opener," Bielkus says. "You have the front of the legs moving forward. ... The core is stretching and the torso is lengthening up. The chest is really opening and expanding so that the lungs can expand full of breath."

  • Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II)

    "This pose combines both leg strengthening and mild back bending, bringing energy into the body," Bielkus says. "Just like the name suggests, this pose awakens the warrior within -- power and strength, but with ease." <a href="" target="_blank">Click here for basic Warrior II instructions</a>, and try adding what Bielkus calls the "breath of fire" for an extra energy boost. "A great way to rev up this posture is to add in breath of fire -- rapid belly breath, focusing on the exhalation," Bielkus says. "To start, take a deep breath in and then pump the navel in as you exhale. The inhale will take care of itself."

  • Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)

    After Warrior II, try going into a restorative Triangle Pose. Straighten the front knee and extend the arm forward and then down to the shin, the floor next to the leg, or a block. Reach the other arm up and turn to face the sky, breathing deeply for five breaths, Bielkus advises. Then, repeat on the other side. "This pose is about fully expanding not contracting," Bielkus says. "Focus less about stretching and more about expanding and bringing breath and energy to every cell, every skin pore, every fiber of your being."

  • Side Plank (Vasisthasana)

    For the whole body-strengthening Side Plank, start in a plank pose. Turn to the right side, stacking the feet on top of each other, and lifting the left hand. Breath deeply for five breaths before repeating on the other side. If you're looking to modify the pose, Bielkus suggests bringing either the bottom knee or the forearm down to the ground. "Yoga brings our mind to a oneness and a focused attention," Bielkus says, regarding the balancing poses. "The more that we're coming into a mental clarity or focus, the less energy we're expending on that stress. The cortisol levels can drop and then we feel a little more energized."

  • Chair Pose (Utkatasana)

    The dynamic Chair Pose is performed by standing with the feet together or hip-width apart, and bending the lower body down as if you were sitting on a chair. Raise the arms to the ears and raise the chest up to complete the pose. "This pose is literally translates from Sanskrit as 'powerful' pose," says Bielkus. "Sometimes in class, I refer to it as lighting bolt pose because [of] the amount of energy it creates in the body by using the big muscles of the legs and glutes while also creating a slight backbend, which awakens the spine."

  • Half-Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)

    In addition to warding off stress and anxiety, the Half Moon Pose can be therapeutic for fatigue, <a href="" target="_blank">according to <em>Yoga Journal</em></a>. In a forward fold, bring the right hand about 10 inches in front of you and slightly to the right, extending the left leg up while the hips and torso open. Extend the left arm up and hold the pose for five breaths before repeating on the other side. "Any balancing poses are great for finding that inner balance," Bielkus says.

  • Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

    "Back bends are all about unlocking the energy of the spine and nervous system," Bielkus says. Lying on your back, bend the knees and place your feet flat on the floor with arms by your sides. Lift the hips up high and interlace the hands together or leave the arms at the sides of the body. Breathe deeply for five breaths and repeat several times.

  • Locust Pose (Salabhasana)

    For this strengthening pose, lie on your belly with arms by your side and palms down. Then, gently lift the arms, legs, chest and head off the floor and breathe deeply for five breaths, trying to lift up higher with each breath. Repeat three or four times, being careful not to strain the neck. For more of a challenge, extend the arms in front of you, as pictured at left. "You're really stimulating the upper, middle and lower back, and the muscles of the hamstrings are engaging" Bielkus says. "You're using so many muscles in the body to lift yourself off the earth. The neurons are firing to make that all happen."

  • Right Nostril Breathing (Surya Bhedana)

    This energizing <em>pranayama</em> (breathing exercise) offers a counterpoint to the calming <a href="" target="_blank">left nostril breath</a>. To perform the exercise, sit upright in a chair or on the floor in a comfortable cross-legged position, blocking the left nostril with the thumb and extending the fingers. Breathe long and deep, in and out of the right nostril for around five minutes, Bielkus advises. "The right nostril is associated with the energy of the sun," Bielkus says. "This breath is stimulating, invigorating and awakening."