The first couple of years of my Yoga sadhana was without any knowledge or practice of Ayurveda. Now when I look back, I cannot comprehend how I could have missed the most important science to understand our body. This knowledge of the body has become rather important, especially in the current age where we largely use Postural Yoga for physical fitness and good health. It is as important as food to the body.
Today most Yoga education courses contain some lessons on anatomy and physiology, albeit modern medicine’s anatomy and physiology. But will this help understand Yoga practices ? Can we use this understanding to build a therapeutic approach using Yoga practices?
In my personal experience, it would be best to use both aspects 1. understanding of body and 2. practices for the body, coming from the same source. Meaning Yoga practice would work best with the Yogic understanding of body rather than modern medicine’s understanding of the body.
The Yogic texts don’t talk much about the Body as this is acknowledged to be the “Adhikaara” (authority of / purview of ) of Ayurveda. And similarly, Ayurveda doesn’t talk about spiritual practices, conceding it to Yoga Shastra. Note that the classical Yoga text, Yoga sutras, talks quite a bit about Chitta (loosely translated as Mind ), its attributes and classification, but almost nothing about the physical body. Neither does Hatha yoga texts explain what this body is about and how it functions.
Yoga and Ayurveda are siblings of the same mother philosophy – Sankhya. Ayurveda and Yoga, all along their journey in India, have existed together, complimenting each other, catering to different needs of an individual at different phases of his/her life. Ayurvedic knowledge of body readily qualifies to be largely applicable to the understanding and application of Yoga practices, as it has been in the past.
This is the first of my Blog series on Yoga Ayurveda
Introduction to Ayurveda
Ayurveda for a yogi, the science of life, (Ayu is Life and Veda, Knowledge) is the oldest, holistic system of medicine in India. The great Vedic seers and sages who produced many of India’s original philosophical systems established Ayurveda as well. It is believed to be the oldest healing science in existence, atleast 5000 years old, forming the foundation of many other modern day medicinal systems.
History of Ayurveda
The very fundamental principle of Ayurveda, The Doshas, can be traced to the Rig Veda. It discusses the use of herbs to heal the mind and body, and to keep oneself young. The physicians, called Vaidhyas, at the time of the Vedas were Rishis, Sages or Seers — who viewed health as Harmony that comes from the integration of different aspects of the Self.
It is in the Atharva Veda that we find more elaborate and specific information on Ayurveda that deals with everything from prevention and cure of diseases, to internal medicine and surgery, to infertility and paediatric, to psychiatry.
Objective of Ayurveda
The purpose of Ayurveda is to help an individual in performing one’s Dharma to the fullest. Ill physical and or mental health, along with cutting down our lifespan, is one of the biggest obstacles in performing our Dharma, righteous actions and responsibilities. In overcoming ill health, Ayurvedic scriptures (Charaka samhita) speak of 2 pronged Objective:
- “Swasthsya Swaasthyarakshanam”, to maintain the positive health of a healthy person and
- “Aaturasya Vikara Prashamanam cha” to cure the disease of the patient.
Its refreshing to see that preservation of Good health, meaning prevention of diseases is the Primary objective of Ayurveda rather than curative approached that we predominantly use these days. It would be enough for the Yogis to be using this preventive part of Ayurveda alone with their yoga practice, especially if Good physical and mental health is what one is after.
In the preventive part, Ayurveda has clear 1. Definition of Health, 2. Signs of good health and 3. Ways to maintain good health. This section has all the dietary guideline, daily routine and social interaction that is ideal to maintain good health.
Doshas are the most fundamental and widely used principle of Ayurveda. There are 3 doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. We can look at them as 3 primary forces responsible for various activities in our body and mind.
One needs to understand one’s dominant dosha and then choose the above mentioned, ways of maintaining good health as applicable to this dominant dosha. Meaning a Vata dosha dominant person would have different dietary requirements, daily routines, exercise, sleep and is prone to a certain type of diseases from a person dominant in Pitta or kaons dosha.
This means that a reasonably healthy person can stay healthy by practising these guidelines on a daily basis and without any intervention of a medical Doctor.
Yoga and Ayurveda in Good health
Here’s a sneak peek into how the two sister sciences would contribute to an individual’s good health.
- Ayurveda – would provide guidelines to Daily routine, Seasonal change, Food, Sleep & Detox practices.
- Yoga – would provide guidelines for Asana practice (practised as Vyayama), Yama Niyama for harmonious social life, Pratyahara for the health of the senses, Dharana for the mind.
For Comprehensive good health, it is inevitable that we incorporate Yoga and Ayurveda together. The combination of these two will ensure a life long and more effective preventive health practice. Ayurveda will also elevate and speed up our Yoga sadhana to a large extent. This marriage of Yoga and Ayurveda is supported in the sloka “ Yogena Chittasya, Padena Vaacham, Malam Shareerasya cha Vaidhya kena” – (Yoga for the Mind and Ayurveda for the Body).
In the rest of the Ayurveda Series, we shall explore more on various sub-topics mentioned in the above blog.