Ayurveda and Yoga, Sister Sciences
by Vishnu Dass, NTS, LMT, CAyuz
Ayurveda and yoga are sister sciences that have been united for thousands of years for the sake of healing body, mind, and consciousness. Generally speaking, Ayurveda deals more with the health of the body, while yoga deals with purifying the mind and consciousness, but in reality they complement and embrace each other.
The ancient rishis (seers) were the original masters of all Vedic sciences. They understood that good health is a great asset on the path toward Self-realization. If the body is neglected it can easily become an obstacle to spiritual practice. Anyone who has practiced meditation for any length of time would agree to how difficult it can be to sit still for long periods of time without feeling discomfort and fatigue. Both yoga and Ayurveda are mutually supportive and offer many ways to prevent and heal various disorders as well as to cleanse and rejuvenate the body.
Besides sharing a philosophical foundation, both systems have many similarities in relation to attitude, nutrition, diet and lifestyle, hygiene, exercise, cleansing practices, as well as spiritual practices. Traditionally, a student of yoga would first live close to and serve the guru for many years, during which time he would learn healthy habits. The basic Ayurvedic principles for health and longevity were past on in the lineage in oral form to serve as a foundation for a life of sadhana (spiritual practice).
Nowadays, the teachings of yoga are easily available to all, and whether prepared or not we can leap headlong into its practice. This has its blessings, in the sense that more people can be turned on to the teachings, although much is often lost without the parampara, or close guidance at the feet of an accomplished master. With this in mind, modern yoga practitioners would most certainly benefit from a basic knowledge of Ayurveda to help establish a healthy dinacharya (daily routine) and adjust their practice according to the constitution, predominant dosha or imbalance, season, and so on, to prevent disease and promote longevity. Book a private Asheville yoga session for an individualized yoga regime.
Similarities between the Yoga System and Ayurveda
- Both are ancient Vedic teachings. Yoga originates in the Yajur Veda, while Ayurveda originates in the Atharva Veda and Rig Veda.
- Both recognize that keeping the body healthy is vital for fulfilling the four aims of life: Dharma (duty), Artha (wealth), Kama (desire), and Moksha (liberation).
- Both recognize that the balance of doshas (humors), dhatus (tissues), and malas (waste products) is essential for maintaining good health.
- Both share virtually the same metaphysical anatomy and physiology, which consists of 72,000 nadis (subtle channels), 7 main chakras (energy centers), 5 bodily sheaths, and the Kundalini Shakti (energy).
- Both advocate the use of diet, Ayurvedic herbs, asana, pranayama, meditation, mantra, astrology, prayer, puja (worship), and rituals for healing the entire being.
- Both encourage physical health as a good foundation for mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
- Both share the same view on psychology. Ayurveda embraces all six of the main schools of philosophy including the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Vedanta (a non-dual philosophical and spiritual path). They both understand that the attachment to the body-mind complex is the root cause of all suffering and that the ultimate state of health is experienced when we abide in our true nature, which is total peace, regardless of the state of the physical body.
- Both use cleansing methods for the body, all of which encourage the removal of waste products and toxins through their natural routes of elimination. Ayurveda has Panchakarma (five cleansing actions) and yoga uses Shat Karma (six purification measures).
The Ayurvedic approach to asana practice
The use of asana, pranayama, and meditation for healing is known as Yoga Chikitsa, or Yoga Therapy and has been used for thousands of years by Ayurvedic and yogic adepts. In Yoga Chikitsa, a group of yogic exercises are chosen that will best support the individual and are practiced daily. This can be done over an extended period of time in conjunction with an Ayurvedic regime, Ayurvedic herbs and dietary guidelines. Yoga Chikitsa also plays an integral role in the Ayurvedic cleansing and rejuvenation process known as Panchakarma.
For a well balanced personal yoga practice, it is important to take into consideration your individual body structure, prakruti (original constitution), and vikruti (present constitutional imbalance). The following are general recommendations according to the predominant dosha. You can also learn an invidualized approach to yoga by scheduling a private Asheville yoga session.
Vata predominant individuals should remember to focus on calming, grounding, stillness, strengthening, and balancing while doing their practice.
Precautions for vata:
- Vinyasa or flow styles of yoga tend to move too quickly from one pose to the next and can aggravate the hyper-mobile quality of vata over time. Flow sequences can be made to be more vata pacifying if they are not excessively long, the length of time poses are held is extended, and transitions are done slowly and consciously.
- Those with lower back problems may find that bending the knees in standing forward bends can prevent discomfort.
- Back bends should be done slowly, carefully and within one’s own limits.
Pitta individuals should maintain a calm, cool, and relaxed intention while doing asanas. Pitta types may benefit from trying to cultivate an attitude of forgiveness, and of surrendering or offering the fruits of their practice to the divine of to those in need of positive healing energy. Because asana practice tends to generate heat in the body, it is best to do yoga at cooling times of the day, such as dawn or dusk. Also, it is useful to place some emphasis on poses that help to release excess heat from the body, such as poses that compress the solar plexus and poses that open the chest.
> Pitta Pacifying Yoga Asanas
Kapha types tend to be sedentary and often dislike vigorous exercise. For this reason, their practice should be energetic, warming, lightening, and stimulating, providing they are physically capable. Vinyasa or flow style yoga is good for kapha because it is dynamic and moves quickly from one pose to the next, it induces sweating and gets the heart pumping.
Yoga poses that address specific doshic problems can be easily integrated into your Ayurvedic regime and existing yoga routine, or they can be organized as a small session with the help of an Ayurvedic clinician who knows your individual case well and can help set up a well balanced program according to your specific needs.
The Ayurvedic Approach to Pranayama (breathing techniques)
The ultimate goal of pranayama is to calm the mind and prepare it for meditation. It has a therapeutic effect on the physical body as well. It is not essential to do a pranayama practice according to dosha, but knowing its effects on the body is a valuable tool for the management of the doshas. Below is a general list of pranayama and bandha exercises according to dosha.
Vata: Nadi Shodhana, Kapala Bhati, Agnisara Dhauti, Ujjayi, Tri Bandha, Maha Mudra.
Pitta: Sheetali or Sitkari, Nadi shodhana.
Kapha: Bastrika, Agnisara Dhauti, Kapala Bhati, Ashvini Mudra (contracting and releasing Mula Bandha), Ashvini Mudra, Ujjayi, Tri Bandha, Maha Mudra.
Furthermore, the Four Purifications taught in some of our workshops is an ancient method from the Ashtanga Yoga for purifying the gross and subtle body in order to prepare it for more advanced practices. They are tridoshic and safe for everyone, providing they are performed correctly.
Meditation According to Your Dosha in Ayurveda
These spiritual paths and their meditation techniques can be practiced by anyone, regardless of their prakruti (constitution). This list is only intended to give an idea on how dosha can support or influence your spiritual practice. Many traditions of yoga blend various aspects of the paths listed here.
- Vata: Kriya Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga and other structured techniques help to keep vata stabilized and focused.
- Pitta: Jnana Yoga and Vedanta are good for pitta types because they often have sharp intellects and have a keen interest in self-study (Atma-vichara).
- Kapha: Bhakti yoga is natural for kapha types because they are often loving and devotional by nature.
Ayurvedic and Yogic Diet
Ayurveda is more concerned with food being constitutionally balanced, while Yoga promotes a diet that is sattwic (light and pure). A combination of both aspects is the best choice for a yogi or anyone wanting to make real progress on a spiritual path.
- According to dosha.
- Primarily vegetarian (meat is used as medicine, mainly for extreme deficiencies).
- Primarily cooked (raw food in moderation, especially for vata types).
- Containing six tastes.
- Sattwic vegetarian diet.
- Easy to digest.
- Simple meals (to limit desire).
- Both cooked and raw.
- Foods recommended in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika consist of rejuvenating substances such as wheat, whole grain, white basmati rice, corn, raw milk, raw sugar, butter, ghee, honey, dried ginger, mung beans, pure water, vegetables.
- Fruits, roots and nuts.
- Avoiding excessive hot, sour, salty, fermented, and fried foods.
- Avoiding tamasic (dulling) foods like meat, onions, garlic and mushrooms as a regular part of the daily diet.
Cleansing Techniques in Yoga and Ayurveda
Ayurveda and Yoga both emphasize cleansing of the body for health and support of spiritual practices. Their methods are similar and work by expelling excess dosha and ama, or toxins, using the body’s natural routes of elimination.
The yogic method is known in the Ashtanga tradition as Shat Karma, or six cleansing measures. These are:
- Neti (nasal cleansing):Jala neti (salt water flushing of the sinuses).Sutra neti (nasal cleaning with string).
- Dhauti (washing the GI tract).Teeth, tongue, eyes, ears and forehead.Agnisara Dhauti.Vamana Dhauti (vomiting salt water).Vastra Dhauti (washing with a cloth).Varisara Dhauti (washing with water for purgation).
- Basti (enema).
- Trataka (forehead wash, gazing into a candle flame).
- Nauli (intestinal washing, abdominal rolling).
- Kapala Bhati (skull shining).
The Ayurvedic method for cleansing and rejuvenation is known as Panchakarma (pancha karma), or five cleansing actions. This program is usually done for a week or two, and can also be done for longer periods depending on the case. The five actions of this method are:
- Basti (Enema).
- Nasya (Nasal application of herbs and herbal oils).
- Vamana (Therapeutic vomiting).
- Virechana (Purgation).
- Rakta Moksha (Blood letting).
It is obvious that Ayurveda and yoga not only complement each other. Both sciences actually embrace each other as they share similarities and fundamental principles on many levels. Ayurveda and yoga should go hand in hand if you want to achieve optimal health, peace, and longevity.
© 2004 Vishnu Dass. No reproduction allowed in part or in whole without written permission from the author or Blue Lotus Ayurveda, LLC.