Yoga and Ayurveda
There’s always been an intermingling of ideas between yoga and Ayurveda. So much so that Ayurveda has often been called the ‘sister science’ of yoga. Indeed, yoga and Ayurveda have never previously been separated to such a degree.
Indeed, Ayurveda is the science of living and yoga is the science that goes beyond that. So, both compliment each other; one can only look beyond life when life on a daily level affords us the comfort to do so.
Furthermore, when looking beyond life in the normal way, we also need ways of grounding and calming us to continue to do so. Along these lines, Ayurveda provides the firm foundation for spiritual practice, and keeps doing so as we inevitably meet with challenges on our metaphysical journey of yoga.
Ayurveda acts as the brakes to yoga
In fact, Ayurveda was historically used to counter the effects of yoga. Because, yoga is all about de-regulation in a way; seeing past our habitual perceptions and conditioning. To which end, stimulating the the nerves of the spine, yoga shakes all this up, giving us the possibility to start afresh.
On the other hand (and, in my experience and the experience of many others), this can be incredibly ungrounding to say the least. Yoga is a powerful science and if not treated with care, it can really destabilise us. This is where the principles of Ayurveda have always been used traditionally. There are things one can do to exert a pacifying quality to balance yoga-methods designed to energetically stimulate.
A short background of Ayurveda
What we know of Ayurveda comes principally from three texts collectively known as the ‘Brhattrayi. These are; The Charak Samhita, The Sushurta Samhita, and The Ashtanga Hridaya. As mentioned, there is plenty of crossover in these texts. Indeed, here, we even find the earliest mention of ‘Ashtanga yoga’ (though the system is not quite the same as the one we’re most familiar with).
In fact, we find passages on yoga asana and kriyas within classical texts on Ayurveda that generally predate the medieval texts that first speak on hatha yoga as a physically oriented practice to change the body through a mechanical process.
Ayurveda is dated to around the 2nd century BC and attributed (as is most often the case with sacred texts) to the god Dhanvantari. However, it reached its golden age in around 1000 CE in the aforementioned works of the physician Charaka.
Where Ayurveda and Yoga part company
Yet, although they share much in common, and, most importantly, greatly compliment each other, we have to be mindful that Ayurveda and yoga, though sharing some methodology in common, still aim at very different goals. Yoga is inherently transcendental, whist Ayurveda aims at material health.
Indeed; Ayurveda comes from ‘ayur’ , longevity, and ‘Veda’, Knowledge. For example then, although both use asana, one uses the tool for the sake of the body, the other essentially to escape it.
The other obvious distinguishing factor between the two methodologies is that Ayurveda is generally done for you by the physician. Whereas, as we know all too well regarding yoga, every individual has to do it for themselves.
Different responses to the same problem
Both Ayurveda and yoga are a direct response to the problem of *change* in the world. However, the former is pragmatically oriented, the latter, idealistically. So, In Ayurveda, what we find is a most practical instruction on how to tackle the conflictive energies of the material world, ‘the gunas’; those that throw us out of balance. In contrast, yoga is interested in completely transcending the gunas altogether.
Even so, having said this, both employ methods situated on the goal of facilitating *stability*. Indeed, stability of mind, body and spirit, as Ayurveda (just like Yoga), sees mind and body as equal parts of the same whole. And, indeed, although Ayurveda aims at stability *in* life, there is still a great deal of discussion of what would be considered now ‘other worldly’ ideas.
Indeed, perhaps the foremost difference is then between the major focus of each discipline as they circle around each other. For example, stabikity of mind needs satisfaction of the spirit, just like this cannot be done without stabilising the body on a material level.
Yoga from the perspective of Ayurveda
The Ayurvedic system of the ‘doshas’ provides a great source of guidance for us in yoga, so it’s worth concluding with a brief discussion of how we might relate our own predisposition, our ‘dosha’ to the practice of yoga.
There are three fundamental constitutions, ‘doshas’; Vata, Pita,Kapha. These correlate with the elements of wind, fire and earth. All of us are finally a combination of all of these, but, each person has a predominant dosha. Accordingly, our dosha discharges the effects of the gunas upon us. Indeed, in as much as what we are inside effects how the outside world influences us.
For example, in the yoga world we usually find individuals with a preponderance of ‘vata’, wind. They are very energetic and interested in ideas and exploring their experience. As with each dosha, there will be certain foods, circumstances, places, that will effect them well. In other words; balance their vata with pita or kapha.
So, with greater knowledge of one’s inner tendencies, one can then better navigate how to live most effectively in the world outside. Indeed, both Yoga and Ayurveda seek to work with the material, so it’s necessary to Know exactly what material we are working with. This means also modifying one’s appraisal of yoga practice.
Is Ashtanga bad for vata dosha?
Finally, then, you may have heard the argument that Ashtanga yoga attracts vata-types wherein it’s also bad for them. But this is to mistake the subtlety of the doshas. For, everything depends upon the *dose*. Bath types are motivated by Ashtanga which is both natural as well as an important factor. We have to enjoy the yoga we do.
On the other hand, practised in the way they might naturally do, it can, indeed, throw them further into Vata and out of balance. Nevertheless, once this is recognised, it is not incredibly difficult to amend. Indeed, Ashtanga yoga can easily be practised in a certain manner where the degree of vata is kept lower.
In fact, this is the whole premise of Mysore style self-practice in the first place; to practice as suits one’s individual conditions. Practically speaking then, a vata person (on a most simplistic level), will need less of the jumping-vinyasas and more time holding postures. Where, in contrast, a kapha person will benefit from more moving and less holding of postures for long periods. Similarly, certain postures may be emphasised tor different constitutions, whilst others left out.
Go with what feels right
Even so, we still need to find our own constitutional quality in what we are doing. Health lies in establishing a resonance between inner and outer experience. Along these lines the natural law is based on the ‘laws of attraction’; something allopathic medicine is quite mistaken in, treating symptoms with their opposites.
To conclude then, although a working knowledge of Ayurveda is not inherently necessary for the practice of yoga, it is incredibly useful in rendering our progress smoother and more efficient of what we do. For, the spiritual and material cannot really be separated as long as we are living in a material body and starting out from this basis. Even if our journey leads us to something more.