The Common Ground Between Yoga and Ayurveda
If you practice yoga, you have probably noticed how certain asanas affect your mind and body. Some poses may be easy to obtain and put your mind at ease, while other yoga poses are difficult and cause you frustration. These physical and mental feelings may also help you in choosing the type of yoga that best suits you. The diversity among people is why there is diversity among yoga practices. Ayurveda is a venerable practice of old India which systemized healing states that people should participate in the version of yoga that best compliments their lifestyle, beliefs, and health.
Ayurveda translates in English to “knowledge of life” and closely relates to yoga. Ayurveda is a science of wellness for one’s health – both physical and mental – while yoga is the tool that people use to reach enlightenment and free their minds. Yoga and Ayurveda are lesser practices without one another, and if a person chooses to do yoga, they should look into Ayurveda as well.
Ayurveda and yoga are both mentioned in the Vedas, which are old Sanskrit documents. Ayurveda is similar to a form of yoga called Hatha Yoga as good health is stressed because it serves an important part in one’s quest for spiritualism. Yoga is an ancient applied science while Ayurveda is an aid for convalescence. The two practices are clearly related, and some believe that the two separate men, one which codified yoga and the other Ayurveda were actually one man, the same man. Another similarity among Yoga and Ayurveda is that they both stem from Samkhya, an Indian school of philosophy.
According to the ancient Indian healing system, the all-inclusive life energy is found in three separate manifestations: vata, pitta, and kapha. These energies are called doshas. Humans are made of these energies, and during birth is when the specific amounts of each are discovered. The combination specific to the individual is known as the prakruti. The level of doshas are ever changing due to different factors of a person’s physical surroundings which includes the changing seasons and the food that is consumed. The state of each dosha contributes to the vikruti – imbalance – within a person. Because these energies differ from one person to the next, the path that guides one to good health will not be the same as another’s. To maintain the health is also unique among individuals.
Each of the three doshas is associated with the five common elements that make up everything on earth, as illustrated below:
- Vata – Air, Ether
- Pitta – Fire, Water
- Kapha – Water, Earth
When the doshas shift as they often do, the human body is affected. When the energy form vata is unbalanced by manifesting itself in excess amounts, the nervous system, large intestine, immune system and joints are more apt to becoming diseased. Pitta overtakes the body in extra amounts when the small intestine is negatively affected, as well as the blood, eyes, spleen, skin, thyroid, and liver. Excessive amounts of kapha lead to stomach and lung diseases. Ayurveda makes the most sense when the body is balanced and all three of these forms of energy are proportioned in the body.
An important tidbit to recall when dealing with the body’s doshas is that opposites equal out the conflicting energy, and like energy increases the dosha it is similar to. The environmental factors that affect the doshas can be used to your advantage. By learning how to manipulate doshas, you can also fine-tune your yoga skills and diet.
Within Ayurveda is another main basis to the healing system and that is the three gunas, or characteristics of nature. They are named sattva, rajas, and tamas and can be used to depict characteristics of a spiritual or emotional nature. Things that are clear, secure, and airy are considered sattvic. Things that can become light and experienced with an unhindered view are the product of a calm mind and a good spiritual relationship with God. Life is easily enjoyed in this state of being. The qualities considered to be rajastic are quite the opposite of those that are sattavic. Rajasic is portrayed in many ways and affects the mind to create emotions like jealousy, worry, fear, and anger. Tamasic characteristics include the most negative form of anything. Tamasic emotions range from suicide to addiction to depression, and violent feelings are common as well. Tamas is the most dangerous of the group of gunas.
All actions and movements are rajastic, therefore they heat the body and disturb it somewhat, but there are certain movements that are less severe in rajas which are often the case of slower movements. When a motion is performed quickly, more heat is created causing the movement to be more rajastic. Rajastic movements are also done without much focus and very little thought. Moving while concentrating directly on your physical actions will make the movement sattvic. This is a point where yoga is yet again relevant to Ayurveda: when you want to better fulfill the purpose of yoga, which is to be calm and aware, that can be achieved by making sattvic movements. Sattivic attributes function to their greatest extent during meditation or breathing exercises called pranayamas.
When one has a better understanding of Ayurveda, they can decide to look into the various forms of yoga to choose the type/s to be a part of. Some of the different yoga practices are listed below:
It is good to know which practices are available to you, and the only way to truly know the greatest way to benefit from your yogic experience is to recognize your vikruti – your imbalance. One’s vikruti is important to the practice of yoga, and is the determining factor to which practice one should begin. Yoga’s main concept is unity, but second may be balance. A yoga practice that enables one to remain balanced is ideal.