Fitness Magazine

Understanding the Relationship Between Yoga and Ayurveda

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge

Understanding the Relationship Between Yoga and Ayurveda

Reflections by Melina Meza

by Ram
A lot of questions/comments are being raised in this blog regarding Ayurveda and yoga, so Nina asked me to address these issues. While I think that the science of Ayurveda and yoga is better addressed and understood in a verbal format—akin to a didactic exchange of information—through this article I will try to lay out the main principles that govern both these sciences.
Thanks to Swami Vivekananda, yoga came to the West in 1893 and was welcomed by a very receptive audience. While people embraced yoga, its counterpart Ayurveda, was left behind in India. This despite the fact that both yoga and Ayurveda are two very similar paths sharing a close relationship, so closely related that they are often described as two sides of the same coin. Both these sciences, which have their origin in the Vedic texts, address health and health practices. If Ayurveda is the healing aspect, yoga is the spiritual/practical side of the Vedic teachings. Together they emphasize a complete approach to the wellbeing of the body, the mind, and the spirit. In fact, their close relationship has even led to some scholars arguing that Patanjali, considered by many to be the father of yoga, and Charaka, often considered as the father of Ayurveda, may have in fact been one and the same person known in Vedic India by different names during his travels to spread the teachings of these ancient sciences.
Both sciences have common underlying principles: the well being of an individual at the level of body and mind and the aim of helping an individual re-connect to their true nature through direct and personal experience (pratyeksha in Sanskrit). While yoga prepares the body and mind of the individual for eventual liberation and enlightenment, Ayurveda describes the various ways to keep the body and mind healthy. Both sciences emphasize our close relationship with the environment and how to alter our environment in such a way that it is harmonious with our deepest nature.
In today’s world, yoga is often thought of as “asanas only,” something like a stretching tool to keep the body limber and agile. People are drawn to yoga as a way to keep fit even though the idea behind the physical practice of yoga is to help the mind to become clear or pure and develop deeper mind-body awareness. A clear mind is not affected by stress and a clear mind produces a healthy body thus creating a greater connection with one's own pure, essential nature. Similarly, Ayurveda brings with it the knowledge of how to keep the physical body healthy and how this relates to one's spiritual journey. It addresses our entire lifestyle, including exercise and yoga. However, Ayurveda is highly individualistic and sees each individual as unique and an individual's path toward perfect health as a unique path. Hence, what is right for each individual is unique to that individual alone. This could be described as person’s unique genetic background or constitution or dosha in Sanskrit. An individual’s constitution describes who the person is at the most fundamental level.
The above concept is remarkable because as a result of this understanding, Ayurveda prescribes a unique, “tailor-made” program to each individual based upon his/her constitution and the nature of the imbalance, and avoids the “one size-fits all” concept that is followed in many systems of healing. As Dr Marc Halpern, director of the California College of Ayurveda, points out:
While Ayurveda does not agree with the "Fits all" concept, it subscribes to the philosophy that “nothing is right for everyone and everything is right for someone.”
Thus, Ayurveda is based upon understanding individualized needs and what is right only for the individual - not the masses - and fulfilling those needs to bring complete harmony.
As with diet, herbs, colors, aromas, etc, Ayurveda sheds light on which specific yoga asanas are best for each individual based on his/her constitution. With the knowledge of Ayurveda, a practitioner of hatha yoga can refine his/her practice so that it is in harmony with their internal balance of energy. Some yoga postures are best for one person while others can cause greater imbalance. By knowing one's constitutional balance, an individual can use constitution-specific asanas to reverse their imbalances and improve their health and wellbeing. Indeed, if we can understand our constitution, we can control our choices and choose only those that will lead us toward optimal health.
How does one get to know their inherent constitution? There are several alternative health journals or web sites that analyze your constitution based on your answers to a specific set of questions. Chances are that your alternative health practitioner (who does not hold a proper certification in Ayurveda studies) may have made a passing remark about your constitution. Do not rely solely on this analysis, instead take it all with a grain of salt. Before jumping to any conclusion about your constitution and changing your diet, asanas or lifestyle, it is always best to consult with an Ayurvedic health professional who will help to determine your constitution, help you to understand the nature of any imbalance, and establish a plan to bring you to balance thus providing guidance toward success in establishing a disease-free lifestyle.
Despite my opposition to separating these two sciences, let me emphasize that when it comes to the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, we have a general policy against writing about anything except yoga and the science of aging. Not all the staff of Yoga for Healthy Aging are trained in the area of Ayurevdic sciences and we would like to keep this subject off limits. So we’re going to have to decline to address questions on specific diet, herbs, or general Ayurvedic medical advice as it is a highly individualized system. Besides we cannot provide Ayurvedic advice without examining you in person in a private setting and this, after all, is a yoga blog! So, we hope you understand.

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