Ayurveda & Yoga: Sister Sciences

December 29, 2018

Practicing yoga without the knowledge of Ayurveda is like taking a dance class with someone who’s never danced before…It may not hurt you (and it may even do you some good), but it will not teach you the principles of dance, the foundation upon which to construct your own choreography.

Since the very beginning, the sister sciences of yoga and Ayurveda have been practiced in tandem. While each discipline can be practiced without the other, the richness of combining them has been shared throughout millennium. One teacher, one student, one practice designed for a particular individual by applying the principles of Ayurveda.

Both yoga and Ayurveda see the human being as a four-fold combination of body-mind-senses-spirit. Both sciences provide guidance in how to care for the whole person. The result of a properly tailored yoga practice should be not only increased energy, stamina and concentration, but a greater sense of well-being and understanding of the true essence of life.

While many of us come to yoga via the physical practice of asana (postures), it is only one of the limbs of a vast and comprehensive science of self-study. There are many ways to practice yoga. As an Ayurvedic practitioner, yoga practices are my most recommended treatments. I may suggest a practice like jala neti for someone suffering from chronic sinusitis. Agnisar dhauti might be the solution for sluggish digestion. Surya Namaskar could wipe out the morning blahs. For a recent empty-nester, I may recommend karma yoga as volunteer work. While I might recommend that a client attend a yoga class, it will be specific. Personally, I am hesitant to give herbs on a first visit. If a client isn’t willing to make a few diet and lifestyle changes (including a couple of yoga practices) to start, that person might not recognize her/his own power in self-healing.

Yoga practices applied Ayurvedically means looking at the quality of the practice… is it heating? Cooling? Which prana vayus (energetic functions) are affected? Which of the five elements (or three doshas) are balanced, stimulated, toned? Which practices can bring about the desired benefits for a particular person at a particular time of day during a particular season?

While yoga classes can be beneficial to many, they may be harmful to some. Often it is the rudimentary, repetitive movements which cause injury, not the one big movement that was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. In large group classes, there is little time for individual attention. Asana becomes exercise and pranayama becomes a breath routine. The euphoria felt after class may be due to simple hyperventilation.

If one chooses to go to a group class, it is important to decide what type of class to attend. Hot yoga in the morning might be perfect for a slightly overweight kapha person, but totally inappropriate for the perimenopausal pitta woman at high-noon. While a late afternoon restorative class can calm down anxiety in a vata person, a kapha person will be the first to snore. The time of day, the heat of the room, the pace of the practice, the structure and format of the class… all these things create a class that can be beneficial or harmful, depending upon the individual. As teachers and practitioners we need to seek out other classes and speak with other teachers to create a list of classes/teachers that we can recommend to people for whom our own class is not a good fit.

Ayurvedically, it all boils down to the five elements (panchamahabhutas). Moving from the most subtle to the gross we have Ether (or Space), Air, Fire, Water and Earth. The qualities of these elements can help us recognize which element (and which dosha) may be out of balance. The two rules of thumb in Ayurveda --“like increases like” and “opposites decrease”-- are what will guide us in all areas of our yoga practice and daily life. If we are feeling spacey and unsettled, there is too much Ether. We counteract it with the qualities of Earth. If we are feeling angry and short-tempered, we have too much Fire. We want lower it with cooling qualities. These qualities can be found in everything around us. Food, drink, pranayama (breathing) practices, asana class….all can be remedies to balance the elements and our dosha.

Samkhya philosophy (one of the shad darshana) may have the most influence when it comes to self-healing through yoga and Ayurveda. The Samkhya Karikā reveals to us that everything has a cause. This principle of cause and effect guides us to take charge of our own well-being. We become detectives in search of our ultimate healthy self. We begin to look at the choices we make each moment and their effect on how we walk in the world.

In Ayurveda, disease is said to commonly come from prajña paradha --- Crimes Against Wisdom. This is when we know something is not good for us and we do it anyway. Not going to bed early enough for a big event the next day can leave you feeling wiped out. Eating too much dinner too late in the evening can leave you feeling stuffed and bloated in the morning. Yet, we do those things. Even we when know they are not good for us and will definitely have ill effects.

A daily yoga practice should be grounded in Ayurvedic. For one person a well-rounded practice might consist of a few pranayama, some asana and time for meditation. For another it might be jala neti (nasal wash) and tratak (candle gazing). Either one would be practiced at the right time of day for the person’s constitution (or current imbalance) and would be the type of practice that nourishes and brings the mind-body-senses-soul back into balance. There are many limbs of yoga from which to choose, but ultimately we should remember that all of the limbs are to support our understanding our true immortal nature. We want to have a practice that reminds us of that.

Guest post by:

Kamalesh Ginger Hooven

Kamalesh Ginger Hooven

Ginger Kamalesh Hooven, Ayurvedic Practitioner, MA Ayurveda (NAMA); Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT); and E-RYT 500 (YA) has been teaching in the Mount Madonna Center/Institute Yoga Teacher Trainings since 2004. She began her studies with Baba Hari Dass in 2003 after having completed a 700-hour Yoga Teacher Training with the Yoga Research and Education Center led by Georg Feuerstein. Kamalesh’s ongoing study of western Anatomy & Physiology enrich her approach to the outward limbs of yoga and the Ayurvedic view of the human being.