Yoga has taken America by storm. Approximately one in sixteen Americans now practices yoga—an estimated nearly-twenty million. Most fitness clubs offer yoga classes, and yoga studios have proven highly resistant to economic woes—in fact, yoga practice boomed at the onset of the recession, according to Yoga Journal, and yoga and Pilates studios were named the second-fastest growing industry in an April 2012 report by IBISWorld.
While many view yoga as a gentler way to exercise, most long-time practitioners realize that yoga is not just physical—it creates balance in mind, emotions and consciousness as well. And they are starting to realize that yoga shares the same origin and goal as Ayurveda, the traditional Vedic system of healthcare. Both yoga and Ayurveda have roots in the Vedic tradition of India, and both are systems for gaining better health.
Balance is on the books
A verse from the Yoga Sutra, “yogas chitta vritti nirodhaha,” describes yoga as the settled state of the mind. This is similar to a verse from ayurvedic texts, “svasmin dishati iti svasthah,” which states that one who always remains united with the Self is a healthy person. The writings of yoga and Ayurveda declare the same goal: attaining union with the Self, the mind’s most settled state.
Other verses from ayurvedic texts also point to this self-referral state of the mind as the basis of health. One from the Sushruta Samhita, for instance, says, “He whose doshas (mind-body types) are in balance, whose appetite is good, whose dhatus (tissues/elements) are functioning normally, whose malas (toxins/excretions) are in balance and whose Self, mind and senses remain full of bliss, is called a healthy person.” This experience of the self-referral state of bliss is an essential part of the definition of health in Maharishi Ayurveda.
Unity of mind, body and consciousness
Yoga literally means “union” or “to join together” in Sanskrit. It has the same root that gives rise to the English word “yoke,” as in “to yoke together,” and refers to the union of body, mind and soul. Yoga helps the mind and body become stronger by connecting them with the Self, the Atma.
This experience of unity is also the aim of Maharishi Ayurveda. For instance, the word “Ayurveda” is derived from the Sanskrit word ayu. While one common meaning of ayu is “life” or “lifespan,” and thus Ayurveda is “the science of life and longevity,” another meaning of ayu is mentioned in Charaka Samhita: “sharirendriya sattvatma sanyogo . . . ayu.” This verse defines ayu as the state where the physical body, senses, mind, and soul are integrated. So, whether you are talking about yoga or ayu, it is a state of unity—complete integration of mind, body and consciousness—that is the goal.
Yoga is part of Ayurveda…
Yoga is mentioned in ayurvedic texts such as the Charaka Samhita. Yoga is important for dissolving physical stress and calming the mind before meditation, and is central to dinacharya, the ayurvedic routine. It is the ideal ayurvedic exercise, because it rejuvenates the body, improves digestion, and removes stress.
Yoga balances all three doshas, and different poses have different effects. Forward bending postures cool Pitta dosha. Twists are good for Kapha because they stimulate digestion. Backward bends are heating, and thus balancing to Vata types, as long as the person has the strength to do them. Yoga postures tone every area of the body, and cleanse the internal organs of toxins, which is one of the goals of Ayurveda.
…And Ayurveda is part of yoga
At the same time, yoga practitioners can benefit from the ayurvedic daily routine as part of their yoga practice. For instance, abhyanga (ayurvedic massage) helps remove toxins from the body and relaxes the muscles for yoga practice. This is a daily practice using specially prepared oils that can be easily done at home.
The knowledge of Maharishi Ayurveda provides tremendous support to yoga practice. Without a foundation in ayurvedic knowledge, hatha yoga runs the risk of becoming strictly physical exercise. Yoga aims to cleanse the nadis, or channels, with different postures, but trying to do that without using the ayurvedic principles for removing ama (digestive impurities) is like hopping on one leg. That’s why traditional yoga schools have always taught ayurvedic principles as well as yoga asanas, because the two are so interdependent.
If someone is attending a yoga class on a regular basis, he or she is starting to dislodge ama in the body. But if this person continues to maintain a lifestyle and diet that creates ama, yoga postures really only move sludge around the body. To truly benefit from yoga’s power to transform and optimize the mind, body and emotions, yoga practitioners need to know how to accomplish deep detoxification and add balance through a variety of Ayurvedic inputs that includes diet, lifestyle, herbs, aromas, meditation practices, foods, spices and a variety of purification practices of Maharishi Ayurveda.