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“The conundrum of the body is the starting point in yoga from which to unravel the mystery of human existence.” B.K.S. Iyengar

A common belief exists in the Hindu culture, deriving from the ancient Vedic texts, that a banyan tree represents a kind of cosmic intelligence. Its roots extend toward the heavens while the trunk and branches move toward the earth, bringing blessings to humanity.

The ancient spiritual wisdom of the great seers from India known as the Brahmans is like the roots of the banyan tree, storing cosmic intelligence from the greater universe to feed humanity knowledge and wisdom through its trunk and branches. Through the wisdom of an Ayurvedic yoga connection, we might consider the spiritual literature of the Vedas the roots of the banyan tree, yoga the trunk, and Ayurveda the branches. The aerial roots of the banyan tree look like several intermingling trunks by the way they appear to grow upward. But those roots are the tree’s actual foundation, wrapping it in knowledge and wisdom.

The Ayurveda yoga connection is evident in their shared philosophy. Both deriving from the ancient Vedic philosophy, they are inextricably tied by their common roots and over time, have been systematized. We can think of the Vedic underpinnings as the aerial roots of a banyan tree that grow up and down and re-root in the ground, that link the cosmos to the earth, and vice versa.

The Roles of Yoga and Ayurveda

The roles of yoga and Ayurveda in health and healing are separate but fundamentally interdependent. Yoga encompasses the spiritual practices of all the Vedas. It is the manifest exploration of the relationship between Prakriti and Purusha to ultimately unite with the true self and divine consciousness. Prakriti is nature, or that which is created, operating through the panchamahabhutas (the five elements): Ether, air, fire, water, and earth, as well as through the mind, reason, and ego. Prakriti is represented in the body and mind and their constituent parts. Purusha encompasses the non-material. It is our consciousness and spirit, the universal or cosmic soul.

Ayurveda is a system of healing, originating in the fourth Vedic scripture, the Atharvaveda, and more formally realized in the Upavedas, the secondary texts of the Vedas. The Ayurvedic yoga connection is found in the practice of yoga as therapy or medicine. Ayurveda was developed specifically for medicinal healing purposes. It is shaped around Prakriti and the five elements, and the primary energetic qualities or attributes that characterize the elements, known as the gunas: Tamas, rajas, and sattva. Prakriti is evident in the application of Ayurveda to prevent and heal diseases of the body and mind. As a sister of yoga, Ayurveda begins at the level the body with its manifest and subtle energies to ultimately affect the relationship between Prakriti and Purusha.

To appreciate the Ayurvedic yoga connection, we need to start with a short history of what is considered a divine, spiritual path toward the self.

 

Yoga: The Spiritual Crusade Toward Consciousness and the Divine Self

Sunset Yoga

Yoga has gained enormous popularity in the past few decades. It arose from an alternative method for staying fit, and more people now than ever before are subscribing to its spiritual foundations to benefit the mind and emotions as well as the physical body.

Developed in northern India over 5000 years ago, it originated from the Vedic texts – collections of songs, mantras, and rituals used by Brahmans (Vedic priests). The Vedas are ancient spiritual scriptures, written in Sanskrit, that represent the knowledge constructed by the great seers of India about the universe, our existence, and consciousness. They speak of the self and our connection to the world, as a way of cultivating our self-realization throughout life, for ultimate freedom. The yoga connection to Ayurveda begins in these scriptures.

Over time, the Brahmans refined and documented their beliefs and practices in the Upanishads, a large collection of Hindu scriptures, one of which is the popularly studied Bhagavad Gita. The original Vedic philosophy of ritual sacrifice became the practice of confronting and sacrificing the ego through knowledge, action, and wisdom.

The classical period is represented in the Yoga Sutras, written by Patanjali, who organized what was originally a mess of conflicting ideas into the eight limbs or petals (Iyengar)–a series of steps and stages towards samadhi, or unity. Patanjali is considered the father of yoga as his teachings are still in practice today. As we will discover, the eight limbs can guide our understanding of the yoga connection to Ayurveda.

A few hundred years following Patanjali, yogis began to place greater emphasis on the material body to prolong life and rejuvenate the body. From tantra to hatha styles, they devised a system supporting physical-spiritual awareness and body-centered practices. These practices resemble modern day asana practice in the West, which has trended more toward a way to stay physically fit. Traditional Vedic knowledge of the seers, on the other hand, considers the asanas just one part of its greater system. Practicing an Ayurvedic yoga connection can reignite this ancient wisdom for a truly holistic approach to health and wellness.

They Cleanse And Detoxify The Body

Yoga has gained enormous popularity in the past few decades. It arose from an alternative method for staying fit, and more people now than ever before are subscribing to its spiritual foundations to benefit the mind and emotions as well as the physical body.

Developed in northern India over 5000 years ago, it originated from the Vedic texts – collections of songs, mantras, and rituals used by Brahmans (Vedic priests). The Vedas are ancient spiritual scriptures, written in Sanskrit, that represent the knowledge constructed by the great seers of India about the universe, our existence, and consciousness. They speak of the self and our connection to the world, as a way of cultivating our self-realization throughout life, for ultimate freedom. The yoga connection to Ayurveda begins in these scriptures.

Over time, the Brahmans refined and documented their beliefs and practices in the Upanishads, a large collection of Hindu scriptures, one of which is the popularly studied Bhagavad Gita. The original Vedic philosophy of ritual sacrifice became the practice of confronting and sacrificing the ego through knowledge, action, and wisdom.

The classical period is represented in the Yoga Sutras, written by Patanjali, who organized what was originally a mess of conflicting ideas into the eight limbs or petals (Iyengar)–a series of steps and stages towards samadhi, or unity. Patanjali is considered the father of yoga as his teachings are still in practice today. As we will discover, the eight limbs can guide our understanding of the yoga connection to Ayurveda.

A few hundred years following Patanjali, yogis began to place greater emphasis on the material body to prolong life and rejuvenate the body. From tantra to hatha styles, they devised a system supporting physical-spiritual awareness and body-centered practices. These practices resemble modern day asana practice in the West, which has trended more toward a way to stay physically fit. Traditional Vedic knowledge of the seers, on the other hand, considers the asanas just one part of its greater system. Practicing an Ayurvedic yoga connection can reignite this ancient wisdom for a truly holistic approach to health and wellness.

The Yoga Connection to the Modern World

Man Balancing on Table

As we become a more health-conscious world, we need a system that brings us back to the roots of this wisdom that uncovers its concealed trunk of Vedic knowledge about the right way to live to achieve self-knowledge and divine consciousness. Ultimately, we need to reestablish a spiritual yoga connection and practice. Stretching, strengthening, and releasing the physical body in traditional asana practice is a material, futile attempt toward self-realization if it lacks a connection to the deeper underlying aspects of conscious awareness of breath and the inner workings of the mind.

Performing asanas does not create a yoga connection in its essence–it’s a mere rolling around on a mat for a few hours and becoming really bendy. Modern society’s focus on the appearance, which is reflected in the desire to develop the perfect postures, actually hinders its ultimate goal. Patanjali warns us that such preoccupation with how things look is a self-destructive interaction with nature. The pursuit of pleasure through appearances or any pursuit of pleasure will always create suffering, and ultimately, entrapment in the material world. A Vedic yoga connection is much deeper than flexibility and the material body. Its essence is to unite with the true self, which extends beyond our bodies, minds, and tendencies.

As an English derivative, yoga means to “yoke” or unite. It is an instrument that elevates the body toward the level of the mind, connecting both, and uniting with the soul for a truly integrated and harmonious existence. Ayurveda means life knowledge or science. Together, the Ayurveda yoga connection encompasses an entire system of health, integrating the mind, the body, the spirit, consciousness, breath, and the senses–essentially what we can call Ayurvedic yoga.

 

The Eight Limbs: Steps Towards An Ayurvedic Yoga Connection

Beginning with ethics, Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga pave the path toward self-emancipation. An exploration of their meanings reveals the essence of a comprehensive system of health, well-being, and healing: An Ayurvedic yoga connection.

Limbs 1 & 2: Yamas and Niyamas

Yamas form the ethical foundation upon which this ancient wisdom exists. Without ethical grounding, we cannot develop respect for our natural environment or advance spiritually. While morals are culturally-determined, the ethics underpinning the yamas extend from our inner self and radiate outward to the world around us. The five yamas are: Ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (celibacy or the right use of energy), and aparigrhah (modesty).

Niyamas are the self-assigned practices or duties directed inward that build our character. They are choices we make about how to behave, think, and discipline ourselves. Like the yamas, there are five: Saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (disciplined and sustained practice), svadhyaya (self-study), and isvarapranidaha (surrender to God).

We can recognize the yamas within an Ayurvedic yoga connection and system of health. All systems of medicine involve an ethical code. We trust that truthfulness is a precept in our healthcare and that health specialists observe the commonly-held ethics of honesty and non-violence in their treatments and interactions with people. The niyamas are our individual ethical observances, which without, would render any medicinal treatment a fruitless investment of resources. Achieving a clean mind and body is possible only if we lay the foundation for health within our lifestyle practices. We can establish an Ayurvedic yoga connection by observing and developing the yamas and niyamas.

Limb 3: Asanas

Asana is the yoga connection to nature. It maintains the strength and health of the physical body to allow for progress to be made towards samadhi. As Iyengar states, asana opens up the whole spectrum of spiritual attainment. It starts with the outward, manifest self, such as our spine, arms and legs, and eyes, to achieve the sensitivity necessary to move toward the inward, subtle self. Asana is the external medicine that cleanses the physical body by stretching and toning the muscles, joints, and ligaments, and releasing energy trapped between our vital organs and within the cells of our body tissues and blood.

Asana practice is linked closely with Ayurveda because both directly involve conditioning, treating, and healing the physical body–what we’ve come to call Ayurvedic yoga. A dosha-specific diet cleanses the body in a way similar to asanas. Much like we cleanse the inner body as we move from one asana to another, certain foods detoxify vital organs, such as the liver, and balance the doshas. A clean body is the goal of Ayurvedic yoga, to enhance our ability to harmonize with our environment. Proper nutrition is necessary to maintain physical stamina and physiological health. The body will perform according to the sustenance it receives after all.

Limb 4: Pranayama

Pranayama literally means breath control. Prana, the breath, is the body’s vital energy, the internal medicine the body receives and that pranayama directs around the body to deliver life and healing. Prana affects the doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha), which are modifications of prana. The doshas, or humors, are in all of us, with one or two dominant in each person from the time we’re born. Throughout life, any imbalance in the doshas will cause various health conditions. Pranayama supports an Ayurvedic yoga connection because it affects the movement of energy throughout the body, directly feeding the circulatory, nervous, and respiratory systems, but affecting the subtle psychological body as well. Pranayama can restore balance to the doshas, eliminating the risk for mental or physical disease.

Limb 5: Pratyahara

In pratyhara, we learn to reverse the flow of energy inward, rather than from the mind to the senses. In Sanskrit, it literally means “to draw toward the opposite” (Iyengar). Reaching this stage of awareness indicates that we have become more spiritually entrenched in yogic wisdom, rather than focusing solely on its manifest elements. It continues the work of pranayama but acts as a pivot at which we learn to balance the energies created by practice, by learning detachment and voluntary self-discipline. Pratyhara allows the space for true meditation and the yoga connection to the mind to occur.

By its very nature, Ayurveda supports the work of the centripetal stage. Without true relaxation and the self-directed use of energy, we cannot sustain our health or heal ourselves. Ayurvedic yoga directs our attention to our personal, inner health through the physical body. Traditional treatments, such as shirodhara and panchakarma, calm the mind and relax aggravated energies. They offer, in effect, a retreat from the sensory world, and are parallel treatments that simulate the benefits of pratyahara and help establish an Ayurvedic yoga connection.

 

Limbs 6, 7 & 8: Samyama

As outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, samyama is the uppermost three limbs, consisting of dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (union). While the preceding stages purify the body and senses, samyama purifies the mind. They are internal practices to support a true yoga connection to consciousness. These three higher stages act as a platform to prepare the mind, necessary for healing to occur.

In Ayurveda, the mind is one of our most powerful influencers of health. Psychological disorders can manifest as physiological conditions. While all aspects of yoga support healthy mental functioning, samyama draws the attention inward and supports the metacognition necessary for choosing and ultimately purifying our thoughts. An Ayurvedic yoga connection can employ the practices of concentration and meditation to promote psychological health and prevent physical manifestations and disease.

 

The Similarities and Contrasts

Ayurveda and yoga are interwoven philosophies and practices from the same tree of knowledge for uniting with ourselves in a state of health and supreme consciousness. Yoga originated from the ancient Indian Vedic scriptures developed by the Brahmans over 5000 years ago. Ayurveda, often referred to as the fifth Veda, grew from Vedic wisdom and was the first traditional system of medicine in the Hindu culture.

Ayurveda returns our attention to the roots of yoga. Yoga has evolved dramatically throughout its history, so much so, that it is often difficult to recognize it as something more significant than a way to move our bodies or control our breath. Similar to the English language, it has undergone such transformation that its original form and its very essence has become either lost or under-appreciated along the way. The influence of the West and modern living has left only fragments of what is, traditionally, a holistic and spiritual path toward self-realization.

Ayurveda, on the other hand, preserves stronger ties to its original philosophy, not yet enclosed within the grip of popular Western culture. It also strongly reflects Prakriti, or nature, and what can be perceived by the senses. It is, therefore, easier to understand. By connecting this ancient system of medicine to the eight limbs, we establish an Ayurvedic yoga connection. We discover parallel practices and recognize the common Vedic philosophy underpinning the goals of both schools of wisdom. By mentally and materially linking the two, we can get closer to the source of the wisdom that inherently binds these two ancient practices for a more comprehensive system of well being and spiritual health.

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Ayurveda is a profound science of health and healing. Many of it's principals and practices are quite simple and can be easily integrated into everyone's daily lives. 8 Days To Ayurvedic Health is a basic introduction to some of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda, led by Jiva Botanicals.

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