Monday, July 29, 2019

Yoga & Ayurveda: Two Sides of the Health Coin

Two Elephants, Amrita Sher-Gil, 1940
By Ram Rao

Thanks to Swami Vivekananda, Yoga came to the West in 1893 and was embraced by a receptive audience. In contrast, its counterpart, Ayurveda, got left behind in India 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 health-and-wellness coin. Both these sciences have their origin in the Vedic texts and 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 well-being of the body, the mind, and the intellect.

Both sciences have a common underlying goal: the well-being of an individual at the level of body and mind and to help an individual reconnect to their true nature through direct and personal experience (pratyeksha in Sanskrit). While Yoga prepares the body and mind of the individual for the eventual liberation and enlightenment, Ayurveda involves numerous ways to keep the body and mind healthy. Both sciences emphasize our close relationship with the environment and provide us with tools to alter our environmental surroundings in a manner that is harmonious with our innate Self.

In today’s world, Yoga is thought of as poses mostly (asanas), 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 become clear or pure and, thereby, 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 it relates to an individual’s spiritual journey. It addresses our entire lifestyle including diet, sleep, physical, mental, and intellectual exercises. However, Ayurveda is highly individualistic; it 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 is akin to a 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. This concept is remarkable because as a result of this understanding, Ayurveda prescribes a unique “tailor-made” program for 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 other systems of healing. Thus, Ayurveda is based upon understanding an individual's needs and what is right only for that individual and not the masses, and fulfilling those needs to bring complete harmony.

Along with diet, herbs, colors, and aromas, 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 well-being. 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 health journals or web sites that analyze your constitution based on your replies to a specific set of questions. However, don't rely solely on this analysis–instead take it 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.

Thus, both Yoga and Ayurveda are inherently joined. While Yoga shows us how to realize our true Self through a path of continuous practice, Ayurveda too has its own set of tools to allow us to discover our true Self. The connection between Yoga and Ayurveda is deep rooted and it is beneficial for us to know how to use these sciences together in order to lead a harmonious life that allows us to discover our true nature.

Rammohan (Ram) Rao comes from a family of Ayurvedic practitioners and Vedic teachers in India tracing back to the illustrious Vedic-acharya Rishi Kaundinya (although Ram admits he cannot do the Eka pada or Dwi pada Kaundinyasana). With a doctorate in Neuroscience, Ram was a Research Associate Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. He focused on various aspects of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases with emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, Ram completed the academic training at the California College of Ayurveda (CCA) and received his certification as Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. He has been a faculty member of the California College of Ayurveda and teaches in their Nevada City location. Ram is also a dedicated Hatha yoga practitioner and is a Registered Yoga Teacher from Yoga Alliance USA. In his spare time he offers consultations in YAMP techniques (Yoga, Ayurveda, Meditation & Pranayama). Ram has published several articles in major Yoga/Ayurveda magazines and has been a featured speaker in several national and international meetings and symposia. He is a member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) and is on the Research Board of the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America (AAPNA).

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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