Aug 18, 2010
Yoga and Ayurveda for Holistic Health
The mention of yoga brings to mind a set of physical exercises with a flavor of India. And yes, there is meditation involved too. But there is more to yoga than this. Yoga involves both physical and mental disciplines; however, the purpose is to help those who practice yoga to achieve their spiritual goal. The physical fitness and mental calm gained in the process are incidental.
Ayurveda is the ancient Indian science of health that deals with both physical and mental health – absolute necessities on the spiritual path.
The purpose of a human existence according to Hinduism is to achieve oneness with the Supreme Reality. Ill health can be a major deterrent to this goal. Therefore, ancient Hindu seers amassed a wealth of knowledge for both physical and mental well being. We know them as yoga and ayurveda, a combination of which results in physical, mental and emotional health, rendering a person holistically fit.
Hindu Vedic philosophy has six main systems, with the system referring to yoga called Yoga Darshana. This was compiled by Sage Patanjali; the compilation was based upon ancient yogic teachings of several other sages before him. Sage Charaka is considered the Father of Ayurveda, with the Charaka Samhita being the source of all the ayurveda that is currently practiced, with the root source being the Vedas – ancient Hindu texts of wisdom.
Ayurveda is a system that makes use of certain inherent principles of nature to ensure good health. The basic surmise is that all human beings contain the same five elements that the universe is made of – air, fire, water, earth and ether. These elements are evident in the human body in the form of life-forces or doshas, classified as vata, pitta and kapha. The body remains healthy as long as the three remain in balance. Ill health of any kind is caused by an imbalance in these doshas and the treatment aims to correct the balance.
The science of yoga is based on five basic principles. These are:
• Proper relaxation
• Proper exercise
• Proper breathing
• Suitable diet
• Positive thinking
Ayurveda and yoga go hand in hand. Exercise, breathing and diet can affect the life-forces or dosha that impact overall health. Similarly, depending upon the age and physical condition of a person, the dosha or life-force balance varies. Appropriate exercises or asana as they are called in yoga, suitable pranayama –breathing exercises, and a proper diet differ according to the dosha balance in a person. It is possible that an asana or breathing technique that benefits someone else might actually cause you discomfort.
Yoga and ayurveda in the West
Yoga has been around in the West since the twentieth century. However, the West’s introduction to ayurveda happened much later – only in the mid-1980s. The health benefits of yoga were acknowledged, but its full healing potential in combination with modern allopathic medicine was never realized. In the 1970s alternative medicine became popular in the West and yoga practitioners tried associating yoga with naturopathy, herbal remedies and even Chinese medicine. By the time ayurveda reached Western shores, yoga had its own existence without the influence of ayurveda. However, now there are many centers in the West that combine yoga and ayurveda and offer personalized advice to address specific needs.
Yoga therapy, with ayurveda as a key component, as well as ayurvedic treatment that prescribes yoga, is now recognized as a complete system of medicine.