Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences of Self Realization derived from the Vedas, the oldest literature to exist. Yoga, stemming from the Sanskrit syllable “yug”, means to “yoke” or to unite. Yoga is the union of our limiting adjuncts (body, mind, and senses with the True Immortal Self, or the soul. Ayurveda literally translates to Life (Ayur) Knowledge beyond ordinary perception (Veda), where Life is defined as the “integration of the four parts of life--body, senses, mind and soul. Therefore, we understand Yoga and Ayurveda to be one in the same, both the means and the end to Self-discovery through integration.
Through purification of the body, mind, and senses, all pain, suffering, and disease, of both the body and mind, are removed and the Truth of “Who am I?” is revealed. Ayurveda specifically defines this purification as being: “doshas balanced, dhatus (tissues) well formed, malas (waste products) excreting properly, and has a bright shining soul.” The purification process through Yoga integrates the four paths of Yoga into our daily life to harmonize the four aspects of our personality with the nature of the soul. The four paths are: Karma Yoga (the purification of action), Bhakti Yoga (the purification of emotion into Absolute Devotion), Jnana Yoga (the purification of intellect into Intuition), and Raja Yoga (the purification of personal will into Divine will through meditation).
In the West, however, Yoga is mainly centered around the asanas, or poses. The asanas fall under Hatha Yoga, also known as Ashtanga Yoga, translating to 8-limbs Yoga. This is the physical practice of Yoga resulting in “chitta, vritti, nirodha”, removal of the fluctuations of the mind, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Alongside the other three paths of yoga, Raja Yoga, or the royal yoga, occurs as we move through Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, which are essential to purify the body, mind, and senses. The 8 limbs of Patanjali's Raja Yoga include:
1. Yamas -- external restraints
2. Niyamas -- internal observances
3. Asanas -- poses
4. Pranayama -- breathing exercises
5. Pratyahara -- withdraw of senses
6. Dharana -- mental concentration
7. Dhyana -- meditation or unbroken mental focus
8. Samadhi -- Super conscious state of Oneness
While there are thousands of asanas, pranayama exercises, and methods for mental concentration and meditation, Ayurveda tailors every healing modality and physical yoga practice to harmonize the imbalances of each specific individual. This individual tailoring is designed to balance the doshas and resonate with the individual to bring radiant health to the body and mind. The doshas, as explained in part one of this series, are the elements and constitutional nature that make-up and govern the biological functions and structure of every human being and all of nature. Kapha-imbalanced individuals are more likely to develop obesity due to their tendencies to overeat, oversleep, and feel slow, stagnant, lazy, depressed, sleepy, and so on and have a larger structure and slower metabolism. Therefore, it is suitable for the practitioner to practice certain asanas, pranayama exercises, and types of meditation and in ways that target Kapha imbalances.
To decrease kapha, the asanas are to be held longer with awareness brought to the physical body, the earth, and the props used, mixed with more active and stimulating movements. Standing poses, inversions, backward bending poses, and vinyasa flows with stimulating music are all great for decreasing kapha. Sun Salutation is a highly beneficial asana series to reverse kapha imbalances. It increases heat in the body, thereby stimulating agni, the digestive fire and metabolism and relieves mental sluggishness and lethargy, energizing the whole body. It stimulates the thyroid gland, which plays a prominent role in growth, nutrition, and metabolism. Every asana is designed to reap plentiful benefits to all bodily systems. Therefore, regular practice of asanas rejuvenates and renews the body, and naturally decreases obesity.
Pranayama is the most beneficial aspect of Raja yoga for individuals with obesity to practice. The breath is the connecting link between the mind and body, through the nervous system. A few benefits of pranayama include increased energy, circulation, improved health and mental clarity…basically creating a great environment for us to continue healthy living. Prana is the vital life force in all living things and “yama” means control. Our thoughts are also made up of subtle prana, so when we control prana in the breath, we also control the clutter in the mind. When the flow of prana is imbalanced in the body, toxins accumulate. The first step in Ayuredic Yoga therapy for kapha is to detox, or to reduce by removing excess toxins through the use of Brhamana practices and a focus on inhalation and holding after inhalation, which increases heat and energy, stimulating metabolism and reducing or removing those excess toxins. Through regular practice of pranayama, we increase the uptake, storage, and regulation of prana, creating harmony between the mind and body. Bhastrika Pranayama is a wonderful pranayama exercise for kapha imbalances. This breathing exercise is categorized by pumping of the belly for strong inhalation with arm movements and can be stronger with the addition of breath retention after inhalation. Some benefits to Bhastrika include cleansed nasal passage, lungs, and entire respiratory system, elimination of excess mucus, increased richness of blood, improved digestion, and increased feelings of alertness and energy.
Those kapha-type individuals need that alertness in their meditation practices. Due to their personal tendencies, kapha-imbalanced individuals tend to avoid meditation, limiting them to the physical plane and making it difficult to move out of the imbalance. Therefore, guided meditations, sound meditation, and mantra meditation with loud chanting and movement should be practiced regularly.
Ayurvedic Yoga therapy outlines specific mudras (hand gestures), mantras (cosmic energy encased in sound), and affirmations (positive statements that restructure thoughts) to practice for each specific doshic imbalance. Sleepiness, for example, is a common indicator of kapha-imbalance. To overcome this imbalance, the individual should practice Jnana Mudra by connecting the thumb and pointer finger to increase inner perception, practice Tadasana or mountain pose, chant the mantra “Om Jaagarat Namaha,” and repeat the affirmation, “I am awake to the ever new and exciting journey of life.”
Ayurvedic science also incorporates various subtle healing modalities into the practice of Yoga. These include color therapy, crystals, aromatherapy, and mantras. Individuals with kapha-imbalances would benefit, for example, by using red, orange, yellow, or gold color therapy, cinnamon or sage aromatherapy, and the mantras “HUM,” “OM,” and “AIM.” These subtle modalities increase and maintain health of the body and mind. Ayurveda outlines three important keys to life as well. These are food, sleep, and sexual energy. Food and diet will be discussed in detail in the next blog in this series, however, poor sleep has similar effects as poor diet, weight gain, lethargy, and laziness. Control of sexual energy, called Brahmacharya, balances the mind and allows the individual to gain True Knowledge of the Self. As we control the senses in all their aspects, we can live a much healthier balanced life. Detaching from the pleasures of the senses and withdrawing the senses inward (pratyahara) to realize the Divinity of the soul, allows us to stop abusing the senses. For example, it becomes natural to eat only when hungry, not just because you know the chocolate cake tastes good and will make you feel good temporarily.
Although it takes purification of the body, mind, and senses to reach the goal of Yoga and Ayurveda, by realizing our true nature, once the goal is attained, the purification, health, and balance of the entire person is easily maintained. Our suffering, imbalances, and diseases of the mind and body stem from our own ignorance of who we are. Thus, realizing Truth, through Yoga and Ayurveda, aligns us with that Truth and brings clarity and harmony to every aspect of our being.
Resources taken from The ChayaVeda Ayurveda and Yoga Immersion Course Manual, Chaya~Sharon Heller.