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Yoga and Ayurveda

by Dr Donn Brennan(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 147 - May 2008

Ayurveda is a branch of the Vedic tradition of health from India. This Vedic tradition of India is the oldest living tradition on earth. Veda means knowledge. Yoga and Ayurveda are complementary sciences in this tradition. They share a common understanding, and aim for a common goal. Yoga uses Ayurveda to progress to its goal and Ayurveda uses Yoga for health.

In the West nowadays, Yoga is taken to mean the Yoga asanas. Classical Yoga, however, is one of the major schools of Vedic wisdom. It has a large body of knowledge and many practical procedures for Self-development. There are different major paths within Yoga. These include Jnana Yoga (Yoga of knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of devotion), Karma Yoga (Yoga of action), Kriya Yoga (Yoga of technique – this includes Hatha Yoga, wherein are best described the Yoga asanas) and Raja Yoga (Integral yoga).

All of these different paths consist of an eightfold approach (according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Sandilya-Upanishad of Atharvanaveda):

•    Yama – Social conduct;
•    Niyama – Personal behaviour;
•    Asana – Physical postures;
•    Pranyama – Control of the breath and vital life force;
•    Pratyahara – Control of the senses;
•    Dharana – Right attention;
•    Dhyana – Meditation;
•    Samadhi – Absorption.
All these eight limbs of Yoga have been used traditionally in Ayurveda and are referred to in classical Ayurvedic texts. Stipulations on right thinking and behaviour for health and rejuvenation in Ayurveda are inclusive of the practices described in Yama and Niyama. Yoga asanas are recommended as part of the Ayurvedic daily routine. Pranyama may be prescribed in Ayurveda to treat conditions like chronic fatigue, debility, diseases of the respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems, and is important in psychological and emotional disturbances. Ayurveda recognizes the inappropriate use of the senses as one of the main causes of disease, and mental disorders especially are treated using Pratyahara. Yoga employs meditation for self-development. Ayurveda uses meditation for self-healing.

Ayurveda is used in Yoga to harmonize the body and mind to enable progress in the inner process of self-development and meditation. Ayurveda is part of the outer aids of Yoga. But Ayurvedic healing for the mind requires inner aspects of Yoga such as meditation. So Ayurveda and Yoga share the same scope but with different orientation and purpose – Yoga being self-realization and Ayurveda being health.

The ancient Ayurvedic texts describe Yoga:

Happiness and misery… …disappear when the mind is concentrated and contained in the Soul… …This state is known as yoga (Charaka Samhita 1: 138-139).

While restrained in the soul with his movement obscured, the mind, pure and stable, shines as the lamp shines with bright flame in the lamp case (CaSa. 5/15).

So Yoga is described here as the mind settled, with movements obscured, pure and stable. This correlates with the descriptions for Yoga in the classical texts. (It is interesting that Patanjali Yoga Sutras and Charaka Samhita date from the same period.)

Pragyaparad is understood in Ayurveda to be the cause of suffering. Pragyaparad is ignorance, which results in ‘attachment’ – one becomes attached to material aspects of life exclusively. In this, balance is lost in life and this loss of balance results in misery and disease. For example, one makes inappropriate choices that result in disease. The solution offered by the old texts is ‘detachment’ – being established in one’s true inner nature, one’s transcendental Self. This is achieved through Yoga. Yoga brings true knowledge, which brings balance to life, and this results in health.

I have used Transcendental Meditation (TM) for this purpose for myself and my patients. It has been very helpful. Also there is adequate scientific research on TM to indicate Charaka was right – meditation is good for your health.

Ayurveda’s purpose is to heal from within – to tap the inner resources of healing at the deepest level of Consciousness, whilst handling the external factors of mind, body and the environment. Yoga’s goal is to withdraw our focus from the environment and quiet the body and mind to awaken Consciousness within. Ayurveda is operating outwardly from the deepest inner core, whilst Yoga is operating inwardly towards that deepest core.

In order to be complete, Yoga needs to include Ayurveda. Also Ayurveda needs to include Yoga to be complete. Hatha Yoga is incomplete without the Ayurvedic descriptions of the body and Raja Yoga incomplete without Ayurvedic understanding of the mind. Ayurvedic diet, herbs and purifications such as panchakarmas are essential for the development of any branch of Yoga. Ayurveda recommends sattvic or pure diet individual to the client, whilst yoga practitioners have to be most fastidious about their foods. Herbs are not only used in Ayurveda to treat disease and rejuvenation, but also to awaken higher functions, and so are useful to the Yogi.

So for the highest goal of Yoga, Ayurveda is useful. But even for a novice the integration of Ayurveda, alongside Yogic practices, offers a better sense of wellbeing, energy and health.

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About Dr Donn Brennan

Dr Donn Brennan MB BCh BAO DCh D Obs MRCGP qualified in medicine in 1979 at University College Dublin. During the following decade he worked in different specialties in hospitals and then as a GP. Also during this time he trained in Maharishi Ayurveda and became a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. Since 1990 he has worked full-time promoting, lecturing and consulting in Maharishi Ayurveda. He has lectured and consulted in almost all the major cities in Ireland and Britain, as well as Iceland and the Channel Islands. He was the Founding President of the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association. He lives in Dublin with his wife Ann, and works mainly in both Dublin and London. Dr Donn may be contacted on Tel: 00 353 128 45742;
brennandonn@hotmail.com

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