The world seems to have fallen in love with Yoga, but I’m not clear how Ayurveda got left behind. I, like most of you, came to Yoga without any knowledge of Ayurveda. Honestly, I didn’t have much knowledge of Yoga either.
First, what is Yoga?
Let’s leave this question to the expert, Patañjali. In Yoga Sutras chapter 1, verse 2 he states that yoga is stilling the mind.
Why do we practice Yoga?
To keep this practical, let’s say that in yoga we strive to focus the mind, to make it stronger.
How do we practice Yoga?
We do practices like Kriya Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga, per Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras. We practice things like changing bad habits, reversing negativity, ethics, postures, breathing, listening, chanting and meditating.
When do we practice Yoga?
Hopefully all day long, starting with the yamas and niyamas, followed by staying focused on the activity at hand. It’s also good to have a regularly scheduled practice of meditation twice a day.
For how long do we practice Yoga?
From the day we stumble upon it until the day we die. The work done in yoga is never lost or forgotten. Every little bit will begin to accumulate and create results. It’s like a magical garden that never dies.
Now let’s add Ayurveda to the mix
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a way of living harmoniously within the laws of nature. It can include things like routine, foods, oils, herbs, spices and exercise. It is a complete medical system from India that is still practiced there today. It includes cleanses, natural medicines and even surgeries for treatment.
Ayurveda, when combined with Yoga, can create health and happiness so powerful that only karma could take it out. When you integrate Ayurveda into your Yoga practice, you will know what postures to do, how long to hold them and how quickly to move. You’ll know what breath practices to follow. You’ll know how to not deplete yourself. You’ll know optimal times to practice and for how long. You’ll understand why you even want to practice yoga.
For me personally, I use Ayurveda to adjust Pattabhi Jois’s ashtanga yoga practice to meet my own needs. Due to my Vata (airy, light, cool and dry) nature, I practice slowly and try to maintain a steady rhythm. I try to create a nice internal heat, no sweating or goosebumps. I use gentle and steady ujjayi breath linked to my movements. I avoid some of the floats because I already float enough through life. And I try not to deplete myself by doing the entire sequence, although I do maintain a single sequence for creating more regularity in my life. I always follow my shavasana with a sattvic practice like chanting or meditation.
(Sattva is the normal state of mind, clear and peaceful. It is the balance between the two mental afflictions, rajas which is movement and tamas which is inertia.)
Why do we practice Ayurveda?
We practice for health, happiness and longevity. With health and happiness comes the ability to practice Yoga. We can’t practice Yoga if we are sick or mentally agitated. Yoga alone won’t cure us. Yoga with Ayurveda can cure us, as well as transform us into happy, peaceful, loving creatures.
We practice Ayurveda to stay healthy enough to practice Yoga. We practice Yoga to strengthen the mind (enough to practice Ayurveda). A strong (sattvic) mind can do anything. It can find time to cook healthy meals. It can get up on time every morning to meditate. It can keep us from overwhelming ourselves. It can be at peace when the entire world is falling apart.
For me personally, I practice Ayurveda with Yoga because otherwise the Yoga would destroy me. I have to be very careful about depletion, so ayurveda protects me from overpracticing and injury. I also end my Yoga practice with something sattvic like chanting or meditation as I don’t want to leave my asana while stuck in rajas or tamas.
How do we practice Ayurveda?
It can be as simple as establishing a schedule of sleeping and eating. It’s choosing foods that are balancing and digestible. It’s awareness and adapting to things around us.
We should pratice Ayurveda when we practice Yoga. This could include scheduling the practice, how long and hard we practice, what we take in after practice, or avoiding the need for mahanarayana oil after the practice.
For me personally, I apply Ayurveda to my practice by doing a few things. I practice in a warm, soft, cozy room. I drink hot water and sometimes eat a little fruit before practice. I keep the room silent. I try to practice at the same time every day (this is hard for me). I try to practice early in the day, before breakfast. I try to go to bed on time so I can even have a Yoga practice.
When do we practice Ayurveda?
Each and every moment is a chance to practice. From the moment we wake, giving grace to our angels, until the moment we hit the hay, hopefully with oiled feet, is a good time to practice Ayurveda. It fine tunes our daily routine so that it becomes natural and easy to live in harmony.
When practicing Yoga, Ayurveda should always be included. Vatas should practice slowly and steadily. Practice should end with a long shavasana followed by gentle breath or meditation. Pittas should surrender and not compete. They should also end with a nice shavasana followed by some cooling breath. Kaphas should get jiggy with it. After a nice little shavasana, some bellows breath (bhastrika) and breath of fire (kapalabhati) are excellent choices.
For me personally, I am always checking in with myself. How strong do I feel? How much energy do I have? How busy or dull is my mind? How stressed do I feel? I adjust my practices accordingly.
For how long do we practice Ayurveda?
Once you know Ayurveda, you forever practice ayurveda, consciously or unconsciously. The practice is being able to balance in this dynamic world where everything is constantly changing. Every day we can see the results of our practice, so that we may adjust our practices to fit where we are.
Again, Ayurveda must forever be included in practicing Yoga. We must never forget the foundations of our practices…from the yamas and niyamas (ethics), to creating sattva (peace and clarity), to getting enough sleep, to eating properly before and after practice. We must always continue to refine what our practices consist of, when we do them, and how we do them.
For me personally, each day is a new opportunity to put a deposit into my future. Each Yoga practice, each oil treatment, each meditation, each home-cooked meal, each cup of tea, each breath I take will create the person that I am tomorrow…or five, ten or hopefully forty years from now! Every day that I wake feeling inspired, creative, energetic and healthy is a good day. There is no price anyone can put on that.