Yoga & Ayurveda: Vedic Sisters Healing the Body, Mind & Spirit

Article first published in Northern Holistic Resources

Yoga and Ayurveda are sisters within the Vedas, or sacred texts of knowledge, in ancient India. There is some contention about when the Vedic Period took place – 1500 BC to 500 BC, 1500 BC to 1000 BC, or 1750 BC –  500 BC – and who may have written the texts. However disagreeable on the author and dates, what is favorable is that vedic knowledge introduced India to astrology, numerology, vaastu shastra (similar to Feng Shui), yoga, and ayurveda. 

Together these modalities comprise a holistic way of life. In Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization, David Frawley attributes the practice of yoga and ayurveda as a way to prepare for spiritual healing. When the individual heals the mind and body, the charkas and energy bodies begin to clear. The soul shifts as well, drawing in different people, circumstances, and opportunities.

Personal Experiences With The Sisters
As an adult, I ate much of the same foods as I did when I was a child. I also leaned into more junk food. At a 5’3” my weight teetered at 142 pounds. I felt like I was about to implode. I was hot-tempered and my mind wandered all the time; didn’t sleep well, suffered through heavy menstrual cycles; and had a variety of digestion problems. I was willing to try anything since doctors told me that it was my hormones causing me trouble. I instinctively knew that wasn’t correct. 

Yoga and Ayurveda helped me detox and cleanse my body and feel more comfortable in my skin. I became vegetarian before shifting to vegan. I was able to sleep through the night, my menstrual cycle became a joy to experience, and no longer had to ‘settle’ my stomach. As a result, I started going to more yoga classes. I felt inspired to incorporate meditation, chanting, and establishing healthier boundaries with friends and relatives.

Yogic Aspect of the Relationship Yoga connects the mind, body and spirit of a practitioner. It consists of eight limbs: 1) Yama, Universal morality; 2) Niyama, personal observances; 3) Asanas, postures; 4) Pranayama, breathing exercies; 5) Pratyahara, control of the senses; 6) Dharana, concentration; 7) Dhyana, meditation on the Divine; and 8) Samdhi, the union with the Divine. According to the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, the eight limbs are central to the Divine life of an individual.

Ayurveda is Sanskrit, combing ayur (life) and veda (knowledge), together meaning the knowledge of life. Ayurvedic principles consider an individual’s behavior, geographic region, and doshas (mind and body characteristics) then recommends exercise; sleep; breathing exercises; massage; and herbs, spices, and fresh and seasonal whole foods as medicine to balance the practitioner’s life.

Although yoga and Ayurveda are Vedic practices, many Westerners practice it unknowingly in some form. The asanas are the most common limb known to people who think of yoga. The first two limbs are considered as the foundations; however, the first five limbs are considered to be the limbs that you practice on a daily basis.

1. Yama
The practice of compassion, loving-kindness, and self-control towards the self, friends, family, and nature.

2. Niyama
Developing and maintaining an awareness of the mind and body, consuming only what is considered clean.

3. Asanas
These are the different postures within the myriad of styles, like Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram, and Kundalini.

4. Pranayama
Beathing exercises help move prana (life force) throughout the body. Pranayama is enhanced when done in nature or with aromatherapy. Sandalwood, cedarwood, and lavendar calm the mind and body and can induce calm, balance, and peaceful sleep.  

5. Pratayahara
Withdrawing yourself from the media, demands of work, friends, family, and noises of city living. It can be accomplished by hanging out at a waterfall or river, in the woods, or a meditation course.

The Limbs of Enlightenment (6, 7 & 8)
Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi are considered as what happens when practicing the first five limbs. It allows you to sharpen your focus, develop concentration so to become one with the Divine. Anapana meditation, chanting, or focusing on a deva or image are some of the techniques to focus the mind within Dharana. The ability to concentrate uninterrupted is the next stage, or Dhyana. Samadhi is where the mind and body transcend consciousness of the breath or deva.

The Healing Path of Ayurveda
Ayurveda begins with an assessment of the mind and body. The three doshas – vata, pitta, and kapha – are the basic three constitutions that provide insight about an individual’s state of mind and body. The doshas can also help an individual adapt in different environments. An individual can have one, two, or all three dosha constitutions. The goal is for the individual to achieve balance with all three doshas within the mind and body. Maintaining a practice of being aware of the shifting seasons or temperatures, social environments, and reactions of the mind and body helps an individual sense when they are imbalanced.

  • Vata – Vata represents air and ether. Autumn and early winter are vata seasons. The characteristics of the balanced vata mind are quick and creative; imbalanced, indecisive and scatterbrained.
  • Pitta – Pitta is air and fire. The mind is strong and intense. When the pitta mind is imbalanced the individual can be hot-tempered. Pitta seasons include late spring and summer.
  • Kapha – Water and earth elements represent kapha. Late winter and early spring are kapha seasons. A kapha mind is slow, methodical and precise. Imbalanced, the mind is lazy.

There are also three energy qualities, or gunas – sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic. Sattvic can be considered as pure, clean, light, and balanced. A vegetarian diet is considered sattvic. Rajasic is a transition to sattivc. A rajasic diet may include some meat and seafood, but no eggs. The diet that is heavy with meat, eggs, and processed food is tamasic. 

The gunas are present in the mind, as it reflects how one perceives themselves and their attitude towards others. A sattvic vata mind is open and creative; sattvic pitta is a compassionate leader; and sattvic kapha is nurturing. In ayurveda, the goal is to live sattvic. It helps eliminate diseases of the mind and body. Sattvic helps the individual transcend the ego and connect to the Divine. Frawley writes, “Ayurveda works through the soul force so that we can master our physical body and integrate all our faculties to gain harmony and balance.” The individual is more open to Divine guidance when they are sattvic.

As the seasons change, the body needs to detox and cleanse. Consult your physician and/or ayurvedic therapist before approaching a detox and cleanse. Eliminating caffeinated drinks, sugar, dairy, eggs, meat, and processed food are part of the dextox process. 

In Ayurveda, the cleanse may begin with fasting followed by Kitchari, or just Kitchari throughout the day. Kitchari made with basmati rice and mung beans or yellow split peas. It is said to de-age the cells of the body. During the cleanse, include herbal tea, water, a gentle asana and pranayama practice. If time and space allows, incorporate pratayahara and meditation. See below for Kitchari recipes.

Vata Balancing Kitchari (Banyan Botanicals)
Pitta Cooling Kitchari (Banyan Botanicals)
Toor Dal Kitchari [for Kapha] (Banyan Botanicals)

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