Ayurvedic yoga as a therapy is quickly gaining popularity across yoga studios in the world for its personalized benefits for practitioners in bringing about this balance.
Ayurvedic yoga aims to provide you with yogic tools that are tailor-made for your mind-body constitution or prakruti, according to the ancient healing system of Ayurveda. How does it exactly do that? Let’s unpack this a little bit.
Is Ayurveda the same as yoga?
Though sharing the same broad goals in mental and physical health, yoga is about harmony in the mind, body, and spirit while Ayurveda concerns itself with the 'how to' aspect of wellness through diet, lifestyle recommendations, and proper routine suggestions.
Ayurveda comprises two Sanskrit words-Ayu meaning life and longevity, and Veda is a body of knowledge. When you think Ayurveda you think about herbs and concoctions for treating illnesses but Ayurveda is a holistic understanding of a balanced and interconnected way of life. Taking a leaf from it, Ayurvedic yoga therapy appreciates our unique constitution; how that connects with each of the five elements; and yogic tools to accommodate specific ayurvedic principles for our mind and physical body. Yoga means the union or merging-merging of the mind, body and soul through physical postures, breathing practices, and a resulting state of meditation, along with the eight limbs of yoga.
The Basics of Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy
Ayurveda yoga is witness to how Ayurveda and yoga complement each other beautifully. They originated many thousands of years ago. While Ayurveda prescribes you to live well and focuses on you as an individual in treating you, yoga is a timeless tool to reach this goal. To be a great yogi, you will need to align your habits and lifestyle with your constitution, as per Ayurveda.
Is yoga a part of Ayurveda?
Yes. Ayurveda provides lifestyle suggestions and methods that promote longevity, prevention, and wellness. It prescribes special treatments that rejuvenate, detox, and revitalize the body. These lifestyle modifications include yoga practices ranging from asanas, pranayama, meditation, and mantras.
Health is not just about the absence of diseases
Swasthya or health in Sanskrit means to be established in the Self and makes for an important goal in ayurvedic yoga. So health is not just the absence of diseases but it also includes an important component of physical and mental wellness, dynamism, and peace of mind. You cannot call yourself healthy if you are constantly worried, stressed, angry or anxious. In the science of Ayurveda, health is a state of perfect balance among the five elements or panchamahabhootas or the five great elements that govern our mind-body complex in the form of three fundamental doshas or bioenergies- Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Pitta combines fire and water, Vata combines ether and space) and Kapha combines earth and water.
Sage Patanjali, a revered sage shared his wisdom of immense depth and value in the form of simple yoga sutras which are considered to be of the highest validity, comprehension, and authority mentioning that the goal of yoga is the ‘removal of the fluctuations (vrittis) of the mind.” Another sutra defines vyadhi or illness as one of the obstacles to attaining or establishing oneself in the Self. An obstacle is “that which scatters the mind”. So the goals of Ayurveda and yoga practice complement each other and are mutually necessary.
Drawing parallels: Ashtang Ayurveda and Ashtang Yoga
One of the eight aspects of Ayurveda includes Rasayana, or the knowledge of herbs and medicines that work as rejuvenators. Ausadha is drugs and medications among the rasayanas; Aahara (food) Rasayana is the knowledge of the right foods based on seasons, time, and imbalances; Achara Rasayana is the right behavior or lifestyle that keeps you healthy and full of vitality. here, an important principle is to live in moderation and avoid all types of excesses. It talks about the importance of a calm mind which can be achieved by following certain guidelines like
- being truthful;
- being free from anger or hate;
- having a say over your organs;
- sleeping regularly;
- avoiding overindulgence;
- maintaining hygiene;
- being calm and happy;
- doing charity;
- and keeping faith.
As your ayurvedic yoga therapist will tell you, the above guidelines also find a mention in Sage Patanjali's yoga sutras, where he talks about the basis of ashtanga yoga or the eight limbs of yoga being:
Yama or abstinences
Niyama or observances
Asana or yoga poses
Pranayamas or breath work
Pratyahara or sense withdrawal
Dharana or focus
Dhyana or meditation
Samadhi or bliss.
Yoga helps you follow the guidelines in Achara Rasayana from ayurveda and achieve the right balance to establish one in yoga practices, according to ayurvedic yoga therapy experts.
How does Ayurvedic yoga therapy work?
Though ayurvedic yoga therapy is being popularized in recent times, the concept itself is ancient and timeless.
The revered and authoritative texts like Ashtanga Hridayam and Charaka Samhita discussed in ayurvedic yoga therapy talk about not just treatments and diet to realign one’s doshas but also how to lead one’s life; how one should behave; what to do and what not to do and in which season and these guidelines have been encoded in the form of seasonal (ritucharya) and daily regimen (dinacharya.) These guidelines, as you will know from an ayurvedic yoga therapist, differ for every individual based on their unique dosha makeup and while yoga practice has general implications on one’s body and mind, one must know which specific asanas, pranayamas or yoga practices must be performed based on their individual dosha predominance and imbalances.
In ayurveda yoga, Ayurveda can be seen as a diagnostic guide for yoga.
Illnesses come up when specific dosha imbalances have not been addressed for too long. The different yoga practices and the breathing techniques like bhastrika pranayama and nadi shodhan pranayam help bring this balance in the three doshas; support the nervous system; improve circulation; digestion and reproductive systems, integrating ayurveda and yoga in ayurvedic yoga therapy. Not just that, it helps to know that for those of us who are looking for naturally radiant skin, practicing these asanas in accordance with one's dosha constitution in ayurvedic yoga therapy, is a big part of ayurvedic skincare too.
Vata, Pitta or Kapha? How to Practice Yoga According to Your Ayurvedic Body Type
But it is important to know which yoga practice should be done and which ones to be done less frequently or totally avoided, as will be explained to you by your ayurvedic yoga therapist. For example, if you have high vata or air element and you practice asanas or pranayamas that are cooling, it can further increase the vata element in your system, causing more problems than good. These are some of the specific instructions you may receive in your Ayurveda yoga therapy.
How to Practice Yoga for Vata Constitution
For vata people, pick yoga practices that include grounding stretches and routine that reduces restlessness and slows you down. You must practice yoga at a specific time every day.
Specific tips to follow for vata people, according to leading ayurvedic yoga therapist:
Practice asanas that work on vata organs like the lumbar, pelvis, colon or intestines, as per ayurveda yoga therapy.
Do the slow sun salutations, if at all.
You can do forward bends, twists, asanas like tree pose, mountain pose, warrior pose, or slow inversions.
Rest longer between the asanas and after the routine.
Avoid cooling pranayamas such as kapalbhati or Shitali. Recommended: ujjayi or victory breath; bumble bee breathing and alternate nostril breathing.
How to practice Yoga for pitta constitution
Pitta people need to do more of the cooling and grounding asanas, though they may want to perform more rigorous asanas.
Tips and recommendations for pitta people:
Asanas that reinvigorate pitta organs like ones located in the abdominal region, which is the location for digestive fire.
Moon salutations; sitting half spinal twists or Ardha Matsyendrasana; bow pose or Dhanurasana, and cobra pose or Bhujangasana can be done. Pitta people can also do the forward bends and poses that open the heart chakra.
Cooling pranayams like shitali can be done.
How to practice yoga for to kapha constitution
Kapha types or people or ones with kapha imbalance can pick asanas that are rigorous and fast. They can practice hatha yoga. These can be focused on the chest and abdomen.
Tips for bringing kapha into balance with yoga
You can do yoga poses involving back bending; camel pose; locust pose; handstands; bow pose and shoulder stands.
Medium and fast-paced sun salutations are recommended. Increase the speed gradually.
To make things interesting try and jump from one posture to the next. This will increase blood circulation and get the lymphatic system going.
Do not need to rest too long at the end of the sequence.
Mudras are healing modalities to address specific imbalances in doshas.
The five fingers are said to be related to five elements—thumb and fire, index finger and air, space and middle finger, little finger and water; and ring finger with earth elements. For example, practicing samana vayu mudra can help balance all three doshas; brings vitality and health.
To learn more about your individual dosha constitution and an ideal yoga routine that suits the needs of your prakruti or constitution, you can consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner who is seasoned in Ayurvedic yoga therapy. In a holistic consultation through nadi pariksha or pulse diagnosis, they will tell you the exact doshas that need to be balanced; the right treatments; diet; lifestyle changes; types of asanas and yogic practices you need to follow to live a uniquely healthy, balanced and happy life.