Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Yoga and Ayurveda are both parts of the Vedic system of knowledge, which is one of the oldest recorded systems of wisdom and healing on the planet. The Vedic traditions have withstood the test of time; even after all these years, their teachings are just as relevant as they were five thousand years ago when they were first written down. Their teachings are compassionate yet direct, universal yet specific, and incredibly vast and comprehensive. They have slightly different approaches and nuanced philosophies dispersed throughout, but the basic goal of each is the same: to relieve the dis-eases of the mind and body, and to provide a practical framework for being well, and a universal framework for living well. Both depend upon the concept of harmony in order to accomplish this goal, and both systems offer dietary, herbal, self-care, movement, meditation, and lifestyle-based suggestions for us to live harmoniously. They both teach us to look within, and cultivate a deep connection with the source of our life—and how to re-source ourselves from that place; how to be resourceful within our own minds and bodies, and how to be resourceful out in the world. They also teach us to listen to nature and observe the world around us, to cultivate our intuition, and to look upon the world with discernment and the ability to think critically. Everything from an Yogic and Ayurvedic perspective is about harmony and balance, bringing everything together in a way that benefits more than just one part.
They teach us (among other things) how to be flexible and in tune with the rhythms and cycles and laws of nature. Yoga actually means ‘to yolk,’ or to literally bring together. It is a system, philosophy, practice, science that encourages each individual to see beyond one particular part of the body, one particular perspective, or one particular way of being in the world. Said all too simply for an incredibly vast tradition, Yoga encourages flexibility in the body through asana (the aspect of yoga most commonly known in the west), flexibility in the mind through meditation and mantra, and flexibility out in the world through tapping into consciousness based on inclusion, harmony, peace, oneness, and the ability to withstand discomfort and adapt to change. Ayurveda also encourages flexibility in the body, mind and spirit, and both approaches ask us to widen our scope (by examining nature and understanding the body as a part of nature, and each part of the body as interrelated with the whole), while at the same time, reminding us of the importance of narrowing in on what makes us unique.
Through things like self-reflection, meditation, and uncovering our primary dosha (or humor / elemental energy primarily working through us), we can get a better understanding of our own personal nature and how to integrate the teachings of Yoga and Ayurveda in ways that best serve our personal constitution. In that way, we’re a lot like plants. We know that plants need certain amounts of nutrients, sunlight, water, etc., in order to thrive, and once we know their needs, we can support them in thriving. It’s the same for us; once we understand our own bodies and needs, we can make the choices that help us grow stronger, too.
Yoga is all about self-realization and spiritual development for the good of the whole. Its teachings outline specific practices and philosophies that expand our consciousness and help us spiritually evolve here on planet Earth. Ayurveda focuses on self-healing, or spiritual healing, and taps us into the ways we can best support our bodies to do what they are wired to do: heal, regenerate, sustain, preserve, protect, survive.
Ayurveda loosely translates to ‘everlasting science of life.’ To study life and to make sense of it is to bring things together—to bring things to light, to make existence clearer. This ancient system of science and medicine takes a comprehensive look at healing the body through seeing each symptom or ailment not as an isolated problem to be fixed, per se; but more so as an entry point into discovering where the body has been taken out of balance with its nature (and the whole of nature), and how to rebalance that persons specific constitution which then, over time, rebalances the whole body and alleviates the original pain(s). It isn’t a quick fix practice, and neither is yoga. They are both mature systems that require us to be present for our own maturation and transformations over time. Patience, presence, and a willingness to change your life are necessary attitudes when integrating the teachings of Yoga and/or Ayurveda on a personal level. We can be actively involved in an off-the-mat Yoga practice and out-of-the-clinic application of Ayurveda by slowing down, tuning into the world around us, and taking time to understand ourselves (and our needs) on a deeper level.
This can be harder than it sounds, though; because, the reality is, we live in a world (especially here in the US) where we’re constantly on the go, hurrying from one place to another, or feeling like we need to keep busy in order to fit in or be worthy or keep up with the pace of our times. Even though Covid-19 has slowed a lot of us down quite a bit, we’ve now encountered another set of challenges in our ability to be present along the way: the stresses and anxieties of the virus and political situation, wild fires, job changes, and easy access to screen time—due to how socially acceptable it has become to spend all day, and in some cases all night, on a screen (working from home, watching Netflix, etc.); and, possibly with the additional pull to screen time because FaceTiming or watching movies/shows at the same time as friends and family is a way to keep in touch and make socially distant memories. It’s also challenging to tune into the world around us when we go from car or bus to house or office, and live in a world where most of our food comes from the store instead of our gardens, or nearby forests and fields. Shopping at the store is convenient and a wonderful luxury in so many ways; however, it can rob us from knowing basic information that our ancestors (no matter where you’re from) knew like the back of their hand. Information that immediately connects us to the land, the earth, our roots. Information that gives us a deeper sense of place than just the address we reside in; that gives us basic knowledge of the ecosystem we are a part of and an inherent respect its ecology. Information that looks a lot like knowing which plants grow in our yards, or in nearby places, that offer sustenance, nutrients, and medicine. How to harvest them, cook them, grow them. How to put our hands in the dirt and understand the cycles and seasons and lifespan of the fruits and vegetables and flowers and trees we live amongst. On a generalized scale here in the Western World, we’ve lost touch with nature and our ability to listen to it, and to feel into how each gift of nature—like a carrot, a parsnip, a watermelon radish, a leaf of sorrel or dandelion or arugula, a seed or grain or herb, etc.—informs and nourishes our body from within. Yoga and Ayurveda remind us how important it is to ground—to literally come down to the ground and pick up roots from the earth and roots from deep emotional wells within us and examine them, understand them, ask them questions, and be nourished by them. To become humble and whole, and recognize that we are just as much in nature as nature is in us. So it’s important for all of us, from a Yogic and Ayurvedic perspective, to make time for grounding and reconnecting with our roots, and this can look like many things. It can look like waking up early to sip your tea outside and watch the birds and the bugs and the wind or the sun move about around you. It can look like staying up late to watch the moonrise or the glimmering starts above you instead of Netflix or TV. It can look like growing your own garden, and knowing which plants thrive best in your region, and how they grow together, and which bugs they attract, and how much water they like, and how to love them and care for them and speak to them in a way that brings you into connection with all of life—not just how much kale you’re yielding and what you’re going to cook (although that’s important!), but what the garden is teaching you, showing you about the nature of reality by simply doing what it does. It can look like practicing abhyanga (Ayurvedic self-massage) or Yoga asana or meditation a few times a week or every day. It can look like anything that helps you feel calm, grounded, connected, so long as you do it with presence—one of the basic principles of the Vedic sciences is that presence is required for a full, whole, integrated life. Presence of mind and body, and that includes being present when we eat; noticing how it tastes, smells, feels. It might seem like a small thing to start gardening more or doing more self-care, but it’s not. It takes a lot of courage and inner strength to truly take care of you. And if everyone was doing it regularly and seeking balance on a personal and ecological level, the world would be a different place. David Frawley, a famous Yogi and Ayurvedic Practitioner, tells us that Ayurveda “contains secrets not only for healing the individual but also for uplifting society, all creatures and the planet itself.”
In our Modern-Western culture, we like things to move fast, to work immediately, and we often see the body as something to be cured or purified or fixed because something is not right with it—something isn’t working properly, something doesn’t look right, something isn’t doing exactly what we think it’s supposed to, etc. From an Ayurvedic perspective, it is not such a harsh approach. Ayurveda teaches us that everything in the natural world operates on a system of balance and harmony. When something is out of balance, we see signs. Then, we do what we can do bring that component back into balance.
As a philosophy, that lends itself to compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and cooperation. So when we have compassion for our bodies as they’re healing, understanding of the root causes of our suffering, forgiveness for ourselves and the out-of-balance choices we’ve made, and we cooperate with our bodies for healing, we can find wellness on all levels. This is why sometimes we need to look backwards in order to understand the present and how to reconnect with the world around us. To look back and uncover what many ancient cultures and practices and systems of healing knew to be true: that we are inextricably bound with nature; our nature and the whole of nature operate under the same fundamental principles.
If you want to learn more about Ayurveda, or see how Ayurveda can improve your life personally, reach out to us with questions. We’re here to answer them, and we’re here Monday through Friday every week for consultations.
SOURCES “Dosha for Life,” by Linda Bretherton & Jim Whitham, 2007. “Yoga & Ayurveda” by David Frawley, 1999.