Ayurveda and Yoga
by Anuradha Rao (Counselor student)
Ayurveda and Yoga have been long used as multi-modality spiritual tools in India from ancient times. Though they may appear similar due to their underlying origin in Samkhya philosophy, they have both grown into 2 different philosophies over a period of time, with Yoga being a separate form of philosophy in the Sad darshanas (6 school of philosophies).
Ayurveda has its roots in Atharva veda, the book of herbs, spells and healing techniques. Whereas Yoga was first mentioned in Rig veda, the book of songs, mantras and rituals. Though they both have been inspired by Samkhya philosophy, Ayurveda applies Samkhya all throughout its teachings and Yoga has slowly evolved into a philosophy of its own with various texts such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras bringing in the theme of Ashtanga Yoga etc.
Legend says that Ayurveda has its mythological roots in Lord Brahma, who is the creator it and spread its teachings to the world as per the request of Lord Vishnu. Yoga is said to have been created and taught by Lord Shiva, who was referred to as Adiyogi – the first ever yogi. Lord Shiva is also known as Dakshineshwar – as he first taught the techniques of yoga to Saptarishis (the seven sages) by facing the South direction (Dakshina) on a Purnima (full moon day) and thus came to be known and worshipped as Adiguru (the first ever Guru) as well. Thus, both Ayurveda and Yoga have their origin in the Holy Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara/Shiva).
Ayurveda’s main goals are the Purusharthas, namely, Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha. And if we consider Patanjali’s yoga sutras, the main goal there is Samadhi, which is the 8th limb of Ashtanga Yoga. But ultimately both of these philosophies aim on attaining Moksha, the liberation from Samsara – the cyclical loop of birth, life, death and rebirth.
The philosophies of India are usually divided into 2 types: Tattva chintana (intellectual philosophy) and Tattva darshana (applied philosophy). Both Ayurveda and Yoga can be considered as Tattva darshanas – where more prominence is placed in the application of the principles and techniques of the philosophies than any mind or intellectual thinking upon them.
Both of these ancient philosophies work on inculcating holistic changes in a person and work on removing the root causes of ailments or obstacles (kleshas). They both consider an individual beyond his/her physical body and mind (unlike western medicine which looks at what is immediately apparent – like symptoms appearing from mind or body). They both consider an individual to be a 5-layered Self (Pancha koshas) with an eternal or sanatana atman – which is ever-existing, without birth or death. Both Ayurveda and Yoga place importance to a person’s karmashaya, the pool of karmas of current life (prarabhda karma), and karma from previous lives (sanchita karma).
Both Ayurveda and Yoga work on changing a person’s lifestyle through techniques such as Yama, Niyama, Pratyahara (in Ashtanga Yoga) and Dinacharya, Ratricharya, Ritucharya (in Ayurveda). All these techniques can even complement each other when used and applied together.
They both place importance on breathing techniques, chanting and meditation as a way of connecting and calming the mind.
While looking at an individual’s karmashaya, the main goal of Yoga philosophy is to dissolve them and not create any more karma. While doing this, the Yoga guru/teacher or even the individual may not place focus on Samana or pacification of current issues like how exclusively Ayurveda does with the help of herbs, therapies like panchakarma, marma therapy, massage, counselling etc. Without Samana, the individual may not consistently stick to the holistic path of healing which can otherwise be quite challenging.
The sutras of Ayurveda mention extensively on how to diagnose ailments and also has extensive encyclopedic knowledge on the anatomy and physiology of the body. And also places importance on tridoshas of the body – Vata, Pitta and Kapha (along with mind doshas – Rajas, Tamas, Sattva). Whereas sutras of Yoga and related scriptures mention mostly the trigunas of the mind and how to work through them, with little or no knowledge about the physical body.
It is even believed that the path of traditional Yoga speeds up the appearance of karmas, in order to empty the karmashaya quicker. This can sometimes throw imbalance in a person’s life due to the faster appearances of Kleshas (Adhyatmika, Adhibhautika and Adhidaivika). It doesn’t place significant importance in living in the society, community etc. Whereas Ayurveda takes a slow and steady approach including social aspects of living.
The link between Ayurveda and Yoga
The present Ayurveda and Yoga practices consistently exchange the techniques and tools mentioned in them for their purposes such as herbs and therapies from Ayurveda (incorporated in Yoga) and asana, pranayama and meditation (incorporated into Ayurveda). Yoga blew into being practiced almost throughout the world in the first half of the 20th century, but the main focus was placed on asana, the physical aspect of yoga than all 8 limbs. They are slowly evolving with more and more people working on raising their awareness of incorporating the entire path rather than just a part of it.
In the hundreds or thousands of years in the future, Ayurveda and Yoga may even merge into one whole philosophy with deepest access to the physical self to the deepest access to the spiritual self.
Anuradha is a yoga teacher in Bangalore, India and has a background in Science and Engineering.