Yoga and Ayurveda In Western Countries
By Dr. Sajimon George BAMS. AAA. ATMS
When Yoga came to Western Society in the twentieth century, not much Ayurveda came along with it. This was due in part to various historical influences, such as the closure of Ayurvedic schools by the British during their colonial rule, and the ascendancy of allopathic (modern) medicine.
People in the West found great health benefits in Yoga and wanted a medical application for Yoga. Not finding a specific system of medicine in the Yoga that they learned, they sought to adapt Yoga to modern medicine.
Because of this historical situation, many people today believe that Yoga therapy is one thing and Ayurvedic medicine is another. Owing to the ascendancy of modern medicine even in the Indian context, some modern centres of Yoga therapy in India have emphasized Yoga therapy along with modern medicine and have not given much attention to Ayurveda either.
Yoga in Western Countries
Now that Ayurveda is available and its connection with Yoga is becoming clearer, it is important that Yoga in the Western countries brings more Ayurveda into its application. There are several areas in which Ayurveda can be very helpful.
- Yoga therapists can benefit from learning the Ayurvedic view of the body and mind and of health and disease, including individual constitution and Ayurveda’s naturalistic approach to living. Studying the Ayurvedic view of anatomy and physiology, constitution, and the disease process, which follows the energetics of prana, will greatly enhance the Yoga therapist’s view of disease and how to treat it in a Yogic manner. Studying the Ayurvedic view of how physical diseases are connected to psychological diseases and lack of connection with our inner consciousness will greatly expand the realm of Yoga psychology.
- It is helpful for Yoga therapists to learn the role of Ayurvedic therapies that work well with Yoga therapy, including diet, herbs, massage, and pancha karma. Yoga therapy can be more effective if applied along with Ayurvedic lifestyle guidelines and treatment measures.
- It can be very helpful for Yoga therapists to use Ayurvedic treatment protocols for the application of Yoga therapies like asana and pranayama. Just as it can be helpful when recommending asanas to know the diseases a person may be suffering from according to modern medicine, so too, the Ayurvedic constitution and disease imbalances of a person are quite relevant.
The postures, pranayama, or meditation that may be recommended for a person with high vata dosha, for example, naturally will be different than those for one with high kapha dosha. These Ayurvedic guidelines can help Yoga therapy be more attuned to individual needs and differences. Even for people suffering from what is the same disease according to modern medicine, like rheumatoid arthritis, Ayurveda with its more specialized diagnosis can provide additional insights as to how to manage the disease on an individual basis.
- Most importantly, Ayurveda provides another set of guidelines for applying Yoga therapies; not just asana, but all the eight limbs of Yoga. Ayurveda views the yamas and niyamas of Yoga as the basic principles of right living for both physical and psychological health for everyone.
Ayurveda views asana as the “external medicine” of Yoga, useful primarily for musculoskeletal disorders, but having an indirect value for most health problems, specifically for vata dosha, the biological air humour.
Ayurveda regards pranayama as what we could call the “internal medicine” of Yoga. From an Ayurvedic perspective, more emphasis should be given to pranayama because it has a greater ability to affect the internal workings of the body in terms of respiration, circulation, digestion, and the transmission of impulses through the nervous system.
Pranayama works on prana, which is directly connected to vata dosha, the most important of the three doshas, and has a strong therapeutic value in reducing kapha dosha, which causes diseases of mucus and congestion in the stomach, lungs, and heart.
Pratyahara, with its reduction of sensory overload, is a key factor in stress reduction and is emphasized in Ayurvedic sensory treatments and massage. Indeed, the patient who receives a deep oil massage in Ayurvedic treatment is also being given a pratyahara therapy.
Pratyahara is central to healing because it allows the healing prana to be taken within, rather than dispersed outwardly.
Yogic concentration, mantra, and meditation practices are important for treating all psychological disorders, according to Ayurveda, and are a necessary part of any healthy lifestyle for body and mind. They not only help to balance the doshas but also to increase sattva guna, the quality of inner harmony, balance, and contentment that is another important concept in both Yogic and Ayurvedic healing.
These are but a few brief examples of how Yoga and Ayurveda can work together Ayurveda can help us add the medical background, diagnosis, and greater treatment options that can make Yoga therapy part of a full Yoga system of medicine.