How Are Yoga and Ayurveda Related?


Many people ask how Yoga and Ayurveda are related. It is often said that Ayurveda and Yoga are “sister sciences” or as Mark Halpern of the California College of Ayurveda calls it “two sides of the same coin.” Most people think of Yoga as just the asanas or yoga poses we practice in class, but Yoga covers much more. At the heart of Yoga is Patanjali’s Ashtanga (ashta = 8, anga = limb or path) or 8 Fold Path, sometimes referred to as the 8 Limbs of Yoga. The 8 Limbs are:

  1. Yamas - Rules of Social Conduct: nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), non-clinging/non-grasping (apraigraha), control of sexual energy (brahmacharya)

  2. Niyamas - Rules of Personal Behavior: contentment (santosha), purity/cleanliness (saucha), self-study/study of sacred texts (svadhyaya), self-discipline (tapas), surrender to God (Ishvara pranidhana)

  3. Asanas - Physical Postures

  4. Pranayama - Control of Prana or Control of the Vital Life Force

  5. Pratyahara - Control of the Senses

  6. Dharana - Control of the Mind or Right Attention

  7. Dhyana - Meditation

  8. Samadhi - Absorption of Personal Consciousness (buddhi) with Cosmic Consciousness (mahat)

At its essence, Ayurveda uses these same 8 Limbs and expounds on how to practice these limbs or use them as treatments (chiktsas) to correct imbalances that may manifest as disease, pain or discomfort. When we think of the Yamas or the rules of social conduct, the vegetarian diet is recommended in Ayurveda so that we can practice nonviolence or ahimsa. The Niyamas or the rules of personal behavior include many of the parts of the Ayurvedic Daily Routine or Dinacharya like cleanliness of the body and senses with the use of neti pots, nasya oil, tongue scraping and oil pulling. The Niyama that is especially important is self-discipline or tapas. We need tapas so that we can maintain the Dinacharya routine. We also need self-discipline to successfully integrate those Ayurvedic recommendations into our daily lives. Changing our diets or meditating daily requires us to dig deep and hold ourselves accountable to making a shift in our unhealthy patterns. But that also shows us that we have control over our health. We have the power to heal our bodies, minds and spirits.

The 3rd and 4th limbs of Yoga, the asanas or physical postures and the pranayama or control of the prana/vital life force, are used in Ayurveda as Chiktsas or treatments. Specific yoga postures are recommended for each dosha like grounding poses for Vata, cooling poses for Pitta, and energizing poses for Kapha. There are also asanas that are recommended for specific imbalances in the body. These postures can improve circulation to areas of imbalance in the body to help to release toxins, improve healing of tissues as well as facilitate healing on a cellular level. Pranayama practices can balance specific dosha such as grounding breathing practices like apana breathing, ujjayi or so’ham for Vata; cooling breath work like vyana breathing, shitali or sikari for Pitta; and energizing pranayama like prana breathing, bhastrika or kapalabhati for Kapha. The Five Pranic Breaths are used in Ayurveda to balance the five Vayus or five subdosha of Vata: prana, udana, vyana, samana and apana.

In Ayurveda, the 5th, 6th and 7th limbs of Yoga are also used as treatment recommendations as well daily practices to balance the body, mind and spirit. A daily mediation or dhyana practice is a part of the Ayurvedic Daily Routine. Mediation is also very beneficial not only for healing the body and cells from trauma and negative impressions but especially the mind and soul. Ayurvedic recommendations also include carefully choosing what type of media, communications and people we interact with so that we have the right type of impressions. In fact, Ayurveda espouses that one of the main causes of disease is inappropriate use of the senses, so pratyahara is especially important and is often the first line of defense for imbalances of the mind or manas as well as for dis-eases of the nervous system.

If you are looking to learn more about this intersection with Yoga and Ayurveda, I highly recommend reading "Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-realization” by David Frawley. This book delves deep into many aspects of Ayurveda like healing oils, herbs, aroma therapy and yogic diet. I had many takeaways from this book that I use in my own personal healing as well as my healing recommendations for my clients. For example for many of us, we need to slow down our yoga practice and focus on cooling, relaxing, surrendering and forgiving. It can be easy to get competitive with our yoga practice and become aggressive with our bodies. It is better to be gentle and remove any harming energy around our practice. We don't want to take an achievement mentality into our yoga life and we need to remember the Niyama of santosha or contentment so that we don't compare ourselves with others or fill our minds with judgment. We have to remember the spiritual side of yoga and use the asanas to direct our mental energy inward so we can access our higher-self. One passage in David Frawley’s book “Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization” really stuck out to me and I wanted to share with all of you:

Too much emphasis on asana is not good. It can increase body consciousness and enhance the physical ego. If we really want to go into the full system of yoga, the time we spend doing asanas should not substitute for that spent in deeper practices of pranayama, mantra and meditation.
— David Frawley in "Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-Healing & Self-Realization"

Peace, love and health from Marissa of Five Prana