Integrating Yoga and Ayurveda for Optimum Healthcare
Dr Indira Anand
Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences that developed together and repeatedly influenced each other. Yoga is supposed to be used as a therapeutic tool of Ayurveda for both disease treatment and for lifestyle management. Yoga postures and pranayama treat a variety of ailments, particularly structural problems or low energy conditions, and are among the best tools for keeping our doshas in balance. Pranayama is most effective in treating diseases of the respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems, whose function depend upon the right flow of prana. Yoga is also excellent for psychological and mental disorders because of its specific action on the mind through deep relaxation and meditation. The purificatory hatha yoga shatkriyas are easy to use at home without formal supervision. The eight limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga cover the entire field of our existence – from the physical, sensory, emotional, mental and spiritual. With no additional expense and less reliance on medicines, patient care could be optimised by combining Ayurvedic and Yogic therapeutic regimes. Yoga as a therapy was traditionally prescribed in an ayurvedic context. It is a great pity that very few present day Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe Yogic practices in treating common ailments. With the popularity of Yoga in the West and the lack of local availability of appropriate Ayurvedic medicines, it is particularly relevant for overseas Ayurvedic practitioners. In fact, integrating the two regimes will also indirectly enhance the acceptability of Ayurveda.
So let us examine how the content of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga (eight limbs of Yoga) could be helpful in increasing the effectiveness of Ayurvedic guidelines on lifestyle and treatment:
Yamas, Niyamas, Pratyahara, Dharna, Dhyana
I. Yamas –Rules of Social Conduct
2. Niyamas – Rules of Personal Behaviour, and the three stages of meditation constituting 5th, 6th and 7th limbs of Yoga viz.
3. Pratyahara – Control of the Senses
4. Dharana – one-pointed awareness or Control of the Mind
5. Dhyana – Meditation, all help in the cultivation of Sattva
Since one of the main causes of all psycho-somatic disorders is pajnapradha or acting against known wisdom, in Ayurveda there is a great emphasis on the cultivation of sattva. Sattva is the state of balance that prevents disease and makes healing happen. Development of sattva occurs through right diet, physical purification, control of the senses, control of the mind, mantra and devotion. Other than diet, all the rest are accomplished through the above practices of yoga. Yama & niyama constitute the ethical foundation for all right living including the health practices of Ayurveda. They are important for health, psychological well-being and spiritual development.
Asanas – Physical postures
Asanas, or physical postures, bring balance and harmony in the physical body, particularly in the musculoskeletal system that is the support of the body. Western medical practitioners prescribe physiotherapy for most skeletal and muscular ailments. Most effective physiotherapy techniques are derived from Yogasanas and yet they are not being used by Ayurvedic practitioners. They can also be used to increase vitality and to balance the doshas. They can target certain organs or weak spots in the body.
The object of Pranayama is controlled expansion and direction of the vital life force. Pranayama utilises breathing to influence the flow of prana in the energy channels of the pranamaya kosha or the energy body. The breath is the most vital process of the body which influences the activities of each and every cell and, most importantly, is intimately linked with the performance of the brain. Yoga teaches us how to use breath to master prana and unfold its deeper powers. Since it helps to expand the vital energy force in the body, it is probably the most important single action we can do to improve health. It should therefore be an integral part of ayurvedic treatment methodology.
Pranayama is most effective in treating diseases of the respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems, whose function depend upon the right flow of prana. It is excellent for all conditions of debility, low energy, chronic fatigue, weak immunity and convalescence.
It sets up a deep and powerful organic rhythm to sustain not only health and strength but calmness of mind. It is therefore an important tool for treating psychological and emotional disorders. It is excellent to counter depression, release grief and reduce stress and tension. It is much more effective in raising our spirits than any stimulant or drug. It enhances the power of tonic Ayurvedic herbs like Ashwagandha to improve vitality.
Pranayama treats all the doshas. The right practice of pranayama normalises vata, the master dosha; it is one of the main practices for reducing kapha, which has a tendency to stagnate and produce mucous. Special cooling pranayams counter pitta and remove heat. The use of prana for healing is an important aspect of Ayurveda that should never be overlooked in treatment.
Simple attention to right or left nostril breathing could help so many health conditions. Patients suffering from kapha diseases like obesity, edema, muscle stiffness and paralysis should focus on right nostril breathing which works on the left side of the brain and controls physical activity. Right nostril breathing also helps hypoactivity conditions of the mind including sleepiness, dullness and fatigue.