Over the decades, yoga has become a well-known, liked and familiar practice. At first, it seemed exotic and aroused a lot of controversy. It was even rumored, that yoga is a religion in itself. Today the pendulum swings the other way – yoga has been secularized and made into a popular fitness workout. Taken holistically and combined with Ayurveda, it can offer us so much more than deepened ranges and the possibility of holding Chaturanga Dandasana.
Yoga – More than just exercise.
Yoga is more than simply a set of exercises to keep us fit. In the capitalist world, we treat it as a product that is supposed to bring us tangible benefits related to our appearance. During the lockdown, a large number of yogis switched to online yoga, often fragmented into 10 or 30-minute sequences. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is worth pointing out that yoga has a way bigger purpose.
Yoga was originally invented as a tool for self-development. In a way, it is both an obligation and a path. There is no yogi who only takes one step on this path. Showing up on the mat daily, breathing practices and those related to mindfulness are small steps that are able to take us deeper into ourselves. Regularity and self-discipline are essential, but no wonder – yoga is precisely a tool to keep your drives, inclinations, and tendencies in check. The meaning of the practice is that our mind, physical condition and ailments would not be able to interfere with our spiritual development.
In a way, yoga simultaneously allows us to use discipline, persistence, and empathy to walk the path of spirituality and be better for others, but also sit without knee pain during long hours of meditation. On the other hand, it is in itself a tool for working on the spirit and character, except that the development of out inner selves takes place here through the body.
Although it leads to becoming one with our spirit, yoga is not a religion. It is closer to a philosophical system. It comes from India and is over 5,000. years old. It naturally penetrated into local beliefs and is sometimes identified with Hinduism and Buddhism. Yoga has its own ethical principles known as yams and nijams. They may seem like the Ten Commandments, but in reality they are a guide to our practice. In addition, yoga also includes meditation practice, breathing practice (paranayama) and asanas, which is purely physical practice.
Ayurveda – an ancient medical system.
Ayurveda is often referred to as the sister of yoga. As extensive and complex as yoga, it strengthens the yogi’s body, teaches him the rhythm, calms him down, and makes him ready to pursue his karma. Ayurveda is not just another fad or an abbreviated list of recommendations. What distinguishes it is its spiritual and philosophical aspect. According to Ayurvedic knowledge, the world consists of five elements: Fire, Air, Earth, Water and Aether. They carry certain qualities and a way of impact. Since they are components of the entire universe, they are also found in us, plants, animals, rocks, seas, lakes, weather and even social phenomena.
Each of us is a unique blend of these elements, and when we remain unaware of how to take care of ourselves, we may disturb our well-being and, as a result, become aggressive and explosive, lethargic and lifeless, fearful and moody. Disorders at the level of dosha (i.e. our unique composition of 5 elements) also bring purely physical effects. These can include excess body fat, clogged sinuses, heartburn and stomach pain, irregular bowel movements, crackling joints, inflammation and skin lesions, and more. In such a psychophysical condition, it’s hard to be even a normal person, let alone enlightened. Therefore, Ayurveda gives us the tools for self-discovery and changes in our lives that will allow us to enjoy health and peace, which in turn results in the fact that we will have more resources to pursue our dharma (life path) and to pursue spiritual development.
Two ways to achieve one goal.
Ayurveda and yoga are not only derived from one core, but complement each other wonderfully. Ayurveda often uses yoga as a tool to work with body ailments, but also to work with emotions. There are specific asanas assigned to each of the doshas, and as according to Ayurveda does not have one diet or lifestyle that is right for everyone, so how to practice yoga also depends on the condition and constitution of the yogi. Individual asanas also work on specific energy centers (chakras), which can be a clue when working on emotions. So here we have at least two paths again: Ayurveda and yoga affect the body (e.g. by cooling it down, warming it up, relaxing, strengthening, improving digestion, taking care of the spine and joints), but the asanas themselves also affect emotions. Remember, have you ever felt blissfully calm in child pose, felt anger while practicing kundalini yoga, or suddenly cried during asanas that open your chest?
Let this insight encourage you to look at your needs and practice. Maybe there is something here that can be deepened? Or maybe it is worth approaching yoga in a more holistic way, so that in addition to strengthening the body, it can also affect the strength of the spirit and overall life well-being? Regardless of what you decide to do, it’s worth taking care of yourself. Calm and balanced, we have a better chance of fulfilling our soul mission, more patience for others and a more open mind.