Yoga & Ayurveda:Two Arms, One Body
by Monica Yearwood
Yoga and ayurveda are regarded as the right and left arms of the same body. They are sister sciences, part of the same family, with roots deeply entrenched in the Vedas. Ayurveda recommends integrating practices such as meditation, cleansing and asana into one’s daily routine for optimal health and mental clarity.
Yoga asanas keep the body limber, vital and strong. The poses are detoxifying and can be used to support physiologic function and repair. Ayurvedic practitioners are able to customize yoga asana sequences that will work to pacify or stimulate bodily functions. Pranayama (conscious breathing) directs the way prana (life force) moves through the body, and is practiced in conjunction with yoga and meditation. It purifies the physical body—specifically, the energetic channels, called nadis, which transport prana— and prepares the mind for meditation.
AYURVEDIC PRACTICES, SEASON BY SEASON
Ayurveda teaches the importance of seasonal augmentations on our yoga practice. In general each season possesses qualities that can be reduced through specific yoga practices. Typically, fall and early winter practices emphasize warmth and rejuvenation. The dryness and mobility that we observe in our environment can be countered by practicing fewer asanas and holding them for longer periods. Late winter and spring is wet and cool in the Chicago area, and ayurveda emphasizes heat and detoxification. Kappalabhatipranayama, a yogic breathing practice that enhances internal heat, vinyasa, and sequences that emphasize movement and strength can be helpful at this time of the year. Summer season is hot and wet. Sheetali pranayama, a yogic breathing practice for cooling the body, or extended meditation can help cool the mind.
AYURVEDIC CLEANSING CLEARS THE WAY FOR PRANA
Ayurveda’s morning routines create a daily awareness practice through interaction with the physical self. By observing our physical body and mental quality, we cultivate an inner knowledge of our overall state of being. The seven gates refer to eyes, ears, nose and mouth—or the seven openings into the head, and there are specific practices that help to keep them clean. In so doing, we ‘open the gates’ and allow the full magnitude of prana into our being, and prepare ourselves for our yoga and meditation practice.
Some of the more common aids for cleansing the seven gates include neti pot for sinus cleansing and a tongue scraper for cleansing the mouth. Additional practices include placing a few drops of oil in the ears and cleansing the eyes with herbal wash. One teaspoon of eyebright, a common herb, can be steeped in one cup of hot water. Strain the water after it has cooled and use it in an eye rinse.
STRENGTHENING IMMUNITY THROUGH ASANAS
Digestion is the epicenter of our immune system, according to ayurveda, and keeping it strong ensures health. Specific asanas and breathing practices influence digestive function, and can be used to reduce or prevent imbalance. Twisting postures can regulate jatharagni—the mother fire of all the fires in the body—that exists in the small intestine and influences digestive function. Kappalabhati pranayama increases heat and stimulates the digestive function. Breathing in and out of Ida Nadi (the left nostril), while laying on the left side reduces agni (fire) and can help to prevent hyperacidity or fast digestion.
Ayurveda is a lifestyle practice and a medical system that emphasizes our alignment with nature. Collectively, the yogic practices that are part of an ayurvedic lifestyle restore us, and rejuvenate every vital tissue in the body. They are the heart of ayurveda. These practices help to strengthen the herbal medicines, detoxification
strategies, and other concentrated practices used in ayurvedic medicines. In addition, yoga aids the development of inner awareness and knowing of one’s individual purpose—both of which are regarded as foundational to health.
Monica Yearwood is an ayurvedic practitioner, author, speaker and founder of Hamsa Ayurveda & Yoga.