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Essential Ayurveda

by Alex Duncan, Gardoussel Retreat – France

In my opinion, all yoga participants would benefit from a basic understanding of Ayurveda, since Ayurveda is a branch of yogic science that specifically deals with how to obtain and maintain optimal physical and mental health, both of which are pre-requisites for the practise of yoga.

Consider verse I.30 from ‘The Yoga Sutras’. Here Patanjali clearly states that there are various obstacles that limit our practice of yoga including illness, mental disturbance, overindulgence and fatigue. It is in this context that Ayurveda is needed in the practice of yoga, as it provides a clear understanding of how to prevent these afflictions.

Ayurveda is in fact inseparable from yoga, and traditionally, Ayurveda uses Hatha yoga as a therapeutic tool, recommending specific asanas and pranayamas for specific situations.

Ayurveda is nothing other than the aspect of yoga that deals with the physical body (Annamaya Kosha), energetic body (Pranamaya Kosha), emotions (Manomaya Kosha), and the thinking mind (Vijnanamaya Kosha)

In my experience, most yoga practitioners ‘take to the mat’ for primarily physical and mental health reasons, rather than for a purely spiritual goal. In either case, it is only commonsense that the healthier we are, the more we can get from life, including our spiritual practice.

Unfortunately, the way that yoga is being taught and practiced in the west often falls short of its original aim. I am surprised by the number of people who have little idea  whether their exercise is really helping them or not, and are often surprised when I tell that the cause of their iillness is their  pratice of yoga.

The primary purpose of asanas is to balance the five pranas that govern the body, for it is the balance of the pranas that determines health, nothing else. Yet prana is rather tricky to relate to directly due to its subtle nature.

Luckily for us, Ayurveda provides a way to understand prana on a practical level through its concept of the three Doshas, which represent the three main functions or forces of prana as it manifests mind and body. These functions are easy to observe and provide a clear understanding of the pranic function of the body.

The great thing about Ayurveda and its theory of the Doshas is that it enables us to recognise and treat individuals, us included! The better we understand our Prakriti, or individual nature, the easier it is to fulfil the goal of physical health and spiritual evolution.

Here are three reasons why Ayurveda is of great importance:-
1. Ayurveda provides a comprehensive, yet adaptable method to maintain health through diet, exercise (for which Hatha yoga is used) and lifestyle that eliminate the basic obstacles that the Yoga Sutras speak about.

2. It offers us a scientific method to understand different constitutional types of people. This allows us to adjust our teaching or practice according to the individual.

3. It provides a clear system to keep the prana in harmony in our body. As the basis of all yoga relates to control of the pranic functions, Ayurveda is invaluable to clarify these functions in a logical manner.

Hatha yoga is often not strong enough alone to maintain balance in the body. The more stressful our life is the more important it is to use Ayurveda to support our practice of yoga. Asanas work on the prana through physical positions and breath awareness.

By adjusting our diet to our constitution the pranas are further balanced. When we understand our constitution on a mental level we can begin to balance the most disruptive pranic force, our mind. By understanding the effects of our sensory environment, we can take steps to make it work for us.

By working with Mantras that relate to our constitution, we can directly harmonise the prana in our mind, making all our yogic efforts more worthwhile, as well as helping us cope with mundane life.

Hence, we can see that the practice of yoga without Ayurveda is like standing on one leg. It works, yet how much more effective it is to walk on two legs at once!

Alex Duncan, Ayurvedic Educator, lives in the South of France where he runs Gardoussel Retreat . Visit www.gardoussel.com to see more of Alex's small family retreat offering consultations, Ayurveda and Yoga workshops/retreats.