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The history of Yoga and Ayurveda

Does Yoga make you think of people wound up like pretzels in poses? And if you’re familiar with Ayurveda, does it conjure up images of folks downing mung bean and rice Khichdi? Both are so much more! Ayurveda and Yoga are 5,000-year-old Vedic sciences originating in ancient India.  Ayurveda (Ayur = life, Veda = Science) is the “Science of Life” and the oldest known form of medicine. Holistic in nature, Ayurveda offers robust protocols for prevention and disease management.  “Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” which means the union of the individual with universal consciousness achieved through the practice of asanas, pranayama, and meditation.  Together Ayurveda and Yoga bring balance to mind, body, and spirit, resulting in happiness, longevity, and better health. In this blog post, we’ll explore the history, evolution, and connection between these two Vedic disciplines.

The early history of Ayurveda and Yoga

The Vedic texts

The Vedas are ancient scriptures, composed in Sanskrit, and said to have been cognized thousands of years ago. They are a collection of poems and hymns originally passed on through oral tradition and then finally written down around 1500 BCE – 500 CE. There are four Vedic texts known today: the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda, and the Atharva Veda, each focusing on specific subjects or Upavedas. The origin of both Ayurveda and Yoga can be traced back to the Rig Veda. And while the Rig Veda speaks to medicine, the Atharvaveda contains the majority of the medical ideas pertaining to Ayurveda. 

The evolution of Ayurvedic knowledge

Between 1000-700 BC, Ayurveda developed into eight branches or specialties: internal medicine (kayachikitsa), surgery (shalya tantra), eye, ear, nose, and throat diseases (shalakya tantra), pediatrics (kaumarabhritya), toxicology (agada tantra), psychiatry (bhuta vidya), rejuvenation (rasayana) and aphrodisiacs or sexual vitality (vajikarana). Additionally, two schools were formed during that time, the Atreya School of Physicians, and the Dhanvantari School of Surgeons.

The mantras and religious aspects of medicine presented in the Vedas were eventually subjected to tests for efficacy based on more scientific thinking and then rearranged into compilations known as the Samhitas.

The three oldest and most authentic Samhitas, also known as the Great Trio or Brihat Trayi, are the Charaka Samhita (400-200 BCE), Sushruta Samhita (composed between 1500-1000 BCE, and adapted in the second century BCE), and Ashtanga Hridayam Samhita (400-500 CE). The Charaka Samhita focuses on internal medicine representing the Atreya school of physicians, the Sushruta Samhita on surgery or Dhanvantari school of surgeons, and the Ashtanga Hridayam Samhita the eight branches or specialties of Ayurveda.

The development of Yogic knowledge

Maharishi Patanjali, the father of classical yoga, wrote the Yoga Sutras around 500 BC. The Sutras are considered the authoritative text on Yoga and outline its eight limbs: Yama (social ethics), Niyama (personal ethics), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breathwork), Pratyahara (withdrawing senses), Dharana (one-pointed focus), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (merging with the self). 

The Bhagavad Gita simplified the Yoga Sutras and further expanded upon them through its powerful dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna. During this exchange, three distinct types of Yoga are discussed: the Yoga of Action (Karma Yoga), the Yoga of Knowledge (Jnana Yoga), and the Yoga of Devotion (Bhakti Yoga).

Written in the 15th century by Svatmarama, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Light on Hatha Yoga) later documented the practices of yoga through asana, mudra, meditation, and pranayama. As you can see, the history of Yoga includes so much more than just the asanas!

The spread of Ayurveda and Yoga

Yoga was introduced to the West in the 19th century. Much credit for its migration is often given to Swami Vivekananda, who gave lectures, established learning centers, and promoted Yoga philosophy throughout the U.S. Paramahansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi) further contributed to the expansion of the history of Yoga in the West through his lectures, centers, and writings during the 1920s. 

During the same period in India, Krishnamacharya popularized Hatha Yoga with a focus on physical practice or asana. Two of his students, B.K.S Iyengar and T.K.V. Desikachar developed and spread their own adaptations of hatha and vinyasa yoga throughout the U.S., resulting in the predominant type of Yoga practice we see today. 

While Yoga was part of daily life in India and gaining popularity in the U.S., it did not bring along its sister science, Ayurveda. India’s history is rife with Mughal invasions and British colonization. Ayurveda, as a medical science in India, was suppressed by the British. In 1833, all Ayurvedic colleges were banned. Many traditions, lineages, and knowledge were lost or destroyed. After independence from colonial rule in 1947, Ayurveda was revived and standardized by the Indian Government. 

The Vedic texts and present-day spiritual culture inspired countless writers and artists between the 19th-20th centuries, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and T.S. Eliot. The Beatles, whose interest in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s organization of Transcendental Meditation, helped pave the way for Vedic influence on the New Age movement in the U.S. during the 1970s. In the 1980s, Indian physicians such as Vansant Lad and Deepak Chopra, began to teach and write about Ayurveda, setting the wave in motion for future growth.

Today, Ayurvedic schools, professionals, manufacturers, and organizations abound, and Ayurveda continues to spread as a lifestyle-based, preventive, personalized, and natural form of medicine the world over.

The benefits of connecting Ayurveda and Yoga

As sister sciences, Ayurveda and Yoga work together to provide great benefits at all levels. Yoga provides support to the mind and spirit, and Ayurveda awakens self-healing of the mind-body’s imbalances and diseases. When combined, both help the individual to attain the highest form of healing, self-realization, or the transformation from physical existence to spiritual being.

“Yoga is the intelligence of prana seeking greater evolutionary transformations, while Ayurveda is its healing power seeking to consolidate the life systems it has already developed”.

– David Frawley

Connecting Ayurveda and Yoga To Create The Ideal Practice

Ayurveda and yoga practice on the beach

Like peas in a pod, Ayurveda and Yoga are distinct disciplines but come from the same source. They are both rooted in Vedic wisdom, which is a 5,000-year-old body of knowledge from the present-day Indian subcontinent. Today, Yoga in the West is strongly focused on the physical aspect (asanas) of yoga practice and straddles the fitness industry. It offers incredible benefits for the body, although it’s also a tool for the mind and heart. And while Ayurveda is commonly known for supporting the health of the body through interventions like herbs, it also addresses the mind, consciousness, and psychology. Professionals may choose to specialize in Ayurveda or Yoga, as that is how most of the training and education is offered. And so, as consumers, we often find them as separate offerings even though they are inherently connected.

In the past, Yoga was a discipline reserved for particular initiates. Nowadays, the blessings of Yoga reach far and wide. Meditation, fitness, and healing instructors are more creative each day, with novel styles emerging like aerial Yoga, goat Yoga, nude Yoga and so many more.  While “Ayurvedic Yoga” might not be as trendy, it is powerfully healing. In this article, we explore several ways in which you can incorporate Ayurveda into your personal or teaching Yoga practice.

Align your practice with nature

Ayurveda’s first goal is to “preserve the health of the healthy.” This goal is accomplished primarily through lifestyle practices that are in harmony with nature. This includes all the daily choices you make, from when to get up to what to eat for lunch, to when to exercise and go to bed. All these choices are vital for optimal health, though we’ll focus on the ones that relate most to your Yoga practice.

Be in tune with the circadian rhythms

Timing is everything. To make the most of your practice, breathe and stretch by the Ayurvedic clock.

What’s the Ayurvedic clock? It’s the concept of synching time periods with our various energy levels. It provides us with guidance on the optimal times to engage in activities such as eating, sleeping, practicing yoga, and more.

Here’s how you can apply the clock to your Ayurveda and Yoga practice:

  • Early to bed and early to rise. Bedtime by 10-10:30 pm is optimal, as is rising around 6 am.
  • Early morning is considered the optimal time for Yoga practice. Between 4-6 am, when the atmosphere is most subtle, it’s considered the “magical hour” for Yogis. 
  • Mid-afternoon power practices are very popular. Ensure you have a good breakfast on afternoon Yoga days, and practice prior to lunch.
  • Alternate your practice with your meals. Wait at least 1 hour after a meal for your practice. Asana and Pranayama (breath work) especially should not be performed on a full stomach.
  • If you opt for evening practice, go slower. A Restorative or Yin class is ideal at night to assist your mind and body with preparing for sleep.
Ayurveda and yoga asana

Adopt a seasonal asana practice for maximum benefits

One of the most beautiful experiences is practicing with the season. As the months usher in new levels of heat, cold, dryness, and moisture, your asana practice can help you adapt to these changes.

Changing up your postures, breath work, mantras, and mudras with the seasons adds depth to your practice. According to Ayurveda “there’s no inside or outside,” which means that the changes in the weather impact you and your internal mind-body system. If you take cues from nature and adapt your poses and styles throughout the seasons, you may notice that your practice is easier and more intuitive. 

You may also notice that you suffer less from seasonal imbalances and even appreciate your least favorite seasons a bit more. This is all possible using the Ayurvedic science of the elements and qualities. When a season increases certain elements, you can compensate by introducing counterbalancing elements in the practice.  Personalizing an Ayurveda and yoga seasonal practice can be as simple as favoring key styles or poses that provide this counterbalancing impact. Teachers can advertise classes as “seasonal,” though it may be more appealing and beneficial to students to incorporate seasonality into classes by default. 

Late Winter and Early-Mid Spring (Kapha Season)

The weather is wetter and cooler. Your body may tend to feel a little heavier and find your motivation to practice lacking. To balance Kapha you should opt for asana that is detoxifying, energizing, and warming.

  • Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) generates heat when practiced with vigor. Incorporating chest opening hand movements will help stimulate the lungs and sinuses, the main sites of Kapha.
  • Backbends also provide an opening to the chest and lungs. Natarajasana (king dancer), urdhva dhanurasana (upward-facing bow), and salabhasana (locust) are all fitting options.
  • Inversions such as adho mukha savasana (downward facing dog) and ardha pincha mayurasana (dolphin) are great for beginner yogis and help stimulate circulation and bring a feeling of lightness to the body.
 
Late Spring, Summer, and Early Fall (Pitta Season)

The weather is warm or hot, after all, Pitta is all about fire, so asana should be cooling and calming.

  • Time to slow your practice down a bit. Avoid the power yoga sessions and instead opt for more gentle flows and/or restorative practices.
  • The main site of Pitta in the body is the navel and solar plexus areas so opt for poses that include side bends and twists or backbends such as bhujangasana (cobra), dhanurasana (bow), matsyasana (fish).
 
Mid Fall through Early Winter (Vata Season)

Cooler, dryer, and more mobile (windy) weather call for asana that is warming, stabilizing, and calming in nature.

  • Standing poses such as virabhadrasana (warrior poses) bring stabilization and grounding. Balancing poses like vrksasana (tree pose) help focus the mind and create rooting or grounding with the earth.
  • Malasana (garland pose), balasana (child’s pose), and pavanmuktasana (wind-relieving pose) also bring grounding qualities.
  • Prone backbends like bhujangasana (cobra pose) and dhanurasana (bow pose) help bring heat to the spine and lower back while uttanasana (standing forward fold) provides warmth to the internal organs.
Ayurveda and yoga breath work

Practice breath work based on your constitution and imbalances

Breathwork (pranayama) to balance the Doshas

Pranayama calms and soothes the nervous system, bringing the mind closer to a meditative state. Beneficial for all Doshas, an Ayurveda and yoga Pranayama practice can benefit physical imbalances as well as disorders of the emotional body. 

Pranayama for Kapha 

Ujjayi or victorious breath and Kapalabhati are two excellent breath practices for Kapha. Both are heating in nature and beneficial for stroking the digestive fire, or Agni. 

  • Ujjayi involves a slight constriction of the throat muscles causing the air to create an audible vibration as it passes over the vocal cords. Working on the middle sinuses and throat, it creates a subtle state of mind. 
  • Kapalabhati or “shining skull” breath is practiced by alternating short, explosive exhales with slightly longer, passive inhales bringing cleansing to the nasal passages.
 
Pranayama for Pitta

Cooling forms of pranayama can reduce Pitta and enkindle subtler aspects of Agni, including the fire of the mind. Shitali and Sitkari are two cooling pranayama practices beneficial for Pitta types. 

  • To practice Shitali breath, the air is inhaled through the mouth, like sucking water through a straw, and exhaled through the nostrils. 
  • Sitkari breath, known to clear heat from the head and cool the emotions, starts with the tip of the tongue pressed to the palette as air is drawn in through closed teeth, the mouth is then opened as breath is released through the nose.  
 
Pranayama for Vata

Breath control can be very soothing for Vata in both the mind and body. 

  • Kalabalapti breath practiced first thing in the morning increases Apana Vayu aiding in elimination and cleansing of the bowls. 
  • Surya bedhana brings warmth and Bhastrika breath, a rapid forceful breath controlled by the diaphragm, can be used for Vata-related issues impacting the nervous system and joints.
Anjali mudra during an Ayurveda and yoga practice

Ayurveda and Yoga meditation techniques to balance the mind

The objective of Meditation or Dhyana is to stabilize your mind. It helps you to develop the objectivity to see yourself and the world as they are. Meditation is a time to turn inward with contemplation and exploration of your deeper self. When done regularly, it removes the layers of conditioning that prevent you from seeing life as it is, bringing healing to your mind, body, and spirit. The ultimate goal: a connection of your individual consciousness with that of the universe.

Vata Dosha Meditation

Vata imbalance often brings anxiety, distraction, and lack of focus. The activeness of the mind continually brings subconscious thoughts to the surface causing the mind to wander and making meditation challenging. Chanting mantras, repetition of a word, phrase and/or sound, is an effective way to harness an active Vata mind. The repetition drowns out the many sounds and words within the thoughts shifting the mind from a rajasic to a sattvic state.

Pitta Dosha Meditation

The most common Pitta imbalances include anger, impatience, and perfectionism.  Heart chakra or loving kindness-themed meditations offer the opportunity to develop compassion while third eye and crown chakra themes bring spiritual awareness to often-objectified practices. Cooling imagery and mudras also help pacify Pitta.

Kapha Dosha Meditation

Imbalance for Kapha often tends to involve heaviness and can manifest into a form of attachment to things or points in time. Given a tendency to hold onto the past, a meditation practice that allows focusing on present-moment awareness can be helpful. Kirtan singing can also be a great meditation technique as it clears emotional heaviness and strengthens the lungs which can often become congested during Kapha imbalance.

David Frawley, well known ayurvedic teacher, and Vedic philosopher states it best, “There is no need for any Yogic system of medicine apart from Ayurveda, and there is no Yoga Chikitsa (therapy) apart from Ayurveda”.  When Ayurveda and yoga are practiced together, the result is an elevated practice that brings harmony and balance to your body, mind, and spirit.

Free Talk: Introduction to Ayurveda – Connect with Your Inner Healer

Join us for a free event to learn:
  • What is Ayurveda and its ancient connection to Yoga?
  • Foundational principles of Ayurveda and the concept of individual constitution
  • Meditation’s role in self-healing for reduced stress and self connection
  • Practical, personalized tips and rituals for daily wellness

 

The ancient health systems of Ayurveda and Yoga are complementary sister sciences from the ancient Vedic period of India offering profound potential for healing when combined. In this free talk, be introduced to Ayurveda by Dr. (Vaidya) Jayarajan, a Vedic scholar, experienced clinician and educator from Kerala, India.

Ayurveda offers a holistic approach to wellness for total mind, body and spirit wellness. The title, “Vaidya” attributed to Ayurvedic practitioners refers to “the healer.” According to the ancient Vedic texts, we can all invoke this unique Vaidya, or healer within us. By aligning with nature, performing daily and seasonal practices personalized to our constitution, and incorporating meditative practices to connect with self, we may learn to empower our inner healer instead of our imbalance.

 

No registration required. This is a free, all levels event.

 

About the instructor

Dr. Vaidya Jayarajan Kodikannath (BSc, BAMS) is the Vice President and Academy Director of Kerala Ayurveda USA. He is an experienced Ayurveda scholar and clinician with a degree in Ayurvedic Medicine from Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He is also a leader trainer for domain experts in Ayurveda with rich experience in creating Ayurvedic programs internationally. He headed the Ayurveda Expert team in new research project development at Kerala Ayurveda on Efficacy, Safety and Standardization of Ayurvedic Wellness solutions. He is an Expert Curriculum Committee member at Bastyr University, Seattle for Masters in Ayurveda and a Board Member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association.

Free Talk: Introduction to Ayurveda

Ayurveda herbs

Ayurveda and Yoga are sister sciences from the ancient Vedic period of India and are complementary health systems, offering profound potential for healing when combined. In this free talk, be introduced to Ayurveda by Dr. (Vaidya) Jayarajan, a Vedic scholar, experienced clinician and educator from Kerala, India. Ayurveda’s personalized and holistic approach provides common sense lifestyle practices you can incorporate every day. We’ll introduce you to the Ayurvedic practices of alignment with nature’s rhythms, dietary guidelines, herbal remedies and Yoga for mind, body and spirit healing. 

YOU’LL DISCOVER:
  • What is Ayurveda?
  • Ayurveda’s history and connection to Yoga
  • Foundational principles of Ayurveda
  • How to identify common natural elements and cycles
  • The concept of the Doshas and individual constitution
  • Principles of living and practical tips based on the individual constitution

 

Register

Sign up online or contact info@synergyyogaschool.com to RSVP

Sign up online

 

About the instructor

Dr. Vaidya Jayarajan Kodikannath (BSc, BAMS) is the Vice President and Academy Director of Kerala Ayurveda USA. He is an experienced Ayurveda scholar and clinician with a degree in Ayurvedic Medicine from Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He is also a leader trainer for domain experts in Ayurveda with rich experience in creating Ayurvedic programs internationally. He headed the Ayurveda Expert team in new research project development at Kerala Ayurveda on Efficacy, Safety and Standardization of Ayurvedic Wellness solutions. He is an Expert Curriculum Committee member at Bastyr University, Seattle for Masters in Ayurveda and a Board Member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association.

Relieve tension anytime and anyplace

The following is a method for deep relaxation and tension relief. It is essentially a method in which you intentionally alternate between tensing a muscle group for about 5 seconds, then quickly letting them go limp. You repeat this technique with muscle groups throughout the body, one-by-one, completely focus on the feeling of total relaxation as your muscles go limp, until your whole body feels deeply relaxed.

 

You can perform this technique anytime, anywhere

It is an excellent way to start or end the day while in bed. Throughout the day, it can provide essential stress relief to reboot the body. Simply adjust the timing and your posture to suit the moment.

 

Preparing for the technique

  • Try to find a peaceful location where there is very little noise.
  • Wear loose clothes and remove your shoes, or go barefoot.
  • Lie flat on your back if possible, comfortably – bolster yourself under the knees, lower back or neck if needed. Keep your hands by your side, palms up, legs straight with space in-between.
  • If seated in a chair, prop yourself so that you can be as comfortable as possible.
  • Breathe deeply and concentrate on your breathing. Count an inhale and an exhale as 1 round. Do 10 rounds of this.
  • Take a moment right now to listen to your body. Observe if you feel any tension. Where do you feel loose? Where or do you feel tightness or aching points?

 

Technique

Note: We will work from the feet up, through either leg, either arm and so slowly up the body in sequence. Remember when you tense the muscle, hold the tension for 5 seconds and relax fully the part which you clenched. Once that part is fully relaxed, move to the next part. The order will be: left leg, right leg, left arm, right arm, torso Make sure to give each part your full, undivided attention. Remember: your focused, loving intent is healing to your own body!

 

Instructions:
  1. Curl your left toes down firmly as tightly as you can, tensing the foot. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  2. Clench your left calf muscle (from the back ankles to the back of the knee). Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  3. Lift your left knee cap and tense it. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  4. Squeeze the left thigh muscles. You should feel your whole leg tense up. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  5. Repeat Steps 1-4 on the right foot and leg.
  6. Engage your left arm, drawing awareness to your hand, upper arm and lower arm. Clench your left fist hard tightly. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  7. Clench your left fist again and pull your arm to your shoulder so your biceps tighten. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  8. Repeat Steps 6-8 with your right arm.
  9. Keep your arms and legs relaxed and loose. Deep breathe in, deep breathe out.
  10. Tighten your buttocks. Do not lift, just clench. Hold for 5, then release.
  11. Suck your stomach in deeply. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  12. Breathe deeply into your lungs and feel your chest muscles tighten. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  13. Now a common trouble spot:the neck and shoulders. You can fully tense both by simply shrugging, taking your shoulders high near your earlobes. Hold for 5, then release. You may want to repeat this a few times of you are particularly tense in this area.
  14. Now the face: open your mouth in the widest yawn you can manage without risking dislocation of the jaw hinges. Hold for 5, then release.
  15. Squeeze your eyelids tight shut as if you want to shut out everything around you. Hold for 5, then open your eyes and release.
  16. Raise your eyebrows as much as possible. Feel your forehead stretch and hold for 5, then release.

 

The whole body should now be relaxed. Allow your attention to slip deeply into this sense of relaxation, letting your breathe remain slow and deep. Soak up the sensation of a relaxed body and mind!

Yoga nidra: a self-healing technique

Yoga Nidra is a simplified version of Tantric kriyas, or movements, designed by Swami Satyananda Saraswaty. It is, simply put, a state of dynamic sleep in which the mind is relaxed to a brain wave state bordering just above true sleep. Thus it is a deep relaxation technique, harmonzing your deep unconscious mind.

Yoga Nidra is known for bringing peace and clarity. A complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation technique, it controls & balances emotions and support confidence development.

 

Indications

Yoga Nidra is beneficial for a person experiencing any of the following:

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Hypertension
  • Learning disorders
  • Long-standing anxiety
  • Lifestyle disorders
  • Stress-related disorders

 

The technique

Duration: 30-40 minutes

 

Instructions:
  1. Find a peaceful space without any disturbance.
  2. Lie down in a supine position on the floor.
  3. Adopt Savasana posture (Corpse Pose) and use blanket if needed to support the neck or under your knees.
  4. Avoid lying in bed or on a cushion. Keep your body straight and palm facing upwards, relax.
  5. Close your eyes and relax your eyes, forehead, cheeks and mouth. Allow the mouth to open slightly if this is more comfortable.
  6. Promise yourself that you will not fall asleep and will be awake throughout.
  7. Become aware of your breath. Observe your inhales, exhales, and pauses in between, lengthening each of them naturally.
  8. Welcome all your memories, thoughts and emotions (both positive and negative) as they come.
  9. Let all your thoughts flow within you. Don’t restrict any thoughts.
  10. Accept yourself completely, including any problems that arise in your mind. Remind yourself that in this moment, none of them matter.
  11. Allow yourself to be neutral.
  12. Observe yourself.
  13. Continue to breathe in this state of neutrality, allowing each exhale to become a release of tension or worry, and each inhale a drawing in of peace and love. A stage comes eventually where you feel stable, light and empty.
  14. Now your thoughts are free, completely neutral and life is in your hands. Choose to be happy and serene, living exactly the way you want.
  15. Now your mind is stable and clear. Visualize an image that is peaceful to you, such as a beach shore or beautiful temple. The image should help you feel calm as well as focused. Concentrate on the image and explore it deeply.
  16. Continue to observe the breath.
  17. You are in a deeply relaxed state.
  18. Stay here for as long as you like, at least 7 minutes.
  19. Eventually return your awareness to your body. Stretch your limbs, beginning with your toes and fingers.
  20. Roll slowly onto your right side and pause here until you feel stable enough to rise into a seated posture, eyes still closed. Breathe a few deep rounds, slowly opening your eyes.
  21. Experience the gratitude of your experience and wish yourself peace.