The Big Picture
Take a look in the mirror. Take a good look. What do you see? You see a person staring back at you that is you. Imagine you were looking at this person objectively without any ideas about attractiveness, likes or dislikes. Take an objective look at your body shape; your height, the shape of your face, your eyes, mouth, nose etc. That’s what Ayurvedic practitioners do. They take a good look at you to gain information about who you are on a physical level. They clock the size and density of your body and the features of your face. Traditionally, Ayurvedic practitioners would even measure the length of your limbs and match them against the average. Then, the questions would start about your life and how you perceive it. Gradually, the pieces of the puzzle of your life are formed and the foundations are set for a therapeutic relationship to develop. Without this process, it is difficult to know how to help you in a way that is sustainable because where you are in your life today is the sum total of everything that came before. Your body and mind are a map of your personal history and your personal history followed a script that was mapped out by your Prakruti or Personal Constitution. Your life is unique and you are the key protagonist in your own story. Your strengths and flaws are part of a complex matrix of energy patterns that ebb and flow like the tides of the sea. There is no intrinsic good or bad about anything. Life is a constant jostling for attention between different factions of your being, held together by your sense of self. So our self identity seems like one over arching being but as we mature and get to know ourselves, we realize that we are holding lots of little people inside us and each of those little people are living out their own agenda but also contributing to the whole. A bit like having lots of characters in a drama that contribute to the main story played by the key character. The little sub plots interacting and contributing to the main story of our lives have all played a part in creating that person you see in the mirror. And as we get to know our Ayurvedic constitution, we realize that our lives fit into a much bigger pattern and there is a greater scheme or story unfolding in which we play a tiny part.
What is Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy?
Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy synergizes a variety of practices from both Yoga and Ayurveda for the purpose of creating health and well being so that we can live out our stories to their fullest. Sometimes being unwell is what we need to awaken to the deeper aspects of our lives but if we learn to trust, follow and grow into the recommendations set out by Yoga and Ayurveda, we can stay well for longer and live richer lives.
Neither Yoga nor Ayurveda alone, though effective systems in themselves, offer enough to meet the needs of people on a daily basis but together, they can work to enhance each other and create a powerful system for maintaining health and longevity.
Yoga and Ayurveda are considered to be sister sciences in the sense that they both come from a common philosophical root: the Vedas. David Frawley quite astutely pointed out that where Ayurveda ends, Yoga begins. (Frawley, 1999)
By this, he meant that the primary aim of Ayurveda is to create physical, mental and emotional wellness in order to build the foundations for experiencing higher states of consciousness. It is generally very difficult to appreciate the deeper and more subtle aspects of Yoga if you are struggling the health problems. There is however, a threshold or overlap between Yoga and Ayurveda where one is able to improve ones health with appropriate Ayurvedic routines and Yoga practices at the same time.
Ayurvedic texts already recommend Yoga asana as a basis for exercising the body and Mantra therapy as a tool for managing difficulties that originate in the mind. Equally, there are many references in the Hatha Yoga texts to Ayurveda, particularly the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Swatmarama around the 14thcentury. All the initial practices like Asana, Cleansing techniques (Shatkarmas) and Pranayama makes references Ayurveda. Therefore the term Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy is not so much a new concept, but a more accurate description of the true purpose behind the practices of both Yoga and Ayurveda. It is important to bear in mind that the Yoga and Ayurveda texts pre- date modern science and allude to a world view that is much more holistic than the views held in common society. Science is slowly catching up with many ancient techniques but the scientific paradigm needs to develop further to be able to truly integrate the traditional point of view.
What is involved?
Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy (AYT) revolves around the central idea of working with the various aspects of ones Prakruti: ones very own unique Constitution. We all have our own unique relationship with the environment and everything that interacts with us in life. For example, if we already have a lot of fire as part of our natural constitution or Prakruti, then we will need less fire from our environment and fire energy from our relationships to stimulate our passion for life and sense of joie de vivre. This quality will already be innate to our nature and will express itself on all levels including our physical body. So if we eat excessive amounts of chilli, practise hot yoga and get drawn into addictive violent relationships, then from the perspective of Yoga and Ayurveda, we are not acting skillfully. Conversely, if we have a lot of the Earth element in our Prakruti, then a sendentary lifestyle with lots of sugary treats will only serve to increase that element more. Understanding our Prakruti is pivotal, not only to what techniques we utilize in our Yoga practice and our daily Ayurvedic routines but in life as a whole. AYT is really a lifetime practice because we are forever changing and as we change, our relationship with the environment also changes so we need to know how to adapt with skill and knowledge in order to retain a positive sense of well being. When we cat with impunity against Ayurvedic principles, at first, we don’t notice any problems but eventually, our ability to adapt diminishes and we end up developing ailments. Ailments are a sign that we need to stop doing the activity that is causing the problem. If we don’t, then a fully blown disease will eventually develop and the quality of life will diminish.
Techniques used in AYT
The main techniques used in AYT are:
- Asana: Learning how to practise Asana with an awareness of how our practice impacts on the five elements in our body (Earth/ Water/ Fire/Air/ Space) as expressed by the three doshas (Vata (air/space) Pitta (fire/ water) and Kapha (earth/ water). There are very clear signs that we learn to recognize in AYT that will inform our Yoga practice of its success or failure.
- Pranayama: Learning how to practice basic breathing and Pranayama techniques to enhance our health. Not every yogic breathing practice is appropriate for everyone. Some are heating. Some are cooling and some are balancing. As with Asana, one needs to become judicious about how to get the best from these practices.
- Marma points and Nadis: Learning how to work with sensitive points and zones. These are called Marma points and Nadis (meridians) and are similar to those used in Acupuncture. They can be used to identify and clear energy blockages around the body using Asana and self massage techniques.
- Diet: Learning how to eat a balanced diet according to our Prakruti. If we are well, then it is possible to eat everything. But as soon as the AGNI or digestive fire begins to diminish, then we begin to realize that it is no longer possible to eat randomly and carelessly lest we risk building up undigested material in the body known as AAMA.
- Meditation: Some meditation techniques appeal to certain types more than others. I have known many practitioners that have stuck with one technique learned early on and have gained little satisfaction from it. Meditation can be a very powerful tool for personal growth as long as you are clear about why you are doing it. Meditation is such a broad concept and there are so many different approaches that this point is really very important. From an Ayurvedic perspective, your aim would be to create harmony in the mind and emotions so that there is less suffering and you create conditions for a higher state of consciousness.
- Daily routines: Everyone should have daily routines. Without them, life energy becomes very chaotic and there is either complete dissipation or perpetual frustration at not being able to act from ones “centre”. As with all routines, Ayurvedic routines are designed to make it easier to stay well and get the best out of your day, indeed your life. Just an hour of self discipline in the morning could make a huge discipline to the rest of your day, indeed, cumulatively, could change your life completely.
What underpins Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy is an understanding of who we are and how we interact with the environment. The environment includes the food we eat, the activities we do and the people we attach to. AYT can make us more skillful in our daily lives because we learn to recognize the signs of imbalance before it is too late. By learning to adapt skillfully to change, we can retain vitality and a sense of well being for longer. When we think of good health, we tend not to include mental and emotional health but Ayurveda does. Poor health of mind will eventually manifest in the body and in your life as a whole.