Yoga and Ayurveda - Their True Relationship



Image: Yogaasan

But still, the question whether Ayurveda is a part of Yoga remains unclear as these ancient systems continue their migration abroad. A proper answer can only be given by highlighting the Vedic culture from which both arose, and detailing the metaphysics of Samkhya philosophy, which gives the evolutionary background of each. In doing so, it may appear that Yoga and Ayurveda are in fact much closer than ‘sisters’.

Yoga and Ayurveda in Vedic philosophy.

The historical culture of the Vedas had a very particular challenge to face. The achievements of early Upanishadic philosophy – the identity of Self and Totality – as well as the acceptance of intuition as a valid source of truth, meant that Enlightenment was felt to be a realizable goal. This exceptional philosophical basis, the source of a wider and more democratic spread of mysticism than we see in other cultures, had a particular effect on Vedic society.

It is said that large numbers of people chose to renounce everyday life and take sannyasa(monkhood) at an early age –so convinced of the spiritual path that they completely cast aside any interest in society. Historians suggest that this overwhelming inclination to a spiritual life was the reason behind the formation of the Hindu SanatanaDharma, where practical rules established social responsibilities over the course of peoples’ lifetimes. These rules established that individuals must pass through four stages in life – studenthood, public life, seclusion, and finally renunciation. Parallel to these stages, the four purusartha– the aims of life – were established as;Dharma ,ethical and religious law;Artha, the pursuit of material wealth;Kama,  the pursuit of pleasure; and Moksha, the pursuit of Enlightenment.

The Vedic tradition includes many separate sciences – volumes of incredible literature devoted to architecture, art, medicine and most especially philosophy. With roots in the indigenous population of India, as well as the later Vedic culture, Ayurveda is one of these – a science relating to gross, physical life – the pursuit of earthly aims (Artha and Kama). Yoga, on the other hand, developed as a system of practical tools to train the mind towards the goal of Enlightenement (Moksha). Though we may, in a modern context, treat both Yoga and Ayurveda as systems of health, this was not the case in their original form. We might even say that issues related to earthly life (such as practical matters of health) were deemed of a lower value in the Vedic mindset, which remained firmly aimed towards Enlightenment. It is no surprise therefore, that Yoga and Ayurveda do not appear together in a scriptural context.

Kairali Yoga’s resident Philosophy Teacher   Emily Yates  organizes scheduled retreats and tailor-made courses at The Ayurvedic Healing Village in Kerala.

Samkhya Philosophy - the Basis of Yoga and Ayurveda.

Within the incredible intellection tradition of the Vedas, a number of theoretical systems formed to explain how Ultimate Reality evolved to the physical, material world we see around us. Both Yoga and Ayurveda have the system of Samkhya philosophy, an evolutionary metaphysics, as their basis. Samkhya began as an atheistic and dualistic philosophy that insisted upon the separation of Consciousness (Purusa) and Matter (Prakriti). The basis of Reality is pure Consciousness (Purusa), for which Matter(Prakriti) proliferates into the material world, as if performing a dance for Consciousness to witness. Behind this dualism we see the truth acknowledged by Jean-Paul Sartre and other figures of Western philosophy - that Consciousness must always be consciousness of something. This truth requires a dual relationship separating Spirit and Matter, which is the reason behind all existence inSamkhya philosophy.

Prakriti (Matter), the cause of existence, creates by means of the three gunas – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Students of Yoga philosophy will be familiar with these three as qualities or states of mind, translating as peace, passion and inertia, respectively. However, in their primeval form, the three gunas are evolutionary tools existing as matter – not qualities but atomic substances.Sattva is a light translucent substance that evolves into subtle objects: the mind and the sense organs of the human body, by the action of Rajas, the catalyst. Tames is a heavy, obscuring substance that evolves into grosser objects, chiefly the five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth.

Yoga, as a system, is aimed at the mind, and the Sattvice volutes of the Samkhya system. This was Patanjali’s original intention, and it is continued throughout the practices of Hatha Yoga and Tantra yoga. Only by focusing on the mind, can the individual be brought to a true, clear view of Reality, or unmediated Consciousness. Ayurveda, however, concentrates on the tamasice volutes of the Samkhya system – namely, the way in which five elements ether, air, fire, water and earth make up the human body. Those familiar with Ayurveda will notice that Ayurvedic diagnosis is called a Prakriti analysis for this reason – Ayurveda begins by analyzing the way in which the five elements make up each particular body. The Ayurvedic doshasare simply extensions of this Samkhya system, combining ether and air (Vatadosha), fire and water (Pitta dosha), and water and earth (Kaphadosha).

Redefining Yoga and Ayurveda.

The international spread of Yoga, already well achieved, presents certain challenges in redefining its Vedic source. The Western cultural mindset is practically the opposite of the original Vedic standpoint, and places nearly all its focus on earthly life, to the sometimes staggering neglect of what may exist beyond the frontier of material knowledge. It is no surprise, therefore, to see such emphasis on the physical and ‘relaxation’ aspects of Yogaasana in many of its Western developments.  Nor is there anything necessarily ‘wrong’ with this, as Yoga purists sometimes suggest. We can be sure that the core message of Yoga will withstand all kinds of cultural and historical interpretations on its journey as a universal form of knowledge.

At an earlier stage of its own migration abroad, the journey of Ayurveda brings new promises for a constantly developing understanding of the true meaning of Yoga, as well as the contemplation of material and spiritual aspects of life. Never before have we been offered a more comprehensive system with which to create balance – from the ground upwards. It is as clear today as in the Vedic times that true progress in life and spirituality relies on balance – the sensible consideration of physical health, and a gradual approach to the development of mental, or spiritual faculties. Together, Yoga and Ayurveda give us the tools to work within the context of this material realm and perfect our experience, enabling us to make true spiritual progress. 
For more information on Samkhya philosophy, Teacher    click here