By Maria Carolina Parra

Ayurvedic Practitioner Candidate at Ayurved Sadhana
Photo Credit: Photo by Elly Fairytale

The present paper attempts to summarize the relationship between Ayurveda and Yoga, from the ancient texts to current times, two of the sacred healing systems for the body, mind and spirit. The word Ayurveda means “science of life”. The term Yoga means union of the mind, body and soul together. Both Ayurveda and Yoga are born from the same root of Vedic wisdom, dating back thousands of years in India. Their scriptures reveal the relationship between these two ancient sciences, sharing common philosophical perspectives that help us understand the purpose of our existence, to cultivate a personal and a divine relationship with our true nature, promoting our ability to attain health with the knowledge of self-healing.

Yoga and Ayurveda are considered “sister sciences” which can promote health and well being. Both practices, together, help us achieve physical, mental, and spiritual balance. By the proper balance of all energies in the body, Ayurveda helps the healthy person to maintain health, and the diseased person to regain health. Yoga brings the man to the natural state of tranquility which is equilibrium. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the relationship between these two sciences to be able to bring man spiritual freedom.

Yoga and Ayurveda are both rooted in the same philosophy of Sankya, one of six schools of classical Indian philosophy. Its foundation can be summarized as follows:

  1. There is an essential state of pure being that is beyond our conscious understanding.
  2. Suffering is a part of our lives because of our attachment to our ego.
  3. We can end suffering by dissolving our ego.
  4. We must live under the practice of the Yamas and Niyamas of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
  5. Any unbalanced within the mind or body interferes with this path. Ayurveda is the science of keeping the biological forces in balance so that the mind and body may be healthy.

Both Ayurveda and Yoga system’s of medicine and healing have its roots in India in the Vedic Period, more than 5,000 years ago, and they have both survived to the present day, mainly because of its contribution to alleviate human suffering.

Reference to both systems are found in the earlier Vedic texts. The Hindu system of healing is based on four compilations of knowledge (Vedas): Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sam Veda, and Atharva Veda. The Rig Veda describes 67 plants and 1028 Shlokas. The Atharva Veda and Yajur Veda describe 293 and 81 medicinally useful plants. Ayurveda and Yoga have their roots in the Atharva Veda. (1) In this Veda, references are found to Prana, the vital energy of the Universe, and also to Chakras, “eight Chakras in the pranic body and nine apertures (gates) in the body”.

In the late Vedic age, the sacred scriptures of the Upanishads clearly reveal the philosophical and mystical concepts of the Vedas. They are the most important texts of ancient Yogic thought, addressing the spiritual life with mental purity, control and devotion to the Divine Spirit, with a deeper understanding and exploration of the internal world of mind and spirit. They teach the intimate relation of mind and prana, the importance of chanting, pranayama and meditation, and also following the Yama and Niyamas, or morality and ethics in life. In Sharirico Upanishad, we find the relation with the Panchmahabhuta (5 elements) and their connection to sensory organs, clearly showing the connection with Ayurveda.

Charaka is believed to have flourished between the 2nd and 6th BCE. Charaka Samhita is one of the most crucial contributions to Ayurvedic medicine today. The work summarizes medical care in health and in disease by offering etiology, symptomatology and treatments. It presents most of the foundations of Ayurveda while focusing on kayachikitsa (internal medicine). It contains a chapter on the “Embodied Person” that presents an early eightfold path of yoga, which precedes that of the well-known Patanjalayogasastra.

The Sushruta Samhita presents the field of Ayurvedic surgery (shalya). It is thought to have arisen about the same period as the Charaka Samhita. The Sushruta Samhita discusses blood in terms of the fourth doshic principle. He was also the first to discuss the pitta sub-doshas and the marmas. With emphasis on pitta, surgery, and blood, this work best represents the transformational value of life. It also contains descriptions of various rasayana substances, associated with lifespan and rejuvenation. (1) The Sushruta Samhita cikitsasthana (29.12), notes that the person undertaking rasayana should observe silence and practice yama and niyama (two elements of the eightfold path of yoga).

Ashtanga Hridayam Samhita (550-600CE) is the compilation of work from both Charaka and Sushruta. It contains very little information on Yoga, but mentions Pranayama (breath control) as a method of treatment when managing complications during enema therapy.

Patanjali, the Indian sage who is believed to be the author of the Yoga Sutras,
Patanjalayogasastra (4th – 5th CE), knew ayurvedic concepts of the body and theory of food transformation. (1) In Patanjalayogasastra (I.30), disease (vyadhi) is listed as one of the nine difficulties to attain mental concentration (samadhi). Another passage that shows the connection of Patanjali with the medical science of Ayurveda, is Patanjalayogasastra (III.29), in which he explicitly mentions the three doshas and seven tissues: “[As a result of constrain] upon the wheel of the navel [there arises the intuitive] knowledge of the arrangement of the body (YS III.29). By performing constrain upon the wheel of the navel he would discern the arrangement of the body. The humours are three, wind, bile and phlegm. The [corporal] elements are seven, skin and blood and flesh and sinew and bone and marrow and semen. Here (esa) the mention is such that preceding element is in each case exterior to that next preceding”.

The Medieval Era (5th – 15th CE) is considered an era of collection of ancient Ayurvedic literature. It was an era of Nighuntus, collection of Herbological Science of Plants. By the end of the medieval era, the Science of Ayurveda declined mainly because of civil wars and other internal crises. In this same period, several scriptures were recorded which are commonly known as the “Hatha Yoga Scriptures”. Some of these Yoga texts are:

  • The Buddhist Kalacakratantra (“Teaching on the Wheel of Time”), 9th – 11th CE, describe yoga practices with emphasis on breathing techniques and asanas, associated with health and spiritual benefits. It also suggests that the control of apana results in happiness and the destruction of wind diseases (vata), while the merging of apana and prana strengthens digestive fire (pitta).
  • Another Yoga text in the 14th CE, The Goraksasataka, mentions categories of disease such as phlegm (kapha), bile (pitta), and wind (vata) disorders (dosa).
Ayurveda and Yoga Blanace - Pixabay

By the end of the Medieval Era, in the 16th CE, a little-known anonymous work aims at integrating Ayurveda and Yoga, Ayurvedasutra. It comprises 1252 short aphorisms (sutra) in sixteen chapters. It correlates Patanjali’s aphorism with ayurvedic concepts and giving dietary prescriptions to help on the path of yoga. It also explains how the three primary qualities (gunas) of rajas (activity), tamas (inertia) and sattva (equilibrium) can be produced through diet: eating food sweet taste produces sattva, sour taste produces rajas and pungent taste produces tamas.

Even with the decline in Ayurveda during this period, some important Yoga texts arose between 17th and 18th CE. Between these, Yuktabhavadeva, Jogapradipyaka, Hathasanketacandrika and Satkarmasangraha. These texts provides direct evidence of the learned authors’s knowledge of Ayurveda, emphasizing on the human body’s anatomy, herbal preparations, dietary restrictions, treatment of diseases, and collection of ayurvedic practices to build therapeutic techniques for yoga practitioners. It is evident that many of the yogis were actually Vaidyas (doctors) of the Ayurvedic Science.

The period between 1700 – 1900 A.D. is considered as Modern period in which the great Yogacharyas- Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Paramhansa Yogananda, Vivekananda etc. have contributed for the development of Raja Yoga. Now in the contemporary times, everybody has conviction about yoga practices towards the preservation, maintenance and promotion of health.
During the British Raj in India, from 1858 to 1947, many of the great Ayurvedic texts, teachers, and techniques were silenced. Ayurveda survived in rural areas where the traditional ways of living were maintained. In 1896, Vaidya Prabhuram Jivanram established an Ayurvedic Institute, which was renamed to Prabhuram Ayurvedic College in 1902 (Patanjali’s Yogasastra included in the early curriculum). Other Ayurvedic Universities were established, but it was unit 1970, that Ayurveda was officially recognized as a national system of medicine by the Indian government. Yoga was also accepted as a component of indigenous systems of medicine, in 1978. The two departments were finally united in 2003 under the Ministry of Health as the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH).

There has been a remarkable Relationship between Ayurveda and Yoga for centuries. Both are mentioned in the scriptures of the Vedas and Upanishads. As Holistic Healing Sciences and practices, none of these sciences can be seen or practiced separately, as both interconnect deeply in order to understand our true nature that goes beyond body and mind, time and space.

Both Yoga and Ayurveda, are based on the Samkhya philosophy of creation, in which Purusha is the consciousness, and Pakruti is the creative force of action, the matter. Pakruti is the manifestation and Purusha is the witness to this creation. Then, consciousness is energy manifested into the five elements: Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. The heart of the Ayurvedic science lies on these five elements which exist in all matter and are manifested in the human body as three basic principles, known as Tridosha. Then, Vata (ether and air), Pita (fire and water) and Kapha (earth and water), govern all the biological, psychological and physiopathological functions of the body, mind and consciousness. When these energies get out of balance, disorder or disease occurs.

Through the application of Ayurvedic and Yoga principles, we can bring back these energies into a balanced state which will promote the natural resistance and immunity within the body. Ayurveda principles of right living include behavior, values, discipline, and life-style practices such as healthy eating and exercise, including daily and seasonal regimes to help us adjust to the movement of time. Also, Ayurveda has clinical methods to treat disease with no side effects, promoting the use of herbal cures and preparations to bring the out-of-balance in the body into harmony. Yoga postures tone every area of the body, and cleanse the internal organs of toxins, which is one of the goals of Ayurveda. In fact, yoga balances all three doshas with different poses having different effects on the body. Not only asanas (postures), but also pranayama (breathing), tapas (discipline),
tantra, mantra and meditation, all practices that purifies the currents of energy in the body (nadis).

Are we willing to go deep into the roots of these two Vedic Sciences to become more aware of our true nature and the ways to find self-healing?

The key to a comprehensive Ayurveda system of medicine and Yoga therapy lies in restoring the connection between Yoga and Ayurveda. This reconnection will allow to address the real causes of disease and the capacity to maintain or bring back holistic health for the humanity.

To create holistic health for body, mind and spirit, we need Ayurveda to provide the medical foundation, and Yoga to provide the spiritual goal and practices.

It is fundamental to understand the relationship between Yoga and Ayurveda that is coming from the ancient life-disciplines of the Vedic teachings. Profound knowledge of these two disciplines and understanding of their connection will help the individual to achieve longevity, greater vitality, rejuvenation, higher awareness and self-realization, mainly through healthy living habits, along with practices of pranayama, pratyahara, mantra, and meditation.


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