The purpose of these posts are to provide a deeper yet bite sizeunderstanding of Yoga and of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the Indian system of medicine. China has traditional Chinese medicine and the West has the bio-medical model. Ayur may be translated to mean ‘life’, and veda as ‘science’. So Ayurveda may be translated as the ‘science of life’. Safe to say this science predates Western medicine by a fair degree. The view of yoga and ayurveda I have been taught and wish to present is of a traditional origin. Yoga is only a part of ayurveda. Yoga comes under the umbrella of Ayurveda. Yoga is the physical prescription formed by an ayurvedic diagnosis. In the West a medical doctor may advise a patient to practice yoga but it is not prescriptive or personal for that patient and the model of diagnosis is separate to the tradition of yoga. It has been advised generically and therefore not perhaps suitable or effective. It is out of context. Ayurveda in India has had it’s traditional roots left behind as the teachings became more medicalized and ‘degrees‘ were taken in this subject. Modern yoga as practised by many a westerner is thought of as exercise. It has a high level of fiery and competitive energy to it, that is, effort, will, achievement. This is fine as a beginning to a transformative model but true yoga needs to finish with a steady, calm and almost effortless state. The feeling is of released tension not exhaustion. The result being transformed to a calm equilibrium of body and mind. Asana, (the twisty bendy postures), are a specific form of exercise. Its aim is not one of fitness or weight loss but of cleansing and purifying, reducing the accumulated debris of life from the tissues. Flexibility of the spine is paramount to allow the unimpeded flow of nerve energy. So, asana is an ayurvedic form of exercise if done so appropriately.An important ayurvedic principle is that healing occurs in a state of stillness not cortisol infused exhaustion. Ayurvedic asana practice emphasises stillness as its main goal, not solely strength or flexibility or the external appearance of the posture. Because asana is such a special form of exercise it helps eliminate debris, metabolic waste, toxins, emotional or mental insults from the deeper tissues, especially where they accumulate in the bones and joints. This encouragement of inner stillness requires coaxing. One needs to be gradually released and allowed to relax into stillness. Any hurry or pressure will come out at a disturbed and deeper level. One must be warmed and nurtured, securely releasing tangible debris as well as fear, anxiety and trauma. Asana slows down hyperactivity and slowly gets over the inertia of apathy. Classical yoga or Raj, (royal) yoga has been formulated and documented quite succinctly and consists of the Eight limbs;
- yamas – rules of social conduct
- niyamas – rules of personal behaviour – these first two deal with basic expectations most of us have of each other and ourselves such as; non-violence, truthfulness,control of our desires, non stealing, non clinging to things or ideas.
- asana – any posture in yoga that is steadily held to the point of meditation
- pranayama – prana is another name for chi, qui, or life force. It is contained within the breath. Therefore by manipulating the breath we can manipulate our life force or energy status. ‘yama’ has often been described as ‘control’ but a more accurate transalation would be ‘expansion’.
- pratyahara – withdrawing our senses internally. Not suppressing them but management of them. How we use our senses determines the kind of influences we absorb. Choosing what inputs imprint upon us. Maybe reduce horror films or the news or listening to gossip. Nutrition isn’t just for the physical body.
- dharana – is the capacity to focus all of our attention on the the thing we need to examine and not get distracted. There is no badge of honour for multitasking. Do one thing, and one thing at a time well enough.
- dhyana – is the next level up from well mastered focus. This is now meditation. You may meditate on an external or internal object. The difference here is complete objectiveness. A witness to your surroundings as oppose to becoming embroiled in them.
- samadhi – This is top level stuff. Absorption with the object of our attention.
Now, don’t get all competitive and set yourself the goal of Samadhi by nightfall. Any first step along this path will lead to a more chilled place. You will get a better understanding of yourself. Notice what gives you energy and what steals your energy. You will start living with this currency in mind. Sweating the small stuff will fade away.