Yoga and Ayurveda – The strong, Indispensable bond

Ayurveda and yoga are two separate branches of knowledge and practice.  The prime aim of yoga is to teach one to take control over the manas (mind) and to develop a mental make of detachment so that enlightenment can be achieved.  Ayurveda on the other hand, trains one to live a healthy, happy and virtuous worldly life.  But there are many things in common.   Both of them speak about virtuous and healthy living. Here,Prof.Vaidya Prasad describes about the strong and inseparable bond betweenAyurveda and Yoga

 “Salutations are due to Sage Pathanjali who sanctified the mental, spoken and the physicalplanes of existence by virtue of Yoga, Vyakarana and Ayurveda respectively”

The quoted lines show a metaphorical representation of the interrelatedness of the three

streams of knowledge. They look quite different. But the bond between them is sostrong and indispensable. The three planes of existence mentioned above- mental,spoken and physical – are the basic functional planes of a human being.

Astonishingly, one does not have a fourth plane of action.  It is believed that Sage Pathanjali developed these three streams of wisdom to bring purity to their functional planes.  For achieving this sacred goal, he incarnated in three different forms: as Sage Pathanjali to develop Yoga, as Sage Panini to develop Vyakarana and as Sage Charaka to develop Ayurveda.  This may be an allegory of minimal, if not nil historical significance.  But the message depicted in it is highly motivating.  It states that the mental spoken and physical planes of action should be pure and one should follow the principles and practices of Yoga, Vyakarana and Ayurveda respectively in order to achieve this goal.  We may have an avian view into the importance of this relationship.

In Ayurveda,the major term of reference is ayu: (or ayus).  Ours is defined as the complementary and an indispensable union between body (sierra), mind (satwa) and the spirit (atma).  This combination shows the entirety of a human being.  Of these three, atma is considered as the most decisive element as far as the very existence is considered.  It is very distinct in its presence, but highly inert in its action.  It may be considered as a point of neutrality by nature. When connected with the gadgets of manas, it gains the sense of self. Manas is the trickiest one among all these three.  It is the principle that contributes the sense of ego.  The Atma-Manas duo may be together designated as ‘consciousness’.  Sareera is the platform that accommodates the Atma-Manas complement.  It is made out of and maintained by the seven dhathus (primary pool of materials). Sareera(body) without consciousness is inanimate.

Manas is the connecting link between the external world and the Atma.  That way, it may be understood as the tool of Atma. It perceives and translates the inputs from outside and prepares an appraisal about them.  This is like preparing a note of appreciation to the boss by a smart subordinate about an incident in a company. The decision on further action will always be based on this note.

Sareera and manas are the two sites of manifestation of health as well as disease.  As mentioned earlier, they are so close in their operations and share their states of wellness as well illness between them.  This observation is very important.  This is the plane on which one defines the concept of holistic health.  When an individual reports that he/she is ill, a diligent Vaidya should explore further and see if the illness is found in the sareera or manas.   A disease, which is presented as a physical entity, may be a long-term sequel of a mental disturbance like depression, fear or anxiety. Similarly, a mental disturbance diagnosed as depression or anxiety may be secondary due to a long-lasting skin ailment.

An understanding of the disease with its physical background is comparatively an easy task.  Subjective expertise added on with technological back up is a foolproof tool here.  Even though it looks simple and straight forward, it does not succeed many times in practice.  The reason is simple; the physical plane, explains only one half of the problem.  The mental half is left untouched.  So every healer who is keen about understanding a clinical situation properly and completely should try to explore into it with a holistic perspective.  An expert training in the dissection halls of the medical school may give a Vaidya a chance to understand a disease from the physical plane. But a similar strategy does not work with the mental plane.  Mind cannot be dissected over a table under a focus light.  It needs training in a different art.  And Yoga tells us how to understand manas and how to take control over its actions. That way, Yoga becomes an integral part of the holistic understanding of health as well as disease.

Manas is like a monkey.  It cannot focus on any act for long.  Instead, it jumps from one branch to the other and thento a third in no time; andkeeps on doing this repeatedly.  Yoga is a branch of knowledge that deals with manas and its control.  Philosophically, it has close relation with another branch called Sankhya.  Yoga gives emphasis on maintaining a balanced state of manas.  The motto of Yoga is clear; everything should be ‘samyak’ (balanced).  A balanced state of manas is essential to make the consciousness on track.  This is to be achieved by creating a balance between the three inherent egos named Satwa, Rajas and TamasRajas and Tamas,should be under the control of Satwa.  This state will ensure a state of harmony within and between the manas and sareera.  Even in the presence of powerful stimuli in terms of stress and strain, a balanced mind can keep things on track.  The bodily activities will be set normally and the channels of operation of Ojas and Prana will be working brilliantly.  This will help the individual to transcend the physical limits of existence and to achieve a level of bliss.  This state equals to the state of Swasthya as envisaged by the Ayurveda.

Ayurveda talks about ‘samyak yoga’ of all faculties.  Here ‘samyak’ means proper and ‘yoga’ means a balance.  Everything should be in samyak yoga. The philosophy of Ayurveda has explored deeply to understand the interconnectedness of sareera and manas in human existence, which we have discussed earlier.  So the early authors of the system evolved a methodology, which provides a proper platform that accommodates the physical and mental planes well.  It is an imaginary dimension of human existence.  It may be called as the dosha dimension.  Dosha means something that encourages action.  They came up with the tridosha theory.  They postulated that when the doshas work properly, in ‘samyak yoga’, everything will be fine and the individual will enjoy health.  So here the mental as well as the physical wellbeing is incorporated.  There is Yoga in it.

To achieve this state of Yoga, one needs to have a balanced engagement (samyakYoga) with three principles: kala (time, in terms of climatic variations viz. hot, cold and rain), artha (the objects of sensory pleasures viz. smell, taste, form, touch and sound) and karma (the actions of manas, sareera and vak: mental, physical and spoken planes respectively).  So there is Yoga again.

As far as the physical plane is concerned, the samyak Yoga of nidra (sleep), anna (food), vyayama (exercise) and abrahmacharya (sexual discipline) are the tools of sustenance.

Bhagavat Gita tells us: Yoga is equity and reminds us that one cannot achieve the state of yoga without an equitable engagement of anna and nidra.  And extends the outcome of such an equitable engagement to a higher plane by redefining yoga as the brilliance in the delivery of one’s own karma (duty).

Practice of Yoga demands a series of disciplines.It all starts from the level of a simple virtuous living and targets the level of achieving enlightenment.  One intermediate step in this voyage is the practice of exercise to achieve bodily fitness, flexibility and awareness.   They are posturalstretching called asanas.  The practice of asanas ensures the reach of the maximum in the physical plane and takes the practitioner to new heights of body-awareness.  Similarly, another level of practice called pranayama stretches the breath to different levels of control and prompts the practitioner to take control over the movement of prana.  They are only a part of Yoga.  Good or bad, these days these two, asana and pranayama, have become the flagships of Yoga.  These are not practiced or advised in Ayurveda.  The reasons may be multiple which needs a separate chapter to elaborate.

Ayurveda and Yoga are two separate branches of knowledge and practice.  The prime aim of Yoga is to teach one to take control over the manas and to develop a mental make of detachment so that enlightenment can be achieved.  Ayurveda on the other hand, trains one to live a healthy, happy and virtuous worldly life.  But there are many things in common.   Both of them speak about virtuous and healthy living, compassion, love; and ultimately inculcates the principle of samyak yoga, balanced engagement with everything.

Prof. Vaidya M.Prasad, MD (Ay.)


Ashtamgam Ayurveda Vidyapeedham

Vavanoor, Palakkad District





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