Inseparable SISters: Yoga and Ayurveda

Yoga and Ayurveda are two “sister” practices that originated in India thousands of years ago. Now, a lot of us are familiar with yoga, and have experienced its profound benefits. Yet many of us are not as familiar with Ayurveda.

Yoga has taken Europe by storm. The number of people who practice some form of yoga has doubled in the last five years. While many view yoga as a gentler way to exercise, most long-time practitioners realize that yoga is not just physical — it creates balance in mind, emotions and consciousness as well. And they are starting to realize that yoga shares the same origin and goal as ayurveda, the traditional Vedic system of health care.

Ayurveda is a personalized, intuitive health philosophy. According to Ayurvedic principles, each of us has a unique constitution governed by our physical and emotional makeup, as well as our lifestyle—the foods we eat, what time we go to sleep. These constitutions are called doshas, and they are linked to the elements. The doshas are vata (air and ether), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (earth and water).

yoga and ayurveda massage


Yoga and Ayurveda

Yoga and Ayurveda are two interrelated branches of the same great tree of Vedic knowledge (the traditional health care system originated in India) that encompasses all of human life and the entire universe. In this regard, it is important to understand the respective roles of Ayurveda and Yoga in the Vedic system. Yoga and Ayurveda are not merely two separate but related healing disciplines of India. Each has its unique place and function, but each overlaps into the other on various levels.

Both Yoga and Ayurveda address health and health practices and have common underlying principles: the well being of an individual at the level of body and mind and the aim of helping an individual re-connect to their true nature through direct and personal experience. Both recognize that keeping the body healthy is vital for fulfilling the four aims of life: dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (desire), and moksha (liberation).

While yoga prepares the body and mind for eventual liberation and enlightenment, Ayurveda describes the various ways to keep the body and mind healthy.

Yoga is not originally or inherently a medical system. It does not address either physical or psychological disease or their treatment in a primary manner. Yoga aims at relieving spiritual suffering, which it defines according to the kleshas or spiritual afflictions starting with ignorance (avidyà) of our true nature as pure consciousness, which leads us to a false identification of ourselves with our transient bodies and minds.

Yoga is an inner spiritual practice, what is called Sadhana in Sanskrit. This does not mean that we cannot use aspects of Yoga medically, but that this is not its primary intent or orientation. To do so would require applying Yoga in a different manner than what it was originally meant to be.

Ayurveda addresses all aspects of medicine including diet, herbs, drugs, surgery, bodywork, and its own special clinical procedures like pancha karma. It brings in ritual, mantra, and meditation for healing the mind. In addition, it provides life-style recommendations for health, longevity, and disease prevention as well as special methods for rejuvenation of body and mind. It includes the practices of Yoga from asana and pranayama to mantra and meditation as part of its healing tools.

Yoga and Ayurveda together emphasize a complete approach to the wellbeing of the body, the mind, and the spirit. Both sciences emphasize our close relationship with the environment and how to alter our environment in such a way that it is harmonious with our deepest nature.

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Yoga is part of Ayurveda…and Ayurveda is part of Yoga

Yoga is mentioned in ayurvedic texts such as the Charaka Samhita. And is important for dissolving physical stress and calming the mind before meditation. It is the ideal ayurvedic exercise, because it rejuvenates the body, improves digestion, and removes stress.

Yoga balances all three doshas, and different poses have different effects. Forward bending postures cool Pitta dosha. Twists are good for Kapha because they stimulate digestion. Backward bends are heating, and thus balancing to Vata types, as long as the person has the strength to do them. Yoga postures tone every area of the body, and cleanse the internal organs of toxins, which is one of the goals of ayurveda.


…And Ayurveda is part of Yoga

At the same time, yoga practitioners can benefit from the ayurvedic daily routine as part of their yoga practice. Ayurvedic massages help remove toxins from the body and relax the muscles for yoga practice.

The knowledge of Ayurveda provides tremendous support to yoga practice. Without a foundation in ayurvedic knowledge, hatha yoga runs the risk of becoming just pure physical exercise. Yoga aims to cleanse the nadis, or channels, with different postures. But trying to do that without using the ayurvedic principles for removing ama (digestive impurities) is like hopping on one leg.

If someone is attending a yoga class on a regular basis, he or she is starting to dislodge ama in the body. But if they are still maintaining a lifestyle and diet that creates ama, all they are really doing is moving their sludge around.

The yoga practitioner needs to know how to detoxify through the dietary, lifestyle, and purification practices of Ayurveda.

Integrating Ayurvedic principles into your yoga practice can create a deeper, richer experience on the mat that you can take with you off the mat as well.



For a truly holistic and spiritual approach to medicine and healing, we need both Yoga and Ayurveda, but with Ayurveda providing the medical foundation and Yoga the spiritual goal and practices.

This is the original Vedic scheme. The key to a comprehensive Yoga therapy and Yoga system of medicine lies in restoring Yoga’s connection with Ayurveda.

This reconnection of Yoga and Ayurveda will also provide the basis for a real dialogue with modern medicine addressing not only specific therapies but also the real causes of disease and how to maintain health and well-being in society.

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