Yoga And Ayurveda: A Brief Overview

Yoga and аyurveda have a synergistic relationship—both are ancient practices that originate from the Vedic tradition of ancient India, and they complement each other in promoting health, wellness, and balance in life. 

Yoga, the practice we all know and love, focuses on physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation, alongside spiritual practices that aim to unify the mind, body, and spirit and attain liberation or enlightenment (samadhi).

Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine where the goal is to maintain health through natural means, such as diet, herbal remedies, and lifestyle adjustments, based on an individual's unique constitution (dosha).

Like two sides of the same coin, together, these practices offer a comprehensive approach to living a balanced life. So, let’s learn more about them by exploring the concept of Ayurveda and how it relates to yoga. If you’re interested, you can read up on the origins and history of yoga.

What Is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda, often called the sister science to yoga, is one of the world's oldest whole-body healing systems. As an organized and traditional system of health care, with both preventive and curative aspects, it focuses primarily on personal and social hygiene, herbal medicines, physiotherapy, and diet. 

It originated in ancient India somewhere around the same time as yoga—over 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.

And, just like yoga, it has stood the test of time, remaining a prevalent practice in today’s modern societies, particularly in Nepal. Reports reveal that 80% of the people in Nepal and at least 500 million people in India are using Ayurvedic medicine as primary health care.



The Origins and History of Ayurveda

Legend has it that the conception of Ayurveda came from the physician of the Hindu gods,  Dhanvantari. He was a mythical deity, born with ambrosia in one hand and Ayurveda in the other. According to some sources, he rose from the waters when the gods sought the elixir for immortality.

In written history, the first mentions of Ayurveda are found in one of the vedas, called Atharvaveda, which is considered the oldest literary book of Indian medicine and believed to be the origin of contemporary Ayurveda.

Breaking It Down

The word Ayurveda combines the Sanskrit words "ayur" (life) and "veda" (science or knowledge), translating to "the science of life." And what this science or system tells us is that to achieve optimal health one must maintain a balance between the body, mind, and spirit, where illness is considered to be a state of disbalance.

Ayurvedic medicine focuses on promoting good health, rather than fighting disease, but it may also offer treatments for specific diseases. The treatments and practices are varied because Ayurveda promotes a personalized approach to health, meaning the treatment must be tailored to an individual's constitution or dosha

There are three primary doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha, which are combinations of the five basic ancient elements—space, air, water, fire, and earth—that manifest in each person in a unique way.

In other words, you can think of Ayurveda as an alternative approach to health that seeks to identify the root causes of illness and disease by considering not just the symptoms but also the lifestyle and emotional states of an individual. It does so by addressing a person's diet, herbal remedies, exercise, meditation, yoga, and massage.



What Is an Ayurvedic Lifestyle?

Since Ayurveda is a primarily preventative system of health, it includes a lot of principles and guidelines that promote optimal health. However, the concept of “living an ayurvedic lifestyle” is most commonly associated with diet.

From a broader perspective, following an ayurvedic lifestyle may refer to how much you understand and manage your constitution i.e., dosha, which involves personalizing your diet, physical activities, and self-care routines to suit your unique physical and mental makeup.

A typical ayurvedic daily routine, called dinacharya, includes waking time, self-care, elimination, hygiene, exercise, bathing, meditation, regular meals, study, work, relaxation, and sleeping. However, it's up to the individual to personalize and align the order, frequency, and time of each routine based on their dosha period (ayurvedic clock).

The good thing is that if you want to embrace an Ayurvedic lifestyle, you don’t have to make drastic changes all at once. You can start with a few things, small changes, and then slowly incorporate more healthy routines in line with your dosha. 

One of the important changes highlighted in the ayurvedic lifestyle is meditation and exercise, which is where it begins its relationship with yoga.

The Relationship Between Yoga and Ayurveda

Now that we know a bit more about аyurveda, we can start to explore how it’s related to yogic principles and philosophies. Both systems share the same origins and goals, even though they have a different focus.

Let’s dive in.

Yoga and Ayurveda: Shared Aspects

Yoga and Ayurveda share several aspects or approaches to health and well-being.

  • Shared philosophical roots: Both originate from the vedas and incorporate principles from the Sāṁkhya school of Indian Philosophy.
  • Common goals: Both aim to achieve a balance between the mind, body, and spirit.
  • Similar holistic approach: Both emphasize the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit, which differs from Western medicine.
  • Diet and lifestyle: Both practices highlight the importance of diet and healthy habits, such as the ayurvedic clock based on the individual’s dosha or the principles of disciplined living (yama and niyama) in yoga.


The Things That Make Them Different

While similar, yoga and Ayurveda have different essences and goals. Several things make them separate and very distinct disciplines:

  • Primary focus: Ayurveda’s primary focus is on physical health and wellness. It aims to prevent and treat diseases by maintaining balance in the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga, on the other hand, focuses primarily on spiritual development. Physical health is also important in yoga, but it’s not the primary focus. 
  • Methods and practices: Ayurveda practices revolve around a person’s diet, herbal remedies, daily lifestyle, massage therapies, and detoxification (panchakarma). Yoga’s practices involve physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation (dhyana), and ethical disciplines (yamas and niyamas).
  • Focus on personalization: While both recognize that every individual is unique and promote the need for a personalized routine/treatment, yoga provides a more uniform set of practices. They can be adapted to individual needs but the techniques for stress relief and physical health are universal.
  • Scope: Ayurveda is more directly concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases, which is why it functions as a form of healthcare. Yoga, while it can be therapeutic, is essentially a spiritual discipline aimed at self-realization and enlightenment.
  • Ultimate goal: In Ayurveda, the ultimate goal is to achieve and maintain a state of health and balance. In yoga, the ultimate goal is to achieve a state of enlightenment (samadhi), and physical and mental health are seen as a means to achieving that enlightenment, not ends in themselves.

How Do Yoga and Ayurveda Work Together?

If both practices are complementary and lead to physical and mental health, well-being, and spiritual growth, then wouldn’t their effects be greater if you follow both? In fact, part of the ayurvedic lifestyle is practicing yoga.

It makes sense that the more we invest in ourselves and our health, the greater the results.

I like to think of yoga and Ayurveda as two ancient trees rooted close together, in the same ground of vedic wisdom. Their branches reach out in different directions—yoga stretching towards the sky, aiming for personal growth and physical health through its eight limbs, including ethical disciplines, physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques, and meditation. Ayurveda, on the other hand, is a tree that spreads wide and offers a holistic approach to life. It focuses on health through diet, herbs, and daily routines. They have flourished independently, yet when their leaves touch, they create a canopy under which one can find a more profound sense of health and harmony.

So, with that image in mind, let’s see how you can use ayurvedic principles to support your yoga practice and health.



Integrating Ayurvedic Principles Into Your Yoga Practice

Step 1: Identify Your Dosha

Ayurveda breaks down the types of constitutions into three general types—vata, pitta, or kapha. Understanding which one of these you resemble most closely can help tailor your yoga practice to your body and schedule, which is what Ayurveda is all about. To identify your dosha, you can use quick online quizzes and questionnaires, or read introductory guides and books on Ayurveda to learn to recognize and relate the different doshas to specific behaviors, feelings, and preferences.

Step 2: Adapt Your Practice to Your Dosha

Once you know what your dosha is, you can adapt your yoga practice to it. For instance, it’s believed that vata types are best suited for slow, grounding poses that promote stability and calm. Pitta types might benefit from cooling and relaxing postures, or yoga routines that help them release heat. Finally, people whose dosha is kapha would probably feel best with vigorous and stimulating practices that help them counteract their tendencies toward stagnation. 

Step 3: Create Your Dosha Schedule

Another thing you can do to adapt your yoga practice to ayurvedic principles is to align it with the ayurvedic clock, choosing times that correspond with your energy levels and dosha needs.

For instance, mornings might be ideal for more vigorous practices, while evenings could be reserved for calming, restorative sessions.

Step 4: Incorporate Ayurvedic Principles Throughout Your Day

Let’s go a step beyond and incorporate Ayurveda off the mat, too. Begin your day with Ayurvedic routines such as oil pulling and tongue scraping to cleanse the body and prepare for yoga. Alternatively, go for a walk in the park or do a meditation session in the evening. Focus on small steps and gradual changes, ones that work best for your needs and daily dynamic.

Step 5: Practice Mindful Eating

Here’s another way to easily make your lifestyle more ayurvedic off the mat: eat mindfully. This means two things. 

First, align your diet with ayurvedic principles by eating foods that balance your dosha. A diet personalized to your constitution supports your energy levels and overall health, enhancing the benefits of your yoga practice. You can find many guides and books that discuss the ayurvedic diet and list foods that are good and bad for the different dosha types.

Second, it means to be present while you eat (eg. paying attention to the food, eating with purpose, savoring every bite and chewing thoroughly, etc.) and to eat at reasonable times of the day that are aligned with your ayurvedic clock.



Step 6: Practice Meditation and Pranayama

For some people, practicing yoga may just mean getting your ass kicked on the mat. And, hey, that’s great, too! Many times throughout my journey, my asana practice was all I had time for and many times, it was all I was in the mood for. But, if you’re looking into the ayurvedic lifestyle, it may be time to include meditation and pranayama in your yoga practice, making it more well rounded.

Step 7: Listen to Your Body

Last but definitely not least, one of the most important principles in Ayurveda is personalization: learning how to listen to your body, identifying the signals that it gives you, and acting on them. What works for someone else is irrelevant! This principle applies to everything: from daily activities to dietary choices and yoga practices. 

Tuning into how various activities or foods impact you both physically and mentally is key. If a particular food, yoga pose, or routine energizes you and brings you joy, it's a green light to continue. Conversely, if something doesn't feel right, it's a sign to reassess and adapt. 

Learning to trust your inner voice deepens the connection with yourself and promotes a holistic sense of health that is uniquely yours—in true ayurvedic fashion.


Can I practice Ayurveda without yoga and vice versa?

Absolutely! You can totally dive into just yoga or just Ayurveda. They're like avocado and toast—great on their own but amazing together. Each has its unique benefits and can improve your well-being independently and based on your current needs and preferences.

Is there any truth to Ayurveda?

I think this question is like asking if grandma’s home remedies work. While they might not always follow the conventional medical playbook, countless people swear by its effectiveness for various health issues. Plus, Ayurveda has been around for thousands of years and it’s still the primary form of healthcare in some countries, so there's definitely something to it, right? There are some studies that provide evidence of Ayurveda’s beneficial effects, although more research is needed.  

Having said that, let’s make one thing clear: Ayurveda as a preventative method is great! But, if you're dealing with specific health issues or medical conditions, you should always consult your healthcare provider and listen to their advice. 

Are chakras part of Ayurveda?

To continue with the analogies: chakras and Ayurveda are like cousins at a family reunion. Chakras are more talked about in yoga and spiritual practices as they focus on energy flow and balance, while Ayurveda deals with topics like natural remedies and daily routines for physical and mental health. But, they share some underlying principles about the body's energy.


Existing Comments