A Quality Practice
Ayurveda for Yoga Students and Teachers
Ayurveda and Yoga have long been known as ‘sister sciences’. For every yoga student and teacher of Yoga, Ayurveda can be the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that brings all of Yoga’s jewels into bright focus.
Ayurveda provides information on how to live in balance with the ever changing, shifting, fluctuating rhythms of the world around us. Yoga provides information on how to still the ever changing, shifting, fluctuating mind (the world within us). The two together both highlight and support the work done with the other. The synergy of the two can provide much more than the sum of their parts.
The first subject to address when learning Ayurveda is the language. I am not talking about Sanskrit here, although this is the language that is used in the ancient texts of Ayurveda. I am talking about adjectives. The basis of ALL Ayurveda philosophy, treatment and advice is attained via experiencing and explaining the world around us via adjectives (GUNA).
Please take out a piece of paper and describe to me (using two simple adjectives) –
- The weather outside today
- The meal you had this morning (if you missed this meal then describe to me the nothing that you had, for that was the meal you had this morning).
- Your mental state right now
You have just spoken ‘Ayurveda’.
There are no right answers. We will all experience the world around us according to our body-type, mental state, history, immunity, digestive capacity, what we are used to and what we think is expected of us.
Although the list of adjectives are endless, Ayurveda, when describing the world around us, re-categorizes all adjectives into five main categories. The Five Great Elements. This is handy because we often find certain qualities grouped together. This way those groups of qualities are easier to talk about. It takes a while to get fluent in this language. Ayurvedic doctors spend eight years (plus) learning the language. To use Ayurveda to enhance your yoga practice it is enough to grasp the basics, and once you do a wonderful ease of living in rhythm with the world around us occurs…….
The Five Great Elements and some of their adjectives are given below:
HEAVY, SLOW, STABLE, HARD, clean, abundant,
heavy, COLD, OILY, slow, moving, soft, mucilaginous, FLUID
light, HOT. dry, SHARP, clean, subtle
light, DRY, hard, clean, subtle, ROUGH,
LIGHT, SOFT, clean, subtle
Once again take out your piece of paper and write into it the following answers:
- Have a guess which element is predominant in Winter.
- …. and which element is predominant in Madras Curry.
- …. and which element is predominant in your work life?
There are Elements that do encapsulate the feeling of Winter and a Madras Curry, but still the answer is very dependant upon your relationship with them. Some people find Winter unbearable and harsh and others revel in it. Some people can eat incredible spicy food and it gives them a rosy complexion and a feeling of lightness and ease. For others that same curry will invite a coughing fit (as the body tries to eliminate the offense), burning eyes and a grumbling gut. As for which element is predominant in your work-life? Well, an ‘Earthy’ job would be a mostly sedentary job that doesn’t allow for your creativity to be applied. For example, a shop assistant or being a body double for Brad Pitt (just so you don’t think Earthy means boring!) A ‘Watery’ job would be a slow moving job and it may be out in a cold and damp environment, perhaps gardening. A ‘Firey’ job would be one where there was intense competition and stress. It could be a sales job with high targets and high chance of dismissal. A ‘Windy’ job would be one that is fast moving with lots of traveling involved. For example, a self employed rep traveling up and down Britain. A ‘Spacey’ job could be a job where high levels of creativity were required whilst spending lots of time. Maybe an artist or computer programmer.
So, where does this all lead us? Well, there is a rule in Ayurveda called Samanya/Vishesha. It is the basis of all things Ayurveda and it gives you the tools to provide treatment and good advice for the body and mind.
It is called the Samanya/Vishesha rule:
If we consume or experience anything having similar qualities/adjectives/elements/dosha to ourselves those qualities will increase; If we consume or experience anything having dissimilar guna/qualities to ourselves those qualities will decrease.
Common sense I hear you cry! Yes, Ayurveda, like Yoga is simply common sense but put in a way which creates intelligence for things that are harder to understand. We may wonder why on earth a relationship on which we are spending huge amounts of time and love simply does not work. Perhaps, both of you are ‘Watery’ and the combination encourages stagnation and a feeling of being stuck. Perhaps the combination of two ‘Fires’ has simply burnt the relationship out. We could also use the principles of Ayurveda to find our dream job. Using the examples above and building a picture of a workplace which balances our natural tendencies for either under-challenging ourselves or failing to create a stable base or stressing out via unwanted expectations etc. And as for our yoga practice? Well, when we use the language of adjectives we can create a sequence that balances the weather, day, week or symptoms and provides us with not only a time for stopping and reconnecting but also supports the health of our mind and body.
Here are poses and one pranayama which help to balance the three main energies within the body:
To create stillness and recharge the batteries when the weather is windy or the mind is unsettled and hurting or the body is over-stimulated and drained of life use this nutritious sequence —
Sphinx pose (create a gentle lift from the belly to the throat). Concentrate on the breath and fix the gaze. Hold for 1 minute – if this is too long lie flat on the belly for the remainder of time).
Balasana (close the eyes and withdraw the senses, still the mind and count the breath in and out until you reach 10, on each exhale lift the pelvic floor; on each inhale widen the ribcage)
To create a cooling atmosphere in body and mind when the weather is stifling hot or the body is inflamed and irritated or the mind is stressed to boiling point use this soothing sequence and take the heat out of the day —
Sit in matsyendrasana (or cross legged position)
Inhale through the nose and reach the arms over head
create a LONG exhale and sigh via the mouth as you twist (one hand to opposite knee, other hand behind you) – breathe slowly and repeat 3 x
Lie down and create a supine twist as below and stay for 3 long breaths (through the nose) – cool the mind by keeping the eyes fixed without tension on either hand.
To create a stimulating, reviving yoga practice when the weather is dark and heavy or the body is stagnant and feels like you need to lose weight or fluid or the mind is depressed and lethargic and lacking in enthusiasm use this power filled sequence to blast your way forward (if the weather permits take this practice outside to give yourself a further lift!) —
Take a cross legged position and Inhale, move the chest forward and look forward (take in the view to it’s edge)
Exhale, round the back and look down to the navel (pull strongly into the abdomen and lift the pelvic floor).
Do quickly – pull breath in and out firmly through the nostrils.
Come onto your back into bridge pose or upward bow pose. Maintain a strong, firm breath throughout. Hug knees into chest before moving on.
(to balance this very heating sequence do rest afterwards in savasana for 5 minutes)
 Guna means quality, merit or worth
 The capitalized qualities note those that are potent within the element