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Yoga is an enormous topic! My aim is to give a brief over view of Yoga and when it arrived in North America, how Yoga and Ayurveda overlap, and explain the modern therapeutic modality of Ayurvedic Yoga. Please note: Italics are used to highlight Sanskrit words. 


Ancient Yoga v's Modern Yoga - What's the difference?


The word Yoga is first mentioned in the Vedas which are sacred Indian texts that are 5,000 years old. In Sanskrit, Yoga translates as "union, to join together, that which brings you to reality". Traditionally, Yoga was a group of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines that were taught to purify the body and mind. These practices were created to foster self-development and self-realization to reach ones highest individual consciousness in order to unite with Universal Consciousness (God).

Classically, there were different ways to seek this union - each system was a complete path by itself. A few examples are: Bhakti Yoga, the devotional path (prayer, chanting, singing, dancing); Karma Yoga, the service path (selfless action); Jnana Yoga the intellectual path (study of sacred texts, introspection, discussion); and Raja Yoga, the royal path (journey to personal enlightenment through the path of self-discipline and practice).  'The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali', written in 500 BCE-200 BCE, was the first time the eight limb path of Yoga was codified, and it remains the basis of Yoga practice today. 

Yoga was bought to America for the very first time by Swami Vivekananda in 1893. He equated Raja Yoga with 'The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali', and in time Raja Yoga became synonymous with Yoga. Whilst other Westerners and Indians came to the USA with the spiritual teachings of Yoga, it only really took off in the 1960's when Richard Hittleman introduced Yoga to millions of Americans through his easy-to-follow books and TV show 'Yoga for Health'. Although Hittleman was himself a spiritual seeker, he shaped a modern interpretation of Yoga in the Western World, emphasising the physical postures (asana) for fitness benefits. Hatha Yoga is an umbrella term for the many different forms of Yoga (such as Ashtanga and Iyengar) that have emerged in the Twentieth Century and is essentially the pairing of poses (asana) with breathing techniques (pranayama) with the purpose of advancing the Yoga practitioner to health and well-being through deeper self-awareness. Today, Yoga is a mainstream global exercise hailed by modern medical studies to improve cardio-vascular fitness, flexibility, balance, reduce stress, anxiety and pain. The benefits of modern Yoga are clear, but it is important to acknowledge that traditional Yoga from the East was at its heart more elaborate and had a spiritual purpose. 

The Sister Sciences: How are Yoga and Ayurveda connected?


Yoga and Ayurveda both have their origins in Samkhya philosophy, and are both tools for self-inquiry and self-development. They share a common history, language and culture and have been long intertwined as two complementary systems. Whilst they are distinctive disciplines that have different objectives for transformation - Yoga seeks spiritual liberation (moksha) and Ayurveda strives for optimal living - here are some of the ways the Sister Sciences overlap:

  • Good health is the foundation for the Yogi's spiritual pursuit of Yoga. Good health is gained and sustained through following the principles of Ayurvedic seasonal eating and a wholesome lifestyle. 

  • Yoga and Ayurveda both emphasise prana, or life force, flowing well throughout the body. The Yogi uses asana (posture) and pranayama (breath control) to move and increase prana (life force). In Ayurveda, prana is associated with having a strong agni (digestive fire). The agni is responsible for digesting and transforming everything that is taken into the body - food, thoughts, feelings. Anything that isn't digested creates toxicity (ama), will block the free flow of prana, and is considered to be the root cause of all dis-ease. 


  • Ayurveda recognises Yoga as the go-to therapy for balancing the mind when psychological ailments arise in an individual. The vigorous practices of Yoga develop a healthy mind through the fostering self control."Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha" / "Yoga the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind". (Patanjali, 'The Yoga Sutras', I.2).

  • Both Yoga and Ayurveda reflect the Vedic notion that we should follow our life's purpose, or dharma.

  • Yoga postures, breathwork and meditation are a part of the Yogi's eight limb path to seeking enlightenment. These practices are also part of dinacharya, the daily routines recommended in Ayurveda . Dinacharya follows the cycles of nature and contends that daily and seasonal routines promote health and well-being. 

What is Ayurvedic Yoga and how can it apply to you? 


In simple terms, Ayurvedic Yoga refers to customising postures and breathing practices to balance your dosha, or your imbalances. Just as in Ayurveda we choose foods and activities to support our individual requirements, Yoga can also be used as a therapeutic tool to benefit your particular needs. Blending the two disciplines will not just deepen your understanding and experience of each modality, but can offer a more deeply integrated approach to enhancing your health and well-being.

Doing an Ayurvedic consultation will allow the Ayurvedic Health Councilor (AHC) to skilfully identify Yoga and breathing exercises tailored to meet your current personal needs. Ayurvedic Yoga will look similar to other Yoga classes, but every posture is chosen to promote your mental, physical and emotional alignment. Exploring an Ayurvedic Yoga practice can also be a great way to start or develop your home practice.

I can offer beginners and experienced Yogis alike the chance to work one-to-one to explore the synergy of Ayurvedic Yoga. I also offer seasonal Ayurvedic Yoga classes that promote balance as distinct elements come to the foreground. Creating awareness of how the natural cycles impact you and learning how to respond to them with Ayurveda and Yoga will give you a deeper connection to your environment, and will give you the wisdom to thrive and feel your best, year round.

Ayurvedic Yoga - A case study 


Today there are so many different styles of Yoga, it is important to do a style of Yoga that will encourage equilibrium, rather than exacerbate an imbalance. Read this case study as an example of how Ayurveda and Yoga are strong allies for promoting health.

David has a predominantly Pitta prakriti (DNA) and a Pitta vikriti (current imbalance). It's mid summer in the USA. He loves spicy food, and ate Mexican takeout last night which gave him some heartburn when he lay down for bed at around midnight. He's recently started to drink a whole bottle of kombucha every day because he read in a magazine that it was healthy. He has a lot of stress at work and has been working more hours in the day to be ready for a deadline. He eats lunch working at his desk, if he has time to eat at all. David really likes doing vigorous Yoga, and likes to do a 'hot Yoga' class several times a week to unwind. 

From an Ayurveda view point, we see an excess of  the hot guna in David's diet and life style, so making a few adjustments to reduce the hot and / or increase the cold qualities would help him move towards feeling more in balance. Ideally, David would take a 30 minute lunch break at the same time each day and walk to the closest park, sit in the shade under a big tree and for a few minutes observe the natural world around him. Doing alternate nostril breathing or some cooling breathing exercises for 5-10 minutes would calm and soothe his mind. Drinking a refreshing coconut water, eating some sweet tasting seasonal fresh fruits would all help to cool his body. Choosing a 'relax and renew', 'slow flow' or 'yin' Yoga class after work would be a more supportive and suitable option to relax from his day. 


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