How Does Ayurveda Help Us to Practice Smarter, Rather Than Harder?
– Kaia Roberts, AYS, RYT-200
Ayurveda carries the knowledge for life in your body. As you are. Right now.
Ayurveda is the sister science to Yoga as well as the ancient system of health and wellness in India. In Sanskrit “ayur” means life and “veda” generally translates as knowledge, so the teachings of Ayurveda impart wisdom for life. Most importantly, this wisdom is for everyone, no matter who you are, where you come from, what your practice looks like, or the challenges you currently face. We yoga practitioners are in the happy position to be familiar with some concepts used in Ayurveda, as they are often intertwined with yogic teachings. However, Ayurveda provides us an opportunity to expand our practice beyond our yoga mat or meditation seat and out into the world. Using the language of the five elements, or tanmatras, of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether, Ayurveda provides us with a way of talking about life on every level. So, the question then becomes how do we bring this information back onto our mat to enhance our yoga practice. How does Ayurveda help us to practice smarter?
Efficiency: The daily routine practices recommended by Ayurveda, such as neti (cleansing the nasal passages with warm salt water) and tongue scraping, work to rid the body of undigested material (a.k.a. ama) that can gum up the works and lead to disease. Once cleaned out, all levels of body and mind work with greater clarity and efficiency. With less noise in the body and mind we are better able to hear the subtle messages of our practice. We are able to get more out of doing less.
Longevity: The Ayurvedic self-massage practice of abhyanga encourage us to nurture the body, while cultivating a deep sense of acceptance and love of self. Even the cleansing and purification techniques of Ayurveda are much gentler than those of the yogic tradition, mostly due to the fact that they are for we “householder” yogis who need the energy to stay active in our daily world. When we respect and accept our body we are able to play gently with our limits in our practice, without pushing or straining it into pain and injury. These are the habits that allow for a long, healthy practice over a lifetime.
Svadhyaya (self-study): The concept of Prakriti, or individual constitution, stands at the center of any set of recommendations or course of treatment. Each of us has a unique balance-point of the five elements, described in Ayurveda by the doshas of Vata (air & ether), Pitta (fire & water), and Kapha (earth & water). It is through an understanding of our individual balance-point that we can measure our Vikruti, or imbalance. We can begin to ask questions like “where am I today in relation to my balance?” or “how can I keep myself closer to balance as I face this difficult situation?”. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali highlight svadhyaya, inquiry into the nature of the self, as one of the keys to the practice of yoga. Ayurveda provides a framework for self-study by recognizing that each of us comes to our practice, and the world at large, from a unique perspective.
Compassion: This same framework gives us a greater context for living out in the world and encountering other people. Ayurveda uses the language of the tanmatras to explain the root causes of certain behaviors, imbalances and disorders. We are then able to see why, for example, one friend reacts to us with anger, while another friend makes promises they don’t keep, and yet another always seems distracted. It can be easier to respond with equanimity to harsh or non-virtuous acts if we can keep in mind the humanity and unique perspective of the person we are engaged with. Moreover, we may be better able to empathize with that person’s situation and provide compassion, acceptance, or even support. Greeting the outer world with compassion and harmony creates ripples into the inner world. If you are not knocked out of balance by outside factors throughout your day, you come to your yoga mat or your meditation seat ready to move into peace and stillness. You’ll find less distraction and a greater sensitivity to the subtle aspects of body, mind, and the breath that connects them.
Discipline: Ayurveda shows us a whole new way of looking at life, down to the calendar and the clock. It then asks most of us to make changes to our habits and stick to them in order to reap the benefits. Going back to the concept of individual constitution, change can be easy for some of us, harder for others, and a perpetual cycle for those who have trouble committing to a given task for very long. Discipline is the magic that makes the positive habit changes stick, and Ayurveda allows us to start small. Through our daily self-care routine, what Ayurveda calls dinacharya, we can begin with a couple small things that we commit to doing each day. This might be using a tongue scraper or neti-pot each morning, or maybe something else that gets us closer to reaching a specific personal goal. Once we have assimilated these initial tasks into our routine, we can add others. Eventually the idea of doing some combination of yoga asana, pranayama and meditation each day begins to seem within reach. We are able to build regularity and consistency which, Patanjali explains in the Yoga Sutras, is directly related to the strength of a practice. The more disciplined we are, the stronger our yoga practice becomes.
Allow me to speak to this last point from my own personal experience, as discipline was something I struggled with until I began studying Ayurveda and learned about my own constitution and imbalances. With a better understanding of what my tools were and what I was up against, I undertook the task of rearranging my schedule in the hope that it would allow me to be more successful. I began with my tongue scraper every morning, the benefits of which I felt within the first few days. Then I added the neti-pot in the shower, which was another quick win as I’ve always had sinus trouble. Once I started to feel better, the hits just kept on coming! Nasya oil, to nourish the nasal passages, was a natural next step. Then I added chywanprash as a yummy way to build resilience, and triphala for digestive support. Soon I had created enough space in my life to allow a daily practice to grow by eliminating old, stale habits and by building energy and vitality through my dinacharya. I’ve heard said that in yoga every day of your practice is the first day of your practice. The same is true in cultivating an Ayurvedic daily self-care routine, but tongue scraping takes less than 30 seconds and then you’ve checked the first box for the day and you’re off and running.
In her book Absolute Beauty, Pratima Raichur explains that an Ayurvedic lifestyle, “means having the clarity and energy to attain all your goals and still have the longevity to enjoy your success.” The wisdom of Ayurveda encourages us to recognize our strengths as well as accept our weaknesses in order to come to our practice with greater insight. It leads us to practice smarter, putting into our endeavor only as much time and energy as is necessary to achieve our desired result. Together, the sister sciences of Ayurveda and yoga allow us to strengthen our compassion and connection with the outer world, while deepening our understanding of our own inner world.
If you are interested in beginning or continuing your journey into Ayurveda, please join Devanadi Yoga for any of our education opportunities including individualized Ayurvedic Yoga Private sessions, Intro to Ayurveda workshops, and deeper study through the Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist program.
Kaia Roberts is an Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist and RYT-200. She is available at kaia.roberts(at)gmail.com for questions or to schedule Ayurvedic Yoga Private sessions.