As a yogi AND a practitioner of Ayurveda, I get asked about the connection between Ayurveda and yoga a lot.
My usual answer “they're sister sciences,” is a short, simple and easy response that, truth be told, raises more questions than it answers, in part because it only scratches the surface of describing how these two systems for living actually interact and support each other.
Contrasts and Commonalities
Like sisters, Ayurveda and yoga come from the same traditions (Vedic science and philosophy)—they grew up together, have traditionally been used together, referred to and prescribed together, and are almost always looked at as two sides of the same coin, in large part because they ultimately share a common purpose: bliss.
But here's where they differ:
- Yoga is a system of principles, practices and philosophies that support us in transcending our mental and physical limitations in order to reside in our true nature (i.e. just be who we really are). It recognizes that there are lots of roads to this ultimate destination, but the journey down any one of them is gonna be easier in a healthy mind and body.
- Ayurveda is a system of principles, practices and philosophies that support us in maintaining a healthy, happy, balanced and disease-free mind and body. It recognizes our vast potential (and ultimate responsibility) for knowing and healing ourselves, in order to realize our full potential (i.e. authentically shine our light).
And just like any sisters, they disagree on occasion and wear each others clothes too, but what's most important and valuable to understand is how they support each other and in the process, make YOUR life as a yogi richer.
Ayurveda and the Yogic Lifestyle Playbook
Most yogis can agree that the eight limbs of yoga provide a relatively comprehensive guide for what it means to practice yoga. Within the eight limbs, the Niyamas are the check list for living the yogi life. Ayurveda supports each one of the Niyamas, lending a practical perspective and real-life application of the practice of living yoga because:
1. Ayurveda wants you to know YOU.
According to Ayurveda, everything you do and should do is informed by who you are, which is why the first step down the Ayurvedic path is determining your mind-body constitution (dosha). With that as a start, you'll have insights into everything from your favorite color to why you're so good (or bad) at math. But more importantly, you'll understand what environments, food, and yoga poses are best for you and when!
...And so does yoga – Svadhyaya or self-study is a vital aspect of the yogic prescription for expanding consciousness, compassion and capability. Knowing ourselves (good, bad and ugly) is the foundation for understanding and overcoming what holds us back.
2. Ayurveda wants you to stay the course.
One of the cornerstones of Ayurveda are the daily, monthly and seasonal routines that provide a framework for a healthy life. These are the simple self-care practices that honor the cycles of the natural world and the ways that we change over time. These Ayurvedic routines promote balance through disciplined self-care and lay out a path to happy, stress free living.
...And so does yoga – Tapas is the yogic take on self-discipline. Often referred to as the heat of transformation, it's the daily, weekly, monthly “showing up” (on your mat, in your relationships, for yourself) that's required to live your dharma.
3. Ayurveda wants you to eat, move, and breathe with peace of mind.
Balance is the focus of all Ayurvedic practices and principles. Everything we do from eating breakfast to spending time on our yoga mats will either support or sabotage that balance. Ayurveda sees balance as a choice that we can only make from a place of cool, calm, conscious awareness and acceptance.
...and so does yoga – Santosha, or contentment is both the fuel for and the result of the practice of yoga. At it's heart is that same awareness and acceptance, and it's ultimate expression is the ultimate expression... joy!
4. Ayurveda thinks you should clean up your act...regularly.
The Ayurvedic approach to health can be broken down very simply: get rid of the bad stuff, and keep the good stuff.
Cleansing is the foundation for prevention and healing of disease is an important aspect of Ayurvedic living. Creating a sense of purity in the mind and body is a way of life that includes a wholesome diet, a clean body (inside and out) and consciously choosing to let go of the unhealthy food, thoughts and activities that block the path to your true self.
...And so does yoga – Purity of mind, body and thought is the essence of saucha, the very first of the yogic Niyamas. It recognizes the need to purify ourselves mentally and physically in order to live and function at our absolute best!
5. Ayurveda wants you to know that you're part of something bigger than you.
Everything that goes on outside of us, goes on inside of us as well. As a system of healing (and living), the Ayurvedic model of who you are expands beyond the confines of a mind and a body.
It recognizes that the essence of who you are—your soul—is your unique piece of the natural intelligence that governs how everything in the Universe works. It's your connection to everything around you and is subject to the same natural laws. This is why dancing with life and the world around us is such a vitally important aspect of well-being.
...And so does yoga – Ishvara Pranidhana asks us to recognize that we are an integral part of the natural order of things. And that there is beauty and ease in embracing our connection to the whole and in surrendering ourselves to the wisdom of the universe rather than chasing the illusion of control.
The beauty of this ancient and synergistic relationship is what it offers each one of us in our efforts to stay on the path to fulfilling our dharma. It's a loving partnership that grounds us in the practical reality of thriving in our modern world while inspiring us to embrace our divinity.
And like any of the iconic partnerships we've grown to understand and love, like peanut butter and jelly, mac and cheese, Ben and Jerry—one, without the other, really is missing the point!