Ayurveda and Yoga

Dr P. S. Rai, Ph.D., Bangalore

Ayurveda belongs to the Atharva Veda, one of the sub-Vedas. Yoga is one of the theist philosophies known as Darsanas. Both are propounded in the Panchabhatic theory. Ayurveda and yoga are common in their practicality, and as far as human anatomy and physiology are concerned they concur.

Ayurveda is based on the three doshas (humors): vata (wind), pitta (bile) and kapha (phlegm). Treatment of disease is given according to the vitiated doshas. This method is effected by the judicious selection of medicine, diet, and regulation of rest and exercise, etc. Yoga, on the other hand, disciplines the body and mind, thereby increasing the strength to resist disease and old age. It aims at the proper restraint of the mind as it is this which exposes the body to all kinds of vagaries. Yoga does not use medicines. All importance is given to regulation of the natural physical and mental processes by the mind itself.

In this paper, I propose to write in brief how the two sciences ayurveda and yoga are supplementary and complementary to each other citing asthma as an example.

Both ayurveda and yoga insist that without cleanliness and regularity of body and mind, health cannot be maintained. Susruta, a principal ayurvedic text, gives the following definition of health:

Samadosha samagnischa samadhatumalakriyah
Prasannatmaindriyamanaha swasthaiti abhidheeyate

A combination of equilibrium of the three doshas: kapha, pitta and vata; equilibrium of the five pranas (vital energy); regular elimination of feces and urine; a happy mood; and correct functioning of the sense organs is true health.

A balance between the three doshas promotes health. Agni or the enzyme system in its normal state digests food and helps its absorption. With absorption of nutrients the tissues grow and function. It is particularly important that the waste products of metabolism (mala) are properly eliminated in due course. Otherwise accumulated waste blocks up the channels, giving rise to disease (srotorodha).

Atma is the absolute which acts as the presiding factor in the living being. It can only be recognized by manas (mind), and clarity of mind depends on the healthy body. Manas is under the control of prana vayu, the vital energy current which is responsible for the existence of life. The cognitive and connate organs of the body are under the control of manas. Thus prana vayu is the ultimate master of the mind and body. Prana vayu is supported by food, water and air. Air is continuously being utilized by the body and the importance of oxygen in supporting prana is well known. Yogis control the prana vayu by a technique called pranayama (breath control) whereby the mind is calmed and clarity is achieved. Thus atma can be realized, and since the bodily functions are also brought under control and freed from disease, it is possible to live a fuller and longer life.

In addition to the purification process known as panchakarma, ayurveda prescribes medicines to combat the vitiated doshas. In contrast, yogic therapy which avoids medicaments may take a longer time to restore normal health, but once achieved, this condition can easily and safely be maintained with very little chance of relapse. In other therapies we find medicines which act quickly, relieving symptoms, but the treatment can never be complete until the tissues (dhatus) are rejuvenated. Yoga and ayurveda both aim towards this complete treatment, after which yoga continues further to the realization of spiritual potentials.

Bronchial asthma affects the prana vayu srotas or the respiratory passages. Usually the waste products are conveyed by capillaries, veins and lymphatics, and ultimately eliminated through the external passages. Free flow in the veins and lymphatics is augmented by muscular movement. Physical work as stated in ayurveda and yogic exercises serve this purpose and strengthen the body in addition.

In bronchial asthma the respiratory passages are vitiated by kapha (mucus) and as a result the breathing is disturbed, Ayurveda considers this to be due to vata and kapha doshas originating from the stomach. The vitiated kapha hinders free movement of air by obstructing the fine bronchioles. When vata dominates, bronchial sounds can be detected; with the domination of kapha, rales or a rattle are heard.

To decrease vata, unctuous gruel is administered. Oil massage and warmth are applied externally over the lungs to disperse congestion of the passages and augment the lymphatic circulation. When kapha is predominant, a mild emetic is given to eliminate it. Light diet, rest and laxative are given to nourish the body and clean the gastrointestinal tract. Emetics and laxatives clean out the source of the dosha's vitiation. During vomiting some of the mucus congestion also passes out, giving great relief to the patient. Later, medicines acting on the respiratory passages are used. In advanced stages, bronchial asthma can be relieved, but not cured completely by ayurveda. However, in the initial stages, it can be cured with proper treatment.

Yoga restores and maintains the correct position and shape of the chest by regular practice of asanas suitable to the patient's condition. Slow performance of all asanas that encourage deep, relaxed respiration from the chest and abdomen, such as surya namaskara, sarvangasana, supta vajrasana, marjariasana, ushtrasana, hasta uttanasana, dwi konasana, bhujangasana, dhanurasana, Utthan prishthasana, is beneficial in the early stages as well as in advanced cases. They encourage the capillary, lymphatic and venous circulation, and do not allow congestion to build up or remain in the alveoli. Deep abdominal breathing at all times and pranayamas such as nadi shodhan, bhastrika, kapalbhati etc. purify and strengthen the lungs, inflate collapsed sections of alveoli, rebalance the autonomic nervous system and help the asthmatic to gain control over his respiratory tract. Kunjal (vomiting warm, salty water) and vastra dhauti (swallowing a long thin strip of cloth and removing it) eliminate mucus, increase energy and are especially useful in relieving acute conditions. Shankhaprakshalana (drinking 16 glasses of salty water and performing certain asanas) cleans the whole digestive tract from mouth to anus, acting as an excellent laxative. Yoga nidra allows the root cause located in the mind to be cognised, effectively neutralised, at the same time resting and rejuvenating damaged cells and deeply relaxing the whole body-mind complex.

Irritants and certain allergic substances bring on an attack. Direct wind and cloudy weather also provoke the doshas. During an attack the patient feels better in a sitting position and is comforted by warmth. Lying down increases the paroxysms.

The Charaka Samhita, the other principal ayurvedic text, says that relaxation of mind and body is most important. Worry, anxiety and high emotions disturb the prana vayu which in turn brings on an attack. It also says that the mind has three states: sattvic (pure and tranquil), rajasic (active) and tamasic (inactive and depressed).

The food we take has its influence on the mind in affecting one or the other of these states. A pure diet develops sattvic tendencies. Chapattis or wholemeal bread, dhal (lentils), fresh fruits and vegetables tables are very good for asthmatics. Stimulants, spices, alcoholic drinks, mutton, garlic, onions are examples of rajasic foods which cause excitement. Stale food, heavy meals, buffalo milk, narcotics are tamasic, making us dull and lazy, and allowing the disease process to continue.

Environmental conditions are as important as food for relaxation of the mind. An undisturbed place, a chat with children, music, yoga mudra or shavasana with breath awareness provide relaxation which is quite necessary for an asthmatic.

In conclusion it may be stated that ayurveda restores the doshas (humors), dhatus (tissues) and malas (waste products) to their normal condition. It insists on the maintenance of health principles and the use of medicine comes into the picture only in the treatment of disease. The ayurvedic physician must know his medicines well in addition to the allied subjects. Yoga strengthens the mind and body, and helps one to maintain health and resist disease. By regular practice of yoga, many psychosomatic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, obesity etc. can be controlled and even eliminated. Of course, a proper preceptor who is practical in his techniques is necessary.