This is an essential introduction in order to enable readers
to understand the multifold inter-connectedness between
Ayurveda, yoga and meditation
A reader sent me this email: "For
over a year, I have taken part in a very pleasant yoga class, enjoying the exercises
and good atmosphere, just as I used to previously belong to a cycling group. I
also wanted to acquire healthy nutrition practices and discovered your site on
Ayurveda. I was surprised to read your statement that yoga is something more than
what I had previously learnt and is connected to a general wellbeing that comprises
several techniques, meditation and even a philosophy which attracts me although
I do not yet fully understand it. Can you advise and guide me in this respect?"
of all, your email delighted me and reminded me of two important concepts from
- The first is this commentary by Rashi, the renowned
11th century Jewish commentator of the Torah and the Bible, on God's commandment
to Abraham: " Lekh lekha
(Go towards yourself, Genesis, 12,1). Rashi
elaborated on the commandment thus: "lehanaatekha uletovatekha, for your
happiness and your wellbeing." It is indeed an immense pleasure to undergo
such an experience and to know that the path you are following is good for you
and will lead you to happiness. This means that a person is listening to his own
voice and following his true path.
- The second is the marvelous verse
12 of Shiva Sutra by Vasugupta, the celebrated 8th century author of Kashmir Shavaism
philosophy. "Vismayo yogabhumikah, the accomplishments of the yogi (he who
masters true yoga) are extraordinary." This verse highlights the enthusiasm
felt by a person who progresses according to this true nature and knows where
to find the tools to do so.
Secondly, I appreciate the path you wish to
follow and, to this end, I shall give you the precise references you need in order
to continue your development.
There is one work which fully covers your question related
to the indispensable complementary nature of the techniques
(yoga, Ayurveda diet, and meditation) which I discuss on
my site. This is the 15th century work, Hatha Yoga Pradipika,
by Svatmarama. It is acknowledged as one of the four books
which best describe the ancient tradition of Hatha Yoga.
It highlights the errors committed by some yoga practitioners
and offers advice in this respect. I shall quote only the
first three verses of Chapter 2 which is devoted to breathing.
works express so clearly the total interdependence between food adapted to the
body (Ayurveda), the psychology of passions, yoga postures, breathing, the relationship
between student and master (guru), the goal of which is to achieve wellbeing between
the different levels of a person and even personal development.
now discover that this complementary interdependence between the different components
is not related to techniques but characterizes our lives. The extent to which
this is so is seen in the fact that ancient languages connected various meanings
within one word.
In Hebrew, for instance, the interaction between letters
and the meaning of each letter is essential for the full understanding of a word.
In very graphic languages, such as Chinese, it is the interaction between partial
graphic meanings which communicate meaning, etc. Like Hebrew, Sanskrit is an ancient
language which is still alive today and involves awareness of inner composite
meanings. This is in contrast to English, French and other modern Western languages
where the origin of a word has often been forgotten by their speakers, even though
these Western languages contain components of ancient languages (Sanskrit had
a major influence on Western languages). For example, the word "comprehend"
is used solely in the sense of "understanding" but the original Latin
is a compound of two meanings: "com" meaning with/together and "prehendere"
meaning to seize. Likewise, the word "religion" usually means, in the
West, a belief in a divinity or associated rites, while the original Latin word
indicated that religion is an intellectual activity which "binds" humans
together. As a result of the more narrow interpretation of the work, the "religion
versus secularism" debate has become very limited and even suggests that
secularism is a form of religion.
We shall now try to understand how Sanskrit civilization,
which gave birth to these complementary dimensions and techniques,
maintains an openness of spirit among those who speak and
read the language, and apply it in daily techniques of yoga,
Ayurveda, and meditation.
This is seen in the importance
of the composite word in Sanskrit
words (which therefore drive the lives of those who speak it or pray in it) are
not just static entities: they often consist in two or several words which communicate
different meanings or ideas. This phenomenon is called "samasa" - contraction
of several meanings. Thus the word for tree, padapah, means "he drinks with
his feet." This is neither a description or a concept but the definition
of a living activity. Westerners find this difficult and unnatural because they
are used to logical, abstract thinking (Descartes' "I think therefore I am,"
made the Sages of these traditions laugh since their thinking is much more existential!).
Grammatically "samasa" comprises many forms which are of interest
to linguists (words that have the same basis i.e. dvandva, words with similar
or different meanings, etc.) but it is the need to integrate life into thought
and into language which incites Westerners to reintroduce it into their language.
This is seen in the importance of declination in Sanskrit
important aspect of Sanskrit is found in action, rather than in thought or definitions.
In contrast to English or French, Sanskrit declines personal pronouns as well
as many words. While we say in English "to me, for me, by me.." etc.,
Sanskrit modifies the word "me" according to the desired meaning. This
creates a continuous sense of mobility, an awareness of change and an inter-connection
with the environment and with numerous inner dimensions. Since the language itself
is constantly inter-related, we understand why everything that contributes to
personal development is also inter-related.
This is why Indians are so surprised
by the fact that the Western world reduces yoga to simple techniques, something
they consider as an aberration and sign of ignorance, even if these techniques
cater to real needs.
In order to help you get accustomed to this phenomenon,
I shall give examples from the Bhagavad Gita which feature the word "me."
The word "me"
- In Sanskrit, the word for "me" or "I"
is "asmad" when not in action but given as an
example in a dictionary or glossary. When it serves as the
subject of an action (predicate: prathama) it becomes "aham"
as in this example from Bhagavad Gita 4, 7: " I manifest
myself (srjamu aham) every time there is decline in the
moral level of the world."
- When the word "me" or "I" serves as
a direct object (objective case: dvitiya) it becomes "ma"
or "mam" as in this example from Bhagavad Gita
18.55: "only devotion enables me (mam) to know myself.."
- When the word "me" or "I" is in action
(instrumental case: trtiya) it becomes "maya"
as in this example from Bhagavad Gita 4.10: "deprived
of attachment, fear, anger, being fully within Me (maya),
there were many who attained absolute love 'for Me' (mat)."
- "for Me" (mat) is another case called the ablative
- When the word "me" or "I" indicates
belonging (dative case, caturthi) it becomes "mahyam"
or "me" as in this example from Bhagavad Gita
4.6: "He who knows the transcendental nature which
is Mine "me" in My appearance and in My activities
will not need, when he dies, to be reborn into this material
world, but will attain my eternal kingdom."
- When the word "me" or "I" indicates
possession (genitive case, sasthi) it becomes "mama"
or "me" as in this example from Bhagavade Gita
4.6: "the form which you saw which is of Me (mama)."
- When the word "me" or "I" indicates
direction (saptami) it becomes "mayi" as in this
example from Bhagavad Gita 3.30: "It is to Me (mayi)
that you devote all you actions."
Combination of several
We progress in the certitude that all these elements are
inter-related just as everything is part of this human civilization,
as expressed by Indian tradition.
There is another, even more striking, phenomenon of this
absolute existential necessity: it is the combination of
several words together or even of all the words of one sentence
together in order to communicate the complementary nature
of each and all of these inseparable terms.
Here is an example where the words of one sentence are joined, with
no space between them. It is from Yoga Sutra 2.29.
is the sentence as it is always written, with its complete inter-connectedness
is the sentence written in a European style, where the meaning of each word is
separate from the other:
"yama (self control) niyama (laws) asana (posture)
pranayama (regulation of breathing) pratyahara (retreat of the senses) dharana
(concentration) dhyana (meditation) samadhaya (extreme consciousness) stav (8)
It is evident that this list of words, on its own,
has no meaning. The meaning derives from the reciprocal inter-connection of all
the terms, just like the limbs of one's body are all reciprocally inter-connected.
So, regarding your initial question about the connection between yoga,
Ayurveda and meditation. If viewed as a list of terms, they have no meaning according
to the Indian concept of these activities. They only have meaning when inter-connected.
We see to what
extent this world and Indian texts emphasize inter-relationship (with oneself,
with the other, with the ever present Creator). This is the civilization which
has succeeded most in preserving and transmitting its ancient traditions. So it
is important to work with people who have mastered the tradition, not just with
those who have studied posture and diet.
In Judaism, the specific gift
which each nation was given in the act of Creation and which should be appreciated
by everyone, is called "kabim" (Talmud Kiddushin 46b).
As is written in Chandogyopanishad,
one of the most ancient Upanishads, a human being can survive without eyes, ears,
legs etc. but he cannot do so without breathing and without food, for life derives
on these two elements and completely depends on them. This is the vital energy
(prana) or vital force within them.
The distribution of "prana"
takes place in every part of our body and being and in all the circuits (nadis),
directions and cycles. This is called ayama. The process of consciously improving
and refining "prana" is called "pranayama" - a composite word
as we have seen - and means much more than just learning breathing postures (asana).
It is essential to learn these postures, but they can only attain the goal of
tranquility and fluidity under the guidance of a true master who knows the stages
and objectives of this process in order to achieve holistic stability.
and Ayurveda are intrinsically linked at this stage because optimal breathing
and exercises or asanas must take into account the individual constitution of
each person. This is identified during the diagnosis carried out by an Ayurveda
master or guru and covers numerous aspects (rhythms of life, activities, sleep,
foods, tension, pulse, eyes, tongue, imbalances or kleshas between the different
forms of prana such as tejas and ojas, weaknesses, regulations, pathologies, etc.).
Only after such a diagnosis has been made and after weaknesses have been regulated,
can a person begin to practice the various yogi breathing exercises without risk.
The texts are very clear and categorical about this. They call this stage the
preliminary purification of the body:Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.4: "when the
nadis or multiple internal canals are blocked with impurities, air cannot penetrate
and so how can the objective be attained" Chapter 2.15-16: "as one trains
a tiger or lion, control is achieved step by step, otherwise the trainer will
die: a correct pranayama weakness all illnesses but a faulty practice of yoga
strengthens every illness." See also Gerunda Samhita 5.35: Goraksha Paddati
1.95; Shiva Samhita 3.27. Patanjali, in Yoga Sutra 2.5, also warns against the
destructive effects of lack of true knowledge. In contrast he considers the sure,
calm and steady attention from the physical to other levels as true yoga and he
calls this approach "dharana." This is knowledge (jnana) which flows
appropriately and is described as jnanaswarupa, Brahman, akasa, amritha, samadhi
and represents the fundamental basis of Ayurveda. In Yoga Sutra 4.1, Patanjali
defines this as: "janma, aushadhi (medicinal plants, herbs, etc), mantra,
tapah, samadhijah, siddhaya" and associates it with the state of siddhi,
close to perfection.
It is only after this that one can achieve the benefits
of the techniques that improve breathing and free it of tension. Pranic activity
has then been regulated. This is far removed from the execution of a group of
yoga postures. For each posture has its good and bad effect for an individual
and his stage of development. It is important to reach this stage in Ayurveda
treatment but only after the diagnosis and parallel to the regulation of foods,
the ultimate goal being the attainment of health in every aspect. You can see
this in our logo.
But let's see how Bhagavad Gita 5.16 defines this ideal
"When, through true consciousness (djanena), the darkness
of ignorance (ajnanam) is destroyed (nashinam) in all the
being, it reveals the best (prakashayati tat param) just
as the sun illuminates everything when day arrives (aditya-vat)."
We can now discover and understand the vocabulary of the
terms which characterize the complementary process of yogic
and Ayurveda breathing
The four stages of breathing
- puraka: aspiration, inhalation
- abhyantara Kumbhaka: pause after inhaling
- rechaka: exhalation
- bahya Kumbhaka: pause after exhaling
Glossary of positive effects experienced
during and after the exercises
- ayama: distribution and expansion of energy
- ekatanata: concentration
- kaivala: liberated expansion
kundalini: divine expansion in our bodies
- niruddha: control of the mind
prakriti shakti: natural energy
- prana: vital force
- pranayama: control
of energy through breathing
- purusha shakti: energy of the soul
calm sense of fulfillment
- samayana: integration of the different dimensions
- santosha: contentment
- satya: reality
- shakti: vital
and negative effects may also
- kalabati: rapid breathing
- klesha: sadness
- ksipta: distraction
- shvasa-prashhvasa: instability