Touch of Ayurveda

Yoga and Ayurveda

Bengaluru beat its Monday blues by flooding the internet with photos of the rainbow-coloured halo around the sun. A rare sight to see, these halos occurred 20 thousand feet above the Earth at an angle of 22 degrees from the sun. Sunlight, when it passes through ice crystals in the clouds, undergoes double refraction leading to the formation of a rainbow halo. This week’s enthralling phenomenon was made possible by the centre of our solar system: The Sun.

The sun is the supreme source of energy to keep the lives of all living beings going on this planet. From time immemorial, people have offered their regards to the sun. The Konark temple in Orissa, India, and the Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico are very old temples built in reverence to the sun. The pyramid of the Sun is believed to have had an altar at the top to honour the Sun. There are primitive tribes in Orissa who pray to the sun and one can find sun images in rock shelters in rock shelters. Egyptians honoured Ra, the Sun God, and considered the sun to be the power and energy. The Greeks honoured Helios who was believed to provide light to both Gods and men. The Native Americans perform a sun dance each year to renew the bond between man and Earth.

Suryanamaskar or sun salutation is a popular Yoga practice that usually involves twelve postures coupled with a mantra for each posture and inhalations and exhalations. The twelve mantras praise the various qualities of the sun and when chanted with sincere gratitude lead to spiritual well-being.

Ahead of International Yoga Day, LifeCykul – a digital application – created an activity, Suryathon, to motivate people to perform Suryanamaskar within the safety of their homes. Suryathon will provide the benefits of Suryanamaskar and will help people connect to a Guru and will additionally provide tutorials on performing the asanas in the right way.

The ideal time to practice Suryanamaskar early in the morning, while the sun is rising which is also known as “Brahma Muhurtha”, on an empty stomach. This also complies with one’s circadian rhythm with the body temperature and heart rate being low, and this is considered the best time to practice the asanas. The health benefits of Suryanamaskar are countless. While today there are custom-made workouts for each part of the body, Suryanamaskar focuses on every muscle group of the bodybuilding strength and flexibility.

Studies conducted across the globe show that there is a significant effect on the cardiovascular system, metabolism, women’s health, blood glucose levels, obesity, and mental health. A study was conducted on college students aged 17-23 to observe the benefits of Suryanamaskar on the resting heart rate and flexibility. The results showed a significant improvement in the resting heart rate along with increased flexibility.

Another study observed the effect of Suryanamaskar on weight loss. Regular practice of Suryanamaskar for a month helped obese persons reduce a significant amount of weight and develop strong muscles and joints.

However, one cannot label Suryanamaskar as a mere fitness regimen. The practice brings about a balance in the body, mind, and soul. When this balance is attained, fitness is achieved. Moreover, it creates harmony between the physical system and the solar system. Ratha Saptami celebrates the birth of Lord Surya to Sage Kashyapa and Aditi. On this day, a large number of people perform 108 or 1008 repetitions of the Suryanamaskar. While this is to be appreciated, it must also be borne in mind that there is a concept in Yoga known as Satmya. Satmya is what is suitable to one’s body and this makes any practice tailor-made and personalised. “When one trains to perform 108 times, the body can break down and the practice can be rather counterproductive. In terms of Ayurveda, excessive exercise leads to Rajayakshma or a disease state leading to many metabolic diseases. In the Charaka Samhita, Acharya Charaka has stated ten different factors that include diet, lifestyle and Bala Pariksha (test of strength) to understand one’s own threshold”, says Dr. Somit Kumar, Director of AVP Research Foundation, Coimbatore.

The practice of Yoga is an ancient yet structured spiritual science going back five thousand years. Its origin is in the Upanishads. Yoga applies to all aspects of human life: physical, vital, mental, emotional, psychic, and spiritual. David Frawley says, “Yoga is a distillation of wisdom from the myriad of sages throughout the ages”. It brings about an understanding of nature and its interrelationship with the physical and subtle universe. It also reveals how this relation exists within oneself. It is one of the oldest systems of the world that promotes stability in the body, mind, and soul.

Children were taught Yoga at a young age to facilitate good physical and mental health. The basis for the disease was the weakness of the mind. Yoga believes that the Prana or the vital energy regulates the functioning of the organs in the body. Yoga stabilizes the mind and its emotions keeping the flow of Prana in the body unrestricted.

Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samasthana (S-VYASA) in Bengaluru promotes a system of Yoga lifestyle known as Integrative Approach to Yoga Therapy (IAYT). Along with chanting, pranayama, and the practice of Asanas, they have observed that on a physical level, there is reduced fatigue, increased muscular strength and flexibility, and reduced oxygen consumption, heart rate, and blood pressure. Furthermore, on a psychological level, they have observed that there is an increased state of calm, reduced stress, and a significant improvement in cognitive abilities such as memory, attention, and planning. When these Yoga practices are integrated with mainstream medicine, trials show that they can improve therapeutic outcomes in the case of hypertension, asthma, Parkinson’s along with psychological disorders like anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.

Yoga and Ayurveda are two sides of the same coin and work together to enhance overall well-being in all. Yoga operates on the three Gunas of the mind: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas; while Ayurveda operates on the three doshas of the body: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. When one or more are out of balance, disease sets in. The two sciences are tightly wound together. An imbalance in the Trigunas leads to an imbalance in the Tridoshas. Yoga is concerned with balancing the former and Ayurveda aims to create a balance in the latter.

Ayurveda not only involves herbal medicines but also a proper diet, lifestyle, and a detox ritual that is season-specific. The integration of the two sciences is vital for a healthy and disease-free life. In a recent study, the use of integrative therapy based on Yoga and Ayurveda in the treatment of COVID-19 was observed. A week of allopathy was followed by Ayurveda and Yoga. The treatment plan involved Ayurvedic medicines which included herbs like Ashwagandha, Yoga practices that involved Asanas, Pranayama, and Dhyana (meditation), and dietary management using warm water, fruits, and green vegetables. The study showed that there was an improvement in the symptoms within two days of the treatment and within ten days, the symptoms were completely resolved along with improvement in the blood sugar levels. In addition, the subject was in a better state of mind.

Many such studies have been conducted over the past year and it is safe to say that the two are valuable in promoting hale and hearty life. Classical Yoga therapy involved Ayurveda, however, this seems to have been ignored in the present day. The potential benefits of Ayurveda alongside Yoga are immense and it aids in the restoration of unity in body, mind, and soul.

About the Author

Ms Varsha Venkataraman

Varsha Venkataraman is a graduate in Applied Microbiology and Cancer Studies. Currently she is the Senior Researcher for the Centre for Soft Power with an avid interest in Ayurveda and wishes to focus on the integrative approach of Ayurveda and modern medicine in the treatment of cancer.

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