The science & technology of yoga and ayurveda

“Life (Ayu) is the combination (samyoga) of body, senses, mind and reincarnating soul. Ayurveda is the most sacred science of life, beneficial to humans both in this world and the world beyond.”

CHARAKA SAMHITA, SUTRASTHANA, I.42 – 43

Our body is more than you think

Ayurveda is the other arm of self-realisation. It is from the principles of Ayurveda that the aspiring yogi can learn how to create and maintain optimal health and well-being of a ‘vehicle’ – body, mind and soul – that can carry us all the way to the other shore of self-realisation. We learn from the Charaka Samhita, an inaugural text of Ayurveda, that….

“The three – body, mind and soul – are like a tripod. The world stands by their combination; in them everything abides. This combination exists for the sake of the Purusha or conscious being. It is the subject matter of Ayurveda for which the teachings of Ayurveda have been revealed.”

CHARAKA SAMHITA, SUTRASTHANA I.46 – 47

A weak and feeble vehicle means the same journey would be almost impossible in this lifetime if not twice, or thrice, as difficult. In this case, it becomes an issue of karma where we are hindered by parabdha karma that have ripened in this lifetime. As one author explains, samskaras can present as saboteurs or champions. It depends on what you have done through your past actions. Negative karma create obstacles and challenges that can either prevent or postpone fulfilment of the spiritual goal. While positive karma brings us good opportunities and teachings to advance us on the path.

The Charaka Samhita stands out for another reason. Because it’s such an important text, you will find many commentaries and pdf translations in English available on the internet for free. We should take advantage of this, read up and approach the yoga sadhana with greater wisdom and prudence.

Constitution, temperament and personality

For instance, our constitution (as well as temperament and personality) is made up of predominantly one or a combination of gunas and doshas. These govern our bodily, mental and spiritual constitution. An understanding of how we are ‘constructed’ in terms of gunas and doshas can lead to a better understanding of why we are who we are. It’s pretty amazing how well you get to know yourself when it’s also combined with an Indian astrological and numerological reading. Talk about holistic healing.

All of us are unique in our constitution. Some of us are more laid back while others are full of restless energy and all over the place. For the latter, asanas that are more calming would be more favourable to increase the ability to center ourselves. What if we tend towards the lethargic and overweight? In which case, a more energising set of asanas would be a better prescription. Wise is the yoga teacher who understands this. Prudent is the student who can tell the difference.

We are what we eat

We are but a heap of food. If you were to study Ayurveda in India, it’s highly likely you’ll also learn to cook a sattvic, or pure, diet where foods that are known to excite and stimulate are replaced with those that promote calm. It’s like the food you would eat at an ashram. As pure as it can get with no animal or dairy products except for yoghurt. No onion, garlic, or green chilli. No asafoetida, or hing. Nor is the food heavily spiced because certain spices can be so, so stimulating!

What if you find it difficult to give up meat? Our guru’s most compassionate answer is: If you can’t give up meat then no red meat but fish with scales (no eels) or white meat (poultry) is okay. Try to eliminate pork as pork is clairvoyantly very dirty. It is said to leave behind grey, sticky energies in one’s aura. Then slowly work your way towards dropping meat and meat products from your diet. Again, guru-ji used to say, there are some things that won’t happen till you’ve cleared the karmic obstacles. If you can put yourself through a silent retreat with vegetarian food and a few days of fasting, you will see the difference it can make in your body, mind and meditation. You are what you eat and don’t eat.

For die-hards who believe a sattvic diet should be part of the austerities in their sadhana then well and good. It’s a personal choice. Just need to remember that being vegetarian does not guarantee enlightenment. Don’t forget there’s also character formation. Ayurveda says it’s more about balance. How we should balance the tamasic, rajasic and sattvic in our life. On its own, sattva actually refers to the quality of light, love, and life that should inform our thinking, speech, behaviour, reading diet, tv diet, and so on. Because the divine is of the quality of light, love, and life, we therefore raise our vibrations the more we approach these qualities in ourselves.

Microcosm of the macrocosm

Samkhya

This diagram is from Samkhya Samhita, an ancient and metaphysical text from which we get a hint of the vast dimension of our existence. According to the text, this is the stuff we are made of – from pakriti to the mind; ego; the 3 bodies of gross, causal and subtle; the 5 koshas or sheaths, of annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, manomaya kosha, vijnanamaya kosha, and anandamaya kosha; 3 doshas, 3 gunas, 5 elements, 5 sense organs, 5 motor organs, 5 pranas, 7 chakras, tejas, ojas, and so on and so forth. This is part of the Vedic answer to: What am I? You are a microcosm of the macrocosm.

Science & technology for enlightenment 

Eventually, our sadhana must get us to a point where we realise and know for ourselves what is that ‘much more’ in us. And that requires deep sitting. If you’ve been meditating then you know it is one of the toughest things to do. So many distractions and hindrances. But sit we must. Here is where we can tap on the science and technology of yoga and Ayurveda to help us to sit deeply. As the saying goes, there is no enlightenment without meditation. And no deep meditation if you don’t clean up your life, diet, habits, patterns of behaviour and how you relate to people and the world at large. You have to stop creating karma that will sabotage your spiritual efforts.

Look at the second half of the 8-limb path of Raja Yoga – pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi – these are all meditation-based. Pratyahara alone is already a major challenge for most of us because of the ultra sensory world that we live in. To withdraw your senses is so counter-intuitive to what is the norm for most of us living with a shopping mall round each corner. Just consider what it takes to have a shooting chance at samadhi. You need to be able to withdraw and go down deep where your breathing rate is at max 10 breaths per hour! Impossible, right? No wonder they say enlightenment is rare for folks living in our times.

Do you recall the upward pointing triangle often seen in many yantras? This triangle reminds us that meditation is the pinnacle of the pyramid of Vedic knowledge. According to the Vedas, the upward triangle represents man’s eternal quest.The topmost point of the triangle reaches into the realms of the supreme divine while the broad base anchors us on Earth. When we finally attain the ultimate goal, the full realisation of the true self is the downward pointing triangle merging with the upward to form a six-pointed star. This one can see in the Shri Yantra or Sri Chakra. That is another powerful symbol of our journey but we will save that for another time and place.

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