Yoga and Ayurveda (योगः आयुर्वेदश्च)

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Yoga and Ayurveda (Samskrit: योगः आयुर्वेदश्च) discusses the Convergence of Philosophical Basis and the Fundamental Concepts in these two knowledge systems.[1]

This article has been taken from the paper "Well-Being at Workplace: A Perspective from Traditions of Yoga and Ayurveda" (2020) by C. Dagar & A. Pandey in S. Dhiman (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Well-Being.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction[1]

There are six systems of Indian philosophy (darshanas), namely, Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purvamimamsa, and Vedanta.[2] Samkhya is the oldest school of Indian philosophy and has influenced much of Indian philosophy. Samkhya, in addition to furnishing the foundation for Yoga, has specifically played a key role in the development of Ayurveda by rendering the founding theoretical basis for its underlying practices.[3]

Gunas, doshas, the vital essences (prana, tejas, and ojas), and the panchakosha lie at the roots of Yoga and Ayurveda to delineate the multifarious aspects of human nature and as a result the dimensions of well-being. These fundamental concepts, explicate the biological, psycho-physiological and psycho-spiritual aspects of a human being, knowledge of which is crucial for discerning overall holistic well-being. This article discusses the fundamental concepts common to both Yoga and Ayurveda that are essential to understand well-being as per the two traditions.

गुणाः ॥ Gunas[1]

The world is constituted by the three gunas or qualities known as the sattva, rajas, and tamas. They are the causal energy that pervades all creation (physical objects, thoughts, actions, ether function, etc.).[4]

The Samkhya Karika (seminal text on the philosophy of Yoga), the Bhagavad Gita, and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras delineate the gunas and their associated physical, mental, and behavioral attributes.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11]

There are two basic laws of the gunas.

  1. The law of alternation: All the three gunas are intertwined and at interplay, thereby affecting each other.
  2. Law of continuity: The gunas until stabilizing tend to hold their respective natures for a specific period.[4]

The interplay between the three gunas denotes a relationship that is of constant conflict as well as of cooperation. The nature of things as well as the state that an individual experiences is an outcome of the predominant guna. It is on the basis of the preponderance of one or the other guna that one becomes intelligent, active, or indolent and experiences various degrees of well-being or otherwise.[12] Therefore, it is the state of samyavastha or equilibrium of the three that holds the secret to an individual’s well-being.[12]

दोषाः ॥ Doshas[1]

The five elements (panchamahabhuta) constitute the fundamental building blocks of all matter that exist, that is, they are the key components of all creation. The universe is based on three original powers of energy, light, and matter that work through three central elements (air, fire, and water). The three key elements when imbued with life-giving force (prana) create the three doshas, namely, vata, pitta, and kapha.[4]

They refer to the fundamental bioactive elements that operate at the cellular and subcellular levels. They exist and run throughout the body with internal factors (microcosm) and external factors (macrocosm) influencing the qualities of the doshas, i.e., leading to decrease or increase of a specific attribute.[13] The three doshas (vata, pitta, kapha) underlie the psychobiological constitution types of all human characteristics, activities, and patterns of health and illness.[14] They govern the psychobiological and physiopathological changes,[11] are associated with specific genes, and correlate with genome variation.[15] Further, in line with the systems theory, the doshas constitute biologically universal mechanisms that regulate the fundamental functions identified as input and output (vata), throughput or turnover (pitta), and storage (kapha).[16]

वातदोषः ॥ Vata dosha

  • It is composed of Ether and air.
  • It is concerned with the mode of movement within the body and therefore governs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, and elimination.
  • It is responsible for maintaining sensory, emotional, and mental harmony, and facilitates mental adaptability and comprehension.
  • Creativity, enthusiasm, speed, responsiveness, and the drive to achieve goals in life are the traits associated with Vata constitution.
  • An individual with vata constitution is characterized by short memory, impulsive, shy, and sensitive nature.
  • An individual with vata constitution is classically thin with low body weight and low bone structure.

पित्तदोषः ॥ Pitta dosha

  • It is composed of Fire and water.
  • It governs the process of transformation or metabolism by regulating digestion, absorption, assimilation, temperature, skin coloration, and luster of eyes.
  • It regulates digestion on mental and spiritual levels, i.e., our capacity to digest impressions, emotions, and ideas to arrive at the truth.
  • Intelligence, courage, and vitality are the traits associated with Pitta constitution.
  • Psychologically, pitta engenders anger, hate, and jealousy.
  • An individual with pitta constitution is of a medium or athletic build with medium height and delicate frame.

कफदोषः ॥ Kapha dosha

  • It is composed of Water and earth.
  • It is responsible for growth, adding structure, and governs the lubrication of the body to offer protection and directly influences the emotions.
  • Concerned with emotions, it endows us with love and caring, devotion, and faith, which assists in maintaining internal harmony along with unity with others
  • Steadiness, calmness, and compassionate nature are the traits associated with Kapha constitution.
  • Psychologically, kapha also engenders emotions of attachment such as greed and envy.
  • An individual with pitta constitution has a well-developed body with a tendency to gain weight.

प्राणः तेजः ओजः च ॥ Prana, Tejas and Ojas[1]

Prana, tejas, and ojas are the subtle counterparts of the three doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha respectively). These are known as the three vital essences that impact psychological functioning, assist in sustaining positive vitality, and energize individuals towards higher spiritual endeavors. Prana, tejas, and ojas are interrelated and stand parallel with the concepts of Chinese concepts of chi (vital energy), the Yang (fire), and the Yin (water).[4]

Some key characteristics are described as follows:[4][17][18]

प्राणः ॥ Prana

Prana is the primal life force. It is the subtle energy behind all psychophysical functions such as respiration, circulation, and coordination of breath, senses, and mind. On an inner level, prana is concerned with discovering higher states of consciousness. Prana facilitates circulation of ojas throughout the body and rekindling of tejas. There are two basic pranas, prana and apana, which further divides into five pranas.

  1. Prana (प्राणः | inhalation or in-breathing)
  2. apana (अपानः | exhalation or down-breathing)
  3. samana (समानः | balancing or on-breathing)
  4. udana (उदानः | up-breathing)
  5. vyana (व्यानः | expansive or pervading breathing)

Increased prana provides the drive, creativity, and adaptability essential for the spiritual path.

तेजः ॥ Tejas

Tejas is described as the “burning flame of pure intelligence.” It marks the intelligence at cellular level that governs the function of digestion of air and absorption of thoughts and ideas. On an inner level, tejas is concerned with unearthing higher perceptual capacities. It also helps maintain optimal ojas and prana. Increased tejas provides the courage, fearlessness, and insight to enable one to take decisions and tread on the path of spiritual awakening.

ओजः ॥ Ojas

Ojas is the subtle energy of water. It is the essence underlying all bodily tissues, the basis for physical and mental endurance, i.e., the immune system. It represents the essence of digested food, water, air, thought, and impressions. On an inner level, ojas is concerned with rendering a foundation for the development of all higher faculties. Increased ojas enables one to be calm, confident, and patient while developing consistently on the spiritual path.

जीवः ॥ Jiva[1]

A human being is not merely confined to the appearance it projects, that is, the physical contours and aspects of the body. It is a collection of three bodies encompassing the gross elements to the subtle layers of the mind that act as encasements for the true Self.[4] Put differently, a human being is defined based on the mind-body complex, which is not distinct, and exists on a continuum from gross to subtle levels.[19]

पञ्चकोषः ॥ Panchakosha[1]

Vedanta along with Yoga comprises of two of the six major systems of Indian philosophy[2] and render well-integrated theories based on the interpretation of the Upanishadic texts. The Taittiriya Upanishad presents the Vedic conceptualization of the mind-body complex, i.e., jiva. Human existence is in the form of sheaths infolded in oneself which gets enfolded with one’s increasing levels of awareness. It is the ignorance of the true reality that is marked by superimposition of what is known as five sheaths or panchakosha.[20] These koshas are not distinct sections; instead, they coexist and interact with each other.[21]

  • The Annamaya is the dimension of the body, the sheath of material existence and primitive identification with an ego encapsulated in the physical body.
  • The Pranamaya is the dimension of vital breath or the sheath of vitality (linked to mental, physical, and spiritual health).
  • The Manomaya is the dimension comprising of the information processing mind and the sense organs. It is concerned with emotions and engenders the egoistic strivings, dualities, and distinctions.
  • The Vijnanamaya is the dimension of ratiocination and cognition and involves ideas and concepts to know the world.
  • The Anandamaya is the dimension of pure joy and well-being. Dualities and distinctions are not completely destroyed at this level, but they are harmonized so completely that this state is experienced as the one of profound relaxation and bliss (ananda).[22][21][20]

The three bodies are where all the five sheaths reside.

  • The innermost sheath, i.e., the annamaya kosha, constitutes the “gross body” (sthula sharira).
  • The next three layers (pranamaya, manomaya, and vijnanamaya koshas) together form what is called the “subtle body” (sukshma sharira).
  • The outermost layer, the sheath of bliss (anandamaya kosha), comprises the “causal body” (karana sharira).

When this last sheath is peeled away, the pure reality of the center alone remains, absolute non-duality, ineffable, indescribable, underlying the five sheaths and the three bodies.[20]

Definition of mind by Daniel Siegel in his book Mindsight also includes four of the five sheaths of the panchakosha framework. He defines mind as

“a relational and embodied process that regulates the flow of energy and information”.[23]

Here embodied process corresponds to annamaya kosha, the flow of energy to pranamaya kosha, and information to manomaya kosha, and relational and embodied process that regulates the flow of energy and information corresponds to vijnanamaya kosha.[19]

Significance of the Common Concepts[1]

Frawley[4] discusses the significance of the concepts mentioned above in Yoga and Ayurveda.

  • Both Yoga and Ayurveda use the three gunas for determining an individual’s mental and spiritual nature. With an emphasis on sattva guna, Yoga aims at the development of sattva for purification of mind and body and transcendence of sattva to realize our true Self that is beyond manifestation. Sattva is important in Ayurveda as it assists healing and promotes the fight against diseases.
  • As per Ayurveda, doshas form the basis of creation (substance) of the physical body, and predomination of one of the doshas determines one’s mind-body (psychophysiological) constitution. In Yoga, it is the doshas that help ascertain the effects of Yogic practices on the gross and subtle bodies and, further, define the practices needed in line with a specific mind-body constitution.
  • In a nutshell, gunas and doshas represent two axes, vertical and horizontal, of an individual’s nature comprising of psycho-spiritual and psychophysiological aspects.
  • Related to the three doshas are the three vital essences, prana, tejas and ojas, which are master forms[24] of the biological humors. For both, Yoga and Ayurveda, in contrast to the doshas where an excess of biological humors causes pathology, an increase in the essences promotes positive health.
  • Both Yoga and Ayurveda address a human being as someone greater than the three bodies (gross, subtle, and causal) where the three bodies serve as bridges to this higher Self.
  • Both Yoga and Ayurveda work to purify the sheaths (panchakoshas) at the different levels to regenerate the physical body and spiritualize the subtle body with an aim to integrate all the faculties, gain balance, harmony, and realization of true Self.


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