What They Don't Teach in Yoga Class

5 steps toward better practice

Simply put, “Ayurveda is the science and yoga is the practice of science.” Ayurveda and yoga are derived from ancient principles of disease management, documented in the Vedas, or the divine Hindu texts of knowledge. Together, Ayurveda and yoga are concerned with an understanding of how the body works, the effects of food and medicine, and health of the mind.

Both Ayurveda and yoga are concerned with an understanding of how the body works, the effects of food and medicine, and health of the mind.

1. Know your Ayurveda. Sanskrit for “the science or knowledge of life,” Ayurveda is regarded as the world’s oldest healing science. Originating on the Indian subcontinent, it has been practiced for at least 5,000 years. As the underlying science behind the practice of yoga, Ayurveda is a holistic approach that aims to prevent illness by maintaining balance of the mind, body and consciousness through proper diet, balanced lifestyle, and herbal remedies. Underlying Ayurveda is the basic philosophy that everything in the universe consists of the five elements: space (ether), air, fire, water, and earth.

2. Hold that pose. Ayurvedic treatment aims to keep the three mind-body principles, or doshas, in balance. Each person has a unique energy pattern consisting of various physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. Specific yoga styles, postures, and techniques aid in balancing the three basic mind-body types: vata, pitta, and kapha.

Vata controls the body’s motor functions, pitta regulates the body’s metabolic systems and kapha influences growth in the body. While everyone has all three, each person exhibits one or two dominant energy types. Stress, an unhealthy diet, the weather, or strained relationships may disrupt the energy balance. After identifying a person’s ideal state of equilibrium, there are a number of Ayurvedic treatments to restore balance through lifestyle and diet changes along with breathing exercises, herbal oils, meditation, cleansing, and yoga.

3. Balance. Similar to the doshas, the trigunas (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) are the three fundamental energies of the body. Balanced trigunas preserve the mind and, indirectly, the body. Sattva is characterized by consciousness, lightness, and clarity. As the most active guna, Rajas signifies stimulation and motion, whereas Tamas is characterized by resistance and heaviness.

4. Align your chakras. The body’s seven energy centers, or chakras, are a causeway between body and consciousness, or matter and mind. Vital energy flows from the seven energy centers located from the base of the spine to the top of the skull. Each chakra is associated with a color and corresponds to a different area of the body’s anatomy.

5. Listen to your body. Ayurvedic nutrition promotes healing, prevention, and overall health care. An equally important aspect of Ayurveda is taste, namely the incorporation of six principal tastes: sweet (madhura), sour (amla), salty (lavana), bitter (tikta), astringent (kashaya), and pungent (katu). An Ayurvedic meal contains a healthy combination of all six ingredients that correspond with the seasons and the individual’s dosha.

Discover your mind-body type and learn a few simple yoga poses to do at home! Asia Society Northern California, the Asian Art Museum, and the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine invite you to a three-part event series on Ayurveda and the science of yoga. The events will be held in conjunction with the Asian Art Museum’s new exhibition, Yoga: The Art of Transformation (Feb. 21-May 25), which presents a visual narrative of yoga’s ascendance into a global phenomenon. Events are co-presented with the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

To register online, click here.