The sound AUM ~ arises from ether, ether in action is the air element, action creates friction and heat, through friction and heat, arises light, followed by fire… fire liquifies, creating vapor water, water then flows and becomes solid earth. Based on these principles the body generates and creates, it does so most effectively when in balance. Seasonal rituals are created to aid our bodies in adjusting to seasonal shifts in temperature, moisture, sunshine and diet to make these periodic transitions smooth. We achieve this by shoring up the immune system through a combination of nourishing practices, that are individually applied based on deficiencies or excesses in any of the five elements in the body.
Ayurveda is the overarching structure by which specific Yoga asana is prescribed. Ayurveda, is the tradition from which the art and science of sequencing and breath practices are informed. Both meditation and Yoga asana are key aspects in Ayurvedic lifestyle practices.
While meditation has the ultimate goal of enlightenment, for the everyday householder meditation has additional goals of increasing sexual vitality, mental acuity and overall radiance. Life force (prana), radiance (tejas), and vitality (ojas) are the measuring sticks by which Ayurveda assesses physical and mental wellbeing.
An experienced practitioner will examine an individual through the Astavidhi Parikshan which includes the examination of: pulse, eyes, urine, stool, skin, tongue, voice, build, to determine the state of prana, ojas, tejas and the distribution of the five elements.
Prana- the vital force that maintains the respiration of the cell. Prana is the flow of intelligence in the cell. Prana governs all higher cerebral activity. Prana governs the biological functions of the other two essences. Prana is carried by the fluids in the body and is the vital energy we take in not only through foods but through liquids and through breathing. Prana is responsible for enthusiasm and expression in the psyche without which we suffer from stagnation and depression.
Tejas- intelligence of the cell. It is the essence of the heat we absorb , not only through our food but also through the skin, where we absorb sunlight, Tejas is fed through visual impressions. Tejas governs mental digestion and absorption, without which we lack clarity and determination. Tejas has subtle energy, and heat, we rise because of tejas. Tejas helps us get to a transcendental state, without tejas there is no awakening. Tejas unfolds the intelligence to burn past life karma. It is the light of your true nature that burns brightly.
Ojas- essence related to vitality and immunity. The pure essence of the bodily tissues (dhatus), it is a protoplasmic, biological substance, not a romantic concept. Natural resistance to fight infection. Ojas must be strong to avoid invaders or chronic illness. Ojas is influenced by the power of agni, which determines digestion and the quality of assimilation. Ojas is fed through the sensory impressions of taste and smell. Ojas provides psychological stability and endurance, without which we experience mental fatique and anxiety.
Nature possesses a qualitative energy through which we can either expand into wisdom or contract into ignorance.
-David Frawley, Ayurveda and the Mind
Yoga asana has the goal of creating physical health and mental equilibrium. Ayurveda seeks to nurture physical vitality and mental clarity to allow for living life to the fullest.
Ayurveda, like all good medicine, is both an art and a science. Science is based on laws and requires scientific uniformity of symptoms and treatments. Ayurveda looks to uncover the deeper causes of disease, including but not limited to thoughts and behavior. Thoughts and behaviors can solidify into bad habits and lead toward preventable illness. Ayurveda assists in uprooting them at their cause.
Because the habits and behaviors that lead to illness vary from person to person treatment in Ayurveda differs, person to person. Though there may be uniformity in certain treatments, dosage and carrier substances will vary by constitution. The prescriptions consider the following variables; time of life, time of year, state of imbalance, individual constitution and ability.
Fall is a challenging time for people of a vata (air + ether) nature, but harmonizing for people of a kapha (water + earth) constitution. Individuals will benefit from practices that consider nature (dosha) and other variables. Generally, we can apply seasonal recommendations to suit the needs of the larger majority of practitioners then work individually in more complicated situations.
The Three Pillars of Health:
Ahara – diet
Vihara – lifestyle
Ausada – herbs
Health as Purification: Tattva Shruddhi
Balancing the five elements in Yoga is called Tattva Shruddhi. Tattva Shruddhi is the process integrating our felt experience. Think of the body as a collection of the 5 elements: earth (prithivi), water (apas), fire (agni), air (vayu), space (akasha). Creating balance between these 5 elements brings the body back to harmony.
The Five Elements in the Body:
Earth ~ (prithivi) element, lower body
Primary Areas: feet, thighs and knees with relationship to the hips, sciatic nerve.
Connecting to the earth through the four corners of the feet honors the four directions. Thereby setting a strong foundation. Ankle loop, shin loop, thigh loop.
earth = all solid structures within the body
Water ~ (apas) element, hips
Area of focus: hips, sacrum and psoas
water = secretions and digestive juices, mucous, plasma
When aligned in this area it brings fluidity and flow to the body. Without fluidity this area promotes ‘stuckness’ and uncoordinated movements. Pelvic loop
Fire~ (agni) element, navel
Primary areas in practice: core, lower back, diaphragm
fire = grey matter of the brain, retina (perceives light), digestive fire, metabolism and enzyme systems
Organs of transformation (heat), metabolism, digestion and assimilation. Power to direct, power to change, ability to absorb, take in and let go. Alignment of the torso is essential for enhancing the effectiveness of this element.
Air ~ (vayu) element, chest
Affected areas: shoulders, lungs & heart
air = pulsation of the heart and breath in the lungs, sensory movements and nervous system
The area of contraction and expansion the ability to freely express oneself. Tightness in the neck affects this ability, therefore the application of good shoulder alignment promotes the freedom of air through the throat.
Ether ~ (akasha) element, neck
Affected areas: throat, forehead, mental field
space/ether = the spaces in our bodies, mouth, inner ear etc.
Space governs the idea of creating space in the body and mind, personal space and boundaries. It controls the regulation of our emotions and passions. It is the primary area of governing spiritual progress. In physical practice, we enhance the efficiency of the element ether through the application of skull alignment.