Merging the Sister Sciences with Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy

There are six primary ways to teach Yoga asana.

The first is based on the student’s ability and health. If the student’s health is good, the practice can be quite physically demanding without causing wear and tear on the body.

The second way adds more educative possibilities. On this path, the student is not looking for merely strength, flexibility, and endurance (the three primary results of a skillfully crafted Yoga practice). This student is seeking further guidance into Yoga’s deeper teachings, which may include the yamas and niyamas (codes of conduct) and the pivotal pranayama practices.

The third way to teach Yoga asana is for protection of health. This methodology assumes that the student is a seasoned practitioner, caught in a working life. For this student, Yoga is used to relieve the stresses of such a lifestyle, including the effects on their health from sitting at a desk much of the day. Obviously, this practice includes pranayama to straighten the spine and invigorate, but it also focuses on meditative practices to relieve internal stress.

The fourth practice is Yoga as therapy. Here the teacher is faced with a student who is not in very good health, has a fair amount of complaints, and requires a return to a healthy state. A very specialized and seasoned teacher is needed; one who has learned how to make adjustments to the teachings, and has the skills to adapt to the health needs of the students. In this respect, a whole new field of Yoga has arisen. The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) has expanded and professionalized this field to use Yoga therapy for all sorts of health conditions.

The fifth and sixth categories relate to the two directions our practice can take when we reach old age, and they foster more personal choices regarding graceful aging.

Traditional Applications

Traditionally, Yoga is a spiritual practice, one of the six primary philosophies that arose in the Vedic worldview. As such, the primary focus of Yoga was to seek an end to suffering and, instead, awaken to non-suffering, or reach enlightenment. The spiritual practice of Yoga walked students down this path by asking the question “Who am I?” With this as the focus, Yoga required students to turn away from householder existence and seek a more hermit-like lifestyle.

Traditionally, it was Ayurveda that was used to address our health, and in some learned circles there was this common saying: Ayurveda prepares one for Yoga.

Ayurveda itself can be practiced in three primary methods. First, as home remedies handed down from generation to generation, usually through the wise grandmother. The second way is as a Vaidya, or doctor of Ayurveda, who may have a family lineage, but similar to doctors everywhere, they have studied medicine for at least 5 years. And finally, as the mystical but powerful tribal medicine man. This person knew all the secrets of nature including its many medicinal herbs growing deep in the heart of the forest.

Over a period of time, more and more Ayurveda was incorporated into the teachings of Yoga. Since a yogin was on the fringes of society, practices had to be created that kept her or him healthy, especially as they could not afford a Vaidya. This approach included magnifying the 8 or so normally practiced asana into scores of asana and with many additional vinyasa to move between poses and to make certain intricate postures accessible. It created more kriyas, or cleansing practices, many of which had eerie roots in the cleansing practices of Ayurveda. It included pranayama and meditative practices that had great positive effects on emotional, physical, and mental states.

Blurring the Lines between Yoga and Ayurveda

Fast forward now to our current times. It was only at the end of the 1800’s that Swami Vivekananda came to Chicago and took the Parliament of The World’s Religions (1893) by storm with his message of Yoga. Not many years later, the kriyas infused Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings. Swami Sivananda brought a fixed asana practice to the West. And it was not long before Yoga had shown up on every street corner in the form of Yoga studios, with a multitude of styles and practices all focused on health. It was not even forty years ago that Ayurveda, too, began to make its entry here, and it quickly found a place in all these Yoga studios. Now studios are filled with Ayurvedic products, and most teacher trainings include a weekend or more devoted to Ayurveda. The lines have indeed blurred.

As the two sister sciences continue to reunite, practitioners skilled in both Yoga and Ayurveda are beginning to find that they wield an incredibly powerful therapeutic tool.

It is worth mentioning that this unity did exist before. There is no need to recreate the wheel. Most traditional Yoga teachers often had an excellent grasp of Ayurveda. Most Vaidya were already savvy with prescribing asana, pranayama, and meditation, along with herbs and other daily practices (dinacharya).

Scope of Practice of Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy (AYT)

In recent years, with the popularity of Yoga and Ayurveda continuing to grow, there has been a surge of interest in cross-training between these two practices. In an effort to create a container and set standards for the practice of Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy, the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), began looking into the practice.

NAMA authorized a committee to consider this emerging category and, if found to be of value, define its scope and practice. I had the privilege of being involved in this process, serving as the Chair of the committee.

The definition of Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy:

Application of Ayurvedic principles to the practice and principles of Yoga based on the Ayurvedic understanding of the nature of the patient, the nature of the imbalance, and the nature of therapies, to promote healing and achieve a harmonious state of body and mind with respect to individual consciousness.

The scope of practice:

The Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist shall have competency to design, implement, demonstrate, instruct, and teach an individual a Yoga therapy program to help with their healing process based on the Ayurvedic prakriti/vikriti paradigm and the Ayurvedic definition of health.

Visit this link for further details about the AYT category as defined and recognized by NAMA.

The educational requirements are not for those looking for quick weekend trainings. The competencies required could take around 1100–1500 hours of training if you start from scratch. In other words, the category of Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist comes of age.

If you are already an Ayurvedic Health Counselor (AHC-NAMA) or more advanced, much of your training is already in the bag. If you are a Certified Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT) much of your training is also already in the bag. If you are both, you are just an application away from being grandfathered in!

Indeed, if you find you have an affinity and a desire for both Yoga and Ayurveda, and if you are already practicing either or both, it may be time for you to consider boosting your practice. The payoff is the health of your clients and students when you combine the practices of both Yoga and Ayurveda.