Transformation through Yoga and Āyurveda

Transformation through Yoga and Āyurveda

Jun 29, 2016

The Yogi first strives to control the body, and thereafter proceeds to subdue the mind. His initial goal is to achieve a healthy body (Nirāmaya Deha), which is conducive to the practice of Yoga meditation. Thereafter, he strives to transcend such limitations as cold, heat, sleep, fatigue, thirst, and hunger.

Upon conquering the limitations of the body and mind, he transforms his physically pure body into a spiritual, or Divine Body which is known as the Divya Deh, or Divine Body. This transformation allows the Yogi, to transcend all worldly limitations through the disciplines of Yoga. In the Shvetāsvatar Upanishad (2:12) it is said: “One who attains a body that is full of Yogic fire becomes free from disease, old age and death.” 

This goal is not limited to the science of Yoga only, for Āyurveda also speaks of such a transformation of the body that is called Kaya-Kalp. The Āyurvedic texts refer to “Yoga Rasāyan,” or “alchemy,” as the means to such a transformation.

So knowledge of the body and its capabilities is as useful to a Yogi as it is to a Vaidya, or Doctor of Āyurveda. The goal of Āyurveda is to prevent or treat diseases that attack the body. Similarly, Yoga is a means to end to all afflictions that disturb the mind. This goal is accomplished by diverting the mind from external objects, and focusing it on the inner Spirit, or Soul. While the utility of Āyurveda is confined to the prevention and cure of ailments of a physical and mental nature, Yoga is focused upon the higher sphere of the final emancipation of the Soul: Moksh or liberation from the cycles of birth and death.1

Similarities between Yoga and Āyurveda​  

Although these two systems have distinct spheres of application, there remains considerable common ground between them.  Āyurveda, no doubt, deals mainly with the body, yet it also utilizes certain special methods—including Yoga—that ensures mental health.  Similarly Yoga, which deals mainly with the mind, prescribes various procedures that purify the Nadis, or channels, of the physical body.

Since mental disturbances lead to physical discomfort and, likewise, physical disturbances cause mental anguish, the body and mind are intimately interconnected. Therefore it is inevitable that Āyurveda and Yoga have overlapping goals.

Yoga stresses the importance of sound health, which is a prerequisite for its practice. Furthermore, stability of the body, or Deh-Sthairya, is a primary requirement for the practice of Yoga since its goals can be achieved only when the body is sound and healthy (Nirāmay).  Similarly, Āyurveda contends that Diet (Āhar), Sleep (Nidra) and Continence (Brahmacharya) are the three pillars of sound health. Yoga prescribes them under these labels: “moderation in the following: diet, pleasures, exertions and sleep”, or Yukta-Ahar, Yukta-Vihar, Yukta-Chesta, and Yukta-Svapnavabodha. 

By combining the recommendations of Yoga and Āyurveda, we can establish four pillars of health: diet, sleep, exercise, and celibacy. If any of these four pillars of health are practiced without discrimination, imbalances will manifest in the three Doshas, and this will lead to poor health. According to Āyurveda such disturbances are the cause of various diseases. These imbalances can best be resolved by a combination of medication and the necessary restraints in diet and pleasures, as well as the proper practice of exertion and sleep. 
In Yoga, various practices such as Yoga postures (Āsan), breath control (Prānāyām), and the six cleansing procedures (Shat-Kriyas) exhibit wonderful effects on various physiological functions of the body, rendering it completely immune to disease. In fact, the ultimate result of Yoga is said to be Kaya Sampat, or “perfection of the body.”

Sage Patanjali describes this perfected body as one of beauty, fine complexion, indomitable strength, and adamantine hardness. This perfected body is called Divya Deh, or Divine Body and it is attained through Ashtang Yoga, through progressive mastery over the five elements of nature: earth, water, fire, air and ether. 

Similarly, Āyurveda developed Rejuvenation as a special branch of Rasāyan2 known as Bhut Vidhya. This therapy is Āyurveda’s most distinctive contribution to medical science. The focus here is upon the rejuvenation of man to help make him invulnerable to the inroads of all disease and degeneration.

The ancient Sage Physicians who evolved the science of Āyurveda were Yogis.  Their primary focus was on longevity, which may be achieved by proper habits and a daily regimen. Curative therapies were developed only secondarily.  That is why they aptly named the science “Ayur-ved,” which is composed of two Sanskrit words: “Ayu” and “Ved.” The Sanskrit word “Ayu” means life and “Ved” means knowledge.  Āyurveda is “the knowledge, or science, of living.” 

In keeping with these goals Sage Charak, the great exponent of Āyurveda, defines Āyurveda as a discipline, and he lays down what is considered to be good and what is considered to be bad: what is healthy and what is unhealthy, and what is wholesome and what is unwholesome in relation to life. In doing so, Sage Charak defines and evaluates the significance, condition, and the very nature of life (Charak Sutra 1:181).  

Here the emphasis is not merely on a healthy existence, but also on the necessity to lead a righteous life in accordance with divine moral law. 
The emphasis is given to good behavior and not simply to the achievement of good health alone. The guidelines regarding such good behavior are more or less the same as the Yam and Niyam prescribed in the Yogic scriptures. These tenets for a healthy,  ethical and simple life include such virtues as Satya (truth), Ahimsa (non-violence), Asteya (non-stealing/honesty), Mitāhār (balanced diet), Tapas (austerity), Dana (generosity), Dhi (devotion to God), Dhriti (fortitude), Smriti (Remembrance of God), Daya (Compassion), Arjava (Straight-forwardness), and Brahmacharya (celibacy).3

Although Āyurveda suggests a variety of therapies for the treatment of numerous diseases, it assigns its foremost priority to the prevention of disease and the preservation of health which leads to longevity. All of the ancient Sage-Physicians undertook the search for long life. As a result, they established the practical precepts that have become the foundation of the discipline known as Āyurveda. Āyurveda is a refuge, not only for the ailing, but also for the healthy. 

Health is, in fact, considered to be the essential, and the best, foundation for achieving the four fundamental pursuits of humankind. These pursuits are:

  1. Arth; material pursuits for a comfortable life;
  2. Kam: pursuits for emotional satisfaction in marriage and progeny; 
  3. Dharm: disciplines that lead to social harmony and a devout life; 
  4. Moksh: spiritual pursuits that free the soul from bondage and open the door to salvation and everlasting peace. (Charak Sutra 9:15). 

The concept of health goes beyond the mere treatment of disease. Health also gives purpose to life. Āyurveda does not restrict itself to maintaining good heath only, but extends its domain to strengthening and increasing the vitality of the body, psyche and senses.  This is why Āyurveda has formulated a special branch of vigor-promoting medications known as Rasāyan. The therapies of Rasāyan offer its adherents the full enjoyment of life and increased longevity. Rasāyan, then, is the vitalizing therapy that helps to replenish the essential fluids of the body. 

Āyurveda divides its therapies into two broad classifications: one eradicates diseases of the ailing, while the other vitalizes and protects those that are healthy.  By using the Rasāyan recipes one obtains freedom from disease. Moreover, the person regains youth, attains long life, and radiates the excellence of luster, complexion and voice, derives optimum strength and luminosity of the body, including heightened memory and intelligence; his utterance always gets fulfilled and he receives reverence from the people.

Rasāyan therapy not only adds years to life, it also gives life to those years, and confers sanctity upon the user. The body becomes purified, the five elements of the body are restored to their normal balanced state, the susceptibility to disease disappears and the pace of aging decreases.

Consequently a person who undergoes this therapy emerges pure, not only in body but also in mind.  Therefore Rasāyan therapy also addresses mental purification.  These therapies relieve the user of mental affliction and anguish and bring equanimity and tranquility to the mind, for longevity without a Sattvic4 outlook is nothing more than a hollow accomplishment. 

There are two modes of Rasāyan therapy.  The first is an in depth retreat known as Kuti Pravesh. The second is a less complex procedure which includes a sun-cure, or air-cure method, depending upon the circumstances. 

Kuti Pravesh is a major mode of therapy prescribed only for those who are fit, disease-free, strong-willed, self-controlled, leisured, and endowed with means.  For those who have different circumstances, the minor methods of sun cures (Asurya-Marutika) and air cures (Vāt-Tapik) are prescribed, but these therapies cannot yield the results that may be obtained through “Kuti Pravesh.”

Āyurvedic texts mention that a number of the ancient Sages and Rishis including Valkhilyas, Vaikhanas, Vashisth, Kashyap, Angira, Jāmadagni, Bhardwaj and Bhrigu performed Rasāyan experiments and thereby became sufficiently fit to engage in Yogic penance (Tapas) over a period of hundreds of years. Through these disciplines their bodies were rejuvenated, inhibiting old age and restoring youth.

Here it should be made clear that Sage Charak stipulates that any Rasāyan experiments that fail to include Yogic austerities (Tapas) will not yield results. Moreover he states that only those who are capable of performing penance, and especially those who are peaceful, truthful, non-violent, pious, ego-less, virtuous, devoted, devoid of anger, fatigue, and lust are fit for undertaking Rasāyan experiments.

These statements clearly demonstrate that there is a close relationship and a natural interdependence between Āyurveda and Yoga. Both Yoga and Āyurveda require that the body be cleansed before one can undertake the practice of their disciplines. Yoga has its Shat Kriyas, Āyurveda has its Panch Karmas, and there is considerable similarity between the two. Further, certain restraints and moral codes of conduct are prescribed for each of these disciplines during the cleansing phase. Āyurveda prescribes Pathya-pathya, or “regimen in diet,” while Yoga prescribes Mitāhār, or “moderation in diet”. Further, the prescriptions of Yam and Niyam in Yoga are similar to the disciplines known as Sadvritta (or judicious conduct) that are required in Āyurveda. There is striking similarity between the two disciplines.

Both Yoga and Āyurveda stress the importance of addressing the imbalances that inevitably manifest amongst the three Gunas of human Nature, or Prakriti: Sattva, Rajas and Tāmas.  Yoga considers Rajas and Tāmas to be the forces that bind a person to the evils of Samsara (worldly existence), while Sattva is considered to be a liberating force.  
Similarly, Āyurveda considers Rajas and Tāmas to be the cause of mental imbalance and instability, while Sattva is Avikari, or benign.  Further, both Yoga and Āyurveda uphold Sankhya philosophy and its contention that the human being is the product of the twenty four Tattvas that unfold from Prakriti (Nature) and its three Gunas (Sattva, Rajas, and Tāmas).5

Finally, both Yoga and Āyurveda attach great importance to Pran, or the vital life force of the human body.  Each of these disciplines discusses the five major Pran—Pran, Apan, Sāman, Vyan and Udan—and their spheres of activity and functions in more or less the same manner.6 Yoga says that by achieving control over Pran, one attains liberation, while Āyurveda says that by maintaining the Prans in proper condition, longevity is attained. According to Āyurveda, the best Vaidya (doctor) is one who is Pran-Bhisar, or one who approaches and attacks diseases with the help of the five Prans.  This is very close to the Yogic approach, which is to control the body and mind through control of the five Prans. Perhaps that is why Sage Charak says that he who knows Yoga is the best Vaidya, or Doctor of Āyurveda.

The Interdependence of Yoga and Āyurveda 

The similarity between the philosophies, goals and disciplines of Yoga and Āyurveda are also reflected in the characteristics of an Āyurvedic Physician—or Pran-Bhisar Vaidya—as described by Sage Charak:  Such a person must be pious and pure, have control over the senses, and be a self-realized person who knows Prakriti (Nature) and all of its elements well.7 Further, Sage Charak points out that a Vaidya’s real duty is to meditate on the spiritual principle (Adhyatma Tattva), or ultimate reality, as described in Āyurveda.

Sage Charak also asserts that physical ailments can be cured through medicinal treatments (Aushadhas), whereas mental afflictions can only be removed through Yogic Samādhi.8  He also upholds the truth that complete freedom from all physical and mental sufferings is possible only when one attains Moksh (liberation) through the practice of Yoga.

Even the initiation of a student of Āyurveda has many similarities to that of a Yoga student.  As with Yoga, Āyurveda prescribes certain standards for the fitness of a student. Āyurveda says that only those students who are pious, virtuous, well-behaved, and free from anger and lust should be given Diksha (initiation). Yoga prescribes similar standards. 

But the most interesting parallel is that both Yoga and Āyurveda require that a worthy student must renounce the worldly life and accept Sannyas. Sage Sushrut—(in the second chapter of the Sutrasthana)—and Sage Charak—(in the eighth chapter of Vimanasthana)—state that the student who desires initiation into the knowledge of Āyurveda should have his head clean shaven, don the orange-ochre robe (Kashāy Vastra), and observe celibacy.  These are exactly the same requirements stipulated for a Yogic initiation into Sannyas.9  These parallels certainly indicate that the studies of Yoga and Āyurveda can and should go hand in hand.

All these parallels indicate that Yoga and Āyurveda are twin disciplines, not only in the sense that their natures are similar, but also in their interdependence. No Yogi can become perfected (or siddha) and attain the Divine Body  (Divya Deh) which is devoid of disease, decay and death, without becoming conversant with Āyurveda. Similarly, no Vaidya can become perfected (Pran-Bhisar) and bring about Kaya-Kalp in his patient without becoming Yogavid, or a Knower of Yoga. In fact, neither of these disciplines is limited to the goal of worldly well-being.  They offer something that is far greater.  

Maharshi Sushrut says in the Sutra-Sthana that heaven and the knowledge of one’s former births are attainable through the disciplines of Āyurveda and that Indra’s heaven can be attained after death.  Although Āyurveda does not offer liberation (Moksh) or an immortal Divine Body, it does offer heaven and longevity through the rejuvenation of the body. 


1Although the soul is immortal, it appears to be dying and reincarnating due to Maya, illusion of Samsara, the seemingly endless wheel of mundane existence. The goal of Yoga is to overcome Samsara and attain liberation, or Moksh. 

2Rasāyan Tantra is the science of rejuvenation, which includes the study of herbs and non-toxic medicines (e.g. āmalā) that affect basic cellular changes and maintain youth. Each Rasāyan has different properties, and each leads to increased health and vigor. 

3See Tenets for the Spiritual Life, by Swami Rajarshi Muni, Life Mission Publications, 2007.

4A Sattvic disposition includes purity, harmony, wisdom, dispassion, steadiness, truthfulness, luminosity and surrender to God.

5Lord Krishna Says in the Bhagavad Gita: “Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas are the three constituent aspects that originate from Prakriti, or Nature. Sattva, being pure, luminous, and serene, binds one to happiness and knowledge. Rajas, being impure, creates passions and cravings, and binds one to activity. Finally Tamas, being of the lowest type, causes ignorance, inertia and bewilderment, binding one to indolence and illusion. 

6Pran, or life energy, is vital to the life-processes. Collectively, the five Prans operate throughout the body, maintaining all of its sensory and motor functions. 

7There are 24 Tattvas of Prakriti. They are Primordial Prakriti of Sattva, Rajas, Tamas in balanced state, Mahat (intellect), ego, mind, 5 cognitive senses, 5 faculty of actions, 5 tanmatra (sound, tangibility, form, taste and odor) and 5 Mahabhutas (earth, water, fire, air, ether).

8Samadhi is the final stage of Yoga in which the Yogi is enlightened with pure consciousness. Thereby he escapes from the tortuous wheel of birth and death. This is the epitome of Yoga.

9A Sannyasi is one who renounces the worldly life to engage in spiritual practices that lead to the attainment of Divine Yoga.


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