You probably have heard the term “Ayurveda”, but most of us aren’t sure exactly what Ayurvedic medicine is, or how it relates to yoga. In India, the two practices – both of which have their roots in Indian culture – are closely linked. But while yoga has remained a strong force in its home country, Ayurveda began to fade into the background as Western medicine grew in popularity. So, in an attempt to bring the ancient medicinal and lifestyle practice back into focus, the city of Pune, India, recently opened a park specifically dedicated to Ayurvedic herbs and education.
With over 300 types of Ayurvedic plants growing in this city park (with plans to continuously bring in more), as well as an adjunct library and education center, guests are encouraged to learn as much about the medicinal properties of the plants, including how to find or grow them in their own neighborhoods and use them to the best advantage. Eventually, the hope is that Ayurvedic medicines will actually be manufactured in the gardens, making the park a multi-service shrine to this ancient health care system
The Assistant Superintendent of the Pune park told national newspaper One India, “”This medicinal or Ayurvedic garden is been developed with the aim to make people aware of the various medicinal plants that can be used in our homes from day to day. We’ve planted many medicinal plants that can help cure ailments at our home like sore throat, upset stomach, gastritis problems and many more. People using these plants need not visit a doctor but cure the diseases at their homes.”
But what exactly does this 5,000-year-old healing science have to do with yoga? First of all, while herbs are an important aspect to Ayurveda, they are only one part of the equation. Ayurveda is based on the principal of balancing one’s mind, body and consciousness. When we are in balance, we are healthy. But if one element of our lives is out of whack – whether it is our diet, our stress level, or our physical well-being – it weakens our bodies and makes us prime candidates for disease. The herbs can help bring us back into balance, but we need the other elements to be aligned as well.
For example, you could be the most dedicated yoga fan in the world, attending classes every day and able to gracefully execute even the most complex asanas. But if you leave class and go to McDonalds, smoke a cigarette, and return to a highly stressful job or family life, your health is likely in danger. According to a newsletter of the Maharishi Ayurveda, a source for Ayurvedic products and knowledge:
“If someone is attending a yoga class on a regular basis, he or she is starting to dislodge ama (digestive impurities) in the body. But if they are still maintaining a lifestyle and diet that creates ama, all they are really doing is moving their sludge around.”
Yoga’s goals are completely aligned with those of Ayurveda (which, incidentally, means “The Science of Life” in Sanskrit). Both emphasize self-awareness, a mind-body connection, and an ultimate goal of being in tune with our Higher Selves. Many yoga schools teach Ayurvedic practices as part of the main curriculum. So, it may be worthwhile to delve a little deeper into the dietary and herbal elements of Ayurveda to see if it could complement, or even improve, your practice. Unless you’re planning a trip to India, this may not be a literal “walk in the park”, but the benefits could be dramatic, especially if you suffer from any long-term ailments.
If you are interested in learning more, here are a few great places to start, all available online. Much cheaper than an Air India ticket to Pune!
The Yoga-Ayurveda Connection– a great, comprehensive article on the “sister sciences” of yoga and Ayurveda.