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Book Review – Yoga and Ayurveda

Book Review
Yoga and Ayurveda
(David Frawley, lotus press 1999)

Ayurveda is essential for any serious yoga student. For, Yoga is the science of Knowledge, but it cannot exist apart from Ayurveda, the science of health. Indeed, these two are often referred to as ‘brother and sister’ in traditional thinking, where one cannot be practiced apart from the other. To this end, David Frawley is the obvious place to turn, a specialist in Ayurveda, but one who very much locates it within the service of the wider focus of Yoga;

‘The physical body is centred in the digestive tract. If our posture is wrong, the digestive tract gets obstructed.’

To this end there is a great deal of information given on use of diet more specifically for health which is very much lacking in the modern practice of yoga, where the best we’re usually offered, is to avoid wheat like the plague, and eat more quinoa and avocados. Well, It turns out eating is a little more complicated than that;

‘Pungent sour and salty tastes are expansive nature that can push our energies too far. Bitter and astringent tastes – weakening and constricting ‘

Nonetheless, he starts from a very pragmatic basis which is often missing in a more formal Ayurvedic text;

‘Asana works to improve circulation to disease affected areas in order to release toxins and improve the healing..most people in the west are overweight with many toxins in their systems, [so] detoxification methods are often the first measures to reclaiming health’.

Therefore, this is very much a manual for practice, rather than simply learning, something made clear from the start;

‘The soul force is the product of daily action it cannot be developed by mere wishful thinking’

All this information builds from a steady physical basis, to a gradually more internal one. Nevertheless, a perspective that is grounded in modern thinking, bringing ancient Indian thinking even here into a relatable framework, such as the critical role of duty or dharma ;

‘Dharma is that which upholds things, a fundamental principle, literally a pillar.’

For, what is made clear in Ayurveda is the radically different view of Ayurveda from current conventions. Whereby, an individual is no neither the controller, nor a helpless-puppet in the world; rather, under the influence of 3 gunas , or material energies. Which, then crystalise in the body, forming temperaments or doshas;

‘Vata, as wind, imparts energy, life, movement, and expression. Pita through fire creates heat and light, through which we have vision, digestion and transformation. Kapha, as water, contains and supports the other two forces, through tissue.’

The idea being that through correct understanding of these tendencies, through a clear recognition, they can be worked with in order to bring out the best side of them. A further discussion, in this similarly clear tone, further explains how these gunas and the resultant doshas, finally lead to health or prana.
Our task then as to health is made much more tangible, in applying the appropriate reactions to limit the affect of outside forces always tending to pull an individual to extremes. This is done through learning, producing clarity;

‘We all possess an intuitive sense of this supreme reality and naturally seek it once we withdraw from egoistic involvement.’

However, it is certainly not an other-wordly, unapproachable viewpoint that he is suggesting. The text has a grounding in Western-psychology which makes the subject very relatable;
‘Control is not suppression but proper coordination and motivation… Pratyahara centres on the right intake of impressions’

Which leaves the reader feeling that Ayurveda is something that can actually be used; guidelines that can really benefit life, rather than facts to be diligently learnt, for;

‘According to samkhya the mind is something material and not the basis of consciousness.’
Therefore, it is in its practical application that the discussion of Ayurveda led by Frawley is so helpful. For, if a physical practice is to be done affectively, it’s obviously more than helpful if the aspirant knows the laws and context in which it is to be practiced within;
‘Asana as an exercise should not be confused with the role of asana in classical yoga..asana is mainly meant to help reduce rajas or the quality of turbulence that disturbs the mind.’
In which case, to get a feeling of Ayurveda is really to take practice in a deeper context and with an appropriate attitude towards searching for the highest definition of health, rather than simply a athletic looking body and the ability to put your legs behind your head. To this end he says;
‘Wherever we create space, there energy or Prana must arise automatically.’

In the light of these kind of observations, this practical overview of Ayurveda brings clarification to the unknown signposts already there and waiting to be recognized in the body. This not only give renewed enthusiasm to a jaded practitioner stuck in a materialistic mindset of ambition towards yoga, it also allows for an effective use of action so as we attempt a harmony, in ahimsa (non violence), to the laws of living within which we are constrained. Rather, than unbeknowingly oppose them in, imaginary or wishful thinking on how we might like life to be.


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