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The common path of Yoga and Ayurveda

Āyurveda and Yoga are two systems of thought and practice born in India more than two thousand years ago and which
they have successfully crossed history to reach the present day. The purpose of this
course is to examine the relationship between the two systems, following the parallel path that they
they have done over the centuries.
The Greek historian and geographer Megasthenes in his work Indikà (4th century BC) reports the existence in
of ascetics living in the woods and dedicated to the practice of medicine. It is in the communities of
ascetics, among the earliest yogis, that āyurveda may have originated. The Buddha himself would have
familiar with the principles of Ayurveda, as suggested by a fragment of the Buddhist canon, the
Sīvakasutta, where the three humors, vāta, pitta and kapha, are related to diseases.
As evidence of a close relationship originally between medical practices and those of yoga is the
the fact that the oldest text of Ayurvedic medicine, the Carakasaṃhitā, contains within it two
short yoga treatises. In the first (Śārīrasthāna, 1,137-155) the author describes the essential characters
of yoga practice and the fruits that derive from it. It is a stop yoga where the body is
kept still and the mind is placed at rest (samādhi). The goal of practice is achievement
of liberation (mokṣa), which results in the definitive and irreversible exit from the cycle of births e
of the deaths. In the second (Śārīrasthāna, 5, 12-24) the author dwells on the existential path that
the aspirant for liberation must follow. It is a demanding path that requires the exit
from the world and renouncing any material possession or family relationship. The ultimate reward
for the yogi it is inner peace (śānti) which coincides with the extinction of desires and the end of pain.
According to a well-known tradition, the Carakasaṃhitā and the Yogasūtra, fundamental text of yoga
ancient, would be the work of the same author, the mythical Patañjali. He would also have composed the
Mahābhāṣya, important grammar treatise (vyākaraṇa). With the Carakasaṃhitā he would have
purified the body of men, with the Mahābhāṣya the word and with the Yogasūtra the mind. It deals with
of a thesis that is inconsistent from a historical point of view but fascinating from a conceptual point of view:
it is based on the idea that man is essentially made up of body, word and mind.

The relationship between āyurveda and yoga continues and becomes almost symbiotic in medieval and post-
medieval: yogis, in fact, to purify the body and make it suitable for meditative practices,

they resort to the techniques of Ayurveda. The Gherandasaṃhitā, a yoga treatise from the 17th century, describes
hygienic practices of ayurvedic nature that the yogi must integrate into his daily routine.
Time inevitably brings changes and of the two systems the one that transforms the most is
yoga. It ceases to be a means of liberation and rather becomes an instrument of physical health and
psychological. Researchers like Svami Kuvalayananda and Shri Yogendra study the physiological effects
and the health benefits of yoga practices, particularly physical ones; Svami Vivekananda
first introduces yoga to the West. Yoga also ceases to be an ascetic discipline as well
lonely and becomes rather a practice open to all and social. The recent establishment of the Day
World Yoga with its crowds of practitioners in the squares of major cities around the world
is the direct testimony of this change. Ayurveda also changes, not yours
conceptuality but in its ways of fruition: it becomes a widespread practice all over the world e
it dialogues in different ways and at different levels with modern technological medicine. It's about this again
global terrain where āyurveda and yoga meet again, both renewed but linked by one
thin thread of continuity with their respective origins, to offer today's man a new and ancient way
leading to well-being and fulfillment.


Ernesto Iannaccone

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