Yoga and Ayurveda constitute a way of life that allows us to arrive at longevity and immunity, and to provide the basis for the pursuit of Self-realization and Moksha. Their approach to healing is based upon right values, right behavior, and right relationship with our natural environment and humanity overall.
The medical side of Ayurveda is important for the treatment of disease. The wellness side of Ayurveda remains relevant to all and interfaces with the practices of Yoga, which aid in wellness of body and mind. Yoga therapy (Yoga chikitsa) is an integral part of this Ayurvedic wellness approach for body and mind.
The link between Ayurveda and Yoga in terms of wellness (svastha) is Prana.
In Ayurveda, Prana is the motivating life force behind the three doshas or biological humors of Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (water), which are the prime factors both determining individual constitution and understanding the disease process. As a power of air and energy, Prana is most connected to Vata dosha or Vayu. Vata dosha is the main dosha behind the disease process as it is most connected to subtle imbalances and disturbances of Prana.
Types and Levels of Prana
Yoga and Ayurveda recognize five forms of Vayu: Prana as its basic propulsive force; Udana as its ascending and motivating energy; Vyana as its expanding and circulating energy; Samana as its contracting, centering and balancing force; and Apana as its downward and outward movement. These five Vayus are the subtypes of Vata dosha in Ayurveda crucial in both the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Prana is also the link between the body and the mind. The body, food sheath or annamaya kosha, is kept alive and moving by the flow of Prana through it, facilitated by the processes of breathing, eating and drinking, which sustain the Prana in the body, and forms the basis of the functioning of our internal organs.
Between body and mind is the sheath of Prana or pranamaya kosha, closely connected to the breath, the motor organs and sense organs. It is the electrical force that runs both body and mind.
The mind or mental sheath (manomaya kosha) is sustained from a physical level by food, water and breath. It extends to subtler mental energies, with the mind having its own five pranic movements as expansion and contraction, ascending or descending energy, and over all propulsive force. These connect to the yet more subtle koshas of intelligence (vijnana) and bliss (Ananda).
Working with Prana and the Breath
Mind and Prana are said to be like the two wings of a bird as the powers of knowledge and action. Our thoughts are reflected in our breathing and circulatory processes. Our breath is affected by our emotions and mental state, which can weaken and disturb it.
Through the power of Prana and its five subtypes or movements, we can regulate body and mind and sustain their right functioning and positive development. We can learn to make our awareness expand or contract, ascend or descend at will moving through the greater universe of consciousness.
Yet Prana is not simply the breath. The breath is the main factor that sustains Prana in the body, but Prana as life-energy never dies. It is part of the subtle body (sukshma sharira), which after death transmigrates into another body for a new incarnation.
The breath is our main means of working with Prana in our physical lives and the basis of most forms of Pranayama. Yet Pranayama’s aim is to calm the breath so that we can connect to deeper Pranic energies of mind and consciousness beyond the body. The yogic goal is to remove the knot of attachment of the mind with the body, which constitutes the ego and all of its illusions, leading us to sorrow.
The main factor of wellness in Yoga and Ayurveda is to deepen the breath and unify the pranic forces within us. There is a higher unitary prana behind the breath and the senses, just as there is a higher unitary consciousness behind the mind. Unitary prana and unitary mind go together and are mutually transformative.
Various Pranayama practices have been developed to strengthen and balance the Pprana through working with the breathing process. These ultimately aim at the breathless state. (kevala kumbhaka), which is often misunderstood. It is not simply holding the breath, but accessing the deeper Prana behind the breath.
Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana) is the key practice to develop a unitary Prana, balancing the flow of the breath between the right and left nostrils, solar and lunar nadis, taking the Prana from duality to unity. This allows the Prana to enter into the central channel or Sushumna, as the unified prana that connects us to the Ananda or bliss within, which holds the deeper healing energies of amrit and Soma.
Ayurveda has special herbs and oils that aid in developing a deeper Prana. This is part of its rejuvenation or rasayana therapy, which usually requires a preliminary Pancha Karma purification therapy first. Brahmi rasayana is very important in this regard.
We should all learn to access the power of Pranayama for healing the body and purifying the mind, along with its Ayurvedic support practices, and above all recognize the deeper and deathless Prana behind and beyond any breathing practices. This is one of the great secrets of Yoga. Becoming one with Prana, we go beyond birth and death.
The highest Prana is the power of the Atman or inner Self of pure consciousness. This is the Prana Purusha of the Upanishads and Shiva Mahadeva as the ruler of Prana. In addition, there are various connections of Prana with deep sleep, yoga nidra and samadhi, that are worthy of profound study and practice. We not only live through Prana, we can connect to the forces of immortality through it.
Dr. David Frawley, Vamadeva Shastri