Ayurveda and Yoga

AYURVEDA and Yoga – why is it called the sister science of Yoga?

Ayurveda is the sister science to Yoga. This ancient system of healing originated in India
thousands of years ago. A science that is still applicable today. It follows a holistic approach
to health care, considering all aspects of an individual’s life, especially diet. It combines treatments, medicines, diet and exercise.

It offers a science of longevity. The subject of Ayurveda is vast and far reaching. According to Ayurveda, beauty is the result of excellent health.

The teachings are timeless and give us a wealth of knowledge on how to lead a balanced life, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Encouraging each individual to live to their full potential.

Ayur/Ayus translates to life or lifespan.
Veda – Knowledge or science

The aim of the system is to prevent illness and dis-ease. Ayurvedic provides both curative and preventive methods towards optimal health. The system believes that all matter has energetic vibrations that can be high or low, healthy or unhealthy, strong or weak. The aim is to raise the vibrational quality or energy of a diseased area, or to maintain balance for perfect health.

Ayurveda uses Yoga as a form of therapy and Yoga is Ayurvedic in theory and practice. The underlying concepts include that all things in the universe are interconnected. All humans contain elements that can be found in the universe. A healthy mind is a healthy body and vice versa. Disruptions of a physical, emotional, spiritual, or in combination, causes dis-ease.

Each individual has a unique constitution. This covers physical and psychological characteristics and bodily functions.

The Doshas

Universal intelligence guides the process of life through three main life forces. These life forces are called doshas: Vata, Pita and Kapha. They are responsible for everything that happens in the body and mind. Each of us has a unique combination of the three forces. The doshas are made up of five basic elements.

According to Ayurveda everything we see is composed of these five elements: Space, Air,
Fire, Water and Earth.

Earth is formed from water, which has its roots in fire. Fire could not be created with our air and air is formed due to the condensation of space. Space is the only element independent of any element or factor. Space is the most important element for existence.

Humans interact with the five elements through the five senses: hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell.

Characteristics of the Elements:


● Found everywhere
● Cold
● Cannot be trapped or manipulated
● without it we would stick together
● Keeps objects apart
● Sound/ears


● Condensation of space
● Because air moves it is more noticeable than space
● Think of clouds in the sky that make shapes and forms
● Can be hot/sticky
● Drying effect
● Fan can move air
● Draft can be cool
● When it is out of balance/extremities – tornadoes, hurricanes

● Body – bloated, lung disorders, dry skin, restless mind
● Skin/touch


● most powerful natural form is the sun
● gives light in the dark
● fuels visual and intellectual abilities
● can transform matter or a situation e.g. suntan, raw food to cooked
● AGNI – digestive fire
● When out of balance – heat wave, destructive fires
● Body – inflammatory diseases, fever, aggression, heated emotions
● Eyes/sight


● purifying, cleansing
● cooling
● easily absorbed
● unable to survive long without water
● body is 80% water
● When out of balance – floods, tsunamis
● Body – water retention, kidney failure, fluid in the lungs
● Mouth/Tongue/Taste


● hills
● mountains
● vegetation
● heavy and stable
● sun and rain can interact with earth
● When out of balance – landslides, earthquakes
● Body – bones, hair, teeth, brittle, split ends
● Smell/nose

The Doshas in relation to the elements:

Vata – Space and air
Pitta – Fire and water
Kapha – Water and earth

Vata Dosha (air or movement : restless)

Since Vata is a combination of space and air it behaves like wind in the body. If you think of all the hollow spaces in the body, the bones, the veins, the arteries, these are governed by the Vata dosha.

Air needs to move around therefore it is responsible for all aspects of movement in the body. e.g. breathing, blood, circulation and the transport of nutrients into the body and the expulsion of waste from the cells. It plays a pivotal role in the nervous system.

Characteristics of Vata type

● cold – aversion to cold
● dry – skin/constipation
● light – lean body type
● quick -quick to grasp new concepts but quick to forget
● rough – skin, cracking joints, cracked heels
● subtle – subtle twitching
● mobile – restless, need to be physical
● astringent
● blackish
● tendency towards anxiety
● tendency towards light and interrupted sleep

Pitta Dosha – (fire or transformation : fiery)

Pitta consists mainly of fire and some water. With the majority being fire and a small percentage water. Warmth in the body increases the metabolic rate. Transformation of food into nourishment and energy is the main responsibility of the pitta dosha.

Any of the digestive organs are considered to be part of the pitta dosha. The liver and pancreas for example works in conjunction with the digestive system. All metabolic systems are related to the pitta dosha. In particular the role of the endocrine system. The production of red blood cells is a task of the pitta dosha. The production and function of hemoglobin requires heat. The spleen filters and repairs the red blood cells. Either recirculating them in the body or removing and breaking them down.

Pitta dosha also regulates body temperature. Sweating is also a function, activating the body’s cooling system and the perfect combination of fire and water. It is interesting to consider that Ayurvedic medicine refers to digesting in the context of everything, from digesting thought, visualization and external stimuli.

Characteristics of Pitta Dosha

● Heat – aversion to heat
● Oily – skin
● Fluid – adaptable
● Sharp – sharp facial features, sharp memory, intelligent
● Hunger – Can’t skip meals
● Thirst – prefers cold food and drink
● Courage
● Quick tempered and tendency toward irritability
● Moderate build
● Sweating
● Digestion and metabolism
● Liver, spleen, pancreas

Kapha Dosha – (earth or structure : calm)

The water and earth elements constitute the Kapha Dosha. These two elements are the heaviest. Kapha is responsible for binding tissue together and creating a structure because of the binding action of water and earth. Kapha keeps the body moist and compact. The presence of water makes it gentle, flowing and flexible. Any bodily functions relating to water or fluid in the body are governed by Kapha. Examples include plasma and the immune system. Other fluids in the body include synovial fluid, pericardial fluid and cerebrospinal fluid.

Because the lymphatic system is so strongly related to the defense system of the body, the lymph nodes and glands are also Kapha.

Often misinterpreted as being slow and inactive, the Kapha dosha actually supports and protects all the organs. It is responsible for growth, nutrition and nourishment as well as the reproductive tissue and organs. The fat and muscles in the body are also a function of kapha dosha.

Characteristics of Kapha

● Solid, heavier build
● Heaviness – voice, build bones and muscles
● Coolness – cold skin, tendency to attacks of cold, slow metabolism
● Softness – soft skin, kind and caring attitude
● Oiliness – oily skin, hair and nails, flexible and mobile joints
● Sweetness – sweet cravings
● Stability – patient and relaxed nature, slow to become excited or irritated
● Sleep is heavy and long
● Hair is plentiful and thick
● Strong – physicality and immune system

Balance of Doshas

We already know that a key principle of both Hatha Yoga and Ayurvedic medicine is balance. Balance between the left and right side of the body, the brain, the nervous system and opposites throughout the body.

The doshas are constantly hard at work within our physical and subtle bodies. Balance of the doshas directly implies that the elements will also be in balance. The balance of the doshas change continuously. There are self repeating cycles that determine such changes, for example cycles in the day and in a twelve month period of the year.

Diet and lifestyle routines can be adapted according to the prevalent dosha. The balance of the doshas is maintained when we make correct use of our senses, intellect and appropriate use of the outlined times of the day, seasons and life stages.

If one of the doshas is out of balance, Ayurveda practices the principle of opposites. For example if Pitta dosha is out of balance, like a high fever, it is suggested to apply items to calm the fever. When our skin is very dry we apply oils or moisturizers.

In its simplest form : applying the logic that like will increase like and opposites balance each other out. This technique can be applied to both diet and lifestyle.

The main ten pairs of opposites in Ayurveda:

Heavy ⇔ Light
Dull ⇔ Sharp
Cold ⇔ Hot
Oily ⇔ Dry
Smooth ⇔ Rough
Dense ⇔ Porous
Soft ⇔ Hard
Static ⇔ Mobile
Cloudy ⇔ Clear
Solid ⇔ Liquid

Potential symptoms when Doshas are out of balance

Vata Dosha imbalances

● Dryness of skin, hair, ears, lips, joints
● Dryness internally – bloat, gas, constipation, dehydration, weight loss
● Dry and lightness of the mind – restlessness, dizziness, feeling ungrounded
● Cold: poor circulation, muscle spasm or constriction, asthma, pain and aches, tightness
● Roughness, especially skin and lips
● Excessive movement: anxiety, fidgeting, agitation, muscle twitching, palpitations

Pitta Dosha imbalances

● Red skin or irritated rosacea
● Burning, bloodshot eyes
● Indigestion, heartburn or acid reflux
● Loose stools or diarrhea
● Inflammation
● Painful menstrual cramps

Kapha Dosha imbalances

● The symptoms of a cold (i.e. cough, congestion, post nasal drip)
● Seasonal allergies.
● A heavy feeling in the stomach.
● Sluggish digestion.
● Lack of appetite.
● Weight gain.
● Water retention, swelling and puffiness.
● Lethargy, depression, lack of motivation

The Three Gunas

The three gunas are mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita but the concept is originally of the Samkhya philosophy. These three gunas have always been present and will remain present. They are a fundamental to Ayurvedic psychology, generally speaking they are thought to govern our minds.

Whereas the doshas govern our physical bodies. They are also called the properties of Prakriti (nature).

The three gunas are called:

1. Sattva – goodness, constructive, harmonious, associated to Pitta
2. Rajas – passion, active, confused, associated to Vata
3. Tamas – darkness, inertia, chaotic, associated to Kapha

Positive mental and spiritual growth is directed by the balance of the gunas. Moving from tamas to rajas to sattva implies spiritual growth. Ayurveda will give preference to balancing the doshas.

Yoga may complement this by balancing the gunas. The gunas will fluctuate and are as interdependent with one another as are the three doshas.

An Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle enhances a strong mental and physical platform to support the path of Yoga. Yoga is said to enhance the capacity to relieve mental dis-ease and stress, and allow for the possibility to achieve higher states of being.

This is why Ayurveda is often referred to as a sister science of Yoga.