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Yoga and Ayurveda for Healthy Living
Indra and A. G. Mohan of Chennai, Madras, South India gave a seminar on Yoga and Ayurveda for Healthy Living in Sydney on April 22-3. Mr Mohan is a long time student of Sri Krishnamacharya, who also taught BKS Iyengar, Patib Jois (founder of Ashtanga Yoga), and Desickachar author of the Heart of Yoga. So Mr Mohan has learnt from a master. Mr Mohan gave a useful overview of the basic principles of Ayurveda. Ayurveda shares common roots in the Vedas with yoga. Much of the knowledge of tattwas and mind and consciousness is used in both systems. External world (macrocosm) is comprised of a usually harmonious balance amongst the tattwas or elements. So too, the internal world of the person (microcosm) is also comprised of these same elements in different forms also in a usually harmonious balance. Consciousness helps maintain the harmonious balance in both cases. Within the individual, food plays a major role in our health and in any disease. Ayurveda encourages us to see the effects of each food and combinations of foods on each individual constitution. Yoga practices will also affect individual constitutions or balance of doshas differently. Rather than applying set rules, Ayurvedic understanding will stimulate careful observation by yoga teachers and facilitate development of specific yoga programs for the individual.
Mrs Indra Mohan gave the group a short series of yoga asanas to highlight the balance of strength and flexibility even within one practice. She encouraged the group who were mainly yoga teachers to focus on how they were coming up from a standing forward bend. If the back was curved, arising was easy and did not develop strength in the back. The forward bend still promoted flexibility which felt good and was indeed a major reason people enjoy yoga asana. Rising with a curved back is the default which we do at first and when not conscious. To keep the back straight when rising requires more focus, awareness, and strength. Coming up from the forward bend we were able to increase the strength by lifting arms first, then head and then the back maintaining a small curve in the spine. This was demanding for the muscles of the upper spine , especially the thoracic region. As bodies grow gradually stronger here, it is possible to pause several times on the ascent from the posture, each time holding for a breath, and lengthening the spine, before coming up a few degrees higher. A similar process is possible on the descent. Strength was the additional focus to this practice which previously could have been heavily centred on flexibility only. We can develop awareness by exploring our other practices for this balance of strength and flexibility.
In asana practice it was suggested that the spine is the main focus. The optimum alignment of the spine will facilitate the position and functioning of the internal organs. Many times it has been found that ill health and dysfunction of the organs can be remedied by working on the relevant areas of the spine. So if the spine is the main focus, the stretch in other areas such as the legs becomes secondary. From this perspective, it is better to adjust a posture to facilitate the effect on the spine. So for example, in forward bends by all means have the knees bent if that will help the alignment of the spine. Indeed it may be more appropriate for some bodies to practise forward bending from a chair where they are safely and effectively strengthening and realigning the spine.
Mr Mohan also emphasised that the role of teacher in yoga was to facilitate the students trust in him/herself. This is more important than trust in the teacher. The quality of ones experience is determined by the degree of inner surrender and is not given by ones teacher. Problems have arisen in this regard because the traditional context for learning yoga has not been fully understood.
-- Anonymous, April 23, 2000