As a follow-on to last week’s post introducing the Concept of Ayurveda, we can begin to answer this question by introducing the Doshas – a concept with no exact parallel in the English language. The Doshas are sometimes translated as the “humours” of the body, and though I find this translation severely limited, there really is not an exact parallel in the English language.
One of my Ayurvedic masters explained them as the “software” of the physiological body with three components: Vata, Pitta, and Kappa; and our "hardware" is various solid tissues (blood, muscle, bone, etc.) .
The proportion and balance of these three Doshas is unique to the individual, and you can think of them roughly as your mind-body constitution, how you are wired/programmed as a system. When these three are in balance (this balance is particular to your personal constitution) you experience health and happiness, and when not in balance you get your illness and sorrow.
The Tri-Dosha Series is designed for overall system health and facilitates your ability to engender and maintain the balance that is appropriate for your system. How does it do this? The short answer is, that I don’t know and I am unashamed to say so. There is a perfectly good reason for this: 1/ the western scientific approach to medicine itself has no idea how some medicines work – they only have observed in controlled settings that they do work. And no one can seem to explain why placebos work either. 2/ You can experience something as true for yourself without proving it true, and to illustrate this point I will point out that you have know you have consciousness, but you cannot prove that fact, nor can you accurately explain what it is. You simply experience it as true.
The Tri-Dosha series was handed down to me by a guru of the Shaivite Agamas and Tantras, one of the oldest extant traditions still taught in India today. Within this cultural and historical context, it has proven its merit over the course of ages. Further, I have experienced it to be true for myself. My experience may indeed be quite different from yours, but it is based on this authority that I share this knowledge.
What I can say is that the Tri-Dosha Series is a complete Hatha Yoga sequence – it includes the physical postures, as well as meditation, pranayama, and many other aspects (relax, you don’t need to know how to do any of it, it happens naturally). Over the course of the sequence a transformation takes place within the body-mind leaving you completely relaxed, yet full of energy. I won’t get too technical, nor will I draw direct connections, but it is through this process that this asana series balances the three Doshas.
Next week I’ll begin outlining the three Doshas in more detail by introducing the 5 Great Elements that comprise existence and that give form and function to the Doshas. In the meantime, why don’t you Tri-Dosha? Everyone else has 😉
For those of you have traveled in India, or otherwise have some familiarity with the country and its culture, you have undoubtedly come across the term “Ayurveda” and most likely with reference to Ayurvedic massage. My first experience of an Ayurvedic massage was in Kerala (a part of India where the tradition has its strongest roots), and it was indeed very different than any massage this formerly rather prudish man had ever had – simply more oil, more nudity (only me, mind you), and more hands than my American mind had ever experienced.
Just as you may be familiar with the field of traditional Chinese medicine, India also has its own ancient and deeply rooted health science and the umbrella term for this scientific discipline is “Ayurveda,” a Sanskrit word often simply translated as "Life Science":
[Ayu (Life) + Veda (Science)].
So, if you’re looking for a nutshell - to keep it simple, you can stop reading here. Go no further.
While I don't seek to complicate the definition above, it merits outlining two very important aspects of translation that are both linguistic and cultural/temporal:
Word for word translations from one language to another are, at their core, gross simplifications. While some simple nouns might be somewhat interchangeable, the connotations associated with a word can differ dramatically. "Rain" on your wedding day can be a bad omen for one culture and auspicious on another. Colors can arouse very different feelings across cultures. Further, although a word may have multiple meanings in one language (all conveyed in one word), another language may have to express that idea using a group of words that help clarify the connotation. Let’s take an example:
Veda = Science/Philosophy/Knowledge/Truth
Veda refers to a concept that combines all four of these separate words/ideas in English. Veda is a methodical approach to learning and understanding reality, i.e. a scientific and philosophical method in the pursuit of such knowledge. A Veda becomes a Veda, i.e. the Truth, when it has passed the test of time and proven its authenticity or otherwise has prima facie value. It is both the pursuit and conveyance of Truth.
Additionally, a language includes within it a history of its culture as expressed through language, and certain abstract concepts are even more difficult to adequately translate. Let’s take another example:
Ayu = Life, i.e. Union of Body, Mind and Soul.
Here, Ayu means Life but how life is defined derives from a cultural and historical concept. In English “Life” has a very specific meaning to us today – particularly when you think of it in the context of the “search for life” where we define life as having certain characteristics – as opposed to a rock perhaps. But Life in Sanskrit is the combination and balance of the physiological, psychological and spiritual – for that is what it means to live, rather than simply to exist.
So, Ayurveda means Life Science whether you say this simply or venture into complications as I tend to do. In the ancient texts, it’s full definition, roughly translated is:
A way of life identifying and promoting that which enables ayu/life, i.e. is good/proper, and discourages that which hinders ayu/life – Charaka Samhita.
And there is a perfectly understandable reason for this: it is meant to be experienced rather than discussed, much like describing the taste of a strawberry when the only way to know the taste - is to taste it! But chances are, even those without a traditional practice, already have yoga in their lives, just by another name.
The Sanskrit word “yoga” is often translated to mean “bind together,” but also “union” and “integration into a whole.” Sanskrit is an Indo-European language and the word yoga shares the same Latin root word jug, from which we derive in English “yoke” (like with oxen).
The most comprehensive definition of yoga based on the original ancient texts, that I have found, is:
“Any technique, meditation or method that implies the breaking of worldly bonds to achieve union in the spiritual realm.”
In his scholarly classic, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, Mircea Eliade expands on his definition above as a transcendent experience and outlines over 40 different kinds of yoga in the Indian tradition alone, none of which are mutually exclusive in any way – these are simply paths, methods and there are many paths up the mountain, so to speak.
One form of yoga that you may have heard of is “Hatha” yoga, which is the original term for the physical form of yoga that includes asanas (postures, positions). Pretty much, any yoga class you go to in a studio is Hatha Yoga, and there are many styles of Hatha Yoga (Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Kundalini, Yin et alia). But other forms of yoga include Karma Yoga (Unselfish Acts), Meditation, Mantra, Tantra, Bhakti (Devotion/Love) etc.
You likely already practice a form of yoga, as it is found in virtually all spiritual traditions that identify with transcendence, i.e. identifying an existence beyond the physical realm. Prayer is a perfect example – this can be paralleled to a form a meditation when seeking communion with that which is beyond you, or Bhakti (devotion). Reciting the Rosary might be considered a form of meditation and mantra. Zakat, charitable giving, volunteering all could fall under the same category as Karma yoga.
So, do you already have a “yoga” practice? What might it be? Can you tell me how a strawberry tastes?
When I first settled on the name ‘Mindful Pursuit’ I was planning on blogging the spiritual aspect of a physical motorcycle journey around the world. No one person or movement can take over the meaning of a word and all it’s underlying concepts, but for me the word ‘Mindful’ is beyond all forms and levels of consciousness, an “awareness without necessarily being aware” as a Zen master might say, or simply ‘Presence.’ Being present is not through sheer force of focus or concentration, it is simply being present in and of itself – and if you are not present here, you are present elsewhere, in body and/or mind, the concept is simply about being present.
‘Pursuit’ came from both an achievement orientation in which I often find myself and an expectation that I would someday obtain ‘mindfulness.’ Step by step, thought by thought, not only was I pursuing mindfulness, the pursuit itself would be mindful. At the time, coming right out of the business and finance world, I had goals and expectations. I see things differently now.
While it is still a journey, and it is a mindful one, I have come to see that my expression is not clear in these words alone. ‘Presence’ somehow gets lost, chased away in pursuit. In a book by Basho, he states “Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
‘Pursuit’ for me is no longer an act of achievement, it’s something I do, like a pastime. With no goal to reach, it’s in this that I am, a journey without destination, for I am already home in this journey, every day and with every step.