Spa Magazine – Mar/Apr 2004
Two profound life sciences were developed in the shadows of the Himalayas five millennia ago. Masters divined and developed aromatherapy, massage, herbal and nutritional practices from nature to keep the physical body and emotions in balance, while also manipulating themselves into postures, strengthening lung capacity, and attuning their minds to the rhythms of the universe through sound and silence to expand consciousness. Ayurveda and Yoga were inseparable “sister sciences” utilized by millions to live well. Fast forward to present day America, where an increasing number of spas offer exotic Ayurvedic treatments like Shirodhara and Abhyanga, and yoga is a household name, but few Western yogis have more than a passing acquaintance with Ayurveda. Thus, a handful of spa and yoga professionals have stepped into the void to reassert the once powerful union through a practice called Ayurvedic Yoga.
“Yoga is a great path toward balance, longevity and joy but a personalized approach is the most potent,” observes Tara Grodjesk, founder of Tara Spa and Ayurvedic Yoga pioneer. “Ayurveda is about cultivating a relationship with the self. When we know our strengths and weaknesses, we can design a practice that attunes to our personal needs.” Grodjesk was one of the first Americans to reconnect the sciences more than a decade ago, and now trains practitioners at international destination spas like Canyon Ranch and the Auberge Resorts to deliver Ayurvedic treatments and private Ayurvedic yoga sessions tuned to the needs of each client.
According to Ayurvedic principals each person has a dominant mind-body constitution characterized by one or a combination of thedoshas. The three doshas, pitta, vata and kapha, impart strengths and vulnerabilities evident through behavior, body composition (skin, hair, nails, bone and muscular structure), and health tendencies. Each has particular traits, and when the body and mind are in balance, we reap their riches, but when we are out of whack our imbalances manifest. This is where Ayurvedic yoga comes in.
Once the client’s dosha is evaluated, they are led through a series of specific practices to balance it. It is a holistic approach that demands asana preparation, including the application of oils. “Oils penetrate tissue to loosen or liquefy toxins that will be eliminated during asana,” says Bombay born Reenita Malhotra, founder and CEO of Ayoma Life Spa, a full scale Ayurvedic treatment facility in San Jose, California. Her Ayurvedic Yoga classes are geared toward seasoned yogis. “In India all yoga instructors have a basic understanding of Ayurveda. We want to help practitioners and instructors incorporate Ayurveda into their practice and life.”
Pranayama is another important component that prepares the body for asana, the most familiar limb in modern yoga, and each dosharequires somewhat unique pranayama exercises and asana sequences. Standing and balancing postures are great for grounding the erraticvata, flowing vinyasa series invigorate the sluggish kapha, and quiet, mat exercises cool out the fiery pitta. Asana choice may also depend on the season or age because each season and life stage is governed by dominant doshas.
Ayurvedic Yoga is not just for advanced yogis or those that can afford private sessions. Mas Vidal opened the Ayurvedic Yoga studio and treatment facility, Dancing Shiva, in LA to “bring spa and yoga elements together in one place, and make them affordable for everyone,” he says. Vidal’s group Ayurvedic Yoga classes are organized by dosha, and his approach includes aromatherapy during preparatory pranayama, and mantra, meditation and sound therapy after asana to round out the complete yoga experience.
Yoga and Ayurveda are often employed separately, but together they are a perfect whole that helps practitioners expand their awareness and overcome self-defeating physical and emotional tendancies. “They teach that we are not separate from nature,” says Vidal. “What is outside of me is no different than what’s inside of me, and just as we feel compelled to counter the imbalances around us, we need to address those that lie within.”