Yoga is for everyone!
"Ayurveda is the knowledge that indicates which activities and eating habits are appropriate and inappropriate, auspicious and inauspicious, what brings happiness and sorrow, as well as what increases the measure of life itself." Charaka Samhita 1.41
Ayurveda can be a wonderful addition to your Yoga practice, because some things suit some people, while others can actually be harmful. One size does not fit all! There are many books and web sites on the subject, and I've spent a lot of time sifting through the vast amount of information. Some of it was useful and understandable, some not so much. Let's start at the beginning.
Prana is the Life force that, like oxygen, fans the fires of our metabolism, Tejas, which, by transforming food into nutrients and experiences into experience, creates a feeling of well-being, lustrousness and health - Ojas.
Prana: the all-pervading, ever-present force of Life that animates everything but also is inherent in the inanimate things. Prana is everywhere and in everything, in the air we breathe, the food we eat, in our bodies. By consuming foods that are rich in Prana, meaning they are wholesome, unprocessed foods, harvested right before consumption, we transfer their vitality to our bodies. By exposing our minds to wholesome, kind, loving thoughts we are taking Prana into our minds as well, and the mind becomes more balanced. When breaths flow with ease we allow Prana to manifest itself in the body. When the human being is full of Prana, the person is experiencing a sense of vitality, clarity, calmness, and health.
Tejas: When Prana enters the body it makes the fires of our metabolism burn bright. The nutrients are extracted from the food and the wastes are removed in a timely manner. With fewer metabolic waste in the system, the skin looks clear and radiant, the whites of the eyes are bright, the gums are healthy pink, teeth are without defect, and digestion works like clockwork. When less energy is wasted to fight disease and digest unwholesome food, the person has new reserves of strength to nurture the spiritual aspects of themselves. The mood is happy, the person is smiling, laughing, always has a kind word for another. A good metabolic fire allows us to have a clearer perception of the world around us - we begin to see things for what they really are. Extracting valuable lessons from our experiences and learning from them is another sign of good Tejas.
Ojas: When someone has Ojas, you can tell. It is someone who is glowing with health and happiness. This person has strong immunity and is rarely ill, and if they do become ill they recover quickly and fully. Wounds heal right away and there is no inflammation. This person is attractive and a delight to be around.
How does this apply to our Yoga Practice?
Our Asana and Pranayama practices are valuable tools to affect the Prana in our body and mind. Where the mind goes, there the Prana goes. By cultivating body awareness and kind, loving attitude to the body, we are sending the Prana into the tissues of the body at the molecular level. Movement and breath increase Prana and a well-structured and appropriate Asana and Pranayama class will create a sense of subtle heat in your body, as if emanating from within. That is Tejas being activated. Now, we don't want our metabolic fires to burn too hot, because too much heat in the body will incinerate the food and turn it into ashes. Our experiences will feed the ego rather than inform it. There is not enough time to process all the nutrients and not enough time to learn from the experiences. Tejas needs to burn at a gentle simmer, so a Yoga practice in a hot room or one that is too vigorous will deplete Ojas in the body instead of creating it. Your Yoga practice should create a sense of juiciness, warmth, moistness without being excessively sweaty and should include regularly spaced rests for you to hear the subtle vibrations and shifts in your energy.
What is Pranayama? What does the word Pranayama mean? A balancing Pranayama is the most important element of the practice, because it sets the Prana free. The word is often mistranslated to mean "breath control", because "Prana" and "breath" are often used interchangeably, even though they are not the same thing. "Prana" means life force, "Yama" means restraint, and therefore it has been translated as "breath control". But in reality Pranayama comes from two words: "Prana" and "Ayama". When a word has "a" in front, it means negation, the opposite. "Ayama" means "no restraint". According to Sanskrit grammar when two "a" sounds are right next to each other, they become one. So, instead of Prana Ayama it becomes Pranayama. If one doesn't know Sanskrit grammar, it may appear that the word means "breath control", but in fact it means the opposite. The accurate meaning of Pranayama is "unrestrained Life force", flowing freely. Prana cannot be affected directly, but it can be affected indirectly through the breath, and because of that the word prana does also mean "wind", or "air", or "breath" - hence the confusion.
When Prana is unleashed, it clears away blockages and creates a sense of radiance. May the Prana be with you!
Interesting interpretation of pranayama. I wonder where kumbaka fits in? Especially after the exhalation? It would seem that's a definite restraint component, and yet it, too, is pranayama? Maybe the term is two-fold: by restraining the free flow of Prana consciously through practice of pranayama we enable it to them flow freely in the end. The means and the end are 2 sides of one pranayama coin?
Yes, Natasha, that's how I see it as well. By practicing Kumbaka (breath retention) after the inhale and/or exhale, we are able to harness Prana and then use its force to clear up the blockages that prevent it from flowing freely. It works like a dam. Once the blockages are removed, Prana flows without restraint. The practice is the means, the feeling of free Prana is the end result. In Yoga Therapy we use Kumbaka to address certain Prana imbalances - the retention after the inhale has an energizing, heating effect, whereas retention after the exhale has a cooling, calming, and detoxifying effect. That's why it is really important to pick a practice that is appropriate for the kind of imbalance one is experiencing, because improperly chosen pranayama can make the imbalance worse.