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Ayurveda and yoga are ancient practices that have their roots in the Vedas, the most ancient spiritual texts in India and perhaps in the world. The forms that have been popularized in the West represent systems of health and spiritual management that have been developed over thousands of years. Although practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine often incorporate yogic exercises into their daily regimen, the two have a distinct lineage. The blending of Ayurveda and yoga is an innovation that arises from the belief that physical and spiritual well-being are inseparable.
The roots of the word "Ayurveda" mean "longevity" and "science." The traditional system might have its origins in Hinduism, but it has been influential throughout all of South Asia and has in turn been influenced by Buddhist thought. It seeks to balance the five elements of air, earth, fire, water and ether that form the universe. These elements manifest in the human body as the three doshas, or humors, which are vata, pitta and kapha.
Maintaining or restoring the balance of the doshas is the key to a long life, according to Ayurveda. To this end, it prescribes medicines and treatments that have been developed over thousands of years. The medicines are usually a combination of herbs and minerals, and the treatments include massage, surgery and counseling for hygiene and lifestyle.
Yoga is a spiritual discipline that seeks unity with the absolute by engaging in physical and mental practices. It is one of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy. There are five branches of yoga, including Raja, Karma, Jnana, Bhakti and Hatha.
Hatha yoga is the branch that teaches the physical exercises that most westerners associate with yoga. It was introduced by Swami Swatmarama in the 15th century as a refinement of Raja yoga, which focuses on the purification of the body, the mind and the vital energy. The exercises consist of postures, or asanas, that align energy in specific ways. It is this alignment of energy that makes Ayurveda and yoga good complements of each other.
A modern health practitioner might prescribe a combination of medicine and practices from Ayurveda and yoga to benefit the body and the spirit. Ayurveda addresses imbalances in the doshas and provides appropriate medicine and treatment. The practices of Hatha yoga are used to quiet the mind, keep the body flexible and and align the energy. Using the principles of Ayurveda and yoga in tandem is considered by many people to be a holistic way to health and well-being.