The interplay between body and mind is a vital aspect of wellbeing and therapy

What is therapy? Yoga and Ayurveda use the term “cikitsa.” This is a Sanskrit word that means “to oppose or act against disease.” Caraka, the author of the most respected treatise on Ayurveda, defines disease as “duhkha.” Duhkha is a feeling of not being at ease. As a state of mind, this requires little elaboration to understand—in fact, the word “dis-ease” itself implies this. Cikitsa is not just for the body; it is also for the mind.

Duhkha is a feeling of circumstances being unfavorable to us. It could manifest in many ways, from anger to depression. The opposite is a feeling of mental expansion, of lightness and freedom that we feel when circumstances are, in our judgment, favorable to us (sukha in Sanskrit).

All of us are aware of both these states of our mind. We continually oscillate between them all through our lives. In terms of the three gunas, the state of mind in which sattva predominates is the one in which we have the least duhkha. Peace and clarity characterize sattva and that naturally implies an absence of duhkha. The Yogasutras say that it is possible to always remain free of duhkha and they describe the steps we can take to move towards that goal of greater sattva. But this is not a goal that is only in our mind, bypassing our body.

In our present state, the connection between our mind and body runs deep. Our state of mind is inextricably linked to that of our body. Disturbances in our body are reflected as a lack of ease in our mind (and vice versa). We cannot be mentally at ease in the face of physical illness. Consequently, our mental wellbeing rests on the foundation of physical well-being. Any approach to relieve “dis-ease” must account for this deep connection between the body and mind.

Therefore, Ayurveda first begins with prevention and treatment of predominant physical illness and then also moves to the consideration of mental wellness, never losing sight of either. Similarly, the practice of Yoga to transform the mind also requires us to keep our body healthy. For that reason, the Yogasutras recommend various disciplines aimed at the body too—moderate eating, asana, and pranayama, for example. They also tell us that the practice of yoga should not be at the expense of the body: it must not disturb our physical health.

We need to ensure that our body and mind function in a balanced manner, in order to then look towards higher goals. For this, the combined wisdom that yoga and ayurveda together give us is invaluable.