In the Caraka Samhita, the most important text on Ayurveda, Caraka speaks of the three major causes of disease. These are kāla parināma (changes in time/seasons), Prajñāparādha (absense of awareness) and asātmyendriyārtha (inappropriate connections between senses & objects).
Leaving the first two aside for now, let’s take a look at the inappropriate connections between senses and objects, which includes:
- Atiyoga – excessive/too much
- Hinayoga – underutilised/too little
- Mithyayoga – incorrect use
In this context, the word ‘yoga’ doesn’t refer to the practice of yoga as we know it, but is purely a Sanskrit word meaning ‘connection.’ That is the connections between our minds/senses and external objects (food, activities, etc.) either in action (use of bodies) or what we bring in via our senses.
Our bodies, minds, and senses need balanced stimulation and nourishment for good health. However, often our personal sensory/mental preferences take over and we overindulge in some areas and avoid others.
In modern life, particularly in the west, we are very used to getting what we want and we have a great variety of choice available to us; atiyoga often prevails and in many areas we consume/use too much!
Food is an obvious example of our sense/object connections being out of balance. Our taste buds take over and some foods we eat too much of. Foods that we dislike, regardless of their health benefit, are not eaten regularly enough or at all and other foods, although they do not contribute to our health in any way are still consumed. Many foods today are touted as having superior health benefits, yet they too may create problems if consumed too much.
Apart from diet, there are many other areas where our connections may be out of balance. Look at technology and how for some, the very thought of being without a cell-phone is mentally disturbing.
Even in our asana (posture) practice, where one of the primary goals is to improve physical health, preferences can take over. We may overuse our bodies in some areas, under-use in others, and even perform asana, that really we shouldn’t!.
For example, if we have a naturally flexible body, or have improved our flexibility over time, it may feel more comfortable for us to release into that flexibility and less comfortable in postures that don’t offer the same release. The opposite can also be true, we may prefer a very strong active practice, and this becomes our ‘go to’ place too often.
Continuing to indulge these preferences turns our practice from a transformational, healing practice to purely a ‘feel good’ practice and over time imbalance will arise, just as eating to much of a food can turn it from nectar to poison. The flexibility we once enjoyed may, for example, turn into joint instability. If our focus has been on strength and high activity only we may create joint/muscle stress in a different way, or miss out on the mental steadiness that a true yoga practice offers.
It is important for us to consider where our connections may not be contributing to long-term health and make the changes that will.
This undoubtedly will bring up some resistance in the mind, but overcoming this mental resistance to change is what will lead us to greater health and mental steadiness. In yogic terms this effort is known as tapas, one of the most important practices we can undertake. As we develop mental strength and clarity through the practice of tapas, we will make healthier choices in all areas of our lives.