Yoga Therapy and Ayurveda

By Dr. David Frawley - 20.9 2019


The Sanskrit term for therapy throughout its medical literature is Chikitsa, which literally refers to the application of consciousness (chit) or caring. Yoga Therapy is called Yoga Chikitsa.

Yet chikitsa as a specific term occurs rarely in traditional yogic texts. Yoga texts do mentio disease as one of the main obstacles in Yoga practice, but do not make addressing disease in the ordinary sense of a medical system as the purpose of Yoga practice, which aims more at spiritual development.


Yoga Sutras is divided into four sections or padas, which each has a name. These are Samadhi Pada, Sadhana Pada, Vibhuti Pada and Kaivalya Pada.

Samadhi Pada deals with the definition of Yoga as Samadhi or unity consciousness and how to achieve it. The definition of Yoga (YS.I.2) as chitta-vritti-nirodha or mastery of the movements of the mind, is traditionally regarded in the commentaries as a definition of Samadhi (note books of Swami Veda Bharati). Yoga is Samadhi. That is its first and foremost definition. This nirodha of the mind results in tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam, or abidance in the Self-nature of the Seer (YS.I.3), referring to the Purusha or Atman. Yoga is control of the mind for the purpose of Self-realization or the liberation of Consciousness which occurs through samadhi. This is its subject matter.

Sadhana Pada deals with the practice of Yoga, which is called sadhana or a way of realizing something. It begins with the three principles of Kriya Yoga or the Yoga of Action as tapas, svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana. Later it introduces the eight limbs of Yoga or Ashtanga, yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

Vibhuti Pada deals with the powers and insights that arise from Samadhi in the broader sense of Samyama (combined dharana, dhyana and samadhi), including occult and psychic powers.

Kaivalya Pada relates to Kaivalya, the natural Samadhi state of the Purusha beyond body and mind, Prakriti and the gunas, which is the goal of Yoga practices. It ends with defining Kaivalya much like the first pada describes the Seer. It says (YS.IV.34), svarupa pratishtha chiti-shakti, when the power of Consciousness rests in its own nature. This is much like the statement of abidance in the Self-nature of the Seer, only the emphasize is on the power of the Seer, not simply the Seer.

The second section or Sadhana Pada also introduces the theory of the five kleshas or factors of suffering for the mind, which can be related to psychological and emotional pathologies in general and forms the basis for Yoga psychology one could say. Here we must remember that Yoga Sutras is more a text of meditation or Raja Yoga than one of physical practices or asana, so this psychological orientation makes sense here.


The term chikitsa, however, is very common in Ayurveda and occurs prominently in all major Ayurvedic texts, which have a Chikitsa Sthana or section relating to therapy or treatment. Chikitsa usually goes along with a Nidana section or section relating to diagnosis. Indeed, medical systems rest upon diagnosis and therapy and cannot work without them. Ayurvedic chikitsa is broad based and includes diet, herbs, massage, Pancha Karma, rejuvenation, even Yoga and meditation.

Traditional Ayurveda uses Yoga as a therapy mainly as part of its Sattavajaya Chikitsa or therapy for increasing sattva guna, which is its main psychological therapy, where the theories and practices of the Yoga Sutras fit in quite well. It regards Yoga as the means of eliminating spiritual suffering, not just physical or psychological suffering.

Chikitsa therefore is a primary term in Ayurveda and a secondary term in Yoga, which is more of a sadhana or spiritual practice. Ayurveda mentions Yoga as a therapy particularly in the context of yamas and niyamas as behavioral therapy for the mind. Yet Ayurvedic texts also mention the importance of mantras and honor deities of Ayurveda like Dhanvantari and also Lord Shiva, the Lord of Yoga.


If there is a Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy, the question arises as to what is the Nidana or diagnosis it is based upon? Modern Yoga Therapy rests more on modern medicine and is often an adjunct physical therapy for diseases as diagnosed and treated by modern medicine. There is nothing wrong with that but it can obscure the traditional connection of Yoga therapy and Vedic chikitsa with Ayurveda. There is no traditional Nidana or yogic diagnosis apart from Ayurveda, which employs all methods of observation, touch, pulse and patient examination according to Vedic principles of three doshas, three gunas, five elements, five pranas, agni and Atman.

For the best results in Yoga therapy we recommend not only a modern medical diagnosis of the conditions it is treating but also an Ayurvedic diagnosis. This would connect Yoga Therapy with the broader group of Ayurvedic therapies and help bring them in, from diet and herbs to massage and Ayurvedic clinical methods. It would add considerations of the condition of body and mind according to the three doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) and three gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) of Vedic thought. It would bring in Ayurvedic disease theories and stages of disease but also that of the Klesha theory of the Yoga Sutras.

This is what we are seeing in the new Yoga Therapy that is arising in India today that emphasizes treating all five koshas (body, prana, mind, intelligence and bliss), not just a physical or even psychological approach to Yoga and Ayurveda but threefold as body, mind and consciousness. Doshas and gunas are part of this examination.

Such an integration of Yoga and Ayurveda is what we recommend in our books and courses on Yoga and Ayurveda, extending to integrating other Vedic approaches like Vedic counseling, Jyotish and Vastu into both Yoga and Ayurveda.

By Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)