Health Through Yoga by Mira Mehta
Book Review by Joan Abrams
Re-published 2013 (originally 2002)
At first sight, this book’s content is daunting – there is so much to take in. The objective – to link Ayurvedic principles to yoga poses for specific areas of health seems huge. As Mehta says;” there is no authoritative body of texts which can be studied” which link the two, but this book is an attempt to do that, and, apparently, the first.
However Ayurveda (the holistic medical system of sub-continent India) and yoga do “share a common heritage of Vedic culture”: the scope of Ayurveda is the maintenance and restoration of health, and yoga“in its practice and philosophy aims to replace agitation of the mind, insecurity and spiritual ignorance with serenity, self-assurance and knowledge”.
Mehta suggests;” the two distinct spheres of yoga and Ayurveda make them complementary”. Her background in poetry is shown in her very clear and accessible style, and her extensive academic studies in India on Ayurveda and Sanskrit writings, make her aim to elucidate yoga even further a very valid one.
When we come to read these age-old ideas linked “yoked” together, we need a clear, open mind, and time to absorb. This is not the colourful “picture book” of Mehta’s well-known Yoga – the Iyengar Way, although it does, of course, have plenty of illustrations.
The background to Ayurveda and which views “the human being and all nature as interconnected” is accessible, detailed and interesting. This background leads on to the dosas (the three possible constitutions of the body). They are listed, shown in diagram form, and explained. Following this is a range of practice routines showing how categories of postures can affect the balance of dosas. This is “ground-breaking” stuff: most yoga teachers have internalized the general benefits of the poses, and experienced them, but this further step gives fascinating linking detail. In general the poses balance vata (the dosa related to movement); they regulate kapha (cohesion) and maintain pitta (metabolism).
Having absorbed this first third of the book, we move to the black and white illustrations of postures
organized according to Ayurveda areas: Anatomical strength (legs, back, hips, shoulders); Physiological efficiency – abdominal organs (circulation, lungs and heart); and Mental and emotional well-being. The headings for each of the postures, and their descriptions are extremely clear. My only caveat was the
layout choice of using the original Sanskrit as the main heading for each pose (transcribed and translatedunderneath). I felt this was over-reminding us of the origins of yoga.
In the final third of the book after the mental determination to follow the Ayurvedic ideas, then consider their relation to the poses we then “relax” at the end with the Savasana of a range of “Readings”. These, from ancient texts, are “profound reflections” “as relevant and gladdening today as when they were formulated.”
Following the “medicine” of digesting the elements of Ayurveda and the practical sequences of the postures, come the “sweet” course. These are the “Readings for Serenity” chosen from classical yoga texts. They address the great problems of philosophy “Who am I? What is the ultimate reality? What course of action brings happiness?”
This brief description of the book does not convey the wealth of uplifting, fascinating, thought provoking ideas that it contains. I think Mehta does accomplish her aim – to understand more precisely how yoga works.