Epistemology – Nidana Parivarjana
Nidana means a few things. It can mean the cause of something. This is also called a Hetu. It can also mean the combination of the Hetu and the process of disease manifestation, called the Samprapti. Because it means both things, often we use Hetu to indicate the actual cause for the sake of avoiding confusion. Pari means to go around and varjana means hurting, omitting, avoiding. Thus, parivarjana means going around what causes pain. This term, Nidana Parivarjana, comes directly from the Caraka Samhita where there is constant need for the reader to apply critical thinking to the context of what they are reading.
Vāta, Pitta, and Kapha are not always described as Vāta, Pitta, and Kapha in the texts. Sometimes Kapha is called Sleśma. Sometimes Vāta is called cala (moving). Sometimes Pitta is called by the color red or by the term intensity. Sometimes when the word doṣa is written it indicates Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, and sometimes it means anything that is a waste, which would also include sweat, urine, and feces. Sometimes in recipes, herbs are called by many names. So, in engaging with Āyurveda, therefore also Yoga (and any Vedic study), there is a need for Yukti because the texts are relying on us having an ongoing relationship with them.
What is Yukti?
Yukti is applied wisdom that comes from experience. It requires a person understand the original instruction from the texts of origin, and then comprehend often inferred meaning as they put the information into action. The texts are written in sutra form. They are purposely concise. What was explained in the earlier chapters is rarely repeated in the later chapters because the Ṛṣis assume that the reader remembers what was said before and be able to apply it later and repeatedly.
This is something practitioners of any of the Vedic traditions are requested to do. No chapter can be taken or practiced out of context of the whole or the meaning is easily lost or misinterpreted.
This is also seen in the Yoga Sūtras for example. The first śloka of chapter 1 is “अथ योगानुशासनम्॥१॥” – “Atha Yogānuśasanam.” “And now the study of yoga begins.”
The “and” implies that there was studying done before and that the person who is about to engage with the Yoga Sūtras has already created a relationship with Yoga that they are now bringing to this text.
How does this Apply to our Yoga Practices?
In our course, we have been discussing how modern practices of Yoga Āsana tend to hyper-focus on a certain thing – mobility, flexibility, strength, relaxation. Because of how our world works, we make promises of these things and say that yoga also promises them.
The Yoga Śastra promises many things, but most of them have to do with the mind. Anything that happens or doesn’t happen to the body is a happy by-product. My Āyurveda teacher often says that Yoga isn’t always good for the Āyus, the life, because the goal of Yoga is Mokṣa which includes freedom from the body.
In practice and study, I have found that in the critique of what Yoga can and cannot do, we sometimes miss the actual intent of this practice and then blame Yoga for what is it or is not providing, though it never offered those things directly.
In an Āyurvedic context, there is no treatment that can work as well as the removal of the cause of suffering. This is true in Yoga too. If we are using āsana as a supplement to something else or the way we are practicing is in a reaction to an issue we had practicing āsana in a different way at a different time, I think it is worth asking ourselves why we are in pain in the first place? Is it the practice or how we are engaging and interpreting the practice?
Sometimes there is an unknown cause that is unrelated to the practice. Sometimes the practice can reveal this cause. Sometimes it is not there at all and what we are doing is supportive and holistic. However, regardless, I do think, it is worth asking ourselves occasionally why we are practicing and if our expectations line up with the original intent of Yoga.
Yogāsana can certainly help decrease physical suffering as long as we are practicing with that in mind, but there is no sequence or type of practice that will work as well as the removal of the original cause of suffering.
If we don’t acknowledge this in our practice, it is in some ways, a kind of Tamas in disguising itself as Sattva.