With a long history of Ayurveda, Yoga and meditation, Uttarakhand has become an ideal destination to learn, practice and master these ways of life. The state has lately come to be known as the Yoga Country on account of the number of ashrams, health centres, retreats and high-end spas, it is home to. These institutions have retained the essence of an age-old wisdom of the land in order to cater to the novel needs of an ever-evolving society. There are people who come to learn Yoga as a way of life, and then there are those who come to seek Ayurvedic treatment for a range of their maladies. Whatever the reason, each visitor invariably finds an apt solution to his problem and goes back with a sounder mind and healthier body.
In ancient times ascetics made arduous treks through hostile terrains to reach the core of the Himalayas, There, in the tranquil surroundings, under the shadows of virgin peaks, they meditated and performed penance to attain knowledge and wisdom. Among the many sciences that they developed, practised and perfected were Yoga and Ayurveda. Yoga helped them achieve a perfect balance between a healthy body and a sound mind- a prerequisite for survival in the harsh climatic conditions of the Himalayas. Living in a world far removed from civilization, these wise men extracted medicines from herbs obtained from the plentiful forests around. Thus was born the science of Ayurveda (literally meaning - the science of life). Both Yoga and Ayurveda offer a holistic approach to achieving mental and physical wellbeing through diet, exercise, breathing practices, herbal remedies, meditation and physical therapy. Over past centuries, Yoga and Ayurveda have both come to be acknowledged in the mainstream and are widely practised.
Today, when spirituality is being defined as wellness, healing and rejuvenation, Uttarakhand beckons you as the perfect destination for cleansing your system of toxins and relieving the stress of everyday life. Here, the essence of the age-old knowledge systems of Yoga and Ayurveda and new age healing systems like Reiki are offered and are accessible in a number of health centres, ranging from top-end spas to affordable health resorts to the traditional ashrams. Stress management as well as preventive and curative therapy for a range of heath disorders are the most vital factors of contemporary treatments for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of individuals.
Uttarakhand offers all this and more.
To human bodies and minds pummeled by a demanding life, the mention of Ayurveda opens an image of healing massages and potions that carry with them the remedial alchemy of leaf , root and earth. The effectiveness of this ancient science of life in India – with its emphasis upon quality life, longevity and freedom from ailments bears testimony in a fascinating myth mentioned in the puranas.
The myth centres around a titanic tug of war between the Suras (gods) and the Asuras (demons) to possess the treasures of the ocean, among which was the invaluable pot of nectar with its promise of immortality and indestructibility. Before the ocean revealed this nectar while it was being churned, it first brought out the most potent of poisons that threatened to destroy everything. Lord Shiva stepped in at this critical moment and swallowed the poison that resulted in his throat turning blue (this is why he is called Neelkanth). Legend has it that to save the world from the other poisons that escaped, the divine physician Dhanvantri brought his pot of magical herbs to earth and gave birth to the science of Ayurveda.
The entire philosophy of Ayurveda rests on the need to create a rhythm or equilibrium in the body in synthesis with the environment. Any imbalance in the synthesis of body, mind or spirit results in maladies and disorders. Ayurveda believes that the human body is part of nature and must therefore move in harmony with its rhythms and laws.
Much of what we know of Ayurveda’s basic principles and practices are derived from two comprehensive texts written approximately between 200 BC and 300 AD - the ‘Charak Samhita’, compiled by the physician Charak, the ‘Sushrut Samhita’, written by Sushruta. The knowledge was augmented by another later text ‘Ashtanga Hridaya’, composed by Vagbhatt. These texts incorporate a wealth of clinical and surgical information on the treatment of a range of maladies.
The science of Ayurveda rests on the theory of panchmahabhutas or the ‘five elements’ that make up the universe. These five elements are earth (prithvi), water(jal), fire (agni or tej), air (vayu) and ether or space (akash). Equilibrium among these elements is mandatory in order to maintain a fine balance in the universe. Humans too are created of these elements. Ayurveda sees these five elements forming three doshas or humours, which make up the constitution of individuals. Thus, an individual may fall In the category of Vaat (ether/air), Pitt (fire) or Kaph (water/earth) Vaat governs body movements, blood circulation, respiration, excretion, speech, tactility, fear and anxiety, among others. Pitt governs assimilation and the faculties of vision, hunger, thirst, heat regulation and intellect. Kaph or water governs form and substance, i.e. weight and firmness, strength and restraint and cohesion and stability.
The constitution of each individual is dependent on the specific mix of these humours - either dominance of one humour or a combination of a couple, makes up the physiology as well as personality of an individual. As in the principles of good management, here too, the integrity of each humour and the equilibrium between the humours leads to wellbeing and longevity; an absence of this equilibrium results in maladies and disorders.
The humours are affected by the categories of the mind. The sattv quality is concerned with equilibrium, compassion and peacefulness, the rajas quality includes thinking and the ability to take decisions. The quality of tamas influences qualities such as avarice. A harmony of these qualities is essential because it affects the equilibrium of the three humours and causes mental strain.
Keeping time and space in mind, Ayurveda stresses on four principles for equilibrium as a way of life: regulation of ahar (food), vihar (activities), nidra (sleep) and maithun (sexual activity). Ayurvedic diets and routines, that address each individual’s specific constitution, are now recognized as a means to effective stress management.
Ayurvedic procedures detoxify the body, making it more responsive to treatment and hastening the healing process, and ultimately strengthening the immune system. Among the most popular detoxification procedures is Panchkarma. Ayurvedic massages and herbal remedies are the additional effective procedures.
With its focus on an individual’s holistic health, treating each individual according to his or her specific constitution, Ayurveda, in recent times, has proved to be one of the most effective therapies in this over-medicated world. Uttarakhand has kept this precious legacy alive through countless Ayurvedic clinics.
Ayurveda also includes Yoga to strengthen vital organs like the heart, liver, intestines, bones, muscles and the blood circulation as well. Yoga helps soothe frayed nerves.
In today’s complicated world, where the senses are under constant assault from all spheres of life, peace of mind has become a much-valued prerequisite. The ancient science of yoga helps maintain a healthy mind and body, and is at the forefront of disciplines that people the world over are turning to in order to become focussed individuals.
Yoga traces its roots to the Sanskrit root yoj which means - to unite, yoke, join or harness, to prepare and to use and apply. A doyen in the field, B. K. lyengar explains it in very simple terms:
“The average man may find it difficult to grasp the intricacies of stilling the mind and merging the individual soul (jeevatma) with the universal soul (paramatma). He can understand what yoga is by exploring the body. Communion and a proper understanding exist between body and nerves, nerves and mind, mind and intellect, will and consciousness. When these vehicles of the jeevatma operate at the highest level, only pure awareness remains.”
Yoga is knowledge of the self. It encompasses knowledge related to the gross and subtle sheaths of the self that have to be purified and perfected by uninterrupted practice and devotion. Man is a product of intellect, emotions, action and determined will. While the seat of intellect is the head, the seat of emotions is the mind. The hand and feet are limbs for action. Yoga lays the foundation for purity in actions, emotions or intellect.
The simple truth is that the pursuit of Yoga results in direct benefits, even if the objective is not one of the spiritual gains. Today, the immense possibilities of Yoga as a physical and mental therapy have emerged at the forefront of a world rife with stress and tensions. Experts have pointed out that yoga balances the nervous and endocrinal systems, which is highly beneficial for all body organs. This is the reason that the discipline of Yoga has gained worldwide acceptance.
Yoga as preventive and curative therapy helps conditions ranging from diabetes, blood pressure and heart problems to digestive disorders, arthritis, fatigue and asthma. Regular practice increases one’s capacity to control temperature, heart beat and blood pressure.
It was about two and a half thousand years ago that Patanjali systematized the practice of yoga in his work, Yogasutras, consisting of 195 aphorisms that standardized the practice of yoga. Horever, the yoga system of Patanjali comprised one of the six ancient schools of philosophy of the time and derived a great deal from the influential, atheistic, philosophy of the Samkhya school of thought. Both Yoga and Samkhya influenced Lord Buddha in his early years.
Patanjali's Yoga is the classical Yoga - it was called the Raja Yoga (Royal Yoga) and connoted the state in which the individual masters the mind completely. Other forms of Yoga developed later giving primacy to one or several steps of Raja Yoga. Bhakti Yoga affirms love and devotion as the path to spiritual liberation. Karma Yoga as advocated in the Bhagvad Gita, advocates detached action as the supreme way, while Mantra Yoga refers to the repetition of mantras during various yoga meditation techniques.
This ritualistic chanting helps bind the mind to a single thought until it attains the state of samadhi. Tantra is another influential school of yoga, linked to the worship of Shiva and Shakti, the primordial female energy. It equates spiritual awakening with the rising of the kundalini or the life force in the body. One could describe it as the basis of evolution and development of personality.
Of the many forms of yoga that enable an individual to awaken the kundalini, Hath yoga is at the forefront today in yoga practice across the world. Dating back to the 12th century AD, Hath Yoga uses Asanas. Meditation, the purification practices of pranayama and mudras (a higher practice of hand gestures and physical movements that heighten concentration and create an energy flow) this combination brings the body, mind and senses under control and helps direct the life force upward through the chakras.
Hatha is a Sanskrit word. 'Ha' denotes the sun and 'tha' the moon, indicative of opposing energies - positive and negative, male and female, hot and cold - need to be finely balanced. Hatha Yoga is the mind to be unwavering in concentration for the ultimate realization of the self. In the contemporary world, its effectiveness in preventive and curative therapy has made it a very popular way of maintaining wellness in societies that are always on edge.
The state has numerous educational centres that offer Yoga and Ayurveda courses for beginners and established instructors.
Some of the reputed institutions of higher learning are
Dev Sanskriti University Haridwar
A residential university, Dev Sanskriti University offers graduate and post-graduate courses in Yoga, Ayurveda, Physiotherapy, Naturopathy and Psychology.
Gurukul Kangri University, Haridwar
This university was founded in 1902 by the Arya Samaj leader and freedom fighter Swami Shraddhanand. It follows the 'Guru Shishya’ (teacher-disciple) tradition or the Gurukul system of education, propagated by the founder of the Arya Samaj Swami Dayanand Saraswati. The university offers post graduate courses in Ayurveda, Vedic Literature, Sanskrit, Philosophy, Hindi and Environmental Sciences.
Yoga, Meditation and Ayurveda Ashrams in the Rishikesh area
The towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar are separated by a distance of 25 km. The area around these towns houses many ashrams that offer short-term courses in Yoga, Meditation and Ayurveda. Some of the well-known ashrams are:
Yoga Study Centre
This is one of the best places to learn Hatha Yoga. Classes are held daily in the morning and evening, under the supervision of Shri Rudra Dev, one of the most dedicated yoga teachers in the region.
Yoga Study Centre
Koyalgati, Rishikesh (uttarakhand) INDIA
Phone (91-1364) 231196,
Shivananda Ashram (Divine Life Society)
This ashram was founded by Sri Shivananda in 1936 and is one of the oldest and most renowned ashrams of the area. The ashram runs courses on Yoga and Meditation. It also publishes books and pamphlets on yoga and the ancient systems of medicine and healing.
The Divine Life Society
District Tehri Garhwal (uttarakhand) INDIA
Phone (91-1364) 231190
This institution runs regular yoga classes from two guesthouses. It also offers courses in Patanjali Yoga, Hatha Yoga and meditation. Yoga Niketan has branches in Uttarkashi and Gongotri as well.
Yoga Niketan Trust
Mini-ki-Riti, Rishisesh (Uttarakhan)INDIA
Omkarananda Patanjali Yoga Kendra
Omkarananda Ganga Sadan houses one of the most beautiful Yoga-'studios', complete with state-of-the-art equipment. Yoga workshops are held daily from Monday to Saturday in the premises. The centre boasts of excellent and inexpensive lodging facilities.
Omkarananda Ganga Sadan
P.O. Shivananda Nagar
District Tehri Garhwal(Uttarakhand)INDIA
Parmarth Niketan literally means “ an abode, dedicated to the welfare of others“. The Parmarth Yoga and Meditation Centre is one of the most authentic places to learn yoga from skilled instructors. Since 1999, the institution, in collaboration with India Heritage Research Foundation, has been holding the Annual International Yoga Festival under the aegis of the State Tourism Ministry. The institution is also a centre for Ayurveda and naturopathy.
This ashram organizes regular Yoga and Meditation classes. The government of Uttarakhand is considering establishing India’s first Yoga Academy here.
Transcendental Meditation centre of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
The most active ashram in the ‘60s, it now offers courses in transcendental meditation. It is located in a forested area on the banks of the River Ganga, making it an ideal place for meditation.
Sacha Vedic Sansthan
Situated in the Laxman Jhoola area, this institution runs meditation and yoga classes. It has its own guesthouse on the banks of the River Ganga.
Kailashananda Mission Trust
This is one of the most renowned ashrams in the Laxman Jhoola area, offering courses in yoga and meditation.
Divya Yog Mandir Trust
This institute holds residential camps in Yoga Sadhana, Yam Niyam, Pranayam and Kundalini Jagran (awakening) under the guidance of the well- known guru, Sri Swami Ram Dev Ji Maharaj.
Apart from the ashrams mentioned above, Swarg Ashram, Geeta Bhawan, Van Prasth Ashram also offer similar courses.
Patanjali yogpeeth is an Institution with a large O.P.D., a vast pathological Laboratory for treatment and research in Yoga, and Ayurveda. It is located on the Dellhi-Haridwar National Highway, near Bahadrabad in Haridwar.
(A unit of Divya Yog Mandir Trust)
Maharashi Dayanand Gram
Delhi-Haridwar National Highway
Haridwar- 249402, Uttarakhand, India
Phone:01334-240008, 244107, 246737
Fax -01334-244805, 240664
Ashrams of wellness in other parts of Uttarakhand
Among the ashrams dedicated to Yoga and Meditation are - Mayawati Ashram, Champawat; Narayan Swami Ashram, Pithoragarh and Ramgarh; Mirtola Ashram, Jageshwar, Almora; Mahayog Academy, Nainital; and Aurobindo Ashram, Nainital.
Nemerous other Ayurvedic Treatment Centres and Spas are located in various parts of the state.
Uttarakhand is the Mecca for holistic healing where visitors can enroll themselves into a range of treatment centres and spas.