Healthcare and Longevity Practices

The practice of yoga is today widely associated with the improvement of mental and physical health and a general increase in well-being. In India, yoga is considered an indigenous form of health practice: The Ministry of AYUSH supports education and research in yoga medicine, and has established first steps in the regulation of practice with a voluntary certification scheme through the Quality Council of India. Now often predominantly associated with physical practices (postural and breathing exercises), the health-related aspects of yoga practice have been promoted globally since the middle of the twentieth century. However, in its historic origins, the attainment of yoga was understood as a soteriological undertaking, and its auxiliary practices were directed at the attainment of spiritual aims.

When did yoga become medicine? And how are medical claims within yoga traditions connected to the dominant Indian medical traditions of the past? Can ideas about healing and well-being arising in historic yoga traditions be linked to the scholarly medical tradition of Ayurveda, or to the heterodox medicine of rasaśāstra (Indian alchemy and iatrochemistry)? How do these traditions compare with each other in their medical goals, concepts and practices?

These are some of the questions the AyurYog project, a major research project funded by the European Research Commission, seeks to answer. The project examines the histories of yoga, ayurveda and rasaśāstra from the ninth century to the present. The goals of the project are to reveal the entanglements of these historical traditions, and to trace the trajectories of their evolution as components of today’s global healthcare and personal development industries. Currently, the project’s researchers are focusing on health, juvenescence and longevity practices calledrasāyana as potential key areas of exchange between the disciplines of yoga, ayurveda and rasaśāstra.

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Dagmar Wujastyk
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