If you couldn’t resist checking your horoscope to see what the new year holds, you’re not alone. Astrology is firmly embedded in popular culture, familiar as one-size-fits-most newspaper horoscopes and famous as that hoary pick-up line, “What’s your sign?” Little known in the West, however, is the astrology of the yogis known as Jyotish, or the Science of Light.
The Vedic sciences of Jyotish, Ayurveda, and yoga share a rich mythology and history, and together, they were once considered essential to a healthy, meaningful life. The origins of Jyotish go back roughly 4,000 years to the Rig Veda, which described a chakra (wheel) in the sky. In India, Vedic astrology is still consulted for setting important dates or beginning new ventures. But for those on the yogic path, Jyotish has even deeper significance. According to Vedic astrologer Debra Infante, “Jyotish gives us insight about our personal strengths and weaknesses, and it informs us of ways we can modify, alter, and understand challenges we may experience in this lifetime. In essence, it enlightens us on our path and gives us a wider perspective.”
While Vedic astrology uses the twelve familiar constellations of the zodiac, it takes into account the precession of the equinoxes for a more accurate astronomical picture. The resulting difference between the Western and Vedic systems is about 24 degrees. Thus, if you’ve identified with being an Aquarius all your life, you may be surprised to learn that your sun sign is Capricorn. But the differences don’t end there.
Vedic astrologers place greater emphasis on a person’s rising sign or moon placement, and a jyotishacharaya (master astrologer) may refer to a multitude of divisional charts to refine an individual horoscope. The Rasi (birth chart) is used most, but also popular is the Navamsha, a divisional chart focusing on marriage. Jyotish also considers the 27 nakshatras or lunar mansions. Your nakshatra is your birth star, associated with personality traits.
Another nuance that makes Vedic astrology especially predictive is a 120-year cycle divided into planetary periods called dashas. (Because the outer planets hadn’t been detected during the time of the Vedas, the planets referred to by Vedic astrologers include Rahu and Ketu, the nodes of the moon.) Dashas reveal karmic effects during a person’s lifetime.
Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of Vedic astrology is its use of remedies—including mantras, yantras, gemstones, and yoga practices—to strengthen or lessen a particular planetary influence. This is the key focus of Ayurvedic astrology, a specialty of David Frawley, who founded the American Institute of Vedic Studies. Another well-regarded Vedic astrologer, Dennis Harness, integrates Jyotish with Western-style psychological counseling to help clients uncover self-limiting tendencies.
Whether or not you believe we are influenced by the stars, studying Jyotish can be a profound complement to your yoga practice, adding to your knowledge of Sanskrit, esoteric anatomy, and subtle energy or prana. The microcosm of the physical body reflects the macrocosm of the Universe. As you gain understanding of your personal universe, you will approach the ultimate aim of Jyotish, which, Debra Infante explains, is learning how to live a more enlightened and compassionate life.
What is your experience with Jyotish? Do you believe the planets can teach us more about yoga and life?