Published on August 31st, 2019 | by Graham Fowler0
Ayurvedic Insights For Your Yoga Practice
by Graham Fowler
In “Discovering Ayurveda,” on page __, Gedalia Genin introduces the three doshas, or body energy types, that Ayurvedic practices define and use to help people design an optimal health regimen. Each regimen is unique and customized to the individual and might encompass diet, herbal treatments, lifestyle changes and yogic breathing. Here, yoga editor Graham Fowler provides guidance through specific yoga asanas, or postures, that might be especially helpful to balance each of the three dosha energies—Vata, Pitta and Kapha—and optimize one’s yoga practice.
Ayurveda often recommends yoga asanas to help promote health and vitality in a number of ways—to resolve energetic imbalance in the body, pacify or reduce dominant doshas, strengthen the physical body and remediate structural issues, release tension and calm the mind.
Here are a few general guidelines to yoga asanas for each of the three Ayurvedic doshas. While a particular asana is recommended for each dosha, keep in mind that many asanas can be used by multiple body types if they are customized according to the individual’s needs.
You might want to record the guidance below, so you can practice while listening to it in your own voice.
When people who are predominantly Vata are young, they tend to be quite flexible. Having a consistent and regular yoga practice over the years might counteract the usual tendency to lose that mobility, due to the dry quality of Vata.
The bones of Vata types can be brittle and joints unstable. With their sometimes-flighty nature, there’s often an inclination for quick movement, which can aggravate Vata.
To balance your Vata constitution, keep your yoga movements deliberate, slow and strong, avoiding strain. Feel the power of deep, smooth breath. Stay present to your bodily sensations. Doing so can gradually strengthen bones and muscles that are often weak in Vata types. It also can help release tension in the body and cultivate steadiness of mind.
With regular practice, Vatas often find they love asana practice. They enjoy the movement and gain strength to complement their innate flexibility.
Downward Facing Dog
- Start on your hands and knees. Have your wrists directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly under your hip joints.
- Tuck your toes under and straighten your legs but don’t lock your knees. Keep your arms straight as you draw your sit bones toward the back wall.
- Spread your fingers and root down the base of your index fingers. Rotate your arms so the crooks of the elbows face each other. Draw your chest toward your thighs and press the fronts of your thighs into the backs of your thighs.
- Search for equal connection to the earth through all fours. Keep your neck relaxed. Draw your shoulder blades down away from your ears. Broaden your collar bones.
- Focus on extension of torso and arms. Try to create a straight line from your wrists to your tailbone.
As you hold the pose, stay present to sensations in the body. Feel the stretch in your legs as you breathe slowly and smoothly. Gradually increase holding time as you become stronger in the shoulders and arms.
Rest by gently coming back to hands and knees. Repeat.
Pittas tend to have good muscular development and be fairly flexible, though they’re not usually as flexible as Vata types.
Pitta yogis tend to bring good focus and motivation to the mat. Because they have more fire than Vatas, they may have a tendency to overdo things. If they push too hard in their practice, it can actually aggravate the fiery nature of Pitta, resulting in irritability.
Due to their fiery constitution, a cooling practice that relieves tension, along with some challenging poses to satisfy their drive to accomplish, will serve Pittas well. Also, keeping the intensity level at 70-80% capacity is a good general guideline to help Pittas stay in balance.
Seated Forward Fold
- Sit tall on the mat, with legs extended on the floor. Reach forward through your heels. If your hamstrings are tight, elevate your hips by sitting on the front edge of a folded blanket or two.
- Lift your arms overhead to lengthen your spine. Breathe in deeply.
- Exhale as you pivot forward from your hip joints. Lengthen the front of your body as you fold, as if to make an offering of your heart toward your feet.
- Extend your belly forward. Hold your lower legs, ankles or feet.
- Scan through your body and let go of the struggle. Let conscious relaxation take you more deeply into the pose. Feel the “Ahh” of each exhalation. Stay at around 75% capacity. Exhale with mouth open as needed to cool down.
- Sit up, breathe in and out, and immediately be still. Feel the energy circulate.
It’s best to keep your breathing steady and smooth. Keep in mind that if your breathing becomes rough and uneven, it’s a sign that you are pushing too much. Take a breath and let it go. You can release some heat and intensity by occasionally exhaling through the mouth.
Kapha individuals tend to be stout and strong with good endurance. Yet they typically are less flexible than Vata and Pitta types. When out of balance, Kaphas tend toward inertia. The challenge is to get them going. Once they are on the mat and in their practice, their stamina and steadiness can keep them there for a nice, long practice.
Kaphas should spend a few minutes to warm up first, and then, go for it!
The Kapha constitution thrives on elbow grease and single-mindedness. Be sure to take deep breaths and, when you need more energy, pick up the pace of your breathing. In general, challenge yourself with long holds but when doing forward bends, use shorter holds because they can increase kapha.
Kaphas can also enjoy a vigorous practice of Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutations. (See “Sun Salutations: Put Spring in Your Step” in our April 2019 issue.)
- Lie down on your belly with legs close together. Gently press your tailbone toward your pubic bone.
- Bend your knees and grab your ankles. Breathe in.
- Exhaling, press your feet toward the back wall, lifting your torso and legs off of the floor. Try to get as much of the body off of the floor as possible. Challenge yourself with a long hold.
- Breathe smoothly and deeply.
- Rest briefly and repeat.
FOR ALL DOSHA TYPES
Regardless of your dosha, Savasana, or Resting Pose, is a very important asana and highly recommended to complete your practice. Everyone can benefit from Savasana. It pacifies Vata and Pitta, and for all body types allows the body-mind to receive and integrate the results of one’s asana practice.
- Lie down on your back, extending your legs comfortably apart. Let your feet fall away from each other. Try to get your body straight as best you can, so that your left and right sides mirror each other.
- Draw your shoulder blades down. Keep your neck long with face angled toward the ceiling.
- Extend your arms down by your sides with palms comfortably up.
- Check that your lower back is comfortable and in a neutral position. If there’s any discomfort in your lower back, put a rolled-up blanket under your knees.
- Scan through your body and make any last-minute adjustments so that your Savasana can be delicious.
- Take in a deep breath and hold for a few seconds.
- Exhale and release into total softness.
Remain in Savasana for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the length of your practice. For Vata types, long holds in Savasana are especially useful.
Graham Fowler is creating a haven on the banks of the Upper Tallulah River for yogis and lovers of nature. Contact him at email@example.com.