Ayurveda is a 5000 year old system of medicine; meaning Life and Wisdom or Science of Life. The essence of these teachings is about giving instruction to healthy living in the world. Based on the deep understanding to scientific contributions that are both theory and principal; Western Science is just starting to understand. Ayurveda is believed to be the oldest continuously practiced form of medicine in the world.
The practice is concerned with the the development of the soul, proper care of the body and the mind. For this reason, Ayurveda naturally overlaps with teachings of yoga and is often referred too as sisters of each other.
As it relates to the Yoga practice, it is believed that even your choice of Yoga, just as in everything in your life, is based on your individual conditions; such as your health, age and lifestyle of the current moment. It will change just as you do from day to day or moment to moment. Being aware will help you identify what will serve or be useful to your health.
The journey begins with understanding the elements; ether, air, fire, water, earth. With the understanding of them, many complexities and study are associated to the good and bad effects of each of them. “What is the difference between medicine and poison? The dosage.”
The Gunas: each element has its own group of qualities. One side of the Gunas is Building/nourishing/promoting. The other is Reducing/lightning. Not good or bad though; more about understanding differences. Heavy is cross compared to Light in Weight. Slow or dull is compared to Sharp or Penetrating. There are 20 Guna qualities that are opposite of each other. When trying to identify what will offer you better health, you have to identify what is out of balance and then the solution is to do the opposite. Easy right? Yet it isn’t. For example, many times we may be tired from a long day, exhausted and run-down. So we may feel the need to go to a very fast paced yoga class thinking it will boost up our energy. However we were tired from our life, food choices and overdoing. The solution may be to go to a slower or moderate yoga class instead of burning out the energy entirely. Very much like choices to grab sugar or caffeine instead of taking in more water or protein and going home to sleep earlier.
The Doshas: these are organizing energies that keep each of us in balance. Commonly interpreted as “biological humor” the literal translation is “at fault”. It implies that the current state of being fluctuates and is not static; always changing. We won’t be perfect though – the point is to build an awareness around the current moment and see if it guides into better choices forward. We may or may not make the best choices not but we can stop, pause and recognize.
See the tab under (Health to learn more about the specific Dosha types). The three doshas: data, pitta, kappa. They are combinations of the five elements listed above. Everyone is composed of all five elements and everyone has all three Dosha’s – just holding them in different proportions and stages of their life. Understanding the crucial functions in the physical body as well as in nature. They present their qualities in a prescribed time of day, seasons, times of the year, geographical locations and they manifest in the changing seasons of life. Don’t be entirely focused on the Dosha’s though. The solution or key to what is right for you is in understanding the Gunas.
Yoga Practices based on the Dosha’s – combining Ayurveda with Yoga:
Kapha is strongest in the late winter and early spring when everything is moist, the temperature gets warmer and all the flowers and plants begin to grow. Pitta reaches its peak in summer when the weather is hot and nature is in a state of transformation between creation and destruction. Vata intensifies in the fall and early winter when the leaves fall, the plants recede back into the earth and the wind leaves us dry and cold. When we have an understanding of how the doshas flow with nature, we can adjust our diet, asana and life so that we can be healthy & remain balanced.
Although asana’s are listed below it is important to know that any of the asanas could be practiced all year by any Dosha type; just depends on how it is taught, length and focus. You should find a qualified and experienced teacher who can guide you with the proper modifications or alternations that will be healthiest to you based on the changes day to day, time in life, season and the uniqueness of your conditions.
Vata season: Fall and early winter (or when it is cold and windy) – It is always kept in mind all year though- “Mind Vata” always as it is the King/leader of the elements.
Late autumn and early winter are focused on Vata. Vata is dry from wind as well as finishing a hot summer. Instead of burning the fire out – it is important to start to slow down. Listen to the foods of fall that are based on being grown from the earth. This is a time of grounding and the asana focus should be this way as well. Not just physically – but looking and observing down or out instead of up.
In the fall and early winter (vata season), it is best to eat warm, nourishing foods to help balance the excess vata present in our external environment. Without vata reducing foods during the fall and early winter, we are likely to experience vata imbalances such as systemic dryness, scattered thoughts, fatigue or anxiety.
Examples of asanas for Vatas:
Slow moving sun salutation, plank, grounded focus on lunges, cat/cow, warriors, tree pose, and other standing postures. Lotus, child, bridge posture. Supported shoulder-stand and plow. Half hero and half frog. Gentle Kapalbhati breaths and Alt Nostril.
Kapha season: Late winter through early spring (or when it is cold and wet)
It is important that everyone keep active to ward off kapha-related conditions. Kaphas must especially keep warm and active to avoid kapha buildup (and hence colds, weight gain, sluggishness, depression etc). Vatas and Pittas should be ok with a Kapsha routine especially in the later winter/Springtime. Brisk walks are good, as are vigorous yoga as it helps clear out kappa. Getting more sleep in winter, especially if a Vata, who gets easily worn out and run down it is time to watch nature as it often starts in February from within to bloom again.
Examples of asanas for Kaphas:
Faster paced Sun Salutation, Camel pose, Boat, Headstand prep, handstand jumps/prep, warrior 3, half moon. More moving positions and less time spent on resting positions. Very uplifting and energetic. Pranayama – Bhastrika (breath of fire) and Alt. Nostril with breath retention – all to warm the body.
Pitta season: Late spring through summer (or when it is hot)
Summer is the pitta season. Pitta is hot and intense, so that needs to be balanced with things that are cool, light and floating. Pittas will suffer the most during summer; as much as they enjoy the season. Pitta is made up of the elements of Fire and Water though. So don’t forget it has water. Too much heat will unbalance as much as too much water. The most important thing is to find the middle ground to cool down. Need to do mild or gentle cooling movement; such as swimming and walking through a cool forest or sitting by the water, lake or ocean (Great for Vata as well during this season – Mind Vata). If you do yoga it doesn’t mean just do gentle yoga though but you may want to explore it more regular in the summer. Often Pitta types have to be “tricked” into the challenge of slowing down, holding and maintaining; allowing them to air out the body with their body and breath. So the focus is on expanding and opening.
Examples of asanas for Pittas:
Slower paced sun salutation, modified up-dog (knees down); plant to forearm plank – not held long. Down dog only held for shorter breaths – not building heat. Fish pose or supported fish pose. Twists, leg-lift pose (standing or laying down). Cobra and frog pose. Pigeon and lizard – both held longer to setting down. Legs against the wall. Pranayama – Shitali breaths, Yoga Nidra for visualization of the calm and coolness of places such as the mountains, lakes, grass. Mantra sounds are cooling as well.
Often we can find ourselves in habits not only in our practice but in diet, sleep, lifestyles. Only by growing more awareness can we break them and see what else is possible.