Yoga & Ayurveda
In previous blogs, we have talked about the correlation between Ayurveda and yoga and how to best harness the therapeutic benefits of both to get the most out of your practice and to keep your doshas in balance.
Yoga for your Ayurvedic dosha talks about the optimum practice for your unique makeup. In addition to doing the best yoga for your Ayurvedic dosha, which yoga practice you do is also affected by the time of the year and the seasons. In fact, it is not only your yoga practice that requires some modification with the season, but also your diet and other Ayurvedic routines to keep your health at optimal levels and to keep those doshas in balance.
Summer and its effect on the Pitta dosha
In the summer months, the temperature outside rises, which in turn increases the fire element. Summer is commonly known for ailments and irritations such as skin rashes, heat stroke, sunburn, allergies, fevers, etc.
This increase in heat impacts our doshas and particularly Pitta dosha due to the increase in the fire element. Summer and Pitta qualities are similar, so if you’re predominantly Pitta dosha you have to be more aware of the changes that need to be applied during this time of year to make sure you don’t go out of balance.
Pitta people whose doshic energy is primarily fire, need to do a quieter and calmer practice during the summer so as not to further increase this element in their bodies. Otherwise, they will increase Pitta and could be prone to the disorders of Pitta.
So what does this actually mean? Strong Vinyasa and Ashtanga style yoga can aggravate Pitta dosha even more in the summer, but if it must be done, allow plenty of time for cooling down. It can also be complimented with cooling pranayama practices to help with keeping balance in the practice and oneself.
Reduce the amount of Surya Namaskar, (Sun Salutations) you do and slow them down, doing them in time to the inhalation and exhalation and with full awareness of the body and the breath. This will help to limit the heating nature of the practice as sun salutations are one of the most heating and therefore Pitta increasing within yoga.
Pitta people benefit from a grounding, surrendering practice especially during the summer. Gentle Hatha type yoga focusing on mind, body and breath awareness, with slow movements and encompassing lots of seated, supine and prone postures allowing calmness into the body, mind and energetic fields is perfect for them.
Yin yoga or any restorative type of yoga is also good to practice during this season. The focus on these practices is on holding fewer postures for longer, surrendering and observing rather than a strong dynamic flow.
Pitta reducing postures
The seat of Pitta mainly resides in the abdomen, liver, skin and eyes, so poses that focus on these areas help to eliminate Pitta and as such are all cooling, surrendering and grounding. The following poses are all good for a summer practice for the reasons outlined above.
In many traditions of yoga, we start with our standing postures and slowly move down into seated poses then prone and end the practice in a supine position, just think of Shavasana, (Corpse Pose).
In our standing postures, the emphasis is on abdominal squeezing, so any twisting or forward bending postures are highly beneficial, this is true when you are in any position, i.e. seated, etc.
PARIVRTTA Trikonasana (Triangle)
Stand in Mountain pose. Jump or step your feet a bit more than a metre apart. Stretch your arms horizontally to the sides, palms down.
Turn your left foot in 45 degrees and your right leg fully out to the right. At the same time turn your trunk and hips to face the right. Keep your legs straight.
On an exhalation, continue turning to the right and take your left hand to the floor next to the outside of the right ankle. Keep the heel and the outer edge of the left foot pressing down and the right big toe in firm contact with the floor. Stretch the legs and both sides of the waist.
Stretch up the top arm so that both arms are vertical and turn your head to look up. The spine continues to stretching in the direction the right toes are facing, trunk revolving and chest open.
Stay in the pose for five long deep breaths. Inhale, come up and repeat, turning to the left.
Prasarita Padottanasana, (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)
Stand in Mountain pose. Take the feet about 150cm apart, hands on hips. Check that your feet are level and parallel, facing forward. Do not tip onto either the outer or inner edges of the feet, but lift both sides of the ankles. Keep the spine lifting, legs straight, and the front thigh muscles firmly pulled up.
Exhale and bend forward from the hips to take your hands to the floor, placing them shoulder width apart. With arms straight, extend the front of the body and make the back concave. Look up without straining your neck or hunching your shoulders.
Keeping the legs straight and vertical, take the trunk further down and place the top of the head on the floor. To do this, move the hands back in line with the feet, and bend the elbows, keeping the arms parallel. Lift the hips and relax the trunk.
Stay for five breaths, then inhale and raise the trunk to the concave position, straightening the arms.
Place your hands on your hips, stand up and bring the feet together.
Seated positions in yoga are all excellent as they are grounding and surrendering. They help to calm and quieten the mind as well as reduce the ego, which is very good for Pitta types who can be prone to domineering and bossy behaviour.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes pose)
Sit on your left foot, ankle flexed, with the inner left heel under the left buttock and the inner edge of the ball of the foot under the right buttock.
Bend your right knee up and place the foot on the floor on the outside of your left thigh. Stretch up the trunk.
Turn to the right, taking your left arm onto the outside of your right leg and your right hand on the floor behind you. Press the left arm against the leg to help you turn, keeping the right leg firm, shin upright. You can stay here or continue to the next stage.
Closing the gap between the left side and right leg, bend your left arm around your right leg, palm facing out. Bring your right hand round your back so it can be caught by the left. Stay for five breaths, then release and repeat to the left.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Begin this simple pose by bringing the soles of your feet together, knees bent to the sides and heels drawn close to the body.
Clasp your hands around the toes, stretch the spine up, and take the knees down to the floor. Even if the knees are not on the floor, they should be level.
Stay in this pose for a minute or more.
- Sitting on a pad or folded towel or blanket makes it easier to lift the trunk and relax the hips, although you may then need to keep your hands on the floor behind your hips.
- Sitting with your back to a wall gives you more support, and enables you to stay longer in the posture without strain.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Gently come onto all fours. Relax your hips and sit back on your heels. Arms should be long and rested in front of you along either side of your head. Rest your forehead on the ground and breathe deeply into your back. Stay here for five long, deep breaths.
Eye exercises such as palming, which involves rubbing your palms together while seated in any comfortable posture and then placing your palms on your eyes is good for reducing pitta from the eyes.
Blinking with awareness involving rapid blinking also is good.
Lying on our front in a prone position we are already putting pressure on the abdomen, and those positions that are forward bending are more beneficial again.
Lie on your stomach with your forehead resting on the ground and toes flat on the floor. Make sure your legs are close together, with your feet and heels lightly touching each other.
Place your hands under your shoulders, keeping your elbows parallel and close to your torso.
Inhale and slowly lift your head, chest and abdomen while keeping your navel on the floor.
Pull your torso back and off the floor with the support of your hands and slowly curve your spine vertebra by vertebra. Ensure that you have equal pressure on both palms.
Arch your back as much as possible by straightening the arms. Tilt your head back and look up.
Your shoulders should be away from your ears. Bend your elbows slightly if necessary to keep your shoulders relaxed.
Make sure that your feet are still close together.
Take five deep breaths then gently bring your abdomen, chest and head back to the floor.
Lie face-down on your stomach and exhale. Interlace your fingers behind your back and on an inhalation, lift your feet, chest and hands. Extend through the toes and lengthen, gazing straight ahead. Hold for five breaths then release.
- If it is too difficult to raise your chest and feet simultaneously, leave your feet on the floor and raise only the chest. Alternatively, you can raise one foot at a time.
Danurasana (Bow Pose)
Lie on your stomach, bend your knees, and reaching around from the outside of both legs, grab hold of the outside of your ankles with your hands. This action will lift your body and open your spine.
Only press as far as you can while still breathing easily. Stay here for five long, deep breaths then slowly lower down.
Take a few deep breaths as you just lie comfortable on the floor.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Sleeping Pigeon Pose)
Come onto all fours then bend your right knee and gently move it forward and lie it on its side in front of you (it should make an inverted V).
Straighten your left leg behind you and sink your hips into the ground. If they don't reach the ground sit on a pillow or a block.
As you lower down, make sure that your hips don’t spill to the right.
Take a look over your shoulder and make sure your back leg is straight.
Turn your hips and shoulders, so they both face your front. Do your best to sit up straight here. Stay here for three long deep breaths.
Inhale and lift your chest. As you exhale, walk the fingertips forward and either rest your head on your forearms or walk your arms forward until fully stretched out, and rest your forehead on the floor. Stay here for ten long, deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
We end our practice with lying on our back positions as our final asana is always Shavasana, (Corpse Pose).
Pawanmuktasana (Wind-Relieving Pose)
Lie down on your back. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, bring your right knee towards your chest and press the thigh on your abdomen with clasped hands.
Breathe in again and as you exhale, gently lift your head and chest and touch your chin to your right knee.
As you exhale, tighten the grip of the hands on the knee to increase the pressure on the chest. As you inhale, loosen the grip.
Hold it there and take five long breaths.
On the last exhale, come back to the ground and relax.
Repeat with the left leg and then again with both the legs together.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Lie down on your back. Bend your knees, grab hold of your ankles or clasp your hands beneath you, and place your feet on the ground right next to your hips so your knees point straight up.
Press your arms into the ground alongside your body and lift your hips straight up.
Lift your chest up slightly behind you. Lengthen your knees in front of you, out from your hips. Try to avoid letting them open to the side.
Stay here for five long, deep breaths.
Natrajasana (Lying down twist pose)
Lie down on your back. Take a deep inhale in through your nose, and a long exhale through your mouth. Relax and breathe naturally for a few moments to allow your body to settle and your mind to calm.
When you are ready, stretch your arms out arms horizontally in line with the shoulders. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the ground next to your hips.
Take your knees to the left until the left knee touches the ground, and the right knee and thigh are resting on top of the left.
You may cross your right leg over your left leg for a more intense stretch.
Gently turn your head to the right and look at your right palm.
There may be a tendency for one of your shoulder blades to lift off the ground. Gently work against this tendency to gain the full benefits of the stretch.
Stay here for five long deep breaths. When you are ready, bring your legs to the centre and mirror the pose on the other side.
Sitali and Sitkari, (The Cooling Breath) are two pranayama practices that are particularly good in the summer as they are said to calm the nervous system and cool the body.
Sitali pranayama is performed by rolling the outsides of the tongue together to form a straw-like appearance. You then inhale through the tongue and mouth, close the mouth and exhale through the nose.
Sitkari breath is done by closing your teeth together, opening your mouth and inhaling through your teeth then closing the mouth and exhaling through the nose. You can practice this if you can’t roll your tongue.
Brahamari is another pranayama that will help. This is done by first closing the eyes, then inhaling deeply through the nose blocking the ears with your fingers, keeping your arms out to the side and above so the chest is open and exhaling slowly whilst making a humming bee type sound.
Chandra Pranayama or Left Nostril breathing is also very cooling, here you just close of the right nostril. Nadi Shodan, (Alternate Nostril Breathing) is also good.
Trataka or concentration meditation on an aquamarine crystal or other cooling crystal (and not on a candle flame as it is usually done), is very good for reducing pitta as there is focus for the eyes which is a seat of pitta and meditation is calming and quietening. With the addition of the aquamarine crystal, it also becomes a cooling practice.
In addition to yoga, we should also look at our food and general routines at this time of year to help pacify Pitta.
Foods that are hot, sour, pungent and oily all increase Pitta so to keep Pitta in check, it’s best to eliminate chilli and hot foods, including spicy, oily, pungent and sour foods. Save those curries you love for the winter and minimise your yoghurt intake as well as sour cream. Instead swap spicy, oily curries for light, cooling foods such as salads, coconut, cucumber and mint.
Rice, pasta and bread are all Pitta pacifying as well as milk, butter and ghee, though these are best organic and in their raw/original forms.
Fruits such as melons, mangoes, pears and grapes are also good, and many vegetables including broccoli, courgettes and asparagus are all cooling.
Other tips related to your normal routine includes massaging with coconut oil every morning and evening, making sure that you bring the coconut oil down to the soles of your feet especially at night to draw the heat away.
Swap hot baths for cool showers, avoid saunas and steam rooms and cardio workouts outside on hot summer days.
The best thing is to be aware of how you feel before, during and after any activity, meal or routine. If you feel yourself becoming irritable and impatient, then you know you have done something to aggravate Pitta dosha.
If you feel calm and relaxed, then you are on track for having a happy, healthy Summer. ☀️☀️
Lydia is a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. You can follow her on Instagram @lydialoops xo