We have touched upon the subject of Ayurveda in our recent blogs, but haven't yet talked about how the wisdom of Ayurveda can benefit your yoga practice. Ayurveda and yoga go hand in hand, so by tailoring your yoga practice to be complimentary towards your Ayurvedic dosha, you can help harmonise the body, mind and soul.
If you are new to yoga or simply curious about which yoga practice is best for you, then read on.
1) Ayurveda Introduction
So what exactly is Ayurveda? Ayurveda is an ancient healing system that comes from the same root as Yoga; Yoga and Ayurveda work hand in hand to give a therapeutic approach to yoga, helping to alleviate ailments in the body, mind, energy and psychic spheres and keeping the body in harmony.
Ayurveda recognises that each person is “unique” and that a mix of three energies called “doshas” which are called Vata, Pitta and Kapha influences us all.
The three doshas govern the individual (body-mind-energy system), and usually one or two of the three doshas (and rarely all three) is predominant in a person, giving each person individual characteristics.
2) The Ayurvedic Doshas
There are three main body-mind types, and these are as follows:
Kapha type (earth element- stability)
Physical - Kapha predominant people usually have a slow metabolism, which means they have a tendency to put weight on. They may not feel very hungry much of the time and can skip meals without noticing often. Their physical structure is usually large and well developed. They are often either very short of very taller compared to the average in their countries.
Diseases - Kapha types can suffer from chronic conditions like nose or lung congestion, they may get colds or bronchitis often. However, usually, they have a good, strong immune system for other ailments.
Emotions - On the plus side, kapha people are very caring and loyal and are often one of the best doshas to have a relationship with. However, on the downside, they can get very attached to their things or people and can find it difficult to let relationships go when they’ve ended for example.
General - They are usually very slow to start new things, but once they have started, they are steady until the end and are finishers as they complete big projects. They tend not to get involved in much physical exercise and can be prone to laziness.
Pitta Type (fire element- transformation)
Physical - Pitta people are usually medium sized, they have a strong and fast metabolism meaning they and can easily gain as well as lose weight. As they tend to have a strong digestive fire, if they skip meals they can become easily irritated and angry.
Diseases - Common ailments include stomach acidity, skin irritation, such as rashes, boils, spots, etc., fever, and infection.
Emotions - Emotionally and mentally pitta types on the negative side are prone to anger, jealousy and criticism, on the positive, they are courageous, brave and very intelligent.
General - As pitta people are very competitive with others and themselves, usually pitta predominant people in a yoga class tend to show off their ability whilst doing yoga poses and have a tendency to push themselves, which sometimes can lead to injuries. Have you ever seen someone very fit & strong in a yoga class, looking at themselves in a mirror and posing in king pigeon or similar? They may well be a pitta type, always concerned about the perfect position and achieving the harder, more challenging poses. No pain no gain is often their mantra.
Vata type (air element- movement)
Physical - Vata predominant people are usually slim and tall (they can also be very short). They rarely put weight on and are always active physically and mentally.
Diseases - Emotionally and mentally they can be prone to anxiety, insomnia and stress. Physically they can suffer from digestive problems such as bloating, constipation, or suffer from chronic pain and arthritis. Have you ever looked on in envy at those friends who seem to be able to eat anything and never put weight on? Well, they may well be a vata body type.
Emotional - On the positive side vata types are highly creative, they may be musicians, artists or writers for example. The air and space element makes them very changeable and adaptable. On the negative, this air and space quality can make them dreamers, or be prone to fear and anxiety.
General - Since vata people are very restless, they are always involved in strong physical activity and are never able to sit down and relax.
In an individual usually one Dosha is strongly predominant, sometimes two and very rarely all three are equal.
There is no good or bad dosha combination. The idea in Ayurveda is to know which is your doshic constitution and to make sure that combination is kept in a state of balance, thus making sure that the doshas don’t go out of harmony. Usually, it is your predominant dosha that is the first to go out of balance, so this is the one you need to be aware of the most.
Here is a link to a quiz to help you understand your dosha, once you have taken this quiz you will have a better understanding of what your predominant doshas are and how best to modify your yoga practice.
So if you can see yourself fit into one of the above descriptions here are a few tips on choosing the right yoga practice that is helpful in keeping your body-mind system in harmony.
3) Yoga to maximise health benefits
Practice for Kapha
Kapha people are the only dosha that really benefit from and need a strong asana practice, an invigorating vinyasa practice like Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) is very good to increase the energy of kapha people.
They need to activate themselves, increase their energy and move because of their tendency to become sluggish.
They benefit from energising pranayamas like bhastrika and kaphalabhati.
Meditation is also good for them because of their tendency to become depressed.
Practice for Pitta
Pitta people need to cool down and need to be aware of not increasing their body temperature too much. They can do a strong practice, but they need time to cool down and relax afterwards if they do.
Doing a hot yoga practice isn’t good for pitta people at all, especially in a city where the energy can be quite pitta too.
Pitta people benefit from cooling pranayama like shitkari and shitali.
More than anything else, they need to be mindful during their practice and be aware of their attitude.
Usually, Pitta people are very competitive in a class, they want to show off how good they are and in doing so can hurt themselves. So a more gentle and surrendering practice is highly beneficial for them. This includes a lot of grounding postures or surrendering postures like child’s pose.
Practice for Vata
Vata predominant people need to slow down, their mind is very active, and this can cause them a lot of problems.
They really benefit from the asana practice (yoga positions) because of their tendencies to become stiff, but ideally, the asanas should be done very slowly with strong awareness of the breath linked with movement.
Fast and strenuous practice aggravates Vata dosha and is not good for them.
They benefit from calming pranayama (breathing exercise), like alternate nostril breathing.
More than anything else, they benefit from the meditation and relaxation techniques.
Yoga Nidra is a very good practice for them.
They usually avoid relaxation and meditation, but ideally, they would benefit from this practices more than anyone else.
Now that you know what your Ayurvedic dosha is, you can modify your yoga practice to gain the maximum benefits to the mind, body and energy system of your body.
Many people will read this and may dismiss it as most of us like what we like, and that’s it.
That’s fine, so long as you keep your awareness on how you feel on all three, mind, body, energy levels before and after you do a practice. For example, if you’re a pitta type check in after your hot yoga class to see if you become more irritable, or short tempered as a result.
Just be aware and ensure you are doing something complimentary to your own unique body type.
Finally, the ideal yoga practice should be chosen not just considering the ayurvedic constitution, but also according to the season.
In our next blog, we will delve a little further into this and explain how you can adjust your practice and daily routine during the summer months for maximum benefit.