Ayurvedic Asana - Working with your Dosha!
As you know, each Dosha has its own distinct qualities that influence our bodies, our minds, and how we feel. Asana can be an incredibly powerful tool in keeping ourselves balanced and feeling great. But on the other side of the same coin, asana can also trigger us to not feel great after yoga too if we're not doing a well rounded enough practice.
For the most part, any well rounded practice will be okay for most doshas. And it's yoga, so it's not like we're smoking cigarettes while we drive without seatbelts, so asana isn't particularly high risk. But there are definitely poses that will do you more favors than others, especially if you're spending more time in your practice working on them!
I know that for me, as a Pitta, when I'm working really hard on a big backbend or inversion, I definitely feel the difference. Same thing when I go to a lot of hot yoga classes. It causes a reaction for me.
Remember also that the doshas change during the year, and each dosha has its own season. Usually, in summer, we could all, regardless of dosha, benefit from a healthy dose of Pitta pacification. Same thing for Vata in the fall and Kapha in the winter/early spring. That's why I structure my studio classes around the season and time of day, rather than worrying about how many of each dosha are in the room.
Here are the things to know about each dosha!
When you're feeling extra Kapha energy, try a stimulating practice! When everything outside gets a little muddy, heavy, dense or snowy, all that heavy energy can settle into our bodies too. I always say in class that in the winter, I am just a snowglobe of energy with more complex emotions. I've got some Kapha in my body, and am pretty sensitive to Kapha imbalances, so just like in a snowglobe, all my energy gets heavy and it can be a chore to get it moving.
In Kapha season, it helps a ton to favor a practice with movement. When you come to your mat, if you like a really long centering, try to cut it down a bit and get moving within the first 3 minutes or so. Your energy is already likely pretty centered and grounded with Kapha. Sun salutations are great for Kapha, and even a warm room can do a lot of good.
Backbends are great for Kaphas because they stimulate and bring energy by opening up the heart and lungs. Backbends also help to break up the congestion Kaphas can accumulate in the chest as well. Chances are your average Kapha isn't the world's biggest fan of backbends, but she's a good sport so if she's practicing in a class, she'll give them their time when they come up.
Inversions are great for Kapha - think of the snowglobe again. When you turn Kaphas upside down, you're going to really get the energy moving and flowing right away. Truly, I am just a snowglobe IRL. Inversions have us literally change our relationship with the earth, which is very helpful to earthy Kapha!
Kapha might have a hard time staying in a particular pose for a while, like a backbend for example, so instead, it might be easier for them to take a few repetitions instead of one long hold.
Kaphas love forward folds, but that's precisely why she's going to limit them a bit during her season! Forward folds bring us inside ourselves, which Kapha has down to a science. Kaphas need the least amount of floor work in practice, so try to spend a bit more time standing.
Kaphas tend to love restorative, hatha and slow flow practices. Again, just once or twice a week, adding in something with a bit more movement can be really helpful. Or even just adding in some gentle backbends and gentle inversions to their already slow flow or hatha practice will help too.
Pitta, the CEO of The Ambition Club, is going to want to keep going hard, no matter what she's feeling. Sure, she might notice the effects of too much Pitta energy, but she won't want that to stop her. Pitta ramps up in the summer and when it gets really hot outside, pretty much everyone will notice a little bit of extra heat in their constitution.
On hot days, or even days when you're feeling a little annoyed or are experiencing inflammation in the body, try to slow down your practice a bit. Still stay challenged, still stay engaged, but maybe you skip the big poses you're reaching for and just do the ones you are already comfortable in really well. I like incorporating longer holds into practice when I'm feeling the Pitta. Balances poses are also nice for Pitta. Both long holds and balance poses still create the challenge Pitta wants, but doesn't build as much heat as a flow flow flow kind of sequence.
Pitta is going to do really well with poses that open up the side body - twists and side bends. The heat accumulates in the torso, so the twists and side bends help to vent the heat out through the ribs. All twists are great, especially seated and supine twists. For side bends, poses like peaceful warrior, side angle, or even seated movement between sides in lateral bends is great too!
Pitta is also going to do well with forward folds, like Vata, as they help bring her back into herself. Forward folds are also calming on the nervous system and cooling. Everything from standing forward fold, to child's pose, to pyramid pose will be helpful when we're feeling extra heat.
Pitta, when left to her own devices, is going to be drawn toward more moving practices, and even hot yoga. Pittas are everywhere in Ashtanga, Power Flow and Bikram classes. However Pittas are attracted to those styles because they share so many elemental qualities - they require skill, they're hot and they're sharp, just like Pitta. Pitta will do really well to incorporate once or twice a week a slow flow or better yet, restorative class. On hot days, Pitta might choose a non-heated vinyasa class too. No seismic shifts required, but just a mindful choice to balance out the other choices we make.
Vata needs grounding! Think of Vata's elements - air and space. They're two very mobile, airborne elements that weigh pretty much nothing. Vata benefits when his yoga sequence favors more big standing poses and spending lots of time on the floor. Twists are also great for Vatas to help them integrate and digest. Forward folds are a great Vata practice because it helps them feel more contained. One of Vata's best pacifying poses is crocodile - one of the most grounding poses we have!
Anytime Vata can really work in the lower chakras, it will help! Even the structured movement of sun salutations can be really nice for Vata to warm the body. Strong standing poses that engage the legs will help Vata ground. Give him some forward folds and seated twists, and he'll be a happy camper at the end of the practice! He might not love it during the practice because it's so opposite of his natural energy, but after he'll be feeling the benefits.
Excess Vata energy makes balance poses difficult. It's not to say they aren't a good idea to still play with, but there needs to be a density and a stability in balance poses to be able to ground down. With balance poses during times of high Vata, start at the basics. It's OK if you don't do a whole lot bird of paradise right now!
Finally, Vata needs a nice long savasana. More time to ground and contain the body is really helpful. But remember to be kind - if you have a lot of Vata energy you're working with, it might be really tough to take a 15 minute long savasana. Try adding a guided relaxation to the beginning of savasana to keep yourself focused.
Vata is also going to want to do lots of moving vinyasa practice. However in the Fall, Vata dominant people might do better by adding a restorative, hatha or slow flow class in once or twice a week.
Working with your dosha
So how do you feel about working with your dosha, rather than against it? Doesn't it make sense when you think about it? We are what we repeatedly choose. In Ayurveda, we say like attracts like, and like increases like. It doesn't require any big upheavals in your entire lifestyle, but it just takes a bit of awareness about why we choose what we do, and how we can make mindful choices sprinkled in to help balance the rest.