Yoga asana is the main yogic tool for balancing the physical body and creating a flow of energy that enables us to direct our attention within. This flow of energy can also be focused on the body itself to treat illness or injury. Ayurveda uses the doshas to explain the different types of energy we experience and how asana can be used to help keep these energies in balance.
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Vata is a motivating energy that is like the air in motion giving us speed and agility. In balance, vata promotes creativity and flexiblity. Excessive vata can make us anxious, fearful, and tired but restless. It often causes dry skin and digestive disorders. Regularity and structured routine are useful to re-balance vata.
Pitta is the energy that causes things to develop and mature. It is the energy of transformation. In balance, pitta promotes intelligence and understanding. Excessive pitta can lead us to anger, intolerance, competitiveness and judgment and can result in disturbed sleep, heartburn and food sensitivities. Chanting and exercising in cooler temps are often prescribed to correct a pitta imbalance.
Kapha is the energy of cohesion, it keeps things together and helps us unite with others. In balance, kapha expresses love and calmness. Excessive kapha leads to inertia, lethargy and sometimes depression. The body may experience water retention, bloating and sinus congestion. Warming, stimulating activity is the best way to rebalance an over-abundance of kapha.
Everyone has varying degrees of each of the three doshas which make up your basic nature (prakriti). The balance of the doshas, (vikruti) will fluctuate throughout your life, and can become balanced or imbalanced by factors related to your lifestyle, diet, health and illness, or environment. Asana is useful for all three doshic constitutions. It can be used to keep yourself in balance or correct an imbalance that may arise as a result of stress, illness, lifestyle or major life event. Any routine activity in your life can either balance your dosha or cause imbalances, and your yoga practice is no exception. In fact, too much of just one type of asana practice can create an imbalance quite easily.
Here are a few tips to guide your asana practice depending on your dominant dosha:
While certain asanas are suggested for each doshic type, it is more important to consider the manner and attitude with which you perform the asana. The same asanas can be adjusted for the different doshic types.
For times when you might be feeling a little hypervigilant or reactive, the goal is to balance vata:
- Asana should be slow and steady with a focus on releasing tension in the hips, lumbar spine and sacroiliac joints.
- Sitting poses and forward bends are helpful, grounding poses for balancing vata. Other beneficial poses include: Virabhdrasana II (Warrior II) and Uttanasana (Forward Fold), Paschimottanasa (Seated Forward Fold), Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee pose) Padmasana (Lotus pose).
- Gentle twists performed with a focus on the breath are also excellent for releasing vata build-ups in the nervous system.
- Key words for practice: calm, slow, steady, grounding, strengthening, consistent.
When you are feeling aggressive, reckless or overly ambitious, diffuse some energy to reduce pitta:
- Perform asana in a way that is cooling, nurturing, expansive and relaxing and avoids turning your practice into a strong workout. Help balance your practice with meditation.
- Poses that release tension from the mid-abdomen are most useful for balancing pitta. For example: For example: Trikonasana (Triangle pose) Bhujangasana (Cobra pose), Dhanurasana (Bow pose), Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutations), gentle backbends and other chest-opening, hip-flexor lengthening poses.
- Explore other cooling practices such as sheetali pranayama.
For those times when you are procrastinating, delaying goals or feeling possessive or lethargic, asana practiced with quickness, heat and effort will reduce kapha:
- Correcting an excess of kapha requires strong practice that heats the body considerably (sweating is good). Standing postures combined with movement and stretching or repeated sun salutations are great for kapha-types.
- Poses useful for balancing kapha include: Ustrasana (Camel pose), Setu Bandhasana (Bridge pose – to free up the chest and help prevent congestion), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog), repetitions of Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutations) A and B.
We can also add different forms of pranayama to make asana more heating or cooling, to focus on either building and strengthening or reducing and releasing.
The balance of the three doshas in your life will fluctuate, but learning to use your yoga practice to balance doshic energies will help to create the right flow of energy for your own unique set of needs for health and vitality. How are you feeling right now? Do you notice when you are feeling ouy of balance?