Yoga For Your Dosha
Ayurveda is a closely related science to yoga and often goes hand in hand. While Ayurveda is highly complex, here’s a very simplified explanation. Each person has a unique balance in their mind and body, or bodily constitution. All bodies are made up of Vata, Pitta and Kapha to some degree. What is different between each person is how much of each Dosha your constitution is made up of to be in balance. To maintain balance you must be able to understand how the doshas are present in your body and work to remove obstacles that cause imbalance. The first step to understanding how the 3 doshas interact within your own body is to take a Dosha test. This will allow you to understand when a dosha is out of balance and give you the ability to take steps to correct it.
Seattle is home to a yoga studio that is committed to the practice of using Ayurveda to help students heal their bodies and find balance. Please visit Eka Yoga Seattle for upcoming workshops and classes that are all based around your Dosha.
Now that you know what your dosha is, you can use the following short sequences in your home practice to help find balance.
The Vata dosha consists of the elements of air and space and is know as the mover of the doshas. Vata literally translates to “what blows”. The qualities of vata are: light, cold, rough, dry, moving, irregular, subtle, quick, imaginative, spontaneous, resilient, excited, sensitive, happy, and talkative. Those experiencing a vata imbalance are psychologically prone to: distractions, fear alienation, anxiety, delusions, worry, and hallucinations. Physically they are prone to: bloating and aches and pain in the hips, back, and joints. A balanced Vata feels: Happy, enthusiastic, flexible, creative, loving, motivated, and open
Sukhasana (Seated Pose)
Sit comfortably cross legged. If you’re finding that your spine isn’t finding enough length in the posture, sit on a rolled blanket, bolster or block. If you’re finding that your hip flexors are tight, place blocks underneath your knees for support.
Often those experiencing Vata imbalances may feel unfocused in the mind and fidgety in the body. Sukhasana is great for pacifying these imbalances because it encourages grounding.
Baddha konasana (Butterfly Pose)
Sitting, slide your heels in toward your pelvis and draw the soles of your feet to touch so that your knees splay open and your legs make a diamond shaped. If you’re finding that your spine isn’t finding enough length in the posture, sit on a rolled blanket, bolster or block. If you’re finding that your hip flexors are tight, place blocks underneath your knees for support. If just arriving to the posture is your edge, stay as you are. If you feel comfortable, wrap your hands around the edges of your feet and fold from the creases of your hips, drawing your nose to your toes. Placing a block underneath your head is a great way to make the posture restorative.
A common Vata imbalance is pain in the back and hips, Baddha Konasana is a great way to make bring length and space into both the back and inner hip flexors.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Twist)
Sitting with your legs stretched out straight in front of you, keeping the feet together and the spine erect. Bend the left leg and place the heel of the left foot beside the right hip (optionally, you can keep the left leg straight). Take the right leg over the left knee. Place the left hand on the right knee and the right hand behind you. Twist the waist, shoulders and neck in this sequence to the right and look over the right shoulder. Keep the spine erect. To add additional length into the spine, sit on a rolled blanket, bolster or block.
When there is too much Vata in the body it means their is an abundance of air and space. If it’s not moving, a common place for it to pool is in the belly. This creates bloating or issues with digestion. When this happens Ardha Matsyendrasana or any twist is a wonderful way to release that excess air.
Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Standing, shift your weight into one leg and begin to lift the opposite foot off of the floor. You can bring the sole of that foot to either the space right above the ankle, below the knee, or above the knee (never on the knee joint). To open through the hips, draw the lifted leg’s knee away from the midline of your body. Stand tall to ensure you aren’t sinking into the grounded leg’s hip joint. You can bring your hands into prayer at your heart center or extend them above your head. If you choose to extend your arms, keep your shoulders soft, allowing them to drop away from your ears. Repeat on the opposite side.
Vrksasana is a balancing pose and balancing postures are great for pacifying Vata because they force both the body and mind to find stillness and focus.
Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon)
Standing, take a large step back with your left foot so that you find yourself in a low lunge with your hands framing your right foot. Draw your left hand to your hip and shift all of your weight into your right leg, allowing your left leg to lift slightly. Engaging your core, allow your right hand to move in front of your right foot, peeling the left side of your body open – left shoulder and hip draw back and your toes should flex towards your nose. Press away from the floor with your rooted foot to ensure you aren’t sinking into the the right hip joint. If the floor isn’t accessible for you to place your right hand hand on, bring a block underneath it. Your left hand can stay on your hip or you can extend that arm up toward the ceiling, allowing your left shoulder to stack over your right. Repeat on the opposite side.
Ardha Chandrasana is both a balancing posture and a hip opener. Balancing forces both the body and mind to find stillness and focus and the hip opener has the ability to help release any excess air that’s being held in the hip joints.
The Pitta Dosha consists of the elements of fire and water and is known as the metabolizer of the doshas. Pitta literally translates to ‘what cooks”. The qualities of Pitta are: hot, sharp, light, moist, slightly oily, intellectual, confident, impatient, joyous, jealous, outspoken, combative, ambitious, and brave. Those experiencing a Pitta imbalance are psychologically prone to being antisocial and overly critical, self-centered, aggressive, impatient, competitive, and easily agitated. Physically they are prone to: rashes, inflammation, boils, skin cancer, heartburn, ulcers, anemia, jaundice, and hair loss. A balanced Pitta feels: Passionate, inspired, creative, focused, perceptive, confident, intelligent
Padmasana (Half Lotus)
Bring yourself to a comfortable cross legged seat. If your hips are willing and able, you can draw one foot to the crease of the opposite hip for half lotus. From your seated posture, begin to fold over your legs onto a prop(bolster or block), keeping your hips grounded and your shoulders away from your ears. Finding a position that you can comfortably hold for 2-5 minutes. If you took half lotus, be sure to repeat with the opposite foot drawn to the crease of the opposite hip.
Because Pitta is associated with the element of fire, Pitta pacifying postures should be cooling and nurturing. Whenever we take a folded posture, such as the the one above, it’s like we’re smothering any flames that may have gotten to big in the pelvic region.
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold)
Start in a comfortable seat with your legs stretched out in front of you. To add some additional length to the spine, sit on a folded blanket, bolster, or block. Place a bolster, block or both on top of your legs and carefully fold forward drawing your forehead to your prop(s).
The Pitta dosha is all about doing and doing it the best and the fastest. We need that Pitta energy to stay productive in life, but it becomes a problem when don’t know how to put out the flame and go to bed. In this posture, drawing your forehead or your third eye to your prop stimulates the pineal gland. The pineal gland produces the hormone Melatonin, which helps regulate sleep.
Supta Jaṭhara Parivartānāsana (Supine Twist)
Laying on your back, draw both of your knees into your chest and reach your arms out to a “T” shape. Carefully, allow your stacked knees to fall to one direction. If drawing your legs all the way down to the floor is not accessible, bring a prop (blanket, bolster, block) underneath them. If your neck feels healthy, gently turn your head to bring your gaze over the opposite shoulder. Hold for 2-5 minutes. Repeat on opposite side.
Postures that aim at the small intestine, and keep the energy in the navel balanced and flowing, such as this one, balance or neutralize Pitta.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall)
Seated, draw the edge of one hip to a wall and then carefully rotate so the front of your body faces the wall and your legs are able to slide up it. As your legs move up, allow your upper body to lie down onto your mat, reaching the arms away from the body or drawing one hand to your heart and one hand to your belly. Props (blankets, bolsters, blocks) can be added underneath the hips, heart, or head for added support and comfort.
When we allow our bodies the opportunity to submit or relax, we are practicing the opposite of activity, which is receptivity – Exactly what that Pitta fire needs to soothe it.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Butterfly Pose)
Lying down, draw the soles of your feet to touch and your knees to open toward the edges of your mat. Your hands and arms can either roll away from the center of your body or you can draw one hand to your heart and one hand to your belly. If the hip flexors are tight, allow a block to come underneath each knee for support. If the spine needs additional support, allow a bolster to come directly underneath your spine. The bolster should start at the base of your spine. If your head is not supported by the bolster, place a block underneath your head.
Supta Baddha Konasana is particularly beneficial for the pelvic organs (ovaries, kidneys, bladder, prostate gland) in addition to stretching the groin and inner thighs. It also helps relieve symptoms of menstruation and menopause for women. During these times in women’s lives, Pitta tends to run high. During menstruation, the body is working incredibly hard to purify and a shift in hormones can cause feelings of anger and irritability or increased Pitta. During menopause, the decrease in estrogen causes our bodies to detect an increase in body temperature, causing hot flashes, causing an increase in Pitta.
The Kapha Dosha is the elements of earth and water and is known as the glue of the doshas. The dominant location of Kapha in our body is the upper chest and respiratory system. Kapha literally translates to “what sticks”. The qualities of Kapha are: heavy, cold, oily, sweet, steady, slow, soft, sticky, dull, smooth, calm, enduring, sympathetic, relaxed, nurturing, stable, courageous, forgiving, and loving. Those experiencing a Kapha imbalance are psychologically prone to: procrastination, lethargy, excessive sleep, and problems letting go. Physically they are prone to: poor circulation, mucus, heart disease, arthritis, swollen glands, bone spurs, and weight gain (usually in the stomach and thighs). A balanced Kapha feels: Nurturing, loyal, compassionate, grounded, patient, content.
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
Entering into triangle pose, begin in warrior two, then straighten through your front leg and begin to reach forward through your arms as far forward as accessible. With your arms in one straight line, begin to fold into your front side. Avoid locking out your front, standing leg by gently softening your knee. Try to find length through both side bodies by rotating your chest to open to the side wall. Maintain length through your spine by drawing your hips to stack, tailbone to tuck under and lengthen through your neck.
Stimulating the side waist is a good way to prevent mandagni and increase digestion. The side-to-side motion also offers spaciousness to the lungs, where excess mucus can build due to excess kapha. Allowing your bottom hand to remain lifted, brings you more into your core, where you will build heat and begin to move some of the stagnation of kapha.
Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)
From warrior two, begin by straightening your front leg. Internally rotate your back thigh to bring your hips closer to squaring to the front of the room. Squaring through the hips and the shoulders, begin to lower your chest parallel to the earth. With a flat back and square hips you can begin to revolve through your thoracic spine, rolling your shoulder blades back to open your chest and allow your bottom hand to rest on the earth or a block.
Standing twists are one of the quickest ways to build heat in the body. Building heat is beneficial for initiating the movement and breakup of kapha in the body. This pose should be done mindfully and not held for too long. The compression in the abdomen is effective at simulating agni (digestive fire) while the opening through the chest allows kapha to find space for movement.
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Full Wheel Pose)
To enter into full wheel pose, begin by laying on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the ground, hip distance apart. Bring your hands up by your ears, fingers facing back towards your toes. Begin to lift up by pressing your feet down, shins forward, hips up and chest back. If you have tight shoulders, blocks may be helpful under your hands.
Backbends stimulate circulation and the movement of energy in the chest and head. This movement creates a more balanced energy and a clearer, more active mind. Compression of the spine increases heat and opens the chest and lungs where Kapha is dominant. Weight bearing, dynamic backbends are heating (kindling agni) which creates movement, reducing kapha.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
From tadasana, standing pose, inhale to reach your hands up and with a flat back, draw your navel in towards your spine and fold your chest towards your thighs. Rocking your weight forward to shift your hips above your ankles, continue to lift your sitting bones towards the ceiling, draw your inner thighs behind you and release your neck to draw the crown of your head down towards the earth.
In a more active standing forward fold, the effort involved in bringing the head closer to the ground can have a heating effect to the body due to added pressure. Lifting the hips over the head can offer a sensation of lightness which may be appealing to a typically heavier set kapha type. Forward folds in general, reduce fatigue, improve digestion and this standing forward fold will increase circulation into the legs, torso and head.
Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
Begin by laying on your back with your feet stacked above your hips, finding yourself in legs up the wall pose (viparita karani). With your arms by your side, you can begin to press them into the earth to lift your hips into the air. Rolling your shoulder blades under your back, place your hands near your sacrum, elbows down, fingers up. From here try to stack your feet in line with your hips and your hips in line with your shoulders, sending all energy in an upward direction. For more access, begin by folding a blanket two or three times and lying it beneath your back, in line with your shoulders, before entering into the pose.
Inversions bring a sense of lightness in the chest and upper respiratory system, the seat of Kapha. They also bring stimulation to the central nervous system from the flow of prana to the brain. When you reverse the blood flow in the body, accumulated fluid in the ankles and legs (which can be caused by too much kapha) begin to disperse. Kapha dominant individuals also benefit from the new perspective the inversions offer on the world, getting them out of their same old routines.