Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing rooted in the ancient Vedic culture of India. Literally meaning “the science of life” (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge), Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga. Traditionally, yoga and Ayurveda were practiced hand in hand and understanding that Ayurveda is part of a complete yoga practice is integral to a comprehensive class experience. Together yoga and Ayurveda work toward helping a person achieve health, happiness and longevity. According to both practices, such health is achieved by harmonizing our unique body, mind and spirit composition with the changing cycles of nature. In understanding your dosha (mind-body type) and how it's reflected in your daily routines and yoga practice, you can better select practices that best serve your unique nature for a lifetime of health and healing on an off the mat.
*To determine your dosha, complete this quiz.
Vata in Motion
Vatas tend to be creative and high-energy, in constant motion, but easily distracted. According to Ayurvedic teaching, in this dosha the air and space elements dominate. These individuals tend to choose active, movement-oriented classes. They are less likely to select classes in which the flow is broken up to discuss philosophy or explain the subtleties of anatomical alignment. Due to their restless minds, some vatas may have a hard time with slower, more meditative practices.
Approach to Asana
- Move carefully with intention at a slow, steady pace.
- Seek grounding and stability in each pose.
- Avoid overexertion than can lead to fatigue & depletion.
- Deepen & expand the length of breath through the nostrils to calm nervous system.
- Focus: Standing poses, forward bends, back-strengthening asanas, long savasana.
- Goal: Release tension from the hips and the lumbar spine where vata accumulates.
The Passion of the Pitta
Pittas are typically passionate and highly motivated, but out of balance, they are prone to anger and aggressiveness. Think of “Type A” personalities and the qualities of the fire element. These individuals are often drawn to challenging practices such as vigorous vinyasa classes or detail-oriented styles like Iyengar, and they can get competitive about their yoga practice. Even though relaxation is most beneficial for pittas, it is often ignored for a more achievement-oriented practice. One of the challenges for pittas during a yoga practice is to back off, exert less effort in the poses and build relaxation into the practice.
Approach to Asana
- Move in a way that is relaxing and soothing.
- Try to not force the practice but find a steady rhythm.
- In times of intensity, alternate breathing between nose and mouth to keep from overheating.
- End with hands resting on the belly.
- Focus: Twists at the solar plexus, hip openers; avoid headstands that can overheat the mind.
- Goal: Release tension from the mid abdomen where pitta accumulates.
The Stable Kapha
In Ayurvedic thinking, kapha is associated with the earth and water elements. Kaphas tend to be strong, with tremendous endurance and are stable individuals. These groundedness, when out of balance, can tend toward laziness. Thus, kaphas are more likely than people of other constitutions to be sedentary and are likely to choose gentle yoga styles and restorative classes. While everyone can benefit from relaxing yoga, to get the full benefits of the practice, kaphas usually need to be encouraged to work harder and do more. Inertia is the operative principle of this dosha.
Approach to Asana
- Work to heat the body and create a good sweat.
- Hold postures for just a few breaths with shorter rests.
- Breathe in and out through the nostrils to create heat.
- Focus: Chest opening, backbends, invigorating standing poses.
- Goal: Open the chest and lungs where kapha accumulates.
In reality, the Ayurvedic understanding of constitutions is much subtler than what I’ve described above. Each person has elements of all three doshas, so reducing a practice to single type will always be an oversimplification. Furthermore, constitutions (prakrutis) like vata-pitta, in which two doshas are balanced fairly evenly, are common; and a few people are even tridoshic, meaning they’ve got a more or less even balance of all three. People may also manifest temporary imbalances (vikruti) that do not reflect their underlying prakruti. For example, people of any constitution who undergo the movement, disruption, and stimulation of travel may find their vata out of balance. Therefore, even a thoughtful consideration of your dosha cannot take the place of an evaluation by a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner. You may establish a good indication of the primary doshas in your constitution, but an evaluation allows for deeper understanding and application.