Asana with an Ayurvedic approach.

Asana is one of the foundations of effective Yoga practice. The safest and most effective way of practising Asana is to consider your Ayurvedic Constitution first. Read on to find out what Ayurveda has to say about your Asana practice.

We are all made up of the five Elements of nature: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. These elements translate into functional forces in the body known as Doshas.

 Vata Dosha is made up of Air and Space, Pitta Dosha is made up of Fire and Water and Kapha dosha is Earth and Water.

Vata controls all transporation and communication in the body and is seated in the colon, bones and lower body

Pitta controls all chemical reactions and transformations in the body especially digestion. It is seated in the small intestines, liver and blood

Kapha controls lubrication and growth. It is seated in the Stomach, chest and upper body.

Vata people tend to be dry, thin and very high in nervous energy.

Pitta people tend to be medium built and very passionate

Kapha people are heavier built and more mellow in nature.

 Often our true constitution or Prakruti is hidden by a stronger pathology. For example, you might be more of a firey Pitta type but due to diet and lifestyle habits, you are experiencing weight gain and lethargy. In Ayurvedic terms, this means you are Kapha aggravated. People often confuse this. They think that when they see a fat person, that person is a Kapha type. They are not. The same applies to all the other Doshas. Most people are actually quite separated from their true nature due to Dosha imbalances so end up feeling very disconnected from life in general.

 

So when you are using Ayurvedic ideas to get well, where do you start? It is important to start with where you are. In this example, even if you are Pitta type of person deep down, you need to start off by tackling the Dosha that is out of balance first. When your imbalances subside (i.e. losing weight in this case) then your true nature starts to emerges and you begin to feel whole again.

The primary aims of practising Asana are:
1. Harmonising the integrity of the whole body through intelligent balanced stretching, strengthening and movement
2. Maintaining the integrity and functionality of the nervous system and the main structures related to it: The brain and spinal cord.
3. Correct postural imbalances

For the purpose of:

4. Ensuring that Prana or the intelligent life force is able to move freely in order to manage all bodily functions. Prana is the subtle form of VATA dosha. In this sense, Vata is a primary focus of Asana practice.
5. When Prana is able to flow properly, then all other bodily functions can perform optimally and cellular intelligence is maintained. The body is able
6. Enhance the sense of psychological space so that we are able to become more conscious of our behaviour, become more skilled in our choices and decisions and experience more fulfillment. This can eventually lead to a higher state of consciousness if so desired.

Effects of Asana on the three doshas

VATA is like the wind. It is impulsive and erratic. For this reason, it must be gently restrained and supported, grounded and stabilized. The approach should be consistent, mindful and repetitive in order to create a feeling of harmony and balance.

Pitta is like Fire. It is sharp, focused and penetrating and at it’s worst, it can cut and harm. It must be gently relaxed and dissipated. The approach should be cooling, calming and surrendering in order to experience clarity of thought and inner light.

Kapha is like the earth. It is solid, resistant and inert. It must be moved and stimulated by degrees. The approach should be energizing, warming and motivating in order to experience lightness of being.

There are no Asanas that are strictly related to one Dosha or another per se. Some posture groups will more readily stimulate or sedate the body but any posture can be used to bring overall balance to the body with the right approach.
Each Dosha controls a variety of different qualities or Gunas and we are all influenced by different qualities and that’s what makes us different even though we may have doshic similarities

Vata Yoga experience

Vata people are usually extremely stiff if the quality of dryness is acute or extremely flexible if the quality of movement is high. A stiff Vata type is the most common and there is often deficiency in the bodily tissues. Vata people are light framed with very little padding so are more vulnerable, easily dry out and feel the cold. For this reason, Vata people or Vata aggravated types are vulnerable to injury and should be very mindful in practice.
Very stiff, dry Vata types are often very cerebral and need to move more. The movement should be gentle and warming.
Active Vata types often take to Asana like a duck to water but get addicted to dynamic forms and end up wearing themselves out.

Pitta Yoga experience

Pitta people tend to get overheated easily which leads to irritability and impatience. This leads to either giving up practice or fixating on a particular approach in the vain hope that it will eventually do them good. A pitta type can become obsessed with technique and overdo everything. They can get very fanatical. Pitta types will find it most difficult to embrace an approach they don’t understand and believe they know better. With right attitude, a Pitta type will be able to reduce physical and emotional heat which can lead to the experience of true clarity, diffusion of judgement and inner harmony.

Kapha Yoga experience

Kapha types tend to struggle with keeping a healthy weight. This either leads to getting obsessed with losing it or giving up completely and never embarking on challenging physical work. Long term inactivity means they have to be careful when starting Asana practice. They will feel heaviness in body and mind initially and probably not enjoy the dynamic aspect of Yoga classes till they get lighter and fitter. Shorter of breath will be common and proper breathing techniques should be a focus for practice. Asana should be gradual and increase in dynamism when there are signs that blockages have been overcome and Prana is flowing more freely.

Keys to Practising Asana for your Dominant Dosha

VATA
General Keep your energy steady, even and consistent. Adapt practice to sustain your enthusiasum and stay grounded.
Body Keep the body calm, centred and relaxed. Practice slowly and gently without undue or sudden force.
Breath Deep, smooth, soothing, even
Mind Calm, concentrated, present

PITTA
General Keep your energy moderate, open and receptive and surrender to the moment.
Body Keep the body cool. Avoid strong holds and gripping. Don’t force the body into extreme shapes.
Breath Keep the breath cool, relaxed and diffuse. Use the long exhalation and mouth breathing to keep the body cool. Diaphragmatic (Abdominal) breath during relaxation is emphasized.
Mind Keep the mind receptive, detached and accepting. Avoid criticism and judgement.

KAPHA
General Gradually build up the practice with ample warm up and preparation. Once there is energy and mobility, the practice can be strong and demanding.
Body Body should be kept warm, light and moving for most of the practice. Dynamic sequences are best.
Breath The thoracic breath should be emphasized during practice. Later on, Agni kindling practices like Bhastrika and Kapalabhati can be introduced.
Mind Keep the mind wakeful, focused and disciplined.

Signs of successful and unsuccessful practice

Overall, you should experience the following benefits after regular practice:

1. Light, supple and strong body with a good range of movement.
2. Full range of breathing that can adapt to situations appropriately. Deep when calm, thoracic when active and focused when necessary.
3. Steady energy levels

VATA

• Removal of stiffness from the spine and joints
• Stable and steady body without tremours.
• A sense of calm and feeling grounded

PITTA
• Feeling cool, calm and accepting, patient and tolerant
• Less body heat and inflammation

KAPHA
• Less congestion
• Healthier body weight
• Less mucus, swelling and water retention
• Greater engagement with life
• Greater confidence

Signs of Improper practice

After practice or cumulatively, you will have more:
• Pain
• Tension
• Injury
• Agitation
• Energy swings

VATA

• Pain
• Stiffness
• Anxiety
• Insomnia
• Constipation

PITTA
• Tension
• Irritability
• Anger
• Judgement and criticism
• Fever and inflammation
• Skin eruptions

KAPHA
• Lethargy
• Drowsiness
• Dullness
• Congestion
• Low energy levels
• Heaviness
• Painful joints (excessive effort too soon)

Asana can be a very powerful and effective tool for balancing the three Doshas. Yoga teachers should be familiar with their own nature and how it influences their teaching style. Yoga students should be aware of how different styles of Yoga are affecting them. A good teacher of any tradition can bring balance to the doshas but YOU are the best judge of your own experience. Use this article to help you make sound judgements on your experience and adapt your practice accordingly.

For more information on Yoga with an Ayurvedic approach, please visit my website www.yogawell.co.uk. I run workshops in Yoga and Ayurveda in central Brighton and am planning a BWY Teacher training course with an Ayurvedic emphasis in Sept 2018.

Tarik Dervish