Ayurvedic medicine, also known as Ayurveda -- is one of the world's oldest holistic (whole-body) healing systems. It was developed thousands of years ago in India. According to Ayerveda, each person is made of a combination of five basic elements found in the universe:
- Space (Ether: the subtle energy that connects all things)
These elements combine in the human body to form three life forces or energies, called doshas. They control how your body works. The three doshas are:
- Vata dosha (space and air)
- Pitta dosha (fire and water)
- Kapha dosha (water and earth)
Each person will generally have a dominant dosha. We can also be bi-doshic or tri-doshic. The three doshas fluctuate constantly within us according to our environment, which includes our diet, the seasons, the climate, our age, and many more factors. As they move out of balance, they affect particular areas of our bodies in characteristic ways. The current state of these three doshas most commonly defines our imbalance, or vikruti.
When working with the doshas, remember that: Like increases like, and opposites balance each other. In other words, foods, weather, and situations that have similar characteristics as the doshas will increase them; those that have opposite characteristics will decrease them. Knowing this, you can adjust your yoga style, postures, and pranayama (breathwork) techniques as well as diet, and other environmental factors to affect these forces in ways that create greater balance and harmony.
Signs of Imbalance in the Doshas
There are many signs and symptoms associated with doshas being out of balance:
- Vata dryness, coldness, constipation, insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, fear
- Pitta inflammation, acid indigestioin, heartburn, skin problems, loose stools; anger, agitation, short temper
- Kapha weight gain, mucus build-up, lethargy, depression, lack of motivation.
Once you have successfully recognized the culprit, you can begin the appropriate "pacifying" routine:
- Vata warmth, moisture, daily oil massage, vata-balancing diet, establishing supportive routines, calming/quiet environment
- Pitta cool down, pitta-balancing diet, calming routines, daily introspection, cooling herbs and spices
- Kapha stimulation, exercise, vary routine, avoid napping, kapha-balancing diet, wake at sunrise
There are numerous on-line questionnaires to help determine what your dosha is. Here are a few links to on-line sources:
Once you've determined your dosha, then you can tailer your practice to support and balance your dosha.
Yoga Practice for Your Dosha
Vata's: The asanas which are most suitable for balancing vata are those that are calming and grounding by nature, quite, slow and steady. They will counter the tendency for those with a vata imbalance to be “spacey,” agitated, or nervous. In general, most yoga asanas are good for balancing vata, since most asanas are calming to the mind. There are, however, some that are particularly good and some that should probably be avoided such as overly stimulating practices like repetitive Sun Salutations, and those that place excessive pressure on sensitive joints in the body. Backbends such as shoulder stand, plow and wheel should be avoided or if done not held for long. Vata's benefit from a longer than normal savasana. Alternate nostril breathing is good for vata's.
Pitta's: The best asanas for pitta are those that are slow, calming, promote coolness and ease, non-competitive and not overly heating. People of pitta nature or imbalance tend to be more assertive and intense. Calming poses help sedate their intensity and ease the emotions of anger and resentment. Asanas that help balance pitta are those that place pressure on the naval and solar plexus region, in the small intestine where pitta resides. All forms of standing forward bends and inversions reduce pitta. Sitting poses such as cobbler, hero pose, sitting forward bends such as head-to-toe, half- and full-lotus forward bend, and tortoise are also recommended. Work the abdominal area with twists such as maricyasana. Other pitta-reducers include cobra, half-bow, and boat. Experiment with moon salutation; while sun salutation heats, this vinyasa has a cooling effect. Warrior, chair pose, headstands, armstands, and lion increase pitta; if you enjoy these poses, hold them briefly. Avoid revolved poses that just build more heat. Alternate nostril breathing and sitali breath are good for pitta's.
Kapha's: To balance the heavy, slow, cold, and sedated nature of kapha, practice asanas that are more stimulating and heating, and chest-opening. The stomach and chest are the areas where kapha accumulates. In the chest, kapha takes on the form of mucous.
For those of kapha nature and imbalance, the calming and sedating effect of most asanas needs to be balanced by other asanas that are more stimulating and heating. People of kapha nature are the best suited to handle strengthening poses, as their joints and muscles tend to be strong and stable. Increasing flexibility is extremely important for those of kapha nature, as kaphas tend to become overly stiff or rigid. Few asanas are harmful to kapha, as kaphas benefit from all forms of stretching and movement. Two weak areas of the body for kapha individuals, however, are the lungs and the kidneys. Asanas that place excessive pressure on the lower abdomen, such as Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), can aggravate the kidneys if held for too long.
There is much more information on the internet and in books if anyone is so inclined to more research. See you in class!