Yoga & Ayurveda: Learn which yoga practices benefit your dosha
by Eva Dusch
Do you ever wonder why some yoga poses make you feel super calm and centred, while others leave you agitated, shattered, and exhausted? And why your neighbour is always so flawless in Astanga classes, while you seem to have two wobbly legs and lack any balance? Because we’re not the same. According to Ayurveda, different people require very different yoga practices (yes, I had to change my whole yoga schedule *pitta sigh*)
If you’re not yet familiar with Ayurveda and its view on the five elements, it might be worthwhile to tap into some of that beautiful wisdom. It will help you understand your practice on a much deeper and personal level. Although we are all made up out of the exact same five elements, we each contain different amounts of each element that make up our dosha, making each one of us a unique expression of nature. That makes we all need different foods, herbs, healing remedies, lifestyles - and yoga practices.
Ayurvedic yoga, or ‘Ayur-yoga, is a practice built on the principles of Ayurveda. It’s not merely looking at the asanas itself but also at the effects it has on the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Ayurvedic yoga gives you the tools with which you can adapt your practice to your personal needs. Instead of following classes based on habit or what the mind tells you to do, it’s more about checking in with yourself and asking: how do I feel today?
It’s about intuitively knowing and feeling into what it is that you need. A more uplifting Vinyasa or grounding Yin class? For example: A Vata needs slow movement en grounding, while Kaphas need stimulation and high energy. And Pittas might get challenged to laugh while holding asanas that they don’t like.
Whether you’re practising at home or joining a class in our studios, here are some basic guidelines for every dosha to keep in mind.
YOGA FOR VATA - CALM, SLOW, STEADY
Vatas are enthusiastic, creative and mobile. They often rush into class and need to calm down their busy and often scattered minds. A slow pace and grounding postures in particular are very beneficial. These yoga poses help you let go of worries and fears, reduce anxiety, and are also good if you suffer from typical Vata ailments such as constipation, lower back pain, and joint pain. Focus on strengthening rather than stretching, as excess Vata tends to overstretch and go past its limits.
- Variation is the key to motivation
- Make sure you’re dressed warmly enough
- Visualize like you’re moving through honey, warm water, warm oil and beautiful places like the ocean
- Respect your limits to stay in your safe zone
- Wrap a warm blanket around your lower belly/back and hips where the seat of Vata is, to help calm the mind.
- Focus on holding strength and energy rather than expansion
- Slow movement with awareness
- Protect the joints, so not always jumping through
- Keep arms and gaze down, to send energy downwards
- Keep it short (3 to 4 asanas) and juicy and stick to the routine for at least 3 months
- Uttanasana (forward bend)
- Balasana (child’s pose)
- Savasana (corpse pose)
- Mountain pose (Tāḍāsana)
- Tree pose (Vrikshasana)
YOGA FOR PITTA - COOLING, RELAXING, SURRENDERING
Pitta types are active, determined and goal-oriented. Their biggest challenge is to not see yoga class as one big competition because it will drive their inner fire crazy. Instead, the practice should be calming, cooling, fresh and - okay- a bit challenging. But in a FUN way. The key to pacifying pitta dosha is to practice with 75-percent effort, in an effortless, non-goal oriented way. Think calming asanas in which the body does not heat up too much, especially the head. Is your head turning red and your eyes are almost popping out? Time to back off.
- Forget the illusion of perfection.
- Kindness and compassion towards the Self
- See the difference between discipline (that which is not nourishing your soul) and seriousness (checking off your to-do list and only feeling happy from the mind, not the heart)
- Always ask yourself: am I still in a Sattvic space? Am I pushing myself or being soft?
- Visualize pouring water over yourself or absorbing it: what feels better?
- Strength and softness can go together. Strong in our body and soft in our mind.
- Soften the eyes and keep them at eye level
- Relaxed effort
- Can you let go of doing yoga perfectly or controlling the breath?
- Take away the over-seriousness and smile while holding an asana
- Marichyasana (sitting twist)
- Dhanurasana (bow pose)
- Paripurna Navasana (boat pose)
- Chandra Namaskar (moon salutations)
- Salamba sarvangasana (shoulderstand)
YOGA FOR KAPHA - STIMULATING, MOVING, WARMING
Kapha types might be latecomers when it comes down to workouts, but once they get the hang of it, IT’S ON. They are known for a strong body and well-developed stamina for good reason. Although they’re earthy and calm in nature, they benefit most from stimulating and energizing yoga postures that heat up the temperature (sweat out that excess fluids) in the body and give them energy. Avoid repetition and too much of a routine. Instead, keep it fresh and challenging.
- Think of the sunrise (it’s energizing and uplifting)
- Notice when you become irritated, then back off or take a break
- Turn up the light, it will wake them up and KEEP them awake
- Uplifting music that’s motivating
- Dare to explore and go through uncomfortable feelings and postures
- Bringing in change and new movement is the big saviour
- Asanas that ask for a lot of strength, like standing postures
- Keep eyes above horizontal level, open up the gaze
- Vary the practice/sequences on a daily/weekly basis to keep it varied, fresh and new
- Focus on the chest and lung area, opening the heart
- Surya Namaskar (sun salutations)
- Ustrasana (camel)
- Setu Bandhasana (bridge)
- Utkatasana (chair pose)
- Virabhadrasana I (warrior I)
Are you eager to learn more about this? Join our Yoga & Ayurveda program (50 hrs) with our teacher Victoria Raven Hyndman. This training is designed for experienced yoga practitioners and/or yoga teachers who wish to incorporate the foundations of Ayurveda into their yoga practice and teaching.
Sources: Ayurveda & Yoga by David Frawley
It’s when we look beyond the gross outer layers of life that we find our way to the more subtle layers that can shift your whole being and perspective on life. That’s how it felt when Eva encountered the path of Ayurveda. After years of practising yoga and meditation, it was the cherry on the cake. The foundation she was looking for, that connects everything. No matter where you go. After working for years as a writer and freelance journalist, she took a big break in 2016 to travel the world. She went to all corners of the planet, living in New Zealand and South America for a while. As unstable and challenging the circumstances sometimes were, it was through yoga and Ayurveda that she found stability, balance, and inner peace. Something she brought back home with her when she returned to Amsterdam in the spring of 2019. That same year, she started her journey with the Delight Academy to deepen her knowledge, skills, and experience in the field of Ayurveda. Her motivation to become an Ayurvedic Practitioner is to help people reconnect with their bodies and inner knowing again. Encouraging them to take their health into their own hands, using nutrition, awareness, and balance as tools. She believes in conscious, healthy, and joyful living inspired by the beauty and depth of Ayurvedic wisdom and holistic philosophies. Photo credit: Kiki Reijners