A single Unity
Ancient traditions born in ancient India, Yoga and Ayurveda share the same vision of the human being at the core of their wisdom: man as a reflection of the universe. What we can find out there we have inside of us; in the same way, within us, there is as much diversity as in the world outside. Being balanced means having our microcosm in balance with the energy of the macrocosm. In the end, everything is part of one single unity.
This single unity is considered to be made of energy, which manifests in many different kinds. Thus, body and mind are not separate entities, in the same way as the individual and the universe are not essentially different neither.
Yoga and Ayurveda consider that we are what we are because of predominant energies in our system. We are all made of earth, water, fire, air and ether. Also, the way our bodies function is regarded as a product of the predominant energies our bodies stream. One is born with a certain constitution or pre-setting, which in Ayurveda is called prakruti, depending on many reasons, like one’s DNA, astrological sign, or karma. According to your constitution, you will either have a predominant “humour” composed of certain elements, called dosha, or a combination of these. These are vata, pitta and kapha.
What these point out is which energies you are channeling better. That means, that in relation to the energies of the universe, your body has more affinity to some than to other. The predominance of certain energies on our body will remain more or less the same throughout life.
In contrast, vikruti is the current state of imbalance among an individual’s doshas. Most people are not in their true nature (prakruti), they are imbalanced.
One way of influencing the energies to come back to balance is diet, as both Ayurveda and Yoga would point out. Furthermore, Ayurveda would recommend plants and treatments according to its tradition. On the other hand, Yoga would focus on specific poses or breathing techniques that stimulate specific energy centers which are related to a specific element. If you combine both traditions, one is also able to aggravate or alleviate his doshas to achieve balance.
Taking in account Ayurveda when you practice Yoga
If you are a practitioner of Hatha Yoga, you may have noticed that you have a certain preference for some asanas (yoga poses) while you avoid others. Some seem to have a calming and balancing effect on you, while on the contrary there are others which leave you agitated. According to Ayurveda, different people require very different yoga practices.
When choosing the kind of yoga practice that will suit you, the most important factor is your vikruti, or imbalance.
Grounding Asanas for Vata
Asanas that are calming and grounding by nature are the most suitable to balance vata. They will bring counterbalance to the tendency of those who have a vata imbalance to be nervous or agitated. These asanas will calm down fear, worry, and anxiety. Furthermore they will also improve vata’s physical imbalances such as constipation, lower back pain, and joint pains.
The main place where we can find vata in the body is the lower abdomen, pelvis, and large intestine, so many of these asanas compress the lower abdomen. Asanas that strengthen the lower back also help to alleviate vata.
In general, since most asanas are of a calming nature, they are good for balancing vata. There are, however, some that are particularly good and some that should be avoided.
Padahastasana (standing forward bend) is a great asana for vatas; the same as its sitting version, paschimottanasana. Dhanurasana (bow pose), supta virasana (hero pose) and balasana (child’s pose) are also very good for vata. Avoid repetitive Sun salutations as these put too much pressure on sensitive joints. Also, if you practice sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and halasana (plough), you can place a blanket under your shoulders for extra padding.
Calming Asanas for Pitta
The recommended asanas for pitta are those that are calming and not too heating. People of pitta nature or imbalance tend to be more assertive and intense. Calming poses help calm down their emotional intensity. By bringing pitta to balance, these asanas are good as part of the treatment for conditions such as ulcers and hyperacidity, liver disease, and acne.
Pitta resides mainly on the navel and solar plexus region and in the small intestine, so asanas that put pressure there are most recommended. These asanas directly affect the liver and spleen and help regulate the strength of the digestive fire.
Ushtrasana (camel pose), dhanurasana (bow pose), bujhangasana (cobra pose) are good for pitta. Headstands should be avoided if you have a serious imbalance, as they heat the body, especially the head and eyes, and as the eyes are controlled by pitta, they can cause eye diseases. If your pitta imbalance is not too strong, you can do headstands but don’t hold them for long periods of time.
Stimulating Asanas for Kapha
Poses that are more stimulating and heating bring to balance the heavy, slow and cold nature of kapha. The best asanas are those in which the chest is opened up. The stomach and chest are the areas where kapha accumulates. In the chest, kapha takes on the form of mucous. If you want to prevent or treat congestive conditions like bronchitis and pneumonia, as well as constrictive conditions such as asthma and emphysema, these asanas will be very useful.
Great asanas for kapha are ushtrasana (camel pose) and setu bandha (bridge pose). If you have a kapha nature or imbalance, also take into account that the calming effect of most asanas needs to be balanced by others that are more stimulating and heating. Sun salutations are ideal for this. Few asanas are harmful for kapha, but poses in which the lower abdomen receives a lot of pressure should be avoided, such as dhanurasana (bow pose), which can aggravate the kidneys if held for too long.
As you can see, each individual has different needs. The greater the balance you want to achieve, the greater your awareness has to grow. Identifying how our body is functioning and adapting to its needs is the first step, but the path towards real Consciousness goes much deeper, compromising our whole being.
- Feuerstein, G. (2001). The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice, Hohm Press.
- Hakpern, M. On Ayurveda and Asana.