Ayurveda is the sister science to Yoga and is itself several thousand years old. It is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems. Wellness is defined in Ayurveda not only by a healthy physical body but by a healthy balance between mind, body, spirit, as well as with your environment. Yoga asana, the physical postures of Hatha Yoga can play a role in an Ayurvedic wellness plan. However, Ayurveda adds an entirely new element or at least a new focus on an already existing element of asana practice. When we practice asana in accordance with Ayurvedic wisdom we not only look at alignment and engagement, we also look at what quality the posture evokes in the body/mind/spirit, the way we use our breath in a posture, how quickly or slowly we move through each pose or sequence, the balance of asymmetrical and symmetrical poses in your sequence, and many other variables.
There is also a deep reverence for Nature in Ayurveda. Rather than trying to alter or bolster yourself against your current state Ayurveda honors the seasons of Life, time of day, the phases of the moon, etc…. Everything in this system seeks to find balance between three different qualities called Doshas, or ‘mind/body types’. There is Pitta, meaning “that which digests”, is made up of Fire and Water elements, Kapha, meaning “that which binds things”, is made up of Water and Earth Elements, and Vata, meaning “that which moves things”, is made up of Air and Ether. Each person has their own unique Doshic makeup and because of this, we need many different approaches to health and wellness that are able to bring about that balance.
A Yoga asana practice infused with Ayurvedic principles is generally tailored to the individual and their unique constitution and needs. However, there are some more broad Ayurvedic principles when using asana to create specific effects by either amplifying or pacifying these different qualities in the individual. As we transition cool and crispness of Autumn from the activity and fire of Summer we can begin to see a ‘drawing in’ of the natural world around us. Trees begin to shed their leaves, ground plants begin to die away resting themselves into their bulbs and roots, wildlife seeks to gather food and find adequate shelter for the winter to come. In our human experience, however, we often find ourselves still hustle and bustle at this time of year; school is back in session either for children, college students or teachers, more traffic on the roads comes with that and certain fields of work may pick up at this time, etc… Regardless, of how we get caught up in the busyness of life, we are far removed from the natural flow and observance of the season change and all that comes with it environmentally, as well as physiologically, mentally and emotionally.
Autumn is the season of Vata in Ayurveda. As stated above, Vata is made up of the elements of Air and Ether. Because of this season already amplifying our experience of these energies, this is a time of year where our own Vata energies can become imbalanced. An imbalance of Vata can show up as:
• Constant whirring or racing thoughts, which can contribute to higher levels of anxiety or even insomnia
• Skipping out on meals or eating on the go often and because of this our digestion can become irregular
• Itchy or Dry Skin
• Aching or Stiff Joints
• Inability to focus
We can adapt our Yoga asana practice to help nurture these areas and also help to bring balance to the nervous system. When applying Ayurveda to Yoga asana to encourage a more balanced experience of Vata energy would follow these principles:
• Moving more slowly and mindfully than you typically would
• Practicing asanas that don’t challenge you to the max and support you in feeling grounded, centered and get you in contact with your feet and legs
• Balancing symmetrical postures like Utkatasana(Chair) or Mulasana(Squat) with A-symmetrical postures like Marichyasana C (Seated Twist) or Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2) in your practice
• Moving in and out of simple postures several times slowly. This gives the mind an anchor and allows the whole system (body, mind, spirit) to settle back into alignment with one another
• Applying a breath practice while you move and hold that accentuates the exhales, making them more full and longer than your inhales. This amplifies Apana Vayu, the downward flowing energy of the body.
• Practicing Pranayama techniques that cultivate a balancing of energies in the body/mind. Ujjayi Pranayama reclined or seated, Nadi Shodhana (Alt. Nasal Breathing), etc…
• Taking time to practice a favorite form of meditation before or after your practice
These are just a few ways to apply Ayurvedic principles to your Yoga practice either at home or in the studio. Always feel free to take your practice at your own pace and in that way you are cultivating a deep listening to the inner dialogue that is always happening inside of ourselves.
Hope to see you on the mat!