Ayurvedic yoga offers participants ways to tone their imbalances and honor their personal constitution. Explore how Ayuryoga can support us all.
One of my Ayurveda mentors once asked me, “What is Ayuryoga? Ayurvedic yoga doesn’t make sense to me.” I was taken aback.
Ayurvedic yoga (also called Ayuryoga) applies the therapeutic principles of Ayurveda to yoga asana. By asking me this, my mentor was challenging the very core of my personal yoga practice—I intentionally move my body based on the seasons, my emotions, and Ayurvedic principles. I also teach trauma-informed Ayuryoga classes and workshops. I took my Ayuryoga training at the Ayurvedic Institute, one of the leading schools in the United States.
My mentor’s words were hard to process. She added, “Yoga aims at taking us through self-realization. All yoga teachers must understand the importance and value of the right diet and herbs as yogic tools and Panchakarma to prepare the body for yoga.”
What this mentor meant was something profound: Yoga and Ayurveda are part of each other. Ayurveda itself is yoga, and it works on healing and purifying the mind and body. A true Ayurvedic practitioner must also be a yogi. Studies tell us that without an Ayurvedic view of the body, Hatha yoga is incomplete. And Raja yoga is incomplete without an Ayurvedic understanding of the mind.
Why Ayurvedic Yoga?
I first became curious about Ayuryoga after becoming agitated in a summertime Vinyasa class. I was fine until we got into a headstand; my mood and emotions shifted as soon as I inverted my body. Sirsasana heats up the head and blood.
The second of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describes the purpose of the yoga practice: “Yogas chitta vritti nirodha.” In English: “Yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind.” Patanjali teaches us that, through practicing this stilling of the mind, we can create less suffering and more mental peace. In that yoga class, I was experiencing the opposite of mental peace: I wanted to get out of the pose and feel less agitated.
When I was experimenting with different styles of yoga, I ended up trying hot yoga a few times. In yoga, because of chitta vritti nirodha, our so-called “monkey mind” is supposed to become serene and quiet. My mind didn’t rest. Instead, every single time I took a class, I got sick and threw up. It made sense; I am a high Pitta individual, and the overly heated room in hot yoga classes aggravated my Pitta.
Ayurvedic Yoga for Each Dosha
This dosha is delicate, so calming, steady, warm, and grounding movements are best.
One of Vata’s many qualities is cala, or mobility, so slowing down and resisting the urge to rush through poses will be helpful.
The seat of Vata is the colon. Practice asanas that emphasize the pelvic region and colon to release tension from the hips, lumbar spine, and sacroiliac joint.
Keep the room warm while you practice.
Focus on stabilizing the foundation of each pose.
Lengthen your inhalations.
Spend more time on the floor in static poses versus dynamic poses.
Practice more pranayama and meditation than asanas.
Conclude your practice with 20 minutes of corpse pose.
Try Tree Pose, Warrior II, Mountain Pose, Forward Fold, Seated Forward Bend, Supine Spinal Twist, Wind-Relieving Pose, Knees-to-Chest Pose, Butterfly Pose, Bow Pose, Camel Pose, and Child’s Pose. Sun salutations are warming and effective in bringing Vata back into balance.
This dosha is hot and sharp, so the approach to a Pitta-balancing Ayurvedic yoga practice should be gentle, forgiving, compassionate, surrendering, accepting, and relaxing.
The practice should be cooling and at a moderate pace.
The seat of Pitta is the small intestine, so focus on twists and asanas that open the sides of the body.
To avoid stress build-up, relax between yoga postures and breathe deeply.
Leave any competitive attitude at the door.
Surrender, and don’t be critical about your flexibility or performance on the mat.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Practice in a moderately cool space and at 80 percent of your capacity.
Focus on exhalation.
Try moon salutations, Child’s Pose, Side Angle, Revolved Chair, Revolved Side Angle, Shoulder Stand, Butterfly Pose, Bridge Pose, Cat-Cow Pose, Half Lord of the Fishes, and Legs-up-the-Wall.
This dosha is composed of earth and water elements, which make Kapha heavy and slow. A daily asana practice builds on Kapha’s natural strength and reduces the tendency of Kapha people to gain weight. Asanas that are energizing and a little intense will be good. Many Kaphas tend to have manda agni (slow digestion)—poses that awaken the agni and digestive organs will be helpful. Include strengthening standing poses and backbends in your sequence.
The seat of Kapha is the chest, so keep the chest lifted and open during practice.
Keep moving and keep sweating.
Practice in a warm space.
Try to find lightness in your poses.
Don’t give up!
Don’t be stuck in the same routine—change which poses you practice on a daily basis.
Turn the gaze up in your practice.
Don’t pause too long between poses.
Just when you feel you are done, take a couple more breaths in the pose.
Sun salutations create heat and mobility and are a great way to promote circulation and get the lymph flowing. Kaphas who are out of balance battle stagnation and water retention. Sirsasana (headstand) is great for Kaphas unless they have issues with neck pain/injury or high blood pressure; any excess fluid accumulation in the ankles and legs has a chance to drain out because of the inversion. Vajrasana, Half Moon, Triangle Pose, Tree Pose, Reverse Warrior 2, Chair Pose, Plank Pose, Chaturanga, Upward-Facing Dog, Bridge Pose, and Boat Pose are also recommended for lowering Kapha.
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are nursing, taking medications, or have a medical condition, please consult with your health care practitioner prior to the use of any of these herbs. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and Ayurvedic coach, contact Sweta here.