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The Yoga of Balance

Facilitating true balance in our students requires that we view each of them as individuals and provide instruction tailored to their conditions. Here's how to do this even in a crowded public class.

By Aadil Palkhivala


A student who is pitta (hot, angry, fiery, goal oriented, focused, and a high achiever) is a like cheetah who can run extremely fast but can't sustain the pace for long. Such a person generally needs a more calming practice. Work such students briefly and vigorously to release that pent-up pitta energy and then have them hold their poses longer. Encourage a more internal focus and fewer jumps. Do soft backbends, short holds in Sirsasana, and long holds in Sarvangasana. Generally, a pitta has high blood pressure, so Sirsasana and backbends are not as beneficial as for the kapha person. Forward bends are especially good for pitta types. Have such students stay a long time in restoratives and Savasana, preferably with an eye bag and perhaps even blocks around their heads to hold in the fiery energy of the brain.

A student with a vatta condition (airy, unfocused, fickle, creative, exuberant, and charismatic) is like a bird, always flying into the sky. Such a student needs a grounding practice to bring them down to earth. Standing poses are ideal. Vatta students should hold poses for a long time. Since a vatta student loves to jump from pose to pose, work to balance this condition by having a practice with less dynamic movement. Focus on rooting in all poses, especially in standing poses and inversions. Backbends are also good, though vattas tend to get dizzy doing them.

Now we approach the question you are probably already asking yourselves. In a class format, how can we simultaneously address different people with different constitutions and conditions? It's not easy. In fact, this magical balancing act is the hallmark of a great teacher. In classes where there are dozens of students, it is, at best, difficult, and, at worst, impossible to teach each individual student according to his condition. Further, all students must hold the poses for the same length of time on each side. However, as you get to know the conditions of the students you can approach them one at a time and teach them how to individualize their practice using the modalities of breath, intention, and method.

In terms of breath, a student with a kapha condition should be asked to breathe faster while a student with a pitta condition should be asked to breathe more slowly. A vata student should focus on the exhalations, moving their energy down and rooting into the earth.

The kapha student's intention should be to focus on lifting the energy of the pelvis upward, creating more fire in the body. The pitta student's intention should be to cool down the nervous system, doing poses with a less powerful lift and a greater sense of widening to facilitate the element of water. The vata student's intention should be to create downward movement in all poses, a grounding action.

Similarly, the three different conditions can be balanced by three different methods of practicing. For example, in standing poses, teach the kapha student to lift the energy of the arches up the inner legs and up the central axis. The pitta student's method is to expand the heart center into the hands and widen the pelvis. The method for the vata student is to plant the heels and the toe mounds into the earth to root.

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Reader Comments

Chareita Smit, The Netherlands

Dear Mr. Aadil Palkhivala,
Thank you for the information given regarding the interaction between Yoga and Ayurveda. I always tell my students to stretch their spinal column within the natural curve and then to do all asanas.
Your tips regarding the dosha's I will certainly incorp in my classes as it makes sense and people do move accordig to their doshas.
I would love to see more of your writing in the Yoga Journal.

Note to the editor: I wouldn't mind to see more normal models (petite, chubby, old, male) than the average (skinny, female) models you use.

iyan Yaspriyana

Thank you Mr. Aadil Palkhivala, as a teacher I try to always remember to bring back the meaning of yoga, to my self specially. Your article open me more about Ayurveda, to aknowledge dosa type of my student. Thank you.
By the way, would you mind to ask Yoga Journal to to give bigger portion for men. Some time the cover, the model and the article. I would like to write about 'andropouse' or if some one write it, it would be very interesting for men.
namaste from bali

Raven taoTLC

Always beliving all yogas are one, I teach Taichi, Qigong and Internal alchemy. I run into students who love and hate what is offered. What guides me is internal and an unscripted way of teaching whoever is present in class. There are those like Pat Spallone who might be nervous about delving deeper into the guts of yoga. I teach the guts of Chinese Yoga and I know I can't always please all of the students all of the time, but I tell my students to translate into their own perceptions what I am offering so it doesn't break from their own boundaries. Nothing is assimillated fully in ONE lesson and often it takes hundreds and/ or thousands of lessons.

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