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Ayurveda and Asana

Ayurveda can shed light on the practice of yoga.

By Mark Halpern

That which is sattvic is light, clear, and stable. Sattva is the state of being which comes from purity of mind, and leads to an awareness of our connectedness to God, a state in which we manifest our most virtuous qualities.

That which is rajasic is active, agitated, or turbulent. Rajas arises when we are distracted from our truest essence, and manifests emotions such as fear, worry, anger, jealously, attachment, and depression.

That which is tamasic is heavy, dull, dark, and inert. Tamasic actions include violent or vindictive behavior, along with self-destructive behaviors such as addiction, depression, and suicide.

All movement or activity is by nature rajasic (agitating) and heating to the body. Yet some movements are more agitating and others less so. Generally speaking, the slower the movement, the less rajasic and the less agitating to the body and mind. The faster the movement, the more rajasic and the more heating it will be.

Any movement practiced with great awareness becomes more sattvic. Movements done with distraction or less attentiveness are more rajasic. Thus, one way to enhance our experience of yoga is to practice slowly and with awareness.

No movement can be purely sattvic. The inherent nature of movement is rajasic, as rajas is the principal of energy, and movement requires energy. Hence our sattvic qualities are most nurtured in meditation and in the stillness of holding a pose, where we can find pure awareness.

The rajasic nature of movement does not necessarily make it bad for us. Rajas serves the useful purpose of stimulating our bodies and minds. We could not function in our world without a part of us being rajasic.

What Sort of Yoga is Right for You?

When determining the kind of yoga practice that is right for you, the most important factor is your vikruti, or imbalance. Your vikruti is, in fact, the single most important determinant of your entire regime. Once you have corrected your imbalance, you can stay in good health by choosing a yoga practice that balances your constitution, or prakruti. (It's sometimes hard for the lay person to distinguish between characteristics that are inborn, or constitutional, and those that result from an imbalance. For best results, consult a trained Ayurvedic physician.)

People of vata constitution or imbalance are most supported by a yoga practice that is calming, quieting, and yet warming. People of pitta nature or imbalance are most supported by a yoga practice that is calming, quieting, and cooling. And people of kapha nature or imbalance are most supported by a yoga practice that is stimulating and warming. Each individual has different needs. To practice in a way that does not support you is to invite greater imbalance.

Asanas for Vata

The asanas which are most suitable for balancing vata are those that are calming and grounding by nature. They will counter the tendency for those with a vata imbalance to be "spacey," agitated, or nervous. These asanas will help allay fear, worry, and anxiety and also improve vata physical imbalances such as constipation, lower back pain, and joint pains. The lower abdomen, pelvis, and large intestine are the main residence of vata in the body, so many of these asanas compress the lower abdomen or cause the lower abdomen to become taut. In addition, asanas that strengthen the lower back help alleviate vata.

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Reader Comments

Liz

I've found that lion's breath is particularly beneficial when one's pitta is out of balance. :D

Ginny

I found this very helpful as I have been experiencing vertigo when doing certain poses like shoulderstand. I currently have an imbalance of Vata which looks like it's being aggravated by some of the poses I do. Thanks!

Alan

I beg to differ about the idea of "dissolving" the ego or ahamkara. This is a common misunderstanding in the yoga community. We could not exist without an ahamkara. Without it there would be no "I' to see, feel, touch etc. Every object in nature by definition has an identity or ahamkara. Yoga is the timeless, ever present unchanging ground state from which nature or prakruti and every ahamkara arises. In the yoga state we both transcend and include the ego / ahamkara.

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