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Ayurveda and Asana

Ayurveda can shed light on the practice of yoga.

By Mark Halpern

In general, most yoga asanas are good for balancing vata, since most asanas are calming to the mind. There are, however, some that are particularly good and some that should certainly be avoided.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) is an exceptional asana for vatas. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. The arms may be raised over the head as you reach to the sky, or you may wish to bend the elbows, clasping the opposing arms just above the elbow and letting your forearms rest on or just above the crown of your head. Keeping your back straight, slowly bend forward from the hips as you exhale. Bend as far forward as you comfortably can. Your hands may remain crossed, touch the floor in front of your feet, or, if you are very flexible, be clasped just behind your heels. For the less flexible, the hands may be placed on blocks which rest on the floor. Let gravity assist the lengthening of your spine. All standing asanas tend to be grounding if awareness is placed on the feet, honoring the connection between your body and the Earth.

Note that this asana can put quite a strain on an injured lower back, so care should be used. If the lower back is simply tight, a condition related to aggravated vata, this is an excellent asana. The seated version of this asana, Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), will have similar value and may be easier if your back is sore.

Balasana (Child's Pose) is another excellent asana for compressing the pelvis and the vata region. Sit upright with your knees flexed and placed underneath your buttocks. Keeping your arms to your side, bend forward from the hips until your head is resting on the floor in front of you. If you do not have the flexibility to place your head on the ground, place a folded blanket or a pillow on the floor in front of you for your head to rest upon. Compression asanas are excellent for constipation and for chronic gas.

Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose) is another good asana for vata. Kneel with your knees together and your buttocks resting on your heels. Move the legs out to the side of the pelvis so that the buttocks slide down in between both legs. Place the hands on the soles of the feet and lean back onto the elbows. This may be enough extension for many people. If you are flexible enough, gradually lower your back down to the floor. Your hands may lie by your side or be stretched above the head to lengthen the spine.

While this stretch does not compress the pelvis, it creates a mild extension of the lower abdominal muscles and lower back. This action increases the pressure in the pelvis, again alleviating vata. According to Ayurvedic doctor Vasant Lad, this asana is particularly useful as a part of treatment for vata-type asthma conditions.

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) also extends the lower back and places pressure on the pelvis. Lie on your stomach with your arms at your sides. Lift the head, shoulders, and chest off of the mat and bend both knees. Reach back and take hold of the ankles. Let your legs draw your chest farther into the air so that your body weight rests on the pelvic region. This is essential for the maximum relief of 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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