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Ayurveda and Asana

Ayurveda can shed light on the practice of yoga.

By Mark Halpern

Virasana (Hero Pose), Siddhasana (Easy Pose), and Padmasana (Lotus Pose) are very calming poses which sedate vata's agitated nature. These meditative poses are excellent for calming the nervous system, which aids in the healing of anxiety, nervousness, sciatica, and muscle spasm. The most calming pose of all is, of course, the supine Savasana (Corpse Pose).

People of vata nature should avoid asanas that are overly stimulating to the nervous system, such as repetitive Sun Salutations, and those that place excessive pressure on sensitive joints in the body. The cervicothoracic junction—the bony region where the neck meets the shoulders—is one of these areas. Here, large vertebrae stick out like "sore thumbs." People of vata nature and imbalance tend to have weaker bones, less fatty padding, looser ligaments, and more susceptibility to pain. For these reasons, Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and Halasana (Plow Pose) should be avoided or modified by placing a blanket under the shoulders for extra padding. This also decreases the extreme flexion the neck is placed in. Even so, people of vata nature or imbalance should not hold these poses for very long, or they will risk injury.

Asanas for Pitta

The best asanas for pitta are those that are calming and not overly heating. People of pitta nature or imbalance tend to be more assertive and intense. Calming poses help sedate their intensity and ease the emotions of anger and resentment that they are prone to. By alleviating pitta, these asanas are good as part of the treatment for conditions such as ulcers and hyperacidity, liver disease, and acne.

Asanas that help balance pitta are those that place pressure on the naval and solar plexus region, in the small intestine where pitta resides. These asanas directly affect the liver and spleen and help regulate the strength of the digestive fire.

Ustrasana (Camel Pose) is very beneficial for pittas. Kneel with the buttocks lifted as though you were standing on your knees. Place your palms on your buttocks. Move your thighs and pelvis forward as you extend the lower back, bringing your hands to your heels. Gently extend your neck. Remember to breathe. This asana opens up the abdomen, solar plexus, and chest, allowing for freer movement of energy through these regions.

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) are also excellent solar plexus extension poses for pitta. These asanas can play a role in the treatment of ulcers and hepatitis.

To perform Cobra Pose, lie face down with your feet together and ankles extended. Bend the elbows and place your hands flat on the floor by your lower ribs. (Less flexible people may choose to place the palms on the floor at shoulder level.) Upon inhalation, extend the elbows and raise the head, chest, and abdomen off the floor while keeping the pelvic bones on the floor. The head may be held in a neutral position or in extension.

Headstand should be avoided for people of pitta imbalance or constitution. Headstands heat the body, and much of this heat accumulates in the head and the eyes. The eyes are an organ controlled mainly by pitta. For this reason, Headstands can help cause or worsen diseases of the eyes. If a person of pitta constitution with no serious imbalance chooses to do Headstands, then the Headstand should be held for a very short period.

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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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