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Ayurveda and Asana

Ayurveda can shed light on the practice of yoga.

By Mark Halpern

5. Any disturbance within the mind or body interferes with this path. Ayurveda is the science of keeping the biological forces in balance so that the mind and body may be healthy.

Fundamentals of Ayurveda

According to Ayurveda, the universal life force manifests as three different energies, or doshas, known as vata, pitta, and kapha. We are all made up of a unique combination of these three forces. This unique combination, determined at the moment of conception, is our constitution, or prakruti. The three doshas constantly fluctuate according to our environment, which includes our diet, the seasons, the climate, our age, and many more factors. The current state of these three doshas most commonly defines our imbalance, or vikruti. Since we all have a unique constitution and unique imbalances, each person's path toward health will be unique. In addition, what will keep each of us healthy is also unique. Understanding our prakruti and vikruti offers each of us the potential to make correct choices.

The three doshas are generally described in terms of the five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and ether (the subtle energy that connects all things). Vata is said to be made up of air and ether. Likened to the wind, it is said to be light, drying, cooling, and capable of movement. Pitta is said to be made up of fire and water. Considered to be mostly fire, it is hot, light, and neither too dry nor too moist; it does not move on its own, but it can be easily moved by the wind (vata). Kapha is said to be made up of water and earth, which combine like mud. Kapha is heavy, moist, cool, and stable.

The three doshas fluctuate constantly. As they move out of balance, they affect particular areas of our bodies in characteristic ways. When vata is out of balance—typically in excess—we are prone to diseases of the large intestines, like constipation and gas, along with diseases of the nervous system, immune system, and joints. When pitta is in excess, we are prone to diseases of the small intestines, like diarrhea, along with diseases of the liver, spleen, thyroid, blood, skin, and eyes. When kapha is in excess, we are prone to diseases of the stomach and lungs, most notably mucous conditions, along with diseases of water metabolism, such as swelling.

When working with the doshas, remember these basic principles: Like increases like, and opposites balance each other. In other words, foods, weather, and situations that have similar characteristics as the doshas will increase them; those that have opposite characteristics will decrease them. Knowing this, you can adjust your yoga practice, diet, and other environmental factors to affect these forces in ways that create greater balance and harmony. (For example, vata types—who are dry, light, and airy—should avoid foods with similar qualities, like popcorn, and consume foods with opposite qualities, like warm milk).

The Three Gunas

Another fundamental Ayurvedic principle is the idea of the three gunas, or qualities of nature. The three gunas—sattva, rajas, and tamas—are used to describe emotional and spiritual characteristics.

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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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