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Ayurveda and Asana

Ayurveda can shed light on the practice of yoga.

By Mark Halpern

People of all constitutions can benefit from Sun Salutations during the time of day that is dominated by kapha energy (6:00 to 10:00 a.m and p.m.), as long as there is not a serious imbalance in pitta or vata. People of kapha nature should do many repetitions and perform them with great speed. While in general people of vata nature should avoid this asana, performing it very slowly and with great awareness will decrease its vata-aggravating tendencies. Pitta types should do limited repetitions, as this series is very heating.

Few asanas are harmful to kapha, as kaphas benefit from all forms of stretching and movement. Two weak areas of the body for kapha individuals, however, are the lungs and the kidneys. Asanas that place excessive pressure on the lower abdomen, such as Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), can aggravate the kidneys if held for too long.

Other Factors

In some ways the prescription I have just given is overly simplistic. In developing a healthy yoga practice, you must take into consideration not only your constitution and imbalance but also your age, the season, and the time of day you are practicing.

At different times of our lives, different doshas play a greater role. This is a part of the natural fluctuation of these forces. From birth through puberty, our bodies and minds are more affected by kapha. From puberty until around our retirement years, the influence of pitta increases. The later years, post retirement, are most dominated by vata.

During each of these periods, we must pay attention to the effect our age has on us and modify our practice appropriately. When we are very young, our bodies can better tolerate the more aerobic styles of yoga. As we age, we need to practice more calming asanas.

The seasons also affect a healthy practice. The season of cold dampness increases kapha. The season of warm weather increases pitta. The season of cool dryness increases vata, as does the windy season. (In different parts of the country these take place at different times, so placing the names of traditional seasons upon them can be misleading.) During the kapha season, a practice that is more stimulating and warming is better. In the pitta season, a practice that is cooling is best. In the vata season, a calming practice supports greater health.

Finally, the time of day we practice will affect the balance of the doshas. Kapha naturally increases between 6:00 and 10:00 a.m and p.m, when we are moving slowly. Pitta naturally increases between 10:00 and 2:00 a.m. and p.m., when the digestive fire is at its height and, in the daytime, the sun is at its peak. Vata naturally increases between 2:00 and 6:00 a.m. and p.m., during the transition between night and day.

Most people practice yoga in the early morning, when the world is calm. Before 6:00, during the time of vata, a very quiet and gentle practice is recommended. After 6:00, during the time of kapha, a more stimulating practice is appropriate. Remember, though, that when designing a yoga practice for yourself, your overall vikruti, or imbalance, is more important than the influence of the season, your age, or the time of day. These should be seen as the factors that modify your practice but not the factors that create it. When you are in near perfect balance, you can create a program based almost entirely on your constitution, the seasons, and the time of day.

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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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