Ayurveda 101: The Best Pranayama for Your Dosha

You probably know that your diet should change with the seasons, but according to Ayurveda, even your pranayama should be tweaked three times a year, says Larissa Hall Carlson, former dean of Kripalu's School of Ayurveda and the co-leader of Yoga Journal's upcoming Ayurveda 101 course.
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You probably know that your diet should change with the seasons, but according to Ayurveda, even your pranayama should be tweaked three times a year, says Larissa Hall Carlson, former dean of Kripalu's School of Ayurveda and the co-leader of Yoga Journal's upcoming Ayurveda 101 course.
Larissa Hall Carlson nadi shodhana pranayama

The key to true mind-body balance? Understanding your body’s natural needs—how to eat, cook, cleanse, and heal—through each season. In our upcoming online course Ayurveda 101, Larissa Hall Carlson, former dean of Kripalu's School of Ayurveda, and John Douillard, founder of LifeSpa.com and best-selling author, demystify yoga's elemental sister science. Sign up now—class starts Dec. 5th!

You probably know that your diet should change with the seasons, but according to Ayurveda, even your pranayama should be tweaked three times a year, says Larissa Hall Carlson, former dean of Kripalu's School of Ayurveda and the co-leader of Yoga Journal's upcoming Ayurveda 101 course. "For each dosha, I recommend choosing a breathing technique that has the opposite qualities of that dosha, to create balance and harmony," she explains. Here, she recommends a pranayama for each dosha or season (vata for fall/winter, pitta for summer, and kapha for spring), and explains how to do each one.

Pranayama for Vata: Nadi Shodhana

Vata is made of air and ether, wind and space. Its main qualities are dry, cold, light, rough, and mobile. One of the great techniques for balancing and harmonizing vata is the alternate nostril breath, known as Nadi Shodhana, which is very rhythmic, soothing, and grounding. Nadi Shodhana is excellent for not only releasing physical tension, but also for supporting a clear mind, enhanced tranquility, and stress reduction. It's perfect for the hectic holiday season (it can be done daily during this time of year), or anytime you're feeling anxious, nervous, stressed, depleted, or exhausted.

How-to

Take a comfortable seat. Make sure you feel warm—consider using a meditation shawl or wrapping a blanket around your waist. Sit tall and close your eyes. Close the right nostril gently with the right thumb. Begin by inhaling gently up the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the ring finger. Lift the thumb and exhale down the right nostril. Inhale back up the right nostril. Exhale left, then continue at a comfortable rhythm. The breath should be smooth, soft, comforting, and relaxing. Do this for about 5–10 minutes, then feel the sweet rejuvenation of this simple breathing practice for vata.

Pranayama for Pitta: Sitali Breath

Pitta is made of fire and water. Its main qualities are hot, oily, light, and sharp. Cooling Sitali Breath has the opposite qualities, so it cools and calms the excess pitta. Sitali Breath is best for the summer season of pitta or anytime you're feeling irritated, angry, frustrated, or noticing a little acid indigestion.

How-to:

Take a comfortable seat with an erect spine. Rest your hands comfortably on your lap with your palms turned up. Close your eyes. Take a refreshing breath in through a curled tongue. Close the lips. Lightly touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Exhale through the nose. Repeat, inhaling though the curled tongue, exhaling though the nose, as the tip of the tongue lightly tickles the roof of your mouth. Establish a relaxing, calming rhythm. Continue for 1–2 minutes until you feel physically and mentally refreshed. Notice the increased clarity, coolness, and spaciousness in body and mind.

Pranayama for Kapha: Bhastrika (Bellows Breath)

Kapha is made of water and earth. Its main qualities are heavy, sticky, cool, and oily. Bhastrika (Bellows Breath) has the opposite qualities, to stimulate, warm, and lift the excess kapha. Bhastrika helps increase the graceful flow of prana through the body's energy channels (nadis). It also helps to remove excess congestion in the lungs and brighten the mind. Bhastrika is best during springtime, or anytime you feel sluggish, lethargic, mildly congested, or unmotivated.

Note: This breathing technique is meant to be done on an empty stomach. Have a tissue handy in case excess mucus is loosened. Avoid Bhastrika during pregnancy, or if you have heart or respiratory conditions.

How-to:

Establish a comfortable seat with a long spine and hands resting on your lap. Close your eyes. Soften and relax the jaw and facial muscles. Though the nose, inhale deeply, flaring the ribs open. Exhale fully, as the lungs deflate. Continue the fanning breath technique, giving equal emphasis to each flaring inhalation and deflating exhalation. Keep the spine tall as you squeeze out excess kapha. Continue for 15–20 seconds, then return to natural breathing. Notice the warmth, lightness, and stimulation of Bhastrika.

Eager to learn more? Register now for Ayurveda 101 with Kripalu's Larissa Hall Carlson and John Douillard.