Back in Balance
People with vata derangement typically move quickly, sometimes with little awareness, and often push themselves harder than their bodies can take. The following practice of yoga poses, breathing exercises, and meditation is designed to ground vata and calm the nervous system. If your mind is going 100 miles an hour, however, you may need to do some vigorous yoga asana, like repeated Sun Salutations, to burn off steam before settling into a slower, more introspective practice.
Throughout your practice, try to breathe slowly and mindfully. Gentle Ujjayi breath is fine, but doing it too loudly can increase vata. Practice in a warm room, and dim the lights if possible.
1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose): With a block between your legs. Stand with your feet parallel and slightly apart. Place the long edges of a block between your upper thighs. Try to move the block backward by internally rotating your thighs. Notice how this action helps you ground the four corners of your feet more solidly into the floor. Hold for one minute.
2. Vrksasana (Tree Pose): From Tadasana, ground your left foot and bring the sole of your right foot to your upper left thigh. Evenly press the four corners of that foot into the thigh, and use it to encourage the same internal rotation of the thigh that you found with the block in the last pose. Place your palms together in front of your chest in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal). Hold for one minute on each side. If you have difficulty balancing, try the pose standing with your back a few inches from a wall.
3. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): From Tadasana, fold forward from the hips. If your hamstrings are tight, it's OK to gently bend the knees. Remember to press strongly through your legs and feet, even as the upper body completely lets go. Hold for one minute.
4. Malasana (Garland Pose): From Tadasana, with your feet slightly separated, bend your knees to squat. Place a folded blanket under the heels as needed for balance. If you have knee problems, place a rolled washcloth behind each knee. Place your hands in Anjali Mudra. Grounding well through the four corners of the feet, notice the pelvic floor widening on inhalation and gently narrowing with the exhalation. Stay one minute.
5. Dandasana (Staff Pose): Sit with your legs straight out in front of you, your buttocks lifted on a folded blanket or two. Use your hands to internally rotate the upper right thigh, then the upper left thigh, and notice how this aids in grounding you in the position. Place your fingers on the floor alongside your hips or on blocks, and press down while lifting the chest. Stay one minute.
6. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose): From a cross-legged seated position, bring your right leg over the left and place the sole of the right foot on the floor outside the left thigh. As you twist to the right, try to keep your spine vertical, leaning neither forward nor back. Avoid any temptation to use your arm to crank yourself more deeply into the pose. Instead twist more deeply only as your body and breath allow. Hold for one minute, then switch sides.
7. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend): In this and the following pose, use any combination of blankets, blocks, or chairs to comfortably support the forehead, and strongly internally rotate your thighs while keeping the toes pointing up. Sit on the floor with your buttocks supported on a folded blanket and your legs straight in front of you. Press actively through your heels. Lift the top of the sternum and, keeping the front torso long, lean forward over your legs from the hip joints, not the waist. Lengthen the tailbone away from the back of your pelvis. With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. Stay from one to three minutes.
8. Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend): Separate your feet to slightly more than 90 degrees, if possible. With the toes pointing up, fold forward from the hips down to the floor, or as far as is comfortable. Hold for one minute or longer.
9. Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose): Place a bolster parallel to and approximately six inches away from a wall. Sit sideways on its edge, and swing your legs up the wall as you lower your upper back, shoulders, and arms to the ground. For deeper relaxation, use a strap to hold your upper thighs together. Stay five minutes or longer.
10. Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose), variation: Lie on your back with your arms out to the sides in a T, your knees bent, and the soles of your feet on the floor. Shift your pelvis a few inches to the left, and drop your knees to the right side. Hold for one minute before coming to center, then drop the knees to the left.
11. Savasana (Corpse Pose): Lie comfortably on the floor, using a blanket or other covering to keep warm. Use an eye pillow if you'd like. Hold for 5 to 15 minutes, the longer the better.
12. Gentle Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath): Sit in a comfortable seated position on a folded blanket or two or in a chair. Close your eyes, and bring your attention to your breath, making a sibilant noise on both the inhalation and exhalation by gently narrowing your throat. Inhale for three counts and exhale for twice that length, or six counts. Keep the breath as smooth as possible, with no pauses between breaths. Once comfortable, increase to a four-second exhalation, then later to a five-second exhalation, etc. Continue for one to five minutes, as long as you are comfortable. If there is any straining or gasping, simply return to normal breathing.
13. Mental Nadi Shodhana pPranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing): From a seated position, imagine the breath entering the left nostril as you inhale, then imagine it leaving via the right nostril. Then imagine the inhalation coming in the right, then out the left. This constitutes one cycle. Do two more. Carefully tune in to your breath and notice if the airflow follows the pathways you are imagining.
14. Meditation at Heart Center: From your seated position, begin to notice the subtle movement of the chest with each inhalation and exhalation. Don't make any effort to change your breath—simply notice it as it moves in and out of the body, focusing on the sensation in your heart center. As you relax, you may notice the breath becoming slower and shallower. Continue for five minutes. At the conclusion of your practice, thank yourself for making this quiet, relaxing, restorative, and healing time for yourself.
More: Learn more about overwrought vata in Down to Earth.
Timothy McCall is a board-certified specialist in internal medicine, Yoga Journal's medical editor, and the author of Yoga as Medicine.