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Practice for the Season

To burn off any lingering kapha energy of winter, Baxter Bell recommends adding some stimulating pranayama and asana into your springtime practice.

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As I write this, spring is fully underway. Flowers are blooming, the previously frozen waters are flowing, and the thermometer has already already begun its climb northward. Despite these external changes, many yoga students cling onto the same kind of practice year-round, be it hot yoga, Iyengar alignment-based practice, or vinyasa flow, with little regard given to the time of year.

I was the same way until a few years back when I came across an interesting article that proposed a specific focus for each season based on Ayurvedic principles.

Ayurveda considers winter connected to something called kapha dosha and the water element, which we will get into in a moment. And summer is associated with pitta dosha and the fire element. Spring, where we find ourselves now, is considered a transition time, and is not associated with any of the three doshas (the third dosha is called vata and associated with the wind element, and is prominent during the fall and early winter).

Doshas refer to your physical and mental constitution. Each person has a dominant dosha or a blend of two (an equal balance of three, or tridoshic, is also possible).

In the winter season, kapha dosha is dominant for everyone, and we usually come out of winter with a bit of excess, which can lead to imbalance and even illness. When it’s in balance, kapha dosha it supports healthy growth of muscle and bone, provides a feeling of being grounded, makes our thinking and movement more fluid, and we have better endurance, follow-through, patience, and several other desirable qualities.

When out of balance, though, kapha’s cold, damp and heavy nature can result in increased mucus, weight gain, allergies, asthma, respiratory illness, and digestive sluggishness, just to name of few things. It tends to settle in the lungs and stomach, and secondarily in the joints, connective tissues, heart, and brain! So spring cleaning using yoga tools can help for a healthy transition into better balance.

Since winter is typically a less active time, your spring yoga practice needs to add in more movement. Slow vinyasa is one way to provide this. Linking movement and breath in a more consistent and regular way also helps with stimulating the body appropriately. Slower and longer inhale/exhale patterns can be helpful. Utilizing ujjayi breath, which is mildly heating, during practice could also help with eliminating excess Kapha. Other pranayama techniques considered helpful in spring are Kapalabhati, Nadi Shodhana, Bhastrika, and Surya Bhedana.

There are some asana poses considered to be kapha-reducing, especially those that stimulate the processes of elimination. Inversions are said to be balancing for kapha dosha, so Shoulderstand and Headstand, if in your repertoire, can be included in home practice. For stimulating digestive fire, the wind of the belly (the samana vayu), and for increasing flexibility and decreasing body fat, a whole list of poses can be added to the practice: seated spinal twists like Ardha Matsyendrasana, Navasana, Simhasana, Bridge, Paschimottanasana, Matsyasana, and Camel Pose. Due to its purported affects on the glandular system, the seated posture Siddhasana, along with Shoulderstand and Headstand are considered beneficial from an Ayurvedic viewpoint.

There are certainly more refined practices you can add to your home practice as you get more comfortable with those suggested here. This can include mudras and unique ways to approach Savasana and even yoga nidra. But this information you have here can help to get you started now. If you want to learn more about yoga and Ayurveda, consider checking out David Frawely’s book Yoga and Ayurveda.