Yoga Poses and Flows to Support Your Elemental Balance.
CALLING all yoga lovers and health seekers!
Have you ever gone to a power flow yoga class where there are few breaks and breaths while holding poses and you leave feeling more ungrounded than when you arrived?
Have you caught yourself comparing your practice to the girl beside you doing handstands between her sun salutations?
Have you grown tired of your yoga routine and need new inspiration that will support you and where you are at in your health and yoga journey?
Without even knowing about the ancient science of ayurveda, you are tapping into it simply by acknowledging and becoming aware of your body, mind and spirit. Through a deeper understanding of the elements and what you are needing right now to balance your mood, your mind and your body, you can choose the best practice for you.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayur means life and veda means knowledge, so Ayurveda is the study of the knowledge of life - both in its most subtle and gross forms through studying the body, the mind and the subtle realms of the soul. It is the most ancient health system created by the rishis, who were wise spiritual leaders that learned the cause of dis-ease and how to restore health and harmony amongst nations simply by going into nature and listening deeply in meditation to the voice of the Divine. It is the sister science to yoga, as it helps to keep the body in a state of balance, vitality and strength to be able to support asana, cleansing and pranayama practices.
What are the three doshas?
A ‘dosha’ means fault or to cause harm, which only happens when we become out of balance. They can’t be measured, but are the elemental makeup of the body and can be observed and monitored.
Vata is made up of ether and air, and governs the movement in the body. This is the driving force behind circulation in the body, prana and breath entering the body, absorption of nutrients and elimination of our food, and the space that holds everything together in the body. It is related to the sushumna nadi, the energetic and subtle spine of the body that kundalini rises up when awakened.
Pitta is made up of fire and water, and governs the metabolic actions in the body. Pitta is heat and transformation in the body, and is the force behind digestion, the actions of the liver, and the driving force behind our passion and motivation in life. It is related to the pingala nadi, the energetic masculine channel that complements ida, the feminine, in the body.
Kapha is made up of earth and water, and governs the stability in the body. Kapha is our strength and immunity, and what lubricates and allows for growth and structure in the body. It is the feminine energy of the ida nadi, and allows for sustainability of creation to occur.
How do you know when you are out of balance?
You are born with a prakruti, or constitution, which is a percentage of the doshas but this is different from your vikruti - your current imbalance in your health. Usually our prakruti and vikruti are similar, as we are attracted to like foods and lifestyle choices that can throw us out of balance in excess.
Here, we are discussing your vikruti and some signs to look out for to understand what’s happening inside:
If your vata is out of balance, you will take on the characteristics of air and ether - feeling light, dry, cold and having a lot of movement in the body and mind.
You may feel:
Scattered in the mind
Anxious or worried
Dry, cold, and fatigued
Bloated or constipated
You may feel disoriented and ungrounded by a fast and vigorous yoga practice, and have a million thoughts whirling in your brain while hanging in downward facing dog. Vata is the first to go out of balance and as a society, we are experiencing a vata epidemic due to our constant stimuli and distractions that scatter our attention and create a lack of attention to the present.
If your pitta is out of balance, you will feel fire consuming your being - feeling hot, light, sharp and dry.
You may feel:
Judgmental or critical of yourself and others
Dry, hot, and burnt out
Loose stools and burning indigestion
Heat and intensity
Irritated and angry
inflammation in joints, skin and muscles
You may also feel competitive and your practice may be taking on a goal-oriented nature, as you work hard to perfect the advanced poses and push yourself to your edges, sometimes leading to injury when the fire inside consumes your being.
If your kapha is out of balance, you will take on the characteristics of water and earth - feeling heavy, stable, cold, and moist.
You may feel:
Lethargic and melancholic
Stuck and uninspired
Swelling in the body
Paleness and cool skin to touch
If you are feeling uninspired to get on the mat, and find it hard to get moving, you may have too much earth in the body. Kapha is also associated with having a caring and loving attitude towards others as relationships and attachment are important to the elements of water.
Here are some yoga poses and flow styles to support each dosha and to make you feel your best:
Vata - Balancing, Grounding and Slow Flows
Increase: If you want to balance the ether and air within, it starts with a flow that is grounding to all the movement happening in the body. A slow and methodical practice with attention to focus and detail is most nourishing. Standing poses that emphasize stability and connection to the ground bring great balance, as Vata needs more earth energy.
Poses that compress the pelvis and flex the lower back are particularly beneficial, including forward folds, both sitting and standing, janu sirsasana, dhanurasana (bow) and padmasana (lotus). Vata also needs structure, so a structured class can help to bring the creative energy of Vata back to earth. Be sure to include alternate nostril breathing to balance the ida and pingala, and bring balance to the sushumna.
Reduce: Too much sitting in meditation can lead to ungroundedness because we are tapping into sushumna, which is already in excess in Vata. Poses that place greater pressure on the bones, so practicing with props like blankets are essential to avoid injury and support the boney nature that Vata creates in the body.
Pitta - Twists, Gentle and Slow Flows
Increase: If you are balancing the heat and fire within, flows that are slow with attention to detail are best, as vigorous sun salutations can overheat the body. Asana would best be done in the morning and evening, as during the day when the sun's energy is high, it can also be too much for Pitta’s fiery nature.
Poses that compress the solar plexus and flex the thoracic spine are best, including any twists both standing or seated, and bhujangasana (cobra) and ustrasana (camel) are also good choices. Yin is a great practice to balance the masculine energy and fire of Pitta. Be sure to include cooling pranayamas as well, such as lunar pranayama or sheetali.
Reduce: Headstands as they can overheat the eyes, which are governed by Pitta. Emphasizing a non-competitive nature is key, and care should be taken when practicing advanced and strength-building poses to avoid injury. Focusing on long-term discipline and not short-term competitiveness is vital to a Pitta’s practice.
Kapha - Vigorous, Creative and Heating Flows
Increase: In order to get the earth moving in the body, we need to add some heat to it! Kapha benefits from a vigorous flow, including sun salutations and less rest between poses. Kapha benefits from strengthening poses, and aerobic and stimulating movements, as they help to reduce any excess weight or sluggishness.
Poses that expand and open the chest are best, as they remove excess Kapha mucous and improve the flow of breath. Poses including heart-openers and backbends like sarvangasana (bridge), ustrasana (camel pose) and bhujangasana (cobra) are great choices. Be sure to include heating and stimulating pranayamas, like breath of fire into your routine.
Reduce: Standing poses that root or ground oneself and sitting poses. Meditation helps to increase spiritual lightness and decrease the mind’s attachment to the world.
All in all, if you are practicing yoga and listening deeply to the whispers of the soul, you are ending the root cause of dis-ease … forgetting your true nature as Spirit. When you tap into your higher self through movement, breath and being, you are discovering the endless potential and magic inside of you. Just another reason to get on your mat every morning, no matter what your flow looks like.
Peace & Love,
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Jill is a health enthusiast passionate about holistic living through being conscious of the mind, body and spirit connection. Her love for health and wellness blossomed through her degree in Kinesiology, her research in social media and body image and teaching fitness classes. She completed a two month yoga internship in Hawaii and that was where she fell in love with travel and all things yoga - and knew it was her calling in life to share the ancient and healing practice.
She is a free-spirited yoga teacher, harpist and sound healer that loves to bring bhakti, reflection and fun into every space she holds. She has taught in Peru, Guatemala, Canada and now in California, as she just completed more of her yogi education through the path of Ayurveda as a Health and Wellness Educator. She finds balance and inspiration in her happy place of being in nature with instrument in hand, mantra in mind and surrounded by community. Her bold and bright spirit leads the way in helping shape her simple, community-based and nomadic life where she can inspire, teach and motivate others to live with mindfulness and purpose.
Learn more Ayurveda through her website.