Ayurveda means “life knowledge in Sanskrit” and is a system of health science that developed at the same time as Yoga in ancient India. Both Yoga and Ayurveda have as their goal the maintenance of optimum health for the individual. They both acknowledge that what may be beneficial for one person is not guaranteed to benefit another. Indeed, given the different characteristics of the three dosha types, it is can be seen quite clearly that certain foods or activities may actually prove to be harmful for one dosha and extremely helpful to another.
The same can be said of the different styles and forms of Yoga. Yoga is the ancient discipline of integrating mind, body and spirit for optimum health. It seeks to do this through meditation, breath work, physical movement and philosophy. Ayurveda seeks to achieve balance and harmony within all the systems of the body through a knowledge of each person’s unique constitution and the nutrients, environment and lifestyle that they need in order to live a healthy, happy life. Ayurveda is considered to be the sister science to yoga, and both disciplines seek to offer way to cleanse, rejuvenate, strengthen and protect mind body and spirits in ways best suited to an individual’s unique constitution.
Yoga and the Doshas
Ayurveda says that all of life is made up of five essential elements: fire, water, earth, air and space. Every person is also made up of these elements, but there will be a natural preponderance of one element in every constitution. This may change a little with age, but essentially we are all either Pitta, Vata or Kapha in our makeup. These doshas govern our spiritual, emotional, mental and physical characteristics. We are, of course all different, and when we make poor choices regarding our lifestyle ill health will usually result. One person may thrive on activity, pressure and highly spiced foods. Their partner, business or personal, may be the opposite and could suffer from trying to emulate such a regime. Knowing your dosha will give you a much better basis from which to make your choices for good health. In terms of Ayurveda and Yoga this may mean that you choose a very different style from your friends and family. One yoga style does not fit all doshas and if you are aware of this you are better placed to look after yourself.
Yoga for Pitta Dosha
Pitta types tend to be very active in both mind and body. They can also be very ambitious and competitive, impatient with others who they perceive to be “too slow”, perfectionists who possess a sharp intellect. Pittas can also be quick to anger. Physically, a typical pitta will not feel the cold. They are often strong and athletic and may seek out extreme sports in order to feed their internal fire.
If this sounds a little, or even a lot, like you, you are unlikely to enjoy or stick with a yoga class that is slow, gentle, meditative or too easy. Pittas may need a power yoga session in order to feel a sense of achievement. However, it is worth noting that sometimes we do need to balance our dominant dosha, so a slower, more cooling class may be more beneficial if your pitta is too high.
Yoga for Vata Dosha
If you know that you are predominantly vata in your constitutional makeup you will also be aware that you can be easily distracted, have changeable moods and be given to wild flights of imaginative fancy. You may have difficulty keeping your feet on the ground and also be plagued by anxieties and worries for no apparent reason.
When choosing a yoga style, vatas may be drawn to the intense, powerful “modern” styles of yoga that have flourished in this century in the west. However, as vatas tend to tire easily, and need to find a way to stay grounded it would make more sense to find a slower, more rooted style of yoga to enhance your well-being. You may be lucky enough to find a yoga teacher who is able to incorporate some qigong into their practice, which is an excellent way of grounding and centring typical vata types.
Yoga for Kapha Dosha
Kapha types can be prone to laziness and be exercise resistant. They are often slow moving, physically quite heavy, well-grounded and patient. Kapha types should try to seek out a yoga class or style that is energizing and warming. They would do best to engage in a physically demanding form of yoga that does not rely on 30 minutes’ worth of meditation and relaxation in order to deliver health benefits. Less floor or mat work, more twisting bending and stretching would be beneficial for kapha types. If you know that your dosha is predominantly kapha, find a yoga class that leaves you a little breathless and even makes you sweat. This will be far more beneficial for you than a class spent lying on your mat under a blanket.