“I should really be doing yoga, shouldn’t I?” I hear from many of my massage clients. They see that I am fit, assume I practice some yoga, maybe they think I am a teacher, I am their conscience about their own fitness level, flexibility, stress level, and even for the foods they eat. We are a culture so adept at “guilting” ourselves into what we do, not to mention the “keeping up with the Jones’s” mentality that we are all susceptible to in successful climates. I encourage many people to develop their interest in yoga, but if they are new to it, I especially encourage them to seek a conscientious teacher who takes time to introduce them to the concepts, the philosophies, and the depths of the postures, because people do get hurt practicing yoga. It may be that they don’t have enough personalized instruction, maybe they do not ask for help, maybe they just try it at home with a video with no one to correct them. The other possibility that is less often considered has to do with the energetic; the energetic of each person and how that fits with the energetic of the yoga.
Yoga is a sister science to Ayurveda, “The Science of Life”, an ancient practice of medicine and healing originating in what is now India and Pakistan over 5000 years ago. Ayurveda is based in the premise that there are 5 elements that dictate the energetics of all things in our world: earth, water, fire, air, and ether or space. These elements combine to form the doshas, like a constitution, present in all living things. Kapha combines Earth and Water, Pitta combine Fire and Water, and Vata combines Air and Ether. Most of us humans are a combination of 2 doshas, with one being more dominant. Where that dosha is dominant is an important question: is it in the physical body and where? The mind? The emotions? Given a survey, which can easily be found by most any internet search and in any book about Ayurveda, a person’s scores add up to show a general predominance for one dosha over the others. This information is important when choosing a yoga practice, especially one that is focused on the asanas, or postures.
A strongly Vata practitioner is someone deeply dedicated to what they are doing at the time. When they choose a project, a job, a class, a teacher, a boyfriend or girlfriend, and a type of yoga, they are dedicated 210%; until they find something more interesting! Vatas are impulsive, they change their minds a lot, shift midstream even. Yet they are creative, gregarious, open-hearted, and open to all kinds of experiences. But Vatas have limited energy, and they tend to use it all up at once. Their bodies do not retain calories or minerals well, and they lack reserves. Though they will often be drawn to yoga with a lot of movement and challenge, because it reflects their tendencies, what they really need is calmness, structure, stillness, and restoration. Many types of Hatha Yoga can be tailored for Vatas, but until a Vata really knows themself and how to pace themself in a class, it is good to stick to a purer type or a conscientious teacher who can be trusted to guide them into the postures and adaptations suited for their constitution. Kali Ray TriYoga, White Lotus, Viniyoga, Svaroopa, Phoenix Rising, Anusara, Yin Yoga, Tibetan, and anything titled “restorative” are examples of yoga that may be best suited for those of strongly Vata-dominant constitution. Iyengar may attract a Vata with its structure, but the class should not be too rigid or demanding. Kundalini can be transformative and heating, but too much intensive breathwork can unground the Vata. Kripalu style may also be good, but again must be mitigated for the degree of physical challenge and length of time in postures. A Vata should be looking for yoga that is flowing and gentle, with plenty of breathwork and meditation, an emphasis on structure and stillness, and which requires a level of commitment. They should be wary of types of yoga that have the word “Power” in them, cause excessive sweating, move quickly from one posture to another, require the feet to frequently leave the ground (Ashtanga), or classes that lack emphasis on breath and meditative focus. Vatas become easily “burned out”, overworked, depleted, and can be deranged in their dosha from an ungrounded practice. Sports that are best for Vatas are walking, swimming, dancing, hiking, and gardening, and the yoga practice should reflect the gentler nature that is within them.
Now, the Pitta dominant practitioner wants a challenge. Pittas are go-getters, they are competitive, driven, ambitious, organized, time-managers, condensers of information, and they will listen to the opinions given herein and still do whatever they please!! Pitta is fire, transformation, digestion, and temperature is the most predominant attribute: HOT. Being sporty and competitive, Pittas are instinctively drawn to yoga styles such as Bikram, Ashtanga, Power Yoga, Iyengar, and Kundalini. What they must be very careful of in these styles is not to become overheated, not to become too competitive and judge themselves against their neighbor or teacher, and not to burn themselves out if they also tend to be Vata in their second dosha. Fire + Air creates dryness, or the air can fan the flames and increase heat and inflammatory conditions. For the Pitta who is highly competitive, or tends toward Vata secondarily, the more flowing types of yoga are more suitable: Kali Ray TriYoga, White Lotus, Viniyoga, Svaroopa, Phoenix Rising, Kripalu, Anusara, Tibetan, Yin Yoga, Jivamukti, and even some restorative. The goal is to promote “keeping one’s eyes on one’s own paper”, compassion with self and others, calmness and coolness, a peaceful refuge from the day’s onslaught, and rejuvenation and restoration before heading back into the melee of the ambitious life lived by the Pitta dominant person. Often a Pitta is already engaging in some form of sport. Team sports are good for them but also demanding physically. They may be long distance runners, cyclists or spinners, triathletes, and so on. Their yoga practice must complement and sometimes counteract this activity level. If they are physically so active, it is almost a given that they are mentally highly active and need rejuvenation from their yoga. Pitta-Kaphas may be less likely to use their bodies than their brains and benefit the most of the Pittas from the more physically demanding yoga like the Ashtanga and Power yoga. If their secondary dosha is Kapha, they are more suited to these types of yoga because the Kapha brings coolness and endurance. Bikram may still be too hot, but Kundalini may truly motivate the Kapha and elevate the Pitta.
For Kaphas, it is important to note first that A) Few people are truly, singularly Kapha, and B) Just because a person is carrying extra weight does not make them a Kapha dominant person. A purely Kapha person is a complete homebody, does not tend to get out and join classes, might be reading this article but is not going to change anything because they are comfortable with the status quo and not interested in exploring other possibilities. Food and other comforts are of primary importance. A pure Kapha might get on the floor and start to stretch, but upon encountering resistance might roll over and decide to take a nap…think Winnie the Pooh. Kaphas are very nurturing, and when in balance, they are calm and peaceful. Being in balance for a Kapha, however, means being aware of the need for movement and making sure there is engagement in activities. Having some Vata or Pitta in the constitution helps with this. The Kapha-Vata combination is usually quite talkative and creative, can get off-track and distracted, goes through periods of crazy activity followed by periods of much-needed retreat. The Kapha-Pitta is intermittently sporty, often a weekend warrior type who has innate strength and endurance, but may not consistently engage in physical activity. In either combination, more active and intense yoga styles are generally indicated. Kaphas need vigorous pranayama, or breathing, exercises. Unless they have a strong secondary Pitta and are warm-natured, they also need to stimulate all metabolic activity in the body, and raise the internal temperature. These are the folks best suited for long, vigorous practices like Ashtanga, Power Yoga, Bikram, intensive Iyengar, and Kundalini to bring the earthly energies up into the higher chakras. Those with a lot of Kapha in their constitution are well regarded in Ayurveda because they possess natural endurance, immunity, longevity, resistance, and lovely qualities like peacefulness, contentedness, gleaming skin, thick wavy hair, and large brilliant eyes. Again, all of this is for a Kapha who is in balance. Utilizing a purifying and activating, as well as enlightening, yoga practice to maintain balance allows a Kapha dominant practitioner to access and reap the benefits of all these delightful traits.
Because Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences, bringing the two together in search of an appropriate yoga practice is essential. Yoga is a personal journey, a path to betterment of oneself for the sake of all others. It is to be engaged in with ernestness, seriousness, and commitment; yet it should provide balance, joy, and a sense of freedom. Using the dosha as a foundation for seeking an appropriate practice can narrow the field and help a new practitioner more easily identify the yoga that is right for them, and may even help a seasoned practitioner understand the ways in which modifying their practice might enliven and bring more balance to their journey. Reading more about each dosha will also help any practitioner in any yoga class take more care with their body and know their own needs and limitations. In any given class, for instance, Pitta-Kaphas might step it up a notch and move through asanas with more vigor and power, while Vata-Pittas might tone it down and be more gentle with themselves and not take the “advanced options” all the time. Finding a yoga instructor who understands the doshas is like finding a personal guide on the path to balance, understanding, and maybe even enlightenment!
References: “Not All Yoga Is Created Equal” by Jennifer Cook for Yoga Journal
©Copyright 2012, By Amber Lynn Vitale