If you have a one firm image of yoga in your head, think again. This traditional practice is not a single discipline but a range of disciplines based on a common core. You can try any number of classes until you find the one that’s right for you. Or you can consider ancient Ayurvedic approach, matching your “doshas” with yoga styles.
Tailored to fit your dosha
How does it fit? That’s an important question whether deciding which jacket to buy – or which yoga class to take. In either situation, there are “off-the-rack” varieties, but there’s nothing quite as luxurious as something specifically designed to fit you.
When it comes to yoga, Ayurvedic yoga, related to Ayurveda (a traditional healing system of India), offers an approach that is tailor-made for each individual.
“Ayurvedic yoga uses the same postures and bends as other types of yoga; however, the approach is crucial. The instructor designs the approach to fit each person’s constitution,” explains Kathy Sprague, mind-body specialist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox.
Ayurveda and its roots
First, a little history about Ayurveda. This healing system is believed to be about 5,000 years old. It comes from two Sanskrit words ayur, meaning “life” and veda meaning “knowing,” and is interpreted as the “science of long life.” The primary focus of Ayurvedic medicine is to improve health and longevity, which leaves the individual free to follow a spiritual path.
Ayurveda is the oldest recorded healing system to remain intact and has influenced traditional healing systems around the world. Although it is spiritually focused, the system also offers practical applications and deals with all kinds of health issues.
Its primary methods for healing are natural: instead of relying on synthetic drugs for treatment of disease, Ayurveda uses food, herbs and lifestyle practices like yoga, relaxation and breathing exercises to cultivate health. Ayurvedic yoga takes into account not only your body, mind and spirit but the exterior circumstances and surroundings which affect the other three.
What’s your dosha?
Before embarking on the Ayurvedic yoga journey, you are asked a series of questions to help determine your dosha(s) or constitution. (Most people have dominant traits in two of the three doshas.) The questions concern your physical attributes as well as your mental and emotional tendencies. These help identify your dosha(s), Vata, Pitta or Kapha.
If you are a vata, you are often rushed. You are energetic and creative. However, you are also like a gust of wind that comes to a sudden halt and then can’t move. Vata is cold in nature and benefits from warmth and comfort.
Most people are pittas. They are forward-moving and competitive. One of the main challenges for pittas is to learn to relax and not try to control things, since pittas are so focused on achieving their goals.
If you are a kapha, you have a strong, sturdy and well-developed body. You also have a strong immune system, and generally do everything without hurrying. However, you gain weight easily, and your digestion is slow.
Yoga and doshas
Once your dosha(s) have been determined, your yoga instructor will design a yoga routine for you. In general, here are some guidelines on how to approach your yoga practice, depending on your dosha(s).
Vatas and yoga
It’s essential for you to slow down as you practice yoga and focus on the experience of the here and now. Slow breathing is important and you should hold bends longer. It is preferable for you to do yoga on a regular basis, daily if possible, and at the same time each day. Even though you don’t like routine, it can have a calming effect on your life.
Pittas and yoga
When practicing yoga you need to cut down on the effort involved. Shavasana or relaxation is a must for a pitta person. This provides the time for pittas to use yoga for relaxation and develop more inner awareness. Postures such as forward bends and seated twists can be beneficial.
Kaphas and yoga
If you are a kapha, when practicing yoga you should begin slowly and build gradually. Your goal is to eventually work up a sweat. This will increase your circulation and metabolism.
Breathe and relax
By the way—don’t forget to breathe and relax. This may sound elementary, but it’s important to consciously focus on these two essential limbs of yoga: pranayama (breathing exercises) and shavasana (relaxation).
Pranayama involves becoming more mindful of our breath and learning to breathe more consciously. Because breathing is natural, most of us have little or no awareness of the way we breathe. How we breathe is closely connected to our state-of-mind. For example, when we are frightened, we tend to take rapid, shallow and irregular breaths. The breath is connected to the mind, but we’re often unaware of this.
Kathy Sprague advises, “Slow and steady breathing relaxes the mind and brings brainwaves into an alpha-meditative state-of-mind enabling inner awareness.”
Shavasana occurs at the end of yoga practice and lasts for about ten minutes. It involves lying on the floor without moving and then consciously relaxing every bit of tension in the body and mind.
Path to health and serenity
Finally, there is another way.
“So many people notice a change after their first Ayurvedic yoga class. Also, it is good for weight loss and cardiovascular exercise – total fitness to include the body, mind and spirit!” claims Kathy Sprague.
A still and quiet mind allows you to reflect upon your spirituality, enabling you to experience your natural being—which is already perfect.
Ayurvedic yoga – a perfect fit for you.