Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences, two interrelated branches of the same great tree of Vedic knowledge that encompasses all of human life and the entire universe. Yoga is a spiritual path, while Ayurveda is therapeutic (and lifestyle-oriented); even so, they remain deeply connected to one another. The “Doshas” of Ayurveda are Vata, Pitta and Kapha and they describe three different forms of energy, and everyone’s basic nature (prakriti) is made up of a combination of the three. Most people have a dominant Dosha, or two Doshas that share dominance (although in very rare cases there are people who have nearly equal amounts of all 3). Additionally, the balance of the doshas, (vikruti) will fluctuate throughout your life, and can become balanced or imbalanced by factors related to your lifestyle, diet, environment, physical habits, age, and to some degree, the 4 seasons and even the time of day.
Any routine activity in your life can either tend to balance your dosha or cause imbalances and your yoga practice is no exception. So, Ayurvedic practitioners and theorists have given us some guidelines as to what types of asana works best for each Dosha type. Before we go any further, for a review of the three Doshas click on: Ayurveda & the Three Doshas. If you would like to find out what your predominate Dosha is, you can take one of the many online quizzes (do a Google for “dosha quiz”) or to get started there’s a simple 12-question quiz on Deepak Chopra’s site, click HERE.
Now as to which asanas are best suited for your Dosha, here’s some suggestions…
Suggestions and Advice for VATA:
People of Vata disposition or those with Vata imbalances benefit most from a yoga practice that is grounding, calming, and slightly warming. This practice helps to balance out Vata’s tendency to be anxious, insecure and “spacey”. Also, since imbalances in Vata commonly manifest in the large intestine and/or lower back (2nd chakra), people of Vata nature can benefit from poses that strengthen the lower back muscles and work the lower abdomen.
Recommended asanas for Vata: All standing poses are beneficial, especially Virabhdrasana II (Warrior II) and Uttanasana (forward fold), Paschimottanasa (seated forward fold), Balasana (child’s pose), Dhanurasana (bow pose), Padmasana (lotus pose).
Asanas that are best to avoid: Those of Vata nature shold avoid over-stimulation through fast repetitions of sun salutations or similar sequences. In addition, because Vatas tend to have prominent joints, it is recommended they use padding on asanas that put pressure on their joints such as shalabasana (locust pose), salamba sarvangasana (supported shoulder stand) and halasana (plow pose).
Suggestions and Advice for PITTA:
Those who are predominately of Pitta nature are most complimented by an asana practice that is calming and cooling. Pittas have a tendency to be naturally assertive, fiery and driven, so when practicing asana they should focus on keeping their breath steady and bringing “softness” to tense areas like the shoulders and face. Additionally, Pittas are prone to irregularities in the small intestine (3rd chakra), so practicing backbends that stretch out the solar plexus area can be especially beneficial.
Recommended asanas for Vata: Ustrasana (camel pose), Bhujangasana (seated spinal twist), Dhanurasana (bow pose).
Asanas that are best to avoid: Pitta people should avoid over-stimulation through fast repetitions of sun salutations or similar sequences, which can generate excessive heat. In addition, Pittas should not hold inversion poses such as the headstand for prolonged periods, because they generate a lot of heat in the head and the belly.
Suggestions and Advice for KAPHA:
People of Kapha nature are usually complimented by a heating, stimulating practice. Kaphas tend to be a bit slow moving and are prone to congestion in the lungs leading to upper respiratory problems, so a fast and hot practice is the best method for bringing Kapha back into a state of equilibrium.
Best Asanas for Kapha: Ustrasana (camel pose), Salamba Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose – to free up the chest and help prevent congestion), repetitions of Surya Namaskara (sun salutation) A and B.
Asanas to Avoid: Almost all asanas are good for those who are predominately Kapha, but since their weakest areas tend to be kidneys and lungs, avoid prolonged holding of poses that place pressure on the lower abdomen, like Dhanurasana (bow pose).
What if you have more than one Dosha that share dominance?
If you discover that you have a “combination” dosha, it may be tricky to navigate the suggestions and recommendations above. A good example would be if you are Pitta/Kapha, you are advised to avoid heat on the one hand, but generate it on the other? For these types of “dual” dosha personalities, a few suggested recommendations follow, although obviously it would be best to seek an actual ayurvedic/yogic consultation!
First, try to find out if you have a dominant Dosha by taking a different online Dosha quiz; for instance, if you took a fairly long quiz, try taking a shorter one and see if you get a better overall assessment.
Next, you can analyze your results and see if your physical attributes (as opposed to temperamental ones) fall into one category more so than another; this might help to guide your physical practice.
If you still are uncertain, you may need to do some serious self-study to find what is right for you. Going back to the Pitta-Kapha example above, you may find that in the mornings you have lots of fiery energy typical of Pitta, so then a morning practice should be slow and calming. On the other hand, you may find that at this particular time in your life, your Kapha is dominating, and you can compensate with a more stimulating practice. This is also the case if you are one of the rare people who have a balance of all 3 doshas; you will need some careful self-examination to ascertain which Dosha applies to which of your physical and personality attributes.
Discovering your Dosha is an unending process! The balance of these 3 attributes in your life will fluctuate over the years, seasons, even the different times of the day. But Ayurveda is always a great resource for some handy tips for how to get (and keep) those elements in balance, remain in touch with your own unique “Dosha pattern” and stay in tune with your true nature.