Whether you are new to Yoga or have been practicing for many years, Ayurveda will transform and deepen you Yoga practice. Ayurveda (the science of life) is one of the ancient Vedic sciences along with Yoga, Meditation, Mantra and Astrology (Jyotish). Ayurveda and Yoga are sister sciences and intended to be practiced together. In both traditions, health is seen as an integral part of creative and spiritual growth. Yoga provides exercises for physical health, flexibility, and dissolution of tension; while Ayurveda includes herbal medicine, dietetics, bodywork, surgery, psychology and spirituality. A Yoga practice integrated with Ayurveda can harmonize our physical, spiritual and mental bodies.

Understanding Ayurveda
  • Wellness is defined as the balance and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind and spirit.
  • Food and lifestyle are the key concepts and practices.
  • Food not only nourishes the body, but also affects the mind and consciousness.
  • Ayurveda treats the whole person not just the disease or symptoms.
  • Empowers each person to know their body and take responsibility for their own well-being.
Some Basics Concepts

All forms of life are composed of five elements (space, air, fire, water and earth). The five elements combine into three basic energies – vata, pitta and kapha. The doshas are present in every cell and tissue of our body and govern our psychobiological functioning. One dosha is usually primary, one secondary, and the third less prominent. This creates a unique pattern for each person, known as our prakriti or constitution. When our doshas are in balance, we are healthy. When they become out of balance, we are in a state of dis(ease).

The Three Doshas
  • Vata is the energy of action, transportation and movement
    • Elements: ether and air
    • Attributes: dry, rough, light, cold, subtle and mobile
    • Tastes: pungent, bitter, astringent
  • Pitta is the energy of transformation, conversion and digestion (our metabolic system)
    • Elements: fire and water
    • Attributes: oily, sharp, hot, light, moving, liquid and has an acidic smell
    • Tastes: sour, salty, pungent
  • Kapha is the energy of construction, lubrication and nourishment
    • Elements: earth and water
    • Attributes: moist, cold, heavy, dull, soft, sticky and static
    • Tastes: sweet, sour, salty
What is an Ayurvedic approach to Yoga?
  • Asanas (poses) should be practiced differently depending upon each practitioner’s prakriti.
  • Also consider the age, sex and physical condition of the person.
  • Vary Yoga practice depending upon the vitality of the practitioner.
  • Additional variations include anger, grief, stress, depression.
  • Our Yoga practice will change throughout the seasons, our lives and time of day.
  • Increases body awareness and helps one become more watchful of body, including digestion, state of mind, sleep and diet
  • Creates a community of healing – or a sangha.
4 primary goals of an Ayurvedic Yoga Practice
  • Balances the doshas
  • Improves structural condition of the body.
  • Facilitates movement and development of prana.
  • Calms and energizes the mind.
Achieving Balance

A basic premise of both Ayurveda and Yoga is like attracts like. The confusions of our mind often lead us to make lifestyle choices that are not good for us. We may desire what is not good for us. For example people with a fast metabolism may choose dancing, running, or flow yoga for their exercise. People with a slower metabolism may have a hard time integrating an exercise regime into their daily lives. To achieve and maintain balance, an Ayurvedic approach to Yoga applies the principle of opposites or dissimilarity. Once we achieve balance, the body has what it needs to stay healthy and vital.

Recommendations for Vata constitution:

  • Practice slowly and emphasize stability and stillness. Release tension in the lower spinal region, hips, sacrum and lower lumbar spine.
  • Keep energy firm and consistent. Warm up thoroughly and maintain a consistent body temperature. For this reason, Vatas may find Viniyoga nourishing and grounding.
  • Keep the breath deep and calm and emphasize inhalations.
  • Maintain a stable physical and mental state; feel grounded and secure in each pose.

Recommendations for Pitta constitution:

  • Practice in moderation and with a surrendering intention. Keep energy cool, open and receptive.
  • Do asanas in a surrendering manner to remove heat and tension. Avoid pushing or bouncing in postures; less is better.
  • Aim to release accumulation of pitta in mid region of the spine and small intestine; emphasize cooling of the blood and liver.
  • Forward bends and twists are good for pittas. Be careful with backbends.
  • Avoid overheating.

Recommendations for Kapha constitution:

  • Warm up properly and then do asanas with effort, speed and determination. Kaphas need full motivation and stimulation.
  • Keep body light and moving, warm and dry. Kaphas benefit from more transitions between postures. Changes should be incremental so the practioner does not get overwhelmed.
  • Practice on the floor less and include more standing postures.
  • Release upper spine; stimulate lungs and improve respiratory function.

Since Ayurveda considers each individual’s constitution, how can we integrate Ayurveda into group Yoga classes, especially drop-in classes?

Classes can be designed to balance a particular dosha. For example, a teacher can write a class description, design a sequence and provide verbal cues intended to energize students with a Kapha constitution. One common approach is to design drop-in classes to balance all doshas. Yoga teachers well-trained in western anatomy, physiology as well as Ayurveda can offer modifications for each student. Teachers can encourage their students to practice what they love without aggravating their dosha. Coaching students not only raises self-awareness but also helps practitioners achieve more balance. When students leave class feeling restored and rejuvenated, they begin to understand the feeling of balance in their body, mind and spirit.

An Ayurvedic approach to Yoga also considers age, time of day, climate and seasons. A number of studios offer quarterly workshops geared towards each season. In the winter, we want to practice a warming and energizing practice; whereas in summer, our practice should become more cooling and calming.

As David Frawley wrote in Yoga for your Type:

“Your overall asana practice should be like a meal. Each meal should contain some degree of all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent) and some amount of all nutrient types required for the body (starches, sugars, proteins, oils, vitamins and minerals) but as adjusted to the needs of the individual constitution. So too, asana practice should contain all the main types of asanas necessary for exercising and relaxing the entire body adjusted to individual constitutional factors. It should include sitting, standing and prone postures, expansive, contractive, ascending and descending movements, but in a manner and sequence that keeps us in balance and considers our individual structural, energetic and mental conditions.”

Thank you Dr. Dhaval Dhru, Chair of Ayurvedic Sciences at Bastyr University, Melanie Farmer, Ayurvedic Astrologer and Yoga Teacher, Angela Glaz, Eka Yoga and Tami Hafzalla, Bhakti Flow for sharing your experiences and insights about Ayurveda and Yoga.

For more information about Ayurveda, see Washington Ayurvedic Medical Association and National Ayurvedic Medical Association. And if you have not yet read Jodi Boone’s article in Seattle Yoga News, the article provides a great overview of Ayurveda.

[Photo by Nick Morozov | CC BY]
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Heidi Mair

Heidi Mair has been a lifelong student of herbalism, plant medicines and nutrition. While enrolled in an herbal workshop, she discovered Ayurveda and enrolled in Kerala Ayurveda Academy where she completed the Wellness Counselor certificate. She began practicing yoga as a teenager then shifted her activities to hiking, traveling and gardening. Heidi and her husband also renovated a 100 year old house. After a bout of sciatica 10 years ago, she returned to yoga. “Ayurveda and Yoga have made all of the difference in my world. And I enjoy sharing their benefits with others, especially students over 50.” Heidi is a 200-level RYT trained in the Viniyoga tradition at Whole Life Yoga. She currently teaches at Redmond Senior Center, Fremont Health Club, Yoga for Everybody and will begin teaching a new class at Meadowbrook Community Center in April. Heidi also works full-time at Bastyr University where she advises students enrolled in the Naturopathic Doctor program. Make sure to check out her blog.