I am not going to use this post to sing the praises, the headstand or any inversion for that matter. There are enough articles on the net that do that. Just Google “headstand” and you will find the one site after the other that will tell you of the many benefits. There are also many contra-indications and one of them is that the headstand is not recommended for people with high blood pressure. I am suffering from high blood pressure and I am on medication, as my doctor once said to me, as long as the blood pressure is under control, you can pretty much do any yoga asana you like. I am following my doctor’s advice and I do at least once a week a headstand for a few minutes. I belief it does help to manage my high blood pressure.
However, this post is about an aspect, a benefit of the headstand or inversion of which very few article will refer to. I want to start at that amazing event in every human’s life, being conceived and born into this world with your unique set of karmas & samskaras and reincarnating into a life full of endless possibilities. However to be born into this life, we need to leave the comfort and safety of our mother’s womb and this is where an amazing evolutionary event happen, we need to do a headstand to basically get into this world! Jip, think about it, you were born into this world upside-down. An inversion was the very first thing you did to enter this life.
And this is where the miracle of life already starts, in order to enter this world, we had to turn our world around. In order for you as a new human to this planet you had to change not only your physical position to enter this world, but also your mental view to prepare your self for the challenges of this life.
Say hello to your dose of endorphins when you do an inversion. Yes, the brain releases feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins when you invert your body and this in turn assist you to be calm and collected when you need to make those big important decisions.
Apart from changing your point of view, an inversion help us to concentrate and to really focus on what is at hand. It help us to sustain our concentration and to direct all our energy to the challenge or obstacle in front of us. An inversion align the mind in such a way that we can then think creatively about the issue in hand and find a solution flowing from a space of inner calmness.
Increased body awareness.
Ever get into an asana and think, I have no idea where my feet are right now? Inversions are notorious for this. However, inverting your body not only invert the body and your awareness of your body, but also your mind. Your mind has to literally think differently when you invert and this is a valuable asset you have in problem solving. Figuring out where the body is in space is a beautiful practice in cultivating spacial awareness. Figuring your problems out while there, that is just as special and amazing.
Enhanced focus on the present.
When we worry we usually either retreat to the past to find solace or we rush into the future to seek the solution or to escape. Inversions have the power to bring you into the moment, into the here and now and to confront everything right here and now. It’s hard to do anything else when upside down! Staying grounded, calm, focused, breathing slowly and remaining present are truly the only ways to stick an upside-down asana, but while there, things do change, so that when we come down, our world might look different, we might think different. Inversions release the mind and allow it the freedom to think differently.
Therefore, if you ask me how to approach your problems, how to find a solution, my advice will always be, do an inversion or two.
For most of us, we start yoga and we are so inspired by what we feel and experience during the first few months or even years that we need very little encouragement to motivate us to a dedicated and committed practice. Our bodies react in surprising ways to what we do with it in yoga. Our emotions start to calm down and we feel yoga is our weekly saving grace from a hectic schedule. And the mind, suddenly the monkey starts to just relax and the constant chatter of the mind dies down. We feel content, centred and even happier than before. Yoga works! And you need very little encouragement from anybody to be on your mat week in and out.
Then one morning you wake up and it happened. You feel stuck in your practice. You wish that your teacher would just do or say something today in class to motivate, inspire, and bring back the yoga mojo a little in you. In fact, you start to blame your teacher for not doing enough to move you to your happy and inspired place. You look in every class for validation; you want reassurance that you are still doing it right, that somebody notice your perfect downward dog or your gracefully executed headstand. As gregarious beings, we want to feel noticed and we want feel inspired.
As your teacher, I want to inspire you week in and week out, I want you to know I see you even if you think I don’t. It is a balancing act for teachers to be strict in terms of motivating their yogis to be in class no matter what, because how can we inspire you if you are not there? But, on the other hand we also need to tone down the discipline sometimes as many might interpret it as being too strict, to authoritarian and inflexible, when they need flexibility and tolerance.
A yoga class is not a one-size-fits-all type of practice. There isn’t a single recipe to encourage and inspire yogis. What worked yesterday will not work tomorrow, therefore for me over the years I focus less on the method and more on the ingredients, in other words, who are in my classes. The right ingredients will work together to make an inspiring and amazing dish – same with a class, the right people in each class will motivate and inspire people to come back week in and out. And if a particular class doesn’t work for you anymore, ask your teacher to move. Sometimes I ask somebody to move to another class. Each one of my classes has its own personality and each class is suited to some and sometimes it is not. Doesn’t mean the teacher and yoga doesn’t inspire you anymore, you just need to find the recipe where you will work with the other ingredients.
To get you started, here are a few ways to inspire you, to get to the right group where you will perform optimally again:
Let go of Expectations
Having a healthy expectation of yourself, yoga and your teacher is natural and a balanced outlook will inspire you. But expecting the impossible both from yourself, your teacher and the other yogis in your class is a sure way to kill the inspiration.
Remember your Original Intention
So many times we start doing yoga with one simple intention in mind, over time Ego starts to get hold of us again and we added too many intentions which become tiresome and we start to feel uninspired. Remind yourself again why you started yoga in the first place. Keep that intention alive as it will cultivate inspiration.
Know the Ingredients, Not Just the Recipe
Get to know the ingredients, in other words, reach out to the other yogis in your class. I cannot say this enough, you have a new family in your yoga group, but you need to reach out, be part of the group, and be that one ingredient that makes the recipe awesome. Be awesome when you walk into a class and realise you are part of a very special recipe with other awesome ingredients.
Sharing, Not Just Lecturing
As your teacher I am here to share. And I shall always share freely my advice, my knowledge, my compassion, my teachings, my asanas – I am not your mother, I am not here to tell you what to do and what not. I am here to share and to ensure that your practice evolves you and moves you. And in sharing I trust I motivate and inspire you. You need to find the inspiration and you can only find it, if you are in the class on your mat on a regular basis.
Own your Practice
Own your successes and small victories. When you eventually get something right, realise the magnitude of what it has moved inside you. Inspiration comes from noticing the small little changes after a while and realising that a regular practice makes the difference. You make the difference by being on your mat without excuse. As I always say, there are two reasons why you skip a class: your death and the flu. All the rest is just excuses. Come to class, even after an operation or giving birth, you don’t have to do anything, but being there WILL make the difference you need, because is it all about the energy.
Respect is not a FOUR Letter Word
Respect is a discipline and an attitude in life. Respect is not about appreciation and praise and admiration, but it is about being committed, disciplined and to be on your mat in class. It is beyond rules; it is an attitude that inspires you to be above the need for appreciation and praise. Respect is an inner knowing and attitude that inspire you to belief in yourself, your practice and I am the best I can be.
Yoga is about Growth
Lastly, if you think yoga is about being able to stand on your head or do the perfect cockerel, then your Ego has taken over and you will not feel inspired. Leave the competiveness at home, it kills inspiration instantly. Your Ego is your greatest obstacle to the growth yoga can bring. That constant growth inspires you to do a little more every time. But, if you have lost this motivation, you have also lost inspiration. Rekindle your own inspiration by focusing on the growth aspect of yoga and not the look-what-I-can-do aspect.
As your teacher I belief in the individual capabilities of each of my yogis. Each yogi in my class inspire me to be on my mat and to move and grow my own practice. I can only inspire you if you are in my class.
Have you ever left home for yoga class or work or going to a friend and when you arrive at your destination you can’t remember through how many traffic lights you are or any detail of other cars or anything from your journey? Or sometimes you read a book and three pages later you can’t seem to remember anything that happened or what you have read the last three or four pages? Of course you have, we all have! These are common examples of “mindlessness,” or as some people put it, “going on auto-pilot.”
We are all subject to the bad and good habits of our minds and bodies, of attention and inattention, of being in the here and now or being totally absent busy living in the past or future. Wherever we are the result is a us not being present most of the time in our own lives. And the unfortunate part of this inattention can be costly, we can miss really good opportunities, or we may miss information about our lives, our relationships or even about our health! However there is a way out of this inattention, we call it mindfulness.
It is important to note that we all have the quality of being mindful and the ability to apply and practice it within us. It is not a special skill you have to learn, in fact it is something natural in us and we just need to re-establish the habit and pattern to be mindful within us. To practice mindfulness is to first of let go of the idea that you are good at mutlitasking and to accept that we as humans are programmed to do one thing at a time and then we do it really good, we do it with mindfulness. It is the quality of bare awareness that knows what is here in the present moment. Mindfulness knows what is going on outside, and also, inside our own skin. However we experience life, through whichever sense gate life comes to us – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, even the mind itself – mindfulness is capable of knowing that seeing, or hearing, or smelling, or tasting, or feeling, or even thinking – is happening in this, the present moment.
Truly living in the present moment isn’t easy, but it is highly rewarding. The best way to move forward on your own path to “here and now” is to understand the potential obstacles and plan in advance how you’ll deal with them.
It is an ongoing effort
Mindfulness isn’t something that just drops out of the sky and voila there you have it! It takes time and effort and constant reminding to be in the here and now. However, the more you practice it, the easier it gets to get into the habit of being in the here and now. As with most things in life, your mind will be fearful initially and your thoughts will be chaotic, your life would seem out of control. Previously you would cook, eat, feed the baby and dog and cover your son’s books at the same time, now you do one thing at a time and it might feel you’re wasting time, but give it a chance. Your situation will feel out of control and even helpless, but the more you focus on being fully where you are, the easier it will be to find peace of mind in the moment.
My Tip: Start small, baby steps, do one thing good and complete it and then move onto the next. Mindfulness is best practiced throughout your day. It’s not just for when you sit down and meditate. Focus on being mindful of your thoughts when you’re doing everyday tasks and it will be easier to remain mindful when things get tough.
There will always be distractions
It seems to be a law of the Universe, as soon as we start a journey there always seems to arrive more challenges with that journey as well. The distractions could be problems in your life, drama in your relationships, or old negative beliefs popping up from your past. Try to see the opportunity in the challenge – simply put you have an opportunity to practice present moment awareness and that is great! Our challenges will help us to become stronger, more resilient and better in tune with yourself.
My Tip: See the challenges, the distractions and difficulties not as negatives, but as wise teachers in disguise! They are really there to help you grow and realise who you are!
Be patient – progress takes time
We live in a world where we are forced into thinking that everything works like a McDonalds! Truth is our world needs slowing down, needs time, a plate of food that took time and attention to prepare taste so much better than a fast food hamburger, not true? Same with your progress, it might seems slow and excruciating, but have patience. There will be times when you attach to things and situations that you want, which will make it difficult to be fully in the present moment.
My Tip: It’s impossible to be mindful when you’re dwelling on the past or obsessing about the future. We all do those things sometimes. I’ve experienced it countless times in my own life. The more I want something, the more I fixate on not having it and wanting to get it. Once I release the attachment and focus on being grateful for what I have in the moment, my life seems to shift, and progress seems to happen naturally.
Don’t give up!
Any journey has that moment where we just want to give up or turn around. But it is during the times when you feel most frustrated that you are often on the verge of a breakthrough. Our lives are very similar to the seasons. We go through cold, dark winters, and joyful, expanding summers. It all comes and goes. It’s the ebb and flow of life.
My Tip: Realise that life is sometimes easier and expansive and other times it is difficult and contracting again. But, as you become more mindful of the challenging times, you realise they are there to help you grow and in time you will feel more peaceful and relaxed.
Our goals muddle our mindfulness
Being goal driven and orientated in life is necessary and fantastic. And the problem is not with having goals, but that we can become so attached to the “outcome” of our goals that we forget to be mindful of getting there. And the more we focus on the outcome and attach to the outcome, meaning we live in the future, the more frustrated, angry and negative we get. Sometimes to the point where we feel everything and everybody is against us!
My Tip: Attachment muddles our clarity. You’re likely pursuing your goals because you believe the outcomes will make you happy and not because you enjoy the journey! When we allow our goals to pull us too much into the future or even the past, it is not a goal anymore, but a chore that makes you unhappy! Focus on that which you want to achieve now, it will make you much happier!
The journey is the destination
Like the example with which I have started this article, most of us are barely aware of the journey, we miss the fact that the journey IS the reward, the utopia we looking for! Have you ever noticed that the path to reach a goal is much more exciting and interesting than reaching the goal itself? When we are young we look forward to being older and wiser and want to be older, but when we reach the milestone of a certain age we had in mind, suddenly that milestone doesn’t seem so great, but the journey to get to lets say 50 was such a great one!
My Tip: It is in the journey that we learn, grow, and become better. When you’re practicing mindfulness, remember that there is nowhere to arrive at. If you focus on what is going on right now, the rest take care of itself.
Sometimes you’ll want to be anywhere but in the now
In my life I have been in the presence of many great teachers, my own teacher Sri Durga, Sri Satya Sai Baba, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, Swami Sahajananda of the Divine Life Society in South Africa and even they had to deal with difficult situations and chaotic thoughts from time to time. What I have learned from all of them is that it is easier to accept the moment for what it is than to fight it and trying to change it. When you do this, you become the guardian of your inner space and peace, which is the only way to feel good inside and find peace of mind, right now.
My Tip: Look to the journeys of those who went there before you and take inspiration from their journeys and know that your path will be full of opportunities to be great as well! It is up to you to recognise them!
Yoga is about purification of the physical as well as the emotiona, mental and spiritual bodies and once the transformation starts to happen and take affect, many yogis start to search for alternative ways other than the allopathic medicine to treat their illnesses, dis-eases and disorders. Many look to homoeopathy and soon change from an allopathic doctor to a homoeopathic doctor and soon, in my experience, many of my yogis are looking for more in order to fascilitate their self-healing and so enter Ayurveda as a natural option.
Because Ayurveda is more than just medicines and treatments, you have to take aspects such as diet, lifestyle and exercise into consideration. This article specifically looks at the role of yoga asana as part of the the whole treatment of your body and how you can incorporate yoga in your home practice to treat certain health concerns. As for teachers reading this, I trust that it might give you insight into the issues and concerns of some of your students and open new avenues at looking at your classes and sequences.
As this article is about yoga asana, I will leave it to each reader to familiarise yourself with the doshas before you continue reading further as understanding of this article requires an understanding of the doshas. A good and easily understandable source of information for the beginners to Ayurveda is the first book in my bibliography at the end of the article and you can read here more about this book. Please note that I by no means also claim that what I am giving here is the be all and end all of asanas for the doshas, in fact I am sure many of you will come up with more, this article serves as an introduction to weth the appetite for more information and further reading.
Asanas for Vata
Vata predominant individuals should remember to focus on calming, grounding, stillness, strengthening, and balancing while doing their practice.
Precautions for vata:
- Vinyasa or flow styles of yoga tend to move too quickly from one pose to the next and can aggravate the hyper-mobile quality of vata over time. Flow sequences can be made to be more vata pacifying if they are not excessively long, the length of time poses are held is extended, and transitions are done slowly and consciously.
- Those with lower back problems may find that bending the knees in standing forward bends can prevent discomfort.
- Back bends should be done slowly, carefully and within one’s own limits.
Vata Pacifying Asanas (Yoga Poses) According to Ayurveda:
Emphasis should be placed on poses that open or compress or twist the pelvis, and engage the low back and thighs, all areas of vata.
- Sitting poses: Lotus, Siddhasana, Vajrasana, Lion pose, Virasana.
- Sun salutation: When done slow and with awareness it helps to calm and relax the mind and generates warmth in the body.
- Standing poses: Vrksasana (tree pose), Trikonasana (Triangle pose), Virabhadrasana (Warrior), Standing Forward Bends.
- Forward bending poses (all types).
- Fetal postures (all variations).
- Yoga mudra (all variations).
- Spinal twists (both lying and sitting).
- Back bending poses: Cobra, Locust and Bow pose.
- Inverted poses: headstands, shoulder stands and Halasana (supported by blankets so as not to put too much pressure on the cervical vertebrae) and Viparitakarani Mudra (a relaxing inversion).
- Shavasana or Corpse pose: vata types should do a long relaxing corpse pose (15-20 minutes).
A Well Balanced Vata Yoga Sequence:
- Surya Namaskar (followed by brief Shavasana or child’s pose)
- Tree pose Utthita TrikonasanaWarrior (any variation)
- Standing Forward Bending (any variation)
- Ardha Chandrasana
- Downward Dog
- Elevated Lotus
- Extended Child’s Pose
- Lion Pose
- Pavanamuktasana (Wind Release)
- Crocodile Twist (lying Spinal Twist)
- Shoulder stand
- Corpse Pose (20 minutes is ideal).
Asanas for Pitta
Pitta individuals should maintain a calm, cool, and relaxed intention while doing asanas. Pitta types may benefit from trying to cultivate an attitude of forgiveness, and of surrendering or offering the fruits of their practice to the divine of to those in need of positive healing energy. Because asana practice tends to generate heat in the body, it is best to do yoga at cooling times of the day, such as dawn or dusk. Also, it is useful to place some emphasis on poses that help to release excess heat from the body, such as poses that compress the solar plexus and poses that open the chest.
Pitta Pacifying Asanas (Yoga Poses) According to Ayurveda:
- Sitting postures (all except Lion pose).
- Moon salutation (Chandra Namaskar).
- Sun Salutation (done slowly)
- Standing posture, the best are the ones that open the hips like Tree pose, Konasana (all variations) and Virabhadrasana (Warrior), Prasarita Padottanasana (expanded leg forward stretch), and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon).
- Shoulder stands in all its variations, also Shashangasana (Rabbit)
- Back bending and chest opening postures like Cobra, Camel, Bow, Fish, and Bridge pose.
- Posture that compress Surya Chakra or the solar plexus such as Hidden Lotus, Alligator, and Bow pose.
- All sitting forward bend, especially Upavistha Konasana, Janushirshasana, Kurmasana (Tortoise), and Paschimottanasana.
- Yoga Mudra
- All spinal twisting postures
A Well Balanced Pitta Yoga Sequence:
- Chandra Namaskar
- Parivrtta Trikonasana
- Prasarita Padottanasana
- Seated Spinal Twist
- Extended Child’s Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Half Bridge)
- Crocodile Twist
- Janu Sirsasana
- Virasana (with “So Ham” Breathing)
- Corpse Pose.
Asanas for Kapha
Kapha types tend to be sedentary and often dislike vigorous exercise. For this reason, their practice should be energetic, warming, lightening, and stimulating, providing they are physically capable. Vinyasa or flow style yoga is good for kapha because it is dynamic and moves quickly from one pose to the next, it induces sweating and gets the heart pumping.
Kapha Reducing Asanas (Yoga Poses) According to Ayurveda:
- Sun salutations (done quickly): stimulate, lighten and heat the body
- All standing poses:
- Downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Upward Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
- All standing poses, especially Virabhadrasana (Warrior) and Prasarita Padottanasana (Expanded Spread Foot), and Tadasana (Palm Tree Pose).
- Lion Pose
- All inverted poses.
- All back bends and poses that compress the navel like Locust, Bow, Peacock, and Alligator.
- Seated twists
- Nauli Kriya (Stomach Rolling or Intestinal wash).
- Elevated lotus, Mayurasana (Peacock), Vajrasana.
A Well Balanced Kapha Yoga Sequence:
- Surya Namaskar (vigorously, or jumping style)
- Palm TreeWarrior I & II
- Prasarita Padottanasana
- Downward Dog
- Seated Spinal Twist
- Bharadvajasana (Seated twist)
- Lion Pose
- Jathara Parivartanasana
- Fish Pose
- Corpse Pose
Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy for Vata Related Disorders
Vata type Asthma (dryness, constriction, and wheezing): Vajrasana, fish, Halasana (Plow), Locust, Bow, Pavana Muktasana (Wind Release), Shoulder stand, Head stand, Cobra, Forward bends (all types), Up and Down Dog and Seated twists.
- Backache: All standing poses, Plow, Chakrasana, Cobra, Vajrasana (with deep three part breathing), Twists (gently), Locust, Bow, Jathara Parivartanasana.
- Constipation: All standing postures, Shoulder stand, Head stand, Wind Release, Yoga Mudra, Forward bending (standing and sitting), Leg lifting (Uttana Padasana, Uddiyana Bandha.
- Depression (fear, anxiety, and restlessness): Yoga Mudra, Plow, Palm Tree, Lotus, Fetal position, Corpse pose.
- Sciatica: Wind Release, Swastikasana (Cross legged forward bend), Yoga Mudra, Vajrasana, Plow, Chakrasana, Shoulder and Head stands, Cobra, Jathara- Parvatasana, Supta Padangusthasana, Forward bends, Up and down dog, Hanumanasana.
- Sexual Debility: All poses that lift the body up to rest on the hands like Elevated Lotus and Bakasana, Vajrasana, Plow, Shoulder stand.
- Varicose veins: Leg lifting, Shoulder stand, Head stand, Vajrasana, Virasana, Supta Virasana, Bhekasana, Corpse pose.
- Insomnia: Corpse, Downward dog, Cobra, Vajrasana.
- Menstrual Disorders (scanty and absence of flow): Plow, cobra, Chakrasana, Yoga Mudra.
- Flatulence: Head stand, Shoulder stand, Hand stand, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Half Bridge), Standing forward bends especially Padangusthasana and Uttanasana, Janu-Sirsasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, Locust, Bow, Peacock Pose Navasana (Boat Pose), Jathara Parivartanasana.
Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy for Pitta Related Disorders
- Peptic ulcer: Hidden lotus, Sheetali or Sitkari pranayama. (See also poses for Acidity and the Liver).
- Hyperthyroidism: Shoulder stand (No Head stand), Karna Pidasana (Ear to knee pose) with deep breathing.
- Malabsorption-Sprue syndrome (pitta grihini): Parivritta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle, Leg lifting, Wind release, Fish, Locust, Nauli Kriya, Nadi Shodhana pranayama.
- Hypertension: Corpse pose, Plow, Forward bends, Shoulder stand, Cobra, Boat, Lotus, Siddhasana (practice quite breathing during asanas). Nadi Shodhana pranayama (without retention).
- Anger-Hate: Bow, Hidden lotus, Shoulder stand, corpse, fetal pose, Sheetali or Shitkari pranayama.
- Migraine headache: Sheetali or sitkari pranayama, Shoulder stand, Fish pose with calm quite breathing, Shoulder stand (no Head stand).
- Colitis: Fish, Wind release, Leg lifting, Boat, Bow, Cobra.
- Liver disorders: Fish, Shoulder stand, Wind Release, Hidden Lotus, Foreward bends, locust, Knee to ear pose, all Twists, Half Alligator.
- Acidity: Sheetali or Sitkari, Standing postures, Boat, Bow, Locust, Seated twists, Cobra
- Most pitta related conditions could benefit from the practice of Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutation) taught at some of our workshops or in private sessions.
Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy for Kapha Related Disorders
- Asthma, sinus congestion and bronchitis: All Standing poses, Head Stand, Shoulder stand, Plow, Forward bends, Downward dog, Viparita Karani Mudra, Vajrasana (Forward bending variation), Chakrasana, Fish, Boat, Bow, all Forward bends, Locust, Peacock, Cobra (with deep breathing), Palm Tree, Bhastrika pranayama.
- Diabetes: Peacock, Boat, Chakrasana, Fish, Vajrasana (forward bending variation), Head stand, Shoulder stand, Forward bends, Half Spinal Twists, Jathara Parivartanasana, Nauli, Uddiyana, Sahita Kumbhaka pranayama.
- Chronic gastrointestinal disorders and sluggish digestion: Peacock, Fish, locust, Leg lifting, Boat, Corpse.
- Sore throat: Lion pose, Shoulderstand, locust, Fish.
- Sinus headache: Lion, Head to knee, Fish, Camel, Peacock, (Also see postures for Asthma, sinus congestion and bronchitis).
- Obesity: All Standing poses, Sun Salutation (done quickly and also with Ujjayi pranayama), Up and Down dog, Half Spinal Twist, Purvottanasana, Gomukhasana (Cow’s Face- with arm only if its hard to cross legs), Lion, Jathara Parivartanasana, Plow, Fish, Corpse.
Fromsdorf, L. The Ayur Veda Handbook. 2009. Oshun Books.
Lad, V. Ayurveda – The Science of Self-Healing. 2005. Motilal Banarsidass.
Swami Sada Shiva Tirtha. The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia. 2006. B. Jain Publishers.
Tomlinson, C. Ayurveda Wisdom. 2002. Castle Books.