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.