Interview with Ayuryoga Therapist, Prana Flow Teacher and Ayurvedic Practitioner Maria Garre
EJ - What is the difference between the approach in asana and pranayama one takes in the spring and then in the fall for a cleanse?
MG - In the spring cleansing you are primarily looking at clearing excess kapha that has accumulated in the winter, which brings the earthy, liquid, cloudy, sticky kinds of qualities that manifest as lymph stagnation. In the spring there is also commonly an excess building that we have to clear out, whereas in the fall, you are looking at clearing out excess heat, characteristic of the dryness and depletion that has come from the summer months. Spring practices need to be much more aggressive at clearing out ama and stagnation, where in the fall there is a cleansing of heat. In the summer you have to be careful not to overly purify or cleanse because the summer is a depleting time. Charaka says, we are at our weakest in the summer and the strongest in the winter. When I look at planning a spring detox, the spring is a perfect opportunity to utilize the strength built up during the winter. Having a strong and fortifying asana and pranayama practice can be recommended at this time. Being aware of the seasons and adapting the practices help maintain balance and synch our rhythms with nature.
EJ - If someone is doing a home cleanse or considering some kind of guided cleansing routine what asana and pranayama do you recommend?
MG - When I look at planning a spring detox I will always look at incorporating bhastika, kapalibhati, analoma viloma and brahmari. These are all the quintessential clearing and cleansing types of pranayamas as they target more movement in the chest and sinus area where kapha tends to accumulate. In a fall cleanse, I would include kapalabhati also because it is tridoshic, yet may be mindful of the number of repetitions and the intensity in which it is done it there is an excess of Pitta. If there was excess heat, a cooling pitta pacifying pranayama could be included, like shitali. Shitlali is not as necessary in the spring because often people are not experiencing heat, rashes, hyper acidity, etc. (excessive pitta conditions) coming out of winter into spring.
In a spring practice pranayamas are much more activating, forceful, heating and drying in nature.
EJ - Now, would you recommend these same pranayama practices to different constitutional types? Or would it depend on what is elevated or where they in fact live?
MG - Yes, you would make adaptations for environment and if a dosha is in excess or highly elevated. Kapalibhati and analoma viloma are tridoshic so everyone would benefit from those two practices. Brahmari will not elevate a dosha, the one out of this particular set that I would exercise caution would be bhastika and only for pitta.
EJ - Because the excess of pitta?
MG - Yes, but bhastrika is drying so it can help the oily quality of pitta, but it is also heating to help the cool quality of vata. If the dry quality of vata is elevated in an individual, bhastrika may not be the one I may recommend. For example, if they have dry skin, constipation, dryness in the colon bhastrika would not be on my list. Their rasa may be kshaya or depleted. Meanwhile, in a situation where there is excess pitta dosha and there is a lot of heat and sharp qualities bhastika could also elevate those qualities more. But it is all relative, maybe these individuals do significantly less like one set of 10 rather then 2 sets of thirty or more. Regardless, it will be beneficial to move the cardio pulmonary system from the stagnation of winter.
Adaptations can be made depending on the individual in the amount of repetitions. Over all, how Bhastrika, analoma viloma, kapalabhati and brahmari, are done can all have a balancing and harmonizing effect on the dosha and are beneficial.
EJ - What time of day do you recommend for practice do you recommend the vata time of day or later, into the kapha time?
MG - At this time of year with the sun rising and it being light around 6-6:30, the kapha time, it is a good time to be practicing pranayama. Most practitioners may agree that fortifying the lungs at the kapha time during a spring cleanse is appropriate. One would still rise around 5-5:30 for morning dinacharya rituals and also, in an ideal scenario, have a bowel movement before pranayama and asana practice.
EJ - Why is this? So that the colon is clean?
MG - Dr. Lad has shared that is it essential to evacuate the colon prior to pranayama because it can actually push the toxins back in to general circulation. Now that is in a perfect world. We all try our best to be regular. If one cannot and then has the urge to defecate during pranayama, do not ignore that desire and suppress the urge. So sometimes a little pranayama can stimulate a bowel movement and it is important to listen to the body.
We have these ideal sets and scenarios but maybe a kapha will benefit with some movement practices to inspire a bowel movement before meditation or pranayama. The beauty of Ayurveda is that there is not a perfect anything and adaptations are made for an individual. This is why it is important to know where one’s starting point is.
This is also the beauty of having a daily routine regularly and especially during a cleanse time. Pranayama is a preparation before yoga asana is recommended and can help going deeper in to the other practices. I love and do pranayama before meditation and yoga because I feel that it allows me to go deeper in to meditation.
EJ -That being said, let’s move onto asanas and sequences that would be beneficial at the time of a spring cleanse.
MG - Surya Namaskar, for sure, is a great practice, because you want to move rhythmically and in doing so move stagnant lymph. Adding mantra to the surya namaskar is a nice spring practice as we are welcoming the sun rising earlier as we move towards the solstice. We can hold asana longer, as spring time and the end of winter is the time that we should hold asanas the longest. It is where we reap the greatest benefits of strengthening and fortifying over the winter months before the depleting summer time comes.
You can hold postures for 10 breaths. Postures that have good lateral flexion and chest opening are good. It compresses, stretches and squeezes the tissue and pushes everything out. So that it means it pushes stagnant blood and lymph out of the organs; it moves heat out of the organs and into the periphery. It can push out and clear crystallized emotions from the tissue as well. It can be an emotional revealing process. Some of the postures that are beneficial are:
Virbhadrasana I (warriors pose) and Virbhadrasana I with a backbend, anything that has vyana vayu active, lifting the arms over the head is good. Utkatasana brings heat into the viscera where one can store fats in the omentum (layer of peritoneum that surrounds the abdominal organs). This is the time of year where the body will shed those winter pounds. Charaka shares that just as the snow from the mountains begin to melt and flood into the rivers, so does the layers of build up from our body want to move out.
EJ - Well, certainly a good time of year then for spring cleanses to support this natural cycle.
MG - Utkatasana (chair pose) is great to incorporate after surya namaskar to bring heat to the body with the mild back bend with the arms raised. Side angle pose, trikonasana, is also another great pose to release kapha: you have a wide and deep hip flexion but also lateral flexion to open the lungs. Ardha chandrasana, half moon, builds strength in the balance and lateral flexion as the chest opens. Natrajasana is another nice standing pose with a back bend. It is a pose that strengthens and grounds and then you add the backbend to open the heart and lungs. Generally, standing poses are all going to benefit kapha but the ones that open the chest and have the arms over head are going to be higher on the list.
Seated posture, again wheel, urdhva dhanurasana and camel, ustrasa again poses that open and invigorate the lungs, these back bends that stretch the stomach up to the chest and really have an udana vayu quality are essential. Cobra and bow and locust are fine but they are not going to have the same upward chest opening action as camel and wheel.
Then padmasana, (lotus pose) is also good and this may seem strange, as a kapha balancing pose but the feet pressing on the thighs press on marma points for ambu vahasrotas, the water carrying channel, the channel that kapha can become stagnant or sluggish in. Simhasana, (lion pose) is effective for kapha because the activation of udana vayu and its effect on the throat and thyroid.
Sirsasana (headstand) actually makes the list for spring, where you would not see it in the summer. Headstand and inversions are great again because it comes back to circulation and stimulation. It can be a good time of year as it brings heat to the head, so if you have dullness, sluggishness in the head and congestion in the sinuses it can help clear. It is great for digestion if there is manga agni; as it reverses the flow of blood.
And then also what can be helpful is mayurasana (peacock pose) because if we have sluggishness in digestion mayurasana is the quintessential pose in yoga therapy to enkindle agni, it also hits the liver and spleen marma points. It is said in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that the daily practice of mayurasana will let you digest even snake poison. Yet, mayurasana does require a good deal of strength. It’s heating and because of the position of the forearms, it benefits agni.
In vinyasa the springtime is the season to do arm balances but this depends on what lineage one may practice. For example vasisthasana (side plank pose) is a great one to incorporate, as well as, pincha mayurasana (forearm balance) into a flow sequence.
To reiterate, we are looking to build strength, build heat, move lymph and burn adipose tissue through all of these. Cardio vascular activity is really important. But we only have so much time in a day. There will be no way to do all of these. J
EJ - In summary, the spring is a time of year that is associated with rasa and the lymph, that which nourishes us and is building and fortifying. Yet it is essential in the spring to move the lymph and the best way to move lymph is to move the body, being active and dynamic with a focus on the lungs and health respiration.
MG - Yes, dinacharya activities have to be modified to the time of year. And in the spring adaptations are made. Doing abhyanga with a little less oil and with more vigor, dry brushing, for instance, moves the tissue more. It is more stimulating. These are elements to incorporate.
EJ - You shared the asana and pranayama practices that can be done during a spring cleanse, how does this differ if one is going through a Panchakarma, a much deeper and significant cleansing action?
MG - Less strenuous poses and more seated poses, less standing and some twists can be done, like Cobra, Bridge pose, Camel, Legs up the wall.
But like I said earlier, if there is a lot of ama and the PK is releasing this-it is not advised to do strengthening asana practice because it will drive it deeper into the tissue rather than releasing it. There is physical and mental ama and all of this can be stirred up and released during a cleanse. You have to be aware how to support the process so you can release mental and physical ama in a healthy way. Gentle yoga and pranayama practices may be helpful but it also may depend on the strength of one’s constitution or how long one has had an established yoga routine.
Above all, in times of cleansing, it is so important to know where you are or get the counsel of an experienced clinician. In the words of Deskichar, you must always start where you are. But you need to know where you are before you start. Often as Westerners we just want to start and we do not take the time to assess where we are so we know what the starting point is. We do not all start at the same place. The starting place will be different for everyone.