Balance Your Body and Mind with Calming Fall Yoga
Often referred to as the sister science of Ayurveda, the path and practice of Yoga is the perfect complement to an Ayurvedic daily routine. Especially as we shift into the fall season when vata tends to increase, staying connected to the body through yoga is a powerful way to stay grounded, stable, and calm.
Over the last two decades, yoga has become widely adopted and commercialized in the West. And while this movement has brought immense gifts and benefits to countless individuals, there are many classical terms and concepts that have developed altered meanings in the process.
For example, the original meaning of vinyasa is to connect the poses with the thread of the breath. This involves focusing the mind on the breath and allowing the body to move with the breath, awakening our prana.
However, with more people living and eating in a way that aggravates vata dosha, vinyasa seems to have developed the connotation of fast movement. This is understandable—moving quickly is appealing when vata dosha is in excess and we feel like we need to get somewhere.
The issue is that a rapid flow can actually further increase vata dosha and cause imbalance if the connection with the breath is lost. It can also lead to injury if we are making repetitive misaligned movements at a fast pace.
So I offer this simple vinyasa sequence to calm all three doshas during vata season. This sequence will focus on vinyasa in its truest sense, incorporating smooth breathing and moderate to slow continuous movement.
Vinyasa practiced in this way will counter the effects of vata season and serve to bring peace and tranquility to the mind. It moves us toward a state of true Yoga: the union of body, mind, and spirit.
Essential Tips for a Successful Yoga Practice
To get the most out of your yoga practice, it's helpful to slow down, tune into your body, and connect to yourself before you begin moving. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you begin:
- Create space: Practice in an uncluttered space that feels good to you. Whether it’s a corner of your bedroom, on your deck, or in a grassy park, treat it as a sacred sanctuary.
- Set an intention: Begin your practice with chanting a mantra, saying a prayer, or offering a statement of reverence to connect you to the divine within.
- Honor your body: In each asana, let go of notions of what a pose should look like. Move from the inside out and trust what feels right for your body.
- Focus your gaze: Use a drishti (focused gaze) as you move. Gaze steadily at something that is not moving in order to calm the fluctuations of the mind.
Always Prioritize Your Breath
Make your breath your primary focus during the practice and allow your body to follow the breath as if it is riding a magic carpet gliding on a wind current.
Use a light to moderate Ujjayi Breath (the Breath of Victory). Ujjayi Breath is an even inhale and exhale through the nose with a slightly contracted throat so that a soft noise is audible. This breathing practice is helpful for warming the body internally as well as focusing the mind during the practice.
Keep your breath steady, but allow it to be effortless and graceful. Contracting the throat too much or trying to make a loud sound will irritate the throat over time and can aggravate pitta dosha, so let your breath remain gentle and calm throughout your practice.
Use Your Practice to Balance Your Dosha
Your yoga practice will be most effective if it is appropriate to your individual dosha and any current imbalance you may be experiencing. Follow these guidelines to ensure your practice is as beneficial as possible for you, and keep in mind that your needs may change from day to day. If you don’t know your dosha, you can take Banyan’s free dosha quiz.
Vata: To counter the effects of vata season with its wind and cold, keep the practice room warm but not hot. Slow, longer holds of 20–25 breaths in each pose will be most helpful to focus and calm the mind and build strength. Holding each pose for a steady and consistent amount of time will help calm and stabilize vata.
Pitta: If pitta dosha is prominent, practice moderate holds of 15–20 breaths per pose. Keep the Ujjayi Breath smooth and moderate rather than forceful, and be mindful of pushing too hard. Remember that your practice is for your own benefit—you have nothing to prove!
Kapha: With excess kapha dosha, shorter holds of 10–15 breaths will be most balancing. Keeping your breath and body moving more steadily will allow prana to flow and leave you feeling more energized.
A Simple Vinyasa Practice for Vata Season
Warming Up and Getting Started
- Love Your Ligaments. Start with 1–2 gentle yin poses, such as Child's Pose (Balasana), to say hello to the ligaments and the joints around the pelvis and lower body, the home of vata dosha.
- Start Moving. Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) is a great place to start moving to warm up the entire body. Remember to keep the movement smooth and slow paced, following the breath.
The Heart of the Practice: Standing and Balancing Poses
- Standing Poses. These poses focus on steadiness and stability and are naturally balancing for vata dosha. They also inrease strength and flexibility in the legs. Incorporate a sequence of 3–6 standing poses, such as Warrior 1 (Virabadrasana 1), Warrior 2 (Virabadrasana 2), and Triangle Pose (Trikonasana).
- Balancing Poses. Be sure to include a balancing pose like Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana 3) or Eagle Pose (Garudasana) to establish a strong sense of grounding. This will help counter the increased vata in the environment during the fall season.
Shift your Perspective with Inversions and Backbends
When the cold wind blows, we tend to contract and close up the front of the body, so gently countering that tendency is helpful for maintaining the strong, healthy flow of prana.
- Inversions. Begin with an inversion of a simple nature such as Legs Up the Wall pose (Viparita Karani).
- Backbends. Follow with backbends to strengthen and support the opening of the front side of the body. Good options are Locust Pose (Salabhasana) variations or Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana).
- Wrap it up. Finish the practice with a seated twist like Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana) and a Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana).
- Savasana time. Savasana (Corpse Pose) gives the body a chance to integrate the wonderful effects of the asana practice, so its importance cannot be overemphasized in moving toward a state of Yoga. Be sure to cover the eyes gently with a scarf or an eye pillow to support the calming of vata dosha.
Creativity within Structure: Develop Your Personal Practice
This basic sequence is just a framework to create an effective personal practice that is appropriate for you and your body's needs. You can vary the length of your practice simply by adding or subtracting poses—but be sure to include at least one pose from each category.
The sequence allows for a strong crescendo in the middle, as appropriate for the individual, and ends peacefully so that you are energized and relaxed in the mind and body after completing the practice.