Balance Your Body and Mind with Fall Yoga
Over the last 20 years, as Yoga has become widely adopted and commercialized, many classical terms and concepts have developed altered meanings.
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. When we move in this way, our prana flows through the body and energy field, which enlivens, energizes, and heals us.
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 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 a simple vinyasa sequence for calming all three doshas during vata season. This sequence will focus on vinyasa in its truest sense. It incorporates smooth breathing and moderate to slow continuous movement, which will counter the effects of vata season and serve to bring peace and tranquility to the mind.
Some Tips to Get Started
Begin the practice with chanting a mantra, saying a prayer, or offering a statement of reverence to connect you to the divine within.
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.
Use a drishti (focused gaze). Gaze steadily at something that is not moving in order to calm the fluctuations of the mind.
It’s All About the Breath
The breath ought to be the primary focus during the practice, with the body riding the breath like 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.
Contracting the throat too much or trying to make a loud sound will irritate the throat over time and can aggravate pitta dosha, so allow the breath to remain gentle and calming throughout your practice. The mind can also become attached to this, leading to imbalance.
Balancing the Doshas in Your Practice
The practice will be most effective with the following emphasis, depending on which dosha is predominant, and the extent of an individual’s imbalance. Consider the time you have available before choosing the number of breaths for each pose so that you don’t end up needing to rush.
Vata: To counter the effects of vata season with its wind and cold, keep the practice room warm but not hot. Moderation in life brings the best results.
Slow, longer holds of 20–25 breaths in each pose will be most helpful to focus and calm the mind and develop strength. Holding each pose for a steady and consistent amount of time will help to calm vata dosha.
Pitta: For prominent pitta dosha, moderate holds of 15–20 breaths will work best. Keep the ujjayi breath smooth and moderate rather than forceful.
Kapha: With excess kapha dosha and no excess vata, shorter holds of 10–15 breaths will be most balancing.
A Simple Vinyasa Practice for All Doshas in Vata Season
Love Your Ligaments. Start with 1–2 yin poses to say hello to the ligaments and the joints around the pelvis and lower body, the home of vata dosha.
Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar). This is a great place to start the movement. Again, keep the movement smooth and slow paced, following the breath.
The Heart of the Practice: Standing and Balancing Poses
Standing Poses. These focus on grounding, strength, and flexibility. Next a sequence of 3–6 standing poses to increase strength and flexibility in the legs. Good options are 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, which will counter the increased vata in the environment during Autumn.
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 flow of prana.
Begin with an inversion of a simple nature such as Legs Up the Wall pose (Viparita Karani), followed by 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).
Savasana 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
You can draw on this basic sequence framework to create an effective daily personal practice. 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.
This 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.
This grounding and energizing practice will encourage prana to flow and allow the spirit to shine through the eyes.