Ayurveda and Yoga are dubbed sister sciences and like sisters can be, they are inseparable. Imbedded in each system are practices to heal physically, mentally, and spiritually when disharmony arises. Through learning about the elements, the gunas and doshas, Ayurveda teaches us how things like food, the weather, and our interactions can alter our physiology and psyche. From this knowledge emerges an awareness that makes it nearly impossible to act without intention. Yoga asana, pranayama, and meditation are customarily a part of Ayurvedic treatment plans, but as you may suspect, they are not arbitrarily assigned. Despite all having the aim to promote equanimity, these practices can generate different immediate effects.
Considering this allows your yoga practice to take on an Ayurvedic undercurrent. And if you thought your yoga practice was already the remedy to your malady, hold on, because it’s about to get more potent.
Yoga that includes Ayurveda is multi-layered, but does not have to be complex. It can be as straightforward as the words hot, cold, mobile, static, light, and heavy, and is no different than figuring out how many friends it takes to balance a teeter-totter. Different styles of yoga and individual asanas not only affect our muscular body, but place us on various points of the feeling-state continuum. Does the asana energize or does it settle? Does the breath work stoke your inner fire, or does it cool it? Are you left feeling inspired or clear-headed? Being mindful of this assures your daily yoga routine is serving you in the greatest capacity, if you know how and when to apply it. Thankfully, Ayurveda has tips for this, too. Remember we are trying to prevent an abundance or overflow of any one quality and that too much of the same thing increases our potential to feel unwell.
This doesn’t mean you should abandon what you are doing, it rather suggests a change in your approach. It’s a lot like checking the weather before you dress for the day or pack your suitcase for vacation. As you roll out your mat, place your finger to the wind. If it’s been a week of deadlines and meetings, perhaps a less structured and more free-flowing practice will be more fulfilling. If it has been cloudy, cold, and humid, something with rigor could be nice. If you’ve been over-scheduled and over stimulated, balance may be found in asanas that are oriented to the earth. Use the season, your dosha, and most importantly, your current state of being as your guide. Here’s how:
Practice for the weather and the seasons. The reason a shift in your yoga practice is appropriate with the change in season, is the same reason you hunger for soup in the winter and salads in the summer. Each season is represented by different elements and is appeased by different foods and actions. The heaviness and dampness of spring make it prime time for a vitalizing practice with more backbends, inversions, and vigorous movement. But doing these things in the summer heat won’t feel great. A fiery summer calls for slow, gentle movement with twists, forward bends, and cooling breath work. And contrary to this, static hip stretches and rooted standing postures are summoned by the cool, dry air in the fall and winter.
Practice for your dosha. This method assumes you recognize your doshic makeup, such as if your constitution is more predominantly vata (ether + air), pitta (fire + water) or kapha (water + earth). If you don’t know your dosha, you can determine this with a quiz, a visit with your Ayurvedic practitioner, or even by being honest about your inherent tendencies. Do you evade, attack, or extract? If you lean towards vata and are more predisposed to feeling scattered or resistant to structure, a yoga practice that is consistent and the same each day will give you foundation. For the pitta dosha that has always been focused on achievement or goals, a yoga practice should be movement without measure. And those earthy, kapha types that may not like change and need to be tricked into doing movement, a light and spontaneous manner is key.
Practice for your current state of being. How do you feel right now? And now? What about now? Be willing to adjust your yoga practice for what’s currently going on in your body and mind. Yoga is beyond being just another form of exercise, so put its wisdom to good use. If you do the same routine every day, there may be a missed opportunity to incorporate twists to aid your digestion or chest stretches that heal your upper back pain and broken heart. Go into each practice with a fresh view, ready to respond to what arises. Both yoga and Ayurveda are about increasing awareness and acting with intention. Each day and each yoga practice provides a clean slate for exactly that.
Try including Ayurveda in your yoga, while knowing that above all it is important to allow yoga to feed your soul. As an artist may feel starved if deprived of the ability to create, tune in daily to what you crave. Merely be conscious when the cravings are keeping you captive of your imbalance and when they are setting you free.