YOLY Challenge #31: Warm Up to Ayurveda


The term ayurveda means the “science of life.” Its practice utilizes diet, herbs, bodywork, breathing and meditation in a holistic fashion for healing the body. Ayurveda teaches us how to harmonize ourselves with sunrise and sunset, the seasons of the year, and the stages of life. Ayurveda and yoga are sister sciences that grew up from the same root in ancient India.

Ayurveda recognizes that we all possess individual constitutional types or doshas in mind and body. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the specific doshas and the categories by which the science of ayurveda is designated. Someone’s dosha can be determined by their body type, their temperament or even by the kind of food, exercise and lifestyle they gravitate toward. In the weeks to come, we will discover how ayurveda can give us a better understanding of our unique nature. We will use these discoveries to see how our yoga practice can help to balance our individual constitutions.

For this challenge, I would like to introduce you to the vata dosha.

Vata types are airy in nature. This quality is expressed in the bones and joints where vata accumulates in the body. These types have the weakest build and stamina, but also have the greatest capacity for change and adaptation. Vata is the energetic force responsible for movement, expression and the discharge of all impulses. It acts primarily through the nervous system. The colon is its main site in the disease process, in which waste gases or toxins accumulate and spread to the blood, bones and other parts of the body. Psychologically, feelings of ungroundedness and instability signify too much vata or wind and create fear and anxiety. Balanced, vata can be expressive and creative.

Although periods of change and disruption come easy for the vata types, it is not a healthy path. During the holidays, many of us were over stimulated by excess noise, crowded shopping malls and unsettled in our eating and drinking habits. We also tend to travel more and get less sleep during this season. In general the holidays, while being a wonderful time for gathering with family and friends, tend to create havoc in our systems and bring about an increase in vata.

January is an opportune time for reestablishing stability and routine for your body and mind. The way in which you practice your yoga is an excellent place to begin.

To reduce excess vata energies, you should practice in a quiet, grounded and structured way. Your challenge is to try one or two of these suggestions each day this week:

It is best for vatas to work the poses with the breath and hold the standing, seated, forward bends and twists longer than they are inclined to do. Seated lateral bends or Sun Salutations should be done expressly while focusing on the breath.  Pause in Uttanasana and feel your connection to the earth.

Back bends tend to increase the vata dosha if done excessively or unconsciously. Done gently, they keep the spine supple preventing excess Vata from accumulating in the vertebrae. Try Sphinx pose or a fully supported back bend such as Mountain Brook Pose.

Vatas should think of building core strength in the body while maintaining flexibility. Practice Navasana in stages so that you can sustain your time in the pose with balance and poise.

Savasana is the best pose for pacifying vata and should be practiced daily for 15-20 minutes as a conclusion to the asana practice. Be sure to stay warm.

Remaining still will be the vata’s challenge as well as the reward.