It is important to find time for movement every day but it is more important to exercise according to your type so that you get the best results. It may take a while and require a lot of patience before you discover what is best for you but once you have found your perfect practice, you will be gifted with very stable health, happiness and peace.
Like with the foods, it is recommended that you introduce all of the different elements using the below guidelines in order to keep your constitutional type in balance. Some of the elements include: standing, sitting, moving forwards and backwards, expansion, contraction, ascending and descending. Let the guidelines inspire you whilst adjusting them to what is best for you. However, it is important to bring your body and mind into balance first before you start introducing the guidelines.
General guidelines for your practice
Make sure you choose a well-ventilated room, if you prefer practising outside then avoid direct sunlight, excess heat, cold or wind, as these will hinder you from turning inward. Making your practice into a consistent daily routine not only soothes your body and calms your mind but it also increases the effectiveness of your practice, creates more security and strengthens your self-esteem which is crucial for your well-being.
Take time to centre, set the intention for your practice and connect with your breath. Instead of trying to control your movements or breath, allow your breath to lead your practice whilst remaining completely absorbed, present and receptive. Please make sure you warm up with gentle joint and gland rotation exercises before engaging in any intense practice. Ayurveda suggests you have reached the peak of your practice once you notice sweat on your forehead, underarms and spine. For the best results, it is recommended that you end your practice at this point with some calming movement or pranayama.
Adjusting practice to your age
Naturally, your energy changes as you age. Childhood represents the Kapha age and requires more action and fun activities, whereas teenagers represent the Pitta age and require intense, active and challenging activities and postures. Pitta increases during middle age so it is the time to introduce calming and cooling exercises at the end of an active and vigorous exercise. Yet as you age Vata increases, drying out your body, so gentle, revitalising, and nurturing yoga, which focuses on the breath is best, this lubricates your joints, maintaining their flexibility and strength.
Choosing the right practice for your environment and type
Living in different climates affects your doshas, therefore your practice needs to be adjusted according to where you live:
- It is important for Vata and Pitta to avoid hot and dry environments, especially when practising. Hot yoga practice is not recommended for these two types.
- The Tropics are very disruptive for Kapha and Pitta, who need to reduce their heat and moisture.
- Practising in a cool and dry place in a calming, yet digestive fire (Agni) stimulating way will help.
- Cold and damp places aggravate Vata, so their practice will need to focus on warming up the body. Also, in dry and cold environments, they will need to focus on creating warmth, as well as creating moisture. This can be done by using a diffuser, humidifier or vaporiser in the room before practising warming movements.
- In dry and cold climates Kapha needs to focus on an active practice to create heat and warmth in the body. In cold and damp winters, Kapha will get enough moisture, yet they will need to focus on heating up the body. Hot yoga is a perfect choice in this case.
Precautions to take in cases of menstruation/pregnancy
Due to the downward oriented flow of energy during menstruation, it is not recommended to strain your body with standing postures or invert your body as it may severely disturb your natural cycle and even stop menstruation. The most soothing practice for this time is reclining butterfly posture (see picture) with deep, relaxing breathing. Menstruation naturally coincides with the new moon and this is the time to turn within and stay still, rather than being active and outward-oriented.
During the first three months of pregnancy, it is recommended to rest and relax as much as possible. If you feel the desire to practice yoga, it is OK to do all the asanas but only if you have practised yoga before. After the first three months do not engage in any practice that puts pressure on the abdomen. Any activity that brings flexibility to the spine is more than welcome throughout your entire pregnancy. Towards the end of pregnancy focus more on pelvic and hip opening practices and abstain from inversions. After giving birth regenerative practice, to close and strengthen the pelvis is recommended. You can slowly and gradually return to your active practice one month after pregnancy.
Using herbs to help your practice
Drinking herbal teas before and after your practice will help warm you up, induce sweat, encourage circulation, remove toxins, and rehydrate, cleanse and calm your body.
- Vata: it is recommended to drink a moisturising liquid before their practice, such as warm milk or sweet cinnamon tea (milk can be added).
- Pitta: a cool beverage such as fruit juice (apple, pineapple, pomegranate), a mild peppermint tea, or Indian Chai tea is generally good for them to drink before their morning yoga practice as it helps with circulation and perception, and promotes detoxification through urination. After their practice fruit juices are the best option to rehydrate and allow Prana to move throughout the body.
- Kapha: it is best for them to consume a spicy tea such as ginger with honey before their practice.
As a general rule – using sweet aromas during relaxation cools down the body and mind, whereas using sandalwood oil after practice reduces fatigue and settles the heart and mind.
The best practice for your type
Vata types naturally love to move fast, engaging in activities such as running and cycling. You could even turn into an adrenaline junkie. Even though these activities feel great for Vata types they are not the most beneficial for them in the long run. It is typical for Vata types to have weak muscles and thin bones, so any sudden or abrupt movement may result in injury. Fast activities will aggravate Vata and dry out their fluids, resulting in reduced mobility.
The best practice for Vata types is slow paced, grounding, gentle, quiet and systematic:
- Avoiding any intense activity during the afternoon and an early morning start is advised. Taking care to keep themselves warm during the entire time of their practice.
- The most soothing environment will be warm and serene; if possible in the middle of a bright room, with their back facing big, bright windows. If needed they can ground themselves on the wooden or marble floor, or go for a walk outside barefoot before their practice.
- Vata requires a lot of discipline, so it is essential their practice is carried out in a controlled manner with as much focus as possible, the longer they hold the poses the better.
- The best activities for Vata require focus, help to ground and build core strength (i.e. a plank), this is fundamental for them to develop flexibility in their joints and spine. Strong spinal muscles, pelvic muscles, trunk erector and abdominal muscles also play an important role.
- It is enough for them to go for a slow walk, relaxing swim, chi gong or gentle yoga class that focuses on slow-moving vinyasa and postures that exercise the pelvic area (standing postures and standing forward bends).
- Forward bends, gentle backward bends, and spinal twists help to release excess Vata energy, whereas strong engaging postures help to develop stability. It is important to stress that backward bends and twists need to be done gently and not held for too long as they may aggravate Vata.
- Inversions (shoulder-stands, headstands, and half wheels) are very beneficial as they help move excess stagnant Vata down through the body.
- Vata types need at least 20 to 30 minutes of final relaxation.
- The best breath practice is alternate nostril breathing: right nostril breathing in the morning and left nostril breathing in the evening.
- Vata should make sure that their relaxation space is silent and their body is covered so that air currents do not distract them whilst flowing around their body.
Vata types are so used to moving around that they will find it hard to focus and remain still in one posture. It is therefore recommended for them to start with a gentle vinyasa series, focusing on their breath (especially inhalation) and trying to remain present in the current moment. It is recommended for them to increase the hold of postures over time, whilst observing the natural flow of their breath.
Pitta types have good muscle structure and flexibility, which enables them to do most activities and yoga asanas. Pittas naturally love competition and setting goals, which aggravates their dosha in the long run. Therefore, they need a practice, which calms down their built up turbulent energy, allowing them to become more receptive and open, and inviting more calmness into their body and mind. Yet, no matter what practice they engage in, there is a danger of them becoming overly involved, therefore even yoga can create stress and injuries rather than peace and stillness. When Pitta does a tension releasing activity they usually end up pushing themselves to the limit and wearing themselves out, proving to be counterproductive.
The best practice for Pitta types is one that is relaxing, cools and softens their energy, and leaves them receptive and open:
- It is more than enough for them to engage in a moderate, effortless, non-goal oriented practice at 75 % of their capacity, as they will still be working harder than any other type. Pittas are the most consistent, disciplined and determined type. They just need to make sure they don’t overdo it.
It is best for them to practice in a cooling room, ideally with a marble floor.
- Yin and slow, restorative practice which is held over longer periods of time is perfect as it teaches them to surrender. Whilst learning to relax into a posture they will relax their focus, tension and learn to let go of control.
- Swimming, surfing, climbing (if possible close to a water source) require great amounts of strength, yet at the same time calm the Pitta fire down.
- Breathwork is a wonderful tool for Pittas, as it can be used to monitor their work intensity. When there is too much heat, they can use their breath to cool down and relax by releasing it from their mouth.
- The most cooling and pacifying practice is for them to do seated forward bends and twists (great for flexibility and to balance the body and mind). These postures are to be held for long periods of time.
- They should take care to practice only gentle backbends (cobra with focus on gaining strength in the spine rather than focusing on extending into full backbend), whilst being aware of their breath.
- If possible Pitta should avoid headstands, prolonged backbends and any other inverted postures.
- It is recommended for them to spend 20 to 30 minutes in final relaxation, however, if they become irritable and find this too long, then they should shorten the time and gradually increase it over time.
- Calming, centring, and relaxing seated postures will stimulate their parasympathetic nervous system, teaching them to 'be' rather than 'do'.
- Recommended for Pitta are cooling breath pranayamas and the use of soothing and calming mantras.
- Alternative nostril breathing: inhaling through the left nostril will cool down their fire.
If Pitta focuses too much on achievement they will aggravate their dosha, if this is the case then they should begin with a gentle practice. Dynamic moon salutations represent the perfect solution for them. It is also important to stress that this type prefers to stick to postures they perform well and ignore the ones they cannot do. If they overdo their practice, they will feel angry and agitated. Pitta love to practice in groups or with a companion that will encourage them to practice in a more aware, relaxed, detached and surrendering way.
Short and stocky, with thick bones, Kapha types are not very flexible, yet they possess great stamina and more endurance than the other types. They are often overweight and prone to lung congestion, making movement and breathing difficult, meaning they tend to not overexert themselves. Yet Kaphas need energetic movement and stimulation more than the other types. External stimulation and criticism from others will push them into action, as they do best when they are pushed into something. However, once Kapha types get going, they are able to persist in their practice for a long time and do not easily give up if their practice is not bringing the results they expected at the beginning.
The best practice for Kapha types is vigorous, warming and strong, focussing on movement, and motivating them to shake up their daily routine and try out something new:
- It is recommended for Kapha to practice with maximum effort, speed, determination and to always do a proper warm up. Even when they practice with maximum effort, they will not overdo it.
- Due to their type, they can practice in hot conditions (deserts) and do power or hot yoga. When practising indoors, they should choose a wooden room as it will be warming, balance any fatigue and stimulate positivity and activity.
- Active exercise such as cardio, jogging, cycling, tennis, aerobics, hiking, mountain biking are a great choice for Kapha.
- Standing postures, heart openers, inversions, and backbends are great for them as they stimulate heat and energy in the body and flush out any heaviness. If they are overweight it is important that they first strengthen their shoulders, arms and legs before they go into a headstand or handstand. The same goes for a backbend, they should start with a strengthening cobra posture before they attempt a full backbend.
- Although continuous movement is recommended in Kapha types, it is also beneficial for them to hold some postures for longer periods of time and with deep breathing, especially when doing strenuous postures such as headstands. However, they should only hold forward bends for short periods of time as they have a cooling and calming effect.
- Since the Kapha dosha is centred in the chest region, activities that stimulate circulation in the chest are especially recommended: sun salutations, shoulder-stands, plough, locust, bridge, and tree pose, heating pranayamas such as lion breath, a breath of fire or Ujjayi (ocean breath). Using deep rapid breathing will also help them overcome lethargy.
- There is no need for Kapha types to do a long final relaxation, a short 10 minutes is sufficient.
- It is important to stress that pranayama practice without any previous active or dynamic movement (running, walking, sun salutations) will not be as effective in Kapha types as they will just fall asleep instead of going into a meditation. Great results will come from alternative nostril breathing: right nostril breathing.
Kapha types will find it hard to even think about practising if their dosha is provoked. If this is the case then they should begin with floor or chair poses. Small movements that generate enough energy for larger upright movements should be introduced and increased daily. All they need to do is stay enthusiastic and focus their mind. They should open their chest as often as possible, look upwards, challenge themselves and not give up! As their body strength grows so will their determination.
Restoring doshic balance
When our doshas fall out of balance we are naturally drawn towards the things and actions that bring them even more out of balance. A certain practice can make us feel good in the moment but it may not necessarily bring long-lasting benefits. For example, backbends in cases of aggravated Vata will result in increased anxiety and fear. Yet yoga postures can be used to regulate and counterbalance our doshas.
Below you will find some yoga postures that work best for short-term dis-balances, may it be due to an unexpected event, a change in weather or reaction to food. However, for stabilising long-term doshic dis-balances, please do contact an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner or write to me.
The postures need to be carried out with a smooth flow, in a quiet space, and in a grounding and soothing nature, with a primary focus on deep, natural breathing. It is recommended to stay in postures longer, whilst working with your breath, to encourage slow and deep breathing. The use of props (cushions and blankets) should be used to make the postures more comfortable.
Vata reducing flow:
Tadasana (mountain pose) – Utkatasana (chair pose) – Padangusthasana (forward bend) - Navasana (boat) – Preparation for Sirsasana (headstand) – Balasana (child's pose) – Janu Sirsasana (one-legged forward bend) – Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) – Marichyasana (seated twist) – Supta Matsyendrasana (alligator twist) – Supported Shavasana (corpse pose).
Allow the postures to be carried with awareness but also in an effortless manner, staying in each pose for a while to allow for complete relaxation and surrender. Exhale tensions and heat with long, deep natural exhalations through the mouth. Feel free to take short Shavasana breaks after each pose to fully absorb the benefits of them.
Pitta reducing flow:
Cat-cow stretch – Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog) – Padottanasana (wide legged forward bend) – Anahataasana (active child’s pose) – Salabhasana (locust pose) – Balasana (child's pose) – Janu Sirsasana (one-legged forward bend) – Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) – Marichyasana (seated twist) – Supta Matsyendrasana (alligator twist) – Supported Shavasana (corpse pose) – Sheetali pranayama (cooling breath).
Practice the recommended postures in an energetic and active way, leaving as little time as possible between the postures to relax. If feeling too lethargic, quicken your breath and make your practice faster with more repetitions, this will stimulate your circulation and bring you back on track. If you feel cold, use warming breath of fire (Kapalabhati) or bellows breath (Bhastrika) to remove mucus from your lungs).
Kapha reducing flow:
Surya Namaskar 2 (standing backbend) – Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog) – Bhujangasana (cobra pose) – Virabhadrasana I, II & reversed (Warrior I, II & Reversed Warrior) – Vriksasana (tree pose) – Navasana (boat) – Purvottanasana (upward plank pose) – Dhanurasana (bow pose) – Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel pose) – Supta Matsyendrasana (alligator twist) – Shavasana (corpse pose) – Bhastrika (bellows breath).
Let me conclude that what matters most at the end of the day is how much you enjoy your practice and not whether you have done it correctly or for long enough. If you are completely absorbed in what you are doing, then you have fulfilled your purpose, even if it was only for a short period of time.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you learn to become steady and comfortable, observe your practice without judgement and remember that it sometimes takes an entire lifetime to master a certain posture or technique, so relax, let go and enjoy the present moment. No matter which doshic type you are, it is what you decide to focus on that determines your behaviour. Thus, if you want to see results, you might need to change your focus and attitude first.
Inspired by: Frawley, David and Sandra Summerfield Kozak (2001) Yoga for your Type. Lotus Press: USA.