Yoga and Ayurveda
by Deacon Carpenter
As many people know, I used to have a pretty hectic career in global advertising and branding in New York City. Even though I adhered (as much as I could) to an Ayurvedic –type lifestyle, the one big thing that helped me survive (and I mean that quite literally) was Yoga.
My journey to Yoga was quite different to most in the west. because I was actually introduced to Ayurveda before Yoga. It was after reading David Frawley’s book “Ayurvedic Healing” and getting addicted to Maharishi’s Kapha tea, that I realized that Ayurveda can’t fully thrive without Yoga and vise versa.
In my practice, however, I’ve worked with quite a large number of clients who have never been to a yoga class. In fact, even my very first client in New York City bristled when I offered (although he makes it sound like I threatened) to take him to yoga class.
The conversation went a little like this:
Me: “…and we’ll work together to incorporate these dietary changes, and I’ll work with a Yoga teacher to put together a series of poses which will really help you come back into balance”.
Client (shocked): “I’m NOT going to Yoga”.
Me: “But it’s a core part of your therapy”.
Client (slightly belligerent): “Forget it”.
Me: “May I ask why you are so opposed to Yoga”?
Client (matter-of-fact): “Every time I go to Yoga, I injure myself, so I vowed never to go back”.
Me: “What sort of Yoga classes have to gone to before”?
Client: “Bikram and all variations of hot Yoga”.
Me: “I see the problem – You’re Pitta with a Pitta imbalance, so you’re trying to compete with other people in class. Let’s get you to a restorative yoga class. You just need to stretch and breathe, not compete”!
Client (begrudgingly): “ok”.
The last time I looked, Yoga Journal designates over 46 variations of the practice of Yoga, ranging from the traditional Iyengar, Hatha and Asthanga, to Acroyoga, Hot Yoga and paddleboard Yoga. But our bodies are unique, and some bodies can be more flexible and open than others. To me, finding the right practice of Yoga is just as important as eating the right sorts of foods, taking the right sorts of herbs and managing our stress properly to keep our bodies in balance. That’s why I will always prescribe a Yoga practice to my clients as an integral part of their therapy.
As a general rule, and I do mean general, there are certain poses that can both be balancing and unbalancing depending on the practice and the individual. Time of day, time of year, time of life and type on imbalance also play into the practice, which is why we should change our practice as the seasons change, as we get older and if we get ill. Always tell your Yoga teacher about any injuries, strains or tightness before getting on your mat.
Here are some basic poses for balance.
Sun Salutations: These are great to do just after you’ve woken up and before you eat anything. Facing east and focusing on your breath, sun salutations are balancing for any dosha. Of course, there are variations, but doing a few rounds before you start your day are very beneficial.
Grounding poses like Thunderbolt, Warrior 1 & 2, Cobra, Cat/Cow, Mountain and tree are best to balance Vata. These poses are also very good to do after traveling or during Vata season (late fall to mid/late winter). If you are trying to pacify Vata, it’s very important to focus on the breath and slower movement – imagine that you are transitioning through these poses in warm honey!
Heart opening poses like Childs pose, Chair, Triangle, Legs Up the Wall, Cat/Cow, Pigeon, Boat and Camel pose are ideal. If you are balancing Pitta, it’s best do take these asanas in the morning – before the sun has had a chance to fully rise – this is especially important in Pitta season (late Spring to mid fall). Remember to NOT hold your breath when you transition through these poses, and try not to compare your pose to your neighbors!
Invigorating poses like Downward Dog, Hero 1, Sun Bird, Plank, Squat, Bridge and Spinal Twists are great for warming up Kapha. If you are trying to balance Kapha, it’s ideal to transition between poses with some vigor – remember, it’s about heating up. Don’t hold your breath when transitioning and try to take your asana practice between 6:00 – 7:00AM (Kapha time of the day).
As I always tell my clients, the practice of Yoga is yours. You know the limitations of your body, and if your body isn’t ready to open, don’t force it. Even if you are seeing your neighbor nail every single pose flawlessly, I guarantee that it took them plenty time to get to where they are now. Remember, Yoga and Ayurveda move at the speed of nature – your nature!