Ayurveda is the sister science of Yoga, and the world’s oldest known medicinal system. The word Ayurveda means “knowledge of life” (ayur = life + veda = knowledge), and it is estimated to have been in practice by those on the Indian subcontinent since prehistoric times. It is a philosophy of bringing the body and health into balance and covers more than just diet or treatment of disease–it is an all-encompassing lifestyle of health… and it will change your practice.
1. Know your dosha, and align it with a daily routine to support yourself.
Indian culture loves to categorize. The ancient rishis who established the practice of Ayurveda (and Yoga) were big on observation. According to Ayurveda, three qualities known as the doshas make up the physical world around us: Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. These comprise the gross physical constitutions of our bodies, mind, and even still, everything in the world around us.
Kapha is a combination of earth and water, Pitta is fire+water, and Vata constitutes air and space. Every food, object, and living thing possesses doshic qualities. Then you have combinations of the three doshas themselves in varying ways. We all possess a bit of each, though we might be mostly Vata with some Pitta (designated as Vata-Pitta) or vice versa. Some people are evenly tridoshic, which is actually the goal. To truly practice Ayurveda, you must first know your “prakriti”–your true doshic nature, before you can take steps to balance yourself out. Take this test here and discover yours!
2. Align your asana practice to the season and your dosha.
This is a hard one, because dosha imbalances gear us toward doing the very thing we need to STOP doing. To address this, you need to be aware of your prakriti. For example, Pitta (fire-water) likes to compete and go, go, go. Hot yoga in the middle of summer might be alright for a slow-going Kapha (earth-water) constitution, but nonstop Pitta would be driven overboard. And yet, Pittas will be most drawn to hot yoga in the summer!
Ayurveda seeks balance. If it’s hot out, you focus on cooling. If it’s blustery dry wind outside, it’s time to get grounded. Kapha season? Get things warmed up and moving. This extends beyond asana into diet and lifestyle, and keeping the concept of balance in mind will help you make the best day-to-day choices so you can feel your best.
3. Balance your asanas in terms of what you practice.
If you’ve ever taken a yoga teacher training, you might already have learned that “cooling” and “heating” postures have their place in certain parts of a sequence. It makes sense! It’s important to keep things well-rounded. But then, say you’re partial to backbends and that you struggle with arm balances, so all you do is bend backwards on the mat. The Ayurvedic answer to that is to practice what’s not easy, in addition to your sweet backbend affair. Tune into your practice and approach time on the mat with deep listening to what your body needs in that moment, rather than what ego wants, and you will find there are shifts.
Fluctuating energy serves different times of the week (thanks, work week), month (hello moon cycles), and year (sweet seasons). It is really for this reason that there is so much variety in styles of yoga and poses. It is up to us as devoted practitioners to respect our bodies and know when we’re out of balance, so we can bring ourselves back by applying the wisdom of Ayurveda.
4. Adopt a few simple Ayurvedic lifestyle practices.
This falls outside the yoga mat, but they are such simple practices that truly anyone can implement them and it will benefit you hugely. Tongue scraping, neti-pot use, seasonal eating, and warm water taken first thing in the morning with lemon are just a few ways anyone can begin introducing Ayurveda into their life.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. The most important thing to remember is that Ayurveda is about balance in all aspects of your life–on the yoga mat, in your meditation, daily habits, diet, and activities. It is a practice, just as every worthy endeavor is a practice. When everything is in balance, you are aligned… and you can thrive.
What’s your favorite way to stay balanced? What season do you feel throws you most out of balance? Share your thoughts in the comments!