The Connection Between Ayurveda & Yoga

We have heard that Ayurveda and Yoga are related, and know that each of these sciences have been for thousands of years. But if you are like me, you have wondered how these two forces hooked up before dating apps were a thing.

Ayurveda is “the knowledge of life”: the study of maintaining health, preventing disease, and treating illness by balancing properties in and around us. Yoga is “union”: controlling your mind in order that you may experience complete union with “The One”, who or whatever that may mean to you.

Both Ayurveda and Yoga share the philosophy of Samkhya, which provides the evolutionary framework in the Universe. The premise of Samkhya is dualism, whereby everything is either derived from Purusha (pure consciousness) or Prakriti (matter).  Prakriti has 3 Gunas:

  1. Tamas
  2. Rajas
  3. Sattva

From these 3 Gunas, the Five Great Elements are manifested, as well as the five sense organs, the five motor organs, and the Mind – 24 Gunas in all.  

According to Ayurveda, when all of these Gunas are in balance, optimal health is maintained.  Most of those who practice Yoga are familiar with the Doshas and their basic features. Yoga (the asana limb) is another tool to add to your box of tricks as you work to keep yourself even-steven.

Yoga for Vata

Vata is characterized by mobility, cold, lightness, and expansiveness. If you are of Vata constitution or are experiencing a Vata imbalance, add opposing qualities, both in types of asanas and how vigorously you practice. These adjustments will bring support and grounding back into your lifestyle.

  1. Practice at a reduced intensity. Slow and steady wins the race.
  2. Wear long sleeves and pants, or be sure that you are warm throughout the practice.
  3. Begin your practice with sun salutations to increase body heat right out of the gate.
  4. Poses such as Virabhadrasana I (Warrior), Child’s Pose, supported Malasana (low squat), and Happy Baby Pose support Vata.
  5. Do not overexert yourself in the intensity of poses or duration of your workout.
  6. Hug muscles in and up to your core; keep your entire body engaged throughout your practice to create stability.
  7. Keep grounded with the earth; whether your feet or hands are bracing you, keep them deeply rooted and connected.
  8. Sama Vritti Pranayama, or equal-breath breathing, calms the autonomic nervous system and naturally reduces stress in the body.
  9. End your practice with a long and restorative relaxation pose while staying warm and preserving your body heat.

Yoga for Pitta

Pitta consists of sharp, hot, dry, mobile, and light qualities.  If you are primarily Pitta or are experiencing an exacerbation of Pitta, try easing up on the depth of your poses and/or intensity of your practice. Consider these guidelines:

  1. Stay cool. Wear light clothes and practice in the morning or evening. Heated classrooms are not your BFF.
  2. Yoga is not a competition – work at 70-80% of your maximum effort.  If your objective is health and balance, yet you still want to do the most advanced pose, that is your ego talking. Rethink your motivation.
  3. Keep your eyes closed or focus lightly on a drishti. Draw your attention inward; Yoga is an internal practice.
  4. Poses such as Chair, Parsvokonasana (Side Angle Pose), Standing Forward Fold, and Parsvokonasana pacify Pitta
  5. Concentrate on your breath: deep inhale and exhale. Focusing on your breath helps control and calm your mind, reduces internal body heat, and draws attention inward.
  6. Avoid being critical of yourself or others.
  7. Sitali Pranayama helps reduce body temperature.
  8. Remind yourself that you are benefiting from a slower pace!

Yoga for Kapha

Kapha Dosha is represented by dense, stable, cool, and wet qualities. In order to counteract these forces, an extra amount of intensity and effort needs to be applied to create heat and energy. If you are Kapha or have a Kapha imbalance, try these suggestions in your Yoga practice:

  1. Extend your arms whenever possible instead of resting them at your side. The objective is to increase your heart rate.
  2. Incorporate full, deep, slow, and controlled breaths throughout the entire practice.
  3. When you feel like you have reached your maximum threshold, hold the pose 1-2 more breaths.
  4. Challenge yourself even when you feel like taking a resting pose.
  5. Try poses like Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) with arms up to the ceiling, Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III), holding Plank, Archer, Crow, or other arm balances to maximize energy output.
  6. Try to work up a sweat. Kaphas naturally carry excess water so sweating is therapeutic!
  7. Exercise several times per week.
  8. Kapalabhati Pranayama can foster enthusiasm, heat, and focus.
  9. Enjoy a well-deserved Savasana.

Ayurveda and Yoga are twins separated at birth. They work together naturally to promote wellness, prevent disease, and keep us feeling our best. I have heard it best described as this:

“We practice Ayurveda so we are able to feel the effects of Yoga.”

I am all about keeping it real: making choices to suit your individual lifestyle that aren’t crazy hard so you can still be healthy and feeling good without being an extremist.  When food and drink options are endless, and even types of Yoga classes to attend have menus of their own, all I can say is this: Be Smart, Choose Wisely.

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