In my career as a Senior Lecturer in Psychology, my specialism was appearance management since I was also a trained Image Analyst. My unfinished PhD was entitled “Image Consultancy and Technology of the Self: Subjective Positioning and Appearance Management Discourse” which was in fact a critique of the profession that I existed in very successfully as an entrepreneur (but obviously not quite a standard Image Consultant!!!!).
Within the Image Consultancy theory, there was widespread acceptance of a ‘Style Personality’ in which people were broadly categorised according to a specific type (Romantic, Classic, Natural, Creative and Dramatic Style Personality). The idea of a consultation was to examine which of these style personalities suited you and to tame your wardrobe along the guidelines specific to that look so that you gave a uniformed message and people knew who you were in the world. Some consultants took this to the extreme and looked for consistencies between Style Personality and lifestyle choices. What I used to say in my own consultations was this was fun and interesting to look at but it wasn’t a “real” thing. Our identity is being constantly shaped by the conversations we have day to day and by challenges we have to ideas of who we are by what we read, what others say to us and by how we experience the whole of life. The self, in my ideology isn’t a static thing but ever changing and we have multiple facets and therefore many identities.
This is really how I see many technologies that try to type us. This includes the ancient Indian healing system of Ayurveda. In the West, we love quizzes and anything that tells us who we are and tries to box us. There are dangers in that of course, since it means we are also busy boxing everyone else into a category and reacting and relating to a static identity that doesn’t really exist. However this doesn’t mean that I think that study of Ayurveda is without merit and for this reason, you may read on to find out more and enjoy the journey in class this week… I was also spurred on to investigate this week because as you know, I’m battling the old Rhino Virus this week and last. So as a matter of interest I researched what the Yogic system of Ayurveda might have to say to help in the recovery. If you are interested Aurvedic cold theories and treatments this is a good link.
Ayurveda is deeply enmeshed with Yoga. Both yoga and Ayurveda spring from the ancient Sanskrit texts called the Vedas. According to Vedic scholar David Frawley, “Yoga is the practical side of the Vedic teachings, while Ayurveda is the healing side.” In practice, both paths overlap. Philosophically, both yoga and Ayurveda are rooted in Samkhya, one of six schools of classical Indian thought. The foundation of this philosophy can be described as follows:
- There exists a fundamental state of pure being that is beyond intellectual understanding and which all life consciously strives for. This is the state of enlightenment or self-liberation.
- Suffering is a part of our lives because of our attachment to our ego or self-identity (ahamkara).
- The path toward ending suffering is the path of dissolving or transcending the ego. In doing so, all fear, anger, and attachment are eradicated.
- To achieve this goal, we must live a purely ethical life. (Ethical guidelines are listed as the yamas and niyamas in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali.)
- Any disturbance within the mind or body interferes with this path. Ayurveda is the science of keeping the biological forces in balance so that the mind and body may be healthy.
The word Ayurveda means “knowledge of life” and it’s purpose is to balance the body and mind. Ayurveda promotes a system of personal typology which assists in the diagnosis of illnesses which are said to relate to that type.
According to Ayurveda, the universal life force manifests as three different energies, or Doshas, known as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. We are all made up of a unique combination of these three forces. This unique combination, determined at the moment of conception, is our constitution, or Prakruti. The three Doshas constantly fluctuate according to our environment, which includes our diet, the seasons, the climate, our age, and many more factors. The current state of these three Doshas most commonly defines our imbalance, or Vikruti. Since we all have a unique constitution and unique imbalances, each person’s path toward health will be unique. In addition, what will keep each of us healthy is also unique. Understanding our Prakruti and Vikruti offers each of us the potential to make correct choices.
The three Doshas are generally described in terms of the five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and ether (the subtle energy that connects all things). Vata is said to be made up of air and ether. Likened to the wind, it is said to be light, drying, cooling, and capable of movement. Pitta is said to be made up of fire and water. Considered to be mostly fire, it is hot, light, and neither too dry nor too moist; it does not move on its own, but it can be easily moved by the wind (vata). Kapha is said to be made up of water and earth, which combine like mud. Kapha is heavy, moist, cool, and stable.
Mind: Creative, quick, imaginative
Body: Thin, light frame
Appetite: Delicate, spontaneous, often miss meals
Routine: Variable, spontaneous
Temperament: Welcomes new experiences, excitable, friendly, gnergetic
Conversation Style: Loves to talk
Shopping Style: Buy, buy buy
Stress Response: What did I do wrong? Tendency to blame oneself
Mind: Detail-orientated, steady, consistent
Body: Sturdy, gains weight easily, has trouble losing it
Skin: Smooth and oily
Hair: Thick, oily
Appetite: Loves to eat but has a slow digestion
Routine: Methodical and steady, resistant to change
Temperament: Thoughtful, forgiving, sweet, patient, loving, content, slow-moving
Conversation Style: Simple and profound
Shopping Style: Saves
Stress Response: I don’t want to deal with it! Withdrawn
Mind: Sharp, intellectual, direct, precise, discerning
Body: Medium build, warm, muscular
Skin: Sensitive, flush, acne-prone
Hair: Tendency towards early graying or thinning
Appetite: Strong, can eat just about anything, anytime
Routine: Very precise and organized
Temperament: Passionate, driven, courageous, strong sex drive, good leader
Conversation Style: Speaks to convey a point
Shopping Style: Spends on luxury items
Stress Response: Irritable, tendency to blame others
The three doshas fluctuate constantly. As they move out of balance, they affect particular areas of our bodies in characteristic ways. When vata is out of balancetypically in excesswe are prone to diseases of the large intestines, like constipation and gas, along with diseases of the nervous system, immune system, and joints. When pitta is in excess, we are prone to diseases of the small intestines, like diarrhea, along with diseases of the liver, spleen, thyroid, blood, skin, and eyes. When kapha is in excess, we are prone to diseases of the stomach and lungs, most notably mucous conditions, along with diseases of water metabolism, such as swelling.
Which Poses Suit your Type?
Some of our practice goes like a dream – we feel energised, or relaxed and calm – either way we know that class that week was just written for us! Other weeks it is a struggle. The Ayurvedic traditionalists would explain that difference in examining your type or Dosha and recommending poses that are going to bring balance to your body and mind based on that information. Since practicing in a way that isn’t right for your Dosha will serve to increase your body’s imbalances, it is useful to know what poses are best suited to a specific type.
Asanas for Vata
The asanas which are most suitable for balancing vata are those that are calming and grounding by nature. They will counter the tendency for those with a vata imbalance to be “spacey,” agitated, or nervous. These asanas will help allay fear, worry, and anxiety and also improve vata physical imbalances such as constipation, lower back pain, and joint pains. The lower abdomen, pelvis, and large intestine are the main residence of vata in the body, so many of these asanas compress the lower abdomen or cause the lower abdomen to become taut. In addition, asanas that strengthen the lower back help alleviate vata.
In general, most yoga asanas are good for balancing vata, since most asanas are calming to the mind. There are, however, some that are particularly good and some that should certainly be avoided.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) is an exceptional asana for vatas. If the lower back is simply tight, a condition related to aggravated vata, this is an excellent asana. The seated version of this asana, Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), will have similar value and may be easier if your back is sore.
Balasana (Child’s Pose) is another excellent asana for compressing the pelvis and the vata region. Compression asanas are excellent for constipation and for chronic gas.
Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose – laying back between bent knees) is another good asana for vata. This action increases the pressure in the pelvis, again alleviating vata. According to Ayurvedic doctor Vasant Lad, this asana is particularly useful as a part of treatment for vata-type asthma conditions. Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) also extends the lower back and places pressure on the pelvis. This is essential for the maximum relief of vata.
Virasana (Hero Pose), Siddhasana (Easy Pose), and Padmasana (Lotus Pose) are very calming poses which sedate vata’s agitated nature. These meditative poses are excellent for calming the nervous system, which aids in the healing of anxiety, nervousness, sciatica, and muscle spasm. The most calming pose of all is, of course, the supine Savasana (Corpse Pose).
People of vata nature should avoid asanas that are overly stimulating to the nervous system, such as repetitive Sun Salutations, and those that place excessive pressure on sensitive joints in the body. The cervicothoracic junctionthe bony region where the neck meets the shoulders is one of these areas. Here, large vertebrae stick out like “sore thumbs.” People of vata nature and imbalance tend to have weaker bones, less fatty padding, looser ligaments, and more susceptibility to pain. For these reasons, Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and Halasana (Plow Pose) should be avoided or modified by placing a blanket under the shoulders for extra padding. This also decreases the extreme flexion the neck is placed in. Even so, people of vata nature or imbalance should not hold these poses for very long, or they will risk injury.
Asanas for Pitta
The best asanas for pitta are those that are calming and not overly heating. People of pitta nature or imbalance tend to be more assertive and intense. Calming poses help sedate their intensity and ease the emotions of anger and resentment that they are prone to. By alleviating pitta, these asanas are good as part of the treatment for conditions such as ulcers and hyperacidity, liver disease, and acne.
Asanas that help balance pitta are those that place pressure on the naval and solar plexus region, in the small intestine where pitta resides. These asanas directly affect the liver and spleen and help regulate the strength of the digestive fire.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose) is very beneficial for pittas. The asana opens up the abdomen, solar plexus, and chest, allowing for freer movement of energy through these regions.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) are also excellent solar plexus extension poses for pitta. These asanas can play a role in the treatment of ulcers and hepatitis.
Headstand should be avoided for people of pitta imbalance or constitution. Headstands heat the body, and much of this heat accumulates in the head and the eyes. The eyes are an organ controlled mainly by pitta. For this reason, Headstands can help cause or worsen diseases of the eyes. If a person of pitta constitution with no serious imbalance chooses to do Headstands, then the Headstand should be held for a very short period.
Asanas for Kapha
To balance the heavy, slow, cold, and sedated nature of kapha, practice asanas that are more stimulating and heating. Asanas best suited to individuals of kapha nature or imbalance are those that open up the chest. The stomach and chest are the areas where kapha accumulates. In the chest, kapha takes on the form of mucous. These asanas are excellent for the prevention and treatment of congestive conditions like bronchitis and pneumonia as well as constrictive conditions such as asthma and emphysema.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose) and Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) are useful asanas for kaphas. These asanas also affect the flow of energy through the heart chakra, aiding the development of compassion and unconditional love.
For those of kapha nature and imbalance, the calming and sedating effect of most asanas needs to be balanced by other asanas that are more stimulating and heating. People of kapha nature are the best suited to handle strengthening poses, as their joints and muscles tend to be strong and stable. Increasing flexibility is extremely important for those of kapha nature, as kaphas tend to become overly stiff or rigid.
Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutation) is a very good aerobic exercise for kapha and helps in the treatment of obesity and depression, two common kapha conditions. The Sun Salutation is the ideal asana for kapha, as it is very active, creates heat, and opens the chest.
People of all constitutions can benefit from Sun Salutations during the time of day that is dominated by kapha energy (6:00 to 10:00 a.m and p.m.), as long as there is not a serious imbalance in pitta or vata. People of kapha nature should do many repetitions and perform them with great speed. While in general people of vata nature should avoid this asana, performing it very slowly and with great awareness will decrease its vata-aggravating tendencies. Pitta types should do limited repetitions, as this series is very heating.
Few asanas are harmful to kapha, as kaphas benefit from all forms of stretching and movement. Two weak areas of the body for kapha individuals, however, are the lungs and the kidneys. Asanas that place excessive pressure on the lower abdomen, such as Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), can aggravate the kidneys if held for too long.
How does this work in the class set up?
In practical reality in the Yoga Class we perform poses for each of the Doshas so that at some point, each person will experience an element of balancing out their constitution. However, it can be useful to study this a little as a student to Yoga so that you can give yourself permission to avoid holding a pose for too long if you know it is contrary to your type’s path to healing. Generally though, you body will tell you what works for it if you listen hard enough, and sometimes it shouts at you even if you aren’t in the mood to listen!
Namaste dear friends
Really looking forward to the celebrations next week!