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Connecting Ayurveda and Yoga To Create The Ideal Practice

Ayurveda and yoga practice on the beach

Like peas in a pod, Ayurveda and Yoga are distinct disciplines but come from the same source. They are both rooted in Vedic wisdom, which is a 5,000-year-old body of knowledge from the present-day Indian subcontinent. Today, Yoga in the West is strongly focused on the physical aspect (asanas) of yoga practice and straddles the fitness industry. It offers incredible benefits for the body, although it’s also a tool for the mind and heart. And while Ayurveda is commonly known for supporting the health of the body through interventions like herbs, it also addresses the mind, consciousness, and psychology. Professionals may choose to specialize in Ayurveda or Yoga, as that is how most of the training and education is offered. And so, as consumers, we often find them as separate offerings even though they are inherently connected.

In the past, Yoga was a discipline reserved for particular initiates. Nowadays, the blessings of Yoga reach far and wide. Meditation, fitness, and healing instructors are more creative each day, with novel styles emerging like aerial Yoga, goat Yoga, nude Yoga and so many more.  While “Ayurvedic Yoga” might not be as trendy, it is powerfully healing. In this article, we explore several ways in which you can incorporate Ayurveda into your personal or teaching Yoga practice.

Align your practice with nature

Ayurveda’s first goal is to “preserve the health of the healthy.” This goal is accomplished primarily through lifestyle practices that are in harmony with nature. This includes all the daily choices you make, from when to get up to what to eat for lunch, to when to exercise and go to bed. All these choices are vital for optimal health, though we’ll focus on the ones that relate most to your Yoga practice.

Be in tune with the circadian rhythms

Timing is everything. To make the most of your practice, breathe and stretch by the Ayurvedic clock.

What’s the Ayurvedic clock? It’s the concept of synching time periods with our various energy levels. It provides us with guidance on the optimal times to engage in activities such as eating, sleeping, practicing yoga, and more.

Here’s how you can apply the clock to your Ayurveda and Yoga practice:

  • Early to bed and early to rise. Bedtime by 10-10:30 pm is optimal, as is rising around 6 am.
  • Early morning is considered the optimal time for Yoga practice. Between 4-6 am, when the atmosphere is most subtle, it’s considered the “magical hour” for Yogis. 
  • Mid-afternoon power practices are very popular. Ensure you have a good breakfast on afternoon Yoga days, and practice prior to lunch.
  • Alternate your practice with your meals. Wait at least 1 hour after a meal for your practice. Asana and Pranayama (breath work) especially should not be performed on a full stomach.
  • If you opt for evening practice, go slower. A Restorative or Yin class is ideal at night to assist your mind and body with preparing for sleep.
Ayurveda and yoga asana

Adopt a seasonal asana practice for maximum benefits

One of the most beautiful experiences is practicing with the season. As the months usher in new levels of heat, cold, dryness, and moisture, your asana practice can help you adapt to these changes.

Changing up your postures, breath work, mantras, and mudras with the seasons adds depth to your practice. According to Ayurveda “there’s no inside or outside,” which means that the changes in the weather impact you and your internal mind-body system. If you take cues from nature and adapt your poses and styles throughout the seasons, you may notice that your practice is easier and more intuitive. 

You may also notice that you suffer less from seasonal imbalances and even appreciate your least favorite seasons a bit more. This is all possible using the Ayurvedic science of the elements and qualities. When a season increases certain elements, you can compensate by introducing counterbalancing elements in the practice.  Personalizing an Ayurveda and yoga seasonal practice can be as simple as favoring key styles or poses that provide this counterbalancing impact. Teachers can advertise classes as “seasonal,” though it may be more appealing and beneficial to students to incorporate seasonality into classes by default. 

Late Winter and Early-Mid Spring (Kapha Season)

The weather is wetter and cooler. Your body may tend to feel a little heavier and find your motivation to practice lacking. To balance Kapha you should opt for asana that is detoxifying, energizing, and warming.

  • Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) generates heat when practiced with vigor. Incorporating chest opening hand movements will help stimulate the lungs and sinuses, the main sites of Kapha.
  • Backbends also provide an opening to the chest and lungs. Natarajasana (king dancer), urdhva dhanurasana (upward-facing bow), and salabhasana (locust) are all fitting options.
  • Inversions such as adho mukha savasana (downward facing dog) and ardha pincha mayurasana (dolphin) are great for beginner yogis and help stimulate circulation and bring a feeling of lightness to the body.
 
Late Spring, Summer, and Early Fall (Pitta Season)

The weather is warm or hot, after all, Pitta is all about fire, so asana should be cooling and calming.

  • Time to slow your practice down a bit. Avoid the power yoga sessions and instead opt for more gentle flows and/or restorative practices.
  • The main site of Pitta in the body is the navel and solar plexus areas so opt for poses that include side bends and twists or backbends such as bhujangasana (cobra), dhanurasana (bow), matsyasana (fish).
 
Mid Fall through Early Winter (Vata Season)

Cooler, dryer, and more mobile (windy) weather call for asana that is warming, stabilizing, and calming in nature.

  • Standing poses such as virabhadrasana (warrior poses) bring stabilization and grounding. Balancing poses like vrksasana (tree pose) help focus the mind and create rooting or grounding with the earth.
  • Malasana (garland pose), balasana (child’s pose), and pavanmuktasana (wind-relieving pose) also bring grounding qualities.
  • Prone backbends like bhujangasana (cobra pose) and dhanurasana (bow pose) help bring heat to the spine and lower back while uttanasana (standing forward fold) provides warmth to the internal organs.
Ayurveda and yoga breath work

Practice breath work based on your constitution and imbalances

Breathwork (pranayama) to balance the Doshas

Pranayama calms and soothes the nervous system, bringing the mind closer to a meditative state. Beneficial for all Doshas, an Ayurveda and yoga Pranayama practice can benefit physical imbalances as well as disorders of the emotional body. 

Pranayama for Kapha 

Ujjayi or victorious breath and Kapalabhati are two excellent breath practices for Kapha. Both are heating in nature and beneficial for stroking the digestive fire, or Agni. 

  • Ujjayi involves a slight constriction of the throat muscles causing the air to create an audible vibration as it passes over the vocal cords. Working on the middle sinuses and throat, it creates a subtle state of mind. 
  • Kapalabhati or “shining skull” breath is practiced by alternating short, explosive exhales with slightly longer, passive inhales bringing cleansing to the nasal passages.
 
Pranayama for Pitta

Cooling forms of pranayama can reduce Pitta and enkindle subtler aspects of Agni, including the fire of the mind. Shitali and Sitkari are two cooling pranayama practices beneficial for Pitta types. 

  • To practice Shitali breath, the air is inhaled through the mouth, like sucking water through a straw, and exhaled through the nostrils. 
  • Sitkari breath, known to clear heat from the head and cool the emotions, starts with the tip of the tongue pressed to the palette as air is drawn in through closed teeth, the mouth is then opened as breath is released through the nose.  
 
Pranayama for Vata

Breath control can be very soothing for Vata in both the mind and body. 

  • Kalabalapti breath practiced first thing in the morning increases Apana Vayu aiding in elimination and cleansing of the bowls. 
  • Surya bedhana brings warmth and Bhastrika breath, a rapid forceful breath controlled by the diaphragm, can be used for Vata-related issues impacting the nervous system and joints.
Anjali mudra during an Ayurveda and yoga practice

Ayurveda and Yoga meditation techniques to balance the mind

The objective of Meditation or Dhyana is to stabilize your mind. It helps you to develop the objectivity to see yourself and the world as they are. Meditation is a time to turn inward with contemplation and exploration of your deeper self. When done regularly, it removes the layers of conditioning that prevent you from seeing life as it is, bringing healing to your mind, body, and spirit. The ultimate goal: a connection of your individual consciousness with that of the universe.

Vata Dosha Meditation

Vata imbalance often brings anxiety, distraction, and lack of focus. The activeness of the mind continually brings subconscious thoughts to the surface causing the mind to wander and making meditation challenging. Chanting mantras, repetition of a word, phrase and/or sound, is an effective way to harness an active Vata mind. The repetition drowns out the many sounds and words within the thoughts shifting the mind from a rajasic to a sattvic state.

Pitta Dosha Meditation

The most common Pitta imbalances include anger, impatience, and perfectionism.  Heart chakra or loving kindness-themed meditations offer the opportunity to develop compassion while third eye and crown chakra themes bring spiritual awareness to often-objectified practices. Cooling imagery and mudras also help pacify Pitta.

Kapha Dosha Meditation

Imbalance for Kapha often tends to involve heaviness and can manifest into a form of attachment to things or points in time. Given a tendency to hold onto the past, a meditation practice that allows focusing on present-moment awareness can be helpful. Kirtan singing can also be a great meditation technique as it clears emotional heaviness and strengthens the lungs which can often become congested during Kapha imbalance.

David Frawley, well known ayurvedic teacher, and Vedic philosopher states it best, “There is no need for any Yogic system of medicine apart from Ayurveda, and there is no Yoga Chikitsa (therapy) apart from Ayurveda”.  When Ayurveda and yoga are practiced together, the result is an elevated practice that brings harmony and balance to your body, mind, and spirit.

Relieve tension anytime and anyplace

The following is a method for deep relaxation and tension relief. It is essentially a method in which you intentionally alternate between tensing a muscle group for about 5 seconds, then quickly letting them go limp. You repeat this technique with muscle groups throughout the body, one-by-one, completely focus on the feeling of total relaxation as your muscles go limp, until your whole body feels deeply relaxed.

 

You can perform this technique anytime, anywhere

It is an excellent way to start or end the day while in bed. Throughout the day, it can provide essential stress relief to reboot the body. Simply adjust the timing and your posture to suit the moment.

 

Preparing for the technique

  • Try to find a peaceful location where there is very little noise.
  • Wear loose clothes and remove your shoes, or go barefoot.
  • Lie flat on your back if possible, comfortably – bolster yourself under the knees, lower back or neck if needed. Keep your hands by your side, palms up, legs straight with space in-between.
  • If seated in a chair, prop yourself so that you can be as comfortable as possible.
  • Breathe deeply and concentrate on your breathing. Count an inhale and an exhale as 1 round. Do 10 rounds of this.
  • Take a moment right now to listen to your body. Observe if you feel any tension. Where do you feel loose? Where or do you feel tightness or aching points?

 

Technique

Note: We will work from the feet up, through either leg, either arm and so slowly up the body in sequence. Remember when you tense the muscle, hold the tension for 5 seconds and relax fully the part which you clenched. Once that part is fully relaxed, move to the next part. The order will be: left leg, right leg, left arm, right arm, torso Make sure to give each part your full, undivided attention. Remember: your focused, loving intent is healing to your own body!

 

Instructions:
  1. Curl your left toes down firmly as tightly as you can, tensing the foot. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  2. Clench your left calf muscle (from the back ankles to the back of the knee). Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  3. Lift your left knee cap and tense it. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  4. Squeeze the left thigh muscles. You should feel your whole leg tense up. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  5. Repeat Steps 1-4 on the right foot and leg.
  6. Engage your left arm, drawing awareness to your hand, upper arm and lower arm. Clench your left fist hard tightly. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  7. Clench your left fist again and pull your arm to your shoulder so your biceps tighten. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  8. Repeat Steps 6-8 with your right arm.
  9. Keep your arms and legs relaxed and loose. Deep breathe in, deep breathe out.
  10. Tighten your buttocks. Do not lift, just clench. Hold for 5, then release.
  11. Suck your stomach in deeply. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  12. Breathe deeply into your lungs and feel your chest muscles tighten. Hold for 5, then release. Observe.
  13. Now a common trouble spot:the neck and shoulders. You can fully tense both by simply shrugging, taking your shoulders high near your earlobes. Hold for 5, then release. You may want to repeat this a few times of you are particularly tense in this area.
  14. Now the face: open your mouth in the widest yawn you can manage without risking dislocation of the jaw hinges. Hold for 5, then release.
  15. Squeeze your eyelids tight shut as if you want to shut out everything around you. Hold for 5, then open your eyes and release.
  16. Raise your eyebrows as much as possible. Feel your forehead stretch and hold for 5, then release.

 

The whole body should now be relaxed. Allow your attention to slip deeply into this sense of relaxation, letting your breathe remain slow and deep. Soak up the sensation of a relaxed body and mind!

Four steps to releasing obstacles and embracing change

Change brings uncertainty, and that can be daunting. When something new happens, our brain is hardwired to react nervously when out of the comfort zone of having prior knowledge and experience. You may tense up in such situations, go into fight or flight mode, or experience a more subtle level of anxiety such as tightness in the stomach or chest. Unfortunately in this state, you may block yourself from your highest potential in situations.

Although this reaction is normal in the human brain, it is possible to change it when you catch it happening, as well as prevent it from occurring in the future. Ayurveda and its sister science Yoga teach simple methods and philosophies to help us see change for what it truly is: an opportunity for Joyfulness. These timeless tools can help you embrace newness as an opportunity for exploration and excitement rather than apprehension and anxiety.

If you are facing change with apprehension and worry, what can you do?

 

1. Release the tension

  • Breathe deeply 4 or 5 times and stretch high with fingers intertwined at full arm stretch above your head or with palms together. Hold for 20-30 seconds and then relax. Hold your interlaced fingers behind your neck and lean back. Feel tension drain away.
  • Draw a warm bath, adding Ayurvedic essential oils according to your dosha and soak, breathing the aroma deeply. Stay in the moment consciously relaxing, breathing gently and rhythmically.
  • Improve sleep by rubbing the soles of your feet before bed for a few minutes with warm coconut or sesame oil. Use your fingertips with soothing strokes. Press points on the toes and heels with gentle firmness. According to Ayurveda, sleeping well is half the battle won for wellness. (Protect your sheets with cotton socks.)

 

2. Expand and uplift through movement

  • Exercise to increase your heart rate, so that feel-good endorphins are released. Choose whatever method suits you, such as biking, dancing, jogging, an aerobics class or even some simple jumping jacks.
  • Connect with Nature: If at all possible, spend time where Nature surrounds you. The sound of flowing water, the sough of leaves in the breeze, the beauty of flowers and chirping of birds, will elevate your mood. If you don’t have access to this environment, try creating it someplace in your home or at your work space by adding plants and playing a natural soundtrack.
  • Take a non-threatening break from routine: maybe a massage, a swim, or just a game with your pets. Let yourself be spontaneous and play even for just a short time – feel your mind lighten and brighten!

 

3. Calm your mind consciously

  • Cut back on stimulants: coffee, alcohol, smoking, carbonated beverages, sodas and processed sugar.
  • Try the meditation of silence: close your eyes and loosely connect the fingers of both hands. Sit as you want. Once comfortable stay physically still. Let your mind roam completely free. In the beginning like a wild horse, it will rage in every direction. Then slowly thoughts will slow and the Mind will still. In this stillness of the utter silence within you will find calm.
  • Alternate nostril breathing: a powerful calming Pranayama technique is the Nadi Shodhana. Sit comfortably with eyes closed. Focus only on your breath. Close the right nostril with the right thumb, and breathe in deeply with the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the last 2 fingers, release your thumb and Breathe out completely. Keeping the left nostril closed, repeat the sequence. This completes one round of this calming practice. Do this for at least 5 minutes everyday. End each practice with deep breaths through both nostrils.
  • Take a Savasana, or Corpse Pose: this Yogic posture always concludes an asana practice though you can use it anytime. Lying on your back, spread your arms and legs at around 45 degrees. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Relax completely and concentrate on your breath. Look for tension spots and consciously release them until your whole being is relaxed. Stay in this for about 20 minutes.

 

4. Now you are ready to take action!

  • Write down your thoughts and feeling: journal about what is making the change so threatening. What is the worst that can happen? Will that really end your world? Often putting situations in this perspective allows the mind to prioritize what is worth feeling anxious and what may be an overreaction.
  • Enlighten yourself – knowledge is power: familiarity breeds comfort. It is natural to react to a new strange situation with anxiety. Work to make it less strange through research and talking to other people about it.
  • Find the silver lining: Could moving to a new city be a chance to explore new and exciting sights, sounds, people? Look into the past: has change always been bad in your life? Probably not. Ask yourself why this shouldn’t be a change for the better. Think “excitement” rather than “apprehension.”
  • Try scripting your possible first encounter with the new situation or person: figure out what could happen, how it will begin and how you would like the first encounter to end.

 

Yoga nidra: a self-healing technique

Yoga Nidra is a simplified version of Tantric kriyas, or movements, designed by Swami Satyananda Saraswaty. It is, simply put, a state of dynamic sleep in which the mind is relaxed to a brain wave state bordering just above true sleep. Thus it is a deep relaxation technique, harmonzing your deep unconscious mind.

Yoga Nidra is known for bringing peace and clarity. A complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation technique, it controls & balances emotions and support confidence development.

 

Indications

Yoga Nidra is beneficial for a person experiencing any of the following:

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Hypertension
  • Learning disorders
  • Long-standing anxiety
  • Lifestyle disorders
  • Stress-related disorders

 

The technique

Duration: 30-40 minutes

 

Instructions:
  1. Find a peaceful space without any disturbance.
  2. Lie down in a supine position on the floor.
  3. Adopt Savasana posture (Corpse Pose) and use blanket if needed to support the neck or under your knees.
  4. Avoid lying in bed or on a cushion. Keep your body straight and palm facing upwards, relax.
  5. Close your eyes and relax your eyes, forehead, cheeks and mouth. Allow the mouth to open slightly if this is more comfortable.
  6. Promise yourself that you will not fall asleep and will be awake throughout.
  7. Become aware of your breath. Observe your inhales, exhales, and pauses in between, lengthening each of them naturally.
  8. Welcome all your memories, thoughts and emotions (both positive and negative) as they come.
  9. Let all your thoughts flow within you. Don’t restrict any thoughts.
  10. Accept yourself completely, including any problems that arise in your mind. Remind yourself that in this moment, none of them matter.
  11. Allow yourself to be neutral.
  12. Observe yourself.
  13. Continue to breathe in this state of neutrality, allowing each exhale to become a release of tension or worry, and each inhale a drawing in of peace and love. A stage comes eventually where you feel stable, light and empty.
  14. Now your thoughts are free, completely neutral and life is in your hands. Choose to be happy and serene, living exactly the way you want.
  15. Now your mind is stable and clear. Visualize an image that is peaceful to you, such as a beach shore or beautiful temple. The image should help you feel calm as well as focused. Concentrate on the image and explore it deeply.
  16. Continue to observe the breath.
  17. You are in a deeply relaxed state.
  18. Stay here for as long as you like, at least 7 minutes.
  19. Eventually return your awareness to your body. Stretch your limbs, beginning with your toes and fingers.
  20. Roll slowly onto your right side and pause here until you feel stable enough to rise into a seated posture, eyes still closed. Breathe a few deep rounds, slowly opening your eyes.
  21. Experience the gratitude of your experience and wish yourself peace.