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Ayurvedic Yoga :: The Variety of Approaches to YogaMukunda - Tom Stiles
©Yoga People, LLC 2017
For a beginner seeking to learn yoga, the many forms of yoga can be confusing. We rarely see physical yoga referred to by its traditional name, Hatha yoga. Instead we are faced with a multitude of other names that are used to distinguish one methodology, or school, from another. Some are based on the teacher's name like Iyengar Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, and Sivananda Yoga. Others are based on the unique methods emphasized, like Power Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, or Tri Yoga. These are all various methods of teaching hatha yoga. We can group these into three different approaches that relate to ayurvedic constitutions.
Two popular teaching styles, Kripalu Yoga and Sivananda Yoga, are fairly similar in that they both emphasize the use of rhythmic breathing, varieties of pranayama, and mindfulness meditation practices while performing the yoga poses. The asanas are seen as a preparation for the deeper practices of meditation because they make the body supple and the mind alert. This style of yoga appeals to students who want to relax and change the pace of their lifestyle. It is clearly suited for vata constitution.
Power Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga emphasizes fast-paced practices that are vigorous, even aerobic, in nature and promote sweating. There is little if any attention to sitting pranayama and meditation. The practices develop lustrous skin tone, tremendous vitality is created, and a passion for life awakens. This vigorous style is quite popular among American city dwelling professionals in their twenties and thirties. It suits their face-paced, high-demand lifestyle. This style is ideal for pitta constitution.
The third style, Iyengar Yoga, is probably the most popular in America. It involves holding the postures for long periods of time. Sometimes a student will complete only four or five poses in a 90-minute class. In this method stamina and strength are emphasized. The practitioners become very strong and muscular, with well developed bodies. The emphasis is upon being firm and steadfast in the practice of asana. Faith and perseverance are developed by this beautiful method. This style is beneficial for kapha constitution.
Yoga Practices According to Your Ayurvedic Constitution
A person's constitution depends on their particular configuration of doshas, which influences the body's functioning and structures growth requirements, and even emotional and psychological reactions. A healthy body demands a balance of factors. As external conditions change, for example time of day and weather, which produces warmth contrasted with cold or wetness and its contrasting dryness, dietary changes might be necessary to maintain health. In addition, since yoga also affects constitution, balancing the whole system, mind and body, one can use different yoga poses to benefit particular doshas.
Another method of classification of the asanas is according to the dosha they stimulate. Many postures inherently push on the seat/home of the doshas, and this will influence the condition of the individual. For instance as the seat of vata is the pelvis and the colon organ, sitting poses will affect vata dosha. The seat of pitta is the abdomen and the small intestine; thus twisting and backbending poses will affect pitta dosha. The seat of kapha is the chest and the stomach, so poses like bridge (setubandhasana) and shoulderstand (sarvangasana) will affect kapha dosha.
However, the more important feature of yoga asanas is how they are practiced. Doing the same poses in different ways changes the effects of the practice. Naturally the yoga student's constitution will determine the manner in which they approach their sadhana. A balanced vata would seek a long-term practice that emphasizes relaxation and spiritual life based on a heritage that could be researched and studied for life. An unbalanced vata would tend to jump from one method to another, never committing themselves to any method for enough time to see the depth of the practice.
A balanced pitta would seek a practice that would provide a channel for their enthusiasm, one that is stimulating and has variety. An unbalanced pitta would do this practice intensely then switch to something else fun, like rollerblading.
A balanced kapha would seek a method that appeals to their sensitive and devotional nature yet also challenges their desire for physical fitness. An unbalanced kapha would come for yoga class when they were wanting to lose weight and avoid it when they became depressed.
In Ayurvedic Yoga, which is the method I teach, all three styles are incorporated, as the teachings are custom designed for the individual student. The particular nuances of the student's Ayurvedic constitution, health, sex, age, temperament, interest, and spiritual inclination can all be taken into consideration. So the ideal, according to master teacher Professor Shri T. Krishnamacharya, is to adapt the yoga to the individual.
Presentations of this interpretation of classical yoga in a class format follow the Ayurvedic guidelines for adapting the practices according to the changes in season. In this manner, Vata practices would be emphasized during the spring and fall when weather is changing. In this manner, the students will learn biologically and energetically how to adapt to changes. Kapha practices would be given during the winter months to help one adapt to the cold. These practices also promote stamina and strength, and enhance the immune system. In the summer Pitta practices help us adapt to the heat of summer. These practices also strengthen the agni (digestive heat), improve circulation and vision.
Unfortunately, in most class situations the students are learning to adapt themselves to the yoga. This is quite undesirable for both health and spiritual evolution. It does not suit the classical teachings of Ayurveda or yoga. By knowing the students' Ayurvedic make-up, the classical yoga teacher or therapist can prescribe teaching methodology and personalized practice for obtaining the optimal benefit from yoga sadhana.
Within this framework, there are three main methods of approach to the hatha yoga curriculum. To promote flexibility and sensitivity and to balance the air/ether quality of vata, gentle, specifically sequenced vinyasa practices are ideal when performed rhythmically with ujjaye pranayama. In this method of practicing the Sun Salutation, practice will take about 60 seconds to perform one cycle, half a round. Emphasis is upon moving slowly and deliberately with concentration upon the internal wave motion and glottal sound of the ujjaye breathing pattern. This manner promotes relaxation, heightens sensitivity to hidden thoughts and feelings, thus arousing insight. It also releases fear and curbs anxiety when practiced regularly. A sense of attainable aspirations comes into focus and one's burdens are lifted. When practiced consistently, this yoga will increase the amount of prana that can be retained within the organism. The pranas become balanced and more importantly enhance the ability of the mind to stay focused on the object of meditation.
The second method involves a focus to promote vitality, greater energy, and sufficient heat to balance the fire/water quality called pitta. There is little attention paid to the breath except to allow it to move freely. The pacing will tend to be faster than in the previous method. Emphasis is upon moving with vigor and enthusiasm to generate body heat and/or sensitivity to energy flow within the body. This method redirects frustration, anger, and excess sexuality, which become transformed into creativity and abundant enthusiasm. Pitta's practices will create vitality, luster, and the increase of tejas. While tejas has several qualities, it manifests most specifically as discrimination. As tejas is inner sight, it allows the yogi to see through the ephemeral into the transcendental nature of life.
The third method promotes strength, purifies the physical body, and develops stamina, which balances the earth/water quality called kapha. Attention is focused upon the sense of strength developed during the postures and repetitive sequences. The amount of time taken to practice a sequence is longest of the three methods. Elongation of the body is promoted by the strength to lift upward against the force of gravity. A slender physique is created not from stretching, but from toning. The student is encouraged to exhale longer than the inhale and to occasionally release the breath through the mouth with a sigh sound. This technique releases sadness and lethargy, and brings weight into balance for the size of one's physique. It promotes courage, hopefulness, faithfulness, and humility. When fully developed, this increases ojas. On the physical level ojas represents health and the strength of the immune system. But for the yogi, ojas is the love of God, the capacity to love and accept all as Divine.
Thanks to author Mukunda Stiles. In 1974, Mukunda was initiated by Swami Muktananda into a deep level of spiritual life through the Tantrik Kundalini process of Shaktipat. Baba Muktananda encouraged him to make Yoga his profession and gave him the name Mukunda, an aspect of the Divine Presence as the compassionate liberator. He remained a student of his gurudev for 8 years before his mahasamadhi, when he was given Tantrik devotional practices by a secret teacher, Swami Prakashananda of Suptashring Devi. He also trained in the 900-year old lineage of Prof. Krishnamacharya with his senior mentors Indra Devi and BKS Iyengar, as well as with hidden secret western students. He worked closely with Rama Jyoti Vernon, founder of Institute for Yoga Teacher Education, for 35 years. They founded the International Yoga College and Mukunda joined her on the executive board of Unity in Yoga International Conferences in 1992. Mukunda founded the Yoga Therapy Center in Boston in 1981, where personalized Yoga Therapy was given for a multitude of medical, psychological, and spiritual awakenings. He also taught at the Mind Body Medical Institute, headed by Joan Borysenko and Herbert Benson for five years.Since 1999, he has been training Structural Yoga Therapists in two-year courses. He is currently on the Advisory Board of the International Association of Yoga Therapists. His books include 'Structural Yoga Therapy, Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy', 'Patanjali's Yoga Sutras' and 'Tantra Yoga Secrets' are widely accepted. He loves sharing his insights from 40 years with Yoga. He offers private sessions from his hometown in Southern California, through skype and at teaching sites within US, Europe and India. His website is www.yogatherapycenter.org
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