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Combining Yoga and Ayurveda for a Deeper Practice

Jessica Vellela
©Yoga People, LLC 2017

Have you ever started a new yoga class, totally excited and eager to find a solid routine, just to realize a few days or weeks later that maybe it’s not for you?  Most of us have at one time or another.  This may not necessarily be a bad thing – in fact, your natural instincts might be pushing you in the right direction!

One of the main reasons behind this can be explained by Ayurveda, the ancient sister science of Yoga.  Through Ayurveda, we can analyze the factors which influence an asana’s effect on the body and mind.  These include your prakriti (constitution), state of health, age, mental stability, diet and lifestyle, as well as external factors like the season and environment.  Adjustments to practice can be made to compensate for any imbalance in these factors, resulting in a deeper and more effective practice along with a stable body and mind.

The Ayurvedic Approach to Yoga

Like everything in the universe, the doshas (vata, pitta and kapha) are in a constant state of change.  Understanding these changes and how to use them to improve your health is one of the main goals of Ayurveda.  One of the most important pre-requisites for doing this is to first identify your prakriti.  Next, the issue of health should be addressed – are you healthy, or dealing with any kind of imbalance?  Just about all of us have some sort of imbalance, but for acute or chronic illnesses, very specific practices should be developed under proper guidance.
For mild imbalances, a dedicated awareness and practice along with diet and lifestyle adjustments is usually more than enough to bring back a positive state of health.  Yoga and Ayurveda both advocate a combined approach to maintaining health, with the cornerstones being aahara (food), vihaara (lifestyle), nidra (sleep) and brahmacharya (control over sexual desires).  Let’s discuss a few examples of what this involves in certain types of imbalances.

For Imbalanced Vata

Many of us have at one point or another experienced something similar to this state – difficulty in sleeping, increased stress and anxiety, fear, inability to focus, variable appetite, constipation, abdominal distention or bloating, joint pain, unable to develop muscular tone, irrational behavior and a general feeling of debility.  To overcome this, try the following:
-    Eat smaller meals at regular intervals, which are hot, soupy, and easy to digest (like kitchidi).
-    Drink hot water, but avoid stimulants like tea and coffee.  Never drink or eat anything straight out of the refrigerator.
-    Go to sleep and wake up at fixed times, and drink a glass of hot milk with a spoon of sugar and pinch of turmeric, cardamom or cinnamon before bed.  Also, apply sesame oil to the feet and massage them for a few minutes before sleeping.
-    Massage the body with warm sesame oil for 15 minutes before taking a hot shower (but use only lukewarm water on the head).  The shower should be long enough to make you just about to sweat.
-    Massage a few drops of sesame oil on the vertex of the head (the anterior fontanelle) about 10 minutes before starting asana practice.
-    Wear enough clothing to stay warm, especially during asana practice.
-    Be mindful of your breathing during practice.  Use slow, deep, regular breaths to inhale on extensions and exhale on contractions.  Incorporate pranayama if possible.
-    Practice asanas at a regular time.  The late afternoon is generally good as the body and atmosphere are warm.
-    Perform asanas which open up the lower body first, especially seated asanas.  Then move on to seated twists, and either standing asanas or inversions.  Always pay attention to your body’s signals about what is appropriate, and use that information to better understand how to deepen your practice.

For Imbalanced Pitta

For those who are prone to a lifestyle of constant stress and irritation, these symptoms will probably sound familiar – a general feeling of heat in the body (especially in the palms and soles), increased sweat, offensive body odor, excessive appetite and thirst, decreased sleep, angry demeanor, dizziness and headaches, short temper, urine appears more yellow and a tendency towards hyperacidity and loose stools. 
-    Eat vegetarian meals with more raw vegetables and fresh fruits.  Add a spoon of ghee to your meals when you’re feeling very hungry.
-    Drink cool water and juices, and avoid stimulants like tea and coffee.
-    After dinner avoid any stimulation like television, loud music, etc.  Before bed, drink a cup of warm milk with a spoon of sugar, and a pinch of cardamom or clove.
-    Sleep early, and wake up by 6am.
-    Asana practice is best done early in the morning when it is cool.  Begin by concentrating on asanas which focus just above the navel, like bhujangasana, shalambasana and dhanurasana.
-    Avoid inversions for extended periods of time, and always follow them with forward bends or matsyasana.
For Imbalanced Kapha
Those who tend to have difficulty waking up in the morning and lead a slower lifestyle may relate to these symptoms – cool and clammy skin (especially in the palms and soles), rigid body parts, general heaviness, sluggish appetite, excessive sleep, gains weight easily, prone to cough and cold with increased mucus, laziness, lack of enthusiasm and apathy.
-    Try to eat your main meals at 11am and 6pm.  They should be hot, light and spicy, with very little oil.  Avoid snacking unless you feel extremely hungry.
-    Instead of breakfast, drink one cup of lukewarm water added with 2-3 tablespoons of pure honey.
-    Drink hot beverages, which can include one tea or coffee per day to stimulate the mind.
-    Wake up by 6am daily, and practice vigorous exercise early in the morning.  Asana practice should start with several enthusiastic rounds of Surya Namaskar to make the body sweat, and should then be followed by asanas that are held for 2-5 minutes each.

-    Once per week, take a hot bath added with salt.  Do not immerse the head in the water.
-    Do Jala Neti with warm, salty water daily or on alternate days if you are prone to nasal congestion.
For Combined Imbalances

In many cases, there will be a combination of two or even all three doshas in an imbalanced state.  For those situations, a combined approach based on the more prominent dosha usually works.  Try including tips from two routines and alternate them or combine them.

“Swasthasya Swasthya Rakshanam” – Maintaining Balance in a Healthy Person

Ayurveda has given ample, clear instructions on how to maintain health and live happily for 120 years.  This was the lifestyle that ancient Yogis lead on a daily and yearly basis to help them achieve great mastery in their practice.  This lifestyle included:
-    Dina & ratri charya – instructions for daily regimens including what type of food to eat, how much and how often, exercise, personal hygiene and lifestyle.
-    Rutu shodana – purification methods for removing the root causes of disease before they become settled in the body.
-    Rasayana – rejuvenation methods to delay ageing, prevent disease and promote a happy, healthy life.
Following an Ayurvedic approach in any Yogic practice will purify and enhance the body, mind and spirit and truly help one to achieve a deeper practice.

Thank you Jessica, for this article! Jessica Vellela, BAMS, is a registered Doctor of Ayurveda in India.  She came to this field after a 10+ year career in the Computer Industry, seeking a more holistic approach to life.  As one of the few Americans to receive the BAMS degree (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine & Surgery), she has a unique perspective on the ancient science of life and its application for patients, especially for those from a Western background.  She graduated with First Rank in her class, and has practiced under the guidance of a variety of Ayurvedic doctors from various traditions throughout South India.  She has combined treatment protocols from her experience to formulate specific regimens for weight loss, disease management (particularly in metabolic, musculo-skeletal and auto-immune disorders), detoxification and rejuvenation.  She follows the classical guidelines as stated in the ancient Sanskrit texts, and adds modifications based on the scientific principles of Ayurveda when necessary.  Hatha Yoga is also incorporated into the treatment plan based on her 10-year practice in Iyengar style under Victor Oppenheimer.  She is available for consultation and advice on treatment, Ayurvedic medicines, diet and lifestyle via telephone at 617-930-1209, and offers full Panchakarma treatments for patients at her center in India, AyurVillage Ayurvedic Retreats & Panchakarma Center.