YOLY Challenge #47: Taming the Fire of Summer

As summer approaches and things begin to heat up, it’s a good time to return to the concept of Ayurveda and discover what the Pitta (fire) dosha has in store for us.

If you are new to the sister science of yoga called Ayurveda, please look back to my Warm Up to Ayurveda post for an introduction to its principles and the doshas called vata, pitta & kapha.

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Warmer temperatures tend to aggravate or even initiate a pitta constitution. In general, pitta types are fiery in nature and tend to exhibit the main characteristics of a strong metabolism, good appetite, oily skin and hair, irritability, intensity, and inflammation. Emotionally, when there is too much heat or passion in the system, pittas demonstrate anger and aggression. However, when balanced, the pitta constitution is capable of forming dynamic, focused and determined individuals.

Because pitta is the fiery or transformative force responsible for digestion, warmth and inflammation, the small intestine is its main site in the disease process. Therefore, pittas should watch their habits and attempt to balance their food choices (especially in the summer months).

Pittas tend to eat lots of food and get irritable if a meal is missed. They are drawn to hot, oily, and spicy foods which aggravate their already heated dispositions.

To balance the extreme inclinations in diet, pittas should take in more raw foods and salads (particularly in late spring and summer). In general, cooling, nutritive, lacto-vegetarian diets should be consumed. Sweeter oils such as sunflower, coconut and ghee oils are recommended. Spices that are balancing to pittas include: coriander, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and turmeric.  Herbs such as aloe gel/juice, shatavari and licorice are also good items to incorporate into the pitta diet.

Yoga is effective for pacifying the heat of a pitta. Specific practices should include postures to cool the head, calm the heart and relieve tension. Pittas should not push too hard in practice because it only increases their irritability. Heat and tension can be alleviated if the body and mind are kept cool and relaxed with asanas that generate openness and surrender.

To reduce excess pitta, yogis should practice in an effortless, non-goal oriented way, working at about 75% of capacity. Rest assured that when a pitta person practices effortlessly they will still be working harder that everyone else!

Begin a pitta-balancing yoga practice with a slow and easy form of Sun Salutation. Use the breath to monitor the level of work involved. Continue to employ breath awareness in seated forward bends, gentle back bends (focusing on extending the spine) and twists (which are very effective in reducing excess pitta). Limit time in positions that invert the head. Supported shoulderstand is most effective. A longer savasana may irritate this dosha so end practice with a short 5 minute Savasana (you can gradually lengthen it over time).

Pittas need to realize that they can use their powerful will to maintain a soft and gentle approach. When a pitta constitution is balanced properly, one should feel a sense of coolness, calmness, openness, patience and tolerance.

Shanti!

 

YOLY Challenge #31: Warm Up to Ayurveda

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The term ayurveda means the “science of life.” Its practice utilizes diet, herbs, bodywork, breathing and meditation in a holistic fashion for healing the body. Ayurveda teaches us how to harmonize ourselves with sunrise and sunset, the seasons of the year, and the stages of life. Ayurveda and yoga are sister sciences that grew up from the same root in ancient India.

Ayurveda recognizes that we all possess individual constitutional types or doshas in mind and body. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the specific doshas and the categories by which the science of ayurveda is designated. Someone’s dosha can be determined by their body type, their temperament or even by the kind of food, exercise and lifestyle they gravitate toward. In the weeks to come, we will discover how ayurveda can give us a better understanding of our unique nature. We will use these discoveries to see how our yoga practice can help to balance our individual constitutions.

For this challenge, I would like to introduce you to the vata dosha.

Vata types are airy in nature. This quality is expressed in the bones and joints where vata accumulates in the body. These types have the weakest build and stamina, but also have the greatest capacity for change and adaptation. Vata is the energetic force responsible for movement, expression and the discharge of all impulses. It acts primarily through the nervous system. The colon is its main site in the disease process, in which waste gases or toxins accumulate and spread to the blood, bones and other parts of the body. Psychologically, feelings of ungroundedness and instability signify too much vata or wind and create fear and anxiety. Balanced, vata can be expressive and creative.

Although periods of change and disruption come easy for the vata types, it is not a healthy path. During the holidays, many of us were over stimulated by excess noise, crowded shopping malls and unsettled in our eating and drinking habits. We also tend to travel more and get less sleep during this season. In general the holidays, while being a wonderful time for gathering with family and friends, tend to create havoc in our systems and bring about an increase in vata.

January is an opportune time for reestablishing stability and routine for your body and mind. The way in which you practice your yoga is an excellent place to begin.

To reduce excess vata energies, you should practice in a quiet, grounded and structured way. Your challenge is to try one or two of these suggestions each day this week:

It is best for vatas to work the poses with the breath and hold the standing, seated, forward bends and twists longer than they are inclined to do. Seated lateral bends or Sun Salutations should be done expressly while focusing on the breath.  Pause in Uttanasana and feel your connection to the earth.

Back bends tend to increase the vata dosha if done excessively or unconsciously. Done gently, they keep the spine supple preventing excess Vata from accumulating in the vertebrae. Try Sphinx pose or a fully supported back bend such as Mountain Brook Pose.

Vatas should think of building core strength in the body while maintaining flexibility. Practice Navasana in stages so that you can sustain your time in the pose with balance and poise.

Savasana is the best pose for pacifying vata and should be practiced daily for 15-20 minutes as a conclusion to the asana practice. Be sure to stay warm.

Remaining still will be the vata’s challenge as well as the reward.