Yoga Teacher Training Day 17: Ayurveda

The sister science: Ayurveda

As promised last week, today’s post is about our session on Ayurveda. Known as the “sister science” of yoga, it is a compliment to the physical practice of asana. This session really sparked my excitement, and I have been looking forward to sharing it with you. So, read on and let’s talk Ayurveda!

The History of Ayurveda

We were lucky enough to have Molly Culleton of Turiya Holistic Health come to talk with us about Ayurveda and how we might use yoga’s sister science as yoga teachers. Molly is an Ayurvedic Health Practitioner, and she gave us a great presentation on this fascinating accompaniment to the practice of yoga. As Molly says, while yoga helps us to balance the body and the mind, Ayurveda can help us bring our physical bodies into balance.

Ayruveda is the ancient system of medicine that evolved in India. Like yoga, it arises from the Vedas, which are an ancient Hindu spiritual text. The practice is at least 5,000 years old; however, there are accounts of Ayurveda that pre-date the Vedas. That could make the system much, much older. The goal of Ayurveda is to maintain health and restore balance to the body. As Molly explained, the science is complete. It has been in practice, unchanged, for thousands of years.

Staying Healthy

Molly explained to us that the goal of Ayurveda is preventative health. She told us that historically, the doctor would make his rounds through house calls. When the doctor came to the house, he would only receive payment if everyone in the home was healthy. Since Ayurveda is about prevention, this makes sense. It means the doctor is doing his job if no one gets sick. Even more interestingly, if someone did get sick, the doctor would buy the medicine. Talk about a 180-degree turn from our modern times!

Diet and lifestyle form the backbone of Ayurvedic treatment. A patient is assessed by an Ayurvedic professional by means of physical examination and history. Based on that assessment, the practitioner gives each patient specific lifestyle advice to suit their prakriti, or constitution. This can include a specific diet, exercise program, meditation, pranayama, and herbal supplements. These different types of prakriti are called “doshas”.

The Three Doshas

There are three different doshas that exist in Ayurveda. They are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. We’ll get into those in more detail in a moment. Each dosha lines up with specific physical and personality traits. These are specific traits that occur naturally within each person. We judge our doshas by how we tend to be if we are at homeostasis.

Additionally, different times of the day and year correspond to each of the three doshas. Fall and early winter are cold and dry, and thus are Vata dosha. The late winter and spring are Kapha times of year due to the precipitation and lack of light. Summer is hot and humid, and this lines up with Pitta dosha. Daily, Vata time is 2-6 AM and 2-6 PM. Kapha time is 6-10 AM and then again from 6-10 PM. Pitta time runs from 10 AM to 2 PM, and then once more from 10 PM to 2 AM.

Everyone has at least one dominant dosha. Some people are “bi-doshic”. This means that two doshas hold fairly even influence in their prakriti. Rarely, someone might be tri-doshic. This means all three doshas pretty evenly influence their constitution. Molly had each of us fill out a questionnaire prior to our session to determine our doshas. Let’s break the doshas down and take a look at what it all means.

Vata Dosha

Vata dosha corresponds with air and space elements. As a result, Vatas are very light and changeable. They tend to be creative and enjoy change and movement. Physically, those with a Vata constitution are tall and thin, with prominent joints and long fingers and toes. They also tend to chill easily and have dry skin.

Too much of anything is never good, and too much Vata can lead to an imbalance. Winter, being Vata itself, is often difficult for those who have a Vata constitution. It exacerbates the coldness and dryness to which they are already prone. Examples of illnesses caused by a Vata imbalance are insomnia, osteoporosis, and anxiety.

Through our assessment, it’s clear that I am Vata dominant. I definitely fit the physical description, and I have some of the personality elements as well. I’ve never been a good sleeper. In fact, my poor mother will tell you I barely slept at all the first two years of my life! Knowing this, I can use the elements of Ayruveda to ground my Vata constitution. Eating heavier foods, staying warm, and doing restorative yoga practices can all help bring my Vata-ness into balance.

Kapha Dosha

Kapha dosha corresponds primarily to the elements of earth and water. They tend to be very steady, calm, and loyal people. Physically, Kaphas tend to have more body mass and have a tendency to retain water. They tend to be resistant to change, and prefer to stick to familiar habits and routines. A Kapha’s idea of a perfect day is spending all day in bed sleeping!

Kaphas need to bring balance by introducing more lightness and movement, particularly in the later winter and spring, which aggravate Kapha. Focusing on a diet of lighter foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, can help combat Kapha tendencies. It is also important for Kaphas to maintain a more energetic vinyasa yoga practice. Otherwise, a Kapha imbalance in the form of depression, lethargy, or weight gain can result.

Pitta Dosha

In may ways, Pitta dosha is a bit of a middle ground between Vata and Kapha. Pittas are usually fair-skinned, with light hair and eyes. They are generally able to both gain and lose weight easily, and tend to have a very good appetite. They can tend towards the competitive side, preferring sports and activities that offer the chance to show their skill. Pittas are also highly organized, and as a result, enjoy planning.

Since Pittas tend to run on the warm side naturally, summer is Pitta aggravating. Pittas particularly dislike humidity and heat. Summertime in Florida is NOT prime Pitta season! Nutritionally, Pittas should limit or avoid hot, spicy foods. Instead, they should favor dairy to help bring Pitta into balance. Yin practices and twisting sequences are great ways to bring Pitta into balance through yoga.

I have some Pitta tendencies as well. I’m not technically bi-doshic according to the assessment we took, but it’s close. I have come out Vata-Pitta on other assessments. I think many of my Pitta tendencies, such as my need for organization and my love of food at all times, are heavily influenced by my upbringing. There’s a lot of Pitta tendencies on my dad’s side of the family, and food is a centerpiece of family get-togethers. Growing up, my mom always made us do our homework right when we came home and kept us on a routine. It’s a good thing, really, because I think it has helped keep my Vata-ness in check to learn these things early in life.

Ayurveda As Yoga Teachers

We finished with a short discussion of how to integrate Ayurveda into our yoga classes. The biggest thing was to tune into the doshas as they rise and fall throughout the day and seasonally. Knowing that Kapha dominates in the late winter and spring, for instance, it would be a good time of year to introduce a series on backbending to invigorate students and bring Kapha into balance. If you are interested in finding out your dosha type, you can take a quiz here.

Unbelievably, all of this was just the morning session! It’s such a deep topic, and I could probably still go on and on, but I’ll leave it here. Understand that this is a very brief overview, but there’s plenty out there if you’d like to learn more.

I missed the afternoon session due to illness, so unfortunately, I can’t write about it. However, I think I’ve taken up quite enough space for today anyway! Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out Molly and Turiya Holistic Health.