Last week I began teaching a new series in my classes, which we’ll explore over the next 4-6 weeks. Some of you aren’t able to partake in my public classes, so I thought I’d share what we’re working on here, in case you’d like to incorporate it into your own practice. For those of you who are able to join class, this will be a refresher and will hopefully provide more information and support for your home practice.
You all know how I love weaving the wisdom of Ayurveda into my teaching. Part of this series is rooted in exploring the Ayurvedic constitutional type, or dosha, called vata, and how we can adapt our practice to align with the current, vata season. Another part of this series is focused on a peak pose that I feel both balances and celebrates the vata dosha – Standing Hand to Big Toe pose / Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. This article will explore the vata dosha and practice recommendations, and next month I’ll include some key conditioning and alignment principles for Standing Hand to Big Toe pose.
Vata is one of the three Ayurvedic doshas, with pitta and kapha making up the other two. We all have a unique mix of the three doshas. Our dosha is like our blueprint, and is thought to be determined at conception. While our original blueprint doesn’t change, lots of factors influence our dosha balance, including diet and lifestyle, our age, the time of day, and the time of year.
The vata dosha is dominant from fall through mid-winter (so here we are!). Vata is made of the elements air (vayu) and ether (akasha), the two lightest elements of the five. This lightness creates the expansive quality of the vata dosha. Those who have a lot of vata in their constitution are quick thinking, with boundless inspiration and creativity. Vata is associated with the energy of motion, which includes moving our physical body, the circulation of blood, lymph and other fluids, as well as movement in the realm of nerve impulses. Whether there’s a lot of vata in your dosha, or just a little bit, we all have the tendency to go out of balance in vata excess ways more easily during this time of year.
When there’s too much motion, we can find ourselves distracted, ungrounded and moving too fast… disconnected from our body and earth. There may be anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness and poor memory. With too much movement we can experience rapid heartbeat and respiration, twitches and tremors. The main symptom of excess vata is pain. Slowing down our yoga practice, and incorporating tools that promote the downward flow of prana (apana vayu), rooting us into our bodies and into earth, can help calm and nourish the vata dosha.
Here are some simple tools to support vata:
- Slow and lengthen the exhalation part of the breath cycle.
- Practice L nostril breath and Chandra Bhedana.
- Take a lowered gaze point (dristhi).
- “Going to the Bones” mindfulness tool: feel the bones of your body and where they’re connected with your mat, your props, the wall or the floor. Sense the steadiness of floor, and the quietude of earth. Sense that same steadiness in you.
- In asana practice incorporate more forward folds, standing balance postures with an emphasis on rooting down into earth, as well as restorative and yin yoga.
- During the colder portions of the year, it’s helpful to create heat in our practice, and in vata season, heat coupled with grounding, so as to not overstimulate the nervous system.
Vata season reminds us to slow down, root into earth, and turn our attention inward, just as the plants and animals all around us are doing. Nature provides us with such wise guidance, when we pay attention.
Big love and warm hugs,