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Yoga is a weight-bearing practice that creates flexibility, elongated muscle fiber and balance. It strives for spinal alignment and releases the connective tissue (fascia) where stress, trauma and tension is held. It also aims to improve organ function by gently releasing toxins through pressure, flexion and contraction of the muscles and tissues surrounding the organs. The ultimate goal of yoga is to help the individual prepare for meditation. The idea is that through proper alignment, posture and breath work, we can create a mental state that is harmonious and able to receive subtle messages from the universal source energy.
Ayurvedic Yoga is a practice that leverages aspects of multiple forms of yoga to create routines that are appropriate for the season and an individual’s unique constitution (dosha).
For example, someone who suffers from acid reflux would likely have too much of the Pitta dosha accumulating in the body. Therefore, they would not be the ideal candidate for hot, power or vigorous vinyasa types of yoga and should not have a lot of Warriors, boats or abdominal exercises in their practice. Instead, they would benefit from a slow flow, restorative or yin practice that emphasizes poses for reducing heat like twisting, balancing and floor sequences.
Additionally, Ayurvedic Yoga practices often change based on the season and local climate. A practice in winter would be very different than one in the dog days of summer in Montana vs Arizona. For winter, we would do more Yin and slow flow styles of yoga whereas in summer we would likely recommend restorative yoga. If the day is rainy and cold, we might do more poses to emphasize the solar plexus in a faster, connected sequence similar to vinyasa. We might recommend a nice Bikram (hot) yoga in winter and spring, but would never suggest it for summertime or early fall and probably rarely if it's a tropical climate with high temperatures.
In every case, we strive to incorporate principles from Iyengar in which props are encouraged to achieve proper form and alignment. However, unlike Iyengar, we constantly remind our students that perfect is not the goal. The poses shouldn’t be a struggle and it's not the time to 'go hardcore'. We can achieve great health benefits without straining or tugging on the joints and muscles. This is a very important point. Many programs in the US are geared toward ‘working out’, and utilize yoga as a form of exercise. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, it might not be right for everyone.
For example, I used to practice hot power flow yoga in Houston, Texas year round and every practice ended with a heat generating kapalbhati breath. While I was definitely getting a good workout, I was fanning the flames of my Pitta constitution. The outcome was irritability, indigestion, acne, inflammation and a hot temper that would flare up at the slightest inconvenience. Great workout, but not in alignment with my needs. It might be the perfect combination for someone with more Kapha dosha that needs an invigorating and intense practice of this nature, but it was too much for me as a Vata Pitta dominated individual.
A core tenet of Ayurvedic Yoga: Like increases like and opposites balance.
In my group classes, I incorporate asanas (poses) and pranayama (breath work) to counteract the most common imbalances people experience during that particular season. Each class is uniquely tailored to the weather and location (indoors, outdoors, etc) at the time of the class, and I always offer several options for modifications so students are encouraged to 'feel' into the poses vs. 'doing' the poses. We start each practice with pranayama to settle the mind and create a foundation for embodiment, and end with savasana, bija mantras and mudras to bring in the opposite elements of those prominent during the season. For example, in Fall we have more of the air and ether elements surrounding us, so we would call in earth and water to achieve balance. No two practices are the same which makes it dynamic and interesting.
When I design a program for one of my Ayurveda clients, it always takes into consideration their stage in life, dosha, current state of imbalance, existing health conditions and their capabilities IN ADDITION TO the current season, and it changes over time so they can maintain balance. The goal is always to help the body naturally release toxins, and the only way to do this effectively is through relaxation. Any strain or force creates a fight or flight response thus flooding the body with hormones such as cortisol which creates inflammation - a big deterrent to waste removal and detoxification.
I hope this was helpful and I look forward to seeing you at one of my upcoming classes. Namaste.
By the way, the answer to the survey question is: All of the above.
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