Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Yoga Therapy For Health
Adding Yoga to an individuals’ Dinacharya has many therapeutic benefits. Many of the benefits are tri-doshic in nature but there are also ways to use yoga to correct doshic imbalances or vikriti that an individual may experience. Using the yogic practices of asana, pranayama, and meditation in conjunction with the knowledge of an individual’s dosha, is a focused therapeutic approach to correcting doshic imbalances that may cause disease. David Frawley in his book Yoga and Ayurveda states, “An understanding of Ayurvedic constitutional types helps us to adapt yoga practices according to individual requirements. The asana pranayama and mediation practices appropriate for one doshic type may not be useful for another.”
Yoga asana is a powerful healing tool. It can be utilized to maintain balance in an individual or to correct doshic imbalances. Almost all asana can be useful to all dosha types, but frequency, hold, breathing techniques and energetic approach to each asana will change depending on an individual’s prakriti and vikriti.
There are seven different families of yoga asana, standing poses, balancing poses, seated poses, inversions, forward bends, back bends and twists. Certain poses may help to balance certain doshic imbalances, but that does not mean that any asana family should be completely removed from an individual’s practice. All muscle groups should be represented in your practice at least a few days of the week. In the book Yoga for Your Type it states, “An asana may not be good for a particular doshic type but that doesn’t mean they should never do it. It means they should practice the asana in a way which guards against any potential imbalances.” For example, individuals with a Pitta dosha should in general have a relaxing and cooling practice. Many standing and balancing postures can be heating therefore those with a Pitta constitution should hold the poses for short intervals and do less of them than their Kaphic counterparts.
Intention plays a big part in modifying poses to suit each constitution. Energetically each asana can benefit each dosha type depending on the intention with which it is performed. In the book Yoga for your Type it states, “This doshic equation of asanas should not be taken rigidly because the pranic effect of asana can outweigh its structural affect as we just noted. The form of the asana is not its main factor. Through the use of breath we can modify or even change the doshic effects of the asana. We must remember the importance of thought and intention in asana as well. Considering the asana, prana and the mind, we alter a particular asana or adjust the entire practice toward a particular doshic result.”
For example vata individuals must practice with a calm even grounded mind. Their practices should centered and relaxed, doing asana slowly without strain or abrupt movements. In the book Yoga for Your Type, the authors Frawley and Summerfield make the following recommendation for Vata type practitioners, “A gentle, slow practice evenly balanced on both sides of the body is ideal exercise for vata types. Vata are most in need of asana practice because asana alleviates accumulated Vata from the back and bones, where it causes bone and joint problems. Vata benefits from the massaging action of the asana on the muscles and joints, which release nervous tension and balances out the system.”
Pitta individuals should practice with the intention to surrender into the asana, in relaxed way that will remove heat and tension. They should remain receptive and detached but also avoid being overly critical. The recommendation Frawley and Summerfield make for Pitta is as follows. “Pittas benefit from asana practice to cool down the head and the blood, calm the heart and relieve tension. For example, Pittas tends to hypertension because of the fiery temperament that drives them to succeed or to win.”
Kaphic types should practice with effort and determination. They should practice with light, flowing, energetic movements, and an enthusiastic mind. Increasing the depth and speed of the breath when needed to create energy and reduce kapha. Kapha types get similar advice from Frawley and Summerfield in Yoga for Your Type, “Kaphas need movement and stimulation to counter their tendency to complacency and inertia. They are good at keeping a practice going for longer periods of time, once they get it going in the first place.”
Another factor in creating a therapeutic practice for each dosha is where the doshic imbalance can be seen in the spine. According to Mas Vidal in his Yoga Therapy text Doshic imbalance can be seen in spine. Vata will be displayed in the lower or lumbar spine and colon. Pitta will accumulate in the mid back and small intestines. Kapha will build up in the thoracic spine and chest. Each specific therapeutic dosha balancing practice should include asana that releases these dosha from the spine.
Many asana’s benefits are tridoshic in nature. Yet some poses remove more of one dosha than another. Some examples are Trikoasana (Triangle Pose), Padottanasana (Spread Legs Forward Bend), Ardha Chandrasana ((Half Moon Pose) and many more. The book Yoga for Your Type is an excellent reference for the doshic properties on the most commonly known asanas. Surya Namskar or the sun salutation is a twelve movement sequence that includes back bends, forwards bends and its benefits are tridoshic. The sequence eliminates doshas from the spine and is a heating sequence that helps to reduce excess fat, reduce weight, and improves digestion. This sequence can be prescribed for individuals of all Prakriti, it is extremely effective in producing spinal health and is excellent for reducing excess doshas from the spine region.
Most standing poses such as Parsvttanasana (Intense Sideways Stretch Pose), Padottanasana (Spread Legs Forward Bend), Trikonasana (Triangle) and many other standing poses will decrease all three doshas if modified slightly for each constitution. Vata types will practice standing poses with moderate holds and slow even breathing. Pitta will perform standing poses with short holds and long easy cooling breaths. While kapha will hold these asanas longer and may even repeat theses poses for more heat and movement. The breath will be normal or can even be performed Ujjayi to create more heat.
Balancing poses tend to be heating in nature and therefore are recommended in sequences for individuals trying to lower the kapha dosha. Examples of balancing poses are Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Eagle (Garudasana), and Natarajasana (Dancer’s Pose). Dancer’s pose is a challenging balancing asana that when performed creates opening in the chest and upper spine as well a heating in the body which makes it an excellent posture to reduce Kapha. Since individuals with vata imbalances need warming and grounding postures, balancing poses should be a small portion of a vata reducing practice. The heating nature of balancing poses also minimizes the use of them in a Pitta balancing practice, especially during the warmer summer months.
Seated postures are grounding and cooling, which makes them an ideal focus for both vata and pitta practices. Seated postures such as Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Sitting Pose), Virasana (Hero Pose), Yoga Mudrasana (Yoga Seal), Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana), or Lotus and Half Lotus (Padmasana) are examples of seated asana. Some of these postures are also hip openers and can be very helpful in reducing vata that is stored with the hips, colon, and lumbar spine Vata practitioners should practice seated postures with long holds, and even slow and smooth breath. Pitta practitioners can hold these postures with an intention towards surrender and tension release for any period of time that allows for this intention. Kaphic individuals should focus their practice on more active heating postures, and when performing seated asana it is suggested that they still keep the intention of enthusiasm and activity in their practice by utilizing short holds and a warming ujjayi breath.
Anytime the head is below heart in an asana it can be considered an inversion. These asana are usually heating and strengthening for the upper body. Examples of inverted asana are the classic Adho Mukha Svasana (Downward Facing Dog), Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), Halasana (Plow), and Sirsasana (Headstand). Pitta can perform these postures but because of the heating properties the holds must be short and the breath smooth and cooling. Vata can also be reduced by utilizing these postures with long holds and the intention of being still and stable. Stillness and grounding in these postures are very important to reduce vata instead of aggravating it by increasing stress and strain in postures done too forcefully or too much activity. These postures are ideal for reducing Kapha, but excess weight could cause difficulties for Kaphic practitioners so these poses can be modified to accommodate the ability of the individual. For over weight individuals start inverted asanas with short holds to build strength, working towards moderate holds with normal breathing. The intention should also be one of activity with the practitioner holding the intention of lifting and working these heating poses. Inversions purify the blood and nurture the organs in the upper body, the brain, lungs, and throat. The opening and strengthening of the thoratic spine in inversions like Sirasana (Headstand), Pincha Mayurasana (Peacock) and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) are excellent medicine for the excess kapha that may accumulate around the head, neck, and chest.
Forward bends are the best asana for reducing Pitta. Their cooling properties, well as the tension release from the mid back are vital for individuals with excess Pitta dosha. These practitioners must perform these asana with long holds and even repetitions. The breath should be smooth, easy, and light, with an intention focused on surrender and tension release. Paschimottanasana (Full forward Bend), Upavistha Konasana (Open Legs Forward Bend), Supta Padangusthasana (One Leg Stretched up Lying Down), and Janu Sirasana ( Head to Knee Pose) are all examples of forward bending asana. Vata can be reduced in the spine by performing forward bending poses and because they are done on the floor if done with the intention of being still and grounded these poses can stabilize the normally spacey vata aggravated individual. Most forward bends increase Kapha in the body therefore these poses should be minimized and place at the end of a Kapha reducing practice. They should be done for short holds with a strong a heating breath to reduce impact of Kaphic imbalances.
Backbends are compressions of the spine. They increase the opening in the chest and lungs, therefore making them essential in a Kapha reducing practice. Gentle back bends done on the floor can be helpful to those with an excess Vata as well because of their grounding nature. Some examples of backbends are Bhujangasana (Cobra), Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), these a backbends are performed on the floor. Ustrasana (Camel) and Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) are backbends that can be performed while standing or lifted. For the most benefit individuals with excess Kapha should perform standing and floor back bends with long, intense, holds with normal to Ujjayi breathing. Practitioners with excess Vata or Pitta should perform the backbends on the floor for their grounding and cooling qualities. The holds should be short to moderate in length and with slow, light, and smooth breathing. In Yoga for Your Type the Authors mentions this precaution for practitioners on the subject of backbends. “For example, backbends. Forceful or quickly done backbends can cause major Vata Aggravation, with serve strain to the nervous system perhaps more than any other asana. However, gentle partial back bends are great for reducing Vata that accumulates in the upper back and shoulders.” Demonstrating again that the intention, speed, and breath in the practice of an asana is just as important as the pose itself.
The last family asana to be discussed are twists. Twisting postures are cooling to the body and release tension in the mid back. Twists remove heat and should always be performed in the cooling portion of a practice. Balancing twists can be heating and increase Pitta and Vata so for these two doshas seated twists are preferred. Balancing twists include Twisted Prayer Pose and Garudasana (Eagle) poses. Seated twists include poses such as Bharadvajasana (Legs Side Sitting Twist Pose), Marichyasana (Sage Twist), and Jathara Parivartanasana (revolving Stomach Pose). All practices should contain some twisting asana for the tension release in the mid back but this is especially important to those with Pitta body types.
To summarize the affect of asana can therapeutic for all three dosha types. When used with the correct intention, length of hold and breath asana can be a huge benefit to any body type. This can be applied to another other yoga techniques as well. Take Pranayama techniques, when used wisely by the practitioner, they can also have therapeutic benefits that can be customized to suit the various imbalances in the mind, body, and spirit.
David Frawley defines Pranayama in the following way, “Prana is the vital force and ayama means expansion. Therefore pranayama means the “expansion of the vital force”.” The expansion of prana can be used to treat diseases of the respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems. Correct functioning of these systems depends on the proper flow of prana. Toxins create blockages in the nadis causing the flow prana to be reduced. Under these conditions patients will demonstrate symptoms such as lack of energy and chronic fatigue, and weak immunities. Through pranayama we can clear the way for prana to flow freely throughout the body. “Frawley states in Yoga and Ayurveda “Yogic views of anatomy, physiology and psychology were originally formulated in terms of the doshas. The doshas tell us how the various organs and systems of the body work from a yogic perspective of prana. They provide the keys to the nadis and the chakras of the subtle body.”
There are many different ways to perform pranayama but the techniques must be chosen with the individual’s dosha and vikriti in mind. ”Pranayama treats all the doshas. The right practice of pranayama normalizes vata, the master dosha and expression of prana. Pranayama is the one of the main practices to reduce kapha, which has a tendency to stagnation and the production of mucus. In addition special cooling pranayama counter Pitta and remove heat.”
The heating and cooling nature of pranayama is an important factor in treatment of doshic imbalances. Therefore breath through the right nostril that energizes the solar nadi the pingala should be utilized to increase Pitta and heat. In opposition breath through the left nostril activates the lunar nadi the Ida and increases kapha or water.
Breath retention also plays a factor in choosing the correct techniques for the appropriate dosha. The retention of breath after an inhalation is a strengthening and increases brimhana the tonifying effect of pranayama. It is used to reduce aggravation vata and build ojas. On the flip side breath retention after exhalation is detoxifying and lowers kapha and increases the langhan or reducing effects of pranayama.
With these principles in mind we can begin to recommend pranayama to our students and patients. For example a student complaining of excess heat, fevers, loss of body weight, or mental hyperactivity such as insomnia, or anxiety would want to focus on alternate nostril breathing focused on the cooling side the left nostril breathing. For stronger cooling effects use the Shitali method of inhalation through an open mouth and upwardly curled tongue with breath retention, and then exhaling through the nose. Or the Sitaki pranayama method which is similar to the Shitali method that adds a “see” sound on inhalation through the curled tongue but excludes breath retention.
Patients with excess weight, low energy, fatigue, depression should focus on alternate nostril breathing from the right nostril to energize the solar nadi the pingala to create heat. These methods are best used in the morning to move and reduce kapha in the body. For stronger heating methods use the Kapalabhati or Bhastrika methods. Kapalabhati breath or the “breath of fire” cleanses the nasal passages. This method involves taking deep forceful exhalations while at the same time contracting the abdomen muscles with strength. The inhalation is allowed to happen normally. In the Bhastrika method the left nostril is closed and ten deep inhalations and exhalations are done on through the right nostril. After ten breaths switch and complete ten deep forceful breaths through the left nostril. This method creates heat, clears mucus, and helps to reduce excess fat.
For vata balanced breathing is best. Pranayama techniques such as Ujjayi breathing and right nostril breathing in the morning work well. Ujjayi breathing is deep breathing with a small subtle sound at the back of throat to lengthen and deepen the breath, and strengthen the respiratory system. It is warming and reduces kapha and vata and improves agni. Frawley references both yoga asana and pranayama as an essential tool in therapeutic treatment. “Yoga has a place in both levels of Ayurvedic treatment. Yoga is a therapeutic tool of Ayurveda for both disease treatment and a variety of aliments, particularly structural problems or low energy conditions. However, yoga is probably more important for lifestyle management than for treatment of disease. Yoga postures, pranayama and meditation are among the best tools for keeping our doshas in balance.”
Meditation is a practice recommended by both Yoga and Ayurveda and in most cases its practice is therapeutic and tri-doshic in nature. There are many different methods of meditation including the use of mantra, visualization and prayer. Frawley discusses the Ayurvedic approach to meditation this way in his book Yoga and Ayurveda, “Because of the mind’s connection with prana, the role of pranic practices in meditation cannot be ignored. Because of prana’s connection to food, the physical body cannot be forgotten either. The Ayurvedic approach to meditation is always integral and includes the body, breath and senses.
Devotional meditation is mediation or concentration upon a form of god. The focus of this meditation is based on an individual’s religious background and is often deeply personal to each practitioner. It can range in nature from an avatar of a revered teacher or any other relationship with the divine.
Knowledge meditation’s aim is self-knowledge. It can be done passively or actively. The passive form of knowledge meditation is performed with a receptive attitude with the mediator taking the role of the witness in observing the self. Active knowledge meditation entails direct questioning of one’s true nature. With questions like “Who am I?” These various mediation techniques can be recommended to help balance each dosha type.
Mediation for vata types can help to ground restless thoughts and it can help to reduces the feelings fear and anxiety they often experience. It can assist them to overcome their natural tendency for over activity and stress and also can sooth nervous digestion and insomnia problems. Vata types need an inner ward focus to their meditation. An unfocused or passive form of meditation has the tendency to aggravate Vata and make them feel even more spacey. Therefore mantra and visualization are recommended.
Vata types should perform asana or some relaxing form of exercise like walking, to work out any excess restless before they sit down to practice. This will help them sit still with more ease. Use visualization including grounding anti-vata types of images of earth and water like lakes, oceans, mountains or flowers. Colors such as the golden colors of dawn or fire are wonderful anti-vata color therapy. For mantra they should reaffirm the feeling of peace and fearlessness, and use anti-vata mantras of HRIM, SHRIM, and RAM. The mantra should be said out loud but low and calm voice to keep the vata energized but anxiety free.
For devotional meditation vata types should focus on divine parental relationships. Their relationship to the divine should be one that is protective, supporting, and nourishing in nature. Images of the divine mother and father are helpful. Vata type’s knowledge meditation should concern the unchanging or eternal aspects of the Self, such as concepts including the changeless nature of universal law.
Meditation for Pitta individuals should be a form of surrender. In this way Pitta types can release the tension and aggression that Pitta’s generate with their tight need for control. Excellent concentration will help Pitta types’ to focus more easily. Allowing them to use their strengths of strong concentration and drive to center their attention on peaceful anti-pitta mantra and visualization.
It is recommended that Pitta come to mediation as cool and relaxed as possible. Therefore unlike Vata and Kapha types no exercise prior to mediation is necessary. To promote a more peaceful and still meditation a cooling pranayama such as shitali or alternate nostril breathing can be done prior to meditation.
Visualization for Pitta should concentrate on non-fiery images and colors such as oceans, mountains, rain, snow, and white, blue, or dark green. Pitta affirmations include forgiveness, compassion, for all creation, and a release of anger and aggression. Anti-Pitta mantras include SHAM, SHRIM, or OM. Mantra in Pitta should be repeated silently, and in a slow and relaxed pace.
Devotional meditation should be centered on peaceful and calming forms of the divine. Pitta types may be drawn to the more destructive and wrathful gods but they should avoid this attraction and choose more soothing and forgiving forms of the divine. In knowledge mediation Pitta types must turn their keen intellect and critical minds outward seeking answers outside their own opinions and judgments, and find the light of acceptance and peace within their own hearts.
Meditation for Kapha types is a practice of letting go of emotional attachment and mental stagnation. Group meditation or meditation with mantra, pranayama combined to maintain a wakeful and aware practice is good of Kapha types. The combination of more active forms of meditation can counter the Kaphic tendency toward lassitude. Like Vata types, Kaphic individuals need some physical exercise prior to mediation. Walking meditation or asana before meditation is ideal for Kapha types. Heating and balancing pranayama prior to and during meditation will increase awareness and dispel stagnation.
Visualization for Kapha types should focus on images that increase the fire, air and space elements, images of sun, wind, or sky are excellent examples of anti-kapha imagery. Also the colors of gold, blue, and orange can be used in anti-kapha color therapy. Useful mantra for Kapha types are the sounds of OM, HUM, AIM. They should be done out loud to begin, and then repeated also with only the breath.
Since love and compassion comes naturally to most Kapha types devotional worship can be easy for them. But unlike Pitta types, Kapha individuals should worship the more stimulating or passionate forms of divinity like Shiva, or Kali. This type of devotional imagery if not done with excessive emotion, but with a purity of the heart, can release emotional attachment and lethargy. Knowledge meditation for Kapha types should be centered on ideas of formless, change, the transient nature of creation, and the formlessness of infinity. These concepts will assist Kaphic individuals to let go of attachments, and increases space in the mind. Kaphic types must always strive to go beyond their personal limitations, to take the next steps in their own great journey, and not be tempted to linger in one place no matter how pleasant the distraction.
Whatever your dosha meditation is essential part of good physical, mental, and spiritual health. In his book Yoga and Ayurveda Frawley writes of the importance of mediation in Yogic and Ayurvedic philosophies, “Ayurveda and yoga culminate in the art of mediation. The Ayurvedic knowledge of the doshas and pranas help us use meditation for healing and balancing purposes. The Yogic knowledge of the mind and the gunas help use to use meditation for Self-realization. Meditation is like the pinnacle of the pyramid of Vedic Knowledge. It culminates in a sharp point that penetrates into the infinite, but rests on a broad base that goes deep into the earth.”
Knowing your dosha or your patient’s dosha is a power tool of self- healing. Once the knowledge is gained your lifestyle practices of diet, exercise, cleansing, purifying, can be customized to your own unique needs. Merging the sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda gives the individual practitioner or healer a full tool box of skills and with which to correct doshic imbalances. Together they create a flexible wellness system that can change not only with the individual’s life changes such as the seasons, life changing events, injuries, and illness but also with their own distinctive imbalances and health issues as they grow and age.