Discover how to flow with the rhythms of nature
Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, is the science of life and uses the principle of “like increases like” to heal, maintain and balance your health. As Robert E Svoboda writes in his book The Hidden Secret of Ayurveda, “Everything that exists in the external universe has its counterpart in the internal universe of the human body.” Not only are we part of the universe, explains Svoboda, each of us is a living microcosm affected by and influencing the greater macrocosm we find ourselves in, the great Purusha: the living being or God that exists in everything.
As nature is in a continuous, flowing rhythm, Ayurveda seeks to move you with that same natural, constantly changing flow for balance, peace and harmony.
As nature is in a continuous, flowing rhythm, Ayurveda seeks to move you with that same natural, constantly changing flow for balance, peace and harmony. Constant change requires constant adaptation, and the state of your health in turn shapes the health of the universe through your daily actions.
You can tune into the natural rhythms of the planet by adapting your daily routine — habits, yoga practice, food choices and lifestyle — to the cycle of the doshas (energies of the body and mind). Draw on Vedic wisdom to inspire a healthier regime for overall wellbeing and optimally time your sleep, food, yoga and life to the day/night, relevant season and all of nature’s vibrations.
The doshas — vata, pitta and kapha — refer to the combinations of natural elements — ether, air, fire, water and earth — which prevail within your prakriti (your overall make-up or constitution) and govern various bodily systems. Through motion and change, doshas are easily disturbed by forces such as climate, season, time, thoughts, food choices and lifestyle. Just as your prakriti determines your body type, the seasons, time and your age all have their own prakriti, impacting internal equilibrium. Life flows easier when swasthavritta, “establishing oneself in good habits”, occurs.
Just as your prakriti determines your body type, the seasons, time and your age all have their own prakriti, impacting internal equilibrium.
Getting to know your prakriti offers a way for you to make informed, conscious decisions regarding diet and lifestyle for health. Everyone has all three doshas in their body-mind make-up but one usually predominates and is your “type”. To work out your particular constitution, you can follow a quick quiz online such as the one available at ayurvedichealing.com.au. In the meantime, here’s a brief overview of each dosha and its actions:
- Vata (ether and air) governs all movement and rules motion in the body and mind. While excess vata is naturally removed through defecation, any remaining excess presents as nervous energy, fear and anxiety.
- Pitta (fire and water) governs metabolism, is central for digestion in the gut, as well as many brain activities. Pitta is naturally removed through sweat, with excess pitta presenting as fiery anger, frustration and criticism.
- Kapha (earth and water) is the stabilising force, lubricating the body. Urine removes kapha, with excess showing up as jealousy and possessiveness.
Anything dry will increase vata, anything hot increases pitta, and anything heavy increases kapha.
Qualities of the doshas
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Flavour your life
In his book Ayurveda: Life, Health and Longevity, Svoboda says, “If you want a sweet life, enhance the sweet qualities from your environment to you.” Rasa is the tissue that nourishes all other tissues and is the characteristic in the environment that generates your flavour. Svoboda says, “This flavour is your reality, the reality in which you live your life, which makes your life blissful or miserable according to its quality.”
Ayurveda recognises six tastes affecting your feelings and emotions that flavour your system. Sweet rasa is associated with desire and gratification, sour with envy, salty with greed, bitter with grief and frustration, pungent with anger and astringent with fear.
- If you want a “sweet life”, look for opportunities where the elements earth and water dominate, in substances that are cold, oily and heavy. Sweet aggravates kapha, though, so too much sweetness for kapha types leads to negative outcomes of excess, such as over-attachment and greed. Sweet rasa is helpful in reducing vata and pitta and can bring more sweetness and cooling calm to these constitutions.
- In sour taste, earth and fire predominate. Sour is hot, oily and light, increases kapha and pitta yet relieves vata.
- Salty taste is predominated by water and fire, is hot, oily and heavy, increases kapha and pitta and relieves vata.
- Pungent taste is spicy, a combination of air and fire, hot, dry and light. It increases vata and pitta, relieving kapha.
- Bitter is cold, dry and light, a combination of air and ether. It increases vata and relieves pitta and kapha.
- In astringent taste, air and earth predominate. Astringent is cold, dry and heavy, increases vata and reduces both pitta and kapha.
The rtam (rhythm of the universe) appears as rtu (seasons). Ayurveda recognises four main seasonal cycles: day and night, seasons of the year, age and digestion.
As the year evolves, your body is most vulnerable at the seasonal transitions or rtu sandhi, joints of the seasons, when disease can more easily enter the body. Dr Vasant Lad, in Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing, says these sandhi points occur seven days either side of the intersections of early winter, late winter, spring, summer, early autumn and late autumn.
Ayurveda suggests to avoid eating past 6pm if possible and to take leisurely strolls in nature after meals.
In early autumn, vata problems such as cracking joints, anxiety, irregular digestion and increased sensitivity to cold can develop. To pacify vata, increase warmed foods that are naturally sweet, sour and salty in taste during early autumn, and eat barley, couscous and rice. A heating drink of boiled water with honey helps.
During the colder months of winter, the kapha season, add warming spices to the diet including ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and clover. In late winter, add caraway and cumin, avoiding all cold drinks and raw food.
During spring, eliminate heavy, sour, sweet and oily products. Drink herbal teas and honey water with black pepper and ginger.
Summer is the time of pitta so emphasise sweet, moist and cool foods for counterbalance. Eat lots of fruit, particularly melons eaten alone, for good digestion. Drinking water seeped in mint and drinking coconut water will cool you down.
The menstrual cycle is seen as an additional season for women, and in healthy menstruation it attunes your flow and rhythm with that of nature. Any imbalance in menstruation is seen as an imbalance in the doshas. In Ayurveda for Women, Svoboda explains that kapha predominates during the first half of the month, between the end of the flow and ovulation, pitta from ovulation until the flow begins and vata during menstrual flow.
Doshas by age
Knowing what dosha predominates in each stage of life helps you provide balance. Overall, kapha dominates childhood and is mucus forming, making children more susceptible to colds and flus. In mid-life, pitta dominates, so any sattvic (pure) activity that frees up an overly serious, penetrating mind will be healthful. The final and third stage of life, old age, is vata, which is drying. Think oiling the body, adding more oils to foods, massaging with oils and gently rotating the joints for health.
Doshas by day & night
Pitta dominates the day, helping you get things done, and kapha the night, helping you sleep. Vata dominates the transitions that move you between day and night.
- Sunrise-10am is kapha time, providing sustained energy. Ayurveda suggests eating breakfast around 7-8am, and that those of kapha constitution skip breakfast altogether.
- 10am-2pm is pitta, which governs digestion, making the early part of this time best for your main meal. Ayurveda recommends lunchtime around 12pm or even earlier, between 10am and 11am.
- 2pm-sunset is vata time, giving active, light and subtle qualities. Ideally, eat dinner before 6pm to avoid eating during the following kapha phase.
- 6-10pm is kapha, cooling the air and reducing activity. Sync in with this energy by turning off all media, television and computer screens and keep the lights dim in preparation for sleep. Aim to sleep by 10pm.
- 10pm-2am is pitta, when food is digested.
- 2am-sunrise is vata. According to Ayurveda, waking up before sunrise is optimal for supreme health.
Ayurveda suggests to avoid eating past 6pm if possible and to take leisurely strolls in nature after meals. Also, undergo a fast once a week to rest digestion, cleanse and detoxify your system.
Dinacharya: your daily routine
To synchronise your activities with the cycles of nature, adopt dinacharya, Ayurveda’s daily ritual of self-care:
- Wake up at vata time, before 6am. This allows for healthy excretion and makes for a lighter, brighter start to your day.
- Say a prayer to the Divine, offering gratitude for the day and your life.
- Rinse your face and mouth, wash eyes, gently rubbing eyelids, blink and rotate eyes in all directions.
- Drink warm water with lemon.
- Empty your bladder and bowels.
- Scrape your tongue and brush your teeth.
- Perform gandusha (oil pulling) to remove toxins. Gandusha involves swishing refined sesame or coconut oil inside your mouth and through your teeth for 20 minutes, spitting it into a bin then rinsing with warm water.
- Undress in a warm room and perform abhyanga oil massage, applying warmed oil to the body (sesame for vata, olive or mustard oil for kapha, coconut oil for pitta), massaging oil into the scalp and face, then stroking each limb up towards the heart, circling around each joint as you go. Massage the abdomen in the direction of digestion. Meditate while the oil soaks in.
- Shower, wash hair. Avoid harsh soaps, enjoying the protective sheath of oil on the skin.
- Perform a series of sun salutations and a yoga practice to nourish and strengthen the body.
- Practice pranayama (yogic breathing): nadi shodhana, alternate nostril breathing, is an excellent tri-doshic practice.
- Eat breakfast before 8am.
Practising yoga during vata times of the day, before dawn and at dusk, provides opportunities for gentle, grounding yoga to centre you, no matter your constitution. Performing yoga asanas (postures) and meditation before sunrise establishes a sattvic rhythm for the day when the mind is most open to spirit.
During kapha time, sunrise to 10am, yoga practice can be more rigorous, with the intention to sweat it out. Yoga at midday is pitta time, so you can aim to balance pitta with cooling yoga that has just enough challenge to satisfy the fire energy while weaving a spirit of free play through to poses such as stronger backbends. In the evening, draw on kapha’s heaviness with long holds in restorative poses over bolsters, chairs and blankets. This assists the mind and body to prepare for sound sleep.
In mid-life, pitta dominates, so any sattvic (pure) activity that frees up an overly serious, penetrating mind will be healthful.
Morning yoga can include surya namaskar, sun salutes, honouring the life-giving force of the sun. Yoga at night can honour the moon with chandra namaskar, the gentler, lunar salutations at kapha time before the restoration of sleep, drawing on kapha’s balanced energy of nurturance, forgiveness and compassion. Allow time for quiet contemplation and meditation a couple of hours before bed.
Those with kapha constitution need a vigorous practice overall, one that includes stronger backbends to shift out of slower energies, while vata types need slow, steady, grounding, simple practices that settle anxiety and include rotating or circling the joints. Pitta types need to include short holds and less intensity, so freedom of movement can be enjoyed. Always offer your practice to the Divine, set your intentions and offer gratitude for the sacred nature of life. Be receptive to nature’s wisdom as you heal and balance your body and mind through your practice.
According to Ayurveda, a yoga practice ideally also reflects the seasons of the year. Yoga in summer focuses on cooling inversion practices, in line with the needs of pitta. Enjoy yoga without strain, having fun while taking the edge off the summer heat. Supported inversions such as viparita dandasana (inverted staff pose) over a chair are a great choice.
To combat the sedentary nature of winter and excess kapha, perform yoga that makes you sweat with high impact, strenuous and heart-pumping practice combined with breath awareness. During the transitional seasons of spring and autumn, practise gentle, grounding yoga to centre and calm the internal winds of vata.
During menstruation, Ayurveda advises to avoid all back-bending poses, strong poses, arm balances, inversions and twists that cross the midline of the body. You can perform open twists, forward bends, simple standing postures and longer relaxations during your menstrual flow, focusing on poses that open the hips, such as supta baddha konasana (reclined bound-angle pose) and upavista konasana (wide-angle seated forward bend).
Consider your age and that of those who may be doing yoga with you. Practise yoga that is beneficial for the dominant dosha for your age.
Rhythms of breath
Every 90 minutes, according to Ayurvedic wisdom, the dominate nostril you breathe through alternates to the other nostril. The left nostril cools and calms and may enhance kapha, while the right nostril is heating, enhancing pitta. When both nostrils work together, vata increases naturally, around sunrise and sunset.
You can draw on the cycles of breathing during your yoga practice to balance your doshas. You are more receptive to meditation when the left, lunar side is dominate and the right, solar nostril is not active, whereas you want the reverse if you are leading or teaching a class. For a high-impact class, ideally the right nostril dominates, and, for a gentle, relaxation style, the left. Switch the dominance at will by lying for a few minutes on the opposite side.
Sleep in synch
Your sleeping position is another element you can tailor to the season. On hot summer nights, or if you are a pitta type, sleep on the right side of the body to suppress the heating energy and open the cooling, lunar energy of the left. At other times, and for vata and kapha types, sleeping on the left side is recommended as the lunar energy is suppressed and solar energy is opened.
Adjusting to climate
A dry climate is healthier than wet, teaches Ayurveda, because rasa can stagnate in a wet climate, promoting disease. Humidity is heavy and contributes water, making digestion more difficult.
Vata prefers a warm climate and pitta prefers cool, while kapha likes the change of season. For kapha, an arid area is a great location to remove excess kapha from the body. Pitta types should avoid very hot and dry climates, and vatas suffer in arid ones.
Change, adapt, transform
Applying Ayurvedic suggestions to your diet, lifestyle, yoga practice and daily habits can completely transform your life. As Svoboda says, every thought you have changes your physiology: you are what you believe yourself to be. You are divine, an integral part of the great purusha, the living being of the universe.
Choose flavours that radiate harmony, positivity and a good life for rhythmic ease and flow with the natural vibrations of the Earth. Connect with Mother Nature regularly, take the sun in through your eyes and skin, touch the bare earth with your bare feet, express gratitude for life and the planet, water plants, smell the flowers, open the windows and purify the air. Adjust your lifestyle according to the climate, seasons and cycles, allowing your doshas to enjoy harmony and equilibrium within the natural world.
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