Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2019 issue.
From Fort Collins to Pueblo and Grand Junction to Manitou Springs, Eastern healing practices of days past are present and thriving here in the Wild West. Acupuncture clinics sit between Ace Hardwares and State Farm Insurance offices in the Western Slope’s small towns, and meditation classes have long escaped the seclusion of Crestone to take up the cubicles of Denver’s booming tech world. In one high-end ski town, a yoga studio now operates from a space formerly inhabited by Burger King.
For those of us with holistic-leaning inclinations, this trend is generally great news. But, some argue that with this proliferation has come a loss of depth. We’re good at fishing out quick fix wellness techniques, packaging them to promote cultural standards of physical beauty, then selling them to the masses for billions of dollars — but are we only skimming the surface? After all, what good is acupuncture without the herbal remedies of Chinese Medicine, mindfulness without the other seven folds of the Eightfold Path, or yoga without consciousness? Sure, there are benefits, but by separating these practices from their roots, some argue that we vastly limit their healing power. Now that we’ve set our sails on the vast ocean of Eastern philosophy, it’s time to start diving deeper.
As an Ayurvedic practitioner, I’ve become a champion for the return of Ayurvedic wisdom into the teachings of its much more popular sister science, yoga. Ayurvedic practitioners generally agree that when practiced together, the two form a complete holistic lifestyle, but seldom is there any mention of Ayurveda in today’s yoga classes. Even modern postural yoga’s most prominent pioneers from India, such as B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, were not known to infuse their yoga teachings with Ayurveda. The two practices emerged from the same branch of Hindu philosophy called Samkyha, sharing the common goal of enlivening consciousness. In Ayurveda, this goal is achieved using diet, routine and herbs. Based in the foundational concept of Tridosha Theory, which sees the entire natural world through the lens of the five elements, it describes three basic body types called Doshas:
Those with a restless, mercurial disposition, light frame and love of all things movement are described as Vata Dosha (air and space).
Those with an intense Type A personality, medium frame and sharp hunger and attitude are described as Pitta Dosha (fire and water).
Those with a steady, tranquil nature, heavy frame and tendency towards stubbornness are described as Kapha Dosha (earth and water).
Each of the Dosha types is further prone to different states of imbalance, typically as a result of over engaging in unsuitable activities, a common phenomenon called Samanya. In this model, Vata types tend toward depletion and anxiety through excessive activity, Pittas to inflammation and anger through stress, and Kaphas to weight gain and depression through inactivity. Ayurveda treats each one differently using the foundational concept of Vishesha, meaning to balance with opposites, and recognizes that the prescription of heavy, comforting food and extra rest would go a long way to grounding flighty Vata, but it could send already earthy Kapha deeper into a couch-bound inertia.
Not only do I believe that Ayurveda has an important place alongside the future of modern yoga, I believe we can actually use its wisdom to change how we approach our yoga practice. In recent years I’ve been taking Tridosha Theory and applying it to yoga poses and class sequencing. Your yoga practice can provide a direct pathway to experiencing nature’s elements through our ability to feel firm, fluid, fiery or free: slow moving hip openers invoke the grounding nature of earth for example, while intense core work ignites the transformational aspect of fire.
ARE YOU VATA?
Vata doshas are most likely to be drawn to yoga in the first place, its ethereal roots appealing to your naturally creative sensibilities. You might seek out fast-paced Vinyasa with frequent shifts in foot patterns and a multitude of poses within a single practice, but leave feeling even more ungrounded. When you’re feeling anxious or restless, try slow-paced Vinyasa instead, stable standing poses like Warrior 2 are best, or even slow it all the way down with Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga.
ARE YOU PITTA?
Fiery Pitta dosha tends to approach yoga the way you approach everything in life: with a fierce sense of determination and a goal-oriented approach to get the task at hand done. This might find you sweating away in Hot Yoga, racing against your neighbor in intense sequences with lots of arm balances, and ultimately adding fuel to your competitive fire, and further igniting your inner critic. Feeling fiery? Try instead a moderate pace and temperature, and focus on gentle backbends, enjoying the journey, not the destination. Make sure to stay for Savasana!
ARE YOU KAPHA?
Kapha dosha may be more likely to seek out restful practices like Restorative and Yin Yoga. While these are indicated for all body types in the stressful modern age, they might also serve to validate your inclination for inactivity. Feeling sluggish? Brisk paced Vinyasa, dynamic sun salutations and standing balance poses may be better suited to awaken your body and mind.