Ayurveda is a system of health that has been practised for centuries. Its disciplines include herbal medicine, diet, meditation, yoga and body treatments. The healing art of Ayurveda, which like yoga originates from the sages of India some 5000 years ago, categorises each person into three dominant body types – vata, pitta and kapha. With this in mind it makes perfect sense that the type of yoga practice you’ll be best suited to largely depends on your unique body type. If you don’t know your body type yet, see panel on right. Then to get the most out of your yoga practice, try to personalise your postures to suit your unique mind-body constitution, or dosha.
Vata (air and ether)
With a tendency towards anxiousness, vata body types need more yin and stretching yoga, which calms everything down. They have the qualities of cold, mobility, lightness and expansiveness, so they’ll also do well to bring warmth, stability and grounding movements into their practice. As opposed to yang yoga (which is the majority of yoga), yin yoga is not about challenging the body by heating it up; it’s a slow style where the body warms from within. The goal is to cool the body, to nurture it and gently coax it into asanas. In yin yoga the poses are generally held for three to five minutes each.
Grounding poses and strengthening poses ideal for vatas include Vrksasana (tree pose), Tadasana (mountain pose), and Virabhadrasana I and Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior One and Two poses). Flow sequences can aggravate vata, which is prone to anxiety, overexertion and fatigue. It doesn’t mean you can’t do these, just try to slow them down and hold each position before moving into the next one. Focus on lengthening your inhalation and staying warm. Wrapping up your practice with a long relaxation or Savasana (corpse pose) for 15 minutes or more will also help.
Pitta (fire and water)
Super-competitive pitta body types will do well to leave their competitive streak out of their yoga practice. There is no competition, nor is there a need to make comparisons with other people in the room. Yoga is for each person alone and where they are at on that day. Since pittas tend to have excess heat, they should avoid Bikram or any type of hot yoga as sweating isn’t going to be good for them. Instead they should go for cooling and relaxing poses that release excess heat from the body – these include Kapotasana (pigeon), Ustrasana (camel), Bhujangasana (cobra), Matsyasana (fish) and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge) pose, as well as standing poses Vrksasana (tree) and Ardha Chandrasana (half moon).
To improve overall body equilibrium, pitta types would do well to mix up styles or series of poses, focus largely on exhalation and practise twists – which will aid digestion, relieve lower back pain and de-stress the body – and side openers, which are helpful for spinal alignment and opening areas you don’t often stretch.
Kapha (earth and water)
With plenty of stamina and strength, kapha body types will do best with a yoga session that is invigorating and makes you sweat because it removes the stuck water that is trapped, making the body feel light. This also improves digestion and decreases stress. Hot and power yoga are good for this body type as they need more of a push to get them going. Backbends are great – they open the chest and circulate prana (life force). Kapha types should move through the flow sequences quickly to make sure they warm up, and also hold positions for a longer time – up to 20 breaths.
Practising yoga at a vigorous pace and intensity, doing it in a warm space, being precise in poses and keeping the chest and shoulders open and lifted will all help kapha types get the most out of their practice.
Jo Formosa practises Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, remedial therapy and neuro-strategies.