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"As far as men go, it is not what they are that interests me, but what they can become."

- Jean-Paul Sartre, French philosopher & writer

Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy

By Rolf Jost, Ayur Veda Yoga Practitioner on 21 May 2012

Ayurveda is becoming more and more popular in the West. Slowly words like Ayurveda Massages, Ayurvedic Wellness Program, Ayurvedic Skincare Products are appearing in the popular press and mainstream shops. What is still quite new even to people who have heard of Ayurveda in it’s various appearances is the use of Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy. Already the term Yoga Therapy is for many an unknown option of treatment. So what exactly is the meaning of Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy?

Most people have heard of Yoga and it’s benefits and may have attended a yoga class or even are going to yoga classes on a regular basis. Yoga centers offer classes to groups of 5, 10, 15 or even more students and many of them will agree that most forms of yoga are beneficial for their physical and mental wellbeing. If you ask students very often they will tell you how their back pain has been relieved, their digestion improved or other physical ailments, which brought them to a yoga class, have diminished or even disappeared. This in itself tells us, that yoga is a very beneficial system for improving our health and also can be seen as a preventative measurement to keep our bodies healthy and in a state of balance.

You can imagine that in a class environment (often) there is not much time available to look into specific complaints/cases of the individual student. Most classes last between 1,5 - 2 hours and everyone follows the asana sequence given by the teacher and very often the much-needed individual attention for each students is not given.

This is different in Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy. Each individual has a different ayurvedic constitution (Vata, Pitta, Kapha or more likely a mixture of two) and it is the goal of the Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist to adjust the yoga program in order to assist the patient in maintaining their doshic balance and therefore their health or to bring their body and mind back into it’s original state and therefore supplementing other Ayurvedic treatment in quickly regaining health.

In Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy the therapist is taking the basic constitution (Prakruti) as well as the doshic imbalances (Vikruti) of the patient into the individually suggested program.
After an initial intake/Anamneses, the therapist is creating a yoga program, which will assist the patient to bring any doshic imbalances back into balance. Body type, mental state and physical complaints will usually tell which dosha is predominant and/or likely to be out of balance indicating an increase or a decrease of V, P, or K.                                                                               

People with high Vata are rarely still, tend to be stressed and have difficulties to keep their focus. The elements ether and air make up Vata. Qualities of Vata tend to be dry and rough. Physical complaints can include joint pain, lower back pain as well as digestive problems. Here it is important to give a yoga routine done regularly, in a relaxed way where movement and breath are done in coordination to hold their wandering mind. The routines can be as simple as to move through a whole series of rotating the joints to encourage the flow of synovial fluid and remove their dry qualities. A short program done daily is better than a long program they might skip several days in a row. Restlessness can be counteracted with stabilization of the pelvic region, the seat of Vata. Postures with the focus on anchoring the pelvis will bring noticeable results. Since air is one of the two elements of Vata it is very important to give plenty of attention to the harmony between and during asanas to the breath. Controlling the breath with specifically given Pranayama exercises will support the balance of Vata. Ujjayi breathing is recommended throughout the routines and “Alternate nostril breathing” will help to bring balance between the right and left side of the brain.

Clients with complaints due to an imbalance of Pitta dosha could receive some asanas similar to the ones of a Vata imbalance but the way they need to be done will be very different. Pitta elements are fire and water. Tendencies of anger, perfectionism, and competition are present in these elements. Here the therapist might have to work with stress factors in the solar plexus (stomach and liver mainly), increase of toxic blood in liver, kidneys and spleen. First the client needs to learn to do any asana program in a relaxed manner, without aggression and with a smile on their face. Moving with joy into the posture and not looking for the “perfect” posture or breathing exercise. Be playful! Since fire is one of the elements a Pitta person will tend to be overheated. Here a therapist would recommend asanas, which will have a cooling effect on the entire system. Examples would be forward bends and the Moon salutation being preferred to the well-known Sun salutation. For the solar plexus back bends will be recommended, allowing the excess heat of liver and small intestine to be released. Seated or standing twists will be very beneficial for toxic blood to be squeezed out of Pitta related organs. Always emphasizing to do the program with gentleness and softness remembering to enjoy what you are doing. Pranayamas suggested would assist the cooling of the entire body system. “Left nostril breathing” will assist in this process.

For a patient with more Kapha related complaints we again look first into the elements. Water and Earth indicating slowness, heaviness, stagnation and coldness. If the patient can move easily a routine with a faster pace as well as slightly more challenging asanas will be encouraged. This will bring more heat into the body systems and therefore encourage metabolism. Standing postures with attention given to upwards movement will help the client to move away from the heaviness of body and mind. Ideally would be standing postures held for a longer time raising the arms over the head. To encourage the movement of stagnated energy in the stomach area most twist will help to encourage blocked energies. For complaints in the upper chest region, the lungs and the main seat of kapha think about how beneficial any postures will be which encourage the opening of the ribcage. Simple asanas such as lying with your spine on a rolled up blanket will automatically do just that. Also spreading the arms to the side and focusing on the expansion of the lungs will stimulate the intake of oxygen and prana into the lungs and therefore into the entire body. Warming pranayamas such as Ujjayi breathing and Kapalabhati will stimulate agni (digestive fire and metabolism and there fore counteract the cooling tendencies of a kapha person.

For all three doshic types is one rule; it is not the posture alone which is of importance but also the way how these postures are performed which will bring doshic balance back to body and mind

These are just general suggestion for various complaints with a Vata, Pitta or Kapha nature. In a therapy session the focus will be to set up a program for the individual patient. How many times per week can you follow the program? Of those times how much time is there available for each session? Some patients can do a daily program others only twice a week. Any program starting from 10 minutes up to maybe even 2 hours (if meditation is included) is possible as long as the patient sticks to the routine, and feels comfortable with the individually created program. It is best to check in with the patient after 2-3 weeks and see how they feel with their routine and adjust it if necessary.

There is no doubt that most forms of yoga will bring benefits to body and mind. In an Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy session however the opportunity is given to work with the patient closely and helping them to bring the 3 doshas back into balance and therefore encouraging the self-healing forces of your own body.