Like all yoga teachers, I’ve been asked numerous times what style of yoga I teach. When I say that I teach my own system I call Dosha Vinyasa Yoga, I get asked what that means and how is it different from all the other styles of yoga out there. Fair enough.
I always give a two-part answer:
First, a clarification on the term "yoga style". Briefly, all the "moving" yoga classes offered in gyms, studios, online, and anywhere else you can think of, regardless of what they call themselves - Astanga, Iyengar, yin, power yoga, Bikram, et al - are all under the umbrella of Vinyasa Yoga.
Second, my Dosha Vinyasa Yoga© aims to balance the fluctuations of our mental, emotional and physical states, as represented by the elements of space, air, fire, water and earth.
To explain further, let’s start with a quick Dosha 101:
The Doshas are part of the study and practice of Ayurveda. Widely known as “The Grandmother of Medicine”, Ayurveda deals with health and wellness in relation to diet, environmental, social, mental and emotional influences and our own physical and inherent natures.
The Doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha – are the combinations of the following elements:
Air and space combine to form Vata
Fire and water combine to form Pitta
Water and earth combine to form Kapha
These are present in all things, including but not limited to:
The environment (weather, temperature, humidity…you name it)
Life style (insert anything you can think of, it applies)
Your personality, inherent nature, behaviour, thinking pattern, the social environment you grew up in, and all the other influences we come across throughout our life.
Essentially, the Doshas are in everything, everywhere, and exert their influence on us from the time we were born to the very moment you are reading this.
There are unending interactions that influence the balance of each dosha and subsequently the balance between all three. Therefor, the study of the doshas must not be taken singularly, i.e. studying Vata, Pitta or Kapha by themselves.
What’s my Dosha?
There are tests* that can help determine which Dosha we “fall into”, and I’ve listed some websites you can go to if you are curious about your Dosha. But briefly, here are the characteristics or qualities of the doshas** according to Ayurveda:
Vata: dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, agitated
Pitta: oily, light, hot, sharp, astringent, movable
Kapha: wet, heavy, cold, soft, dull, firm
A note of caution though; don’t get too bogged in tagging yourself as Vata, Pitta or Kapha. Understand that defining your dosha is simply a question of dominance. Some have one or two very strong doshas, and subsequently one or two subordinate doshas, making us a single or double doshic person. Some have elements of all three without one dosha being overly dominant, so tri-doshic.
But like I said, all elements are present everywhere, including in us. So, even if all the testing, quizzes, observation and self-reflection suggests a dominant dosha, all three are still present and exert their influence on our body, thinking patterns and emotions.
When the Doshas are out of whack!
Because of external influences and our own natures, these doshas can get off the rails and we’re thrown off balance. This is what’s called "spiking". Ayurvedic practice would prescribe pacifying the spiking dosh.
For example, if you’re feeling heavy and lethargic (a spiking Kapha), an Ayurvedic prescription would include a lighter diet, such as salads. It can also include heating, sweat-inducing activity, such as a strong yoga class or vigorous and high-energy exercises
Here's the big BUT...
You must remember that pacifying one dosha can lead to spiking another.
It’s like the old justice scales with three plates instead of two!
So, what do we do?
Dosha Vinyasa Yoga© - balance over pacification.
The study of the doshas inspired me to develop my own vinyasa sequencing I call Dosha Vinyasa Yoga©. It aims to bring balance and harmony to the doshas instead of addressing a singular spike. We can balance a dosha through vinyasa (movement), pranayama (yogic breathing) and meditation. We cycle through all three doshas in our holistic practice with the intent to keep a harmonious balance between all three.
For example, when balancing Vata, we address the inherent qualities of Vata (i.e. heat up the body to balance the coldness of Vata) but we don’t avoid them either.
We do poses that can be reasonably classified as Vata-encouraging, like standing-balancing (encouraging a lot of space and air around the body as well as anxiety triggering) and poses that are Vata-pacifying such as seated twists (grounding and heating).
Physically, the pace of a Dosha Vinyasa Yoga© flow is slow with deliberate and graceful movements. This is, in a lot of ways, more challenging because we eliminate the body’s tendency to follow the path of least resistance, i.e. using momentum to throw our bodies into the poses.
Muscles and joints are encouraged to be activated and articulated more mindfully so we move more effectively, safely and strongly. This is important for injury management and prevention as it moves us in a safe manner by being more mindful of our abilities and limitations.
Subsequently, this allows us to come into our best range of motion to determine our base-line before pushing our edge incrementally further. Ultimately, resulting in strength and flexibility because the design of the sequences gives us the space and time to find our expression of the poses.
Beyond the body, the psychological and emotional benefits of doing poses and flows that provide both comfort & discomfort are lessons we can take with us off the mat:
It helps you recognise and enjoy things that give you pleasure and being ok in feeling good about that,
It helps you identify and manage situations that trigger stress,
It helps you develop a deep sense of self-awareness, non-judgement and acceptance.
Flowing with the Doshas
Cycling through the doshic themes on a regular basis further helps to balance the presence of the doshas in us.
Dosha Vinyasa Yoga© offers a wide variety of sequences each with their own sankalpa (intensions) to focus on.
The sankalpa of the different Dosha Vinyasa Yoga© flows are:
Vata Dosha Vinyasa©: quiets the mind, grounding, focussing, cantering, heating and calming, anchors space and air.
Pitta Dosha Vinyasa©: cooling and calming, cultivates patience and surrender, inward focussing, nurturing, soothes fire and water.
Kapha Dosha Vinyasa©: promotes vitality, heating, energising, dynamic, renewing and revitalising, moves earth and water.
It doesn’t even matter which cycle you start with. You’ll feel the benefits of an anchoring (Vata Dosha Vinyasa©), soothing (Pitta Dosha Vinyasa©) and renewing (Kapha Dosha Vinyasa©) practice as you build your yoga practice.
As you establish a dedicated yoga practice and experience the different Dosha Vinyasa Yoga©, the balance of the doshas can manifest itself as a deeper awareness of the state of our mind, emotions and body.
This allows us the ability to balance stress and pleasure, even in their extreme forms -
we’ll be able to manage what gives us stress, enjoy what gives us pleasure and find peace in the space between.
*Dosha quiz websites:
**References: Ayurvedic Healing, A Comprehensive Guide by Dr. David Frawley