Updated: Oct 11, 2020
Like all yoga teachers, I’ve been asked numerous times what type of yoga I teach. A few months ago, one of my yoga tribe asked me specifically what “dosha vinyasa yoga” means and how is it different from all the other types of yoga out there. The simple answer is: balance and being in that quiet space between. My “style” helps the modern yogi prevent and manage injuries, whether that's yoga related or not, by helping establish a practice that is accessible, comprehensive and balanced through my curated Dosha Vinyasa Yoga©.
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.
But let’s start with this:
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 these 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 here anything you can think of; it applies)
Our personality, inherent natures, behaviour, thinking pattern and the social environment we grew up in.
Essentially, the Doshas are in everything and are everywhere. But the study of the doshas must not be taken singularly, i.e. studying Vata, Pitta or Kapha by themselves. There are unending interactions that influence the balance of each individual dosha and subsequently the balance between all three.
What’s my Dosha? There are tests* that determine which Dosha we “fall into” and I’ve listed some websites you can go to if you want to find out your Dosha. But briefly, here are widely accepted characteristics of the doshas**:
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 above, 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), shift your diet and activity. Eat something like warm salads and light soups. Do vigorous and high-energy exercises. 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 asana, pranayama (yogic breathing) and meditation. We balance all three doshas by cycling through 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).
The psychological and emotional benefits of doing poses and vinyasas that provide both comfort discomfort are lessons we can take with us off the mat; recognising and enjoying things that give us pleasure as well as being able to handle and address situations that trigger stress.
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.
Flowing with the doshas. Cycling through the doshic themes on a regular basis further balances our own dominant dosha. 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 first start with. You’ll feel the benefits of an anchoring (Vata Dosha Vinyasa©), soothing (Pitta Dosha Vinyasa©) and renewing (Kapha Dosha Vinyasa©) practice as a singular class.
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 the extremes of stress and pleasure. - 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