Back in 2006, when I was first learning about Ayurveda, I was constantly in awe with how the elements and ancient principles were used so effortlessly to help bring my body back into a state of balance. When I became a certified yoga teacher in 2008, I discovered AyurYoga, which blends yoga poses (asanas) with the concepts of Ayurveda. To this day, I teach AyurYoga in each of my classes.
Because it blends the two sister sciences of yoga and Ayurveda, your yoga asana practice is taken to the next level by incorporating AyurYoga principles into your practice. And the best part? It's super easy to do.
Too Much Vata
When you're feeling spacey, scattered, and restless (a.k.a. a Vata imbalance), slow and grounding yoga and pranayama (breathing) practices are best.
When Vata is out of whack, you're more inclined to take a fast-paced Vinyasa class, for example, rather than a restorative one. In Ayurveda, we work in opposites. So knowing that your tendency would more likely be to move quicker and do more, fight the urge and slow way down. Choose more seated and supine (laying down) poses when possible.
Bringing heat into the body is good as well when you have a Vata imbalance, so if you're opting for upright poses, remain in each individual pose for a bit longer than usual (say, 10 breaths). You can also engage your muscles more while holding each posture to heat up your body. Remember, building internal heat should be done by upping the intensity rather than speeding up your movements. (Don't believe that's possible? Hold Utkatasana, Chair Pose, fully enaged for 10 breaths and then get back to me.)
Balancing poses can definitely help you ground due to the concentration required to hold the pose. Also, keeping your gaze towards the floor will help you ground a bit more.
Too Much Pitta
If you're feeling cranky, competatitive, and otherwise prickly (a Pitta imbalance), cooling down is vital.
Similar to a Vata imbalance, when your Pitta fire is too high, you're best served by slowing down and relaxing. This means a restorative practice is also recommended for you rather than a Vinyasa flow class, because quicker movements will fan your flames. If you're determined to take a more movement-based asana class, decrease your level of intensity to about 70%. We all know you're a badass. Give yourself permission to soften and take it down a few notches until you feel less fiesty.
Slower pranayama options are in your best interest as well when trying to pacify Pitta's fiery nature. No need to build more internal heat with an intense breathing practice. Slow belly breaths will have you feeling relaxed in no time.
Also, when cooling a Pitta's intensity, try keeping your gaze either to the horizon or even practicing with your eyes closed. This can be particularly helpful when you're feeling a competitive edge coming on.
Too Much Kapha
Lastly, if you're feeling sluggish, unmotivated, depressed, or otherwise stagnant (as you would with a Kapha imbalance), movement and heat are your friends. Pretty much the opposite of how you'd balance out a Vata or Pitta imbalance, an overabundance of Kapha can be easily remedied by doing fast-paced movements, as well as yoga poses that are up and away from the floor. Boosting the intensity levels are helpful as well -- just be sure to not overdo it.
A good choice for pranayama is Kapalabhati, as long as you don't have high blood pressure (or any other restrictive condition that you're under a doctor's care for). If Kapalabhati isn't for you, try sitting and breathing soley through your right nostril, keeping the left nostril closed with your ring and pinky fingers.
Finally, to help reduce a Kapha imbalance, keep your gaze upwards while practicing yoga asana to help lighten the heavier earth element.
One of the things I love most about a yoga asana practice is just how customizable it is. Whether you're modifying for an injury or are adjusting your practice based on your current physical/mental/emotional bodies (as we touched on here), you're sure to experience more of the healing properties when you take the time to assess where you're at in that moment and make any micro adjustments necessary to meet yourself where you're at.