For many years, I practiced Hot Yoga and always felt amazing afterwards. I would eat a good balanced diet and get plenty of water and fresh air. But I had really bad acne for years. I couldn't understand that no matter what I did, stop wearing make-up, drink more water, the pill, I didn't eat dairy, I tried lots of different creams, including lotions and ointments that made my skin peal. I spoke to my doctor and he said the only other option would be to go on a course of anti-biotics for 3 months. Which I wasn't keen on, so I decided I would go the holistic route first.
I got an allergy test from the Dublin Acupuncture & Allergy test clinic in Raheny. The woman who looked after me said I needed to stop eating, chocolate, MSG, coffee, spicy foods, & alcohol, she also recommended I didn't use any products with alcohol in it, which is most make-up, face-wash, cleansers, shampoos & shower gels. She told me my Liver Chi (Energy) was blocked and causing a build up of the fire element in my system, causing the acne. Basically the heat/fire from my liver had to come out somewhere so it appeared on my face, as beautiful big spots that often felt like blisters.
Chinese Traditional Medicine diagram.
I continue to limit my intake of the items listed above but after a 6 week ban, I can now eat these things in moderation, and every now and again if I over do it, I know to expect a spot or two!
So how come some people can eat loads of chocolate or spicy foods and not have any issues? Any why don't I practice Hot Yoga any more?
Ayurveda is a science of life, known as the sister science to Yoga. It is a system that helps us to understand the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual components of our life. There are 5 elements, which are in everything. From a rock or tree, to your body. Each and everyone of use have the elements of Fire, Water, Earth, Air & Ether. However we are all very unique and we all hold a unique amount of each element!!
From when we were cooking in the womb, it was decided how much of each element we would hold as our natural constitution. Some people are naturally very fiery, others are naturally very grounded. Ayurveda has a very simple and useful way of arranging these elements, and categorizing them into 3 groups, called Dosha's. Once we can understand how much of each we hold, we can learn the signs of un-balance, and discern how to attune our natural state.
So for me at that time where I had alot of acne, I had too much fire in my system, this was also increased by eating spicy foods and practicing hot yoga. Even tho I always felt good
directly after a class, it wasn't doing anything to bring balance to my system. So just because a certain style of Yoga makes you feel good, it doesn't necessary mean, it is the best thing for you. Fire on top of too much fire, causes burn out and my acne was just one symptom to show me that was heading in that direction. Many other people have very little natural fire, so spicy foods or chocolate and practicing power yoga might be just what they need to bring balance! Let's start questioning, is this what I need, right now? I truly feel its trying to find harmony between listening to our own intuition, and understanding not just the physical components but the energetics, of what we are doing.
The 5 Elements
So before we actually get into the Dosha's and how to determine what your "body/mind type" is I want to first explain the qualities of each element.
Everything is made of Ether, Air, Fire, Water & Earth.
The water elements reveals it's self in the body as all bodily secretions, saliva, mucus, secretions and plasma. It is responsible for making sure that all bodily tissues, systems and organs go smoothly.
Structure and Stability are the main characters of this element. Without it we would collapse. It is our bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, skin, hair and nails.
All movement in the body is a result of the air element. Every muscle, lung, bowel movement, heart pulsation and every movement from the nervous system, and also the movement of thoughts in the mind is due to the air element.
Fire is responsible for all transformation in the body. The digestive fire is the transformation of food into waste. Your eyesight is also controlled by fire, as well as your body temperature and metabolic processes. Fire is also responsible for your intellectual capabilities, it is transforming information into wisdom and ideas into action.
Ether is space. The mouth, nose, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory system, the belly, chest, capillaries, lymphatic system and each single cell of the body all have empty spaces. Ether creates air, so without ether, movement would not be possible.
"When all your energies are brought into harmony, your body flourishes. And when your body flourishes, your soul has a soil in which it can blossom in the world. These are the ultimate reasons for energy medicine—to prepare the soil and nurture the blossom."
Ayurveda teaches us there are 3 mind/body types or Dosha's.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Vata = ether & air
Pitta = fire & water
Kapha = water & earth
We all consist of all 3 Dosha's, however most of the time 1 or 2 of these dosha's are predominant.
Vata is responsible for movement and communication in the body & mind.
Pitta is responsible for transformation in the body & mind
Kapha is responsible for structure and stability in the body & mind.
When you can learn about the qualities of each dosha, you will start to understand what type of Yoga practice is best for you, as well as what types of foods and lifestyle you should lead. Each Dosha has certain qualities called Guna's. Lets have a look at these guna's and see if you can see yourself in them. Remember we are all born with a certain percentage of each dosha, I personally am Predominantly Vata/Pitta so when I am feeling unbalanced it is lightly that I have a high amount of Vata or Pitta however it is possible for Kapha to be dominant depending on the situation.
Dry, Light, Cold, Rough, Subtle, Mobile, Clear, Irregular.
These guna's express themselves in the body and mind.
Body - Vata types are naturally slim, not alot of muscular definition. Usually difficult to gain weight (because there is not alot of earth element) Prone to injury and joint pain (due to lack of water/lubrication) they are usually very mobile and flexible. Cold hands and feet are quite common.
Energy - They tent to start things quick, but loose stamina easily. Talkative, energetic and quick in making decisions, but can be overthinkers which can lead to indecision. Vata types are like the wind, full of energy one moment and tired the next. They love change.
Mind - Vata types are quick learners, but also forget quickly. Creativity and imagination come easy. Lots of great ideas but find it hard to keep enough discipline to turn ideas into reality.
Tendency to be anxious and nervous, with fluctuations in their mood, quick to get emotional but can also let go of them easily.
Imbalanced Vata (Imbalance is caused by too much air & ether, to bring balance we want to reduce these elements)
Sensitivity to noise
Dry Hair & Skin
Irregular Menstrual cycle
Yoga to Balance Vata:
Think grounding, slow & calming. Vata energy tends to be high, like living with their heads in the clouds, so we want to ground that energy, and calm any anxious or restless feelings. Lots of forward folds, gentle supported backbends.
Hot, Sharp, Oily, Liquid, Light, Mobile (spreading)
Medium build usually have good muscular definition. The skin is soft and warm but sensitive to acne, rashes or inflammation. Hair is mostly soft but have a tendency to turn grey or bald earlier in life. Body temperature is usually a bit higher, during summer or hot days pitta types can get easily irritated which can show through the skin.
Energy: Strength and endurance is usual in Pitta types, their strong minds can allow them to push their body beyond their limits. Exercise is needed to release energy, however they can greatly benefit from cooler practices such as Yin Yoga or a slow walk in nature.
Mind: Ambitious, focused and passionate with a goal oriented with a strong will to achieve goals. Pitta types can be very critical and feel very strong and intense emotions especially frustration and anger. Memory and intellect are usually very good.
Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
Classic PMS symptoms (eg irritability)
Yoga To balance Pitta
Cooling practices such as Yin yoga are great. Avoiding too much focus on alignment or "getting things right" try to keep it fun without any goal. Cooling breaths such as sheetali. Avoid practices or environments that heat the body too much such as hot rooms or strong back bends.
Heavy, Slow, Sull, Cold, Oily, Soft, Smooth, Dense, Stable.
Kapha types are usually stronger and heavier, with strong bones and muscles, because of their earth and water element Pro. They have a tendency to be overweight. Big eyes and lips, thick hair and smooth soft skin. They are not prone to injuries as joints are well oiled and lubricated, they often have the longest lifespan.
Kapha types are slow and steady, they can find it hard to get started but once they do they have the longest endurance. Deep sleepers and can find it hard to wake up. Kapha dosnt easily get out of balance but when it does it can also take longer to get back to a balanced state.
Mind: Their long term memory is great, they are patient, calm, loyal and understanding. Very reliable. They can have a tendency to hold onto things not only emotions but physically bodyweight and water retention, as well as material things, relationships and jobs, even if they are unhappy. Change can be difficult which can lead to being stuck in a rut. Its often said Kapha types are the types we are all drawn to as they are the most loving and caring.
High BP & Cholesterol
Yoga to balance Kapha
Yoga with lots of movement creating heat. Lots of dynamic backbends. Avoid too much passive relaxation, shorter shavasana. Think light energetic movement to reduce the already heavy earth element.
This year in particular I am on a mission to help people find the right style of Yoga from them on any given day. If you are usually Pitta Dominant there may be certain days where you need to reduce Kapha. This may be due to work or social factors, or the foods you eat. Menstruators will also notice how different elements are more dominant at different stages of the month. For example you may need to reduce Pitta during your pre menstrual phase but you will need to reduce Kapha during your pre ovulation phase.
So arriving at a yoga class and just doing what everyone else is doing may not be very helpful for you. Its important to take time to assess how you are feeling on that day, what was your workload like that day? was your day stressful or were you lying around all day doing nothing? What foods did you eat alot of over the weekend? Where are you in your menstrual cycle? What emotions are you feeling? All these questions play a factor in the type of yoga which is going to give you the most benefits.
If you would like to work on a one to one basis to learn more about how to balance you energy, so you can heal your body & mind please get in touch through email.
I also have a strong focus on offering modifications and variations in my public classes in Dublin, every Tuesday & Thursday evening which you can book here