What is my Yoga personality?

So, you are fully committed to practicing Yoga at home. You have your equipment, you have set aside time and carefully considered your goals and intentions. You have experimented with different teachers and different practices. You are beginning to feel the energetic and emotional benefits of Yoga in addition to the physical ones. Now, it is time to figure out what yoga practice is therapeutic for you and your needs. You may find it interesting to learn that the answer to this question is seldom the type of yoga you LIKE the most. When we begin to look at Yoga as a tool for health and well-being, we can rely on the guidance of Ayurveda, the “sister science” to Yoga. One of the key principles of Ayurveda is the idea that “like attracts like”. This means that a person will be attracted towards the very thing that has the greatest potential to create imbalance.

photo credit: Ekhartyoga.com

The first step towards this knowledge is to determine your pakriti, or baseline dosha. There are 3 doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each dosha is made up of 2 of the 5 universal elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. There are many online tests that will give you a good idea of what elements and qualities drive you. You can also spend a little time reviewing your “type” online and reviewing the strengths and the symptoms of imbalance expected for each dosha. Everyone has a little bit of each of the 3 which make up their basic nature. Most are predominantly a combination of 2 doshas (Pitta-Vata, for example) and some, rarely, are all 3, or Tri-doshic.

Vata is made of the elements of air and space. It is, therefore, light, dry, diffuse, cool and contains the energy of movement – motivated, quick, and agile.

Pitta is made up of fire and water. It is, therefore, hot, steady, sharp and contains the energy of transformation – digestion and assimilation.

Kapha is made up of water and earth. It is, therefore, wet, warm, stable, slow-to-move and it contains the energy of cohesion – bringing things (or people) together.

There is no set prescription of poses for each dosha, but rather an attitude towards practice that will acknowledge your tendencies and assist in bringing you into balance rather than accelerating you towards imbalance.

Vatas, for example, are creative, talkative and energetic when in balance. They may be drawn towards practices with a lot of pose changes and rapid movement, such as sun salutations and power vinyasa classes. However, when this is their primary practice, they are likely to become erratic, depleted of energy and less-focused. A balancing practice for Vatas should be slower, grounded and intentional. This includes, but is not limited to, restorative practices. They can still enjoy a vinyasa flow but may want to keep their eyes downward and focus on exhalations, and lower body strength. Their mantra for yoga is “Slow Down!”.

Pittas, at their best, are passionate and strong, quick to learn and love challenge and change. They are, however easily over-heated so a strong hot yoga practice may bring out their competitive, judgmental and reactive nature. A balancing practice for Pittas will include many seated and prone poses especially twists and forward folding. They can still enjoy strong standing or backbending poses, like Chair or Upward Bow with shorter “holds” or from a well-supported position. Their mantra for practice is “Chill Out!”

Many Kaphas love yoga because their bodies (and minds) are relaxed and content to rest and stretch in a pose as long as possible. They are also drawn to the community aspects of Yoga as well as the sensual smells and sounds often found in a yoga studio. However, Kaphas can be sedentary and heavy in mind and body. A light vinyasa practice with little to no “holds”or rests moving towards deep backbends and inversions (especially early in the morning) will help their warm and loving potential to shine all day long. For Kaphas, the mantra is “Keep it moving!”.

Because we, and everything around us, are all made up of all 5 elements, our imbalances are not always this straightforward. We tend to take on the qualities of the elements in our environment (including our clients, friends, food, climate, etc). In Ayurveda, we also rely on balancing gunas (or qualities). When you feel heavy and dull (qualities of Earth), you opt for a light and mobile practice. If you feel light-headed and diffuse (qualities of space and air) you try to move in a way which is grounded and focused. During the heat of the day or in the midst of summer, you avoid poses that easily burn you out and opt for more stable, cooling poses. There are 10 guna pairs (20 qualities) to guide our practice and lifestyle choices: Hot/Cold, Dense/Liquid, Soft/Hard, Stable/Mobile, Gross/Subtle, Smooth/Rough; Cloudy/Clear, Dull/Sharp, Oily/Dry, Heavy/Light.

One of the things I love best about following Ayurvedic guidance is that you are never doing the “wrong” or unhealthy thing. You are merely doing what you are naturally drawn towards. Knowing the qualities around why you “like” one season, pose, practice or food over another helps you to recognize when you need balance. In seeking improved health and well-being, you do not give up what you love; you simply add in some of the elements you need to keep your strengths supported and balanced.

Yoga at Home: 10 steps to finding your way in the increasingly virtual world of Yoga

2020 has offered quite a few challenges for us – not the least of which has been finding a way to keep going on our own, without our to-do list, without social pressure, and without our yoga studios. If you, like many, have started or are considering starting a virtual home practice, here are some things to help you find your way.

1. Find a space.Whether you have a small apartment or a large home, finding the right place to practice is often difficult.   A perfectly peaceful extra room may be filled with boxes and old furniture or have weak WiFi.  The WiFi hotspot of the home may be filled with kids and animals.  Where do you turn?  Outside is nice until the landscaping crew arrives.  The TV room may require a great deal of negotiations with others in your household.  Keep an open mind – the perfect place may not be the one that looks most like your studio experience.  Here are some considerations when choosing:

  • Smaller than you think:  you really only need a space big enough for a yoga mat with about 3 feet to spare all around on the ground and space enough to raise both arms overhead when standing.
  • Good air quality and control: the best space is one that is not too hot or too cold and with good ventilation.
  • Electricity:  virtual and online streaming can be very draining to a device’s battery, do not let a low battery break your momentum.
  • WiFi:  Good WiFi connection is a definite bonus in a virtual world.  If you have a perfect location but no connection, consider downloading classes for stress-free playback or purchasing a local hub or WiFi extender for the area you choose.
  • Privacy:  How much do you need?  This may be different for everyone but as a general rule, you should be in a place where you feel comfortable chanting “Om” (even if that’s not your thing).
  • Temporary is fine: So, you have to move a table or put a dog in a crate.  Roll out your stuff and give it a go!
  • Distractions: see #4.  Please do not disqualify a space because you may be interrupted.

2.  Think about what you need (and what you want).  There really is no one thing that you need to practice yoga other than your body, but there are many things that are nice to have.  Here is a list in order of relevance / importance:

  • A sticky mat:  while you can practice on the carpet or hardwood floor (as I did for 15 years), a sticky mat assists with alignment, hygeine, and strength-building.  The basic size is 72″x24″x1/4″.  I would not recommend anything thinner (1/8″) but you may consider a longer one if you are very tall (84″).  A sticky mat is not the same as a foam exercise mat.  If you bought a foam exercise mat by mistake, try putting it under your sticky mat for padding.
  • A phone / laptop / computer / smart TV:  While it is nice to screen share to a TV, it is not necessary for a successful virtual practice.  Use what you have and what you know and will not need any technical support for.  If you cannot live without music for your session, you may want to have one device for class streaming and another for music.
  • Props:  So many people put off starting a practice because they do not have props.  A chair or couch or even large can of soup can provide the support shown with a block; beach towels, blankets or pillows can be used to create supportive bolsters and an actual belt can be used in place of a yoga belt.  If you don’t have props, start anyway, learn what you would like to have and reward yourself as you grow into your practice.  If you want a complete kit now, check it out here.  A bolster, while not necessary is nice if you are going to practice regular restorative yoga.
  • Ear buds / wireless headphones: While wearing earbuds can take a little time to adjust to, the benefit is in blocking out distractions and in learning to listen to cues and not stare at the screen risking neck strain and competitive comparison to the pose as shown.

3.  Check in with reality.  While it might be nice to have a 60 minute yoga practice 5-7x / week, you might start with the amount of time you know you can find almost everyday and commit.  You can always choose a longer practice on days when you have more time or energy.

4.  Check in with yourself.  The right yoga practice for you right now may not be the one you used to do, or the one you saw advertised.  Yoga practice changes, sometimes day to day, sometimes in periods of recovery or emotional stress, and, always, in different times of life.  Know your limitations and your strengths (your injuries, your energy, your past yoga experience).  Take heed when you feel pain, pinching, or radiating or when you feel you are being pushed too hard.  Know whether you need a live class for accountability or if you can use pre-recorded playbacks.  Strive to find a practice that challenges you but meets you where you are.  When you are finished with your practice you should feel replenished, not depleted or injured.

5.  Plan:  If you have gotten this far, you have been doing this already.  One of the luxuries of virtual yoga is the ability to practice when you want, to be flexible with last minute changes, and to “try out” different teachers or small portions of a practice.  However, do not use these as excuses not to plan your practice in advance. Choose your place and time, think about your intention, gather your equipment and choose your class / teacher and whether you will attend a live feed or watch a pre-recorded session well ahead of time.  Don’t get lost online with all the class choices sampling and switching and never actually sitting down to a “practice”.  Don’t forget prepare your family / roommate.  Learn to ask for privacy and space and not just expect it and you will save yourself a great deal of stress.

6.  Trust Yourself:  You don’t have your favorite teacher in the room with you to give you that adjustment or modification.  Trust yourself.  If something doesn’t feel right to you, it may not be right for you.  If you feel like doing something slightly different – try it out!  One day a week, turn off the device or close the book, set up your mat and play with what you have learned.  Explore new expressions of each pose.

7.  Don’t forget that Yoga is more than just the physical poses.  Physical postures in yoga are designed not only to open the body but to energize the body and center the mind.   If you are committing to a regular practice, adding in simple breath exercises and mindfulness will allow you to capitalize on this and create lasting and powerful changes in your overall mood and energy.  This can be as simple as committing to stay for Savasana or to practice 3-5 minutes of 3-part breath before starting a practice, cooking dinner or getting on that call for work.  But you may find that practicing alternate nostril breathing or kapalabhati followed by a few moments of silence serves you better one day than a strong physical practice.

8.  Invest.  As you know, not all yoga practice is right for every body.  You are saving a lot of money by not going into the studio every week, so how can you redirect this cash?  Equipment is an obvious option.  You might also consider investing in a virtual private session to help create a program that works for your needs and goals.  Alternately, while there is plenty of free yoga to be found online right now, there are also reputable organizations (like Yoga International.com and Glo.com among others) that are offering discounted subscriptions (the monthly rate equivalent to one studio class) with access to high quality teachers and a variety of programs for a variety of needs.

9.  Stick with it.  They say it takes 40 days to make something a habit and many of us have a little extra time these days to make it work.  Set reasonable goals and rather than skipping a day because of low energy or time commitments, simply explore 1 posture on your own or sit and breath.  Make a commitment to sit in your practice in some way for at least 5 minutes everyday.  Discuss and share your intentions and progress with others and then congratulate yourself rather than feeling guilty for skipping it.  This is the way we bring our practice off of our mat and into our lives.

10.  Practice makes is perfect.  Many people believe that until they can perform a pose “correctly”, it does not benefit them.  Perfection has no place in yoga.   If it were possible to practice perfectly, we would experience little to no benefit.  Pattabhi Jois said “Practice and all is coming”.  This means, stick with it and you will begin to see results and maybe in places you hadn’t even known you were working on. Consistency makes the poses more accessible, and when they become easier, you can tap into the energetic and physiological benefits.