Yoga for Pitta Dosha: Practice and Teaching Tips
Pitta dosha is a combination of the water and fire elements. It is responsible for transformation within the body (think “metabolism”). Its qualities, or gunas, are hot, oily, liquid, sharp, light, and spreading. People with a predominance of this dosha tend to have a medium build, warm body, oily skin, penetrating ideas, sharp intelligence, and hair that is straight, thin, and shiny with a tendency to gray prematurely. They often sweat easily and have warm hands and feet. Symptoms of excessive pitta dosha may include irritability, anger, aggression, inflammation, and redness.
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Yoga for Pittas
A pitta-centered yoga practice is focused, challenging, and heating. After all, transformation happens in the fire! However, a predominantly pitta-focused practice can also be very depleting because of the intensified physical and/or mental demands. People of all constitutions can be “burned out” by an excess of pitta.
Consider playing into pitta’s competitive drive by “challenging” students to avoid pushing themselves to the max.
The following suggestions are appropriate for both teachers and home practitioners. The protocol is based on the Ayuryoga program created by Vasant Lad, BAM&S, MASc, and has been taught at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for more than 20 years. If you’re a teacher and during pitta season you sense that your students are “overheated,” try incorporating these gunas into your classes. Likewise, if your own pitta seems high, do the same with your individual practice.
- To balance excess pitta, we need to bring opposing gunas into our practice: cool, dry, dull, soft, and dark. And integrating those gunas may begin with your approach to your practice: Try practicing in a cooler, darker environment with a more passive attitude (without expectations, competition, or judgment).
- The main sites for pitta dosha in the body are the small intestine, liver, and navel area, so attention should be focused on the navel and solar plexus. According to the principles of ayurveda, asanas that open these areas will release heat and tension there and help to decrease pitta. Therefore, backbends, especially ones on the belly, are great for pitta—bhujangasana (cobra), dhanurasana (bow), matsyasana (fish)—as well as side bends and twists.
- Ayurveda teaches that standing poses in general can increase heat, but standing poses like trikonasana (triangle), which has a side bend, and parivrtta trikonasana (rotated triangle), which has a twist, will help release heat from the torso. Ardha matsyendrasana (half seated spinal twist), setu bandhasana (bridge), and supta virasana (reclining hero) are also great poses. All of these would be wonderful poses to integrate into a practice during the summer months, as summer is considered pitta season.
Tips for Teachers
- Try speaking in a quieter voice. Let both your language and voice be calming and soft.
- Do all you can to discourage competition during class.
- Consider darkening the room, and making it slightly cooler (but not cold!).
- Try to avoid giving too many alignment cues and/or putting too much emphasis on perfectionism in every pose.
- Invite benevolence and nourishment into your teaching, and avoid language that may create a “boot camp” or “workout” type environment.
- Invite students to keep their gaze down, which is considered to be more cooling.
- Use words/phrases like ease, allow, rest, explore, at your own pace, gently, surrender, float, cool down, and give yourself permission to not give 100 percent.
- Consider playing into pitta’s competitive drive by “challenging” students to avoid pushing themselves to the max.
- In this type of class, perhaps incorporate slightly longer breaks with the help of restorative poses such as child’s pose.
Poses to Limit
Although forward bends are often described as calming and cooling, according to ayurveda they can bring more “heat” to the internal organs. Because of that, you may want to limit the frequency and time spent in forward bends. Standing forward bends are considered especially pitta-aggravating because of the excess heat they bring to the head.
A seated, benevolent, forward fold would be more appropriate. Inversions such as sirsasana (headstand) should not be held for too long, because the heat that goes to the head can elevate pitta. However, salamba sarvangasana (shoulderstand) is appropriate for this dosha because of its ability to calm the nervous system by stimulating the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system.
Other Suggestions for Creating a Pitta-balancing Practice or Class
- Begin with chandra namaskar (moon salutation) rather than surya namaskar (sun salutation). Chandra namaskar is much more benevolent, cooling, and nourishing. While practicing it, pay attention to the navel and solar plexus areas.
- Just because a class has an overall cooling effect does not mean it can’t also be challenging. Classes can, for example, focus on creating a steady, strong foundation or on uplifting backbends, while at the same time providing a substantial physical and/or mental challenge—all without being too heating. It’s all in how you approach the practice.
- Pittas can benefit greatly from a more passive form of meditation because their minds are usually very focused already. Empty bowl meditation is appropriate for balancing pitta.
Cooling pranayama (breathwork) is also advised. Sheetali (cooling breath) and sheetkari (hissing breath) are best; chandra bhedana (left nostril breathing) and kapalabhati (skull shining breath) are also appropriate.
Jenny has a passion for all things movement. An exercise physiologist, yoga teacher, and self-proclaimed anatomy nerd, she loves to incorporate physiology and biomechanics into her teaching. Jenny holds a Master's Degree in Exercise Science from the University of New Mexico as well as a 200-hour Ayuryoga® Teacher certificate from the Ayurvedic Institute taught by Maria Garre and Dr. Vasant Lad. She works as a Health Educator, Fitness Professional, and Yoga Teacher in Albuquerque, NM. Check... Read more>>