hatha yoga

Balancing Pitta: A Summer Practice Guide

By Iysha Nobes

Ayurveda is an ancient holistic science of health originally founded in India over 5000 years ago. Commonly referred to as "the sister science of Yoga", the use of Ayurvedic principles incorporated in a yoga class can be an experience of total bliss to the mind, body, & spirit; leaving you feeling balanced and at peace with yourself. In Ayurveda, there are 3 doshas or constitutions associated with the energy in the body. There is the Vata Dosha, which provides creativity and fluidity in the body. Vata is associated with circulation, respiration and movement. The Pitta Dosha, which provides intellect and happiness. Pitta is associated with digestion, metabolism and temperature regulation in the body. And the Kapha Dosha, which provides compassion, empathy and love. Kapha is associated with the health of the skin, the lymphatic system and the immune system. Every person contains all 3 doshas and when a dosha is out of balance, it can have different physiological and emotional effects. The following yoga practice is focused on balancing the Pitta Dosha. When Pitta is out of balance, it can lead to digestive issues, anger, impatience and an excess of heat in the body. To calm and balance Pitta, the following practice is focused on cooling the body through meditation, breath and yoga postures.


Meditation

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Find a quiet place with lots of space, no clutter and a cooling presence. Perhaps outdoors by a body of water or indoors in a well ventilated, spacious room. Start in a comfortable seated position, roll the shoulders back and lengthen the spine tall. Soften the creases in the face, the forehead and the jaw. Relax the mind and let go of any feelings associated with competition or control. This meditation time is for you and you only, there is no need to hold on to any negative energy or feelings, let it all go as you surrender into a space of love. Take a couple of gentle breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. For this meditation, we will be using a Mantra. A Mantra is a repeated phrase to eliminate negativity from the mind and promote positive intentions. Our Mantra for today's practice is: "I am compassionate, calm and at peace with myself". Soften the gaze or close the eyes and silently repeat the Mantra to yourself, integrating the words in your mind with the gentle flow of your breath. Option to visualize the mesmerizing lapping of ocean waves as you repeat the Mantra to yourself. If you feel the need to repeat the Mantra out loud you may do so, however keep the voice quiet and soft - almost a whisper. When you feel you are ready to release the Mantra, open the eyes and cease the repetition. Take a few moments to scan the body and notice how you feel, allowing the meditative imprint of the words to remain in your awareness. 


Pranayama (Breathing Exercises)

Remain relaxed in your comfortable seated position. Perhaps slightly readjust the body if needed or place a cushion under the sits bones to comfort the spine. Our breath practice to pacify the Pitta Dosha is the yogic cooling breath called Kaki Pranayama or Crow's Breath. Kaki Breath elongates the inhalation and slows the pace of the breath which aids in reducing pitta imbalances such as anger, negativity and tension. This breath technique is practiced by pursing the lips to form a small "O" shape on the inhalation. The inhalation has a "sipping" action through the "O" shape of the mouth, creating a feeling similar to that of drinking through a straw. The mouth closes at the top of the inhalation and the exhalation is through the nose. The inhale through the mouth provides a cooling sensation to the tongue helping to dispel heat from the body. When you are ready, close the eyes and begin the practice of Kaki Breath. Option to add a 2-3 beat breath retention (holding of the breath) before each exhalation. Practice this breath for about 3-5 minutes, keeping the breath flow as gentle as possible.


Asana (Yoga Postures)

An unbalanced Pitta Dosha benefits from cooling, non-competitive poses. Poses such as twists, heart openers, forward folds and wide leg poses encourage spaciousness and opening which releases and detoxifies heated Pitta energy out the body. This sequence focuses on Chandra Namaskar's (Moon Salutations) providing cooling, lunar energy rather than the more common Surya Namaskar's (Sun Salutations) which provides heated energy to the body. The following is a 15 pose practice guide of Pitta balancing postures. Always be sure to listen to your body throughout the practice and respect any injuries or limitations you may have.

 

1. Supine Heart Opener

For this pose, you will need to create support for the back body by using 2 blocks. Place one block horizontally underneath the upper back, right around where your bra strap would be. Place the second block (or a pillow) underneath the head at the base of the skull. The height of the blocks is up to you depending on your comfort level and flexibility. Allow the arms to open wide in a "T" position, palms face upward and shoulders relax, sinking towards the ground. The legs extend long on the mat and the breath is slow and deep. Notice the opening of the heart space, the spaciousness through the chest and shoulders. Stay in the pose for 2-4 minutes. Afterward, take out the blocks and lay on your back for a few breaths, scanning the body and noticing the effects of the heart opener. *Option to use a bolster or folded blankets instead of block for a more gentle heart opener.  

 

2. Child's Pose

Bring the big toes to touch, knees can be wide or close together. Inhale to prepare. Exhale, sink the hips to the heels and rest the belly between the thighs. Rest the arms on the mat. Option to bring the arms along the sides of the of the legs for a more restorative effect. Breathe deeply in the pose for 1-4 minutes.

 

3. Cobra

Begin by lying down on the front body, legs extend long and tops of the feet rest on the mat. Hands frame the chest and elbows stay close to the ribcage. Press down into the tops of the feet and the pelvis. Inhale, press into the hands to peel the chest off of the mat. Exhale, draw the shoulders back and the launch the heart forward. Shoulders stay away from the ears and neck stays long while in the pose.

4. Puppy Pose

Start in a table top position. The shoulders stack over the wrists and the hips stack over the knees, spine is neutral. Inhale, walk the hands forward as far as comfortable. Exhale, melt the chest toward the mat. Keep the hips lifted and stacked directly over the knees. Hands stay shoulder width apart. Breathe deeply, enjoy the opening through the back of the heart space. Hold the pose for 4-6 breaths or longer if desired.

5. Downward Facing Dog

From Puppy Pose, walk the hands in toward you a couple inches and tuck the toes under. Inhale, lift the knees and press the hips up and back to form an inverted V-shape with the body. Exhale, press the heels toward the ground and soften through the heart space. Stay wide through the shoulder blades, spreading them on the back body. Option to "walk your dog" by pedalling the feet, alternating each heel toward the ground. Stay in the pose for 4-6 breaths.

 

6. Lunar Forward Fold

From down dog, bend deeply into the knees and walk the feet to the top of the mat. Fold over the legs, keep a generous bend in the knees and soften the head and neck to decompress the cervical spine. Lateral borders (pinky side) of the hands touch, open the palms to face the sky.

 



7. Padma (Lotus) Mudra

Stand in Mountain Pose. Feet ground hip distance apart, spine is tall and chest is open. Place the hands in a prayer position in front of the heart space, the knuckles of the thumbs can even rest on the sternum bone. Inhale, press the edges of the pinky fingers and thumbs together, as well as the base of the palms. Exhale, spread the ring,middle and index fingers apart to open the hands like a lotus flower. Close the eyes and allow loving thoughts of compassion and gratitude to enter the mind. Padma or Lotus mudra calms the body & mind, aids in digestive issues and connects to the heart chakra inviting the energy of compassion and forgiveness which can help to balance the Pitta Dosha.

 

8. Standing Heart Opener

Inhale, open the arms wide in a "T" position, freeing the heart space. Exhale, place the hands on the sacrum, fingertips pointing upwards. Inhale, draw the elbows toward one another and engage the abdomen slightly. Exhale, lift the heart to find a gentle backbend.


 

 

9. Wide Leg Fold

Stand lengthwise on the mat with the feet wider than hip distance, as wide as comfortable for your body. Hand rest on the hip points. Inhale, lengthen the spine. Exhale, slowly hinge at the hips and fold completely, releasing the hands to the mat or a block. Enjoy the fold for 5-7 breaths, maintaining a micro-bend in the knees. Option to clasp the hands and straighten the arms to find shoulder stretch.

 

10. Runner's Lunge Twist

From a wide leg fold, bend into the left knee and pivot to face the short end of the mat in a runner's lunge position. The right leg is straight - ball of the is foot grounded and heel of the foot is lifted. Plant the right hand firmly on the mat. Inhale, extend the left arm in the air, palm facing away from you. Exhale, twist the chest and torso toward the left side. The right leg stays straight and strong. After a few breaths in the twist, return to runner's lunge.

 

11. Straight Leg Lunge

Begin from a runner's lunge position, left leg forward. Inhale, draw the hips back and straighten the left leg. Exhale fold the chest toward the thigh. Keep the hips square and breathe. Flow between Runner's Lunge Twist and Straight Leg Lunge, moving at your own pace. Make the movement a meditative experience, perhaps closing eyes and tuning in with the body. Flow like the energy of water, synchronizing your breath with your movements. Afterward, briefly return to Wide Leg Fold for a breath or two, and then *repeat Runner's Lunge Twist and Straight Leg Lunge on the right side.

 

12. Seated Forward Fold

Find a seated position on the mat with the sits bones rooted firmly and the legs extended long. The feet are flexed, knees maintain a micro-bend. Inhale, lift the arms and draw the spine tall, engage the abdominal muscles slightly. Exhale, hinge at the hips and fold over the legs. Keep the torso lengthened and add a deeper bend in the knees of the hamstrings are tight.
 

13. Half Lord of the Fishes

Bend the right knee and draw the leg toward you. From here, cross the right foot over plant the foot beside the outside of the left hip. Inhale, lift the arms and elongate the spine. Exhale, twist from the torso toward the right side. Rest the left arm on the leg and plant the right hand on the floor behind you. Maintain lengthen through the spine while breathing deeply in the pose. With every exhalation, surrender more into the pose and perhaps deepen the twist. After a few breaths, release out of the twist and repeat on the other side.
 

14. Half Shoulder Stand

Lay down on the back with the arms extended along the sides of the body, palms face down. Bend the knees and place the feet hip distance apart on the mat. Inhale to prepare. Exhale, press down through the palms, draw the knees in and rock the legs up. Straighten the legs and place the palms of the hands on the lower back, keep the elbows in close. Maintain minimal weight in the head and neck and do not move the neck at all. Find a position with the legs where they can balance and slightly relax. Hold in the pose for 6-8 breaths. To exit out of the pose, bend the knees toward the forehead and very slowly roll the spine back onto the mat, eventually releasing the hands from the lower back.

 

15. Savasana

Stay laying on the back body. Extend the legs straight with the feet as wide as the mat. Place the left hand over the heart space and the right hand over the belly. Mentally scan the body from head to toe, notice the cooling and calming effects of your Pitta balancing practice. Notice how by resting the left hand on the heart, you immediately draw breath and attention into that area. Focus on one thought of gratitude. One thing that you can be grateful for with extreme love and joy. Take a deep, audible sigh out through the mouth. Eventually, return the breath to it’s natural state. Soften every muscle, release any holding or physical tension. Relax the mind, still the thoughts.   Close the eyes and surrender to the cool darkness of the eyelids as you integrate the body into silence and stillness. Rest in Savasana for 5-10 minutes.  


Closing

Return to a comfortable seated position on your mat. Take a few quiet moments to peacefully reflect - without judgement - on your meditation, breath and yoga practice today. Recognize the nourishing qualities of today's practice and the effect that it had on your body. Set an intention to strive to maintain this cool, fluid, peaceful and compassionate state of being throughout the rest of your day.