Without going into too much detail, Yoga and Ayurveda are sister-art/sciences that are deeply connected to one another. Yoga is the spiritual path, while Ayurveda is therapy- and lifestyle-oriented. The Ayurvedic "doshas", Vata, Pitta and Kapha describe three different energy types, and everyone's basic nature, or prakriti, is made up of a composition of the three. Usually people have a dominant Dosha, or two Doshas share dominance (although in rare cases there are people who have even amounts of all 3). In addition, the equilibrium of the doshas, or vikruti , will fluctuate throughout your life, and can be made balanced or imbalanced by factors in your lifestyle, diet, environment, and physical habits, as well as by age, season and even time of day.
Cue: Yoga and your dosha. Since any regular activity in your life can either help to balance your dosha or cause imbalances, so will your Yoga practice. So, Ayurvedic theorsists provide us with some guidelines on what type of asana practice works for which Doshas. [At this point, if you don't know what your Dosha is, head over to google and search for "dosha quiz" and take one of the many online dosha assessments. As a starting point, there is a simple 12-question quiz on Deepak Chopra's site. Also, see lower down in the post for tips on assessing your dosha.]
Got your Dosha yet? Good. If you have multiple doshas, I've put a few tips below to help you begin to sort through things.
Advice for VATA
People of Vata nature or with Vata imbalance are most complimented by a yoga practice that is grounding, calming, and slightly warming. This practice will help to balance out Vata's tendency towards anxiety, insecurity and spaceyness. In addition, since imbalances in Vata mostly manifest in the large intestine and lower back (2nd chakra) as well as joint pain, people of Vata nature can benefit from poses that strengthen the lower back and work the lower abdomen.
Best Asanas for Vata: All standing poses, especially Warrior II and Uttanasana, Paschimottanasa, Balasana, Dhanurasana, Padmasana.
Asanas to Avoid: Avoid over-stimulation through many fast repetitions of sun salutations or similar sequences. In addition, because Vatas tend to have prominent joints, use padding on asanas that put pressure on your joints such as shalabasana, salamba sarvangasana and halasana.
Advice for PITTA
People of Pitta nature are most complimented by an asana practice that is calming and cooling. Pittas tend to be naturally assertive and driven, so when practicing asana they should focus on keeping a steady breath and keeping softness in tense areas such as the shoulders and face. Furthermore, pittas are prone to imbalances in the small intestine (3rd chakra), so practicing backbends that stretch out the solar plexus area can be very beneficial.
Best Asanas for Pitta: Ustrasana, Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana.
Asanas to Avoid: Avoid over-stimulation through many fast repetitions of sun salutations or similar sequences, which can generate excessive heat. In addition, Pittas should avoid holding inversions such as headstand for prolonged periods, as they generate a lot of heat in the head and the belly.
Advice for Kapha
People of Kapha nature are most complimented by a heating, stimulating practice. Kaphas tend to be slower-moving and are prone to congestion in the lungs, so a fast and hot practice is the best tool for bringing Kapha back into balance.
Best Asanas for Kapha: Ustrasana, Salamba Setu Bandhasana (to open up the chest and help prevent congestion), repetitions of Surya Namaskara A and B.
Asanas to Avoid: Almost all asanas are good for Kaphas, but since their weakest areas tend to be kidneys and lungs, avoid prolonged holding of poses that place pressure on the lower abdomen, like Dhanurasana.
Advice if You have More than One Dosha
If you have a combination dosha, it may be tricky to navigate the advice above. For example, if you are Pitta-Kapha, you are supposed to avoid heat on the one hand, but generate it on the other? For dual dosha types, I can make a few recommendations, although obviously nothing substitutes for an actual ayurvedic/yoga consultation!
Firstly, try to determine if you have a dominant dosha. Sometimes you can do this by taking a different dosha quiz - if you took a long quiz, try taking a shorter one and see if you get a clear majority. Secondly, you can analyze your results and see if your physical (as opposed to temperamental) attributes fall more into one category than another - this might help guide your physical practice. Thirdly, take the quiz with an "adviser" - a spouse/partner, sibling or parent who can give you objective answers to some of the questions - you'd be surprised at the difference sometimes!!
If you still have a tie, you will need to do some self-study to find what is right for you. Going back to our Pitta-Kapha example, you may find that in the mornings you have lots of fiery energy typical of Pitta - so then a morning practice should be slow and calming. Or you may find that at this particular time in your life, your Kapha is dominating, and you can compensate with a more stimulating practice. This is also the case if you are one of the rare people who is a balance of all 3 doshas - you will need some careful self-examination to determine which dosha applies to which of your physical and personality attributes.
Learning about your Dosha is not the end of the journey - it's just the beginning!! The balance of the 3 elements in your life will fluctuate with the years, seasons, even the time of the day. But Ayurveda gives us some handy tips for how to keep those elements in balance and get in touch with your unique "dosha pattern" and your true nature. :)