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Ayurveda Life: Pranayama for the Doshas

Monday, January 12th, 2015

We are excited to bring you another post in a comprehensive series on the practice of Ayurveda. Ayurveda Life is a weekly series of posts from some of the most influential Ayurvedic authors and organizations. We are proud to partner with Banyan Botanicals and hope that you enjoy and share these posts with your communities.

Pranayama for the Doshas

My tongue begins to curl. A long refreshing breath instinctively sweeps in through my mouth and out through my nose. Sheetali pranayama, the cooling breath, settles my fire on this hot, humid summer day. Part of my innate pitta nature, no doubt!

I used to believe that to progress on the path, my yoga practice had to be extremely consistent—practicing the same routine every day. I had a rigorous kriya and pranayama routine to deep clean and thoroughly pranify my system. And it worked! Practicing the niyama of tapas—heat, discipline, austerity—definitely cooked me; Each day was a cathartic experience ripe for transformation. Good stuff!

But it took me a few years to notice that as the seasons changed and my intense pranayama practice remained the same, I often fell out of balance. Winter brought excessive dryness to my skin and lungs. Spring congestion carried sluggishness and water retention. Summer always meant irritated eyes and mental agitation. Not recognizing these as doshic challenges or noticing how out of synch I was with nature’s rhythms, I plowed ahead, committed to progress!

Ayurveda Life: Pranayama for the Doshas via prAna LifeStudying Ayurveda changed everything. Just as I’ve always worn appropriate yoga clothes for the season—leggings and hoodies in winter, shorts and sports bras in summer—I learned the importance of taking care of my body more adeptly by changing my yoga practice seasonally as well. Reacting mindfully to the seasonal changes and doshic influences by simply tweaking my daily pranayama routine resulted in harmonizing with the rhythms of nature. And then I really started to thrive!

These days, I generally keep my pranayama foundation the same: Warm up, then deepen and intensify; slow down and integrate; transition to meditation—a standard bell-curve practice. But, as the seasons shift, I spend less time practicing pranayamas that increase the doshic qualities of the season, and more time practicing ones that balance the season (e.g., cooling pranayama in the hot summer). Not only does this approach leave me expanded, meditative, and harmonized with the doshas, but it’s also a lovely way to keep my pranayama practice fresh all year long.

Explore these tips and videos for seasonal pranayama practice:

1. Pacify pitta: Chill out in summer.
Pitta dosha, made of fire and water, governs the hot, humid season of summer. Instead of getting inflamed with intense techniques such as Kaphalabhati, balance the heat of summer by favoring more cooling, refreshing pranayamas.

* Sheetali, the cooling breath. Sit comfortably with palms turned up on the lap. Inhale through a curled tongue. Close your mouth and place the tip of your tongue lightly against the roof of your mouth. Exhale through your nose. Repeat one to three minutes, until feeling refreshed. (If your tongue doesn’t curl, inhale through your teeth, and continue as above.)

2. Pacify vata: Slow it down in late fall and winter.
Vata dosha, made of air and space, governs the cold, dry season of late fall and winter. Avoid becoming ungrounded and dried-out by reducing big, expansive, breathing techniques such as Bhastrika. Instead, favor pranayamas that are grounding, soothing, fluid, and softening.

* Nadi Shodhana, the channel-purifying breath. Use your left thumb to close your left nostril, and your left ring finger to close your right nostril. Sit comfortably with a long spine. Close your right nostril to begin. Inhale gently through the left nostril, switch, then exhale through the right nostril. Inhale gently through the right nostril, switch, then exhale through the left nostril. Continue in a comfortable, soothing, relaxing rhythm, until you feel complete.

3. Pacify kapha: Stir it up in spring!
Kapha dosha, made of water and earth, governs the cool, damp, rainy season of spring. Now’s the time to energize and stimulate! Balance the heavy sluggishness of the season by increasing heat and circulation.

* Kapalabhati, the skull-polishing breath. Both the inhalation and the exhalation come through the nose. Contract the belly during each quick, crisp, active exhalation (think blowing out a candle through the nose). Relax the belly during each passive, natural, quiet inhalation. Be sure to take one inhalation for each exhalation. Sit comfortably with a long spine. Inhale deeply and begin 20 to 40 gentle but crisp, steady rounds of Kapalabhati. Repeat two to three times to feel energized, purified, and enlivened!

Aligning your practice to seasonal changes requires only minor adjustments, but the overall effect can be significant. Explore skillful ways to harmonize your body and mind throughout the year. Befriend the doshas and breathe new life into your practice!


Larissa Hall Carlson, Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, is an Ayurvedic Health Counselor and a Kripalu Yoga teacher dedicated to adventure and lifelong learning. When not on the road directing trainings and guiding retreats, you can find her writing, teaching, and consulting at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Find out more at larissacarlson.com and kripalu.org.