We asked Sylvie Barthelemy, our teacher and contributing blog writer this month, some questions about Ayurveda and yoga practice. She will lead a wonderful Ayurveda workshop here at Swanand THIS SATURDAY, October 13th, from 2 – 5 PM. If you haven’t signed up yet, learn more here.
How does knowledge of Ayurveda allow for a more personalized yoga practice?
Sylvie: Ayurveda is all about tailoring! Understanding our unique Ayurvedic constitution helps us know the qualities we need in our lives to stay balanced, food-wise, lifestyle-wise and of course with our yoga practice. Vata types generally need a gentler form of yoga, lots of relaxation and grounding. Pitta types need to watch out for overheating and becoming too goal-oriented in their practice. A cooling, heart-centered practice with a healthy dose of challenge is generally what suits them best. As for the kapha types they need to move, sweat and practice in a way that is upbeat and energizing. That is still pretty general, because truth is most of us have a dual constitution, and are somewhat out-of-balance at all times J And regardless of constitution you always want to address the current imbalance. Let’s say today you are feeling chilly, restless and irritable. Chilly can be a vata or kapha symptom, restless mostly vata and irritable mostly pitta. Following the laws of “like increases like” and therefore “opposite decreases” to be balancing your practice should be warming while inviting inner stillness and a sense of playfulness too. Sounds in the form of sighing or fluttering our lips is also a way to release internal tension and too much seriousness.
On my website, www.yogavpk.com, I go into more depth about what Ayurvedic hatha yoga is and how to go about practicing in a balancing way.
How has your study of Ayurveda affected the way you practice and teach yoga?
Sylvie: With all the changes happening within me and in my environment all the time, it never made sense to me to stick to the same practice all year round. Ayurveda explained to me why I intuitively felt that way. It showed me that indeed everything is always in a state of flux, and that I needed to adjust my practice to my current needs as an act of balance. For example, if I am tired, I go for restorative yoga, lots of supported inversions and relaxation. If I am preoccupied and finding it difficult to be still, then I’ll start with a practice that meets this energy by moving faster, aiming to slow down gradually. Or if my digestion is a bit sluggish, I’ll intentionally work with postures that massage the belly organs, such as prone poses and spinal twists and incorporate some kapalabhati breathing.
When I teach classes I usually go with the seasons a lot, a factor that influences everyone in the class. Generally, during the fall my goal is to warm and ground the vata energy; during the winter and early spring, to circulate and invigorate the kapha energy; during the summer, to cool and pacify the intense pitta energy. That said most people in NYC suffer from a hyper stimulated nervous system (a vata imbalance) so I always incorporate grounding elements*, to help people get our of their head, calm their senses and tune in to themselves deeply. (*for example standing poses, emphasis on points of contact between the body and the earth, even breathing)
What do you most hope people will gain from learning about Ayurveda?
Sylvie: Ayurveda teaches us that we already have within ourselves all the answers to our questions, just like yoga. So that’s what I hope people come to realize: that at the end of the day, if you use all your God-given tools, your innate intelligence, power of discrimination, intuition and wisdom, you can figure out for yourself what the best course of action to take in any situation in your life, most definitely when it comes to your health. Our society would have us believe that we never know what is best for us, and that we need to always turn to the so-called “experts!” Ayurveda shows us how to become our own health experts through self-study and body-knowledge.
Describe what you love about Swanand!
Sylvie: What I love most about Swanand is that it’s a center that truly aims to convey the deeper teachings of yoga, not just yoga postures. In a city (a country!) where yoga has become associated with the practice of physical poses, Swanand is a breath of fresh air. It is here to remind us that, traditionally, the yoga poses were meant to prepare the body and mind for meditation, and entering higher states of consciousness. Personally I feel that is what people are seeking, whether they know it or not. The greater gift of yoga is not to make us more flexible, not even to improve our health, it is to help us remember our true nature, and I am grateful that some yoga centers (and teachers) remember that!
With its quiet, sleek, and understated vibe, Swanand is a center that will support anybody seeking to take their practice to the next level, to place yoga poses in a larger context, and as a result find deeper satisfaction.
Thank you, Sylvie! We’re so excited for the workshop this weekend. See you all there.