The therapeutic value of yoga is far reaching, it goes well beyond the scope of the physical body. A basic understanding of the stages of life offers insight as to how a woman can practice self-care and connect to the ancient wisdom of yoga to live a balanced life.
The Three Stages of Life
Ayurveda classifies life in three stages. They are
- Kapha Stage (birth to about 16 years of age) Associated elements: Earth and Water
The kapha stage of life is characterized by cool, dense, soft, heavy, oily, slow, cloudy, gross, and stable qualities. Kapha pertains to the structure of the body (i.e., bones) and to the bodily secretions such as synovial fluid, cerebral spinal fluid, mucous etc. It provides cohesion, nourishment, hydration and lubrication. During the kapha stage of life we are mucous making machines! We explore with curiosity, play and begin to grow into our baby fat and fullness.
- Pitta Stage (16 years of age to around 50 years of age) Associated elements: Fire and Water
Pitta is characterized by light, mobile, sharp, hot, liquid, spreading, and subtle qualities. Pitta is the manifestation of the heating energy of agni.
Agni is the energy of digestion, transformation, and metabolism. Together, pitta and agni make up our “digestive fire.” A strong digestive fire is the main contributing factor in determining wellness. The digestive fire should be balanced (not too hot, not too cold). This helps eliminate the common vata, pitta, and kapha imbalances of gas, bloating, constipation, heartburn, diarrhea, nausea and sluggish bowel movements. Agni is responsible for absorption and assimilation of nutrients from the foods we eat; as well as the absorption and assimilation of the impressions we take in through sight, sound, smell, and touch. It is very important to know that our perception is based on the quality of agni. If agni is imbalanced, we may not perceive things as they really are. This leads to pragyaparadha (mistake of the intellect) and subsequent poor choices in life that create our suffering.
Hormones play a large role in the pitta stage of life and our sense of passion, drive to achieve and succeed are being expressed. If we remain balanced we enjoy the fruits of our labor. If we push ourselves too hard we experience burnout.
- Vata Stage (50 years of age and beyond) Associated elements: Space and Air
Vata is characterized by the light, cold, dry, rough, mobile, clear, and subtle qualities. Vata pertains to creativity, expansion and movement. During the vata stage of life, we experience an accumulation of space and air elements. This can manifest in susceptibility to certain deficiencies and instability but it is also within this timeframe that we benefit from the culmination of all the experiences in our lives. The enrichment of these experiences enables us to navigate our lives with a sense of ease and prescience.
Vata, Pitta, and Kapha Working in Harmony
To better understand the nature of vata, pitta, and kapha, we can think of them as a team working together on a project.
Vata’s whirlwind of creativity comes up with an idea, pitta’s fire drives the idea into action and kapha’s stability sustains and supports the process by keeping vata’s airy nature on track and tempering pitta’s fire.
Nourishing the Female Body
Some women have a higher tolerance for a lifestyle that is depleting, but women typically suffer imbalances when they are pulled in too many directions, work long hours, perform intense physical labor, or endure other types of stress for extended periods of time. Stress depletes the bodily tissues.
There are seven bodily tissues—plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, nervous, and reproductive—that depend on good quality and quantity of nourishment. The first tissue, plasma, feeds on nourishment and creates a bi-product that is passed on to the next tissue for nourishment and so on, until each tissue is nourished.
As previously mentioned, the pitta stage of life is largely governed by hormones. It bears repeating that restricting proper nourishment and depleting the body of its nourishment will result in imbalance. This impacts the hormones in such a way that can result in painful or absent menses, infertility, difficult pregnancies and menopause, mental and emotional instability, porosity of the bones that leads to osteopenia and osteoporosis, and struggles with healthy weight.
If the body is well nourished, it will flourish.
In general, the female body has a naturally higher percentage of body fat than the male body and thrives when well nourished.
The term nourishment is meant to include not only nourishment derived from food, but also nourishment derived from components such as rest, relaxation, healthy relationships, and yoga.
Yoga as Nourishment
Yoga is an infinite source of nourishment.
It is a scientific system that taps into the network of energy channels and centers of the body and informs our beings all the way down to a cellular level.
Tools of Yoga
Yoga will enhance your ability to stabilize hormonal fluctuations caused by imbalances and and honor your needs throughout the stages of your life.
With practice and by paying close attention, you will be able to sit down, tune in, and take note of what the sensations of your body and emotions are directing you to do.
Agni builders burn toxins, eliminate stagnant energy in the solar plexus, and support the functional integrity of the digestive system.
Agni can weaken during the ebbs and flows of hormonal cycles. The following types of agni building postures activate the core of the body and enkindle agni. You can explore them as repetitious movements to massage the organs of digestion and elimination and/or sustain them in stillness.
- Upward Facing Boat (Navasana)
- Locust (Shalabhasana)
- Crocodile (Makarasana)
- Revolved Abdomen (Jathara Parivartanasana)
- Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
- Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara) Sun salutation incorporates pose and counterpose as a well-balanced way to ignite agni and massage the digestive organs. Approach sun salutations in a moderate fashion, not too aggressively.
There will also be times when the body overheats (such as hot flashes during menopause). Forward bending, side bending, and gentle twists assist in the process of cooling and detoxifying as they disperse heat.
As a rule of thumb, postures that involve forward bending, twisting, and side bending cool and calm the body when done in a gentle way, not aggressively.
- Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
- Downward Facing Hero (Adho Mukha Virasana)
- Seated Sidebending (Parsva Sukhasana)
- Wide Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana)
- Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
- Moon Salutations (Chandra Namaskara) are cooling. If you enjoy sun salutations, but experience unwanted heating effects, you can still do them. Just be sure to do them slowly and gently, and follow with some rounds of moon salutations.
A restorative yoga practice is a key element to resting, relaxing, rejuvenating and restoring us on all levels. When the body is in a deeply relaxed state, it has the ability to heal itself. Some restorative postures include,
- Corpse (Savasana
- Child (Balasana)
- Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)
- Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
- Supine Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana)
The breath is so subtle, yet has very profound effects. Breath work is an important component of a well balanced yoga practice.
A first step in working with the breath is to learn deep diaphragmatic breathing. It is an excellent resource for centering and relaxing.
If you are experiencing low agni, skull polishing breath (kapalabhati) and solar breathing (surya bhedana) serve to enkindle agni and organize the intelligent flow of energy (prana).
Alternate nostril breathing will bolster your mental and emotional well being and rid the body of residual air that holds onto anxiousness, brain fog, depression, grief, sorrow, anger, etc.
In the vata stage of life, we can exhibit signs of excess heat in the form of hot flashes. Once again, avail yourself of alternate nostril breathing. Shitali and lunar breathing (chandra bhedana) are also excellent ways to cool quickly.
Stressful thoughts are an obvious detriment to our health. Witnessing our thoughts offers insight as to what can trigger stress in our lives. Emptying the mind of those stressful thoughts creates room for positive and empowering thoughts and ideas to emerge. An empty mind is a beautiful thing!
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Working with mudra can be combined with other forms of yoga or can be a yoga practice in and of itself. There are myriad mudras for all types of imbalances.
These mudras address stress and will have a positive trickle down effect in other areas of health.
Ayurveda calls mantra, “pranacharya,” the highest form of healing. The recitation of mantra increases the intelligence of our physiology and psychology. Greater intelligence infuses our lives with good health and harmony.
You can consult with your yoga teacher for learning a Sanskrit mantra that is right for you. However, if chanting a Sanskrit mantra is uncomfortable for you, for any reason, you can work with the positive affirmation or prayer of your choice.
Learn healing mantras for anxiety and depression.
Yoga nidra (yogic sleep) is deeply healing on many levels. Part of its beauty lies in that anyone can do it. While the name implies sleep, you benefit most from yoga nidra by remaining awake as you are guided into a deep state of relaxation.
Learn more about yoga nidra and enjoy a guided practice here.
Yoga and Ayurveda offer daily practices, tips, and tools for women at all stages of life. From menstruation to menopause, stress relief to resilience, to physical and mental well-being—these practices are easy and accessible to all.