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Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Taste of The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

hatha sarvangasanVipareeta Karani

With the navel region above and the palate below, the sun is above and the moon below.  It is called vipareeta karani, the reversing process. When given by the guru’s instructions it is fruitful.”
– Hatha Yoga Pradipika

hatha brahami

Bhramari Pranayama

Breathe in quickly, making a reverberating sound like the male black bee, and exhale slowly while softly making the sound of the female black bee.  By this yogic practice one becomes lord of the yogis and the mind is absorbed in bliss.”
-Hatha Yoga Pradipika

David Nadi Shodana
Nadi Shodana

“The first pranayama practice is nadi shodhana pranayama, alternate nostril breathing, which activates and harmonizes ida and pingala nadis. Shodhana means ‘to purify’.”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika

hatha gomu

“Gomukhasana creates a complete energy circuit flowing in the spinal region. The various yogic texts agree in their descriptions of gomukhasana.”
– The Hatha Yoga Pradipika





Drawings from The Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Photos of David Good by Megan Marie Gates

Join renowned Tantric scholar, Carlos Pomeda, in a discussion of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika at Octopus Garden in April. Please click here for details.

Recovering the Era of Water Medicine through Ayurveda – Matthew Remski

Recovering the Era of Water Medicine through Ayurveda

(a draft chapter from Ayurveda: East and West, forthcoming)

We can dream of the story of human medicine through the progression of the elements, from earth to space. Today, we sit on the juncture between fire and air modalities. But we long for an older water medicine.

We began with earth medicine, derived from a sense of here, from the grasses and herbs that grow underfoot and in rings that widen from the camp and village. A valley is nourished by a river god, and a sprite protects the forest within the radius of a single day’s walking. Wounds are sealed with the tree resins that are also used to fletch arrows, and then plastered with the same clay from which simple pots are pinched. Earth-medicine people depend upon their material roots and the psychic sensations of place. When they lose contact with the earth they know, they suffer. In the early 1980s, Hmong refugees from the highlands of Cambodia began to die of no apparent cause in their government-subsidized housing in Chicago. The phenomenon was called “Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome.” Health care workers were baffled, until an elder finally told them: “It’s because we can’t feel the mountains.” (Siegel and Conquergood, 1985)

Earth medicine wove the local tangle of textures, aromas and well-trodden pathways into the safety of a home that made and remade us daily. We were so much of the here that we enforced taboos against eating the food of another tribe. Nourishing yourself from an unknown part of the earth would change you, shift your allegiances, make you Other.

Earth gives an exteroceptive medicine, dependent on constant and reliable sensual contact with familiar surroundings. The goodness of a food or a juice or an herb or the flesh of an animal is a function of its constancy in tribal memory, and its coherence with the landscape of which you and your forebears are an intrinsic part.

The theory of homeodynamism that is slowly coming to displace the homeostatic model of Claude Bernard — which from its mid-19th century root has dominated physiological theory —  is perhaps a memory of earth medicine. Homeodynamism says that the flesh is not self-enclosed, self-supporting, and able on its own to maintain internal equilibrium. Balanced health is, rather, an interdependent intimacy between the person, her people, and her land. She feels in a failed crop the withering of her flesh. She feels her own blood thicken as she sees her river thick with salmon.

Some earth medicines carry strong currents of water-feeling within them. The songlines of the indigenous Australians described by Bruce Chatwin (1987) are streams of life that flow through the land, creating a web of meanings that the person must travel and sing along to be whole, and to participate in the continual rejuvenation of the earth. Traveling the lines and singing their stories transforms the earth into a coherent body of pulsing currents.

Water medicine evolves from our earliest sense of the world as an impersonal swirl of complementary, and at times antagonistic energies which collide and dovetail on the path to equilibrium. So too becomes our flesh. As we flow through the world, the world flows through us — in different textures depending upon where we are and our personal elemental biases, but with structure and sense, and not according to the whim of plant or animal spirits. Caprice melts into necessity, and the feeling of a system emerges, along with agency. A more autonomous self appears. The older earth way felt the sickened flesh to be possessed by local gods, animated from within to serve the needs of the land. As the currents of life are re-imagined according to naturalistic forces, the grip of divine possession loosens. Vayu, the old Vedic wind-god, who used to take up residence in the lungs, generalizes to prana and vata. Agni, the fire-god, who ruled the liver and spleen with force, now generalizes to the simplicity of a single candle flame at the solar plexus. Soma, the god of milk and nectar, who possessed the senses with sweetness and fullness, is now the mucoidal principle of phlegm. We are still possessed, but now by nature, and not by agencies we cannot understand or reason with. We are possessed by weather and sunlight and rain, and these we can study.

We begin to pay closer attention to the internal sensations of thickness, warmth, and movement. The clay, fire, and wind we’ve relied on for generations as external tools of stability, cooking, and diffusion are now seen as powers internal to the flesh. Water medicine makes its home in an internal space. The flesh is felt to be made and animated by, but to also contain an aqueous vitalism — prana, chi, dunameis (in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Greek) — which can intermingle in harmony, or overflow and rupture its boundaries towards death. With water medicine, this dualism of flesh as container and energy as the temporarily-contained emerges, just as Axial Age thinkers throughout the ancient world are beginning to codify the first speculative distinctions between “body” and “soul”. The English word “body” carries an etymological echo of this early framing of life-force as a contained liquid. “Body” comes down to us through the Old German word botahha, which means “tub” (Fields, 12), and carries the sound of “bottle”. The first “soul” or “essence” was liquid. Perhaps the idea first occurred to us simply, through the squeezing of fruits.

Water medicine softens our fetish upon our land while placing health and balance inside the wandering or cosmopolitan flesh. It is interoceptive, more homeostatic than earth medicine, more independent of the landscape, more portable, and now translatable between cultures. Internal space is palpated newly, and inner movements are metaphorized to rain and irrigation. Hippocrates suggests that phlegm resides gelid in the brain, and that a portion of illnesses emerge when it melts due to heating circumstances and descends to clog the channels of respiration and digestion. (Pitman, 176) Water medicine interiorizes visions of a broader ecology, visualizing the healthy flesh as a dialogue amongst boundaried zones – mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes – everything in its place.

The watery ethos constitutes the beginning of a medical theory that goes beyond earth-story to focus on a sense of subjective feeling and internal travel: a story of flows and confluences, waves and eddies, channels and dykes, foam and silt. Therapy develops to enhance or subdue the currents. Massage eases liquid vitalities along dried pathways, pressure points open dykes – ideally gently – and herbs accelerate or quiet the flowing of saliva, mucous, blood, urine, stool, menses. Patients are encouraged to vomit and purge liquid impurities, or to cleanse themselves by letting blood. In a parallel path, martial techniques develop that disrupt or release fluid vitality in catastrophic ways. Warriors memorize the weakest points of the circulatory web to attack them with blows or blades that cause mortal spillage.

The inner liquids of life are assigned various temperatures, savours, and actions. Some cool, sweeten, and congeal, while others heat, spice, and acidify. Some waters build and others pucker and strip away. The tastes are sweet, acrid, insipid, sour, salty, bitter, bilious, briny, pungent, sulphuric, astringent. Health is invoked through principles of balance, blending, and homogeneity. Cooking becomes a central metaphor, alongside themes of irrigation. The enemy of health is the isolated fluid or taste that wicks, spreads, or pools its influence into inappropriate channels. Fluids that trickle are enriched, while fluids that coarse rapidly are given narrower channels. Balance hearkens back to the resting continuity of the sea.

With its goal of harmonious blending, water medicine predicts the primary drive of the psychotherapeutics that would emerge two millennia later: all things must be integrated. Memories are to integrate with present realities, old selves with new, private selves with public, shadows with light, and unconscious with conscious knowledge. Water medicine is inclusionary. The most watery of psychotherapies – Gestalt – employs metaphors of digestion and circulation towards the integration of hidden selves.

Further, the fluids of vitality, whether characterized as breath or blood or nectar or light, are at once universalized — discoverable in anyone — but also as personalized as a family recipe for soup. Constitution emerges as a framework for explaining how we all share the same ingredients, and yet express an infinite variety of taste-blends through our personhood. In India, the masala — the “mixture” — emerges as the staple of the family kitchen. Dozens of spices in distinct ratios are roasted and ground according to closely-guarded recipes thought to enhance a family’s unique gifts and vitality. A family’s masala carries the keys of its pleasure, fertility, and adaptability. It can be taken in a jar to foreign lands to normalize novel foods into its balanced aromas. Water medicine mirrors the body now free to travel overland: its unique essence can be bottled.

In its concentration on tastes and sensations, the medical imagination under the thrall of water begins to dream of what it cannot see, a skill that will drive all medical research, even to the present day. The masterworks of Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the Hippocratics are codified by 400 of the common era. But as it dreams the unseen, medicine also reaches for new ways of seeing. Aqueous theories of energetic flow depend upon an invisible but felt internal flesh, and they last for as long as flesh remains closed to the eye. In the west, water medicine dries up under the blaze of surgery lamps. The vitalities it carried will vanish into medical myth, and suppressed interoceptions.

In 1533, Andreas Vesalius, then 19 years old, arrived in Paris to learn anatomy and physiology as inherited from the Hippocratic master Galen (AD 129-200 approx), whose theories of fluid vitalities still ruled the medicine of the day. Vesalius saw that his instructors were using the ancient drawings of pigs and monkeys that had served anatomy classes for over a millennium, and found that the internal flesh was treated with a kind of prim disregard. Siddhartha Mukherjee in his chapter “Vanishing Humours” (2010) quotes a letter from Vesalius: “Aside from the eight muscles of the abdomen, badly mangled and in the wrong order, no one had ever shown a muscle to me, nor any bone, much less the succession of nerves, veins, and arteries.” So the young surgeon undertook to elevate dissection to an art, spending a decade collecting corpses from execution grounds and alleyways, meticulously separating the finest layers of tissue from each other and drawing everything he saw. He had set out to prove the genius of Galen, but found through his labour that the vital fluids where nowhere in the tissues. Nor were the channels Galen described anywhere to be found. Vesalius deconstructed Galen with the simplest use of quill and ink. The interoceptive medicine of water began its slow evaporation as the first print run of his book De Humani Corporis Fabrica sold out. Anatomical precision in India was stymied by religious taboo until Madhusudan Gupta performed the first dissection of a corpse in Calcutta on January 10th of 1836, cheered into the dryness of modernity by his British sponsors. The dissection taboo is one of the main reasons that Ayurveda enjoyed a longer life than Galen’s medicine, and why it stands today as a rich and continuous lexicon for the poetry of being alive, getting sick, recovering, strengthening, and pouring forth fertility.

The new surgical epistemology was visual. What was real was what could be seen. But it could be seen only if exposed, and exposed only if dead, or in the critical trauma that was early surgery. So begins the medicine of fire, a masculine and frantic enterprise, turning the flesh inside out to surrender an overdetermined — i.e., lifeless — truth. (Foucault) Surgery tries to make the internal body a surface of exteroception. An internal feeling would now remain nameless and meaningless, until it was denuded and devitalized by the blade. This reified the split between “body” and “soul” that water medicines had only hinted at in their metaphors of pooling, channels, and pitchers.

Galen’s poetry of the flesh withdrew into poetry on the page: the interoceptive was no longer under the purview of science, and philosophers were doctors no longer. The split between physics and metaphysics hardened. In the west, subjectivity and interiority retreated to the humanities as categories for study, where a sense of the invisible-but-felt remained – most obviously in the natural world, according to the Romantics. In 1798, Wordsworth writes: “Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; / Our meddling intellect / Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things : — / We murder to dissect.” Had he been clearer that his enemy was partly visual epistemology, his third line might have read “Neglects the sensuous touch of things.” The cleft between visually-oriented medicine and the now-nameless interoceptive world contains the seed of the earliest air medicine: the talking cure, whose primary medium is breath, and speech, and, prior to Freud, is conveyed through oral poetry.

Fire medicine burns ever hotter down through the ages. Surgeries become more radical. Cautery and acids seal the hot wounds. In the 1880s, Marie and Pierre Curie dredged a primal fire from the earth itself, using water as a solvent: “from several tons of pitchblende, four hundred tons of washing water, and hundreds of buckets of distilled sludge waste”, they rendered one-tenth of a gram of an element that burned “with such feverish intensity that it glowered with a hypnotic blue light in the dark, consuming itself.” Marie Curie named the element radium, Greek for “light”. Radiation therapy was born — a silent, searing heat that attacked and burned the DNA of cancer cells, and every other cell it illuminated. Alongside the external fire of radiation, new forms of internal fire were being blended by the first oncologists. Chemotherapy hearkened back to water medicine in method, if not elemental texture or temperature: as a systemic approach, it flooded the tissues with liquid flame.

We see medicine specialize as our scopes of attention narrow. The ornate systems of flesh-channels for liquid vitalities require specialized and coordinated training above and beyond the osmotic learning of the local herbs. The fiery precision of surgery and radiation add critical layers of focus and years of hands-on training, and its visual epistemology drapes the site of the incision away from the rest of the person. As medicine shifts paradigms from earth to water to fire, specialization intensifies, diseases are framed more tightly, the flesh shrinks into objectified parts, the zones of personhood are further splintered into the structural, biochemical, kinesiological, and and dietetic, and interventions become more aggressive and directed at later and later stages of etiology.

Earth treats in stillness, and only if you go to it. Water treats in transit, slowly, in widening rings of absorption. Fire treats quickly from a single centre of cutting or ignition. Fire is employed in acute circumstances with acute results.

On the medieval tail-end of the water-medicine era, Ayurvedic physicians tried to incorporate the speed and devastation of fire into their medications by incinerating metals including arsenic, lead, and mercury into ash over days and days in underground kilns, and then infusing the resulting powders into liquid carriers. Vaidyas offered these alchemical bhasmas, born of earth and fire and delivered through water, as panaceas for instantaneous healing from fatal diseases, as though they foresaw their growing irrelevance in the coming age of surgery and rational biochemistry. The bhasmas always failed their magical promise, and today their vestiges, packaged in poorly-labeled plastic bottles and distributed through the alt-health global economy, cause heavy-metal poisoning in those who long for “ancient” cures. Water medicine loses itself when it tries to compete with fire medicine.

I believe we’re in the last chapter of the fire-medicine story. Treatments have cooled down. Radical, scorched-earth, surgeries – such as the double radical mastectomies innovated by William Halsted in the 1880s, are virtually unknown today. Objectifying an etiology to a specific disease site is now known to fail: imbalances always seep around boundaries. Radiation and chemical therapies have become more subtle and targeted, are applied in series, and have an almost tidal rhythm. New insights into the auto-immune nature of many inflammatory disorders have encouraged research into alkalizing treatments, and, more radically, corticosteroid treatments that actually suppress the over-reactive fire of the stressed and self-isolated immune system.

As fire medicine cools, air medicine emerges: through the subtleties of homeopathy, the headiness of genetic studies or epidemiology, and in the relationships we can now posit between cognitive behavioural therapy or mindfulness practices and decreased cortisol levels, and increased vagal tone. Air medicine thinks, reflects, imagines. It amasses data and dreams of genetically modifying disease factors. It is interested in psychoneuroimmunology, and suspicious of the old hard dualisms. Air medicine blows where it wills with interdisciplinary excitement. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic can now take yoga classes on their lunch breaks.

In the natural history of yoga and Ayurveda, space element is the connective principle by which all other elements find their position and function. I think this is the medicine we truly want. We have largely forgotten the former paradigms, but we still feel them in our bones. Our earth medicine comes to us now through our farmer’s markets and the herbalists who know the local terrain. Our water medicine comes to us through massage and acupuncture and hydrotherapy and daily routine exercises and constitutional counseling. Our fire medicine intervenes in acute situations, pouring fury upon fury. Our air medicine tabulates and hypothesizes, and suggests expansive, multi-layered approaches. In an ideal cultural history, an earlier medicine would never be rejected outright as a new paradigm takes hold, for fear of psychic rupturing. However our epistemology shifts, we keep the older forms, hidden in the same way we retain our own previous ages: my toddler squatting in the earth, my ten year-old swimming in the lake, my teenager setting his first vulnerable fires in the world, my middle-aged man, combining these ages as I breathe in the morning air.

It’s important for those of us interested in Ayurveda to understand its place in medical history, and to stop trying to shoehorn into our zeitgeist, as though it could replace everything that followed it. Its Iron Age embodied poetry is beautiful and integrating to us, but severely limited in the functionality we have come to expect from biomedicine. It does not understand biochemistry. It did not have an accurate view of the internal organs until 120 years ago. It did not admit of the germ theory of disease. It did not conjure vaccinations, or antibiotics. It could not safely amputate a gangrenous limb. It could not have saved the lives of my partner and child while they struggled through obstructed labour. The worldview and practice of Ayurveda has not contributed any significant medical advancement in human culture since its cannon of texts was formalized around the ninth century, although the echoes of water medicine generally have largely inspired whatever bias towards holism and integration biomedicine wants to conceal.

But these limitations, if accepted honestly by practitioners, are actually great strengths. We should be happy that Ayurveda has not substantially advanced since the late Axial period. It is precisely because of its technological and research stagnation that it can remember for us who we were before our empirical-rational sciences obscured and objectified the interoceptive, subjective flesh. Ayurveda softens the medical gaze by remembering an age in which we listened to our own circulation, and felt-into our own waves of cohesion, heat, and movement. Ayurveda is valuable today – perhaps even essential to a disembodied species – insofar as it reawakens an internal physician of sensations, alert to the waves of heaviness, inflammation, and scatteredness that are predictive of illness. Ayurveda provides the hands and the hearing of a poet, blind from birth.

When I practice Ayurveda, I often feel myself standing at the threshold between childhood and adulthood. Around eleven or twelve years old. The earth and water of childhood have given me support and nourishment and wonder at life. There is a cognitive faculty that is just beginning to ignite. Water is about to give way to fire. Pleasure is about to give way to analysis. Abiding is about to give way to doing, and magic is giving way to the empirical-rational. I’m connected enough to the right-brain of childhood to feel what the client is feeling directly. I can feel the left-brain fire beginning to discern and determine – but it’s unformed. In the transition from water medicine to fire medicine, we lost something similar to what we lose crossing the threshold of adolescence, into a sharper, narrower, brighter kind of knowledge. Ayurveda reanimates a rich shadow. It pours into a jagged gap.


Arikha, Noga. Passions and tempers: a history of the humours. New York, NY: Ecco, 2007. Print.

Chatwin, Bruce. The songlines. New York: Viking, 1987. Print.

Das, Rahul Peter. The origin of the life of a human being: conception and the female according to ancient Indian medical and sexological literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2003. Print.

Fields, Gregory P.. Religious therapeutics body and health in Yoga, Ayurveda, and Tantra. Albany: State University of New York, 2001. Print.

Foucault, Michel. The birth of the clinic: an archaeology of medical perception. New York: Pantheon Books, 1973. Print.

Langford, Jean. Fluent bodies: Ayurvedic remedies for postcolonial imbalance. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002. Print.

Meulenbeld, Gerrit Jan, and D. Wujastyk. Studies on Indian medical history. Reprint ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2001. Print.

Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The emperor of all maladies: a biography of cancer. New York: Scribner, 2010. Print.

Pitman, Vicki. The nature of the whole: holism in ancient Greek and Indian medicine. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2006. Print.

Siegel, Taggart, and Dwight Conquergood, producers. Between Two Worlds: The Hmong Shaman in America. Video-documentary. Siegel Productions.

Wujastyk, D.. The Roots of Ayurveda: selections from Sankskrit medical writings. Rev. ed. London: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

Wujastyk, Dagmar, and Frederick M. Smith. Modern and global Ayurveda: pluralism and paradigms. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008. Print.

Zimmermann, Francis. The jungle and the aroma of meats: an ecological theme in Hindu medicine. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. Print.

Zysk, Kenneth G.. Asceticism and healing in ancient India: medicine in the Buddhist monastery. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Print.




Written by Matthew Remski

For more information about the upcoming Restorative Teacher Training with Matthew Remski and Pat Harada Linfoot click here:

Elemental Rest: an Ayurvedic Approach to Restorative Yoga

Elemental Rest: an Ayurvedic Approach to Restorative Yoga

Regardless of training or lineage, teachers of Restorative yoga share a common language of ecology and mothering. We naturally gravitate towards the grounding and support of a restorative pose, buoyed up by props. We are sensitive to the flow of circulation, the glow of internal resolution, the rippling oscillation of breath, and the expansiveness of mind and heart. These common terms express the elemental powers of earth, water, fire, air, and space. They allow the bodymind, in rest and quietude, to understand and enjoy its coherence with the living world.

Perhaps without knowing it, we’re using the language of Ayurveda: India’s elegant and intuitive method of embodied poetics.

In this article, I’d like to make this Restorative-Ayurveda connection explicit, so that we can become more fluent about what Restorative does therapeutically: nothing less than the creation of maternal care and the preverbal expansiveness of early childhood. Beyond sympathetic relaxation, Restorative offers the opportunity to remember our elemental and constitutional communion with the world that makes us, and to see where we have stiffened in relation to this communion. The language of elements (bhutas), moods (gunas), and constitutions (doshas) provides a rich and comprehensive vision of how this communion unfolds. With Ayurveda on board, Restorative yoga truly becomes holistic medicine.

One of the main distortions that Hatha Yoga has endured during its centuries-long importation to western culture is the stripping away of its naturopathic context. Ayurveda has always been the backbone of health assessment and maintenance for those who wish to practice asana, pranayama, and meditation. Today, yoga culture is faced with a strange paradox: practitioners look to the eight limbs as their primary evolutionary support, but when they are ill they rely on a compartmentalized and objectifying medical system which cannot generally reflect their holistic values. There are few things more disconcerting than to be immersed in the whole-person approach of yoga, and then find yourself in front of a lab-coated doctor who is only trained to look at you through a single lens.  How much better would it feel to be seen by a holistic gaze, rather than a medical gaze? In my opinion, there’s no better way for Ayurveda to re-enter the language of yoga in modern times than through the medium of Restorative, in which the therapeutic intention is explicitly given, in which the postures are simple, comfortable, and held for long enough that the integration of flesh and consciousness can be explored at a leisurely pace. Ayurveda has always been the medicine of hatha yoga, and the Restorative classes of modern yoga culture are the ideal learning theatres for this very old system of healing.

The Elements

What does the ayurvedic view offer to the Restorative teacher? We can start with the elements.

Earth is central to Restorative. Most postures unfold in full contact with the earth. Props form a kind of moldable soil for spinal and limb support. The objective of each pose –passively received instead of actively sought – is to surrender to gravity and compression, to sink down and find connection with the experience of limitless support. Earth element invokes trust. Earth provides the still, quiet affirmation that everything is supported, and that everything returns home. This is powerful medicine for the ungrounded, for the dissociated, for those far from home, for those in unstable relationships with other others or with their sources of support, for those who tremble subtly with anxiety.

Water is medicine for the dry, the dissatisfied, the wasting, and those in grief. It restores emotional availability, the capacity for pleasure, and libido.  Water lives in the pelvic bowl. Whenever the hips are gently mobilized by external rotation, water is released into its natural flow. Water saturates the tissues with emotional nourishment. When a Restorative pose releases an upwelling of sentiment, water begins to rush. (Reclined butterfly will so often lead to tears.) Water is empathy and contentment, and should trickle through the instructor’s cues. Water is the lake and sea: places of deep dreaming and subconscious unfolding. An awareness of water element in Restorative yoga encourages the practitioner to plunge slowly into that part of herself she does not yet know. But water should be quite visceral in a Restorative context as well: a dry room can be mitigated with a vaporizer, and the instructor’s hands can be moisturized with pure oils. Prana transmits through touch when conducted through water element.

Fire pervades the tissues, but is centered at the navel: keeping internal fire centered and quietly radiant is at the heart of Restorative practice. A candlelit room encourages internal trataka and nourishes the “slow burn” of healing. The practitioner should never be cold. But unlike the tapas provoked by vinyasa, the fire of Restorative is still, radiant, and expresses the quiet certainty of sankalpa: I commit to this process, this life. I have an inner light that guides me.

Restorative yoga is felt, above all. It is an art of internal touch. Air is the medium of the tactile: immersing the skin and entering the respiratory channels to expose and vitalize all inner surfaces. Of course: Restorative yoga is breathed, transforming raw air element into its intelligent and structured evolute, prana. When the breath is full and calm, and when inhale and exhale are equalized, our inner and outer ecologies commune, and anxiety recedes. Air, both tactile and connective, resolves the tensions of our individuation.

Space pervades in abstract and functional forms. Abstract space simply contains everything – all other elements and their actions. The space occupied by this text, in whatever form you are encountering it, is not changed by the text, anymore than the space of the sky is changed by its clouds. This unchanging space becomes the primary metaphor for awareness in all Indian philosophies: space is the eternal observer, consciousness that sees without reacting – even the process of seeing and non-reacting.

Functional space is the queen of medicines in both Restorative yoga and Ayurveda. Virtually every therapeutic action we encourage involves the addition or sculpting of spaciousness. We seek space in the hollow regions of the body. We seek to expand skeletal structures for improved circulation and organ decompression. We seek space in the breath and senses, and, coherent with mindfulness instructions, we look for the space between breaths and sensations. We investigate all pauses, pregnant with meanings yet to unfold. Space in Restorative yoga bathes us in unexpressed potentials for a freer life, a more open identity.

The Moods

The gunas (which I’ve started to translate from the Sanskrit as “moods”) are fundamental to Ayurvedic and Yogic views alike.  Our hour-by-hour experience of life is captured in the competing thralls of gravity (tamas), urge (rajas), and resolution (sattva). We sink into dreamless sleep, rise towards a desire, and rest temporarily in the fulfillment of desire. Restorative yoga occurs within this rest, this sattva, this satisfied pause in the story of life.

We live in the most rajasic culture in history. Our dissatisfactions mirror our infinite possibilities. Urges to travel, to accomplish, and to accelerate have never been stronger. Technologies have refracted our natural mental agitation to a baffling order of magnitude. Ayurveda seeks to create a temporary space alongside of our endless desires in which the full satisfaction of the bodymind can be made apparent. In Ayurveda, it is said that the natural intelligence of the tissues, winds, and humours is only re-established during this rest. Restorative yoga provides the ideal physical space for many such unconscious realignments to occur. Rajas, which governs our typical conscious and conceptual states as well as sympathetic nervous response, is only applied in homeopathic doses in Restorative yoga, to identify sources of dissatisfaction, and to encourage gentle effort towards their dissolution.

Moving from the contracted and jagged actions of rajas to the buoyant clarity of sattva is not an easy task. Very often, gravity is necessary. Sandbags on the limbs, compression of the senses through a head-wrap, dimming the lights: tamas quells rajas to sleep, and perhaps a clearer internal light emerges. One of the deepest adjustments you can give to the person lying in savasana is to lay a bolster across the upper quadriceps, place your feet on either side of the person’s waist, and slowly ease your sitting bones down into the centre of the bolster. This is a graceful, earthing, tamasic action: to ground your student’s femurs into the earth with the full force of your gravity. Once tamas is established, sattva can blossom in its buoyancy: our naturally-rising answer to everything that falls.

The Doshas as Psycho-Somatic Forces

In our nascent global Ayurvedic culture we mainly speak of the doshas in diagnostic terms: “My vata is high.” “Pitta is burning.” “I have kapha imbalance – I’m congested.” These impressions and evaluations have great merit in therapeutics, but it’s best to begin with the notion of what the strength and purpose of each dosha is, so that beyond our imbalances we come to feel the support of kapha’s stamina, the focus of pitta’s gaze, and the openness of vata’s sky.

The humours (as we’ve called them in the West since Hippocrates) are each a swirling conversation of elements and moods. Kapha is the clay of earth and water elements, presided over by the mood of tamas. It governs the structure, stability, and stamina of the flesh. Pitta is the fluid radiance of water and fire elements, stoked by rajas. It governs metabolic functions. And vata is the mobile and subtle turbulence of air and space elements, lightened by sattva guna. Vata governs movement and thought.

Restorative yoga will nurture kapha by calming the lower body, encouraging lunar-type breathing, invoking devotion and familial coziness, and by building back up what has been worn away. The instructor might murmur: Relax into the earth, your mother; this is a time of stillness and rebuilding. Restorative will hold the heat of pitta dosha in the moisture of relaxation, and turn its sharpened flames into waves of soft radiance: Let your desires soften into their root, which is a warm glow. Restorative also provides an excellent laboratory for pitta dosha to exercise observation and discrimination: Search inside for sources of chronic gripping.

But it is vata dosha that we pay most attention to in Restorative. Vata is responsible for movement and communication between all tissues, organs, as well as being the physical basis for thought. Every imbalanced condition is initiated by the overaction, underaction, or chaotic action of vata. On the side of vata pacification, we always seek to move from speed to slowness, to smooth the air currents of breath and thought, and to contain and hold the potentially dissociative expansion of space. When vata is calmed, prana deepens and roots to the flesh. As stillness falls, sattva grows. As contractions loosen, space is found. As movements become quieter, the mind releases fear, anxiety, and general chatter. On the side of vata encouragement, it is invoked to encourage flexibility in self-perception. The instructor might say: With relaxed breath, and in spacious relaxation, find a new vision of yourself.

Understanding the functional strengths of of the doshas means understanding that each posture in Restorative yoga offers tridoshic promise. Kapha dosha and the earth and water regions of the body are the foundations of stability. Pitta dosha and the fire regions are the foundations of radiance: the slow burn of sustainable transformation. Vata dosha and air/space regions are the containers of breath. Ideally, the Restorative instructor is looking for an exquisite balance of these functions and qualities in every pose they teach.

An example here will help: supta virasana (pictured below) will ground the femurs in internal rotation and compress the lower limbs into the ground, enhancing the physiological rooting of kapha. The watery aspect of kapha dosha is activated by the undulation of breath rolling through the pelvis and overflowing through the lengthened groin. Pitta dosha rests warmly in the space of a lengthened diaphragm. The abdominal extension softens the navel area, which in turn will soften and possibly redirect the heat of personal will. The air of vata dosha flows sweet and moistened through the upper respiratory cavities, giving autonomic grace. The space of vata is felt in the upper lungs, the oral cavity, the sinuses, and the crown of the head. As space pervades the senses, it is very difficult to have a self-limiting, accusatory, or ungenerous thought.

Using the Doshas Therapeutically

Of course, certain postures will focus upon certain doshic energies, and can be therapeutically directed. The passive backbends (supported backbend, viparita dandasana, etc.) of Restorative yoga will gently mobilize the heaviness of kapha, and deepen the respiratory support of vata. But primarily, any reversal of natural thoracic kyphosis will stimulate the radiance of pitta. This can be therapeutically useful for those who need gentle stimulation of digestive fire, the smooth release of emotional frustration, or the kindling of personal will or autonomy.

The supported forward fold (balasana, kurmasana, adho mukha sukhasana etc.), will sink kapha into its earthen home, and cool the hyperacidity of excess pitta. But its primary value is in the calming of vata dosha through the principle of compression. Just as the supported backbends will expand the space of vata as it circulates through the lungs, so supported forward folds hold and soothe this space within the sheathe of the upper body. Think of Temple Grandin, who was only able to calm the internal chaos of her hyper-vata autism by building a “hugging machine”, which bound and squeezed her ever-expanding internal space within a womb of safety. The compression of the forward fold is profoundly therapeutic for those of us who feel overwhelmed by the limitless and ungrounded possibility of a quickening and disembodied world.

Any elevation of the legs (viparita karani, supported sarvangasana, bridge pose, etc.) will cool overactive pitta dosha and bring maternal weight into the upper respiratory. But the main therapeutic action here involves the quiet mobilization of kapha dosha: the coolness and stability of earth and water elements rise up into the torso, lightening the legs, and preparing the feet to descend into a renewed relationship with the ground. These poses are particularly useful for those who are weighed down by the kapha imbalances of lethargy, pelvic congestion, and melancholy. They reverse sensory orientation, and offer the ground of the body to the sky.

Postures According to Constitution

If we accept the proposition that every asana is tridoshic when executed with full awareness, and that examining the range of 30 common Restorative poses yields only ten or so that might promote distinct constitutional rebalancing, the notion that one could somehow develop a “Restorative sequence for kapha people” – or for those of either of the other two primary physiognomies – is a bit of a stretch. The gifts of Restorative are broad and apply more readily to all citizens of postmodern technological culture, rather than to the unique constitutions of individuals. Restorative yoga may not be a panacea, but we can say that it speaks to the primary dis-ease of our day: vata aggravation. Everyone we know is vata-aggravated, more or less. It really doesn’t matter what your natal constitution is: Restorative yoga will speak to the heart of your disquiet: the excess speed, cognitive overload, and disorganized space of our flailing human ecology.

That said, it is also true that the different constitutional types need different therapeutic qualities from the Restorative postures they practice. The vata-predominant student (ectomorph), with their thinness, dry joints, ungrounded feet, and vulnerability to a disturbed home life and dissociated emotions, is crying out for the sinking, moistening, and decelerating balm of Restorative. (Of course you’ll have to entice them away from the floatiness of their primary series practice!) Every instructor will know the vata-types well: they will silently slip into the classroom and find a corner. They may yammer (if vata is high) with the instructor or their peers, or they may withdraw. They will need lots of blankets. And they respond very deeply to touch, especially if it lingers, is firm, and has a maternal quality.

The pitta student, with their ruddiness, elevated blood pressure, wiry and explosive musculature, and their tendency to anger, can benefit immensely from the invitation to general receptivity that Restorative yoga offers. But with these mesomorphs, you’ll have to get them away from spin class and out of the squash court. You’ll have to give them space, relate to them in a spirit of fraternal objectivity, lay off the new-age platitudes, give them permission to mother themselves, and limit all emotional connection to what can be expressed briefly and frankly. The key with the pitta student is: let them believe that they are running the show, and that they already know what you have to teach them (you’re just jogging their memory!).

Does the kapha person need Restorative yoga? Perhaps not at all: the endomorph’s natural mood is quite relaxed to begin with. She certainly doesn’t need it as much as the vata and pitta types, quite frankly – even though she may be exquisitely drawn to it, as it will likely encourage her weakness for chilling out. It is the kapha types who fall asleep instantly in Restorative poses. If they practice Restorative, they would benefit most from generating wakeful and penetrating concentration upon the movement and texture of their breath. Don’t let them sleep. For kapha, Restorative yoga should be delicate and focused work.




Written by Matthew Remski

For more information about the upcoming Restorative Teacher Training with Matthew Remski and Pat Harada Linfoot click here:

source: Pinterest

source: Pinterest

Getting Ready for Spring Cleansing!

Spring is a great time of year for cleansing the body.  As the temperature shifts and days lengthen, so do our appetites shift and our energy levels begin to rise.  Our palette begins to desire lighter foods and our bodies want to move.  In the same way that we put away our winter boots and heavy coats, we can look at our diets and see if there is any pattern we’re ready to shed this Spring.  Can we reduce the amount of caffeine, refined sugars and grains, or that baked goodie we tend to succumb to?  Can we see if there is a habit that isn’t doing us a service anymore, like eating in a rush or absent-mindedly?
And as the Spring gifts us with increased vitality we can help to cleanse our bodies by trying some of the following tips:
  • Start the day with a glass of water with fresh lemon to alkalize the body and cleanse the liver.  Drink 6-8 glasses of water throughout the day to help flush the body of toxins and keep it well-hydrated.
  • Increase the amount of fresh vegetables to at least 5-7 servings per day.
  • Choose brightly coloured vegetables and fruits and their fresh-pressed juices for their beneficial antioxidants.
  • Have adequate fiber in the diet to help remove toxins, aim for about 40 grams per day.
  • Avoid processed and refined foods and choose whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and their butters.
  • Eat mindfully, focus on every bite and chew until food is a paste.
  • Try adding sprouts to meals for their beneficial enzymes and nutrient density.
  • Dry skin brush before bathing to benefit lymphatic flow and remove old skin.
Remember, there is no ONE cleanse for everyone, as we’re all different.  Our bodies all digest, assimilate and remove differently. Beware the fad diet, the latest supplement craze and the trick that celebrity used one time and instead, try to tune in to your own body.  Begin by making a few healthier choices every day and see how your body and mind respond.   If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at

Written by Kathrin Brunner