Exploring Movement & Addiction

As we’ve discovered over the past week’s, addiction can manifest in a variety of ways within the mind-body-spirit. When treating and healing addictive behaviours with physical yoga forms, as with pranayama and meditation, we want to be mindful of how the addictive behaviour is manifesting in terms of doshas and doshic imbalance. People who are managing addictive behaviours are in the process of recovering their sense of the physical self and their bodies; addiction can be viewed as a disconnect between the body-mind-spirit. When we are teaching others to reconnect with their bodies, we are re-teaching them to gently and compassionately listen to the subtle messages that arise when we are in different states of emotion. When we are in addictive patterns, we can easily become overwhelmed by these subtle or not-so-subtle sensations that arise, and we externalize the emotions and feelings by reaching for our coping mechanism: uppers, downers and distractions. People who are managing addiction and recovering can become equally overwhelmed when they begin to feel the sensations in their body when they practice yoga forms. Long subdued emotions, tension and trauma memories can arise when we move into certain forms. As teachers, we want to be conscious of the potential of “triggers” in the language that we use and how to manage students when they discover these new sensations.  You’ll notice that I’m using the term “forms” instead of “poses”. I’m using this trauma-sensitive terminology because it has been shown to be less intimidating and more accessible in particular for those managing trauma and addiction.

Physical Forms/Asanas & The Doshas

For now, we will discuss how to use physical yoga forms to balance the doshas, and which forms can help to manage the challenges that arise in addiction recovery. We’ve learned that Ayurveda addresses addiction as an imbalance in one or more of the doshas, or a combination of all three. In general, practices that focus on alleviating vata imbalances and create a sense of peace and relaxation, such as yin and restorative, are an excellent place to start. When we go a bit more in-depth, we know that not all constitutions will dig those approaches to yoga and a bit of tweaking or form-combination may need to be done to find the ideal practice.

Physical Forms/Asanas for VATA:

The asanas which are most suitable for balancing vata are those that are calming and grounding by nature. These asanas will help allay fear, worry, and anxiety and also improve vata physical imbalances such as constipation, lower back pain, and joint pains. The lower abdomen, pelvis, and large intestine are the main residence of vata in the body, so many of these asanas compress the lower abdomen or cause the lower abdomen to become taut. In addition, asanas that strengthen the lower back help alleviate vata. The physical practice for a vata constitution/imbalance should be one creating warmth, serenity and nourishment.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. The arms may be raised over the head as you reach to the sky, or you may wish to bend the elbows, clasping the opposing arms just above the elbow and letting your forearms rest on or just above the crown of your head. Keeping your back straight, slowly bend forward from the hips as you exhale. Bend as far forward as you comfortably can. Your hands may remain crossed, touch the floor in front of your feet, or, if you are very flexible, be clasped just behind your heels. For the less flexible, the hands may be placed on blocks which rest on the floor. Let gravity assist the lengthening of your spine. All standing asanas tend to be grounding if awareness is placed on the feet, honoring the connection between your body and the Earth.

Note that this asana can put quite a strain on an injured lower back, so care should be used. If the lower back is simply tight, a condition related to aggravated vata, this is an excellent asana. The seated version of this asana, Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), will have similar value and may be easier if your back is sore.

Balasana (Child’s)

is another excellent asana for compressing the pelvis and the vata region. Sit upright with your knees flexed and placed underneath your buttocks. Keeping your arms to your side, bend forward from the hips until your head is resting on the floor in front of you. If you do not have the flexibility to place your head on the ground, place a folded blanket or a pillow on the floor in front of you for your head to rest upon. Compression asanas are excellent for constipation and for chronic gas.

Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero)

Kneel with your knees together and your buttocks resting on your heels. Move the legs out to the side of the pelvis so that the buttocks slide down in between both legs. Place the hands on the soles of the feet and lean back onto the elbows. This may be enough extension for many people. If you are flexible enough, gradually lower your back down to the floor. Your hands may lie by your side or be stretched above the head to lengthen the spine.

While this stretch does not compress the pelvis, it creates a mild extension of the lower abdominal muscles and lower back. This action increases the pressure in the pelvis, again alleviating vata.

Forms to be Avoided:

People of vata nature should avoid asanas that are overly stimulating to the nervous system, such as repetitive sun salutations and those that place excessive pressure on sensitive joints in the body. The cervicothoracic junction, the bony region where the neck meets the shoulders, is one of these areas. Here, large vertebrae stick out like “sore thumbs.” People of vata nature and imbalance tend to have weaker bones, less fatty padding, looser ligaments, and more susceptibility to pain. For these reasons, Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and Halasana (Plow Pose) should be avoided or modified by placing a blanket under the shoulders for extra padding. This also decreases the extreme flexion the neck is placed in. Even so, people of vata nature or imbalance should not hold these poses for very long, or they will risk injury.


Physical Forms/Asanas for PITTA:

The best asanas for pitta are those that are calming and not overly heating. People of pitta nature or imbalance tend to be more assertive and intense. Calming poses help sedate their intensity and ease the emotions of anger and resentment that they are prone to. By alleviating pitta, these asanas are good as part of the treatment for conditions such as ulcers and hyperacidity, liver disease, and acne. The physical practice for a pitta individual and/or pitta imbalance should  encourage compassion, acceptance, a relaxed effort, and be cooling in nature.

Asanas that help balance pitta are those that place pressure on the naval and solar plexus region, in the small intestine where pitta resides. These asanas directly affect the liver and spleen and help regulate the strength of the digestive fire, and are particularly effective during the detoxification process.


Bhujangasana (Cobra)

Lie face down with your feet together and ankles extended. Bend the elbows and place your hands flat on the floor by your lower ribs. (Less flexible people may choose to place the palms on the floor at shoulder level.) Upon inhalation, extend the elbows and raise the head, chest, and abdomen off the floor while keeping the pelvic bones on the floor. The head may be held in a neutral position or in extension.

Ustrasana (Camel)

Kneel with the buttocks lifted as though you were standing on your knees. Place your palms on your buttocks. Move your thighs and pelvis forward as you extend the lower back, bringing your hands to your heels. Gently extend your neck. Remember to breathe. This asana opens up the abdomen, solar plexus, and chest, allowing for freer movement of energy through these regions.


Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge)

Lie on your back, bend the knees and bring your feet to the floor a little wider than hip distance. Turn the feet in slightly and internally rotate the thighs. Reach the arms along side the body pressing the palms into the floor. Elongate your neck by slightly tucking the chin towards the chest and press through the crown of your head. On an inhalation, begin to lift the hips. Use your breath, let the front of the body open and breathe along the solar plexus. Exhale to slowly lower down. Repeat as a flow; inhaling the hips off the floor and exhaling to lower.


Forms to be Avoided:

Headstand should be avoided for people of pitta imbalance or constitution. Headstands heat the body, and much of this heat accumulates in the head and the eyes. The eyes are an organ controlled mainly by pitta. For this reason, Headstands can help cause or worsen diseases of the eyes. If a person of pitta constitution with no serious imbalance chooses to do Headstands, then the Headstand should be held for a very short period.

Physical Forms/ Asanas for KAPHA:

To balance the heavy, slow, cold, and sedated nature of kapha, practice asanas that are more stimulating and heating. Asanas best suited to individuals of kapha nature or imbalance are those that open up the chest. The stomach and chest are the areas where kapha accumulates. In the chest, kapha takes on the form of mucous. These asanas are excellent for the prevention and treatment of congestive conditions like bronchitis and pneumonia as well as constrictive conditions such as asthma and emphysema. These forms are also effective in managing kapha-related depression and lethargy. The physical practice for a kapha constitution/imbalance should be one creating space, stimulation, warmth, and buoyancy. 

For those of kapha nature and imbalance, the calming and sedating effect of most asanas needs to be balanced by other asanas that are more stimulating and heating. People of kapha nature are the best suited to handle strengthening poses, as their joints and muscles tend to be strong and stable. Increasing flexibility is extremely important for those of kapha nature, as kaphas tend to become overly stiff or rigid.


Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutation)

Begin standing with feet hip distance apart and the palms of the hands together at your heart. Inhale as you reach the arms straight out in front of the body and then over head. Open the front of the body by slightly arching the spine. Lift the chin and gaze upward. Bending at the hips, fold forward on the exhalation. Take a deep breath in as you slowly step your left foot back to come into a high runners lunge. Sweep the arms out to the sides and then overhead. Exhale to bring the hands to the floor and step your right foot back (downward facing dog). Feet are a little wider than hip width and your hips and tailbone are reaching up as you lengthen your spine. Secure your upper arms into the shoulder sockets. Inhale as you glide your hips forward bringing them parallel to the earth (plank pose). The entire body is engaged and the limbs extend out from your center.

Slowly begin to lower the body as you exhale (four limb staff pose/chaturanga dandasana). Hug the elbows to the ribs and maintain evenness from the shoulders to the hips. Press through the top of your head and down through the heels of the feet. Inhale as you smoothly transition the chest through your arms into upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana). In upward facing dog, the chest opens and lifts as the hands and tops of the feet support you.

Exhale into downward facing dog. As you inhale, step your left foot forward into a high lunge. Sweep the arms out to the sides and overhead. Exhale to bring the hands down and step the right foot forward to meet the left. Slowly float the upper body up to standing. Arms reach overhead and then exhale to join the palms together and rest the thumbs at your heart.

When doing multiple sun salutations, alternate the leading foot with each round (i.e. in the 2nd round, step the right foot back, then forward; lead with the left foot again on the 3rd round, and so on).

* Note: As an alternate to the four limb staff pose, you may place your knees on the ground, feet off the ground and then hug the elbows into the ribs as you lower the upper body to the earth.

Utkatasana (Chair) 

Begin in mountain pose with your feet hip distance apart, toes turned slightly in. Internally rotate your femurs and on an exhalation bend the knees and come to sit in an imaginary chair. On an inhalation, reach the arms out to the sides and overhead. Spread your fingers. Breathe fully and lengthen your exhalation. As you breathe in chair pose, use the inhalation to roll your pelvis under and exhale to roll the pelvis out increasing the arch of the lumbar spine.

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I)

From mountain pose, step your left foot back. Turn the left foot out about 45 degrees. Keep the right toes pointed forward. Inhale to lengthen the sides of the body and exhale to bend the right leg. Make sure your right knee is directly on top of your right ankle. You may place the hands at the hips or on an inhalation extend the arms laterally and overhead. Palms face one another and the arms run along side the ears. Maintain fluidity by moving with the breath. Inhale to slightly straighten the right leg and exhale to bend the leg.

Forms to be Avoided:

Two weak areas of the body for kapha individuals, however, are the lungs and the kidneys. Asanas that place excessive pressure on the lower abdomen, such as Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), can aggravate the kidneys if held for too long.


Movements Beyond Asana

There are plenty of activities that involve movement that can be incredibly beneficial for recovery that go beyond asana. Here are a few examples!

  • Dancing: great for vata and kapha, also for pitta but with plenty of breaks to cool off
  • Walking: great for everyone!
  • Gentle Jogging: great for kapha
  • HIIT (high intensity interval training): great for pitta and kapha


 WEEK six: Course goals

1. Read through Course Material

2. Complete and Submit Home Activity

3. Complete Reflective Exercise

 week six: Home activity

Download PDF Here 


      Week six: reflective exercise

Take some time this week to observe and reflect on your own physical practice. How is it going? Do you need to make any adjustments to better suit your needs? Do you feel that what you’re practicing is in line with your constitution or with any current imbalances you might be experiencing?




Here is a new, short documentary film called “The Science Behind Yoga” featuring Dr. Bruce Lipton and Sat Bir Khalsa Ph.D, amongst others, as they discuss, you guessed it…the science behind one of our favourite practices. 


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