Balancing Pitta Dosha using Yoga Practices

Dr. Shaun Matthews (Shantideva, Australia)

In the ancient, scientific traditions of India, Yoga and Ayurveda are considered as sister sciences. Both sciences were first written in Sanskrit. Yoga means the experience of union with the divine or inner being, and Ayurveda means the science or knowledge of life or living. As such they are complementary, with Ayurveda focusing more on the physical plane and Yoga on the spiritual.

Ayurveda describes three humours or motivating principles called doshas, which are necessary for all living beings whether plant, animal or human. They are vata, pitta and kapha, represented in the body by wind, bile and mucus respectively. Vata is responsible for the movement of the organism, without and within. Pitta is responsible for metabolism and the processes of transformation, and kapha is responsible for form and structure.

Disease is said to be the result of an imbalance in one or more of the three doshas. In order to maintain good health and prevent disease we need to be constantly monitoring and balancing the doshas of our bodies and minds. Pitta dosha is a waste product of the blood. How can we know pitta dosha? In the ancient texts it is defined in terms of its attributes or qualities (gunas). The Charaka Samhita, one of the foremost ancient texts in Ayurveda, describes pitta as 'slightly unctuous, hot, sharp, liquid, sour, mobile and pungent.' Pitta dosha is located primarily in the region of the stomach, liver and duodenum (or first part of the small intestine). It pervades the entire body and is also important in the eyes. skin, sweat glands, brain and heart. Thus, when aggravated it can produce signs and symptoms in any part of the body.

How do we know when pitta dosha is out of balance? The Charaka Samhita says 'when it (pitta) enters into different parts of the body it exhibits burning, heat, inflammation, perspiration, moisture, sloughing, itching, discharge and redness.' So where there is inflammation, pitta dosha is involved.

At the mental level pitta is responsible for discrimination, incisive thinking and functioning of the Intellect. On the emotional level it is concerned with courage, enthusiasm joy and passion. When aggravated or out of balance it may manifest as one of the 'hot' emotions such as rage, impatience, irritability, frustration and resentment.

How can we balance this dosha using the practices of Hatha Yoga? As heat is a cardinal quality of pitta, by utilising yogic practices which have a cooling effect on the body and mind, we can pacify or balance an aggravated pitta dosha, using the law of opposites to harmonise the system. This is the first approach.

The cooling pranayamas sheetali and sheetkari, are likely to be of benefit in balancing pitta dosha. In sheetali cooled air is inhaled into the lungs, thereby cooling the whole body, as blood circulates from the lungs, back to the heart and to the entire body. In sheetkari the blood vessels under the tongue are exposed to tine cool, inhaled air which cools the blood in the vessels which then circulates around the body.

The second approach to balancing pitta dosha using Hatha Yoga. practices is to harmonise the functioning of the organs in the body where pitta is concentrated particularly the stomach, duodenum and liver. Pitta is represented by bile. It governs the digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients in the body and also plays a central role in metabolism, or conversion of food into energy.

The practice of asanas that have a beneficial effect on the upper part of the abdomen can improve the functioning of the liver, stomach and duodenum. A sluggish liver can be related to factors such as overeating, poor choice of foods, sedentary lifestyle and. suppression of emotions. In Ayurveda, suppression of anger, in particular, can impair liver function and aggravate pitta dosha. It is important to practise asanas that suit your ability and experience. Forcing an asana is more likely to aggravate pitta than pacify it.

The following asanas will be useful in balancing pitta dosha.

Beginners:

  • (i) Pawanmuktasana II: leg lock, naukasana;
  • (ii) shakti bandhas Nauka Sanchalanasana, Chakki chalana;
  • (iii) standing: tadasana, tiryaka tadasana;
  • (iv) from Surya Namaskar: Pada hastasana, ashwa Sanchalanasana, hasta utthanasana;
  • (v) backward bending: Bhujangasana, tiryaka Bhujangasana, sphinx, shalabhasana, sarpasana;
  • (vi) forward bending: paschimottanasana, Pada hastasana;
  • (vii) spinal twists: trikonasana, meru wakrasana, bhunamanasana and ardha matsyendrasana.

Intermediate:

  • supta vajrasana, sarvangasana, vipareeta karani mudra, halasana, merudandasana and sirshasana.

Advanced:

  • yoga mudra, matsyasana, baddha padmasana, tolangulasana, mayurasana, hamsasana and brahmacharyasana.

Forward bending asanas compress and massage the organs of the upper abdomen; backward bending postures squeeze the abdominal organs; spinal twists alternately compress and stretch the liver, stomach and duodenum; inverted poses allow blood accumulated in the abdomen to drain back to the heart; and the shakti bandhas help to remove energy blocks in the region of manipura chakra which is closely related to the functioning of the digestive system and the absorption of food. Many postures also encourage belching, allowing wind to be removed from the stomach. Both uddiyana bandha and maha band ha are useful in toning the organs of the upper abdomen, stimulating the digestive fire and massaging the liver and intestines, thereby helping to balance pitta dosha.

A third approach to balancing pitta dosha is to adopt an appropriate attitude to sadhana. An out of balance pitta may manifest as impatience, aggressiveness, forcefulness, intensity and competitiveness. The adoption of a relaxed, non-hurried, gentle and patient attitude to one's sadhana will definitely have a very positive effect. In the ayurvedic scheme, body and mind are in constant, dynamic interaction, influencing each other from moment to moment.

In Ayurveda, the treatment of choice to eliminate excess bile (pitta) from the body is purgation therapy. Laghoo shankaprakshalana and full shankaprakshalana will, therefore, be of great benefit for the balancing of pitta dosha.

In summary, we can see that by using Hatha Yoga practices such as cooling pranayamas, asanas, mudras and bandhas that tone the organs of pitta in the upper abdomen, and by adopting a relaxed intention to sadhana practice, we can effectively balance pitta dosha in our body and mind, thus taking an active role in healing ourselves.