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Diversity and the Doshas : Using Ayurveda to make Sense of a Class

When I walked into the room to teach in New York City, it was from the back. Most of the people were already in child's pose so it looked like a colourful sea of different rounded humps, lumps and bumps that I would have to weave my way through to get to the front. As I did so,these little balls of humanness would blossom open to sit upright, revealing their faces like a meadow of wild flowers. There was a spectrum of gender, race, age, life experiences and moods all facing forward. All unique. All together. In a sanctuary designed to unite and escape the wild throes of the city.

It was often an intense and wonderful moment.

The studio and lineage was ISHTA Yoga . ISHTA has two meanings; the first is an anacronym for Integrated Science of Hatha Tantra and Ayurveda and the second comes from the word “Ishta Devata”

An Ishta Devata is a hand-selected deity that fits the student’s needs perfectly. So Ishta means “perfect for the individual.” And this is how I was trained to teach. To remind everyone that they are their own beings, and the ‘union’ is finding what is right for them in a pose, to use as many props as creatively as they need and to skip poses that didn’t work towards that, and to rest in child’s pose whenever they felt it would be balancing. To that end, It was perfectly normal ( and ok) to just sit in a chair and participate in vinyasa classes with arms only or stay in child’s pose during sun A’s or do handstand vinyasas …. As long as you knew a) what you were doing and b) why you were doing it.

The studio was always packed. Amongst the confusion and overwhelm of so many bodies, so many expectations and so much energy in the small room, the word ISHTA (individual) acted like an etheric pole in the middle. It guided me in teaching the vast sea of souls seemingly ‘doing their own thing’ and reminded everyone to stay true to themselves

There is much that is done together, the rituals of a yoga studio, the postures, the chanting and of course, the magical moment when all breathing aligns and lifts the energy of asana to a higher realm.

And yet, there is space, for not only the individuality and diversity of each student, but also for the Doshas . Integrating the principles from Ayurveda and guiding a class from this perspective can be a fun reminder of our differences physically, mentally and the way in which we see the world.

One Pose. 3 Doshas.

By the time everyone comes into tadasana after a few sun salutations, it’s pretty clear who’s who in terms of Doshas, not only because of the physical attributes (Vata bodies tend to be long boned and lean, Pitta bodies tend to be athletic and toned and Kapha bodies tend to be robust and steady) but also because of the classic patterns of ‘being-ness’ that goes with each elemental composition.

Tadasana for Vata folks is an absolute bore. They crave movement and to fly like birds, often with their heads in the clouds. The Vata energy plays out as fidgetiness, water sipping and hair fixing. I would remind those who were Vata to resist these micro movements and focus on their feet or legs (maybe even inserting a block). If you notice a lot of vata students in your class it can be beneficial to include plenty of single leg balancing poses.

Tadasana for Pittas is a “justified treat” as they would see it. Pittas have usually been pelting themselves through chaturangas so hard that they welcome Tadasana. From a pitta mentality it is sometimes seen as “acceptable rest” and a chance to check out everyone else in the room. As one of my client’s informed me “Standing still is ok, child’s pose is just too lazy for me”. Their constant comparison and striving often burns them out. Cueing “child’s pose for Pittas” in class means you don’t have to stop the whole class but it’s joyous to watch how happy the pittas are to know that teacher says it’s ok to take a pit stop!. And when you start to feel that Pitta fire bore through you remind them to close their eyes, go inside and give themselves permission to be still and not judge for a moment (in fact, it’s nice for everyone – teacher included!)

Tadasana for Kaphas is a moment of consolidation, especially if they have found themselves in a fast-paced, highly choreographed class. Each Dosha has a different tissue quality. Vatas really feel the freedom and elasticity of tissue, Pittas, the electrical and muscular nature of the body and Kapha’s often find it challenging to find the inner grip available in tadasana. Cues like” tighten around the core and hug into the bones to create a container “ work really well for Kapha but would have the already over-exerted Pitta squeezing so hard their eyeballs would be popping out.


Being able to teach students to use Ayurvedic principles in their practice is a reflection that we are all diverse: from the elements that form us to the lives that we have lived. Our job is to diversify our practice and manage our air, fire, water and earth to create a perfectly balanced planet-body to live in. Then, the gift of yoga allows us to create our unique little world and share it with others.

Article for Yoga Scotland

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1 Comment

Nic, This is a wonderful article describing your Yoga classes and your philosophy. In reading your words, I was "homesick" for my time with you in class. I always did feel like the cues you gave in class were in tune with what I needed at each juncture of postures. In your article for Scotland Yoga, I see the fine-tuning of your many years of Ayurveda study, the art of teaching yoga, and a deep understanding of the human experience with all its intricacies.

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