Spring is the season for energetic, heart-opening yoga. The right practice helps to balance the effects of nature and increased kapha dosha, which is the cause of spring colds, sinusitis, allergies, congestion, and asthma. Asanas which open the chest and pranayama that warm and invigorate should be part of every yogi’s spring practice.
Ayurveda follows the laws of nature—even when it comes to yoga. In nature, opposites bring balance: heat balances cold and oil balances dryness. Nature follows certain truths and examples abound. The goal of a springtime yoga practice is to balance the kapha dosha, which accumulates in winter and spring with coldness and wetness. (Learn The Three Doshas of Ayurveda.)
Kapha is heavy, cold, dense, and easily stagnates. Following nature’s law of opposites, yoga which balances kapha is energetic, warming, and invigorating. It targets the chest and head as these are areas where kapha is strongest. (How to Eat for Your Dosha Type.)
The following principles and practices will help make any spring yoga session more in line with nature’s effects.
Bump It Up Without Overdoing It
Generally speaking, kapha is balanced by vigorous exercise. Yoga styles like vinyasa flow and power are best for spring since they’re so movement-oriented and increase body heat. Plus, kapha is easily stagnated, so short holds and a variety of asanas are especially balancing. A springtime yoga practice can be more lively and fun than say a fall yoga practice, which should be slower and gentler to balance the vata dosha.
That being said, be careful not to overdo it. Yoga may be more "balanced" than other forms of exercise, but modern yoga has a tendency to push the body too far. Ayurveda recommends that we only exercise to about 50% of our natural capacity and stop when we start to sweat or can’t catch our breath. This guideline may be a little outdated—it was offered a few thousand years ago when daily living required quite a bit more physical activity then we get now. Gone are the days of farming for our own food or washing our clothes by hand, which were intense workouts in themselves. These days, we’re much more sedentary and need some extra push to stay balanced. But going too far beyond our capacity is imbalancing in itself. So while a faster flow and shorter holds are good for spring, we should never push so hard that we leave yoga class exhausted. (Learn a Vinyasa Sequence For Beginners.)
Rise and Flow
Early morning is the best time for all exercise, especially in spring. Yogi’s refer to the pre-dawn hours as brahma muhurta; an auspicious time of day that lends itself to spiritual practices (like yoga). It’s early, though—brahma muhurta starts around 4:30am! This may not be realistic for all, but practicing yoga between 6am and 10am and as early in that window as possible is still beneficial. (Read about The Time of Brahma Muhurta.)
As kapha dominates nature between 6am and 10am (morning fog and dew, a certain heaviness in the atmosphere), a little lively yoga helps to balance the kapha within. It staves off sluggishness and can impart a certain unparalleled energy and freshness. (Learn 6 Ways to Start a Yoga Practice at Home.)
Target The Chest
While a balanced yoga practice targets the entire body, a springtime practice should incorporate more heart and chest openers. Kapha dominates the upper region of the body and tends to clog the upper body channels when it’s imbalanced—think mucus, chest colds, and sinusitis.
Helpful springtime yoga postures are warrior one, warrior two, dancer's pose, cobra pose, bow pose, locust pose, camel pose, fish pose, wheel pose, upward-facing dog, and cow face pose. Most of these postures are mild or moderate backbends which open the lungs and increase breathing capacity. They not only correct, but also prevent kapha imbalances.
Use Your Breath
The right springtime pranayama is incredibly helpful in balancing kapha. Warming and invigorating practices like bellows breath (bhastrika), shining skull (kapalabhati), and breath of fire (agni prasana) all work wonders to cleanse the sinuses, boost digestion, and increase body temperature. They’re so effective that they can even remove kapha phlegm on the spot! For vata types, even a more mild but warming practice like right nostril breathing (surya bhedan) helps to balance springtime’s kapha increase. (Learn 5 Yogic Breathing Exercises.)
To get the most from these breathing exercises, they’re best practiced in the early morning hours. They invigorate the mind and bring as much alertness as a strong cup of coffee. Traditionally, all pranayama are done after asana and before meditation.
When designing a springtime yoga sequence or practice, keep the following principles in mind. If possible, practice in the early morning hours. Use shorter holds and choose a sequence that’s both playful and challenging, incorporate backbends that open the chest, and include warming, invigorating pranayama. Work up a sweat but never compromise fluid breath. Stop at around 60-70% of the body’s capacity. And of course, end with savasana, but keep it a little on the shorter side for kapha’s sake. (Read more in Rejuvenating in Savasana.)