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Yoga for Alphas


“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.”
- Patanjali, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Woman doing yoga at sunset

I have a love/hate relationship with my personality type. I am productive, ambitious, and rarely lazy. I’m very quick and am a fast learner. I work hard and play hard. I expect a lot from myself and just as much from others around me. I am very organized, so much so that it borderlines on obsessive compulsive behavior. I am a leader but I also know how to follow others who might know better than I do. I don’t sleep well. I can never seem to relax or still my mind’s racing thoughts. I am easily angered and annoyed. As a perfectionist, I am never fully satisfied. I am an alpha female.

In the yoga world we would call this a pitta personality type. This comes from the Ayurvedic (ancient Indian medicinal system) tenet that there are three “energies” or humors that govern the human body and all bodily functions, called doshas. The three doshas are:

  • kapha: earth + water -- governs nose, mouth, throat, and lungs. Kapha personalities are peaceful, calm, motherly, tolerant, patient, lethargic, and helpful. Larger body type.
  • pitta: fire + water -- governs liver, spleen, pancreas, and stomach. Pitta personalities are stubborn, goal-oriented, motivated, impatient, meticulous, irritable, and efficient. Medium build body type.
  • vata: air + space -- governs small and large intestines, colon, and body movement. Vata personalities are highly energetic, garrulous, artistic, unorganized, worrisome, emotional, and have poor decision-making skills. Small body type.

Balancing your doshas is the key to optimal mind/body/spirit health, according to Ayurvedic teachings. Determining your dosha will help you figure out what types of yoga and/or meditation methods will be most beneficial to you. If you are pitta like me, all of that negative, hostile energy that tends to accumulate needs to be neutralized. Here’s a list of tips to help balance a pitta dosha:

  • When exercising or practicing yoga, take it easy. Although it is in our nature to overdo it and push our bodies to the max, this will throw our energy levels all out of whack. It is suggested to reach about 50% of your body’s capacity and then back off.
  • Listen to your body. When I ignore my body’s natural cues (sleep, eating habits, not running over shin splints, etc.), my emotions are usually the first to become compromised. I like to feel level-headed. The easiest way for me to do this is through body optimization. If I am strong, energized, and not overly tired or lethargic, I will be in the perfect physical condition to handle any given situation that may occur throughout my day.
  • Regular eating habits. It is hard for pitta personalities, commonly gifted with speedy metabolisms, to skip meals or diet. So don’t! Eating small meals every four hours, the largest of which should be at lunch, will keep your body size and digestion on track. It is recommended for pittas to avoid overly spicy or hot foods, the reasoning being: if you are rajasic (intense, compulsive, energized), you need to consume foods that will “cool off” a hot head or bad temper.
  • In the yoga studio, keep your eyes to yourself. As one of my yoga instructors would say, “this is not watchashana”. I am easily distracted and as my eyes start floating around the room, they frequently will fixate on a yogi that is prettier, thinner, more flexible than myself. Then I get a little bit jealous and overwhelmed with negative self-talk and self-criticism. That’s not why I came to yoga! Sometimes it helps if I bring a friend to class or get a spot in the corner, so that I am not surrounded by others and am less likely to become distracted.
  • In the heat of the moment, breathe. I manage stressful moments with deep breathing techniques. Here’s a quick relaxation technique: Inhale slowly through the nose, expanding from the diaphragm, while slowly counting to ten. Pause for a couple seconds, then exhale deeply from the core through the mouth while counting to ten. Repeat a few times and you will notice a difference!
  • Stay connected to the earth. Nature walks, eating meals outside, and running on trails is very therapeutic and helps me stay level-headed.
  • Open-eyed meditation. If I try meditating with my eyes closed, I spend the whole time trying to focus on KEEPING my eyes closed. If your eyes want to stay open, let it be. Open eye meditation improves focus and increases energy. Just make sure to find a meditation spot free from distractions. To focus your attention, find a drishti, or gazing spot.
  • Aromatherapy. I have found particular scents and smells to have not only a profound effect on my mood, but on my memory as well. I light a lavender candle every night after dinner. Other calming scents include: aniseed, cajeput, cedarwood, chamomile, sage, lemongrass, sandalwood, and ylang ylang.
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