Breathe to Stay Balanced: Ayurvedic Pranayama to Enhance Your Energy

Photo credit: Kadri Kurgun

Kripalu School of Ayurveda

Have you noticed that your mental and physical energy levels, strength, mood, and cravings change from hour to hour? If the day feels like a rollercoaster ride of peaking and crashing prana (life energy), you may be in need of dosha balancing.

According to Ayurveda, the doshas (vata, pitta, and  kapha) not only govern the seasons of the year and the stages of life, they also govern the different times of day. From sunrise to sunset, each dosha rules a four-hour period, performing specific functions and giving a unique flavor to every time of day. So, as the hours tick by, we’re influenced by changing qualities and moods. If these qualities accumulate in excess in the body and mind during a particular time period, due to diet and lifestyle choices, that’s when our doshas can become imbalanced.

But we can sustain harmony by skillfully adapting our choices and practices. Pranayama practices (yogic breathing exercises) are particularly helpful in balancing the doshic qualities. Simply sprinkle a few practices throughout your day to keep the doshas and their qualities in check.

Here’s how the doshas generally affect the different times of day, and how to choose a pranayama to keep you feeling energized and in harmony.

Kapha Dosha

  • Time: 6:00–10:00 am
  • Tone: Kapha dosha is heavy, dense, and steady—giving us our greatest strength and endurance of the day. Ever notice how packed gyms get during kapha time? It’s not just work schedules—it’s nature calling to get you up and moving!  
  • Challenge: The slow, thick, sticky qualities of kapha will accumulate and cause discomfort if this time of morning is not balanced with activity. Sleeping late, skipping exercise or eating a heavy breakfast can trigger excess kapha, leaving you feeling sluggish, foggy, or congested.
  • Pranayama: Ayurveda recommends using opposite qualities to create balance. Since kapha is slow, heavy, cool, and damp, choose a pranayama that’s quick, light, warm, and drying. A few minutes of Kapalabhati, Bhastrika, sun breaths, or Ujjayi should do the trick, as they’re all good for heating, stimulating, and enhancing circulation—great for the kapha time of day. 

Pitta Dosha

  • Time: 10:00 am–2:00 pm
  • Tone: Pitta dosha contains fire; during the midday hours, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, our emotional and digestive fire is at its sharpest. When we feel alert and on point, it’s a good time to make decisions and get things done. Ayurveda also recommends having the biggest meal of your day at lunchtime, because pitta governs both mental and physical digestion and needs some serious fuel by then.
  • Challenge: As internal fire builds in the late morning and early afternoon, a stressful or intense day often fans the flames of pitta, resulting in too much fiery sharpness. That can leave you feeling short-tempered, impatient, agitated, or troubled by acid indigestion. 
  • Pranayama: Balance the sharp heat of pitta with tranquil cooling. This is an excellent time of day for a quiet break—a few minutes to refresh the body and mind. To ease internal heat, try Sheetali pranayama, the cooling breath—a quick way to calm acid reflux or mental irritation.

Vata Dosha

  • Time: 2:00–6:00 pm
  • Tone: Vata dosha governs the movement of thoughts through the mind and the movement of nerve impulses through the nervous system (in addition to all physical movements). Its light, subtle, mobile qualities provide enthusiasm and creativity during the late afternoon. This is an ideal time for brainstorming, artistic expression, and creative writing.
  • Challenge: If the day’s been too full of movement, change, stress or chaos, vata might feel spun out—like a tornado, instead of a smooth breeze. We often experience a vata crash as an energy lull in the late afternoon. If it feels like the brain has shut down and the body is craving coffee and treats, it’s likely that vata has been overworked and is in need of rejuvenation.
  • Pranayama: Soothe the nervous system with slow, grounding, calming pranayama. Nadi Shodhana is ideal, as it helps balance the ida and pingala nadis (two main channels of prana, governing the lunar and solar sides of the mind—the creative and pragmatic hemispheres of the brain). Gentle diaphragmatic breaths are also excellent, as they help anchor scattered vata and settle the mind. It’s a great time of day to do some gentle breathing and then rest in Savasana or Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall) for a few minutes, helping to reduce stress and restore rhythm.

Here’s how to practice pranayamas that will support you throughout the day.

Kapha: Kapalabhati

  • Sit comfortably with a long spine and your hands in your lap. Close your eyes and soften your facial muscles. Inhale deeply to begin a series of inhales and exhales.
  • Breathe in and out through the nose in active, crisp exhalations—quick, sharp puffs of air, like blowing out a candle with your nose—and allow your inhale to be passive and silent. The power comes from the core, so keep your spine long and belly open to allow full range of movement in your diaphragm. 
  • Continue for 30 seconds, tuning into the enlivening warmth and clarity of Kapalabhati, then return to natural breathing.
  • Always practice Kapalabhati on an empty stomach. Avoid during pregnancy, or if you have heart or respiratory conditions.

Pitta: Sheetali

  • Take a steady, comfortable seat. Close your eyes and rest your upturned palms on your lap or thighs. Draw in a long, refreshing breath through a curled tongue. (If your tongue doesn’t curl, inhale through the space between your teeth.) 
  • After inhaling, lightly touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Close the mouth while exhaling through the nose. Repeat in a satisfying rhythm—inhaling though the curled tongue, exhaling though the nose, as the tip of the tongue lightly touches the roof of your mouth.
  • Continue for two to three minutes, or until you feel mentally and physically refreshed. Scan for calmness, coolness, and spaciousness in body and mind.

Vata: Nadi Shodhana

  • Find a comfortable seat. Make sure you’re warm enough—perhaps turn down the a/c or drape a shawl over your shoulders. Close your eyes.
  • Gently close the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale slowly through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the ring finger. Lift the thumb and exhale soothingly down the right nostril. Inhale back up the right nostril. Switch to exhale left.
  • Continue at a steady, comfortable rhythm. The breath should be relaxing, comforting and quieting. Continue for five to 10 minutes, or until you feel recharged. Attune to the precious rejuvenation offered by this breathing practice.
  • If one of your nostrils is congested or if you have a deviated septum, you can practice Nadi Shodhana without blocking off the nostrils. Simply visualize the breath flowing from side to side as you follow the pattern above.

Find out about upcoming programs with Larissa Hall Carlson, Kripalu Schools faculty and former Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda.

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