This is an important part of the sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda that affects every part of our life regardless of whether you practice yoga or live an Ayurvedic lifestyle. Let's start simply by taking a look at the gunas/qualities.
Heavy (guru) - Light (laghu)
Cold (sita) - Hot (ushna)
Unctuous (snigdha) - Dry (ruksha)
Dull (manda) - Sharp (tiskna)
Smooth (slaksna) - Rough (khara)
Solid (sandra) - Liquid (drava)
Soft (mrdu) - Hard (kathina)
Static (sthira) - Moving/mobile (cala)
Gross (sthula) - Subtle (suskma)
Cloudy, slimy (piccila) - Clear, not slimy (vishada)
Slow (manda) - Tiksna (quick, fast)
Looking at these gunas/qualities, when we have too much heaviness in the body, we need lightness for balance. When there is too much cold, we need warmth. If there is too much movement, we need stillness. If we are feeling heavy and add heavy foods we are only going to continue feeling heavy. If we add more coldness to a cold drink it will continue to be cold. This should make sense, yes?
Let's take those concepts and apply them a little deeper. I hope to make this as clear for you as I can: like attracts like and opposites balance. This is one of the foundational principles of Yoga and Ayurveda that I invite you to reflect on regularly - not just daily, but throughout your day. As one of my teacher's once stated, "Is the practice that makes you feel good, the practice that is good for you?" There is a tendency to practice what feels good in the moment, or makes us feel good afterward, but that is not always what is best for us. We tend to be drawn to things that are similar to us, which actually can lead to imbalance or further feed our current imbalance.
If we are in balance, what we crave is what we need to sustain that balance. If we are in a state of imbalance we might be craving that which creates balance, or more frequently we might be craving that which increases our imbalance making it worse. This is one of the most important reflections in our day-to-day life, and it can be tricky, even for those of us that practice this reflection regularly. Ayurvedically, are you craving salt because your body needs it, to help balance your vata? Or are you craving it because your pitta is actually out of balance? Regarding your yoga practice, are you craving a high movement yoga class because it is what your body needs to find balance (too much kapha), or are you craving it because your vata is out of balance so it keeps wanting to move more and more? These are really important things to reflect on as they affect our health substantially.
A personal example I can share with you is that I loved aerial arts at one point in time. I still do. However, aerial arts is a lot of air and wind, thus vata. When I was regularly practicing aerial arts my autoimmune numbers flared and I didn't know why. Nothing was different, except for focusing more regularly on aerial arts. I decided to see what happened if I stopped, though my heart was so in love with aerial arts. Sure enough, my autoimmune numbers disappeared and was back in remission. It was way too much vata for my vata/pitta autoimmune. What happens when we put air and wind on fire? The fire spreads, and can spread rapidly. So, I love aerial arts and I'm drawn to it (probably due to my vata imbalance), but it only brought dysfunction so I had to let it go. I had worked so hard to reverse my autoimmune - nothing is worth having it come back.
These imbalances that are caused by our lifestyle can be seen in other ways as well. I will never forget one of my experiences at the Sedona Yoga Festival. As at any yoga festival, it can be great if you really look at how to create balance in your life by contemplating this like attracts like and opposites balance idea rather than immediately selecting those classes that you think you want to take - respond rather than react, yes? Regardless, I was eating dinner at a restaurant and the server came up to me and said, "Thank you so much for being kind and patient. It's been a rough weekend." When I asked why, do you know what they said? They mentioned how the Sedona Yoga Festival is going on and how everyone who comes in arrives with their yoga mats and is so rude and demanding, that all the employees at their restaurant dreads this time of year. This made me so sad. If these yogis were practicing yoga (that which is to create balance by clearing out the physical and mental clutter) these restaurant servers would not feel this way. I have seen time and time again how the current yoga trends and practices are creating more imbalanced yogis rather than balanced yogis. We all have our moments, don't get me wrong, but this is a great example of too much like attracting like rather than opposites balancing.
So, how does this relate to you - whether you practice yoga or not?
Yoga asana/postures can increase, decrease, and balance the doshas. Your practice affects you more than you realize. Learn to understand yoga from this perspective so you can better plan your individualized practice. This is why 1:1 sessions are so important.
Your activities that you love can do the same - reflect on whether they are bringing balance or imbalance to your life.
Pay attention and reflect on your food cravings. Are you craving sweets? Is it to balance your vata or pitta? Or is it feeding the imbalance of kapha?
Is your workout intense because you need it to be for balance? Or is it creating more dysfunction?
Are you tired because you really do need to sit on the couch and do nothing? Or are you tired because you haven't been moving enough lately?
Reflect and make choices with awareness.
Does this mean you cannot do those things you love, that are bringing you imbalance? Not necessarily. For example, I have had a chronic vata imbalance that I'm working with. I absolutely love backpacking: consistent long hours of pushing the body - very depleting and vata aggravating. Does that mean I cannot do that? Well, not necessarily. I'm going to still backpack. In fact, I have a once in a lifetime 135 mile trip coming up this summer. What do I do? Well, I know vata is going to be aggravated and will cause massive issues afterwards if I don't take precautions. So, I plan on adding vata pacifying practices and herbs before, during, and after that backpacking trip so I can maintain a sense of balance, rather than instigate dysfunction and dis-ease from an activity that brings me so much joy. It's also not as if I'm doing this every day - that is a big difference. Ayurveda and yoga are not about micromanaging, it is about finding that balance that is uniquely you. There are ways, to an extent, to balance out some of the things you love that may be causing imbalances. The first step is awareness and reflection.