What we want isn't always what we need. We tend to feel more balanced (sattvic) after the practice we need—the one that helps us bring into balance excesses and deficiencies. One of the best diagnostic tools for what we need is the breath. The goal of having an asana practice is to enable our breath to be deep, full and relaxed.
Diagnose Your Current State
The first step in determining what type of yoga you’re in the mood for is checking in with your breath. If it’s already deep, full and relaxed, any practice that keeps you in balance is fine. However, regardless of your initial mood, end each practice with savasana.
Balancing Shallow Breathing
Breath that is short, shallow and high up in the chest often corresponds to anxious thoughts. When we feel this way, the idea of being still can be a challenge, and yet fast-paced practices tend to do little to balance our breath or mind.
You might start with a few Sun Salutations to appease your mind and then move into either an Iyengar-style strong, alignment-based practice followed by a couple restorative poses.
Balancing Sluggish Belly Breath
Some days we feel like we can’t possibly do anything. If you’re exhausted or depleted, especially if you haven’t slept enough, consider Restorative yoga or yoga nidra (a form of guided meditation practised in savasana). Otherwise, if you’re feeling more stuck or down, some movement will likely be beneficial, and vinyasa could be a good choice.
Balancing Strong Breath
This breathing pattern is a call to take it easy. Avoid opportunities for criticism of self and others. Avoid especially strenuous practices like Ashtanga in favour of those that will leave the belly and lower back relaxed. A gentle flow into Restorative or Yin yoga can help take the edge off.
Balancing Any Breathing Pattern
In addition to balancing sluggish belly breath, yoga nidra is also a good, sattvic practice for balancing any breathing pattern.
Experience will teach you how to adapt the generalities below to your personal practice. Our cultural bias is to try to fit more, do more, demand more. This means that finding balance usually requires doing less, creating space and establishing pathways to relaxation.