Where in the world are you? What’s the weather like outside? What’s going on in YOUR world i.e. your body? What’s the weather like inside?
In Ayurveda it’s all about eating and living according to the season (outer climate) and your body type (inner climate). It’s fairly easy to check weather patterns but what about your own body’s tendencies? How well do you know yourself?
Do you tend towards being hot or cold? Is your skin dry or moist? Do you gain weight easily or find it hard to retain? Are you sensitive to heat, cold or damp? How is your digestion? How is your appetite? Are you a fast mover, talker and walker or slow, patient and calm? Do you sleep deep or wake up frequently? Do you sweat a lot in practice?
Evaluating these tendencies and many more over your entire life, not just in the present moment, can help determine your unique mind body constitution / prakriti. This gives you extremely valuable information about your own inner climate which, when evaluated along with the climate you’re living in, can be extremely useful in determining the best way to eat, live and even practice at any given time of year, to create vitality in your body and balance in your life.
In the ancient science of life and living there are 3 basic energies of life or doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha, which are a combination of the 5 elements in nature: Vata – air & space; Pitta – fire & water; Kapha – earth & water.
Most people’s constitutions are made predominantly of two – a primary and a secondary dosha. Plenty of online questionnaires are available to help you determine your prakriti but being objective with yourself can be hard and often there’s a tendency to answer based on your current state rather than looking at your whole life.
So consulting an Ayurvedic doctor is highly recommended to truly discover your own nature. I would even go as far as saying it can be life changing if you take on the guidelines for living according to your constitution – it was for me! Your prakriti can never change but what can and will change is your vikruti / imbalance, depending your lifestyle. So anyone can have an imbalance in any of the doshas but once you know your constitution it’s so much easier to see your natural tendencies and to keep things in check.
The doshas in summary
Vata types are airy, cool and light and spend a lot of time in their heads, thinking. When balanced, they are creative, good communicators, artistic, adaptable, alert, enthusiastic, spontaneous, intuitive and charismatic. Imbalances will show up as mental & physical over activity, sensitivity to people and environments, sleep issues, a lack of confidence, being judgmental, disorganised, forgetful and fearful.
In our modern fast-paced world, anyone can be susceptible to a vata imbalance especially if life is stressful and you’re running around jacked up on caffeine and sugar. Even I, as a kapha-pitta, have experienced a vata imbalance from a work-hard, play-hard lifestyle for too many years. What fixed it? Complete change of lifestyle, career and climate, slowing down and practicing more yoga!
Vata types need warm, calming foods and activities. Sweet, sour and salty tastes calm the nervous system down. Raw food, being cold and dry, will only aggravate vata further (more on this topic at a later date!).
Pitta types are hot, fiery, and competitive, they are sensitive to hot weather, overheating easily, experience inflamed tissues if out of balance, yet they rarely get sick because their systems burn toxins quickly. When balanced, a pitta person has excellent digestion, clear eyes, radiant skin, good muscle tone, a healthy sex drive, they are passionate, determined, ambitious, funny, perceptive, confident, make excellent leaders and have a sharp intellect. A pitta imbalance will show up as intensity, stubbornness, jealousy, aggression, egotistical tendencies, agitation, impatience, control and attention seeking.
You might recognise some of these qualities in the business leaders of the world! Pitta is the fire needed for action. Thank goodness I have a healthy dose of it or I’d never get on the mat, certainly not to practice Ashtanga anyway!
To balance pitta, foods and activities should be cooling and soothing, avoiding too much spice, heat and intense activity.
Kapha types are calm, slow and earthy with more solid body types. In a balanced state a kapha person is patient, sweet, gentle, forgiving, emotionally stable, loyal, nurturing, community orientated, enjoys helping others and entertaining, a good listener and generally deeply satisfied with life.
On the other hand an imbalance will show up as depression, lethargy, heaviness, greed, being attached to people and things, introversion, complacency, being easily taken advantage of and accumulating weight easily. Kapha time of year in the Northern Hemisphere is now– cold, wet and damp. Mucus and colds are signs of a kapha imbalance.
To balance kapha activities should be stimulating and exhilarating and foods should be bitter, pungent and astringent – lots of greens and spices, while reducing mucus-forming foods like dairy, soy and grains.
So Ayurveda is about bringing balance to life. Opposites balance while like increases like – this is the tricky bit. We’re often attracted to things similar in nature to us but what we need is often the opposite. E.g. if you have the winter chills you need soups, stews and hot drinks, and to leave those cold green smoothies and salads until summer time – they may have healthy ingredients but they ain’t gonna warm that body!
Or, if you’re suddenly dealing with excess sweat or burn out, having gone from a cold climate to practice in the tropics or Mysore, you need to slow down, cool down, stay out of the sun, avoid spicy foods and best of all…enjoy lots of coconuts! So to eat, live and practice in a way to balance – check in with yourself. Each individual is unique. Check your outer world and know your inner world. One will often reflect the other. As Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie put it: “We are the world…”!!
PS. For those interested – I had my life-changing consultation with Prem & Radha, my Ashtanga teachers in Bali. They bring Ayurveda into everything. The days I’d be feeling a bit kapha, Prem would spot it straight away and I’d hear, “come on Anthea, speed it up!” Other times the heat would get too much and I’d come out in skin rashes – pitta alert! Check them out if you’re passing through Bali. If you’re lucky you might catch a cooking class with Radha and learn how to make the best dosha balancing kitchari ever! www.asthangayogabali.com.