by Mariko Hirakawa, B.A.M.S., D.Ay., E-RYT
It is said good and bad things come in threes. Take the Three Wise Men, the Three Blind Mice, The Three Stooges, the Three Musketeers. It seems it takes 3 to create some drama!
In the story of Ayurveda, depending on the state of your health right now, Vata, Pitta and Kapha can each be the villain or “the good guy”.
If we can take the drama analogy a bit further, there is a “back story” to help us understand how each of these “characters” came to be.
As many of you know, Ayurveda is the ancient healing science of India. In my last post, we went deep into Samkhya philosophy, which describes the Creation Theory on which both Ayurveda and Yoga are based. At the very end of the “step-down” process of physical manifestation, we saw the emergence of the Five Great Elements:
The understanding that everything in existence is composed of the Five Elements is one of the most powerful converging points between Yoga and Ayurveda. This is why they are often called “sister sciences”. They share the same world-view and speak the same language based on the Elements.
It’s important to understand from the beginning that an “Element” in Ayurveda is not to be understood in a literal way, but as energy principles that are present in the physical world.
Space is the medium in which all elements exist. It is the basis for our linear experience of time.
Air is the principle of movement (kinetic energy).
Fire is the principle of transformation, transmutation, illumination and heat.
Water stands for the principle of lubrication, cleansing and nourishment.
Earth is the principle of cohesion, stability, and anabolism.
The story of Ayurveda begins when a triad is born out of this pentad.
This triad, Vata, Pitta and Kapha, are known as doshas, often translated as “bio-humours” for the lack of better words.
Because each dosha is a combination of two Elements, they have more personality.
In another words, doshas have the ability to invade healthy tissue and independently initiate the disease process.
The ancient classic Ashtanga Hridaya explains that when the doshas are in balance, they each perform functions that are necessary for homeostasis, but when they are imbalanced, they are the agents of disease.
Each of us are born with a unique ratio-configuration of Vata, Pitta and Kapha known as Janma Prakriti, your natal constitution. This specific combination is determined at the time of conception, and is our genetic blueprint for life.
Most of us have one or two doshas that are dominant, and this creates certain ingrained tendencies in our psycho-physiology that form a pattern.
Understanding this unique configuration of doshas is the key to self-healing and self-discovery that is at the heart of Ayurvedic medicine.
Let’s take a brief tour of each of the doshas, so that we can begin to get a sense of the personality of each character in our triad.
Vata is composed of Space and Air elements. Vata is the subtlest of the doshas, and although it is invisible, it is recognized by the qualities of dryness, cold, lightness, roughness, and mobile nature.
It is considered the “leader” of all doshas, because the most difficult to control, and hence, most prone to imbalance. Its main terrain is the nervous system. It governs all movement, from the transport of substances across cellular membranes to gross physical movements.
In balance, it promotes creativity and flexibility. Out of balance, it produces fear, anxiety, and physical issues such as dry skin, constipation, cracking joints, nervous system disorders.
If Vata is dominant in your constitution, you most likely have a have light, flexible body with prominent joints. You tend to move quickly, speak quickly, learn quickly and also forget quickly as well.
You have a natural sense of enthusiasm, but you tend to run out of steam and get fatigued easily. When under stress, you tend to get anxious and fearful, and may have trouble sleeping at night.
To keep Vata in balance, make dietary and lifestyle choices that ground and stabilize. Get your life into a regular rhythm! Keep warm and seek foods that are warming. Allow yourself to be nourished physically, mentally and emotionally.
Pitta is Water plus Fire. Because Fire cannot exist by itself in the human body, Nature has contained it in the liquid medium in the form of acids, enzymes, and hormones.
Its primary qualities are hot, sharp, oily, light, spreading and liquid in nature.
It governs digestion, assimilation and metabolism on all levels. In balance, it promotes intelligence and understanding. Out of balance, it arouses anger, frustration, aggressiveness and tends to cause hyperacidity, liver disorders and inflammatory diseases.
If you are born with a Pitta dominant Prakriti, you are purpose-driven, often ambitious, and have a penetrating intensity about you. You are highly disciplined, and a natural leader, but you can be judgmental and overcritical due to your perfectionistic streak.
Under stress, you tend to be very irritable, or flare up in anger.
Pitta people need to learn to keep their cool – literally and figuratively.
Because of the intensity of your nature, it is important to find outlets that allow you to release and diffuse that intensity from time to time. Seek foods, activities, and environment that are pleasant and cooling.
Instead of trying to dominate everything and everyone, be receptive. Give others a chance! When you learn to harness the best side of Pitta, you will truly be appreciated for your brilliance and wisdom.
Kapha is the most stable of the three doshas, being composed of Water and Earth. It is present as the structural components of the body such as the bones, muscles, and adipose tissue. It is also present in the mucous membranes, and the marrow that fills the bones.
Water and Earth give the Kapha the qualities of heavy, slow, cool, oily, liquid, slimy, dense, soft, static , hard and gross.
It keeps the system hydrated and nourished, and maintains immunity. In balance, the stability of Kapha promotes even temper, compassion, calmness and forgiveness. Kapha people are blessed with great stamina, but they need motivation to get moving.
Out of balance, it can cause slow digestion and metabolism, leading to weight gain and congestive disorders. The mental/emotional symptoms of Kapha include excessive attachment to people or things, greed, possessiveness and a sense of being stuck in life.
The key to balancing Kapha is to keep moving. A sedentary way of life is the worst enemy for Kapha!
Schedule regular exercise into your routine, and stick to it. Seek foods, activities and environment that are warming, energizing, and create a sense of lightness in your being.
Learn to let go of things that no longer serve you. Keep an open mind, and seek to learn something new everyday.
Do any of the above descriptions ring a bell? Or perhaps there were elements of each that resonated with you. Most of us have one or two doshas that are out of balance.
To discover the precise ratio of your natal constitution, it is best to consult an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner.
Understanding Vata, Pitta and Kapha is the foundation of a whole new way of looking at your life.
Spend some time reflecting on the qualities of the foods you eat, the qualities present in your interactions with others, the Elements at work in your environment.
When you start to become more aware and attuned to the energetic qualities of the foods, relationships, activities and environment present in your life, you will begin to cultivate an intuitive understanding of what balances you, and what will tip you further in the direction of imbalance.
The blessing of a spiritual system of medicine is that it returns you to your innate wisdom.
Ayurveda allows you to truly take your Yoga “off the mat”, and offer practical, actionable guidelines to bring your body and mind into balance.
As you learn to heal yourself through the daily choices you make, it’s an added blessing to know that you are also treading the path to personal evolution.
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