“To thine own self be true.” – William Shakespeare
We are all different. We’re different sizes. Some of us have curly hair, some straight. Some of us have freckles, some don’t. Scientists today believe they will eventually be able to define what makes us unique individuals through the study of genes, but let’s not wait until that happens. Ayurveda has been using a model for determining one’s nature since 600 BC – and it’s simple enough so that we don’t need complicated analyses to understand it. Your gut has been telling you some of these things for years – that you don’t tolerate certain foods and environments as well as others, that your metabolism is different than other people’s, or perhaps that you don’t need the same amount of sleep as most people – and in learning about Ayurveda you will understand why.
In Ayurveda, there are three constitutional types that doctors and practitioners of this healing medicine have been using for over two millennia, Vata, Pitta and Kapha, described here.
Vata qualities are cold, dry, irregular, clear, unstable, mobile and subtle. It is like the wind that is responsible for all change in the universe. Individuals with vata constitution take in information more quickly than most people, and their mental tendency will be to keep everything free and irregular, so they may feel constrained by routine, but this results in memory, attention and nerve issues as well as injuries in time, so building in a bit of routine is exactly what will help vata thrive. Physically, vata is catabolic energy, so there may be emaciation, dryness or loss of tissue. Therefore, keeping a vata person out of cold, dry and windy environments is critical. Vata must be nourished with heavier, moist foods and skin treatments as well as warming digestion aids to balance out any excess of the dosha. Smaller, more frequent meals, daily oil massage with sesame oil and drinking warm water throughout the day are tactics that can help vata.
Pitta qualities are oily, hot, penetrating and mobile. Pitta is responsible for transformation and metabolism. Individuals with pitta constitution learn quickly and implement changes quickly, not only changing themselves, but wanting to control everyone else around them too. They are quick to be bossy, irritable, angry, and inflamed, so cooling and calming activities are beneficial to balance their fire. They are typically the boss of a group and will become frustrated if they are not. Physically, pitta is metabolic energy so they will have large appetites, and may be of medium size unless they are overeating due to intense hunger and stress. Therefore, a pitta person should minimize time spent in stressful environments, especially hot and intense environments. Pitta must have regular, simple meals because they will develop intense cravings if they get used to too much flavor. Spices are generally not good for pitta, except for cooling ones such as coriander and peppermint.
Kapha qualities are cool, oily, stable, gross, cloudy and routine. Individuals with kapha constitution are responsible for stability, structure and loyalty. They are slower to change and learn, but once they do, they will retain it longer than anyone else. Vatas and pittas will find them to be calming and sometimes frustrating, as they will move more slowly. This slowness can result in stagnancy, stubbornness or attachment if they become too complacent in their routines, which can happen very easily for them. Physically, they will have slower metabolisms and gain weight easily, so they must eat smaller, less frequent meals and avoid sweet, creamy, salty, cold and heavy foods, favoring bitter and spicy, pungent food. They also easily develop lots of mucus in their body. Regular, stimulating and warming exercise is important for kapha to prevent disease and be productive. In addition, kaphas benefit by stepping out of their comfort zones and doing things that scare them.
We are not just one thing. We have all of the doshas within us – it’s just that we typically have one or two that will dominate us, for example, vata/pitta, pitta/kapha or vata/kapha. Rarely, there are individuals who are tri-doshic, or possessing equal amounts of all three doshas. Consulting with an Ayurvedic Practitioner can help you learn more about your constitution.
Nature vs. nurture
We have a way in which we were conceived, which we call prakruti, or nature, and we have a way that we are today, which we call vikruti, or current state of imbalance. Our body tells us when we are not in line with our nature, but sometimes we don’t listen to it, and then we develop health issues. The longer these problems linger, the further we go down the disease pathway, and then we have a greater challenge to reverse the disease process.
We are now in the summer season, which is considered the pitta season in Ayurveda. In most climates, summer is hotter and the sun is stronger. If you aren’t vacationing like many people do in the summer, then you might find yourself working more intensely than usual. People who are vata or kapha predominant often feel great in summer due to the increased warmth, and pitta people may not handle it well, becoming intense, angry and burned out easily. This is why it’s important to learn your constitution. Diet changes, yoga and even herbal medicine can make all the world of difference!