This week’s post is Part 1 of a series on Ayurveda and Health written by our guest expert Lynne Stewart, B.Sc. MBA (Owner/Instructor SOL BARRE, Pilates & Yoga; Speaker/Writer, SOL Wellness).
Living in balance is a goal we all try to manage, but it can be a confusing and mysterious pursuit as we search for an understanding of what balance feels like and what are simple and appropriate strategies to find and maintain balance. I first discovered Ayurveda over 10 years ago and completed a questionnaire that asked me various things including my digestion, my sleep patterns, exercise choices, my emotions and personality.
Try out this questionnaire on Joyful Belly. Similar questionnaires are available elsewhere with other questions, but the result is always trying to discern your constitution based on the influence of doshas.
Ayurveda’s framework is comprised of the five elements of Fire, Water, Earth, Air and Space. There are three doshas called Pitta (Fire & Water), Kapha (Earth & Water) and Vata (Air & Space). Your constitution (also referred to as Prakriti) is made up of these three doshas. Your current state of balance (or Vikrati) is influenced by factors such as the foods you ate, the type of sleep you recently had, activities and then environmental factors such as seasons, time of day, and any other things in your surrounding that may affect your current state. Our ultimate balance can then be understood and managed through this knowledge and balance between our Prakriti and Vikrati.
Ayurveda aims to understand which of the doshic elements predominate in a person’s constitution and once that is understood then choices can be made around food, sleep and play to keep the elements in balance for your best health.
For instance an individual with high Pitta would tend to be passionate, intellectual and at times aggressive and controlling. They would tend to have pretty decent sleeping habits with the exception of having a tendency to go to bed late as they find their minds rev up just between 10PM to midnight, a time when Pitta’s energy is high. An individual with strong Vata tendencies would tend to be busy, moving and at times anxious and nervous. They are usually light sleepers who wake quite early, usually between 4AM – 6AM, which is the Vata time of day. Individuals that have the heavy earth element Kapha can be strong, caring, loving and at times stubborn. They are the forever sleepers; they tend to sleep in, unless they have had the opportunity to discover that waking early is their best method to having a great day. So what we glean from this is that there are certain predominant energies through different times of day and some individuals are more heavily affected by these than others.
Vata is a busy, energetic, moving energy that dominates the early morning part of the day. Vata is generally defined by the “wind” element and affects air and wind in one’s system, manifesting as indigestion, burping and gas. The Vata personality is very busy, always moving and creative and energetic. Their play tends to be a constant moving choice, like step classes, walking or a form of Vinyasa Yoga.
Pitta and its hot digestive fire is higher midday when we eat our lunch (which in Ayurvedic knowledge, should be your largest meal of the day). Pitta is generally defined by the “fire” element and affects digestive fire, which is fast and hot. The Pitta personality is passionate and at times moves towards anger. Their play or exercise tends to be in areas that are competitive like Ashtanga Yoga.
Kapha is a heavier energy that is prevalent in the mid-evening timeframe, when we should be nesting at home and heading to bed, as well as the mid-morning time, which is why if one sleeps in, their energy is low most of the day. The Kapha is generally the “earth and water” element and shows usually as a heavier stature and strength that is more enduring. Kapha personalities tend to be very strong, stoic, loving and warm, and at times stubborn. Play for a Kapha can go from doing nothing when imbalanced to finding very challenging, hard working types of exercise, such as Cross-Fit.
What is interesting is understanding what the doshas require for balance.
Food – For Vatas where digestion is cool and filled with air and wind, a warm, comforting approach to food is best where foods are considered to be “assimilated” in the pot (think soups, chilies and casseroles), which reduces the load on the digestive system.
Play – Vatas tend towards more active moving forms of exercise. This is their nature, however, they need to balance this movement with “stillness” particularly first thing in the morning.
Sleep – Vatas tend to be light sleepers who also wake early. It is their nature and so for Vatas the early morning meditation is a key thing for balance.
Food – In the case of Pitta, where digestive fire is hot and fast, a cooling, and at times raw, vegan diet is best to reduce heat, inflammation and to slow digestion down.
Play – Pittas tend towards competitive sports and situations but to stay in balance the Pitta person must also find time to play easily, be in nature, and to “surrender” to the world around to reduce the potential imbalance of an ongoing competitive approach to exercise.
Sleep – Pittas usually have decent sleep patterns but risk imbalance by staying up late. The liver, a pitta organ, actually rejuvenates itself in the evening between 10PM and 12AM if we are sleeping. However, if we are still up, the intelligent, passionate Pitta mind re-engages diverting the healing resources towards the workings of the mind.
Food – Kapha’s digestion is also generally slower and tends towards mucous and “ama” which is waste. For Kaphas, foods that speed up metabolism, such as spices, is key.
Play – Kaphas are strong and have endurance, so they need to be challenged intensely in their approach to exercise. They also need movement to balance out potential lethargy that can arise when Kaphas becomes imbalanced.
Sleep – The Kaphas tend to have good, long sleep patterns, but risk feeling lethargic and lazy if they sleep in. The best thing Kaphas can do for themselves is wake early on a schedule and get moving.
Where do you go with all this new information? It’s important to answer the questions with a knowledge of answering around your Prakriti and your Vikrati. You’ll find you need to go back a couple times to ensure you’ve answered around one or the other. What you should be – your Prakriti – and what you currently are – your Vikrati – defines the imbalance that you are currently experiencing due to food, sleep, play choices and other environmental factors
Stay tuned for next week where where I explain how our choice of foods is important to our overall health as evidenced over a period of 40 days in its building of our tissues or in Ayurvedic terms, the 7 Dhatus.