Ayurveda is an ancient healing system originating in India that dates back somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. The word Ayurveda translates to the “science of life”. This timeless system of wellness focuses on the importance of creating and maintaining balance within our physiology’s energetic system so that existing in our external environment will have a minimal impact on our body’s response to stress. Sounds good, huh?
This knowledge of balance is based on the theory and principles of the three underlying doshas that Ayurveda believes comprises all living things in nature: vata, pitta, and kapha. These doshas are responsible for working together to carry out all of our biological processes, keeping our bodies alive and thriving. These three energies are present in some unique combination creating momentum in every cell of our being. Therefore an imbalance in a particular dosha can send the whole system awry.
To live a life according to Ayurveda means to see the energetic qualities in all of life. These energies, or doshas, can be described in terms of their qualities for a better understanding.
Vata (pronounced vah-tuh) is the dosha most likely to be responsible for creating imbalance in most people, so gaining an understanding around the importance of keeping vata in check is of extreme value. Vata represents our nervous system. Its function is to create movement, communication, and transportation within the body’s system and to encourage activity between the other doshas and their functions.
Vata is made up of air and space elements. Which when we think of air and space we may associate with the following qualities such as light (as in weight), cold, dry, dark (as in outer space), irregular, and changeable, or moveable. So things that share these qualities are very vata in nature and therefore aggravating to someone of vata constitution.
Examples of vata food would be ones that are dry and light, such as popcorn, chips, or crackers. Flavors that are vata would be ones that create a drying effect such as bitter or astringent. Activity that aggravates vata is anything that causes fast movement or stresses the nervous system, like my part-time job as a server in a busy, natural foods cafe. I’m moving all the time, testing my memory, interacting with a lot of different people with needs…Ah! So much stimulation makes for major vata aggravation!
Air and space provide the potential for movement, so with that comes a lot of room for error, or irregularities. When we get vata all aggravated, an abundance of air is created, which can then start fanning the fire of pitta, which could potentially scorch our innards or dry out the moisture that kapha provides, causing toxins and other bodily components to get stuck. Do you see how one imbalance can mess up the whole system of networking? When vata is really high, it can manifest as anxiety, constipation, and sleep disturbance, to name a few. The body is unable to settle into a much-needed rest because it just wants to move, move, move. This leads to a persistently awake sympathetic nervous system who never lets the parasympathetic takeover and play her part.
So one helpful way to settle and pacify vata is to stop rushing through life. Decide today to start practicing mindfulness and gratitude for the experience. Think of other ways you can bring in more calm.
Moving on to pitta: the fire element with the smallest amount of water, just to keep the fire in check, is responsible for our digestive process, and not just in the stomach. It is responsible for our process of digesting thoughts, emotions, and even the lotion we put on our body.
There are 13 agnis, or digestive fires, present within our subtle layers, all dependent on pitta to burn at a steady rate. This steady smoldering of pitta is necessary as to not burn out and pose a threat for toxic accumulation or to burn too fast and create damage to the surrounding tissue or burn through much-needed nutrients.
Pitta’s responsibility is to digest, metabolize, and to transform all things intended to nourish our being in some way or another. Whether it’s a meal or an experience, pitta is needed to transform the process. A low pitta makes for stagnation, and stagnation paves the way to disease manifestation. Whether it’s stagnation of the digestive process, stagnation of emotional processing, or stagnation in the blood, all are setting the stage for detriment to the system. A high pitta, or aggravated pitta, however, makes for a supportive environment for impatience, anger, frustration, or inflammatory conditions to arise.
So how do we keep pitta in check and working efficiently in order to get the most out of life? This comes with an understanding of what factors aggravate the pitta dosha. Looking at the qualities of pitta will help us identify pitta aggravators in our environment. Pitta is hot, sharp, pungent, flowing, and bright. Spicy, oily, and salty foods aggravate pitta. Think about what factors affect a fire. Air for sure can make the bonfire spread in the blink of an eye if the surrounding area is dry enough. Oil can make for an explosive and aggressive takeover of heat and flames.
Pitta is also very important for keeping vata and kapha in balance. Because vata and kapha are both cool in nature, pitta’s warmth is needed to keep them from stagnating. It creates unity. Who doesn’t like to feel warmth from another being? Pitta is beautiful in that way. So keeping it in check is vital for a pleasant life experience.
One of the best ways to keep pitta in check, besides laying off the spicy foods, is by getting out in nature for at least twenty minutes a day. It could be just sitting and breathing, or a gentle walk. Allowing yourself a moment to take your shoes off and make direct contact with the earth is another beautiful way to pacify pitta.
Kapha (pronounced kah-phah) is the third dosha necessary to understand your new-found awareness of all things Ayurveda. Kapha is our structure, our lubrication, and our immunity. It is comprised of earth and water elements. Some of us are really earthy people, grounded, not easily upset. This is a beautiful manifestation of kapha.
However, kapha excess can make one of such nature become greedy and stubborn, unable to move. This is where vata is needed, to create movement. But remember, in order for those two to work together, they need healthy pitta to warm and transform.
Qualities of kapha are those that are wet, cold, slimy, unctious, stable, and grounding. Its very nourishing in nature, replenishing to the cells and stabilizing for a healthy life experience. As I mentioned before, kapha is immunity. A healthy immune system is one that is stable, strong, and flowing through the entire system. This lubrication can only be helpful with the driving force of movement from vata and the arm, metabolic fire of pitta. Without them, the lubrication becomes excess fluid gathering somewhere in the body due to lack of flow, or blockage, resulting in edema or undesirable puffiness under the eyes just to name a couple of possibilities.
Foods that aggravate kapha are ones that share similar qualities in nature, such as grounding, heavy comfort foods. These are great for grounding vata, but make kapha sluggish and lazy. Kapha needs warmth and movement to be successful. Know anyone like this? Kapha people do best to incorporate small amounts of pungent spices, such as ginger or black pepper, into their diets daily to encourage the processes of pitta, which then encourages the movement of vata.
Now, after reading this article, I feel like you might be ready to test yourself. Try and think of what factors in your everyday life contribute to feeding vata, pitta, and kapha. Maybe make a list so that you can see each one in comparison to the others. This will give you an idea of the external factors affecting your life experience. Now, using your power of intuition, try and identify yourself and the people around you as vata, pitta, or kapha. This will also help you to understand why certain people might be hard for you to tolerate, or why you prefer the company of the ones that you do. These are all fascinating and extremely helpful information in navigating a seemingly balanced life experience.
Can you now understand how this philosophy has remained as it has?