Understand your Nature with Ayurveda

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

Ayurveda is a science of longevity. It works best as preventive medicine—a body of teachings which describe those things which lead to happiness and good health and those which lead to unhappiness and disease. The basic principles of how to live, according to Ayurveda, apply to all, yet there is variation in the specifics based on body type.

In ayurveda, body-type is called *prakruti*, which means *nature* and it is determined at the time of conception. Ayurveda describes  7 distinct body-types based on combinations of the 5 great elements, space, air, fire, water, and earth.

According to Ayurveda, everything we experience is made of these 5 elements, to varying degrees. These five elements combine to create 3 doshas, or forces, which have specific functions in our organism. The three doshas are called vata, pitta and kapha

So depending on the ratio of elements that make up your organism, you can be predominantly vata, pitta or kapha; or a blend of two:VP, PK, VK; or a balance of all three:  VPK.

Whatever ratio of doshas you were born with, your prakruti, is the ratio of doshas that represents balance for you. You are not trying to become a balance of all three, unless your prakruti is VPK. Make sense?

The doshas, made of the 5 elements, are combinations of qualities, which are laid out as ten pairs of opposites: 

heavy– light cold– hot dull– sharp/penetrating cloudy– clear slimy/smooth– rough steady– mobile gross/dense–subtle soft–hard oily– dry slow– fast

VATA, made primarily of space and air, is naturally dry, cold, mobile, rough, light and subtle. Vata’s primary quality is movement and it governs all the movement within our organism. Vata’s qualities can express in a balanced or imbalanced way. In balance, dryness allows for separation—imagine two pieces of paper that get wet and stick together, but when dry are easily separated. Out of balance, that dryness would lead to dehydration and could cause constipation. Every quality has a positive function and when in excess causes problems.

PITTA, made primarily of fire and a little water, is naturally hot, sharp, light, spreading, fleshy-smelling and a little oily. Pitta’s primary quality, heat, governs all metabolism in our organism. That heat when in balance allows for good digestion and proper body temperature, and out of balance it can cause acidity and skin rashes. 

KAPHA, made primarily of earth and water, is naturally cold, damp, heavy, stable/static, gross and sticky. Kapha’s primary qualities of cohesiveness and substance hold things together and allow for proper tissue development. Those same qualities out of balance can lead to excess weight and trouble letting go. 

Prakruti, our *nature*, when out of balance is called *vikruti,* which means *against nature.*  To treat a dosha that is out of balance we first look to remove the cause of the imbalance, then we bring in balancing qualities. A basic principle we use is: like increases like and opposites balance.

For example, if we are noticing signs of excess dryness, like constipation, we look to our diet and lifestyle to see where the dry is coming in. Perhaps I love to eat crackers and popcorn, or I never ingest oil. We could balance the dryness by removing the cause: dry crackers, or we could balance the crackers by adding some avocado, bringing in the oily quality. It still might be better to avoid crackers as daily food, but with the avocado, or some nut butter, I can balance the dryness and enjoy crackers some of the time without getting too dry. Make sense?

Pitta can easily get too hot, especially in the summertime—first, we eliminate the cause—heating foods (alcohol, caffeine, chilies)—too much intensity/focused work, too much time in the hot sun,  and we bring in some cooling alternatives (pomegranate juice, peppermint tea, cilantro, a break in the workday, avoidance of midday sun). Over time, our fire comes into balance and we cool down.

Kapha can get too heavyespecially in winter. First, we eliminate the cause—excess heavy foods, like dairy and wheat, and we bring in some lighter alternatives like corn tortillas and salads  and we get kapha breathing and moving, 

These balancing qualities are medicine that can come through foods, lifestyle, herbs, the colors we wear and surround ourselves with, the scents we use, the kind of sounds we ingest and our general approach to living. In general, to stay in balance, kapha needs to get moving, pitta needs to alternate rest with activity and vata needs to live with more regularity.

When we understand the doshas, and our prakruti and vikruti, it starts to makes sense why what works for one person doesn’t always work for another.  A lighter vata may need some meat to ground, while a heavy kapha, may need a salad to lighten up. An intense pitta may need to sit on the couch sometimes and zone out while a sedentary kapha, needs to get moving every day.

Anything can be medicine and anything can be poison, it all depends on the context (season, time of day, time of life) and the person being treated (their unique body type and what’s presently out of balance). With a little practice, we can learn to understand our nature, the conditions around us, and make choices that help us align with our deeper nature rather than against it.

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