Ayurvedic Medicine and the importance of Ayurveda Dosha
Put simply, the Ayurvedic system is an ancient form of wisdom developed by the sages of India to explain the differences between individuals and their resistance to diseases. Ayurvedic medicine is based upon using natural foods and methods to bring harmony and balance to the body’s systems and the mind. In order to categorize people along health lines, we use the labeling system of Ayurveda Dosha. Ayurveda provides us with a very powerful mind/body health system because it is much more than a system of treating illness. There are two main guiding principles of Ayurveda: the mind and body are inextricably connected; the mind is the most powerful agent we have in effecting healing and transformation in the body.
Why do we need to know our Ayurveda Dosha?
Why is it that some people seem to be able to consume huge amounts of food and stay slim? Why do some people seem to be incapable of sitting still, whilst others struggle to move themselves from the couch or bed? Everybody has a certain constitution they are born with, and the Ayurvedic term for this unique combination of characteristics is Dosha. According to Vedic knowledge, each of us is composed of the elements of Earth, Ether, Fire, Water and Air. The combination of these five elements gives us our unique mind/body constitution and in order to maintain optimum health we need to bring these elements into balance. There are three main Doshic types in the Ayurvedic system, Pitta, Vata and Kapha. The three principles that these embody correspond to Movement, Transformation and Structure. Movement applies to our ability to move the mind as well as the body, avoiding narrow, destructive thought patterns. Transformation means that we are able to change, to transmute negatives into positives, both in our thinking and in our physical bodies. Structure is a little more difficult for the Western mind to comprehend, but simply expressed it is our ability to order our lives in line with helpful patterns and routines. This applies to our emotional and psychological needs as well as our physical, material requirements. We need Structure in all aspects of our lives in order to stay centered, or grounded enough to cope with both physical and emotional challenges. The easiest way to make sense of the three Doshic types is to think of them in terms of body type and main personality characteristics.
Pitta is composed of the elements of fire and water. Pitta types are usually energetic, thin and wiry. They are quick to react, can become angry or irritable with others quite easily and seem to have boundless energy. Pitta energy is responsible for our digestion and metabolism so it is not surprising that a person with a predominantly Pitta Dosha will have very little difficulty in maintaining a healthy body weight. Emotionally, Pitta types will often exhibit a quick temper, and have a sharp intellect. The positive aspects of Pitta can produce a joyful disposition, great courage, ambition and drive. When a person has a tendency to overheat this is probably due to an excess of Pitta in the system. The remedy, unsurprisingly, is to take obvious measures to cool off: Remove clothing and avoid spicy foods, drink cool liquids. If the overheating manifests in behavior meditation may well provide relief. The key to all Ayurvedic imbalances lies is being aware of your own predominant Ayurveda Dosha type and in recognizing when you may be slipping into an imbalance.
Vata is composed of Ether (sometimes referred to as Space) and Air. Vata is the energy of movement and is sometimes referred to as the King of Doshas as it is believed to govern the body’s greater life force and thus imparts energy to both Pitta and Kapha. Vata controls the flow of liquids in the body, the elimination of waste products, the breath and the movement of thoughts in the mind. Typical indicators of a Vata type are individuals who may be underweight, suffer from disorders of the digestive and elimination systems, such as urinary infections and constipation, have discomfort in the joints and suffer from insomnia. An imbalance of Vata can also lead to fatigue and mental sluggishness. The positive attributes of Vata will produce an individual who is creative, articulate and active in a productive, healthy way. Keeping Vata in balance can be tricky as, like the wind, it is unstable and quick to change direction.
Kapha energy is derived from Earth and Water. The body type of a predominantly Kapha individual is usually large and heavy, although this should not, in itself, be regarded as a negative thing. Kapha types are often very well grounded, calm, patient and reassuring individuals who bring security and safety to others. However, an over-abundance of Kapha energy produces a cold, damp and overly lethargic state which can cause problems with obesity, sinus congestion and sluggish circulation leading to cold extremities.
One person is almost never exclusively Pitta, Vata or Kapha. We are composed of all of these biological energies to a greater or lesser extent. Most people have a fairly equal balance of two of the Doshas, with perhaps a small amount of the third Dosha. The key to maintaining good health, both physical and mental, is self-awareness. You need to know which of the three Doshas is dominant for you most of the time. You also need to develop an awareness of when you are feeling different. We have a common expression to describe behaviors in ourselves or others that are, on the surface, unexpected or negative. We say that someone is “not themselves”, or we may refer to our own behavior by saying “that’s not like me”. This is a good thing! When we recognize differences in our health or behavior we are halfway towards to restoring balance and well-being. A Pitta who suddenly exhibits lethargy may well wish to look at the imbalance in Doshas that this indicates and take steps to redress an over-abundance of Kapha influences.
Knowing your own Dosha type is vital to your health and well-being. Once you are aware of your natural, pre-determined energy system you are in a much better position to recognize deviations or imbalances. It is therefore much easier to redress the balance in order to bring the Doshas into harmony for you.