I attended an Ayurvedic workshop last month at my community yoga studio. Ayurveda is an ancient healing system that promotes well-being holistically including diet, lifestyle and healing practices. It is yoga’s sister lifestyle practice. I’ve been aware of it for many years but really didn’t know much about it. It’s very complex, so I never dove in. I already had enough eating plans, and I didn’t want to confuse myself farther.
I didn’t go into the workshop thinking I was going to do it, I just wanted more information. We began by taking a test to determine our primary doshas. In the tests I’d taken before, I knew I was primarily Pitta. There are three doshas – Pitta, Vata and Kapha. The theory is that we are born with unique combinations of each of these three doshas, and the combination is determined at conception depending on the constitutions of our parents at that time. If your doshas are in balance as they should be for YOUR constitution, then you will feel your best and be at your healthiest. Ayrvedic practices give you tools to balance your dosha when the world and your lifestyle wreak havoc on your balance. It is not expected that we can keep them perfectly balanced. It’s not a perfectionist system.
If you want to determine your dosha and know more about Ayurveda, click here. My primary dosha, Pitta, is said to contain the elements of fire and water. One thing I learned in this class is that my gut instincts and natural inclinations are pretty accurate. I’ve always hated the heat, and it’s one reason I struggled with ever moving back south. It’s really hard on me. Well, my dosha is ‘fire’. That means I’m already fiery inside. I need cooling elements to balance me. The heat of summer aggravates me. The heat of menopause (hot flashes) aggravates me. The heat of spicy food aggravates me. Ahhhhhhh …. “I see,” said the blind woman. And, I am predominately Pitta. I have a little bit of Kapha and a tiny bit of Vata in me, so my natural constitution is almost all fire and water.
There are food choices and lifestyle choices that will balance me. We took another test to see where we were right now. The world is very Vata – qualities of high stress and go.. go .. go. So, right now, my Vata is very high. The balance is constantly changing, and the work is to stay as close to balance as you can. So, to counteract the world’s Vata, I have to do more calming practices such as yoga, meditation and maintaining a calm environment. I was naturally doing that in the last few months, and it really helped me feel better. I always need to follow a Pitta-balancing diet which is full of cooling foods like watermelon, very little meat, honey, coconut oil and avocados. Oh, yeah … and caffeine aggravates the hell out of Pittas. Hello … I’ve been eliminating that, too. Our bodies are so wise if we just listen.
My comfort food is ice cream. I’ve been trying to do without it because of its high fat content and sugar. But, I was told in the workshop that my dosha tolerates ice cream very well. I still can’t have a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, but I can have a couple of scoops. I never liked potato chips and salty food that much, and – guess what? – Pittas doesn’t tolerate salty stuff. I’ve always pushed myself in my yoga practice to do more vigorous practices thinking that I need to move more energy, but – guess what? – my dosha needs soothing backbends, twists and forward bends. I need to be calmed not invigorated.
The main qualities of Pitta are oily, sharp, hot, light, fleshy smelling, spreading and liquid. I have a sharp intelligence but when out of balance, I can have a sharp tongue. I have an oily complexion which can give me a rosy complexion or if out of balance, I can be manipulative like a “snake oil” salesman. So, those qualities can be good but, if I’m out of balance, they can take a turn for the worse. I’ve seen all of those sides of me as I read through the material.
I was confused though when I read through the Kapha stuff. There were long periods in my early life where I seemed to exhibit more aggravated Kapha qualities. I asked the instructor about it, and she said that Pitta is really about digestive fire. If I was having trouble with digestion – of emotions, food or situations – then I might take on the Kapha aggravated qualities. I told her that during that time I was very codependent and repressing a lot of emotion. She said that those undigested – unprocessed – feelings could lead me to take on more Kapha qualities … struggle with weight … lethargy … intense cravings for sweets. After doing my personal work, I’m getting back to my original dosha in a more balanced way.
I once jokingly told a man who was pursuing me, “You are playing with fire, boy.” He laughed and said he knew that, but he couldn’t help himself. I had no idea how dead on I was. I am fire. Pittas are often redheads, too. That fire manifests itself in our hair. It is recommended we use cooling coconut oil after a shower instead of lotion and to cook with it, too. Melons are great. I’ve started drinking watermelon juice in the mornings in place of my morning joe. It gives me the lift I need, and it tastes delicious to me. Some of you Kaphas out there are saying, “Yuk! Bring on the coffee”, and you need it. Drink up. I’m going to try my fresh juices for awhile and see if it keeps that fiery temper at bay.
Our teacher urged us not to be strict about this. I loved that. I hate rules. She said that life is going to get in the way. These nutrition and lifestyle tools are there to help us when we need it. She said to try one thing at a time just as an experiment. I tried oil-pulling in the mornings right when I get up. I love the way it makes my mouth feel. I take a tablespoon of coconut oil, chew it until it melts and swish it in my mouth for 5-20 minutes. It’s supposed to “pull” bacteria out of the mouth. I researched it because some of these practices have no basis in reality, but even dentists are now saying that oil-pulling works to clean the mouth. Our mouths are full of bacteria, and oral issues affect a lot of systems in the body. Gingivitis can cause heart disease. I know I had a bad toothache last week, and it healed itself. I did check it out at the dentist to be sure nothing was wrong, but he shook his head and said he didn’t see anything. Not sure what it was, but it’s gone. I’m a believer.
The most valuable things I learned from my Ayurveda class were things I already suspected:
- My body is wise, and it will tell me what it needs if I’m taking care of myself.
- When I’m in a bad state from stress or bad habits, my body craves all the wrong things. In other words, if I’ve dug myself into a hole, my initial inclination is to keep on digging instead of doing something different.
- Everybody is unique, and what works for me may not work for you. Experiment and learn from others but each individual needs to find what works for them.
- Information is power.
Oh yeah, and at the end of the Pitta session, she told us to enjoy cinnamon toast in the mornings. The cinnamon, butter and bread will soothe our constitutions. OMG … that is one of my favorite foods that I have given up so long ago that I can’t even remember it. Every morning this week I’ve made cinnamon toast for breakfast. I am a happy fiery Pitta. Bring it on, world. I’m ready. Let’s play with fire!