Ayurveda and Body Constitution
The word Ayurveda is composed of two Sanskrit terms – Ayu- meaning life and Veda meaning knowledge. Therefore Ayurveda means the knowledge of life or science of life. It is defined as a science through which one can obtain knowledge about useful and harmful ways of life, happy and miserable types of life, conditions that lead to the above types of life, as well as, the very nature of life.
Ayurveda has its own views about principles and philosophy of life. Ayurvedic system describes human being as a universe within himself, which is a child of the cosmic forces. The entire universe, as well as the body is made up of five basic elements. These elements are Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. These five elements manifest in the human body as three primary life forces or biological humors known as tridosha – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These three elements – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha govern all the biological, psychological and physiological functions of the body, mind and consciousness. They act as basic constituents and protective barriers of the body in its normal physiological conditions; when out of balance, they contribute to the disease process.
According to Ayurveda every person has a unique body constitution, i.e., a unique combination of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Your constitution determines very much about you – your body, your personality, how you relate to other people, etc. The basic constitution of each individual is determined at conception according to the genetic, diet, lifestyle and current emotion of the parents. The doshas prominent in the parents combine to form the constitution (Prakruti) of the new life they are creating and that unique and specific combination of the three doshas at conception becomes the child’s body constitution. The basic constitution is genetically determined and remains unaltered throughout life. However, every person is subjected to the constant interaction with his / her environment, which will affect that person’s constitution at any time. This can imbalance the doshas that in turn can lead to illness. One may create balance in the internal forces (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) by altering diet and living styles according to body constitution to counteract changes in the external environment.
There are seven types of body constitutions:- Vata, Pitta, Kapha, Vata-Pitta, Pitta-Kapha, Vata-Kapha, Vata-Pitta-Kapha. No individual constitution is made up solely of any one element. Rather, each person is a combination of all three elements with a predominant tendency towards one or more.
Qualities of Vata Constitution:
Vata is dry, light, cold, mobile, active, clear, astringent, and dispersing. All of these qualities can manifest in an individual. For example, if a person has excess vata in his or her constitution, because of the dry quality of vata, that person would have dry hair, dry skin, dry-rough-brittle nails, tendency towards constipation, less and interrupted sleep; high pitched, fast, dissonant, weeping voice. Because of light quality, those persons are physically underdeveloped with light body frame, light muscles and are generally thin. Because of the cold quality, they will have cold extremities and poor circulation. They dislike cold, windy and dry weather and are comfortable in heat. Because of the mobile quality of vata, they are very active and don’t like to sit at one place. They walk fast and talk fast. The subtle quality is responsible for the emotions of fear, anxiety, insecurity and nervousness. Short-term memory but quick mental understanding characterizes them.
Vata persons are prone to develop disorders like constipation, intestinal bloating, belching, palpitation, stiff and painful joints, sciatica, paralysis, neuralgia, etc.
General measures for balancing vata:
Eat moderately warm food and avoid cold or frozen food. Choose sweet, sour, and salty food and avoid hot spicy food. Reduce intake of nuts and seeds. All soothing foods are good for balancing vata. Warm milk, butter, ghee, warm soups and hot cereals are good. Breakfast is highly recommended. Eat breakfast that is warm, sweet and includes milk. Avoid unripe fruits, as they are astringent. All sweet fruits are ok. Massage with vata oil. Use steam bath with vata oil application. Avoid excess physical activities. Take plenty of rest and listen to relaxing music. Regular meditation is good.
Qualities of Pitta Constitution:
Pitta is hot, sharp, light, liquid, sour, oily and has spreading qualities. Because of the hot quality, pitta persons cannot tolerate hot weather and they thrive in winter. Their skin is warm, delicate, and sensitive, with freckles or moles. They have early graying and balding of the hair. Because of the sharp quality, pitta individuals have a strong appetite, good digestion and must eat regular meals. They have a sharp memory. Because of the liquid quality, they perspire more and they produce a large volume of urine. They get angry and irritated very easily. Their bowel movement is soft and loose. Pitta people have a good power of comprehension; they are very intelligent, and tend to be good speakers.
Pitta persons are susceptible to digestive problems, gallbladder and liver disorders, hyperacidity, peptic ulcer, migraine, skin complaint, etc.
General measures for balancing Pitta:
Avoid steaming hot food and have lukewarm or cold food. Choose bitter, sweet and astringent food. Avoid overuse of salt, sour, spicy and fired food. Avoid pickles, yogurt, sour cream, cheese, alcohol, excess fruit juice, tea and coffee. Consume good amount of milk, grains, and vegetables. Avoid processed and fast food. Ghee is good for pitta. Try to maintain cool environment, take cool water bath. Swimming in cold water, walking in moon light and living near water is beneficial. Massage with pitta oil.
Qualities of Kapha Constitution:
Kapha has heavy, slow, cool, oily, liquid, dense, thick and static qualities. Because of the heavy quality, kapha persons have heavy bones with solid, stocky and well-developed muscles. They will have a tendency to put on weight. Because of the slow quality, they have slow metabolism and digestion. They eat less and slowly and walk slowly. Their speech is low pitched, slow, and monotonous. Kapha is cool; hence they dislike cool and damp weather. Their skin is oily, thick, smooth, soft to touch and glowing because of the oily quality of kapha. They have oily, thick, curly, dark brown or black hair and they have well lubricated joints. Sleep is sound and prolonged. They have a long-term memory and are forgiving, loving and compassionate. They have a sweet tooth.
Kapha persons are prone to disorders like asthma, sinusitis, bronchitis, diabetes, obesity, etc.
General measures for balancing Kapha:
Avoid cold, frozen and raw food. Do not snack between meals. Prefer warm and light food. Choose eating bitter, pungent and astringent food over sweet, sour and salty food. Avoid deep fried food, meat, meat products and excess oil. Avoid cold cereals, cold juice and milk, and sugary pastries. Do not eat excess of dairy products. Take warm low fat milk. Ginger is a good appetizer for kapha persons. Walk after meals. Avoid cold environment. Warm bath and warm clothing is good. Engage in daily physical activity and avoid excess sleep.
The knowledge of your body constitution lets you know what diet and lifestyle are beneficial for your body type and what are the things that you should stay away from in order to remain in a state of perfect health.