In the summer months, it is common for tensions to grow, tempers to rise and patience to dwindle. These are just a few of the many signs of excess pitta dosha that are easy to get caught up in. However, if our goal is to have balance in body and mind, it’s important to remember that pitta, just like all the doshas, serves a positive purpose in our lives too.
Focusing only on the negative side of the doshas makes us lose sight of the direction we should be heading. This is why when I was writing the dosha lesson in Hale Pule’s 600-hour Ayurvedic health counselor program, I made a point to include the many positive aspects present when vata, pitta and kapha are well balanced. When we can talk about pitta in both its balanced and imbalanced states, we can more easily recognize what it feels like when life comes into balance, and quickly turn things around when we start to move away from that.
Prana is life force. It is the energy that creates and sustains us. When prana flows easily through all parts of our beings, life unfolds with greater ease. Pranayama, one of the eight limbs of Yoga, is a powerful set of practices that harnesses and directs prana to flow the way it is intended. A consistent and balanced pranayama practice can correct emotional and physical disturbances, calm the doshas and support spiritual awakening.
Because it is so powerful, it’s best to learn advanced pranayama practices from an experienced teacher, but there are a few practices that are simple enough to share online. We have posted on bhramari and a version of nadi shodhana. A few months ago, we also shared the practice of yoni mudra as an additional way to direct your flow of energy and connect to your higher self within. This month, we offer one additional pranayama practice that is designed to disperse excess heat in the body and mind.
You can find plenty of Ayurvedic recipes, Ayurvedic cookbooks and Ayurvedic chefs, but as much as you look, you’ll never find Ayurvedic cuisine. That’s because Ayurveda is more than just a way of cooking -- it is a way of looking at food and life as a whole through the lens of nature’s rhythms.
Nature is always changing. If you study what is happening outside your home, you’ll notice that not a single day is the same as another. Your body and mind are a reflection of nature, so they are always changing too. In fact, the Sanskrit word for body is sharira, which translates to “that which is always changing.”
Ayurveda offers each of us the opportunity to become our own healers. To step into this role is a journey, one that requires a commitment to learning the unique functions of your mind and body.
The doshas -- vata, pitta and kapha -- are one of the foundational tools that Ayurveda offers to go within and find out why you feel, act and look the way you do. The doshas are profoundly important to understanding your body and mind, but they are often oversimplified and misunderstood.
Beyond the dosha quiz
A person’s first experience with Ayurveda is often marked by taking a dosha quiz. The results usually include lists of foods and activities to avoid for your dosha (or products to buy). But living according to a black-and-white list is opposite of what Ayurveda teaches.
By Myra Lewin
In the face of a problem, it is quite easy to get distracted by thinking that it is possible to heal without bringing about change within.
Last winter, I came to see this in my own life. After a summer of extensive travel and radiation exposure, I had begun to experience signs of pitta imbalance in my skin. I returned home and went back to my regular schedule of teaching and consultations, assuming that since the issue had come from toxins in the environment, things would correct themselves when I got away from the exposure. But the problem got worse.
It may surprise you to learn that eating an Ayurvedic diet means you get to enjoy your food -- perhaps more than you ever have. That’s because true enjoyment comes from eating in a way that nourishes your body and mind.
Using Ayurvedic spices for balance
Ayurvedic wisdom says that you should enjoy your food five times: planning it, preparing it, cooking it, eating it and digesting it (although we added a sixth way in our most recent Ayurvedic chef training: serving it). At each step, you have the opportunity to engage your senses to get the most out of the experience. Your food should look and smell wonderful. It should taste delicious and you should feel better for having cooked it and eaten it. A sure way to enjoy each step is to include Ayurvedic spices in every meal.
Yoga asana is a powerful form of exercise. When you practice in a sattvic, or balanced, manner, it works the muscles of the body, mind and spirit. Yoga asana awakens and lightens all parts of being, which is what makes it the perfect form of exercise for pitta dosha.
Pitta likes challenge, but when it is out of balance, this zest for life can turn to competition and pushing oneself beyond capable limits. Daily asana practice, a wonderful companion to a pitta-balancing diet and lifestyle, provides space to exercise pitta’s mental and physical strength in a harmonious way.
What does it mean to digest? It’s easy to define this concept as simply the process of turning the food you eat into nutrients. But we are holistic beings, so it follows that digestion happens on a holistic level. All of our experiences, whether they are on our plates or in our lives, must be transformed to a state in which we can use them.
Pitta dosha is responsible for digestion, both in the body and the mind. Just as this dosha transforms rice into nourishment for your body, it transforms experiences into samskara, or impressions. When experiences are digested properly, meaning you have allowed an emotional response to move through you, you clear old samskara or create new, more positive ones that guide you along your path. But if you become stuck on something in the past or breeze past an experience without fully digesting it, you create new samskara that makes it difficult to move forward in life.
In nature, fire is the great transformer. When a fire sweeps through a forest, the ground is made more fertile and space opens for new sprouts to rise. But when fire comes too often to a forest, or it burns for too long, it creates a place where little can survive.
What is true in nature is also true in us. Pitta dosha, the fire element within us, has the power to transform. When balanced, its power can make space for new experiences to grow. When imbalanced, it leads to an inhospitable environment where nothing can thrive. Learn to tame the fire within to use pitta’s power as a benefit, not a burden.
When prana is flowing without interruption, your body has everything it needs to heal itself (see the first in this series on pain relief to learn more about prana). Pain, whether mental or physical, cannot take hold in a body with an easy flow of prana. When prana is blocked, pain can become so much to bear that people often look to drugs or surgery to cope. But these methods of pain relief dull your body’s natural intelligence and further disrupt the flow of prana that is the key to healing. On the contrary, herbs and Ayurvedic treatments work with the body to address the root cause. As prana comes back into the body, the doshas regain balance and health follows.
Understanding Ayurveda is not about academics and memorizing a list of rules, it is about slowing down and being in the experience of life. One of the best (and most delicious) ways to learn Ayurveda is by taking your studies to your own kitchen.
Becoming an Ayurvedic cook requires little more than a willingness to study the effects of what you eat on your body and mind (although this guide to setting up your Ayurvedic kitchen has a few other tools to get you started). Throw away limiting dosha food lists and focus instead on exploring different foods and different ways of preparing them. Pay attention to the results with a wellness journal, and you’ll soon be able to move away from black-and-white thinking about what and how to eat and toward the innate wisdom inside you.
A food that is “good for you” can have quite a different effect when eaten in excess or in poor combination with other foods. We see the results of this in many clients who come to Hale Pule for Ayurvedic consultations. They believe they are doing all the right things for their health, but still experience gas, constipation, anxiety and other symptoms. When we peel back the layers of their daily habits, these clients are often overconsuming a so-called healthy food or eating it in ways that weaken agni, or digestive fire.
You peer into the mirror. There are new lines around your eyes. You see a few new white hairs popping out from your scalp. The universe is giving you a choice here: you can either resist the aging process with chemicals, surgery and fear, or you can simply accept the changes as a reflection that you, too, are a part of nature.
Everything in nature ages, including us. But aging doesn’t have to be scary (no matter what the advertisements may say). In fact, it can be a lovely, natural experience. And, by finding balance in your body and mind and embracing changes as they come, you may find that you can actually feel better with age.
Ayurveda and Yoga can serve as guides to help you feel stronger, more confident and secure as you progress in the natural process of life.
By Sonja Semion
The first thing I did was quit coffee. Then I moved out garlic and onions, and stopped eating microwaved leftovers for lunch. I turned my sporadic meditation practice into a daily one. Stopped reading or working during meals. Then I tried abhyanga. As I stood in the morning light of my bathroom, covered in a sheen of oil, I felt a strength and grounding that I had not experienced in a long time. The frustration I had been experiencing, from the sense that I was standing behind a wall that separated me from my true self, was beginning to fall away. This is how I began my journey with Ayurveda.
By Myra Lewin
I speak with a lot of people about the value of a daily meditation practice. Much of the time I get an initial response of, “I just can’t turn off my head.” My response: This is exactly the reason you need meditation. From this place, you can begin to connect with your heart.
When temperatures rise outside, pitta can heat up inside, causing irritability, excess sweating and anger, among other symptoms. What "food as medicine" should you reach for to find balance? The answer is in the Ayurvedic concept of virya, the warming and cooling effects of foods.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and what happens on the outside reflects what is happening on the inside. While people often seek to address skin issues with external remedies, Ayurveda suggests healing them from the inside out.
By understanding the doshic imbalances behind common skin issues, you can make changes to bring whole-body health. Addressing the underlying imbalance will bring a calmer mind, healthy digestion and an improved relationship with the God of your heart. You certainly can’t get that from a prescription cream!
Here’s a look at three common skin ailments, their root causes and ways to bring your skin to its natural state of health.
Have you ever wondered why oil is such a significant part of Ayurveda? From the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet, the oil treatments recommended in the Ayurvedic texts provide healing benefits inside and out. Here’s a quick look at why Ayurvedic self-care and treatments recommend oil for health and healing.
By Myra Lewin
When I was a child, I lived in a crowded house with a very small kitchen. My mother’s rule was that only one of us was allowed in the kitchen when she was cooking. I felt special whenever I was that person. Helping her prepare meals for our family of seven was the reason I developed the love for wholesome, home-cooked food that grew with my study of Ayurveda.
We say that “food is medicine” in Ayurveda because nothing else has the same power to nourish, heal and bring together community (even if that community is a parent and child cooking together in a small kitchen). When you study Ayurveda, you learn that all foods have distinct properties that can bring you closer to or further from health, depending on your individual constitution. But Ayurveda also teaches that not all food is equal. Food that is filled with prana, cooked gently with digestive spices and served in a sattvic home environment is the medicine that we should seek.
You may know about panchakarma as an Ayurvedic cleanse, but the benefits go far beyond that. People have been undergoing panchakarma for centuries because it not only removes toxins from the tissues of your body, but also promotes healing and rejuvenation in your whole being. That’s because panchakarma centers on rebuilding the strength of agni, digestive fire, along with balancing the three doshas. This brings about profound effects in all aspects of your health, including your mental well-being and spiritual openness.
By Shannon Wianecki
I wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t happened on my own head. Reducing an imbalance in pitta dosha had dramatic results—some of my gray hairs returned to their original reddish-brown color.
Long before I knew anything about Ayurveda or doshas, I was wrestling with my friend’s five-year-old son. He had me in a headlock when he stopped. “Shannon, I see a grey hair,” he said gravely. “Pluck it out,” I laughed. “I can’t,” he said. “There are too many.”
I was 23 years old. Already, numerous grey hairs sprouted around my temples. They weren’t just lacking in melanin, either. They were disobedient little wires poking from my scalp: coarse and hard to smooth down. Sigh. I didn’t want to use toxic hair dye, but I didn’t feel quite ready to rock life as a lady silver fox.
What would it feel like to be at your very best state of health? How would you feel with your body at its ideal proportions for your build and dosha balance? How much freedom would you have knowing that your body was at its healthiest function?
The answer to all of these questions is simple: You would feel like your true self – vital, joyous and content.
If you’re looking for a way to bring some new flavors to your meals, spoon on some Ayurvedic sauces.
We’ve created three simple Ayurvedic recipes for sauces that are a great addition to your plate. Our basil pesto, parsley wasabi and tahini honey sauces are crowd-pleasers that will make your delicious meals even better.
Your body is meant to be free of pain, illness, and disease. The rishis who wrote the Ayurvedic texts 5,000 years ago knew this. They outlined panchakarma, a powerful Ayurvedic whole-being cleanse and rejuvenation practice. Ayurvedic wisdom is as true today as it was then.
A combination of cooked white basmati rice and split mung has been shared through centuries as a simple and nourishing way to heal your body and mind. This is kitchadi – Ayurveda’s healing food.
Why does kitchadi heal? First, the rice, mung and (optional) vegetables offer balanced nourishment for your body. Second, by adding spices, like cumin and ginger, the meal becomes cleansing, balanced and satisfying. Finally – and most importantly – by gently cooking the ingredients together to a soupy consistency, the meal is easily digestible, which gives your body a break and restores the natural strength of agni, digestive fire.