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.