In your daily eating habits you might have noticed that the effect of various food items is different on different people in the family. As an example, while lemon juice may cool someone’s body, it may result in someone else catching a cold. Not only that, you might have noticed that drinking lemon juice at different times of the day has different effect. If you haven’t noticed this, then you must start paying attention!
Once we had trekked up the Himalayas and halted at a place for the night. As soon as we reached the place, there were shops offering “potato pakodas”. Down south, at home, we rarely eat potatoes as it leads to flatulence and other issues. Up there in the mountains, it was almost as if the body needed the potatoes. We just gulped many pakodas and then immediately the body felt energetic. We cannot guarantee that these pakodas will have the same effect on someone else.
The Indian system of Health has always paid very keen attention to the food we eat. The impact of food varies from person to person because of the interaction between the inherent taste (quality) of the food and the body type of the consumer. In this article we will look at the body type which the Indian system of health, Ayurveda, calls as ‘dosha’. Most texts translate dosha as humor but for our understanding we will use the term body type.
The dosha are three in number (Tridosha): Vata, Pitta and Kapha. It is very interesting to note how the dosha are a combination of the fundamental elements in nature — the Panchabhutas namely: air, water, fire, earth and space. It is definitely amazing how Ayurveda has traced the composition of the body and mind to the most fundamental elements even more granular than the Panchabhutas. For a beginner this could look very complicated but as you read these series of articles and observing things around and within you, they will start making sense. The word dosha, in common usage, means defect. The humors have been named so because they can be balanced or can go out of balance due to various external and internal factors. The Indian Health system looks at health and vitality as a balance of these doshas. Now let us look at the dosha one by one:
Vata is a combination of the elements air and space. It is fundamentally to do with all movement. It is also responsible for the various flows within the body including blood flow. When vata is balanced, people experience great agility, energy and movement in their lives. Their limbs are strong and healthy. Imbalance of vata leads to problems in the joints. Many old people suffer from knee pain and one of the reasons is vata imbalance. In combination with problems of other dosha, vata may lead to gastric problems and flatulence.
Vata — Balance Vata — Imbalance Following a daily routine as regards to time of meals, number of meals, time to and from bed, exercise, relaxingNever following any routine, eating meals at different times, going to bed late (after 11:00 pm), sleep during the daytimeEating warm cooked meals that are a little oil, not dryEating raw vegetables, rice cakes, lots of beans, popcorn, soft drinks, chips, munching all the time, skipping meals.Warm oil massageTravelling ‑especially by airplaneLiving in a warm and moist climate where you can get fresh air and sunshineLiving in a desert or high mountains where the cold and the wind increases the effect of vata and vitiates it.Wearing clothing that is warm color such as red, orange, yellow or a calming color like greenWearing clothing that creates lightness in the body such as purple, blue and whiteDuring leisure, choosing calming activities such as quiet walks in nature or in parksDuring leisure, doing stimulating activities, going to amusement parks, discos, rock concerts.
Pitta is a combination of water and fire. The nature of pitta is heat. People who have very high digestive capabilities have excellent digestive pitta. Pitta has also the ability to transform. One can say that the transformation from information to knowledge is also a form of digestion and hence pitta is at work. Imbalanced pitta can lead to acidity. When we travel to hilly areas, the heat in the body reduces due to external conditions and hence pitta enhancing components in the food can assist in the digestive process. Adding a bit of pepper in the soup can be immensely beneficial. Pitta — Balance Pitta — Imbalance Eating the main meal at noon with the bulk of the food that is sweet, astringent, bitter in taste and slightly dry in texture. Making sure the food is pure and wholesomeEating hot, spicy, oily food that is mostly pungent, sour and salty in tasteWorking in a cool, dry environment where you feel you are in control (such as your own business)Working in the hot sun for long periods of time, in a job where you feel you have little controlSeeking balance in all things, alternating hard work with leisure and restBeing judgmental and overly criticalDecreasing the use of stimulants. Using cooling bitter herbs like Aloe vera, Dandelion, Gentian and CilantroUsing stimulants — alcohol, coffee, tea, cigarettesWearing clothing that is warm color such as red, orange, yellow or a calming color like greenWearing clothing that creates lightness in the body such as purple, blue and whiteDuring leisure, choosing calming activities such as quiet walks in nature or in parksDuring leisure, doing stimulating activities, going to amusement parks, discos, rock concertWearing clothing made of natural fiber such as cotton or silk. The best colors are lighter colors like white, cream, blue, green and purpleWearing clothing that is bright red, yellow, orange or blackTaking cool walks in the moonlight
Kapha is composed of earth and water. Kapha has the property to hold and bind things. When children are growing up, kapha plays a significant role in the formation of muscles and the body structure. Hence they are also prone to kapha imbalance, catching a cold often. Kapha represents coolness and hence people with kapha body type are generally stable (especially because of the earth element). People who often catch a cold have weak kapha. Consuming too much sweet can cause kapha imbalance.
Kapha — BalanceKapha — ImbalanceStrong physical exerciseBeing a couch potato and eating lots of candy, cookie and chocolateSeeking a variety of experiences to be stimulatedSleeping in for days at a time, also taking naps in the day after eatingEating meals that are lighter and dryer with more bitter, pungent and astringent tastes. Reducing sweet snacksEating large lunches with food that is heavy (meat and sauces), oily, fried, sweet and salty and if possible having a frozen dessertReducing water consumption to no more that four cups per day (unless you are very physically active)Drinking lots of water and water containing foods such as watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, zucchiniStaying warm and dry, with lots of exercise outside in the sunExposure to cold, wet or snowy weatherPutting that strong memory to use by learning new skills both personally and professionallyNever changing anything, doing things as you have always done themIf possible living in a warm, dry climate where you can often be outsideLiving in cold wet climates such as the Pacific NorthwestDeep tissue massage with light, warm oils like mustard or cornSwimming in cold waterLearning to let go of things and not becoming overly attached to things or peopleBeing greedy, hoarding things, and never letting go of anything
People are born with predominance of one or more of the dosha. Most people are a combination of them and as they grow up, with the right food and ambience, the dosha can be balanced for a health and happy life.
The Indian way of looking at health is very intuitive and most of it starts in the kitchen. The food that we eat is looked at in great detail so that one does not have to depend too much on external supports to manage health.