[Learn Ayurveda] Know the Power of Your Constitution
A few days ago, I had a paddle boarding date with my husband. Any day we’re in Mexico and have swell, we have these dates. One of the advantages of surfing on a paddleboard is that you get to stand and talk between waves, and standing is better for conversation.
Winston has been with me since before my Ayurveda and Yoga training. To say that he learned Ayurveda through me is an understatement. The man has lived in a sea of Ayurveda and Yoga for the past two decades.
As we were paddling back to shore, I asked him how knowing his constitution has affected his life. This was Winston’s response:
“It’s been so long that I’ve understood my Ayurvedic constitution that it’s hard to know what life would have been like without it. It’s helped me understand myself. It affects how I eat, exercise, and choose to live each day. But it’s hard to separate out from life experience. One place I really notice it is in how I can understand other people.”
I agree. We all know ourselves. Ayurveda gives us the perspective to differentiate what works for us and what works for others. We’re less likely to get swept up in a new trend in food or exercise. We know ourselves energetically and systematically.
(If you haven’t taken the constitutional quiz, please do before reading more!)
Know Your Dominant Energies
Even if you don’t already know your constitution, scan the list of adjectives below and see which ones describe your mind and your body:
Vata (ether + air)
|Pitta (fire + water)||Kapha (water + earth)|
|Outward moving||Upward rising||Downward flowing|
You’re looking to self-identify. Is your mind sharper or more fluid? Is your speech more direct like a bullet leaving a gun (sharp) or indirect like a river winding through a delta (fluid)? We’re just observing what exists when we don’t get involved with changing things.
When we know our constitutions, we start to know the energies. Wind energy moves and disperses. Fire energy burns and transforms. River energy smoothes and coagulates.
Befriend Your Constitution
The first part of eating in alignment with your constitution is to befriend your constitution. Use the knowledge to move deeper into your own skin. Twenty years ago when I learned I was pitta-kapha, I disowned the kapha part of my nature. As a lover of ice cream, I didn’t want to know it was on my “not often” list. I also didn’t appreciate the extra juiciness I naturally carried or my tendency to gain weight when stressed. (For what I assume to be culturally influenced reasons, I was proud of my pitta.)
Twenty years later, I wouldn’t trade my secondary kapha nature for anything. My secondary kapha nature is the ace up my sleeve. My kapha adds the endurance to my drive, the capacity to my passion. I’m still proud of my pitta. I appreciate my ability to look forward, to envision, to strategize. But I now realize that it’s the kapha in me that has the staying power, the endurance to make something happen over time—and most good things take time.
By knowing your constitution—and befriending your assets in that knowing—you become more whole. Wholeness equals healing. You heal the disowned parts of yourself and discover what empowers you, including which ways to prepare food, which rhythms, which routines, and which rituals are ones you should devote yourself to. And which are those you should discard.
All constitutions have their assets. Cooperate with yourself. Befriend your assets, and the inner gems continue to reveal themselves. Antagonize your constitution, and you’ll suffer a disownment of yourself.
Your Constitution Is Your Biggest Asset
Your constitution has a few parts. The big parts are your mind and your body. In many instances, different energies influence them. When I’m off my game my body leans toward coagulation and congestion (kapha). When I’m off my game my mind gets sharp and intense (pitta).
If I’m a smart cookie I can catch onto these patterns. I can prevent my body from congesting. I can prevent my mind from overheating and incinerating those around me. Ayurveda tells us we are to learn from our yesterdays if we want to enjoy a lifetime of excellent health. The biggest and most voluntary cause of disease is that we fail to learn from our experiences. We fail to honor the intelligence gained from yesterday. (See: Prajna paradha.)
As we befriend our constitutions, we pick up the patterns of how our habits and our preferences (what we like to do, eat, drink, watch, and talk about) influence our experiences. We notice which patterns give us unpleasant symptoms that aggravate our constitutions. We notice which habits and preferences land us in a free and clear experience in mind and body. At some point, we may decide to take up the habits and preferences that give us more of that. We decide we want thrive more than attachment to our past patterns.
Who You Are and Who You Want in Your Life
Pitta Mind (Fire), Kapha Body (Earth): Sharp Mind, strong Body
I’ve come to know these as my two biggest assets. I design my life and my career around my assets. My constitutionally pitta mind is full of the fire element. My constitutionally kapha body has more of an earth quality than a water quality. I know my body needs strong exercise because its nature is strong, heavy, and dense, like the earth. I know my mind needs to chew on something, to burn through challenges, and to not rest idle for long. I know my mind is particularly susceptible to toxic influences and violence, so I don’t take in much of that in media of any sort. I give my mind big projects to chew on, to digest. I need spiritually refined people who call morality forward in me, who “see” my potential and acknowledge my accomplishments (fire minds rarely reflect on the past).
Your biggest assets may be different.
Vata Mind (Air), Kapha Body (Water): Creative Mind, Fluid Body
You’ll want to design your life around creative projects and people to help bring them to fruition. You’ll want to keep your body fluid and your bodily fluids clean, clear, and moving—like a mountain stream.
Kapha Mind (Water), Pitta Body (Fire): Fluid Mind, Fiery Body
You’re easy to get along with, and people love to have you around. You’re the balm to their wounds. You’ll want to be with people who help direct your energy. Your body will need fresh, clean, hearty food and exercise that isn’t always intense.
If you know your constitution, separate out the strongest qualities of your mind. What is the personality of your mind? What is the personality of your body? Of course your mind and body can have the same personality. Winston’s does:
Kapha Mind (Water), Kapha Body (Water/Earth): Easeful Mind, Enduro Body
My husband’s constitution is Kapha. Not kapha-pitta or kapha-vata. He is straight up kapha. Kapha has many qualities due to its mix of water and earth. The water of kapha generates fluidity, density, flow, stickiness, and smoothness. The earth of kapha makes it heavy, stable, dense, grounded, and impenetrable.
Winston’s mind tends toward flow. He’s easy to be with, relaxed, and good-natured. He’s rarely in a rush or impatient. He runs projects and solves problems fluidly. (I, on the other, more fiery hand, engulf problems with mental intensity.) His body needs a lot of hard exercise, and his endurance is legendary. He needs people to create structure and discipline to experience his true flow.
Don’t Get Neurotic
Over a few decades of noticing what happens when people learn their constitution, I’ve found that they get neurotic about the food lists. You start to hear things like, “I’m a pitta so I can’t eat tomatoes.”
Don’t miss the boat. Explore your assets. Know what gets you in trouble. Design your habits and your preferences around your dominant mental and physical elements, and you’ll enter a new realm of thrive.