By Vaishāli, author of “You Are What You Love®” and “Wisdom Rising”
Next to the notions that one can achieve a body without cellulite and a life without suffering, the greatest mistaken belief is that there is one diet, one type of oil, one form of exercise, one hormone supplement, one mantra or prayer, one rigid organizational life structure, or one medication that will work for everyone. Most of us grew up with the “magic bullet” concept that science was going to invent this one universal panacea that would solve our problems throughout all of time. And if you operate from the Western mechanistic paradigm, which dictates that every person is basically no different from any machine, like your car, then this idea makes sense.
Everybody has a heart, two lungs, kidneys, a brain and a digestive system; therefore all bodies are the same. However, the Eastern systems of self-healing – Indian Ayurveda, Tibetan Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine – see human life as a completely different construct. They operate from an energy paradigm and view every person as a Universe unto themselves; each one completely different.
The Eastern philosophy makes perfect sense for anyone who has ever noticed that no matter what you may do or ingest in your physical body, what works for one person may not work equally for another. Yes, your mileage may vary. (That’s why a three-minute commercial for a prescription drug has two and a half minutes describing the side effects – because not everyone has the same reaction.) Most heavyset people have noticed that their thin friends can eat the same thing, or even a greater portion, and still not gain an ounce. Skinny people may have witnessed that no matter how many weights they lift, they still never get the muscular definition their larger-boned counterparts get after putting in half the effort and workout time. Others still may have become aware of the fact that one herb or medication that eliminated a family member’s illness had no impact on their own health dilemma. There are groups of people who feel healthier following a vegan diet. Some societies eat high fat diets including meat and live long lives with no adverse effects. This is not a conundrum; there is a good reason for all of the above.
The viewpoint of the Western medical system is quantitative. Its primary focus is on measurement: how much, how many, what size. All people are considered analogous. Height or weight will determine the medical action taken. Aside from that, if it works on one, according to allopathic medicine, it will be of service to all. Insurance programs also reflect this “one size fits all” medical approach in their policy construction and coverage of treatments.
Conversely, the Eastern perspective is qualitative. Quantity is not relevant. Eastern systems know that just because the packaging details, like number of organs or extremities, may be indistinguishable, that does not imply that the quality of energy making up each and every person’s constitution or medical issue is the same. We are more than just the sum of our “parts.”
The Eastern system perceives everything through the filter of energy. What is each person’s energetic makeup? Just as no two snowflakes are the same, every individual is a manifestation of the unique signature energy frequency that holds their body together. These Eastern time-honored systems, which by the way have been around for thousands and thousands of years, take into consideration the wide differences in energetic characteristics. Some people have a bigger and heavier bone structure than their slimmer, less dense counterparts. Others have faster neurological responses and respiration. Some people can eat virtually anything, while others have an extremely delicate digestive system. Certain people are aggressive, hyper, motivated and competitive; some are calm, easy going and carefree.
These energetic differences are broken down into “body types” or “doshic constitutions.” For the sake of simplicity we are going to separate these bodies types into three different Indian Ayurveda defined categories: Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (Earth and water). All of us – people, cats, dogs, plants, insects, anything that is living, including the Earth itself – are comprised of all three of these energy elements, or we would not be alive. According to the Eastern healing sciences, the action of these energies coming together is the definition of physical life, and the disintegration of these energies is the definition of physical death. Furthermore everything that is living has its own organizational makeup and balance of each of these distinct energies. So, although one living being may have more Vata than Pitta, or more Kapha than Vata, everyone still has all three energy elements, or they would not be alive.
Each dosha has positive and negative aspects. Each provides an element needed to sustain overall life. But, there is no one energy that is better or worse than another. For example Vata, because it is air and space, governs all movement. Without Vata our eyes would not blink, our heart would not beat and our blood would not flow. Without Pitta there would be no physical, emotional or psychological digestion. The energy of Kapha allows for bone structure, muscular development and a sheath to protect the nervous system. The downfall of a physical body is an element that is out of balance. Any single energy can go out of balance, or all three can go out of balance. An out of balance Vata is responsible for wasting away diseases like Alzheimer’s or senility. Too much Pitta will create infections and blood disorders. Excess Kapha can form a tumor or cyst. All three out of balance is cancer. Furthermore, one element may show up primarily physiologically, while for another person that same element may manifest itself as predominately psychological. For the purposes of our sharing here, we are going to distill each element and not combine them as they normally appear in life, so that the distinctions in each doshic element can be better examined and understood.
Most Americans have a Pitta or fire primary body type. The classic fire body tends to be a lean, wiry body type that has a tendency to run warm. They can be aggressive or competitive and like things done a certain way. Pitta primary people make good engineers as they possess a strong mental fire, which allows them to organize concise thoughts, be attentive to details, and cut or burn through what is unnecessary. If the person is Caucasian then they frequently will have a fair complexion and can sunburn easily. Our digestive system is governed by the fire element. So, if the Pitta energy is balanced, a fire primary person will have a good strong digestive system. They may even notice they get warmer after eating as their internal fire is rising to combust the ingested foods. Pitta primary people can have a predilection for loose stools, oily hair and skin, and strong body odor. Emotions associated with an aggravated Pitta element are anger, jealousy, judgmental or critical, impatient, easily irritated and defensive. More balanced fire emotions would be reflected as a wise, thoughtful, fair and conscientious individual.
Vata body types normally have small, delicate body frames due to the large amounts of air and space that make up their constitution. Vata is also the wild card of the energy elements: it can manifest as an abnormally large or small stature. Conan O’Brien, the late night talk show host, is an interesting combination of Vata and Pitta. The fire element is evident in his red hair, a very fair complexion and a lean body frame. The Vata element making up his body shows up in his extraordinary tall, long and lanky frame with limbs that fly around as if he were in a perpetual tornado. Conan, like most Pitta primary people, possesses a quick, penetrating mind and a wiry body type. However his irregular, statuesque height is a classic Vata trait, since irregularity is a fingerprint of the Vata dosha. This is the reason Vata primary women are prone to irregular menstrual cycles. Other Vata primary or Vata imbalance symptoms include irregular appetite, irregular sleep patterns and irregular bowel movements, most likely constipation, but it can also swing back and forth between loose stools and constipation. Most Vata primary individuals are dealing with dry skin and dry hair. A Vata primary body type provides very little insulation between the skin and the nervous system, as the primary element is air and space. This means a Vata primary person, more than any other body type, is likely to suffer more traumas when involved in a mishap. Now wouldn’t that bit of information be helpful in dealing with insurance companies when it comes to assessing how badly injured someone was after a car accident? Out of balance Vata-influenced emotions will appear as worry, fear and being high strung. When balanced, Vata emotions are playful, light hearted and extremely creative.
The Kapha element is energetically about Earth and water. People who are Kapha primary usually have a larger bone structure. Like Earth and water, Kapha body types have a tendency to hold on to energy. They are prone to gaining weight easier than either Vata or Pitta body types. However, when a person with a predominate Kapha dosha does work out and eat well, they will develop a large, well-defined muscular structure. The Incredible Hulk comic book character is the perfect example of a strong, ripped Kapha body type. The Kapha body type has a tendency to live the longest. Like the competition between the tortoise and the hare, a Kapha primary person may start out slower, speak slower, take a longer time in organizing their thoughts and words, but in the end, they have the accumulated energy of endurance on their side. Most Kapha primary people have thick hair, big eyes and lovely facial features. All classic beauties are either Kapha primary or secondary. Angelina Jolie and Marilyn Monroe are the perfect examples of Kapha beauties. Because the Kapha element holds on to energy, it is in the best interest of a Kapha primary person to get up by 6am and get in a workout right away. A Kapha primary body will start to gain more weight every minute they sleep in past 6am. Working out gets that sluggish energy into motion and initiates the fat burning mode instead of energy accumulation and weight gain. Getting up and engaging directly into motion are more Vata and Pitta friendly activities. The last thing an Earth body type wants to do is get up early and work out; they tend to be your typical couch potato. Kapha excessive emotions are anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation and heaviness. When Kapha-related emotions are balanced, they are compassionate, understanding, sensitive and patient.
These descriptions are an extremely brief introduction to these profoundly complex concepts. Of course everyone will see some aspect of themselves in every description, as we all are comprised of all three doshic energies to vastly varying degrees. The basic idea is that each body type is energetically, qualitatively different from the others: Vata people are prone to being dry, Kapha people will gain weight easily, and Pitta imbalances are the underlying cause of inflammation and ulcers. The bottom line is that there is never going to be one pill, one diet, one exercise routine that works for every body. Some bodies need cooling, others need warming, some require adding lubrication, while still others benefit from drying out. There is no pharmaceutical Holy Grail that every body can take resulting in a miracle cure. There is no cookie cutter health program that will universally accommodate the energetic needs of every person, anywhere, at any time.
Understanding your energetic body type and determining your proclivity for imbalance are absolutely essential for organizing a hands-on personal health management routine. This is the first step in knowing what will or will not work for you. Individually and collectively we would all benefit from maturing beyond the concept that we live in a “one size fits all” world. The solution to our health issues and life management dilemmas lies in the wise understanding of what energies are coming together and forming our personal and individual human experience. The longer and more deeply invested we become in finding that one “magic bullet,” the further we stray into ignorance of how to heal and maintain balance in our lives. After all, a robust and consistently healthy quality of life is the desire of every living person. The Western approach to wellness is not going to work for every person. If you are fortunate enough to have found a therapy that is working for you, you have accidentally stumbled upon an energy match for your issue. If you are like so many others that have not found a solution inside your cultural paradigm, may I suggest looking outside your culture? The idea that we are energy and not mechanisms is not a new or original idea. Modern physics is verifying and proving this to be the case with greater conviction and clarity every day. It simply makes enlightened sense to wisely respond directly to the energies that are contributing to and holding together your human experience of life.