This article is the fourth in a series leading us into the Ayurveda Immersion at Yoga Center of Columbia beginning in January.
Prakriti on the one hand means “Nature, She who is the first creation.” (Svoboda, Prakriti, Your Ayurvedic Constitution, p. 27) It also refers to your innate physical constitution, your personal metabolic pattern, or in other words your dosha signature. You may recall kapha, pitta, and vata from our first post. Your unique constitution depends upon many factors — some of them including genetics, your mother’s health habits during pregnancy, or any abnormal events that may have occurred surrounding your birth. The amount of each dosha present within you offers the framework for your life experience. At birth you had certain characteristics that define you, your prakriti, and that tends to not change throughout your lifetime.
There are eight different body constitutions according to ayurveda: kapha, pitta, vata, kapha-pitta, kapha-vata, pitta-vata, vata, and the eighth is much more rare, it is called tridoshic and refers to when kapha-pitta-vata are all of equal amounts. Everyone has one or more doshas predominant at the time of birth, but as life unfolds, it is possible and even likely that one or more of the doshas will go out of balance. In other words there may be accumulations or deficiencies of the different qualities.
A common misunderstanding is that when we attempt to bring ourselves back into balance, that means we want to maintain kapha, pitta, and vata in equal amounts within the body-mind structure. This is not true. Balance means that kapha, pitta, and vata are restored to your unique prakritic level.
There are many tests you may take to determine your constitution. You may find examples here and here. But the question really is, what is currently out of balance within me? The current state of your health is your Vikruti. You may be a Pitta-Vata but lately you have been incredibly hangry and have no patience with your family. Sounds like your pitta is a little excessive. To restore balance, remember the principle of “like increases like and opposites balance,” and you might want to take up swimming for example, an activity that has a cooling quality. You might add more cooling foods and herbs to your diet like melons, cucumber, or cilantro. Or, you may be a straight-up Vata, but you have a lot of congestion in your sinuses and lungs. In that case, Kapha is out of balance and so you might choose to add more warming foods and spices like cayenne pepper to your diet to help decrease the excess earthy-watery mucous.
Ayurveda suggests gentle ways to deal with imbalances before they get out of control and turn in to disease. Changing foods or exercise habits to meet your needs are excellent places to begin. There are many ways to look at vikruti, a current imbalance, and to restore your doshas back to your prakritic level. This is a longer discussion, no doubt.
Doshas may be in or out of balance based on other factors too. The time of day, the season of the year, the stage of life, all of these have an effect on the doshas as well.
In Ayurveda, 10, 2, and 6 are important transitions to the day, AM or PM. 6 0’clock is a little more fluid, one might refer to that time as sunrise or sunset instead. From 6am (sunrise) to 10am and also 6pm (sunset) to 10pm, the elements of earth and water, Kapha dosha, are predominant. This is the time of the day that we might feel more loving, more grounded, or more sleepy for example. It is a good idea to get to bed by 10pm to ride the coattails of Kapha’s sleepiness into a delightful slumber.
10am to 2pm and 10pm to 2am are fire and water predominant, Pitta dosha. Therefore, lunchtime is ideal for your biggest meal of the day, when the outer fire, the sun shines brightest, our inner fire is most ready to digest the foods we eat. This might also account for the desire for a midnight snack. However, at night when we are sleeping is really the best time to digest not only excess food already consumed previously during the day but also our daily sense impressions, so better to be sleeping from 10pm to 2am. Says your mother. In a loving way.
2am to 6am and 2pm to 6pm are air and space predominant, related to Vata dosha. This is a lighter, drier, more mobile time of the day. It is also a more subtle time. In the morning before or around sunrise is an excellent time for meditation or spiritual practice. Likewise at sunset. If you can at least arise out of bed by sunrise, quite often you’ll notice a “spring in your step” or just a sense of being awake and alert in a calm manner, as opposed to when you sleep in until the kapha time of day and then the rest of the day you feel logy and sluggish. Says your mother. In a loving way. But there is a reason for it, see?
The seasons also correspond to the doshas. In Ayurveda, we think of the year as containing three seasons. Kapha occurs in late winter and early spring when it is cold and wet outside. Pitta is related to summer, no question; and Vata is related to autumn and early winter when things are drying out and turning cool again. So you might be a Pitta who gets acid indigestion, but in winter a few hotter, spicier foods may be available to you without discomfort. You might be a Kapha, but in summertime when it is hot outside, having some ice cream may be good for you.
Time of life corresponds to the doshas as well. From birth to puberty, Kapha is predominant. Think of how babies are chubby and full of love. At puberty, a bit of hormonal fire kicks in and Pitta arises. From the teen years to middle age is when we study hard, find a fulfilling career, and start a family. These are all very active, busy activities. Pitta is the one who is motivated to get things done. Middle age to end of life is associated with Vata. In Ayurveda there is a saying that the process of aging is the process of drying out. This is why there are so many practices that involve oils. Sesame oil swishing in the mouth, self-massage with a doshic balancing oil, or even shirodhara, the process of dripping warm oil on the eyebrow center for relaxation and purification. Oil counters the drying out and keeps one looking young and beautiful. (with radiant skin!) 😉
So when we talk about Ayurveda being the study of aligning with Nature’s rhythms, these are some ways to be aware of Her rhythm. This is a long and complex discussion, but I think a fun one because it opens up so many possibilities for self care. To me, it is extremely fulfilling to flow with the rhythm of Nature, and in studying Ayurveda we learn how to do that. When you feel balanced and healthy, you make the world a more balanced and healthy place. We all owe that to ourselves!!!
In my upcoming Ayurveda Immersion, co-taught with Debbie Martin at the Yoga Center of Columbia, we will go into more detail on nature’s rhythms, prakriti, vikruti, and the ayurvedic clock. The Immersion is a great way to learn in community with others; the conversations will be interesting and stimulating, and the community support will help you to change unwanted habits for the better. If you would like to learn more, I hope you will join us!