Or, shall I say, skimming the ghee off butter…
About a month ago, on a Sunday very like today, when the sun was shining here in Portland, me and my friends A and Z went to Mount Tabor to establish what I hope will become a ritual: picnicking with naturally-sweetened desserts (black bean fudge) and talking about Ayurveda, as my way of both satisfying the curiosity of others and putting my Ayurveda training with Sri Ali Cramer to use. I wanted to make this knowledge public, so here is an only-slightly-edited transcription of our conversation. (And yes, there is no ending to this post on purpose; let the learning continue!)
DISCLAIMER: This knowledge is neither my own nor steeped in fact. If you are interested in more than a broad overview of this vast field, double check everything in this post; do not take it as the be-all and end-all. I would love for this post and all posts like this to be living documents that can be added to and modified based on developments on the knowledge.
WARNING: Consider yourselves warned that this post will be egregiously tangential. Brace yourselves for side stories that are meant to entertain and provide more knowledge…just don’t expect me to stay on point for the whole post for this one!
Ready, set, get your notebooks out!*
WHAT IS AYURVEDA?
Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga. It is the ancient lifestyle science of India, but it has a lot of properties that intersect with Chinese medicine as well, especially because it is based off the prana system and the energy system. There are lots of intersections that are being developed more recently as yoga is shifting to bring both yoga and Ayurveda together. That is where my training came from; in order to combine Ayurveda and Yoga, I had to be trained in Ayurveda independent of Yoga first, before learning how to incorporate it through teaching yoga and balancing people out through a physical practice.
WHAT ARE DOSHAS?
There is actually a store in Portland called Dosha (a salon) that I keep passing by, which is funny because Ayurveda has a lot of beauty regimens that go along with it. It is a huge, unending field. My Ayurveda teacher who led this entire training…the way trainings typically work at Laughing Lotus is that they usually use a lot of the faculty, but for this one, it was really just her. We would have guests come in, but she was with us the whole time, which is unheard of in a Laughing Lotus training for one person to be there for 50 hours in just one week. However, she has a vast amount of knowledge because she has done so many trainings and is still studying. Most books on Ayurveda are over 300 or 400 pages long. They’re textbooks. Ayurveda is based on a dosha system. Dosha means imbalance. But not in the Western way of thinking of imbalances. It is not seen as a negative; it is literally just where you lie on a spectrum. There’s no judgment attached to them…although, I think that for some doshas there can be some judgment attached to it. A lot of the Ayurveda forums that I have been to talked about Pitta as being the most valued dosha in our Western society because it’s very driven and very fast and very, very, very Type A. That’s an imbalance that’s favored in our society, versus Kapha, which is softer and slower, is less favored. There are three doshas: Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. And most people are a combination of two doshas.
Each dosha is associated with a time of year and a time of day. We’re about to enter Vata Season. Yesterday, I went to an aromatherapy workshop centered around balancing Vata because there’s a lot more wind this time of year. Vata will be stronger in the fall because each dosha is associated with an element and Vata is associated with wind.
*** From here on out, I would strongly recommend taking notes in chart-form for all three doshas, in order to keep up with the tangents. ***
Vata season is the beginning of fall to the beginning of winter. Kapha season is the middle of winter to the end of spring, I think. Everything I say is worth double-checking because I’ve only been studying this for a year so most things haven’t been repeated multiple times to me. And then Pitta is all of summer. Whenever it gets hot, no matter what time of year it is, it’s Pitta season.
Kapha is water and earth. It’s based on climate more than the seasons. In Portland, for example, the season might be called something different than what it’s called in New York and they might not arrive at the same time. For places where it’s always hot, it’s almost always Pitta season. But then you would go into sub-doshas (where the moon is, where the sun is, and where the planets align). There’s a whole other astronomical side that we had three hours of in my training that blew my mind beyond belief and it’s so bizarre. It got into the colors associated with each dosha and the colors associated with each dosha in order to balance them out. The astronomical part got weird. So, water and earth are Kapha. Pitta is fire. Vata is air. When things get windy – when leaves fall from trees – that is Vata.
CHARACTERISTSICS OF KAPHA
Because Kapha is associated with the water and the earth, Kapha is very grounded.
At this point, Z astutely states, “I think of water as big and slow and changeable, but over a long period of time.”
Exactly. Those are words straight out of a dosha chart: changeable, but over a long period of time, just like water. Very moist, which kind of goes into the food part of it too, in terms of what foods are used to balance Kapha. As a dosha, Kapha is already watery and oil-based; there is a lot of oil between the joints. On a physical level, Kapha people are naturally very flexible. This surprises a lot of people because Kapha people are also very curvy. We were told that some yoga teachers are in for a surprise when a 300-pound person comes into their class and can bend way deeper than anyone else…because there’s so much oil between the joints. Larger on a physical level. Larger frame…sometimes. That said, it’s really hard to pin someone as just one dosha, which is why it’s hard to find all the characteristics of one dosha on one person because most people aren’t one single dosha. Curvier, can be slightly slower moving. This is all Kapha in its purest most imbalanced form. In this case, imbalanced means that there aren’t other doshas involved; it’s singular. On the spectrum, it’s all the way over and doesn’t leave as much room for other doshas. Caretaking dosha. In terms of leadership styles, Kapha would be a balancer. Very maternal or paternal. Caretaking. Really supportive.
OJAS, SEX & METABOLISM
That’s going to get me into something else: Ojas, which is a type of prana. Prana is life-force, so it is the amount of vitality we have within us at any given moment. The easiest way to understand Ojas is in terms of sex; it’s what we have harvested in us that determines how much we can expend. So, along those lines, in terms of sex and doshas, Kapha people have the most amount of Ojas, which means that typically they are the most fertile. They can have a lot more sex without losing energy. A reason why Ojas is a good way to understand doshas is because it affects metabolism. For Kapha, A and Z mentioned slow and they have a slow metabolism. Pitta: crazy fast metabolism, which means that Pitta can lose and regain Ojas really quickly. Same with Prana. Going with the sex analogy, that means that Pittas can expend a lot of energy with sex and can be completely depleted, but it doesn’t take them that long to fill it back up. Versus Kapha, which doesn’t deplete that; it just taps into it, whereas Pitta depletes and then refills and the exchange is pretty quick. It’s symbolized by a lot of fastness. Vata is very low Ojas.
Ojas is a type of Prana; it’s a sexual energy, but it’s also a metabolic energy…I would call it liquid prana. Prana is a general term, the category. And Ojas is one type of Prana. So prana is any type of energy we have: our breath energy (air energy). Ojas is more the liquid energy that flows through us, but that I might have to do more research with.
CHARACTERISTICS OF PITTA
Pitta is really ambitious, fast-working. Type A. In terms of leadership styles, we probably view doshas through those too, because through those it would be easier to find out everything else. Practical thinkers. Pitta’s leadership style is very direct.
Physical Characteristics: Medium frame. Take a person who is a medium frame, very strong (Pitta = muscular). Her personality is very efficiency-oriented and that extends to physical characteristics through having an efficient metabolism. They are speed-oriented, very fast.
CHARACTERISTICS OF VATA
This is a fun one to do characteristics of, because I feel like I have zero Vata in me so I feel like I can spot it better on other people. Vata is both air and space for the elements so Vata can be spacey. Vata types tend to be very creative too and have the spaciness associated with creativity and the creativity associated with spaciness. They always think out of the box. Very, very out of the box thinkers.
Summary: spacey, creative, out of the box thinkers, impractical.
Leadership Style: More of a creative leader. Very solutions-oriented, but more outside the box. So very solutions-oriented, but not using the resources that are already there. So they might be excited about going out and getting new things.
*ON TAKING NOTES: While charts are great, something that I really wish was in my Ayurveda training was showing the intersection of all of them. Charts are really necessary on some level, just like how algorithms are really necessary, but there are ways of looking at it where they are all different forms of support, you know?