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By Nadia Marshall
This is a copy of Nadia’s Nutrition Column for Nova Magazine, published in April 2015
What are the body types described by Ayurveda?
There are three main elemental body types described in Ayurveda – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata people have a predominance of Air and Space, Pitta people a predominance of Fire and Water and Kapha people a predominance of Earth and Water in their constitutions. This means they express the qualities of these elements through their looks, personality traits, cravings, as well as their tendencies towards imbalance.
What are Vata people like?
The main qualities of Vata are COLD, LIGHT, DRY, MOBILE and IRREGULAR. Pure Vata people:
• hate the cold, usually have poor circulation and don't sweat much
• have fine, light bodies and have difficulty gaining weight
• have protruding and usually cracking joints
• are either quite tall or quite short with irregular features – maybe sunken eyes; irises in slightly different directions; a weak chin; an unusual nose; and small, irregular or crooked teeth
• have thin, dry and brittle hair, skin and nails
• have difficulty gaining weight
• have sensitive digestion with a tendency for gas, bloating, belching and pain… and dry constipation
• have variable energy and as soon as they have some, they use it up
• have very active, restless minds and move and speak very quickly
• have spatial intelligence, are highly creative and adaptable…. but usually have poor memories and are the constitution most prone to stress and anxiety
When you think of a Vata person, think of ethereal, dreamers and creators. Some celebrity examples are Adrien Brody, David Bowie, Tilda Swinton and Woody Allen.
What are Pitta people like?
Pitta folk are a combination of Fire and Water, whose qualities are often opposing and tend to balance each other out (Hot vs Cold, Sharp vs Smooth etc), the main qualities of this combination are WARM-HOT, OILY and MODERATE. Their exact physical and mental tendencies depend on whether they have more water or fire but overall pure Pittas tend to:
• dislike the heat, have good circulation and are vigorous sweaters
• have moderately sized bodies with good muscle formation
• are of average height with moderate, sharp features – symmetrical facial features, often with a strong chin; a fair or ruddy complexion; plenty of moles and freckles; intense blue eyes (but are prone to poor eyesight – too much heat in the eyes); often auburn or red hair; and moderate, sharp teeth with a slight yellow tinge
• well defined and well-lubricated joints
• slighly oily and soft (but strong) hair, skin and nails with a tendency for premature greying or baldness, and inflammatory skin conditions
• maintain a moderate weight with relative ease
• have strong digestion with a tendency for strong appetite, excess heat, reflux and heartburn… and loose stools
• have good energy and tend not to run out easily
• have an intense drive to get things done, speak with purpose
• have sharp intelligence and good memories…. but are the constitution most prone to anger, irritability, frustration and judgement
When you think of a pure Pitta person, think of an attractive, driven and often intense person. Most of our successful athletes, business leaders and politicians are predominantly Pitta, as are many of our celebrities. Some examples are Kelly Slater, Sally Pearson, Daniel Craig and Julienne More.
What are Kapha's like?
The main qualities of Kapha are COLD, HEAVY, WET and IMMOBILE. Pure Kapha people are considered to be the healthiest, most robust and most attractive constitution in Ayurveda. Kapha people:
• are stable enough to not be bothered too much by cold or heat but can have slightly sluggish circulation
• have very broad, strong frames and dense bones (their bones are literally heavier than Vata's or Pitta's) and strong, well-lubricated joints
• are moderate in height with soft, full features – dark, thick, lustrous, wavy hair; large, full lips; big, white, straight teeth; large eyes (usually brown) with long, thick lashes; thick, strong nails; and pale, soft, slightly oily and slightly thick skin (which tans evenly and easily)
• gain weight quite easily compared to other constitutions and can have trouble shifting it, particularly in the lower parts of the body
• have good digestion generally but if out of balance suffer from low appetite and heaviness... and sticky constipation
• have strong, robust, stable energy and don't like to spend it
• have slow-moving minds but once they understand something, they remember it forever….but are the constitution most prone to depression, laziness and attachment.
When you think of a pure Kapha person, think of someone who is so grounded and earthy that just being around them makes you feel stable. Some of our greatest cooks, singers and mothers are Kapha folk… like Antonio Carluccio, Nigella, Pavaroti and Oprah.
What should Vata's, Pitta's and Kapha's eat?
There is a law in Ayurveda of 'LIKE INCREASES LIKE' which means if we expose our senses to certain qualities, these qualities will increase in our body/mind. This includes what we eat. And, it is taught that when we have a predominance of certain qualities in our body, it is these same qualities that are more inclined to go out of balance. For example, Vata people are more inclined to Vata imbalances than Kapha people. To keep our constitutions in balance we need to apply the opposite qualities of our constitution.
Vata people are drawn out of balanced by foods and drinks that are too COLD, LIGHT, DRY, ROUGH and MOBILE (or stimulating). Therefore, they are kept in balance by eating foods that are warm, oily and not too light (but not so heavy that their sensitive digestion can't handle it) and calming to the mind and nervous system. Therefore, Vatas should avoid cold food and drinks, including too much raw food. They should favour predominantly cooked food prepared with warming spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cloves (most spices pacify Vata); plenty of good quality oils like ghee and sesame and a sprinkle of unrefined salt. They should generally avoid strong stimulants including caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, raw cacao and refined sugar. The tastes that pacify Vata most are SWEET, SOUR and SALTY. Vatas should avoid excess raw food and salads but do well eating a little meat. However, it is best prepared as soups, slow cooked curries or casseroles and eaten in small quantities.
Pitta people are drawn out of balanced by foods and drinks that are too HOT/HEATING and too OILY. Pittas need to avoid excess stimulants as well (because they are heating) as well as chilli, tomato and also too much fermented, sour or salty foods. They do well with a mixture of cooked and raw foods prepared with cooling herbs and spices like coriander, fennel and mint; and a little good quality, cooling oils like coconut oil and ghee. The tastes that pacify Pitta are SWEET, BITTER and ASTRINGENT. Therefore, Pittas can handle more raw foods and plenty of bitter salad greens due to their strong digestion and need for constant cooling. The most important things for Pittas is to make sure they eat on time - a hungry Pitta is a scary Pitta!
Kapha people are drawn out of balance by eating foods and drinks that are too COLD, HEAVY and DENSE or STODGY. They need to favour predominantly cooked, light, dishes prepared with warming spices and just a little oil (not too much). They are the one constitution that actually benefits from the judicious application of stimulants (medicinal doses!). The tastes that most pacify KAPHA are PUNGENT, BITTER and ASTRINGENT. Raw food and salad greens are too cooling so these tastes are best acquired through the generous use of spices (virtually all spices decrease Kapha). Kapha do particularly well on a vegetarian diet and can happily handle being vegan. Skipping meals won't be an issue for them either.
How do you feed dual constitutions or a family of different constitutions?
If you are Vata/Pitta, Pitta/Kapha or Vata/Kapha… or everyone in your family has a different constitution, things can start to get rather confusing! But there is a way of eating that will keep all body types happy. Simply favour three qualities: WARM, LIGHT and SLIGHTLY OILY. These qualities won't aggravate any constitution and they will also support a balanced digestive fire. To make things even more specific for different body types, simply adding condiments and side-dishes is the way to go….
For example, if you make a kicharee for dinner (see recipe), you can serve it up with ghee, salt, lemon, warming chutney and a side salad of rocket and baby spinach. The Vata members of the family can add extra ghee, lemon, salt and chutney, the Kapha members can avoid the ghee and salt and just add the chutney and a little salad while the Pittas can add a little ghee and loads of salad. This way you don't have to make different meals for everyone.... just have different condiments on hand to make the meal more balancing and even more delicious!
Agni - the digestive fire.
Ama or Aama - undigested food waste, toxins.
Ojas- the foundation of our immune system and longevity.
Dhatus - the tissues of the body.
Srotas - the channels of the body.
Vata - the air/ether
intelligence in the body.
Pitta- the fire/water
intelligence in the body.
Kapha- the water/earth intelligence in the body.
Sattva- the quality of purity, intelligence, peace and love.
Rajas- the quality of
turbulence and activity.
Tamas- the quality of
dullness, darkness and inertia.
Rasa - the taste of a food (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent)
Virya - second level of digestion (either Heating or Cooling)
Vipaka - third level of digestion, the deep taste of a food (can be Sweet, Sour or Pungent)
Prabhav - the 'special effect' of a food or herb/spice
Rasa - also the name for plasma tissue
Rakta - blood tissue
Mamsa - muscle tissue
Meda - fat tissue
Asthi - bone tissue
Majja - nerve & bone marrow tissue
Shukra - sexual reproductive tissue