Who Am I? - Revealing The Difference Between Your Ayurvedic Constitution And Your Present Imbalance
Posted Sep 15 2010 9:53am
There are so many theories about why we each are the way we are. While there's no one answer to this, the ancient science of Ayurveda offers a very logical, simple explanation based on the universal five elements found in nature and within each of us. People in the West are now becoming more familiar with this Ayurvedic concept of constitutional types, and you can easily find quizzes that are supposed to help you determine which Ayurvedic type you are. But it's actually very hard to discern the difference between your original constitution and your present imbalance. There are a million reasons why we might be experiencing a present imbalance. Here's an explanation of the difference between who you are meant to be, i.e. in a balanced state, and who you may be today.
My first exposure to Ayurveda was in 1991 through Dr. Vasant Lad 's book, Ayurveda The Science of Self-Healing . I took the quiz in the book to determine which Ayurvedic type I was, and after answering all of the questions, I concluded that I was predominantly Kapha (earth + water). I began to identify with all of the attributes of a Kapha person and started to see myself in the world as that. There was a great deal of comfort in finally understanding why I was the way I was -- sometimes lazy, sometimes greedy, usually even-tempered, always congested, and adoring of my bed.
In the fall of 1991 I began Ayurveda school. As a student I received a consultation with Dr. Lad right away. He revealed to me that my Ayurvedic constitution was actually predominantly Vata (space + air) and that I had a long standing Kapha imbalance. I had had this Kapha imbalance since I was a child, and that was why I mistook the imbalance for my constitutional state. Growing up in the Midwest, my diet was composed primarily of Kapha aggravating foods -- sugar, wheat, meat, and dairy. I drank several glasses of cold milk each day, I had unrestricted access to sugar, and I consumed lots of white bread. As a result, I suffered from terrible allergies, asthma, and sinus congestion. No wonder I considered myself to be predominantly "phlegm" type!!
As I learned more and more about Vata types, however, I realized that underneath all of the phlegm, I was actually very much a "windy" type. I had always been on the skinny side, not the heavier side. I was always on the go, doing many things at once, and my skin was dry. As a kid, I wanted to be an artist, I bit my nails, and I was easily distracted. All of these qualities are classic Vata characteristics. They just were overshadowed by the long-term, heavy presence of Kapha that had resulted from my diet.
The constitution we are born with is a result of many factors - our parents' health at conception, our mother's health during pregnancy, our genetic inheritance, astrological forces at the time of our conception and birth, past-life karma, and others we may not even be aware of. This constitution is our unique combination of the five natural elements - space, air, fire, water and earth. Vata types are mostly space and air, Pitta types are predominantly fire and water, and Kapha types are primarily earth and water.
At any time in our lives, our particular proportion of the elements changes as a result of diet, stress, external pathogens, lifestyle, climate, you name it. If, as a Kapha type, your fire element is aggravated due to prolonged consumption of spicy foods while living in a hot climate, you may experience heartburn, headaches, irritability. This is a Pitta imbalance, but it does not change the fact that you are still of Kapha constitution. You would want to treat the increased Pitta, by switching to cooling foods and lifestyle therapies, to bring you back to your original state of balance, to who you were meant to be. If you were of Pitta type, but had moved from town to town your whole life, had an unpredictable home environment, suffered injuries in a car accident, and consumed a lot of caffeine, you would undoubtedly have a Vata imbalance. You might have insomnia, irregular elimination, feel cold, and have trouble concentrating. But this would not mean you are of Vata nature, simply that you have a Vata aggravation.
The ultimate aim of Ayurvedic treatment is to help us return to our individual true nature. This state of balance is different for each of us, depending on our particular constitution. In an Ayurvedic consultation, we determine both the constitution and present imbalance and then prescribe appropriate diet, herbs, and lifestyle therapies to counteract the current aggravation or deficiency. Ayurveda uses the therapy of opposites to achieve this. For example, cooling foods for excess heat, drying herbs for excess phlegm, etc.
Because each one of us has a different proportion of the five elements, balance looks like something different for each person. That's why Ayurveda rarely suggests that any one diet or herbal remedy is good for everyone. What is poison for one person may be healing nectar for another. It's crucial to recognize that although we are all made of the same elements, we are unique in our manifestation.