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Constitution in Ayurveda

by Todd Caldecott on January 12, 2012

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[Image courtesy of Wikipedia]
The Sanskrit meaning of the word dosha is ‘fault’ or ‘taint’, referring to the body’s inherent potential to become unbalanced and diseased. As mediators of the disease process, Ayurveda teaches us that in order to properly prevent and treat disease, we must learn how to identify the doshas and the qualities they manifest. The goal is to restore and maintain the equilibrium of the doshas, and successfully mediate the many effects and influences that can disturb them, such as emotions, diet, stress, and seasonal changes. Although each of us has all three doshas, we are born with a certain proportion of one, two or three of them in different combinations. This unique combination of the doshas is our constitution, or prakriti.

Kapha constitution
Kapha constitution is more sensitive to qualities such as heaviness, cold, and moistness, and thus measures are taken on a general basis to balance these aspects by emphasizing qualities such as light, hot, and dry. Physically, kapha types have a general tendency to weight gain, with a heavy, thick build. The shoulders are broad and the torso, legs and arms are thick and large; in women the hips are broad and breasts are full. The musculature is well-developed but usually hidden by a layer of fat, hiding any angularities of the skeleton. The feet are large and thick. Facial features are broad and full, and generally well proportioned. The skin is soft and smooth, and the hair is generally smooth, thick and greasy. The orifices (eyes, nose, ears, mouth, rectum, urethra, vagina) are moist and well-lubricated. There is a tendency to lethargy or inactivity, although once motivated the energy released can be very powerful, with great endurance and a steady pace. A kapha type might suffer from a slow and weak digestion (mandagni), as well as minor congestive conditions, such as respiratory and gastrointestinal catarrh. They may display a mild aversion to cold and prefer warmer climates, but if they are physically active they can withstand even very cold weather quite easily.

Pitta constitution
Pitta constitution is more sensitive to qualities such as heat, moistness, and lightness, and thus measures are taken on a general basis to balance these aspects by emphasizing qualities such as cold, dry and heavy. Physically, pitta types have a strong metabolism, strong digestion, and a general tendency to mild inflammatory states. The body is of average build, with a well-developed musculature and generally less fat than kapha but not skinny like vata. The features are angular: thinner, sharper and longer, with a medium breadth. The skin is often quite ruddy and there is a general tendency to excessive heat. Warm temperatures and hot climates are poorly tolerated. There is a tendency to excessive bile production and gastrointestinal secretions (tikshnagni), loose bowel movements, and more frequent urination. Pitta types are more sensitive to sensory stimuli than kapha, especially light, heat and sound. They tend to be more physically active than the either vata or kapha types, with coordinated, quick and efficient movement, sometimes aggressive, and act with determination and purpose.

Vata constitution
Vata constitution is more sensitive to qualities such as dryness, coldness and lightness, and thus measures are taken on a general basis to balance these aspects by emphasizing qualities such as wet, hot and heavy. Physically, there is a general tendency to being underweight, with dry rough skin, small wiry muscles and irregular proportions. The bony prominences of the skeleton and the veins are easily observed due to a deficiency in the overlying muscular and fat layers. Vata types will usually display a strong aversion to cold, with irregular or poor peripheral circulation. A tendency to more or less constant movement, often confused or peripheral to the situation at hand, including twitching, tapping, bouncing, picking and shaking. The joints often pop and crack, and the muscles have a tendency to go into spasm. Vata is the most sensitive of the constitutional types to sensory stimuli, with poor powers of recuperation and endurance. Digestive powers are typically weak or erratic (vishamagni), with a general tendency to constipation.

Mixed constitution
Constitutional types can also be a combination of two or all three of the doshas, manifesting their respective qualities together:

• Kapha-pitta constitutions display a combination of the qualities manifest by kapha and pitta, i.e. wet, heavy and hot. These types generally display a heavy build and a layer of fat seen in a pure kapha type, but they will have a ruddier complexion and more heat than a pure kapha.
• Vata-kapha constitutions display a combination of the qualities manifest by vata and kapha, i.e. cold, heavy and dry. These types will often display a lighter build and proportionally longer limbs than a pure kapha, with a greater sensitivity to coldness.
• Vata-pitta constitutions display a combination of the qualities manifest by vata and pitta, i.e. light, hot and dry. These types are in many respects similar to a pure vata type, but with a stronger, more compact build and larger muscles.
• Vata-pitta-kapha constitutions display a combination of the qualities manifest by all three doshas, i.e. hot, dry and heavy. These types display qualities and attributes of all three doshas, and can be difficult to discern, often displaying contradictory or alternating qualities. Conversely, no quality may be especially prominent, representing an equal balance.

Accurately determining the constitution can be a tricky business, especially when the constitution is a combination of the doshas. Traditionally the constitution was determined shortly after birth and was a complex calculation that analyzed several factors including the ratios of physical proportion. Ayurveda states that because it is the combination of the doshas when you were born, your constitution will never change – it remains a part of who you are for life. But as one lives and accumulates influences there is a cumulative effect upon our body and mind that blankets the native constitution like the layers of an onion, or like a sticky piece of gum rolled in dust. Slowly over the years the body changes and ages, and these factors happen irrespective of our constitution. In Ayurveda this pathological change of the body is called vikriti, or disease tendency.

~ Todd Caldecott

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