Listening to Our Bodies The Ayurvedic Way
I slept for 12 hours the other night! I’m not sure whether to brag or feel guilty about it. How about neither? Instead I think I’ll just pat myself on the back for listening to my body and giving it what it needed.
I’m an avid follower of Ayurveda, the 5000-year-old medical system from India which translates to “the science of life”. The more I study it, the more I can’t help but apply its mind, body and spirit principles to my everyday life, as well as seeing it in everyone around me. So when I noticed how deeply I’ve been sleeping the past couple of weeks, I immediately thought “Are we entering Kapha season?” For those of you who haven’t read this blog or heard me ramble on about the wonders of Ayurveda, let me share with you a succinct explanation from the Chopra Center: “From the five elements, the three doshas are derived—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Known as mind-body types, the doshas express particular patterns of energy—unique blends of physical, emotional, and mental characteristics.”
Each one of us has Vata, Pitta and Kapha energies within us, because we are all made up of the five elements. However, most of us, from birth, are more dominant in one or two of the doshas.
The five elements referred to are the same elements that everything in nature is comprised of: air, ether (space), fire, water and earth. Examples of how they operate in the physical body would be:
- Air creates the movement in the body for circulation, elimination, etc.
- Ether is the space in the body that exists so that there can be movement
- Fire is responsible for metabolism, digestion, transformation of food into energy
- Water element is all the bodily fluids – blood, lymph, etc.
- Earth is structure (think bones)
The major elements of each dosha are as follows:
Vata – air and ether
Pitta – fire and water
Kapha – water and earth
To further complicate things (or I like to say, make it more interesting), the doshas also have particular seasons, times of day and even periods in our lifetime when they dominate. Hence my question “Are we entering Kapha season?” Here in NYC where I live, Kapha season usually doesn’t begin until mid-February when the weather is wet and cold and the ground is damp.
The person with a lot of Kapha energy is generally strong in structure and they’re well lubricated, inside and out. They rarely suffer from dryness – remember, water is one of their elements. When in balance, Kaphas are calm, centered, kind, loving, forgiving and courageous individuals. Slow moving and with memories like an elephant, they tend to sleep a lot and take their time making decisions, or changes in their life. Out of balance, however, a Kapha can become lethargic, depressed and withdrawn. Physically they may suffer from obesity, depression, asthma or diabetes.
In Ayurveda, the principle of “like increases like” is applied. Meaning, for example, if it’s Kapha season and you have a lot of Kapha dosha, you need to be wary of the foods you eat (heavy foods will weigh you down) and not get too out of balance by over-sleeping, staying inside and not getting enough exercise.
So, is my dosha Kapha? No. In fact, I have very little Kapha in my prakruti (my physical constitution, or nature). I am Vata-Pitta, meaning that Vata (air and ether) is my predominant dosha, while Pitta (fire and water) comes in second. Vatas are full of energy and movement (air and ether) and love change. Because of our swift movement, we can easily be thrown off-balance and end up exhausted, anxious and often suffer from insomnia.
This leads me back to my question about my recent sleep pattern and why I wrote this post in the first place! I think we still have a few weeks of Vata season, judging by the cold, dry windy weather we’ve been having. But the hours of 6am to 10am (also 6pm – 10pm) is the Kapha time of day, and if you sleep past 6am, which I have been lately, you are more inclined to fall into a deep Kapha-like sleep. For someone with too much Kapha energy, this can lead to lethargy, but for a Vata who can suffer from short, interrupted sleep, this is nirvana! So I am savoring my deep, restorative sleep while it lasts. I know that when the seasons start to shift and the nights are shorter, my sleep will follow suit. I am listening to my body, the Ayurvedic way.
If Ayurveda intrigues you and you would like to know your dosha(s), here’s a simple quiz that you can take. Just remember that when you answer the questions, think in terms of your entire life, not just how you are in the present moment. Using myself as an example, I suffered from anxiety as a child and throughout a good part of my life. Meditation has eliminated this anxiety, but I am still considered Vata.
A classic book which will help you delve deeper into Ayurveda is Perfect Health – The Complete Mind Body Guide by Deepak Chopra. I guarantee, it will change your life!