You may be surprised to know how your ayurvedic or modern physiological body type can determine health or illness

Understanding the ayurvedic principles of body constitution and how an imbalance can make you sick + remedies

TRADITIONAL

Manasa S Rao

7/15/20239 min read

a man holding his hand up in front of his face
a man holding his hand up in front of his face

Ayurveda has long taught and emphasized on holistic wellness based on an individual's unique body constitution. There are three types: kapha, vata and pitta types. These constitutions are categorized based on the types of physical, mental and emotional disposition that a person possesses. It also determines their digestive and immune strength, and hormonal and endocrine system efficacy. If we ponder this, it is very true that due to different genetic makeup and environmental conditions, every individual is unique and that we all respond to foods, medicines and external stressors differently. Because of this, no one regimen or drug or even vaccine will effect everyone the same way. The concept of differing body constitutions can thus be an answer to how to holistically treat those of similar or varying body types.

It may be a bit hard to understand kapha, vata and pitta metabolic types and figure out what category we fall into, so I've summarized them below. These are not exactly body types, but more like essential parts of the body that make up the whole. Studies have shown that the body types of Vata, Pitta and Kapha are fundamentally the same as the modern physiological body types: ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph respectfully. During our embryonic development, three germ layers called the ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm form and continue on to develop all our body tissues, cavities, organs, fluids. Since our genetic code is different, we see a different balance of the structures formed from these three layers. This means, someone may have more structures or parts of their body that came from the mesoderm layer, as compared to those from ectoderm and endoderm. They are then said to have a 'mesomorphic body type', with specific physiological traits.

Kapha is the 'fluid-like' and mucous portions of our body, such as cellular fluid (cytoplasm), lubrications around joints and limbs, mucus in our lungs, chest, intestines and other parts of the digestive system, any secretions, fat, connective tissue. A person who is dominant in kapha body type are said to have calmer dispositions, find it easier to gain weight than lose (especially in the tummy!), are more nurturing and content, and could neglect self-care in their pursuit of caring for others. We may or may not be a tad lazy ;P (or perhaps that's just me). In modern terms, they are ectomorphs.

Pitta describes the mesomorphic body type and tend to be quite the opposite of the kapha type. Pitta types tend to have a more heated body and constitution, because they are focused on heat and energy regulation for the body via digestion of food. They have more active digestive organs, blood and eyes (muscular and vascular tissue) and their faster metabolism leads to average, muscular and wider build. They may feel more extreme emotions than others, from great joy to hot anger, but are intelligent and creative. If you find yourself throwing off blankets on winter nights, or unable to last more than a couple of minutes in the sauna before overheating, you may be this type.

Vata or ectomorphic body types show more dominant movements and an overall 'coming together' of your body systems. It governs the circulation, respiration and the nervous system. The vata type is centered in the large intestines, skin, colon, kidneys, bones, and any part related to the senses. Vata body type individuals are generally very lean, may be shorter or taller than average for their ethnicity and may have very cold and dry extremities. They are very active, creative, lively and quick to understand but may have short term memory. If you often suffer from hypersensitivity to pain, poor sleeping habits and protruding joints, this may be your dominant type.

We all typically find ourselves falling under one of these categories as our main body type, as I discussed above. However, our current state of health and wellness could play a role in how we identify our body type. Imbalances in our bodies and our diet and medication may cause us to have so many symptoms and side effects that we cannot lean one way or the other. We see our physical and mental balance thrown off with our high stress lifestyles, processed food diets, toxic products and GMO produce. It is easy for us to eat food that does not correspond with and strengthen (or even soothe) our dominant systems, and then reach for the drugs when we suffer from autoimmunity, colds, fevers, arthritis, irregular bowel movements and inflammation. Trust me, I have done that too so I don't blame you! No one likes to stay in pain long. However, as we begin to make very small changes to our self-care and daily diet and exercise, our true body constitution becomes more apparent and we can nurture it correctly for lasting health and vitality.

woman sitting on the stone in front of the ocean
woman sitting on the stone in front of the ocean
floating woman on body of water
floating woman on body of water

How does your body type determine your health?

Identifying your body type is a great tool to finding a daily routine, diet, exercises and motivation to becoming your best self. It enables you to not just know what your innate anatomy and physiology is like, but how to listen and connect with your body when you are sick so you know how to naturally cure it. Empowering yourself with this information, supporting your body's self healing will be second nature to you. Choosing healthy foods to add to your diet, losing or gaining weight, balancing macros and micros, vitamins and minerals and achieving optimal health will not be a chore.

How does your body type help you remedy illness?

As I mentioned, while we may have a mix of body types, typically one out of the three types (Vata, pitta and kapha) tend to exert dominance in our bodies based on our genotype. This dominant type is an underlying disposition we will always have, and makes us more sensitive or susceptible to certain things than others. It determines how we react to certain weather, foods, medicines, environmental stimulants, mindsets. In fact, it may also be why some people are logic minded while others are more artistic.

Our dominant body type is observed most clearly when add or remove things to our diet, and how our body reacts to anything in access. This is because different foods can increase or decrease the vata, pitta or kapha and cause an imbalance.

What are the illnesses, symptoms and remedies if such an imbalance of body types occurs?

Our diet effects most of the imbalance we see in our body. The food we ingest have their own properties, and some foods are termed as 'cooling' to the body (reduce the heat or pitta), while some are considered 'heat-inducing' foods (increase pitta). This does not refer to the temperature of the food, as a lot of 'hot' foods are refrigerated ones. Instead, it has to do with the composition and how it effects the digestive system and metabolism.

Pitta-

My mom has a warmer body (pitta type). She would get super hot and prickly if someone hugged her for too long or if she had a thick blanket or sweater on. Recently, my mom caught a nasty cold and congestion. While speaking to her over the phone, I asked her if she had gotten a cold cold or a "heat" cold. She told me that's exactly what it was - a heat cold. By this, I mean that she had been eating too much of specific foods that increased or aggravated the pitta of her body, which she is already quite susceptible to. The heat had increased in her body, leading to an imbalance that allowed for the cold virus to take hold.

She recognized what had happened to her immediately. The symptoms of high heat (increase in pitta) can include small ulcers or heat bubbles in the mouth, very dry or blood from nose, dehydration, blood in stool or urine, prickly feeling of the skin, digestive distress such as constipation or diarrhea, bloodshot and burning eyes.

Apart from colds, pitta dominant individuals can be more susceptible to high blood pressure, dehydration, heat strokes, sunburns but are typically more balanced than other body types.

The kinds of foods that may lead to increase in pitta of the body could include: spicy and oily food, dairy (could effect people differently- possible increasing pitta in some, kapha in others but we typically observe that yogurt and cheese are heat-inducing), egg yolks, meat, coffee, sour fruits and vegetables, turmeric, saffron, black pepper, cinnamon, processed sugars.

Reducing or fasting from pitta aggravating food should be done until a few days after all symptoms have been eliminated, to ensure that the body has cooled down. Those who are already dominant in pitta type should not have much of these foods in their daily diet, and may be more sensitive to heat/sun exposure. Some great ways to sooth your body is taking cooling baths, drinking TONS of water, doing lighter exercises which relax or 'flow' rather than overheat the body such as pilates and swimming, reducing any time spent in saunas, having a humidifier by the bed every night.

To immediately reduce the heat in her body and get rid of her cold, my mom added cooling foods to her diet - Coconut water, barley water, okra, buttermilk (depending on how it effects your body), watery fruits and veggies like watermelon, cucumber, celery, leafy greens, ghee or coconut oil for cooking. She would have these several times a day and noticed an immediate release of her congestion, and recovered in a couple of days.

landscape photo of man fishing on river near mountain alps
landscape photo of man fishing on river near mountain alps
a bowl of rocks
a bowl of rocks

Kapha -

I would definitely place myself in the kapha category, though I have many pitta aspects too. I find that my body reacts quickly if I have too many 'cooling' foods, increasing mucus-secretion and causing quicker weight gain, but I don't tolerate the heat very well.

When the kapha increases in our body, the imbalance can cause an outbreak of many symptoms. This is where a 'cold' cold may occur, which will have different symptoms from a heat cold. These colds could be more wet, runny and mucus-y than heat colds, which are quite dry. It may feel more like you are being weighed down. Cooling foods will aggravate the cold, while including more heat helps to relieve it.

Kapha dominant people, as mentioned above, seem to suffer more from weight gain and possibly higher cholesterol than others. They may have weaker adrenal and thyroid function, which may cause hypothyroidism. Their metabolism is overall slower.

Kapha can be countered by including more heat into our lifestyles. In fact, those who are attempting to lose weight or decrease cholesterol but can't seem to do so, can benefit from these. Try to use more spices in your cooking, include more electrolytes in your water, keep the body very warm throughout the day and night by wearing socks and heavier blankets and sweaters, do more 'heated' exercises that get the heart rate up - weight lifting, HIIT, cardio, long walks or jogs in the summer. Include more fermented and sour foods in the diet, like yogurt. Spend more time in saunas and the jacuzzi. Get optimal sun and exposure. Do NOT have water with meals, as it slows metabolism further. Avoid laziness and oversleeping.

Vata -

Vata body types are well balanced, but have weakened digestive motility, so they may not get adequate nutrition. They could suffer from nervous system tremors and constipation. If vata is in excess in a person's body, they may be subject to anxiety, memory loss, forgetfulness. They may find it hard to gain any weight or may feel weak. Vata seem to be most affected or increased by decrease in insulin in the body.

To bring back the balance for those with vata body types, it is important to focus on mental and emotional stamina. Frequent meditation, being in more relaxed environments with people you trust, slower exercises that focus on blood and lymphatic flow can sooth Vata. It is also important to not drink fluids during meals. A cup of warm water with lemon or cayenne pepper about a half hour before each meal can improve metabolism.

Vata types can benefit greatly with a vegetarian diet, since they can't digest proteins well and require it in a simpler form. Meat protein can be tougher on the body, and less bioavailable. Other foods that can balance vata are similar to the ones used for kapha body types, as they can speed up metabolism. Maintaining a warmer body temperature, having nuts like walnuts and pecans and having melatonin-containing foods such as tart cherry before sleep are beneficial.

While it is true that our inherent body types may be masked or impossible to discern in our modern environments, paying close attention to how we react to foods can be key to discovering it. Begin by creating a list of how your body typically feels and reacts on a daily basis, and start tweaking your diet, exercise and environment until you feel healthier. Then keep going! :) Good luck <3

"For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. "

1 Timothy 4: 4-5