Ayurvedic Wisdom: Self-Care for Pitta DoshaAug 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By Jaya Ramamurthy
This is the third article of a three-article series on the three doshas of Ayurveda—the energies that comprise everyone’s physical, emotional and behavioral makeup—by Atlanta Ayurvedic clinical specialist Jaya Ramamurthy. In this article, she delves into the pitta dosha. To see all of our Ayurveda articles to date, visit bit.ly/naa-ayurveda.
The Five Elements and the Three Doshas
The ancient medical system of Ayurveda guides us through the year with timeless wisdom and intuitive practices. Its first principle tells us that our universe is based on five elements, which we perceive around us through the qualities they bestow. For example, when we perceive the quality of warmth or cold, we can sense that fire is present or absent. Earth is the densest element and is inherently cold, heavy, dry and static; in other words, it has no movement. Similarly, water is cold, heavy, static and wet. Air, on the other hand, is light, cold and full of movement. In fact, it is the only element capable of movement. Fire is warm or hot and light as well as dry. Ether is omnipresent space that holds everything.
The five elements combine in three distinct ways to make up life. Each combination is generically called a dosha, meaning “that which can become faulty and lead to disease.” Earth and water combine to make a life form, a physical cell, and the combination of elements is called kapha. Water and fire combine to make cellular or metabolic processes. For example, digestive enzymes can be abstracted on the most subtle level to be fire encapsulated by water. The combination of water and fire is called pitta. Air and ether combine to create movement and the combination of the two is called vata.
The three doshas can be thought of as forces that exist within the human body; they cannot be measured but can be observed. Since everything is made up of the five elements, we’re made up of the three doshas to a greater or lesser degree. There are seven body types—vatta, pitta, kapha, vatta-pitta-kapha, vatta-pitta, pitta-kapha, and vatta-kapha. But they can be present in an infinite number of combinations, depending on the degree of their influence, so that no two persons are exactly alike.
Ayurveda’s therapeutic principles are simple: similar qualities, when layered or added, will increase each other, and opposite qualities will balance each other. In this article, we examine pitta dosha.
What is Pitta Dosha?
The combination of the water and fire elements of the pitta dosha give rise to metabolism or transformative energy. Water keeps the fieriness of pitta in check. We see this quite literally in how a mucosal lining keeps the digestive content of the stomach—acids and enzymes—from eating or corroding the walls of the organ itself.
Pitta is static, warm or hot, and light and oily. When a person’s physical, physiological and mental/emotional features have pitta qualities, they are said to be of pitta body type.
The Pitta Profile
Since water and fire are the predominant elements of pitta, a pitta body type is more moderate than the other types—it is of medium build and medium/optimal weight. It is easy to see the bone structure in pitta people, and the face tends to be square or rectangular. Facial features are moderately balanced, too. For example, pitta eyes are sharp and almond-shaped, and the nose and lips are in proportion to the face. Palms and feet are of appropriate size, and fingers and toes are neither too long nor too thick.
As a rule, pitta body types find it easy to gain and lose body weight. The pitta gait is strident and purposeful. Pitta skin tends to be rosy with small hyper-pigmented spots; it can also be prone to breakouts. Pitta hair tends to be fine and wavy or straight. Pitta people have a purposeful manner of speaking and have a pointy tongue.
Pitta people have a steady, predictable appetite that follows the sun’s arc in the sky. They become irritable when they skip a meal and are prone to acidity or burning if they have any digestive issues. Pitta people do not have trouble falling or staying asleep and tend to wake up at the break of dawn. Their day is characterized by intense energy—fueled by passion and drive to accomplish their tasks.
Pitta folks tend to have a passionate sex drive. When the outside temperature gets warmer, they tend to avoid sun exposure and become irritable if they can’t. They sweat profusely, often with an acidic body odor. They are usually warm to the touch and crave cold foods and beverages, especially on warm days.
Intense, competitive and driven, pittas are demanding of themselves and others. They are efficient, organized perfectionists with good memory. They tend to be logical thinkers and can quickly change their thoughts when presented with new facts that counter their beliefs. They are focused, persuasive and usually dominate a conversation.
When unbalanced, pitta types can get irritable, impatient and hyper-critical of themselves and others around them.
Pitta folks are good in leadership positions and excel at quick decision-making. They make good organizers and excel as managers or entrepreneurs. They could become workaholics and may burn out when they lose their work-life balance.
Health Challenges and Tips for Pitta
Pitta disorders tend to be those of excess heat and inflammation. Typical pitta imbalances include acidity/heartburn, digestive disorders driven by dryness and excess heat that tear down the natural defense of the gut lining, itchy and inflamed skin and eye diseases, autoimmune disorders, burnout and anger or rage disorders that drive addictive behaviors.
The biggest challenge for pitta types—therefore, the area to focus on—is easeful daily routines. This means making sure that calming, cooling and restorative activity is built into the day, eliminating long, continuous periods of intense physical or mental activity. Pitta types must eat lightly and on time in accordance with their appetite and must cultivate a meditation practice to allow the intense pitta mind to rest.
Since heat and oiliness are predominant, non-oily, cooling and seasonal foods are key to balance. Plenty of fresh vegetables and greens and meals focused on plant-based proteins are very useful for this body type. This ensures easy digestion and no heat. Pitta types tend to get hungry earlier in the day and often wake up hungry, so fasting for long periods is not ideal for them. A light breakfast, such as a piece of seasonal fruit, is ideal. Eating the heaviest meal when most hungry, around midday, and refraining from a heavy dinner keeps pittas from aggravating their body.
Pitta types are better off minimizing or avoiding caffeine and alcohol, especially during the summer, which is pitta season. Although they are usually of medium weight, they can become overweight if they consume excess alcohol, meat and oily food and if they don’t have a proper exercise routine.
As for a summer diet for this body type, it is best to favor bitter and sweet flavors. Raw salads and mildly cooked foods are great for this metabolism. Avoiding spicy and sour foods is key to keeping the digestion cool and happy.
Pitta eyes are especially sensitive to heat and intense screen time. Using a cooling eye wash at the end of the day with Triphala herbal medicine or a rose water rinse can be very beneficial.
For a personalized pitta-balancing protocol, consult an Ayurvedic practitioner. Ayurveda encourages one to intuitively pay attention to the state of one’s body/mind. This subtle observation is valuable in pivoting and adjusting to the season’s rhythms. An Ayurvedic lifestyle goes a long way, not only toward disease prevention but to help one thrive and flourish along life’s path, no matter where one finds oneself. ❧
Jaya Ramamurthy, whose Indian roots inspired her to share the restorative wellness offered by Ayurveda’s healthcare methods, is a state-certified clinical Ayurveda specialist in private practice. Reach her at [email protected] or AyurJaya.com.