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Inspired living

Are you a pitta-type?


Credit: Julia Caesar

Credit: Julia Caesar

You are rather wise, even brilliant perhaps, and you love both gaining and sharing knowledge. You really enjoy a bit of competition. In fact, sometimes you’re a tad too competitive and could benefit from learning to play for enjoyment rather than to win. With your intelligence, strength, drive, determination, ambition and enterprising nature, you make a fabulous leader and communicator.

Often using strong vocabulary to speak your mind, you love a good debate. You like to read before you go to bed and sometimes fall asleep with a book on your chest. You have a reasonable memory. On the not-so-positive side, you have a tendency towards stubbornness, jealousy, self-centredness, perfectionism and idealism.

Physically, you have sharp facial features and an athletic, medium, fairly muscular build with good muscular strength; you tend to be fairly flexible. Unfortunately, you also have a tendency towards premature hair loss and headaches. You are sensitive to the sun and love cool weather. You have a strong metabolism, good digestion and a strong appetite and like plenty of food and liquids. You love hot spices and cold drinks.

You sleep well and for a medium duration. You tend to get diseases involving the fire principle such as fevers, inflammatory diseases and jaundice. Common symptoms include skin rashes, burning sensation, ulceration, fever, inflammations or irritations such as conjunctivitis, colitis or sore throats.

If the above description sounds a lot like you, it’s possible you have what Ayurveda — the ancient Indian science of wellbeing — refers to as a “predominantly pitta type” constitution. A consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner will confirm this.

Symptoms and treatment of pitta imbalance

According to Ayurveda, the body is made up of three elements, or doshas: vata (air and ether), kapha (water and earth) and pitta (fire with a little water). Most people’s bodies are a combination of two of these elements, although the predominant element can change from time to time.

Pitta manifests as the body’s metabolic system. It governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition and body temperature. If there is too much fire in the body, you could be said to have excess pitta. People with a predominantly pitta dosha are vivacious, smart and determined. If pitta is balanced, they tend to be warm, understanding and intelligent.

Excessive pitta can, however, create irritability, jealousy and aggressiveness and is usually characterised by uncomfortable signs/symptoms such as hyperacidity, reflux, ulcers in the mouth, cold sores, dandruff, diarrhoea, bleeding, burning sensation, red rashes and so on.

Since the attributes of pitta are oily, hot, light, mobile and liquid, an excess of any of these qualities aggravates pitta. To reduce pitta, you can increase vata and kapha through various cooling effects. Certain yoga poses, various Ayurvedic food recipes and lifestyle habits are helpful in lessening pitta. Let’s look at what you can do to reduce this excess heat and cool the system.

Yoga for excess pitta

It’s not uncommon for pitta types to push themselves too hard when practising yoga asanas (poses), becoming irritable or angry if they are unable to “perform” them correctly. With their competitive edge, they may tend to stick to the poses they feel they have “accomplished”.

Pitta types can benefit most from the cooling and calming effects of a slower, more focused asana practice. It will help if they can learn to develop flexibility and softness, harnessing their strong will into a gentler attitude and thereby releasing rather than forcing themselves into the poses. After all, the quickest way to progress in yoga is to go slowly and gently, surrendering to the subtle experience of the asanas and mindfully practising them with ease, steadiness and joy.

While most yoga asanas have a wonderful effect on the body and mind, balancing the doshas, certain postures such as headstands, doing yoga in heated rooms or direct sunlight and performing very strong, fast yoga vinyasas (sets of flowing movements) can be too stimulating for those with high pitta. The preferable postures for pitta types are those that work on the umbilical area and small intestine.

Practised on an empty stomach for 10 to 15 minutes, the following asanas are a good way to keep excess pitta at bay. You can either practise holding each pose, in their order, for up to five breaths, or as a slow vinyasa, synchronising each asana with one breath.

Always begin your practice with a warm-up. Be as creative as you like; just make sure you loosen every joint in your body. Once warmed up, you can close your eyes, standing still, and take your awareness to your breath. If you are breathing heavily, allow your breath to return to normal before beginning the asanas.

    1. Shashankasana (child’s pose)

Sit on your heels, palms on your thighs, head and spine straight. Close your eyes and relax. Inhale and raise your arms above your head. As you exhale, bend the upper part of your body forwards from the hips. Stretch your arms so they rest shoulder-width apart on the floor in front of you. Rest your forehead on the floor. You can bend your arms slightly so they’re fully relaxed. Hold this position for up to a minute, building towards holding it comfortably for at least three minutes.

Shashankasana helps to calm an overactive mind (commonly experienced by headache sufferers and high pitta types), gently bringing fresh blood and oxygen to the head and calming and soothing frayed nerves. It’s also great for pacifying anger and inducing an overall sense of wellbeing and a peaceful state of mind. Note: If you have very high blood pressure, slipped disc or vertigo you should not practise this asana.

Bhujangasana (cobra pose)

Lie on your stomach and relax completely. Place your hands under your shoulders, palms flat against the floor. Put your chin against the floor. Take a deep breath and, looking up, raise your head and chest off the floor, moving slowly enough so you can feel each vertebra arching back. Keep your arms bent and your elbows tucked in close to the sides of your body. Take a few slow, long breaths while holding this position, then very gently lower your body to the floor as you breathe out. Relax. Repeat No.1 shashankasana (child’s pose).

Salabhasana (locust pose)

Lie on your stomach, legs together and chin on the floor. Close your eyes and relax your body. Fold your thumbs into your palms and make a fist. Place your hands underneath your body. You may need to shuffle around a bit to find a comfortable position for your hands. Now raise your legs as high as you can, keeping your ankles together and legs straight and taking long, deep breaths. Hold this position for up to five breaths and then relax your legs down to the floor as you exhale. Move your arms out from beneath you and relax with your head to one side. Repeat salabhasana three times, relaxing in No.1 shashankasana (child’s pose) in between. Note: If you have a weak heart, hernia, peptic ulcer or high blood pressure you should not attempt this asana. Repeat No.1 shashankasana (child’s pose).

Dhanurasana (bow pose)

Lie on your stomach. Bend your knees and bring your feet towards your buttocks until you can hold your feet. Take a deep breath in as you lift your feet and head, looking forwards. Breathe gently but deeply for up to five breaths. Relax downwards as you breathe out. Rest with your legs straight and your head to one side, arms by the sides of your body, palms facing upwards (as in No.3c). Relax deeply after dhanurasana to fully absorb its benefits. Repeat No.1 shashankasana (child’s pose).

Gupta padmasana (hidden lotus pose)

Sit in padmasana (lotus pose). Place your hands on the floor in front of your knees. Leaning on your arms, raise your buttocks and come up onto your knees. Slowly lower your body to the floor, coming into a prone position. Rest either your chin or one cheek on the floor. Place your palms together behind your back. Your fingers may point downwards or upwards. If possible, touch the back of your head with your middle fingers. Close your eyes and relax your whole body. Hold the position for as long as is comfortable. Return to the starting position, cross your legs the other way and repeat.

Gupta padmasana is often used as a relaxation pose as it induces peace, stability and emotional balance and also calms pitta. For complete relaxation, your hands may rest on the floor beside your body, palms facing upwards. Repeat No.1 shashankasana (child’s pose).

Shavasana (corpse pose)

Lie on your back. Spread your feet about 25cm apart. Rest your arms about 15cm from your sides, palms facing upwards, body symmetrical. Close your eyes and relax. Keep your attention on your breath. Don’t try to alter your breath; just keep observing it. Relax in this position for a few moments before and between each of the following asanas.

Ardha navasana (half boat pose)

Lying on your back, lift your head and shoulders, looking towards your feet and keeping your chin close to your chest. Lift your legs about 30cm off the floor and keep your arms by the sides of your body, parallel to the floor. Hold for up to five long breaths, depending on your capacity. Finally, exhale as you gently lower your body down to the floor. Relax in No.6 shavasana (corpse pose).

Paripurna navasana (full boat pose)

Repeat the preparations for half boat, but this time bring your body and legs up higher to form a triangle. Using your abdominal muscles, hold the asana for up to five long breaths, lowering your body on an exhalation. Relax in No.6 shavasana (corpse pose).

Ardha setu bandhasana (half wheel pose)

Lying on your back with your body in a straight line, bend your knees and bring your heels as close to your buttocks as you can. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor. If possible, take hold of your ankles with your hands; otherwise, rest your hands, palms facing upwards, on the floor beside your body. Take a deep breath in as you gently lift the middle part of your body off the floor. Keep breathing as you hold the asana for a few seconds. Gradually lower your body to the floor on an exhalation.

Supta pawanmuktasana (head to knees)

Lying on your back, hug your knees to your chest. Take a long, deep breath in. As you breathe out, lift your head to your knees and squeeze your legs. Hold for up to five breaths and then relax. Repeat No.9 ardha setu bandhasana (half wheel pose) and No.10 supta pawanmuktasana (head to knees) two more times, alternately. Then relax in No.6 shavasana (corpse pose).

Sarvangasana (shoulder stand)

If you haven’t practised sarvangasana before, do it under the guidance of a yoga teacher first. If this asana is not practised correctly you may hurt yourself.

Lying on your back, close your eyes, bend your legs and bring your knees close to your chest. Placing your hands on your lower back for support, begin to lift your lower back and legs upwards and straighten your legs. Make sure the weight of your body is resting on your arms and shoulders and not on your neck. To reduce any pressure on your neck you can place a folded blanket under your upper back and shoulders, keeping your head on the floor. Hold sarvangasana for up to five breaths.

Easier alternative to sarvangasana (shoulder stand)

Sit next to a wall, side on. Lie down and swivel your body so your buttocks are as close as possible to the wall. Straighten your legs up the wall, rest your arms by the sides of your body, palms upwards, and close your eyes. Either stay here or move to the next stage by bending your legs and pushing the soles of your feet into the wall so your back and buttocks begin to lift away from the floor. Now you are in a half shoulder stand. Place your hands under your lower back for support and hold the pose for up to five breaths, relaxing out of the pose on an exhalation. Relax in No.6 shavasana (corpse pose).

Matsyasana (fish pose)

Lying on your back, close your eyes and relax your whole body. Place your hands underneath your buttocks, palms facing downwards. Pull your elbows together as close as possible. Using the support of your elbows, press them into the floor and lift your back and neck off the floor. Arch your back and expand your chest, putting the top of your head on the floor and keeping your legs straight. Consciously relax your body in this position, allowing your head, buttocks and legs to support the weight of your body. Breathe slowly and deeply, holding the pose for up to five breaths. Coming out of the pose, press your elbows into the floor, lift your head off the floor and then relax onto your back. Relax in No.6 shavasana (corpse pose). Repeat No.10 supta pawanmuktasana (head to knees) and then relax in No.6 shavasana (corpse pose).

Food and drink

Food and drinks are an integral part of Ayurvedic healing. Foods can either reduce or induce pitta in the body. To reduce excess pitta, it may be beneficial to observe these guidelines:

    • Avoid sweet and spicy foods.
    • Avoid tomatoes, chillies, raw onions, sour foods, pickles, yoghurt.
    • Reduce your sugar intake. If you use unrefined sugar, dark-brown is preferable.
    • If you eat sweets, eat them before, not after, meals.
    • Avoid cashew nuts, peanuts and highly salted snacks.
    • If you have almonds, soak them for a few hours first. Don’t add salt to them. Peel them and chew them very well.
    • Avoid all citrus fruits except mosambi.
    • Boil or steam rather than fry vegetables.
    • Avoid bread, bakery products and anything made from processed flour. (Bread contains yeast, which increases pitta.)
    • Avoid papaya, especially in the summer months, as it increases pitta. Papaya warms and sweetens and is used in Ayurveda to treat a wide variety of conditions including impaired agni (fire). Papaya is aggravating to pitta types.
    • Avoid meat, especially red meat and salted fish. As most meats are either too fatty or heat producing, pitta types are best suited to a totally vegetarian diet.
    • Avoid fasting. Fasting is generally not encouraged for pitta types but is fine if done for only half a day on fruit and water.

Recommendations for when pitta is very high:

  • For breakfast, eat mung beans soaked until they sprout.
  • Chew licorice plant stems.
  • Eat pomegranates.

Guidelines for drinks:

  • Avoid hot milk and alcohol.
  • Drink more water.
  • Soak rose petals or pearls in water overnight and drink the liquid the next day.
  • Sandalwood has a cooling effect on the whole system. Take a teaspoon of sandalwood powder in a glass of water.

Other helpful strategies

    • Wear jewellery made from coral.
    • Wear a sandalwood mala (necklace or bracelet).
    • Take a cold shower or a cool bath.
    • Meditate in the moonlight.
    • Meditate every morning and evening for at least 10 minutes.
    • Don’t engage in frustrating activities.
    • Don’t exercise at the hottest time of the day.
    • Don’t wear tight, heat-retaining clothes.
    • Don’t use drugs, especially cocaine, speed or marijuana.
    • Seek cool, fresh, peaceful places.
    • Don’t repress your feelings.
    • Don’t mix with highly stressed people.
    • Don’t sunbake.
    • Ensure you get enough sleep.

Balancing Act I (issue 102) looked at balancing vata. Balancing Act III (issue 104) will look at balancing kapha. Meggan Brummer is a teacher of Art of Living courses, E: meggan.brummer@gmail.com, W: www.artofliving.org.au.