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Ayurveda 2: Pitta, Kapha, ama and a bit of time travel

In my last post on the subject, I explained what Ayurveda means, what doshas are, and gave you a link to determine what your primary dosha might be. I mentioned some dietary considerations for my type, Vata.

I want to even things out and give you some dietary consideration for the other two doshas because many of the comments were from people deemed Pitta and Kapha.

Pittas, typically the mesomorphs or athletically-built people, are fiery. In balance, they are achievers and accomplishers. Out of balance, they are hyper-critical and hyper-competitive, putting others down and winning for the sake of winning (not just finding a personal best). They are prone to heartburn, acne, and other flare-ups. To tone down the fire, Pittas should minimize spicy or fried foods, caffeine, alcohol and competitive sports. They would do well to embrace instead cooler foods such as milk (ice cream!) grains, vegetables and fully-ripe fruits, and participate in inward-turning activities like Tai Chi or yoga.

Kaphas are sturdy, blessed with naturally good health and calmness of mind. The elements are Water and Earth. In balance Kaphas are solid and reliable. When experiencing imbalance, they can be seen as immovable objects: couch potatoes and lazy bones.  Though well-suited for rugged life prior to the 20th century, excess Kapha (stagnant fluids and solids) is connected with the rise of obesity and heart disease in modern times. Unlike Vatas (Ether/Air), Kaphas are already moist, dense and grounded, so their diets should counter that with less density and more dryness. Fewer fats, sweets, dairy and beef; choosing instead and drier foods like salads, crisp veggies, dried fruit, cereals, grains, beans and poultry. Movement/exercise  is important to keep fluids flowing.

Source: Eat-Taste-Heal


So why does ayurveda encourage us to balance our inherent nature with complementary elements?

Because when we go all lopsided (for example, airy Vatas choosing popcorn and a carbonated beverage, fiery Pittas opting for a spicy burrito and tequila, earthy Kaphas munching on a burger and fried potatoes) we create ama in our bodies.

From Eat-Taste-Heal:

If water and blood are the sweet nectars of the body, ama is the rotten sludge. Ama is undigested food residue that lodges itself within the organs and channels of the body. With the consistency of a sticky paste, ama is whitish-yellow in color and has a putrid smell.

When our ability to digest food becomes impaired, the body can no longer absorb essential nutrients. Undigested and partially digested food lingers in the body, leading to the formation of ama. Ayurveda views ama as one of the most threatening opponents to good health, linking the majority of health disorders in some way to the presence of this substance. Simply stated, ama is undigested food that begins to eat you!

So besides beginning to eat for our type, what can we do to get rid of accumulated ama? Deep breathing is one way, sweating, too, and cleansing fasts are yet another. The granddaddy of detox is called panchakarma, and it can include any combination of five treatments (a few, such as “therapeutic vomiting,” are too harsh for me to consider).

The concept of ama makes me wonder if Grandma Marshmallow‘s seemingly unexplainable disease and death might be understandable if reframed. Western medicine couldn’t make any sense of it — in spite of her healthy lifestyle she got lung cancer that spread to her liver. But perhaps ayurvedic medicine does — she was a Kapha-Pitta whose healthy* western dietary choices imbalanced and eventually overwhelmed her system. She died of an accumulation of ama, which manifested as cancer once it reached a tipping point.


In July Dr Desai said my digestion had calmed down and we could go to the next step: detoxifying my lungs. She believes that I have had low-level inflammation in both my digestive and my respiratory systems for most of my life, and once we  drastically reduce the ama, I will be on my way to greater health and higher energy levels.

She gave me ayurvedic powders and potions (St Elsewhere is helping me decipher the ingredients on the Hindi labels) to clear my lungs, and — boy! Three weeks of these concoctions did as much clearing as 9 months on prednisone and a second potent drug did in 2009. Only without the liver and kidney toxicity.


Watching Grandma Lisa’s decline and observing her children caring for her during her decline caused me to time travel (How do I get frequent flyer miles for doing so?).

Someday *I* might receive a death-knell diagnosis. Someday Tessa and Reed might be charged with taking care of an increasingly withering me. Some day *I* might be faced with dying of an avoidable system failure.

My queendom for a chance to go back and make different decisions! What I wouldn’t do to go back to, say, 2011 and begin detoxifying from my past choices and nourishing my body and soul from then on! If only I could go back back back…

And here I am.


* I am convinced that many “healthy” food choices are really not so much. More on that in a bloghop post I’m now researching that will appear here next week.

11 Responses

  1. Read your post with a lot of interest. And want to follow what comes next – that post on food choices.

    I completely agree to that assessment of me –

    “When experiencing imbalance, they can be seen as immovable objects: couch potatoes and lazy bones. ” Yeah, that is me.

    Maybe the clues to Grandma’s death are found here.

  2. Pretty much all the things that I’m not supposed to eating I like! I suppose that happens with all types? Interested in your next post on the subject.

    1. Great point. Another facet of ayurveda is the 6 tastes, and how we need some of each at every meal, in different ratios according to our dosha

      Our cravings and preference are clues given by our bodies’ inherent wisdom. (I needed someone else, though, to help me interpret mine.)

      I’m a Vata, and Vatas need sweet, dense and warm to balance their nature. I craved sweets, which was in line with my body seeking balance. But I didn’t choose HEALTHY sweet-tasting foods. I chose refined sugars. To tame that I have loose herbal teas made of sweet herbs — cardamom, licorice, fennel, etc). Also I find my sweets elsewhere now — fruits, dairy, agave.

      So don’t discount your preferences. Instead, fine-tune them. Check that link and see what your body might be asking for and other ways for it to get it.

  3. this is so interesting to me, I love learning about my body and how I can make it healthier, it means I need to give up bugers..which will be hard. But I am willing to try to be healthier for the boys.

  4. Ha! The last survey came back as Pitta, but I am definitely more of the Kapha.

    I’m glad this is working for you and your lungs are feeling more clear.

  5. Good points. In the past I’ve done some cleaning up of my diet via yeast-free (practically impossible) and Chinese medicine (infertility). The fact that I still have what appears to be chronic inflammation sure points to a need for more mindful eating. Thanks for the information!

  6. I find this stuff interesting and very thought-provoking but I have trouble actually determining what I am as the tests seems very subjective (do I have large pleasant eyes? um, no clue :)). I also have trouble trusting health professionals – maybe someday I’ll find someone I really love.

    1. Yeah, the eye one throws me, too.

      Many people have a primary and a secondary dosha. Maybe you have traits of two of them. Depending on your eyes ;-).

      I hope you find one, too. And I’m abiding with you during your 2ww. XO

  7. Great informative post. It’s interesting to learn about your own cravings, like for me comfort foods are often on the top of the list. When I”m stressed I reach for things like mac and cheese and mashed potatoes.

  8. We have a new book out called The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen. It is a celebration of the benefits of Ayurveda and a vegan diet. Now vegans and anyone allergic to dairy products can follow the same nutritional principles as traditional Ayurveda with this breakthrough cookbook by certified Ayurvedic practitioner, Talya Lutzker. A digital book sampler is available for review so please let me know if you need a hard copy as well. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you. Mary Ellen, [email protected]

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