Tag Archives: take back my health

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.

Ayurveda: how I Kicked a Craving and Began Eating Clean

take this quizEarlier this year I interviewed the owner of a salt spa in Boulder for an article published at MileHighMamas.com. When I found out that Dr Nita Desai was both an MD and a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, I was intrigued. Over the years I’ve been treated for a lung condition with western medicine and with eastern medicine separately, but I’d never found one person who could see me through both lenses and treat me from such dual knowledge.

The term Ayurveda is taken from the Sanskrit words ayus, meaning life or lifespan, and veda, meaning knowledge. It has been practiced in India for at least 5,000 years and has recently become popular in Western cultures. The basic principle of Ayurveda is to prevent and treat illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind, and consciousness through proper drinking, diet, and lifestyle, as well as herbal remedies.

— Source: University of Maryland Medical Center

My first appointment with Dr Desai was in April (I’ll never forget the date because it was the day before Grandma Marshmallow died). Dr Desai looked over the questionnaires I’d completed and examined me — felt my pulses, looked at my face and tongue, hair and skin, and asked me further questions about my eating and sleeping habits so she could figure out my primary dosha.

Before I explain the doshas, let’s first look at the elements. You are probably familiar with these: Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth, in order from least to most dense.

  • Vatas, typically ectomorphs, reflect the qualities of Ether and Air. Think wind. In balance, Vatas are a spring breeze. Out of balance, they are a raging hurricane.
  • Pittas, typically mesomorphs, reflect the qualities of Fire and Water. Think flame. In balance, Pittas are a warming campfire. Out of balance, a wild and uncontrollable forest fire.
  • Kaphas, typically endomorphs, reflect the qualities of Water and Earth. Think where water meets earth. In balance, Kaphas are meandering, gentle streams. Out of balance, they are sludgy swamps.

What are doshas?

Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, according to Ayurvedic beliefs, each person has a distinct pattern of energy — a specific combination of physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. It is also believed that there are three basic energy types called doshas, present in every person:

  • Vata — energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and heartbeat. When vata energy is balanced, there is creativity and vitality. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety.
  • Pitta — energy that controls the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and temperature. In balance, pitta leads to contentment and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta can cause ulcers and arouse anger.
  • Kapha — energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system. In balance, kapha is expressed as love and forgiveness. Out of balance, kapha leads to insecurity and envy.

Everyone has vata, pitta, and kapha, but usually 1 or 2 are dominant in a particular person. Many things can disturb the energy balance, such as stress, an unhealthy diet, the weather, and strained family relationships. The disturbance shows up as disease. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe treatments to bring the doshas back into balance.

 — Source: University of Maryland Medical Center

I am a Vata. This means that by nature I am light, dry and cold and not very dense (because Vata is on the weightless, cold and dry end of the element spectrum — Ether and Air). So it makes sense that to balance out my constitution, I crave things that bring me density, moistness and warmth, like sugar and fat, which are calorie-dense and oily.

Yay, sweets and fats!

Previously, I had no problem consuming sweets and fat. The problem was, I had not been choosing good sweets and good fats. With Dr Desai’s guidance, I have (mostly) given up refined sugar, sweetening instead with agave and other whole, natural sweeteners. Dr Desai also switched me from vegetable or canola oil to healthy saturated fats like coconut oil and ghee (clarified butter) and avocados. Olive oil is acceptable, too.

Dr Desai said to stay away from gluten and refined or processed foods. I had never realized how much pre-prepared foods I ate and served until I tried giving them up. Yakisoba bowls from Costco? Frozen raviolis with sauce from a jar? A pan of turkey enchiladas from the grocery store? Previously I had thought these were healthy choices.

Each meal is to include some good protein. Sunflower seed butter is in. As a Vata, though, beans are not easily digestible (airy, remember?). Clean meats make the cut. By “clean,” Dr Desai means animals that aren’t treated with hormones or antibiotics, and she includes grass-fed cattle, free-range chicken, and wild caught, non-colored fish, among other carnivorous offerings. In other words, creatures that eat what THEY are supposed to eat.

And each meal for my type should also  include cooked fresh vegetables, steamed or sauteed in some of those good oils and seasoned with spices that are good for balancing Vatas.

I feared I would gain girth with these new dietary instructions. But Dr Desai said as long as I did BOTH parts — staying away from refined foods as well as adding in healthy oils — I would actually become more healthy and thus, find my best weight and girth.

Other parts of my regimen include taking appetite-regulating herbs in warm water before each meal (Vatas are known to skip meals), sipping on naturally sweet herb and spice tea (made from dried cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, licorice, ginger)  all day long, and abyanga, or self-massage of the scalp, face, joints, limbs and body with dosha-balancing oils — twice a week.

It took 3 months to conquer my life-long craving of sugar, but I finally did it by my July appointment. In addition, I’ve lost 5 pounds of icky fat. Not that that was the point.

In ayurveda, digestion is fundamental. What and how we eat, how we nourish each cell of our bodies, that is the most important factor in our health. So Dr Desai’s first charge to me was to get my digestion working better.

That few months dramatically changed what I consider food. The thought of putting a slice of Wonder bread into my mouth feels as ridiculous as eating a sponge. And I’d be equally inclined to sip a Diet Co.ke as I would be to sip drain cleaner. These items no longer seem like food to me. I am much more conscious  — not only with my mind but also with my body’s visceral reactions to foods — about how I nourish myself.

In July at my second appointment, my pulses and other measures indicated that my digestion was calmer. Now we could begin to work on the next level: my lungs.

To do that, we would have to clear up a lifetime’s worth of ama. The more I know about it, the more I wonder if ama is what really took the life of my mother-in-law (underlying the lung and liver cancer that she battled). More about ama and my lungs in a future post.

In the meantime, if you’d like to determine your primary dosha and get some insight into balancing it, take this quiz.  And if your interest is really piqued, find out if the excellent and complete Eat Taste Heal is available at your local library.