In Ayurveda, the subtle forms of Vata, Pitta and Kapha have their corresponding subtle forms in the body and they influence our minds.
If you’re curious about Ayurveda you’ve probably heard that Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the three main doshas, or humors, in the body. The doshas are dynamic energies; they constantly change, like our moods, in response to our emotions, thoughts, actions, the food we eat, the seasons we’re in and other sensory inputs that feed our mind and body. Respectively, Prana, Tejas and Ojas are the more subtle forms of these three doshas, which have an influence in the mind. Similarly, the same things that disturb the doshas can also disturb these mental forms. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Prana is the mental form of Vata, our life force and the breath of life. It is the flow of intelligence at a cellular level, the communication between each cell that holds our organism together. Prana gives us inspiration and positivity; the will to live, grow and heal ourselves, and connects us with our inner self. When Prana is still, we experience pure blissful awareness.
For the body and mind to be in balance, we need just the right amount of Prana.
When there is too much Prana flowing in the body, one may suffer loss of mental control, and sensory and motor coordination; it may predispose us to learning and behavioral problems such as ADHD; as well as feeling ungrounded, stressed and alienated, affecting our sense of identity. When there is too little Prana, we may suffer lack of mental energy, enthusiasm and curiosity, and may feel that our receptivity and creativity are inhibited. Restricted Prana makes our mind and senses dull and heavy, there is lack of motivation, and attitudes that can become conservative and rigid.
Tejas is the mental form of Pitta, the fire of the mind. At the level of the cell it is cellular intelligence. It promotes intelligence, reason, passion to learn, focus, self-discipline, perception and mental clarity. When there is too much Tejas in the mind, we become overly critical and discriminating; we experience doubt, anger, irritability and enmity. One can be hard to please and prone to temper tantrums. When there is too little Tejas, it causes inability to enquire or discern, accepting things uncritically and losing the power to learn from experience. It can also cause us to be passive and impressionable, overly influenced by others; we may lack purpose and lose direction.
Ojas is the mental form of Kapha: the essential vital fluid of the body in subtle form in the mind. It promotes mental strength, stability, endurance, patience, calmness, good memory and sustained concentration, happiness, contentment and bliss. It connects our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being and is essentially our peace of mind. It is regenerated through meditation. Too little Ojas makes us fearful, weak, worry; we may suffer lack of confidence, difficulty concentrating, as well as poor memory. Nervous exhaustion can develop. Too much Ojas can cause heaviness and dullness in the mind; complacency and unwillingness to change or grow. High Ojas is much less a problem than excess Prana or Tejas, which are the main factors in mental disorders.
Prana, Tejas and Ojas control Vata, Pitta and Kapha in the body.
On the negative side, the use of drugs, whether they are medicinal or recreational, is a factor that causes imbalances of Prana, Tejas and Ojas. Excess exposure to mass-media, televisions or computers, overly strong sensations, and overly bright colors, loud noise, and stress can reduce these subtle qualities. Excess or pretended emotions also affect the balance of these three subtle forms.
On the positive side, factors that balance them include meditation, prayer, self-study, deep sleep and relaxation. Aromatherapy, the right use of colors, aromas, and gems are other strategies that Ayurveda uses to heal at the subtle levels. Pranayama (breathing exercises) is another great practise, but excess breathing can also aggravate Prana. The best way to balance Prana is by spending time in nature and commune with virtues such as: faith, love, receptivity, compassion and understanding.
I encourage you to take a few minutes in silence with yourself and reflect on this article. Choose one of the strategies mentioned above that resonates with you, then be creative and plan how you can apply it in your daily life. Feel free to share your experience, or comments in the space below.
This article is an excerpt from the chapter on “Pranayama, Asanas and Meditation” in my Ayurvedic Training: From Theory to Daily Practice. Visit this page for more info and to register to this course.
The art of eating in harmony with nature is one of many strategies to heal your body and mind with Ayurveda
In Western diet, foods are evaluated for proteins, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutritional contents. However in Ayurveda, we look not only for vitamins, minerals, and chemical nutrient content, but first and foremost for the energetic properties in foods (and that includes herbs.)
Ayurveda evaluates our diet based on the tastes and its effect on the doshas, as well as the following energetic qualities of the food:
Temperature: cold or warm;
Weight: light or heavy; and
Moisture: dry or wet.
The ayurvedic approach treats what you are like right now, and takes it one day at a time, one season at a time. When you wish to bring balance into your digestion, look at what qualities and tastes dominate in your diet, and balance them with the opposite qualities.
The following six tastes are at the core of this practice:
- Sweet foods: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Examples: wheat, rice, milk, cheese, fruit, dates, etc. They reduce Vata and Pitta, but increase Kapha
- Sour foods: organic acids like yogurt, cheese, sour fruits, fermented foods, lemon, etc. They reduce Vata, but increase Pitta and Kapha
- Salty foods: minerals, natural salts, sea vegetables, etc. They reduce Vata, but increase Pitta and Kapha
- Pungent foods: onions, chilies, ginger, garlic, radish, etc. They reduce Kapha, but increase Vata and Pitta
- Bitter foods: dark leafy greens, turmeric, rhubarb, dandelion, etc. They reduce Pitta and Kapha, but increase Vata
- Astringent foods: legumes, raw fruits and vegetables, pomegranate, etc. They reduce Pitta and Kapha, but increase Vata
As an example, if you want to balance Vata dosha, which tends to be cold, light, and dry, prepare your food in a way that is warm, moist or oily (unctuous), and heavier. In terms of taste, favor sweet, sour and salty tastes and reduce astringent, bitter and pungent foods.
If you wish to balance Pitta dosha, which tends to be hot, light, and wet or oily, favor cooling, heavier and drier foods. In terms of taste favor sweet, bitter and astringent tastes and reduce pungent (spicy hot), sour, and salty foods.
Finally if you wish to balance Kapha dosha, which tends to be cold, heavy, wet, and congesting, eat foods that are light, warm and drying. The following tastes are best: pungent, bitter and astringent. Make sure you reduce heavy, oily, sweet and cold foods, sour and salty tastes.
Ayurveda helps us becoming whole through the process of developing our consciousness, through observation, knowledge and action. It implies changing or creating new habits, this may not be easy and may take some time. Observe the food you choose and eat, and start taking actions to enhance your quality of life.
This article is an excerpt from the chapter on “Food as therapy” in my Ayurvedic TT: From Theory to Daily Practice. Visit this page for more info and to register to this course.
Farmers Market Spring Salad: (3-4 portions)
Preparation and cooking time: 15-20 minutes
Here is another simple recipe. I invite you to visit a Farmers’ Market near you where you will be able to find all these ingredients.
Feel free to change the type of lettuce, greens, or protein depending on what’s available.
Kapha dosha friendly as most of the ingredients are light and cleansing, this salad will also keep your Pitta dosha cool on warmer days.
1 whole green/red leaf or oak leaf lettuce washed and torn, or 3 cups of mixed greens with some arugula in it
1 cup of heirloom multicolor cherry tomatoes cut in halves
3-4 baby cucumbers cubed
1.5 cups of slightly undercooked gai lan or broccolini, cut in 3 cm pieces
2 tablespoons of fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped finely
1/2 cup of fresh strawberries, cut in halves
Optional protein addition:
1 cup of shredded cooked chicken (white meat preferably)
or 1/2 cup of almonds for a vegetarian version
For the dressing:
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Farm House grated Fermiere (parmesan style cheese)
Salt and pepper to tast
Wisk all ingredients together and set aside.
When ready to eat, drizzle the dressing on top of salad, toss, and…
Spaghetti Squash with Endive, Arugula and Apple Salad (3-4 portions)
Preparation and cooking time: 1 hour and 10 minutes (includes some free time)
This recipe is simple, has few ingredients, it’s delicious, vegan, warming, hence Vata friendly. It can easily be adapted to pacify Kapha dosha during the Spring (switching some of the ingredients to those in parenthesis) to make a lighter and more cleansing version (during the months from March to June).
- 1 spaghetti squash
- extra-virgin olive oil (or sunflower oil)
- salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pound of asparagus, steamed tender
- 1 leek finely chopped (or 2 garlic cloves, chopped)
- 2 teaspoons of minced fresh rosemary
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (or local fresh goat cheese)
- 1 tablespoon of toasted pine nuts (or sunflower seeds)
The first step takes 45-55 minutes while you can be doing something else: prepare the dressing and other ingredients for your salad, then meditate, or do some yoga …
- First, bake your spaghetti squash, it’s the best and easiest way to cook it.
- Preheat your oven to 375 F.
- Wash the shell of the squash, rinse well and dry with a towel.
- Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scrape the seeds out of each half, and place the squash, cut-side down, in a baking pan.
- Pierce the squash shell several times with a fork and bake for about 45-55 minutes, or until the flesh is tender.
- Remove from the oven, and let cool for about 10 minutes. Then use a fork to pull the strands of squash and reserve.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil (or sunflower oil) in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat
- Slice the asparagus into 1-inch pieces and sauté them with leek (or garlic) and rosemary for one minute
- Stir in ricotta (or goat cheese) and squash
- Season with salt and pepper and sauté until hot and creamy
- Top with pine nuts (or sunflower seeds)
- serve with: Endive, Arugula and Apple Salad
For the dressing:
- Whisk together 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar,
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and
- 1/2 cup olive (or sunflower) oil.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper (low on salt during Kapha season)
- Mix 2-3 heads of Belgian endive, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces,
- 1 cup arugula, and
- 1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
- Stir in the dressing and toss all ingredients together just before serving
- Share and enjoy!
This is one of my favourite soup recipes as it brings Vata dosha all it needs to be in peace. Easy to make, it will calm your body, your mind, and your environment. It has warming and grounding energy. It is a complete meal in itself, but you can also serve it with some fresh bread. It is very nutritious, delicious, and also vegan.
- 2 tablespoons of ghee or olive oil
- 1 sweet onion chopped
- 1 leek chopped
- 1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger root
- 1 sweet potato or yam chopped in 1cm cubes
- 3 carrots chopped in 1cm cubes
- 1 rutabaga chopped in 1cm cubes
- 5-6 Roma tomatoes blanched and chopped
- 25-30 green beans chopped or 1 chopped broccoli
- 1 cup of split mung beans or green lentils, well rinsed
- Herbs: 1 teaspoon of each: freshly grounded fennel seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons of ground turmeric
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 liters of fresh filtered water
- Fresh cilantro leaves to taste
Sauté the onion and leek in the ghee (or olive oil) until golden, about 4-5 minutes, add the herbs and mix well. Add the lentils and the tomatoes, stir, and then add the vegetables: root veggies first, mix well, add half the water and bring to boil, cook for 5-10 minutes. Then add the beans or the broccoli florets and the rest of the water. Bring to boil again, then lower to simmer for 45 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add fresh cilantro, serve and enjoy!