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Ayurveda 101: The Humors

According to early Western physiological theory, certain fluids of the body that were referred to as humors determined a person’s temperament and features. In Ayurveda, the three elemental energies known as vata, pitta, and kapha are sometimes also called humors. These energies each have elements, seasons, circadian rhythms, tastes, psychological, physical, physiological, and emotional traits with which they are associated.

Getting to know the “personalities” of vata, pitta, and kapha offers us a foundation for understanding Ayurvedic principles and helps us navigate personal and professional relationships.

VATA, PITTA, KAPHA

Our beings are comprised of a combination of the physical, physiological, and psychological profiles of vata, pitta, and kapha, but we are typically predominant in one.

VATA
That Which Moves Things

Elements: Space (ether) & Air
Season: Winter
Qualities: Dry, light, cold, mobile, rough, subtle, erratic
Qualities that balance: Stable, heavy, oily, liquid, hot, smooth, gross, unctuous/sticky
Organs: Colon, bones, nervous system, ears
Typical digestion: Variable (tends to alternate between constipation and diarrhea)
Balanced traits: Exuberant, spontaneous, creative, fun to be around
Imbalanced traits: Nervous, anxious, fearful, indecisive, depleted (of energy, money, time), constipation, dry skin, cracking joints
Tastes: Bitter, astringent, pungent—because of its dryness
Tastes that balance: Sweet, sour, salty

PITTA
That Which Digests Things

Elements: Fire & Water (mainly fire)
Season: Summer
Qualities: Hot, sharp, oily, penetrating, mobile, liquid, spreading,
Qualities that balance: Dry, cool, subtle, slow, steady, dispersing, smooth, soft
Organs: Small intestine, liver, gall bladder, spleen, skin
Typical digestion: Sharp/strong (can tend toward loose bowel movements)
Balanced traits: Perceptive, intelligent, goal-oriented, passionate
Imbalanced traits: Irritable, judgmental, aggressive, lacking in compassion-especially for one’s self, short-tempered, overly driven
Tastes: Pungent, sour, salty
Tastes that balance: Sweet, bitter, astringent

KAPHA
That Which Holds Things Together

Elements: Earth & Water
Season: Spring
Qualities: Heavy, gross/solid, hard, cool, inert, wet, dull, sticky, soft
Qualities that balance: Dry, light, mobile, hot, clear, subtle, spreading, sharp
Organs: Stomach, lungs, pancreas, head, chest
Typical digestion: Slow/sluggish (can tend toward heavy well-formed stools and mucous in stools)
Balanced Traits: Sweet, trustworthy, intelligent, loyal
Imbalanced traits: Overweight, apathetic, sedentary, depressed, greedy, attached
Tastes: Sweet, sour, salty Tastes that balance: bitter, astringent, pungent

The Humorous Humors

Offered here are some anecdotes that you might find familiar!

GROCERY SHOPPING
VATA
Forgets to bring a list, shops for bath and body products instead, and ends up having to go back out to get the grocery items that were on the list.

PITTA
Has a grocery list in a spreadsheet coordinated with the aisles in the store so shopping is done quickly and efficiently and always remembers everything on the list.

KAPHA
Already has everything on the list but comes home with back-ups from the list and a bunch of expensive, gourmet items that looked yummy.

DRIVING ON A LONG TRIP
VATA
Likes to take alternate routes to explore and gets lost, has to sleep in the car because all the hotels along the way were booked.

PITTA
Downloads several navigation apps, prints out directions for backup, and lines up hotel reservations far in advance.

KAPHA
Waits until the last minute to pack and, although it takes longer, decides to take the backroads because they are more stress-free.

AT THE AIRPORT—FLIGHT IS CANCELLED
VATA
Away from the gate shopping at one of the airport kiosks when the announcement was made, becomes frazzled and begins to cry after hearing about the cancellation.

PITTA
Immediately marches up to the ticket agent to get booked on the next flight and complains about the service.

KAPHA
Sees this as an opportunity to grab a cup of coffee and then calmly begins to search for a new flight on the airline app.

YOGA CLASS
VATA
Shows up late, talking on the phone, and forgets to remove shoes before entering the room.

PITTA
Signs up for class online; arrives early to get a good spot and do some “pre-game” stretching.

KAPHA
Was going to go to class but stayed home to meditate and relax instead.

AT A RESTAURANT
VATA
Forgot to eat all day, is famished, and can’t decide what to order from the menu.

PITTA
Checked out the menu ahead of time to make sure it was a good restaurant, is HANGRY, and gets really annoyed with vata for being indecisive about the menu.

KAPHA
Loves to eat, always wants to try new places, recommends ordering a large variety of things on the menu to share, and most definitely has dessert.

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