There's a well known English phrase, which says something along the lines of "You are what you eat". At some point during your Yoga practice, you'll have at least come across the basic concepts of Ayurveda. This is the ancient Indian practice of managing your health through a mixture of eating a balanced diet and exercising correctly.
But why does Ayurveda matter to you, and why does it even matter to your Yoga practice?
Within the science of Ayurveda, you'll find the concept of Doshas, which roughly translates as the consitutions. The doshas essentially affect what foods you should eat, how you eat them, and what that then means for your body. It can even affect the types of asanas you practice, depending on which dosha is particularly dominant at that point in time.
So what are the doshas? Well, each human is born with three doshas: Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha. These remain with us throughout our lives, but the dominance of each varies at various stages of our lives depending on our emotions, the environment around us, and what we've been eating. In other words, it may be that at 18, you'll be more Vatta, but at 25 you'll be more Pitta.
The three doshas are:
Vata – The wind element, very hard to still, and more likely to suffer from monkey mind. It's the body's kinetic energy, focused on our nervous system and the body's movements.
Pitta – The fire element, intense and firey, the characteristic of transformation and change. This dosha controls the body's digestive aspects, whether it's actual food or thought processes.
Kapha – The water element, denoting a set of characteristics that are more stable and cautious. It is a more stable force within the body, controlling the secretions that lubricate the body.
These deal with our constitutions, or the energies that are most obvious in our personalities at that moment in time. On a side note, you'll also see from the brief descriptions above that the doshas take their key characteristics from the 5 elements (earth, water, air, ether and fire).
They are important to bear in mind because the foods you eat and the tastes you experience (whether food is bitter, salty, sweet or astringent, for instance) affect your overall system. And that's where Ayurveda and the idea of "You are what you eat" comes into practice, as an Ayurvedic diet isn't a "one size fits all" experience.
It's not just about eating well for your physical type, it's about making sure you don't eat that chilli pepper if pitta is your particularly dominant constitution at that moment in time. That could literally heat up your interactions with those around you!
To determine which constitution is dominant, you can simply take a quick online dosha test, which take into consideration 20 qualities. These include your body's general tendencies, how easily you put on or lose weight, what your hair, eyes and various bodily functions, and what your sleeping patterns are like.
By paying close attention to your body, you can, over the space of a few months, gain enough of an idea of how your body functions. After a while, you should be able to find a general pattern that points to one of the doshas being more dominant.
For instance, if the Pitta dosha is more dominant, you should avoid overly atheletic exercise and heating foods such as chilli pepper, which can all contribute to aggravating (or increasing) Pitta. If the Kapha dosha is more dominant, this will mean issues with motivation and the need for more demanding exercise (such as Ashtanga Yoga).
With these ideas on board, you can take a quick dosha test to see what element you most closely resemble. Follow the link here :)