Prakruti, Sankrit for “Nature”
Understanding Your Ayurvedic Mind-Body Blueprint
If you know even the tiniest amount about Ayurveda, you’ll know that it doesn’t buy into a one-size-fits-all policy. Each of us looks different and behaves differently. We have different tastes, preferences and opinions. Thank goodness because if we were all identical then the world would be a decidedly less interesting place to live in!
On a day-to-day level, we are conditioned to accept these basic differences. Basic physics tells us that unlike poles attract. It comes as no surprise then that different kinds of people and personalities come together to form diverse and interesting communities. However if you accept that each community member is unique unto him or herself then is it possible that just one kind of commercial aspirin is capable of curing everyone’s headache? Shouldn’t different types of people have different types of headaches? Ayurveda recognizes that we do. I might experience a throbbing pain that starts at the base of my skull and reverberates upwards, yours might manifest as a sharp pain concentrated on one side of your head. And we all know that not everyone responds to aspirin in exactly the same way. The reason is that each of us is defined by a unique Prakruti — your mind-body blueprint.
Prakruti, a Sanskrit word which literally translates into ‘nature’, refers to your natural mind-body constitution — the unique characteristics that one is born with, perceptible through emotions, behavior, body type, metabolism and health tendencies. The overall nature of a person’s constitution is largely determined by which of the doshas (vata, pitta or kapha) or mind-body humors, substances or qualities is predominant. All three doshas are responsible for the physiological processes of our mind-body and exist in varying levels in each of us but the proportions are different. Imagine a pie chart with three sections — although each of these sections are of different sizes for each person, they always add up to 100 percent.
While it is impossible to define Ayurveda in exact terms, the truth is most of us have mind-body constitutions dominated by more of one dosha than the other two. This means that our emotional capacities, physical characteristics and behavioral patterns will mostly reflect the qualities of the dominant dosha. Some of us exhibit more than one of the dosha characteristics, in that two of the three doshas exist more or less equally in a higher proportion relative to the third. These are ‘mixed dosha’ types. It’s fairly common, for example, to be a vata-pitta type, exhibiting the physical and emotional characteristics of both doshas — more of one perhaps during a particular season of the year and more of the other during another season.
In other cases, one dosha might dominate physical traits and another dosha show itself in emotional traits, or both characteristics could be a mix of both doshas. Living Ayurvedically means identifying the one predominant dosha that characterizes your mind and body and planning your nutrition and lifestyle choices to keep that dosha in balance.
The principles of Ayurvedic medicine aim to continually increase ojas or your core energy, and to do this you need to constantly balance your prakruti. Therefore, understanding your prakruti and the elements that compose it becomes the natural first step in living Ayurvedically. Even though you are born with a basic prakruti that is unique and will stay constant throughout your life, the day-to-day interplay of dosha tendencies are likely to vary based upon influences from food, lifestyle, environment and seasons. You must examine your food intake patterns to check whether you are ‘eating right’ to maintain balance, or whether force of habit, junk foods or meals-on-the-go are driving any of your doshas into excess. That is exactly what triggers ill health.
As prakruti varies from person to person, so does your personal interpretation of balance. Remember, in Ayurveda, balance is not about “all things being equal,” or all of us having equal amounts of each dosha within us. Instead, it is a state of equilibrium where in our current dosha levels match the specific proportions of our natural mind-body makeup. When in equilibrium, the doshas help us to be our best selves. However, when they go out of balance, they create problems such as sluggishness, dehydration, inflammation and other sensitivities. If you consider that dosha literally translates from Sanskrit as ‘that which easily goes off balance’, it becomes clear that stasis is a challenge for us all.
If you are like most people then at this point you might wonder which of the doshas is the best. The simple answer is none … and all. What’s important to remember is that all three doshas are present in all of us — they have to be as each carries a specific function. However, ideally they are all at their best when they are balanced. No matter what your dominant dosha is, your goal is to bring it into balance and live closest to prakruti, your natural design for perfect health.
So what are the three doshas then and how do they work? It’s actually quite simple, each of the doshas simply being a combination of two natural elements:
Vata is responsible for movement in the mind-body — gross motor force, fine motor force, movement of food down your GI tract, physical transportation, movement of thoughts in your mind or nervous impulses and so on. The characteristics of vata (air and space) can be likened to those in a desert or outer space — a vast amount of space with air moving through it. Unobstructed, the air can change its course with complete freedom and flexibility. People with a vata-dominant prakruti are creative and free-spirited. They have amazing thinking power and perhaps a bent towards spirituality. They make talented artists, composers, writers or scientists. Physically, vata dosha types tend to be small-boned, with a tendency towards dry, thin, translucent skin, dry hair, cold extremities and erratic eating patterns, behavior and habits. Vatas have a hard time sitting still.
Pitta is responsible for absorption and transformation in the mind-body — thought process, actual digestive changes of state, enzymatic activity, metabolism, hormonal activity and so on. The pitta constitution (fire and water) is like a volcano — it has a liquid heat smoldering deep inside, which sometimes gushes out with dynamic intensity and drive. People with a pitta-dominant prakruti are intense, organized and execution-oriented, with a fantastic sense of purpose. They can process thoughts in a logical manner and make excellent leaders, managers or mathematicians. Physically, the pitta types tend to have oily skin and hair with a ‘patchy’ quality to it (this can mean an uneven skin tone, combination skin that is more oily in the T-zone, thinner hair and/or a certain flush to the skin). Their hair and skin react easily to hormonal sensitivity and they are generally more prone to feeling hot and irritable.
Kapha is responsible for lubrication, structure and binding in the mind-body. The soothing and stable qualities of kapha (water and earth) resemble those of clay — sand and water coming together to form something that can take shape and create vessels that have holding power without being unduly disturbed. People with a kapha-dominated prakruti are nurturing, compassionate, meticulous and have a wonderful ability to put physical structure to ideas and plans. These people make great health-care workers, caregivers or workers in any occupation that requires persistence, physical stamina and precision. Physically, they are heavier, stable people with skin that is cool and moist to the touch, thick hair all over the body and thicker, spongier skin. Kapha doshas types tend to feel cold and break out into cool, clammy perspiration. The kapha dosha is synonymous with bounty and abundance, especially that which lasts a long time.
It’s a no-brainer then that understanding your prakruti is critical for living Ayurvedically. Your mind-body blueprint forms your baseline for perfect health. Once you understand this, you will find it easier to understand any deviation from that norm (vikruti), and how to apply nutrition and lifestyle tools to bring it back to equilibrium.