Warning: yogic voodoo mumbo-jumbo ahead. Proceed with caution (and a big cup of coffee).
A typical Yoga National Guard weekend consists of checking in, a yoga practice, and a test on Friday night; a workshop that zeros in on a particular discipline or theory on Saturday; and anatomy, hands-on adjustments and yoga practice on Sunday. This YNG Saturday was focused primarily on the ancient Indian healing paradigm of ayurveda.
Essentially (and keep in mind that I’m getting this from one 8-hour workshop), the idea behind ayurvedic medicine is that everyone is composed of three basic constitutions, or doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. At various times of the day – and at various times in our lives – we are more of one than the others. The trick is to be able to recognize when one has an imbalance – an excess of one dosha over the others that can cause sickness or other irregularities – and be able to counter that imbalance with food, rest, and behaivor.
While I wasn’t willing to pony up the $85 bucks it would have taken to have a full ayurvedic assessment from the woman who came to speak to us (nice work if you can get it, huh? Her going rate somewhere in the $135/hr neighborhood; we got a discount), the assessments that we did on ourselves as a group with questionnaires (and the follow-up assessments I did online at various sites that offer that sort of thing) told me that I came up kapha dominant with some pitta and literally no vata. A quick-and-dirty profile of my type under this paradigm would indicate that I’m an easy-going, slow to change person whose primary personality traits are compassion and gentleness. That’s my kapha. The pitta in me is responsible for my ability to see a project through to the end, to always put out my best self, and to have the personality qualities necessary to be a teacher and a leader. Vata dominant personalities are most comfortable with change – I imagine they’re the kind of people who don’t mind moving a lot (or who feel the need to move a lot) and who are most excited by travel (especially, my impressions tell me, if that travel is out of a backpack). SO not me.
All in all, I’d say that the assessments that I came up with are pretty accurate, though they’re also general enough that one can fit literally anyone into a combination of doshas. While I’m skeptical about a lot of this sort of stuff, I do have to say that I absolutely agree that the root of disease and illness and poor functioning is energetic. Yes, I believe in germs and viruses and fungi – I’m not saying that modern science is false. What I AM saying is that I believe that our default condition is health, and that chinks in the armor of our immune systems come when we’re out of whack energetically and we allow ourselves (whether consciously or not) to experience malfunction.
What I like most about the idea of ayurveda is the concept of balance. As a kapha-dominant type, I tend toward low-stress situations. I don’t get worked up often (though, when I do, it’s usually fun to watch). I dislike frenetic activity. I don’t often like to over-exert myself. As a kapha-dominant, though, I ought to move a bit more than I currently do. I dislike power yoga classes, and am finding that I’m less enamoured of my step classes than I used to be, but those kinds of activities are precisely what I need to balance the low-and-slow effects of the kapha part of my constitution. I need to feed my pitta a bit more and work on movement and determination.
I take a buffet approach to all of this yoga voodoo stuff. I keep what feels right and true to me at the moment and leave behind whatever doesn’t quite fit. I try to come at it with a fair bit of respect and admiration; I mean, really – this stuff has been going strong for CENTURIES; there must be some truth in there somewhere for it to have gone on this long – but I also recognize that this (and any other philosophy or paradigm) may well be just a piece of the bigger puzzle. I’m not a believer in any ONE way. Still, if being able to think about my body and my attitude in a new way helps me to get closer to the reality of what and who I am, then how can that be bad?
If you’re still hanging in there with me, I’ll go over gunas (which, as best I can tell, are doshas of the mind, whereas doshas refer to the physical body) and chakras (which are traditional energy centers in the body) a little later in the week. Right now, my pitta is telling me to get off my kaphic ass and clean the house!