Just today, eleven curious, intelligent yogis finished the first day of our Ayurveda Health Coach Program with Twist Yoga teacher-genius Kate Towell. This thirst for knowledge of all things Ayurveda has revolutionized the way I live. (Or aspire to, at least). Once I began investigating this medical sister of yoga, I quickly realized the way I was living was in a state of resistance: I was combatting the ways in which Mother Nature offers a pretty dang easy existence.
And what’s been even more revolutionary, at least for me? Using Ayurveda to understand the nature of others. After becoming familiar with the concepts, my relationships are so much easier. I have become much more empathetic – with myself, my loved ones, students, business associates.
And my dogs, of course….
…. Who totally have doshas!
Which became stunningly clear when I tried to get them to simultaneously “sit” for a photo in my tiny kitchen recently. What I noticed is that all three of them brought a unique energy to the task: Kapha-canine named “Bravo” calmly sat, stable and unmoving, for the duration. “Minnie”, in classic headstrong Pitta fashion, refused to sit. And “Lucy”? Her butt hit the floor for about two seconds before spotting something shiny and springing up, Vata-like, for the next exciting thing.
For about five minutes, I struggled to get them all to sit/stay together and behave Kapha-like: Faithful, slow-moving and steady. (Which, of course, is my predominate dosha. And, no surprise here: my Kapha-ego wants everyone else to act like me.)
Finally, I gave up and released the treats, irritated. I had asked nicely, then firmly commanded, and finally, yelled: “Sit!” Together, they refused to bend to my will. They disrespected me as their pack leader and I was irritated: Pffft.
Later, I laughed out loud at the metaphor: Trying to manipulate someone’s (dog or otherwise) behaviors into a manner that is not aligned with their nature will be unsuccessful at best; create epic suffering at worst.
Understanding one’s Ayurvedic nature can help to ease that chaos.
I’m waaaay oversimplifying, but in a nutshell, Ayurveda can be explained like this: Each person has all three Doshas, but usually one or two dominate. Various Dosha proportions determine one’s physiological and personality traits, as well as general likes and dislikes. For example, Pitta types are generally focused, strong willed, and driven –or- Kapha types don’t like cold/damp weather.
To illustrate the general characteristics of each mind/body type, let’s return to the doghouse:
“Bravo”: Predominately Kapha-Kanine
Energy: Water, Earth
Personality: Easygoing, undemanding, loving to all, Bravo barks only when absolutely necessary. Also prone to depression and laziness.
Physicality: Soft fur, damp nose and has “soft” eyes. Slightly overweight.
Energy: Steady and enduring, this dog doesn’t take up much energetic space.
Intelligence: Slow to learn commands – took repeated tries to master “lay down” but outstanding long-term memory.
Weather preference: Dislike of cold, damp weather: Bravo needs to be nudged outside when it’s raining.
“Minnie”: Predominately Pitta-Pup
Energy: Fire, water
Personality: After only 2 months in our household, Minnie has toppled Lucy as the pack leader. Mostly quiet, until she wants or dislikes something, then she makes herself heard. Can get competitive & sometimes growls irritably.
Physicality: Classic Pitta redhead; for only 9 pounds, is strong.
Energy: In charge, Minnie is straightforward, self-confident, but sometimes bossy and impatient.
Intelligence: As pack leader, good leadership ability. Can become authoritarian, though.
“Lucy”: Predominately Vata- Hound
Personality: Excitable, lively, fun. But has more than a touch of ADHD and zero impulse control. Distracted by squirrels and will chase anything (real or imagined). Anxious: Is terrified of thunderstorms and wets herself during fireworks.
Physicality: A Retriever/Border Collie mix, Lucy is slender: When wet, she looks hilariously skinny. Nose is always cold.
Energy: High energy in short bursts. She’ll meet a friend at the door with backflips and joyful abandon; then 5 minutes later she’s forgotten all about said friend.
Intelligence: Quick to learn, although with ADHD, she forgets quickly.
With a little knowledge about Ayurveda, you can make fairly minor changes to your diet, perception, and daily routine that will allow you to live in harmony with nature (and loved ones), instead of struggling against it.
Caveat: Forming an understanding of our prakriti is great start, as Geneen Roth writes in “Women, Food and God,” (this is verbatim, because it’s just so brilliant) assigning names to complex behavior is convenient, but it can also be used to distance ourselves from a thorough understanding of our patterns.
We gravitate towards labels because it’s a relief to find ourselves in descriptions. We often end up simply dismissing our actions away, explaining “Oh, yeah, I was a total bitch because I’m a Pitta born under the fire sign Leo to a drug-addicted mother who is also a Scorpio rising.
Roth maintains that once we understand the labels, we sometimes think we don’t need to be curious about what we do because we think we already know the reasons for our behaviors: “I am a Kapha-Pitta. Problem solved.”
Studying yogic concepts like these (or any way of being that helps us ease our suffering) is helpful in revealing our patterns that have been mystifying or painful.
Suffering is when you scramble around trying to label behavior to fit nicely in a box, or worse, use the labels to justify your (or others’) behavior.
Learning and understanding the labels of behavior is the easy part; Just resist the urge to stop there. As the niyamas say: Keep practicing. Contemplate. And repeat.