The 3 Most Typical Responses to Stress, According to Ayurveda
Updated: Mar 27
How do you react to stressful situations?
The traditional science of ayurveda gives 3 main constitutions (called doshas), each with a unique way of dealing with stress.
Here are the 3 distinct stress-types, according to the ancient mind body science:
1. Vata Dosha : The Air-Ether Type
The vata type is associated with the elements of air and ether. Like the wind, a balanced Vata type is highly creative, inspirational, light-hearted and seems to moves quickly with the many adventures of life. They are fun, easy-going, sensitive, full of ideas, and sometimes, wild or unpredictable.
Under stress, a vata-type tends toward fear, nervousness, anxiety, overstimulation, and a tendency toward scattered thinking. This may cause them to avoid responsibility, to leave tasks unfinished, or to lose sight of practical matters (earth). Tell-tale signs of vata imbalance include insomnia, anxiety, constipation, an irregular appetite and weight loss (or sometimes gain).
To care for vata-type stress, this sensitive dosha needs to take special care to slow down, to breathe and to take care to protect their delicate nervous system from overstimulation.
They benefit from warm, sweet, moist and grounding food, friends and environments, as well as the regular practice of yoga, meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises). They are wise to ground themselves in daily routines, and to limit any tendency toward sensory overload (e.g. social media, news). In today's culture, vata-type stress is prevalent in all of us.
2. Pitta : The Fire-Water Constitution
The pitta type is associated with the elements of fire and water. In balance, Pittas are natural leaders: confident, driven, purposeful and bright. They are ambitious, goal-oriented and like to manage people and events.
Under stress, this fiery type may set impossible standards and tend to push themselves (and others) too hard. This may cause issues with frustration, irritation, control, and anger. Behind closed doors, they may blame themselves when they fall short of their own high standards and/or suffer from depression, low self-worth, a lack of self-nurturance, emotional outbursts, rage or substance abuse.
Signs and symptoms of pitta-imbalance include high blood pressure, migraines, indigestion, hyper-acidity (or acid reflux), ulcers and skin eruptions (acne, eczema). Pitta-type insomnia is also common.
Pittas are wise to create balance for themselves by taking regular breaks from their ambitions to rule the world, and to have a little fun. They benefit from sweet, cooling foods and activities such as swimming, hatha yoga, time in nature and regular vacations in moderate climates (they are not really beach types). They are wise to commit to a daily practice of breathwork (pranayama) and meditation to bring balance to their innate sense of direction and life purpose.
Pitta also rules the eyes, so it's important for them to take breaks from computers and artificial lighting, and to stay out of the sun.
3. Kapha : The Earth-Water Constitution
The kapha type is associated with the elements of water and earth. When in balance, kaphas know how to set a healthy pace and are in it for the long haul. They collaborate easily with others and are stable, peaceful, gentle, patient, loyal, enduring and kind-hearted.
Kapha-types are the slowest to show the signs of stress, and tend to appear cool and calm under pressure. When they do feel stress creeping in, they may crave long periods of relaxation and over-indulgence to relax, and tend toward laziness, the avoidance of responsibility or procrastination. For example, a kapha under stress may be found binging on the couch watching Netflix with a bag of chips!
Out-of-balance, this constitution tends toward depression, weight gain, diabetes and congestion in the lungs.
To stay in balance, the Kapha type needs vigorous exercise on a daily basis. Daily spiritual practice (sadhana) is also important to bring lightness, movement and energy to their body-mind. They also need to limit high-fat or heavy foods (such as potatoes, sweets and creams or cheeses) and to watch their intake of sweets. Instead, substitute with warming, invigorating spices such as ginger, scallions, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon and clove.
Recognizing Your Type
You may find that you identify strongly with one constitution, or you may find that you are combination of types. The easiest way to know your constitution is through a self-test or pulse analysis (available through ayurvedic doctors and therapists).
Finding Balance in Difficult Times
From time to time, it's natural to find yourself in a situation where the challenges of life seem unsurmountable.
One of the great benefits of working with Ayurveda is the variety of dietary, herbal and lifestyle tips provided by this ageless life science. Each one is designed to help you bring balance to your daily life, and to keep you strong, focused, clear-minded and compassionate in front of life's endless changing rhythms.
Ayurveda recognizes that one of the most powerful tools for mind-body healing -- and for dealing with all of life's inevitable changes -- is through your daily commitment to sadhana, or daily spiritual practice. In general, this is a combination of yoga asana, breathwork (pranayama) and meditation, and is designed to balance and bring out the best in all 3 doshas.
If you are seeking to know more about daily spiritual practice, please read more about Practical Awakening. This course is available in various formats (online, group setting, by download), and has been taught internationally for the last 30 years with powerful results.
About the Author
Briya (Rachel) Freeman is a facilitator specializing in meditation, ayurveda and modern spirituality. She is passionate about exploring the potentials of human consciousness in a way that respects ancient wisdom and the natural laws of Earth and spirit.
Briya is a long-term student of Berdhanya Swami Tierra, a female mystic and shaman of South American origin. She also holds studies in ayurveda at Anjali School of Ayurveda (Kerala, India) and a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from the University of Ottawa.
Briya is based in Ottawa, Canada and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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