To help explain more about Ayurveda is holistic nutrition student and my all-around badass intern Sara R., sharing some notes about pitta + her own experience with this fiery life force.
Pittas are the strong willed ones, the ones who always take charge.
Pitta governs both our physical and mental digestion: the way in which we breakdown and assimilate foods and nutrients in the body, as well as our capacity to perceive reality and understand things as they are. Individuals who identify as pitta (and this could be a little or a lot) are characterized by their confidence, intellect, cheerfulness, and reasoning capacity, among other characteristics. However, when imbalanced, pittas are also known for being short-tempered, jealous, and emotional. Physical signs of an aggravated pitta include heartburn, indigestion, and skin eruptions, such as eczema or acne.
Physical attributes that identify as pitta include:
- medium, strong build
- warm, moist pink skin
- moderate weight
- moderate, fine & soft hair
- fine eyebrows
- excellent digestion
- warm internal body temperature
- strong sex drive
Note: Because each individual is a unique combination of life forces, not everyone with these characteristics will necessarily be pitta; these characteristics are just one piece of the puzzle, and will likely overlap with attributes from the other life forces, Vata and Kapha.
Avoiding imbalance, creating harmony.
In order to maintain harmony within pitta and avoid aggravating this life force, it is important to consider certain dietary and lifestyle practices. According to Ayurveda, there are six distinct tastes, each important to every unique constitution: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Because pitta is signified by the fire element, it is easy for the body and mind to become imbalanced when heated, both physically and emotionally. Therefore, the dietary recommendations for pitta are to avoid in excess: salty, sour and pungent foods, which all cause heat in the body; this includes hot spices and very warming foods, like chilli peppers. It is better to include more foods that are sweet, bitter, and astringent.
Raw, cool, and dry foods are very good for balancing pitta, as they can help to tame the fire and bring balance to the body. Foods that offer a cooling effect to the mind and body include raw vegetables, as in salads, but also some dairy and sweet, juicy fruits with a high water content.
It should also be noted that the cooling or heating effect of foods — the energy that food has — is expressed through how we digest these foods. For instance, turmeric may seem as though it is a heavy spice and therefore, is to be avoided for pitta, but because of its biochemcial breakdown in the body and the anti-inflammatory energy it releases, turmeric actually has a cooling effect. (bonus: turmeric is beneficial for all of pitta, vata, and kapha)
Living in Canada, fresh vegetables and fruits are not always in abundance. In the colder months, heartier options like root vegetables are more easily attained. Thankfully, no individual is only pitta, and during the colder season, we are able to find a balance based on our environment and the local bounty that surrounds us. Remember, self-awareness principles of Ayurveda can be expressed through our relationship with the local environment and what she has to offer us.
For each Ayurvedic life force, there is a recommended eating routine. To maintain balance in pitta, it’s important to eat just 3 meals a day every 4 hours, and 2 snacks in between. However, I think it's important that we foster self-awareness more than anything, which can be difficult to do when following a strict eating schedule. The take-away from the suggested eating regime is that those with a predominant pitta influence have strong digestion.
When it comes to physical activity, it is best to exercise lightly and to not overwork one's self. Again, too much heat in the body can aggravate pitta. "Cooler" forms of exercise like swimming, skiing, or strength and resistance training, activities that can be performed for a short period of time, like HIIT (high intensity interval training), and also yoga (non-heated, of course) are great for balancing pitta.
Pitta, mentally + emotionally.
Personally, I relate to pitta more mentally than physically. I tend to overwork myself and have had to work on my short-temper ever since I was a kid. Two things that have helped me balance my fiery pitta energy throughout the years:
Learning to let things go. Your life is going to be whatever you truly want it to be, and when you are focused on others, or on the past, you will never be able to move forward. You might not think a little bottled up anger or your emotional state will affect your health that much, but it does. Our mental and emotional health can strongly impact our physical health. So just let it go. Nothing is worth risking your wellbeing.
Self-awareness, by way of Ayurveda. Truly knowing the type of person that you are, what angers you, what makes you happy, who makes you happy, who or what holds you back? Other questions regarding the physical body might come up: why is my skin so dry? Why can I not tolerate certain spices or foods? Why I am excessively hot during the summer? All of this is explained through Ayurveda and knowing your dosha. Once you know what will help versus what will aggravate your mind, body and spirit, this is when you can create your own path towards optimum health and nutrition.
Check out Genevieve's post about Ayurveda, an introduction + stay tuned for more details regarding Vata and Kapha, as well as detailed dietary and lifestyle recommendations for each life force.
Sara is currently studying applied holistic nutrition at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition (IHN) in Toronto, Canada. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the American University of Beirut. Her passion for holistic nutrition began after serving as project coordinator for the internationally recognized Integrative Health Conference in Beirut, Lebanon. She is currently interning with Genevieve, researching and developing original content for web use and as part of an upcoming workshop series. As a future holistic practitioner passionate about both recipe development and clinical nutrition, Sara looks forward to fusing together holistic remedies and modern day medicine in order to find the perfect fit for each individual.