Personal Yoga

Day six: embracing my inner kapha

The funny thing about starting a new journey is that you can never quite know where it will take you. You may have certain assumptions and expectations about the direction you want to go to, but if you really surrender to the journey, you may end up somewhere else altogether. That is the beauty and magic of life.

I’ve had six classes of yoga teacher training so far, and this Saturday will be the seventh: the last class of 2018. Previously, I’ve written that so far, I’ve only noticed some subtle changes in myself. Nothing intense or mind-blowing. But at least I’ve noticed that some things have shifted.

Yesterday morning I realised, as I struggled to write something profound about the last yoga session, that I’d been looking in the wrong direction. At this point, I have not gained anything specific, other than more knowledge. I’m not all of a sudden a flexible acrobate bending herself in all directions. I have not had a kundalini awakening simply by sitting on my meditation cushion. None of these things have happened, and I doubt they will anytime soon. That is not part of my process now.

My process right now seems to take me into different directions. It takes me inside. It forces me to be quiet, to be still. This is why I haven’t been posting much here or on social media. I don’t feel the need. Something else is happening inside of me, something I need to pay attention to.

And while I was trying to figure out what the hell I was going to write about this time, I realised that it had everything to do with ayurveda.

An imbalance of vata

In our last class, we talked about ayurveda. Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine and has been a pet topic of mine ever since I went to India in 2012. The main premise of ayurveda is that every person is made up a specific balance of three constitutions (doshas) which determine your health and wellbeing. These three doshas are each ruled by different elements and as such have different qualities. For example, vata is ruled by ether and air, pitta is ruled by fire and water, and kapha is ruled by water and earth. If you know anything about ayurveda, you’re probably familiar with these three doshas and you may have, at some point in your life, done an online quiz and shouted enthusiastically: “I’m a typical vata/pitta/kapha!” (delete where not applicable).

When I first learned about ayurveda in India, I was like that. At that point, I suffered from pretty much all the vata imbalances you can imagine: restlessness, insomnia, digestive issues, dandruff, and always being cold. So as a novice, it was easy for me to draw a conclusion from that and say that I’m a typical vata.

But over the years, as I learned more about ayurveda, I had to admit that I wasn’t 100% vata (and, spoiler alert, not many people are). Because according to ayurveda, you may have vata issues, but that doesn’t mean that your prakriti (birth constitution) also is vata. Of all the three doshas, vata is the one that gets out of balance easiest. So most people suffer from some kind of vata imbalance anyway.

And if I looked honestly at myself, I knew that I at least had some qualities of the other two doshas inside me as well. One of which was, suddenly clear and obvious, a painfully dominant pitta.

Pitta at its peak

I guess I never wanted to admit to (partly) being a pitta-type, because to me, they seemed so aggressive and intimidating. I’ve always preferred to see myself as a free soul, like vata: dreamy and creative. And surely, a part of me is like that. My prakriti definitely contains a good dose of vata.

But there are some very clear signs that I have a lot of pitta in me as well. I get VERY hungry at set hours during the day. I can’t tolerate hot weather. And, although I wish it was different, I have always been somewhat of a control freak. I like to plan, structure, and organise. If I have a goal in mind, I will race towards the finish line with full determination. You can’t really stop a pitta from doing what they have set out to do. They are perfectionistic and get what they want.

Although these traits do come in handy, they have often gotten me in trouble. More than once, people have commented on how I never seem to take a break. And always being in control and planning my next move has made me tired as well.

I guess you can even say that my decision to quit my PhD was a result of that excess pitta energy. And according to some experts, a burnout is the result of a long-lasting pitta imbalance. I may not have had a burnout, but I was pretty close. I was always doing, doing, doing, never wondering what I really wanted. So when I quit, yoga seemed the perfect antidote to that.

Embracing my inner kapha

But I guess it’s the nature of this beast to plan, do, and set goals – even on the yoga path. So in August, before I started yoga teacher training, I went back to the pitta drawing board. And I asked myself: “What do I want to accomplish in the next few months?” I made goals accordingly: “Be there. Have this. Go here. Be able to do that.” All of my goals, I wrote down neatly in my brand new and massive planner, unaware of the fact that I was repeating my old patterns. Rookie mistake.

Luckily, yoga is the kind of path that will confront you with yourself and teach you what you have to learn. Even if you’re not fully conscious of it.

Because this past month or so, I haven’t had the urge to pursue my goals anymore. Or, having almost reached them, realised I really don’t care all that much. Maybe the fact that it’s dark outside and almost winter plays a part as well. But all of a sudden, I only felt the need to chill. Go slow. And take it easy. To embrace my inner kapha.

Of all the doshas, kapha is the one with the least movement. It is solid, steady, and still. In a podcast episode on ayurveda I listened to the other day, the speakers made the point that kapha is under appreciated in our society. Where vata goes fast and pitta goes hard, there is no appreciation for the slowness and calmness of kapha. They argued that pitta, especially, doesn’t have the patience for kapha.

Yet the great thing about ayurveda is that it is a holistic system. The three doshas are not mutually exclusive: they all work together. So even if you have a lot of pitta inside of you, there is always a hint of kapha as well. Maybe you have to look for it under the surface. But it’s there. And a way to heal and cure your excess pitta or vata energy, is to allow the energies of the other doshas to balance everything out.

This is what I meant when I wrote about the beauty and magic of life. Or maybe it’s the beauty of yoga and ayurveda. They will show you where you hold on to things you no longer need.

So for me, that means letting go of control. Letting go of my plans and goals. Despite what my inner pitta might say, I do yoga because it makes me feel good. Not because I need to get somewhere with it. And so if I allow the quiet and calm part of me to speak up, I can see that yoga is not just a means to an end. It’s the end itself.

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