The power of knowing your body type
The more we know about how we operate on the inside, the smarter we become at self-discipline. Effort is still needed but it is informed effort. If you’ve ever played darts, you’ll know that in order to hit the bull’s eye, you have to steady your hand and focus your sight. The calmer and steadier you are, the better you will be at hitting the target. It takes the same physical effort, or more, to throw the dart sloppily and miss the target.
One system that can inform us is Ayurveda, India’s ancient holistic healing tradition. Ayurveda, which means the science of life, is a comprehensive system that treats mind, body and spirit as one entity. It provides us with a valuable body type system that describes each individual’s unique mind-body make-up and natural inclinations, essentially our inborn nature. Our body type influences our way of thinking, our emotional temperament and our lifestyle choices.
Knowing our body type can help us better understand what motivates us and what kind of self-discipline approach is best, as well as alert us to the specific things that can get in the way of maintaining our momentum over time. After all, most goals are not achieved in a day. It is usually a process over time.
In Ayurveda, there are three main body types or constitutions called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each type is associated with a particular element of nature: Vata with air, Pitta with fire and Kapha with earth/water. Each type has its characteristic physical attributes, emotional disposition and lifestyle preferences.
No one body type is better than another. Each has its strengths and vulnerabilities. So, for example, a Vata type can be enthusiastic yet be restless and scattered. Pittas can have strong discipline but can get willful or impatient. Kaphas tend to be calm and easy-going but can have difficulty getting started.
Your body type also determines the kind of metabolism you have and hence how foods, environments and activities affect you. For example, the same food can affect each type differently. Sweet foods have a calming effect on Vata but create heaviness in Kapha. Pittas strongly dislike hot weather whereas a windy day unsettles Vata. In exercise, Kapha does well with endurance exercises whereas Vata fairs better with short sprints and light exercise.
The following is is a brief description of each body type to help you identify yours. You can also fill out a free, short quiz at http://www.mapi.com/doshas/dosha-test/index.html Keep in mind that most people are a combination of two types.
Vata, the Great Initiator:
As a Vata, you tend to be energetic, enthusiastic and good at initiating things. You like to be active, always on the move, sometimes a virtual whirlwind of activity. However, your energy level is inconsistent and comes in bursts. Your mind also likes to be active, you love thinking. You are creative, have a vivid imagination and like to express yourself.
You are quick paced. You walk quickly and perform tasks quickly. You speak quickly and as a result, you are not always clear in your communication, leaving out relevant details. Because you crave activity and excitement, you are prone to crash and burn. It is difficult for you to slow down and not get overloaded. You are convinced that more is better so you can drive yourself to excess from over-activity and also because you love to expend energy. You are also prone to being anxious and to worry a lot.
You have no trouble having a goal to begin with because you have lots of them – at least lots of ideas about your goals. With your propensity for creative thinking and an urge for new experiences, you find it easy to get started. Keeping the momentum going is another matter. More on that later.
Pitta, Only Your Best Foot Forward:
If you have strong Pitta energy, you like to excel. You tend to be assertive, focused and determined. Like fire, you can have strong drive. You have leadership qualities and are naturally courageous. You excel at planning and implementing new ideas and are efficient and practical.
As a Pitta, your manner of speaking is precise and to the point. You are confident about what you want to communicate and what response you wish to elicit. Your voice often sounds impatient or intense. Your anger can be explosive and, like a burning log, can smolder for a very long time. Or you easily feel angry inside and do not show it.
With all this drive and determination, you would think that Pittas have no problem attaining their goals. They usually do except when they don’t. More on that later.
Kapha, the Salt of the Earth Dependable One:
Kaphas are emotionally steady, calm and easy-going. You are warm and understanding, the most loving and forgiving of all the types – although not always with yourselves. Like earth, you are stable and dependable, have a strong build and good endurance with a high reserve of energy. Yet you often lack the motivation and discipline to put your energy to good use. With external prodding, you tend to stay the course. You are good at stabilizing and running a new enterprise smoothly.
With your innate slow metabolism and slow pace, you are good at staying the course – that is, once you get started and establish a routine. You are good with routine because you tend to be loyal, to others and to ‘the way things are done’. It’s the getting started that’s the challenge.
Stumbling blocks for each body type
Vata’s stumbling block – lack of follow-through
After such a whirlwind of activity, the ballon suddenly deflates. You run out of energy. You’re exhausted at the end of the day and wonder why. Everyone else around you knows why. Watching you anxiously dash off here and there, eat on the run, worrying, trying to do too many things at once, others wonder how you kept going as long as you did.
Or maybe you just lost interest. Losing interest is deadly for a Vata, like having an empty tank of gas. As for self-discipline, it’s not so much that you lack it but rather that you don’t like routine. These natural inclinations can make your efforts to attain your goals variable and inconsistent.
Pitta’s stumbling block – overly high expectations
Pitta types are prone to perfectionism. This either prevents you from starting anything at all since deep down, you fear you will never measure up, or you over-strive and bring too much intensity into your efforts, causing you to self-sabotage. Never starting what you intend can be due to sharp self-criticism. A Pitta client of mine ruthlessly criticized himself for failing to move forward in his career. Yet this harsh attitude contributed greatly to his incapacity. As a Pitta, you might never start something because it is better to keep things as a potential: “One day, when I’ve got myself all together, when I know exactly what I want and exactly how to proceed, I will start.”
Pittas like efficiency and being productive. You want things to improve and you want it now. Staying the course might be difficult because you may get frustrated by the slow ‘progress’.
Kapha’s stumbling block – never getting started
Gazing admiringly into your friend’s eyes, you compliment their prowess at accomplishing their goal. You wish you had their energy and determination, but alas, you feel you don’t. Kaphas actually have lots of energy – in reserve, that is. The problem is the ignition switch. And it’s difficult getting to your car when it’s parked in a big, muddy puddle. Kapha’s slow metabolism creates tendencies towards complacency, lethargy and even depression. Many pure Kaphas can have overwhelming feelings of heaviness, so getting started with any endeavor can feel like a formidable task.
You are prone to self-deprecating attitudes. This self-flagellation will not get you started, however. It will simply bog you down even more. (Pitta tends toward self-criticism for not measuring up, e.g. “I should have done better.” With Kapha, on the other hand, it’s more about low self-esteem, e.g. “I’m such a slob, … idiot, etc.”)
As a Kapha, you actually have lots of energy and stamina but it feels like you don’t. Your slow-moving energy makes it easier for you to gain weight than others. Combined with your gentle, kind, loving tendencies, you are prone to drift into pleasant reveries and fantasies. You can easily imagine yourself resting next to a quiet lake on a warm summer day with the soothing sound of birds.
Self-discipline strategies for each body type
Vata self-discipline strategies:
1) Develop regularity: Irregularity, or lack of routine is Vata’s biggest obstacle. So you need to focus your attention on developing regularity. To help you with this, make it a priority to get enough rest. Your overactive mind and enthusiasm can drain your energy so there’s none left to pursue your goals. Take periodic short breaks during the day to actually slow down and rest.
2) Stay the course: Pick one goal and stay with it. Only change direction or goal if you are absolutely sure it is not right for you. Watch out for enticing reasons to pursue something else. Indecision is something to watch out for. When we stay indecisive, we never move forward.
Pitta self-discipline strategies:
1) Examine your expectations: As a Pitta, you view your high standards as simply basic requirements. Compared to others, your expectations often appear unrealistic and they usually are. For example, having the expectation to excel at something before fully learning it is unrealistic. Yet Pittas are prone to this. You won’t allow yourself mistakes or ‘making a fool of yourself’. You must appear competent at all times.
2) Watch your impatience and frustration: That Pitta fire, so good at forging ahead can quickly turn into anger and impatience. Simply noticing this impatience with … and here’s the important part …. as neutral an attitude as possible, can help you to ride it out and calm down. It’s a practice.
Kapha self-discipline strategies:
Get support: As a Kapha, your tendency towards a slower pace, coupled with an insipid feeling of heaviness, needs external prodding. Needing help and support to attain your goals does not mean there’s something wrong with you – in case you might be thinking that. One man, who tried for years to “lose weight”, finally hired a personal trainer and succeeded in not only slimming down but getting healthier.
2) Go for a walk, even for a few minutes: Lack of physical activity is deadly for Kapha’s motivation. It’s like a feedback loop – the less exercise you get, the less motivated you are, and the less motivated you are, the less effort you make in working toward your goal.
In conclusion, a well-known quote originally spoken by Woody Allan, might help us regardless of our body type: “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” For Vata, that would mean showing up repeatedly and consistently, for Pitta, it would mean showing up free of high expectations and for Kapha, it’s getting support … to just show up.