The Ayurveda Experience Blog

Why is the digestive system treated first if imbalance begins in the mind?

For those with a Vata nature, life is perceived as unsafe and fear is the immediate response.  For Pittas, life is perceived as unjust and they respond with anger.  For the Kaphas among us, life is perceived as too fleeting and mutable and they respond with sadness at its ephemeral nature.

 I refer to these as defaults, because this is how we automatically, unconsciously, respond.  Unless we bring attention to the way we interpret and react to the world, we remain unable to change.  By avoiding the realization that life offers us all possible types of experiences, we see it only in small ways and we respond as our basic nature predicts.

Now imagine how each of these doshas reacts.  For the Vata nature individual who is frightened by life, they see a need to escape into busyness, the heart of Vata neuroses.  The faster they go, the less they think about their fear.  The foods they eat increase the likelihood that they will be fast and light and ready to escape at a moment’s notice.   

For the Pitta individual who sees life as something that must be fixed or righted in some way, anger fuels the crusade.  The more in control they are, the more likely they will win this battle envisioned in the mind.  The foods eaten assure that the body stays hot, sharp and focused on the goal.  

While the Kapha longs for the simpler times of an earlier age and mourns the passing of the childhood, the adolescence, the adulthood, the life, they pursue an unchanging quality in themselves and in the surroundings.  The foods that are eaten are those that remind one of the past, comfort foods that are heavy, moist, dense and delicious that increase stability and prevent moving on.

This is our human nature and it is rooted in unconsciousness, a lack of desire to see the world as it really is.  When we begin to wake up to the reality that we can choose our reaction in any situation, we take the first steps towards true control over our minds and bodies.  If we could wave a magic wand and leave behind all of our unhealthy habits and replace them all in a moment with healthy ones, there would be no disease, but the human animal is fallible.  We want what we want when we want it.  Our senses scream for that which makes us feel good in the moment and we cringe from that which causes us to delay gratification.  We are goaded in this pursuit by advertisements that promise us better looks, better sex, and better lives.  We pursue these regardless of the fact that we are really setting ourselves up for unhappiness and disease.  We do not envision the price that these choices make on the body, mind and emotions.

When a person comes to an Ayurvedic practitioner, she is ready to make some changes.  The life is no longer making her feel good, it is making her sick.  She wants peace of mind and to stop investing in the doshic mask she has been wearing all her life.  She wants to be free of Vata, Pitta, Kapha.  To begin the process of stopping will demand control of the mind and of the body.  Control of the mind is impossible if I don’t also stop throwing the dosha out of balance by the foods I’m taking in or the ways in which I’m taking them.

Vata dosha is disturbed when what is taken in through the senses speeds up the flow of thoughts.  Stimulating foods will do this or those that are light and dry, but to really slow down requires looking at sights, sounds, smells and touch as well.  Becoming aware of how we take these things in is of utmost importance.  Changing the ways in which we eat will be the beginning of the process to make concrete change in the body to bring greater clarity and calm to the mind.  By assuring that Vata is pacified at its seat, the mind will be free of stimulation and can have time to slow down, savor life and focus.

For Pitta dosha, foods that are hot and spicy or those that fuel intensity serve to keep the mind in its uber-focused, over-analytical, hyper-critical state.   By taking cooling foods and beverages, the body stays cool, the blood stays cool and the mind cools down.  This allows the Pitta nature person to look at the big picture and do what they really want to do: be productive, efficient and successful.  Pittas do not wish to be angry, it is their default when they are driven out of balance by unconscious choices to feed the fire in their bellies.

Kapha dosha becomes stuck in its rut when it resists the flow of life.  Familiar foods and activities become routines that no longer serve them, but they are ill equipped to step out of their comfort zone and pursue change.   By minimizing the foods that slow digestion,  the Kapha begins to feel lighter. This lightness of body leads to a lightness of mind as well.  By including movement in the mix, the Kapha begins to see the joy that is surrounding them in this ever-changing life.  They can miss what they have lost and still be in full gratitude for what they have.

In short, we work with the digestion, foods and food habits first because we can and because we must.  We can, because we have total control over what, when and how we put food into our mouths.  No one else does this for us and it is a powerful thing to take this potent step towards healing.  We must, because without changing the foods we put into our body, we can not gain the control over our mind.  

The foods will drive us to distraction, heat us up or slow us down both physically and mentally.  By addressing the digestion by working with food choices and food habits, we assure that our foods will keep us grounded in our bodies, clearly focused in our minds and light on our feet.

Mary Thompson, C.A.S., P.K.S., is a founding member and former secretary of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. She graduated from the California College of Ayurveda in 1997 where she's also taught for the past 18 years. She is not only a Certified Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist but a Pancha Karma Specialist. In 2008 she received the Charaka Award for Excellence in Ayurvedic Teaching and was given the title 'Ayurvedacharya', respected teacher of Ayurveda.

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