Managing Pitta Dosha
Updated: Sep 7, 2020
With everything that’s happening in the background, we thought this would be a great time to focus on the importance of maintaining a healthy attitude towards life by going back to the topic of Ayurveda to continue our exploration of this profound science.
Last time we spoke about this concept, we focused on Alba and her aggravated Vata. Today we’ll use Jonas as a textbook example of our typical Ayurvedic Pitta person. As a Pitta-predominant type, Jonas is a very structured, committed, and ambitious individual ––a strong and active person that, in the face of unforeseen problems or obstacles, often sees his ‘fire element’ go off the charts! What exactly this entails for his psychological and physiological well-being is the focus of this entry.
A Fire that Burns Too Brightly Burns Twice as Fast
In our previous entries on Ayurveda, we explored some of the most elementary principles of this discipline and dealt with the dosha of Vata. There, we said that Ayurveda was a time-tested science of self-healing based on the promotion of a healthier lifestyle and that Vata dosha could be defined as the energy of “action, transportation, movement, and change.” It is against this background that Pitta dosha can be defined as 'the energy principle': the energy of transformation, conversion, combustion, composition, and also of metabolic assimilation.
Made up of the elements of ‘fire and water,’ Pitta dosha has many of the attributes we would unconsciously map onto these: it is sharp and vibrant like fire, penetrating and agitating much like it, as well as hot and mobile. Still, Ayurveda also tells us that the fire element is also slightly liquidy and oily in nature, as per the constrictions imposed by our human physique. Indeed, fire on its own could not exist within a human medium or it would burn us alive. So the fire element in us expresses itself as Pitta: as a fiery but also watery element by means of all the oily and acidic secretions in us.
In a way, then, Pitta can be defined as our very power of digestion, being responsible for all kinds of transformations. It is by virtue of Pitta that we can digest our experiences, the food we eat, and also our emotions, transforming them into something new. As a matter of fact, Dr. Vasant Lad and Dr. David Frawley define Pitta as the dosha in charge of “digestion, heat, visual perception, hunger, thirst, lustre of skin, intelligence, determination, courage and softness of the body” (p. 11); adding that, when aggravated or out of sync with respect to the other two doshas, it triggers “yellow discoloration of urine, feces, eyes and skin, and may create hunger, thirst, burning sensations and difficulty in sleeping” (p.11).*
Indeed, when a person suffers from aggravated Pitta one could simply speak of someone burning way too bright, too fast ––like a candle shining so brightly that it is unable to maintain that level of intensity for as much time.
Fire in the heart ––Heartburn!
At the level of the body, then, Pitta is the quality governing physical digestion from the cellular to the systemic level, helping us regulate the temperature of our body and transforming what we eat into energy. It is particularly located in the small intestine and the stomach, the sebaceous glands, our blood, and the lympha. Its sense organs are the eyes and its motor organ the feet, which clearly conveys this dosha’s characteristic penchant for mobility, vibrancy, and transformation. Both eyes and feet are in charge of helping us orient ourselves in space by gathering input from the medium we are in –information which is then transformed into neurological impulses regulating a myriad other processes (our reaction to a given stimulus, our movement in a particular direction, metabolic processes such as which enzymes to produce). Still, Pitta has a tendency to accumulate in the area of the small intestine, where it mainly builds up as excess acidity (heartburn) and gives rise to all kinds of inflammations and infections (more on this below).
Nevertheless, Pitta is absolutely essential. In a metaphorical sense, it correlates with the attributes of intelligence, courage, and radiance without which we become indecisive and dull, unable to accomplish whatever it is we truly long for. Hence, a well-balanced Pitta dosha ensures enough vitality to see us through our worst. But as mentioned in our entry on Vata dosha, Pitta cannot operate on its own, needing Vata for its innervation and movement (Vata is connected to our nervous system) and Kapha for sound support.
Those with Pitta-predominant physiognomy will tend to have moderate builds and great mental powers, as well as physical and emotional resilience. Fair in skin tone and relatively well-developed, their muscles tend to be more prominent than in Vata types where it is bones that normally show the most. A strong metabolism is also frequent, which means Pitta types present good digestion, great appetite, and good excretion too. They’re also prone to sweating and perspiration, so control of body temperature and exposition to sunlight are a must. This explains, for example, why the dosha of Pitta normally goes off balance in the summer months with excessive exposure to heat and sun, and why drinking cold beverages, applying a cold compress, or living in colder climates can often help bring it down. As a proof of this, Jonas’ year-long struggle with aggravated Pitta after our relocation to tropical Bali!
The Pitta-Type Mind
At a mental level, Pitta types are characterized by sharpness of intellect, their perceptive and logical nature, and an ingenious and inventive streak. As a counterpart to this, they are also prone to irritation, with emotions such as anger or hatred being the not so pleasant side. Anger is, in fact, one of their great obstacles and learning to control it can sometimes take much effort. Yet, their strong will and determination can be a useful ally also here.
It is in fact because of their convincing and radiant nature that predominant Pitta types make for good leaders and public orators, and that these people are also often driven to positions of power and prominence –roles where their ability to ‘dominate’ others through the force of their ideas can be of use. Yet Pitta types also often have a personal agenda and this is an aspect to watch out for.
Organized and methodical, they love ordained and thorough progression, controlling the odds of any situation, and devising and following plans. Yet, they are seldom sentimental and have problems with the gentler emotions, such as compassion, or with relating fully to the heart.
Pittas and Health
The key thing to remember if you’re a Pitta-predominant type either physically or psychologically, or currently suffering from an aggravation of the Pitta dosha, is to look for more coolness and calmness in your life. "Playing it cool" must become your life’s main motto!
Slight symptoms of aggravation like bouts of impulsiveness, shortness in temper, impatience, aggressiveness, being too critical of others or too dominating, or else showing up as proud, vain, or jealous are a red flag to watch out for; because, if left unattended, and due to the fiery predisposition of this dosha, the diseases that will arise from an aggravation of Pitta will also involve the fire principle. This means milder things like fevers, rashes, inflammations, and irritations of all kinds, excessive hunger and thirst, as well as the presence of ulcers, sores, boils, burning sensation, bleeding, conjunctivitis, profuse, even excessive sweat, high blood pressure and its risks for health, or even the malabsorption of food and nutrients.
In fact, looseness in the stool is often a common and enduring symptom of deranged Pitta, as well as having a sore throat. So if you’re suffering from any of these forms of imbalance, try to be gentler with yourself and others and look for ways to 'cool down' literally and metaphorically, and find more moments of calm. Learning to meditate or taking up daily practices that help you gain some inner space can go a long way with appeasing the Pitta within.
Pacifying Pitta: What (Not) to Eat
When it comes to trying to pacify an aggravated Pitta through what we eat and drink, the main thing to remember is to avoid any sour, salty, and pungent flavour. In fact, Pitta types are generally better off on a vegetarian diet where ingestion of eggs, alcohol, and salt is reduced to a minimum. As a counterpart to this, one could also opt to increase sweet and bitter tastes into their diet, aided by cool beverages and drinks.
The same logic applies to the other foods. Hot and spicy ingredients are to be avoided or at best consumed very, very sparingly; and the same goes with regards to eating too much sour or excessively oily foods. This means avoiding things like most nuts and seeds with the exception of pumpkin, sunflower, or coconut (for most nuts are too oily already), but also ingredients like tomatoes, raw onion, garlic, chilies, or any sour fruit or vegetable. Pitta will be better taken care of by consuming grains like barley, oats, wheat, and rice, as well as increasing the intake of salads during the hottest months. As to what to drink, concoctions mixing cardamom, coriander, fennel, and cinnamon will do wonders –you can even add some curcuma and cumin to the mix. They will calm your Pitta and leave you with a deliciously fragrant aftertaste!
In sum, one could round up the examination of this dosha by saying that excess exposure to the qualities most inherent in Pitta dosha itself ––all the oily, hot, light, mobile, dispersing, and liquid qualities present in Pitta–– will likely aggravate any imbalance. Still, being a typically hot and fiery element, bringing Pitta down is a matter of learning to cool your shots! If you care to learn more about Ayurveda and about how to balance the doshas in general, we recommend reading *The Yoga of Herbs by Dr. Vasant Lad and Dr. David Frawley for starters or Dr. Robert Svoboda’s Prakruti, Your Ayurvedic Constitution.