This month Academy of Healing Nutrition students in New York are being introduced to the ancient world of Ayurvedic medicine and making connections between traditional Indian and Chinese diets and herbal treatments. Both healing traditions are complex, comprehensive ways of approaching body, mind and spirit. Here are illustrations to help distinguish the types and possible ways to help clients when applying Ayurvedic energy types (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) and TCM Five Elements (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood): Three extreme examples of Americans who I have known.
It was Spring. Jane Vata, twenty five, very slender, pale with thin hair, an opera singer looked undernourished. (blood deficiency Yin Xu) Her hand was cold and stiff when we shook hands. She spoke quickly as she shifted around in her chair. Jane was married to Jack, who was completing a PhD in basket industries during the Middle Ages. He often smoked a pipe, raised an eyebrow and said, “hum” ignoring her when she spoke. He was occupied with his college studies which they were struggling to finance. Jane Vata said that she had had a “nervous attack” in Paris where she and her husband lived in a little hotel in the Jewish section of the old quarter. Jane cooked simple meals on a hot plate and shopped in open markets, but their diet was not balanced. At that time she said she could neither eat nor sleep being upset with their living conditions and her husband’s coldness.
Unable to move forward with her life (stuck liver Qi) she had wandered in the streets for two days. She told me she heard voices like radio static in her head but she could not understand what they said. (Rising fire of the liver. Her Vata hyperthyroid, fragility and fear met Pitta fire and frustration.) She was picked up off the street by the Paris police, taken to a hospital and spent a week eating regular meals at regular times. Her husband visited her in the hospital and forced her sexually. She recovered enough to appear before a group of psychiatry interns in the Paris hospital where I met her. She began in broken French stating her nationality and age. She was present. Her husband sitting nearby corrected her French, looking on like a judge puffing his pipe and nodding as she spoke. The French doctors said she and her husband should have marriage counseling. One month later, for her husband’s studies, the couple began studying German in a Bavarian village. I imagine the diet was heavy, difficult to digest. PMS set in and Jane Vata again suffered from insomnia, mania and depression. What became of Jane Vata? She got acupuncture, recovered slowly as she improved her diet to include whole grains, healthy fats, cooked root vegetables, and green tea, elements of The Longevity diet, and she divorced her husband. Some years later she shared her brilliant coloratura at the Vienna State Opera.
Sally Pitta smells bad. There is an odor in the room when she leaves that seems bitter, sour and rotten, indicating liver stuckness. Her face is red and oily with acne. Her handshake is warm and palms dark red, dry and wrinkled. Her movements are quick, her voice shrill and her laugh a high pitched screech; her tongue is dark red and cracked and thickly coated in the middle. She wears a thin blouse and skirt even in cold weather. Her diet is mostly vegetarian except for an occasional osso bucco, her favorite Italian beef recipe. She loves cookies, cheese, and spicy Asian cuisines. She works at a desk all day. Her joints are very swollen, red and especially deformed joints are in hands and feet. (Excess Yang, Wood) She has a curved spine possibly from osteoporosis and, typical of many older people, her head and shoulders are hunched far forward. She complains about bleeding gums and spider veins (broken capillaries) in her legs. (Wood overpowering Spleen; Heat in blood and Spleen not keeping blood in blood vessels)
She is writing a book about her travels and sexual adventures, Confessions: My Life. When she was young and slender, she collected clothes and lovers. Now nearly 80 she is still energetic and determined to live her life in her own way. Her acne looks like red chickenpox on her face. (Wood and Metal excess heat requiring cooling foods for liver and lungs) Asked what she was eating and using on her skin. She gave little information except that she used face creams and sat for hours at a time on cotton soaked in vinegar because she had read on the internet that it shrank hemorrhoids. When I recommended a cooling diet including greens she resisted saying it was too much trouble to cook. Upon the recommendation of cooling, blood detoxifying herbs such as Ayurvedic anantamul and manjistha (to reduce excess Pitta), she took them only once and said they did not work. Finally she stopped sitting on vinegar swabs and her skin improved.
Gloria Kapha is sixty, obese with short oily hair, a rosy complexion and a warm somewhat clammy damp handshake. (Pitta and Kapha, TCM damp heat) Her odor is slightly like cheese. She plays the cello and is rather shaped like one. Her husband Jeffrey, a professor of literary criticism, is obese. They sleep in separate bedrooms and are going through a mean divorce. Lawyers are straining their resources.
Gloria Kapha is a kindly person and good friend who has invited me to concerts. However, sometimes when distressed her smile looks as though it is painted on. She told me that she uses “automatic writing” to correspond with her dead lover who she still loves. To comfort her longing she eats richly and drinks quite expensive champagne then cannot sleep at night. She sleeps most of the day and does crossword puzzles at night. (Immunity suffers with such a schedule) She developed cancer after the divorce. Bedridden, her son moved back home with his family, including wife and two children, to care for her. Her ex-husband did not give her enough money to live comfortably. Unable to move about, depressed she lost ground. Luckily her daughter-in-law knew something of nutrition and improved their diet which improved everyone’s mood.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha are energies in us and in the world. Vata, the element of movement and change, may bring great bursts of creativity and quick healing from illness if kept focused and grounded with a balanced diet of regular meals and consistently good sleep. Pitta’s drive, enthusiasm and love of experience and spicy, stimulating diet can support positive adventures and leadership when balanced and benevolent. Kapha’s warmth, tenacity and sensitivity may lead to devotion, obsession or overweight related illness. The key to staying in balance is having the longevity diet suitable for our constitution and treating the condition that presents itself.
For additional information please see Karma Herbs.