When I’m wearing my Ayurveda hat, the thing I’m asked most frequently is:
“How do I figure out my constitution?”
It’s a bit of a thorny question. The truth is that the best way to know your constitution is to discover it yourself through self-reflection. And I’m not just saying that so I don’t have to answer the question.
The word Ayurveda uses for constitution is Prakrti. This word is made up of two shorter words: pra which means “first” and kriya which means “action.” So, prakrti can be thought of as the “first action” that the universe had upon your life form at conception, during pregnancy and at birth. Based on multiple factors—including the health of your parents and where in the world they were when you went from being a twinkle in their eye to being a set of quickly dividing cells—you will have your own unique combination of doshas in your constitution.
Another way to think of Prakrti—and my favorite—is as your “first action” or re-“action” when you are exposed to something. For example, when you receive good news do you become elated, pleasantly happy or do you barely react at all? When you encounter stress do you become anxious, efficient, irritable, numb, hyperactive? These tendencies are strong indicators of which doshas are predominant in your constitution.
Your prakrti is what you are born to express. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be difficult to separate what is currently going on at the surface for you from the impression nature has made on you at your base. The world intervenes and the combination of influences from the outside and our own choices usually results in us expressing something slightly (or greatly) different from what we were born to express.
The current state of affairs in your system is called Vikrti (“separated from action”) or Vikara (“separated from your hands!”). Ideally, we want to make our current state a manifestation of our Prakrti. This means we want to find our way back to expressing the balance of doshas with which we were born.
Doshas are the doers in the body. Nothing happens without them. But it is in their nature to go out of balance on their own. They will accumulate and go out of whack even when you have been doing everything “right.”
The work of maintaining balance (or something close to balance) is a constant recalibration. This is the main reason why you will get the best results from applying Ayurvedic recommendations if you can learn to tune into your inner experience and reactions to your environment.
So, how do you embark on this journey of self-discovery?
Well, what you need to first make contact with are those sensate qualities, gunas, I have written about before. Click here for a guided audio-contemplation for discovering the gunas.
Find a quiet place to sit comfortably—don’t tie your legs into a complicated knot—and close your eyes.
Take a few breaths into your belly. You may want to read my post about Full Yogic Breath and practice that for a few minutes.
Now, ask yourself: “Do I feel hot sensations, or cold? Is there heaviness or lightness, a sense of wetness or dryness?”
See if you can also apply those qualities to the thoughts zipping or ambling about in your mind. Hot, cold, heavy, light, wet and dry. When those qualities don’t hit the mark, try mobile, static, smooth, rough, hard, soft, dense, liquid, dull, sharp, gross, subtle, sticky and clear.
Over time, patterns will clearly emerge. Can you sit contentedly like this for ages? Are your thoughts racing around like they’re trying to escape your head? Do you have a hard time sitting long enough to allow the sensations to make themselves known? Are there burning sensations or places where you feel dull and numb?
These patterns are most likely pointing to your current state of “not-quite-in-balance”-ness. But that’s a great place to start, because that’s what’s showing up today. And the best thing you can do is work with what is here, right now.
When you have gotten familiar with this way of checking in with your sensations, try to extend the practice out a bit into your life. See if you can feel which of these sensations are most predominant from day to day. This will give you an idea of which doshas are playing the most active role in your life. In my post on the 20 Gunas there are lists of the sensations prominent for each dosha.
Working this way, you will be able to discover what your Vikrti or current state of (im)balance is. From that information you can choose activities, foods and maybe herbs that will help you reduce excess dosha.
Discovering your Prakrti may take a bit more time.
Read on; my next three posts will be in depth discussions of each of the three doshas. Maybe you will find yourself in there. I encourage you, even if you do decide to take one of the many Dosha Quizzes that are available on the interwebs, to see first (or at least second) if you can discover your nature on your own.
The payoff will be huge.
This post is also available in: French