It seems like the right moment to be talking about pitta imbalance, especially given that inflammation has become such a familiar characteristic of the pathogenesis of disease. One of the central Ayurvedic principles is the idea that disease begins not outside the body, but inside, and the first determinant is not an infection, or a genetic weakness, but imbalance of the patient’s constitution, known in Ayurveda as dosha.
According to Ayurveda Pitta dosha is not only a way of describing one’s nature, it also governs all the organs in our bodies that digest and metabolise, as well neurotransmitters involved in thinking. Pitta can be found in the brain, the eyes, the blood, the liver, the stomach and the intestines. The pitta body is athletic and the character is intelligent, ambitious and enjoys a good appetite and leadership in most situations. I talk about anger in relation to pitta because anger is about strength and manifestation, and pitta being the constitution ruled by fire and water is the dosha that deals with the expression of yang energy.
The qualities of pitta are hot, sharp, light, liquid, oily, and spreading and this fiery nature can be kept in balance by the sweet, astringent and bitter taste. If we are experiencing heartburn, diarrhoea, autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, nausea, excess sweat, migraines, liver issues, inflammation, fever and chronic fatigue then these are signs that pitta is imbalanced. Often this can be attributed to diet, such as excessive amounts of pungent, salty and sour foods. Foods that overheat the body can cause inflammation by vitiating the digestion and turning nutrition into toxins. Lifestyles that supress the emotions in favour of a mechanistic routine, focused on success, output, and power also aggravate pitta. The menopause years and the teenage years can also imbalance pitta, as these are times when pitta is naturally high in the body.
We know that pitta is imbalanced if our elimination has become loose, our urine yellow, our tongue coated, or our bodies are producing bad smelling odours. Sometimes balancing it can be a simple case of practising more mindful eating, being more in the moment instead of living inside a to do list, letting go of the need to control the outcome of every situation. Cutting out tomatoes, chilli, consuming less alcohol, or none at all. Ayurveda speaks of living with a saatvic, or pure consciousness as the antidote to all that ails us. We can be more saatvic by eating whole foods, that we prepare ourselves, so that the food contains the energy and intention of our energetic vibrations. This type of food will have a much more saatvic quality than food that is ready made.
Maya Tiwari describes the pitta dosha as being, “red-headed, irascible and untamed at the starting line, but somewhere along the marathon trail Pitta must slow down and take note of its counterparts.” This is where disease often appears on the scene to bring this awareness home, to make us see how our own ambition and desire can burn us out. Pitta at some point needs to learn from the nurturing kapha, or the wisdom of vata, about how to cool their energies, and soften their approach. Pitta is attracted to luxury and indulgence, but these ego centred desires bring only fleeting satisfaction. We live in a pitta imbalanced world where societal expectations place more value on success and the status it imparts, then sharing, and the more ordinary necessity to look after our selves and others. These norms make us ill, and lead us away from inner joy and peace.
Anger is also part of the pitta imbalance, in that pitta has a naturally choleric nature, triggered by excesses in the hot and sharp qualities. Anger heats up the blood, liver and the heart and can cause insomnia, and nervous disorders. But it is not simply the case that we should just avoid getting angry as Mator Gabe in his book “When the body says no” explains, “healthy anger provides essential information, it may be a response to loss or the threat of it in a personal relationship, or it may be a signal, a real or threatened invasion of my boundaries.”
Gabe observes a recurring pattern in the character profile of cancer patients, this being the internalization of anger. He also acknowledges the volume of research connecting hostility and rage with high blood pressure and heart disease. Both of these responses he concludes are in fact a fear and avoidance of the genuine experience of anger, which requires us to actually acknowledge our needs without discharging rage, or pretending everything is fine. This is not an easy thing to do as when we accept our anger we have to take action to protect ourselves, and this can create anxiety.
Ayurveda offers some practical solutions in the form of abyhanga, yoga, cooling foods and cooling herbs like shatvari, and coriander infusions. It also gives us the ideas of dharma, and karma that help us to look at our lives and relationships from a more spiritual and compassionate perspective. Anger is part of the healing process, we cannot just wish it away, it is a normal reaction to the unfairness of loss. But if we are unable to express it in a mature way than we will end up isolating ourselves and creating more internal stress and heat in our bodies. This makes us more susceptible to disease. If we accept that most of our losses are in fact part of the karmic path we have chosen, and we attempt to make peace with the cards life has dealt us then we can cool the pitta fire and use it to create anything our heart requires.