The Call of the Sirens


I have been studying and practicing Ayurveda for a little over 12 years now, and I am only just starting to come to what I think is a profound realization: being out of balance can feel really good!  It’s not always the case, but each dosha has a quality that, when out of balance, wants to keep itself out of balance.  The literal translation of the Sanskrit word dosha is “that which contaminates”, so we never want to increase a dosha’s presence in our bodies, only balance it.  And let’s face it, sometimes it feels good to be bad. Not just in the way it can taste good to eat foods that we know are “bad” for us, but also because of the devil-may-care attitude that comes with such a flagrant action.

Here’s how it works for each dosha:

When Vata starts going high there may be a sense of euphoria or “irrational exuberance”:  the creative juices are flowing, productivity gets a shot of adrenaline, and bodily signs like hunger or fatigue start to wane.  We feel excited, inspired, energized- like we could keep going for days and days.  Man, it feels good!  We scoff at the mere mortals who have to eat three times a day, and opt instead for that cup of coffee which is enough to keep us going.  Project after project gets under way, and we zoom like a whirling dervish from one task to the next, leaving astounded colleagues or family in our wake.  This is when Vata is peaking and we feel exhilarated, confident, electrified, and yes, intoxicated at the possibilities of our own minds. Never mind that we can’t fall asleep until 4 in the morning.

Now imagine trying to convince this Vata-disturbed person to scale it back, tone it down, and keep it in check. Imagine telling yourself that as you are starting to spiral up.  Do you really want to hear that you are headed for a crash and you might want to moderate yourself a bit?   “Why do you want to crush my spirit?”, “But I’m doing all of this for YOU!” and , “Thanks, but I feel GREAT!” may be some of the responses.  *shaking my head sadly*  Oh Vatas, don’t you know where this is headed?  The Vata crash is legendary, and the higher you go, the harder you fall.  What does this crash look like?  Complete and utter exhaustion, depression, apathy, and a host of physical symptoms that I won’t go into.

Pittas take a different path to their own heights and depths, but it is equally alluring.  When Pitta starts creeping up, again, it can feel really good.  The mind is sharp and clear, jokes and banter just roll off the tongue.  Everyone around you is in stitches before you skip out of the room to your next appointment.  With Pitta, effectiveness and productivity are the name of the game, though it is more often significant progress on ONE project, or a breakthrough of insight for something that has been troubling you.

Everybody admires the staggering efficiency and intellect of the Pitta person, and that affords a sense of leverage and control. Subordinates become minions, trembling and cowering as they scramble to do your bidding.  Everyone wants a piece of this mighty force, and the feeling of power can be gripping.   Family members quiver at your approaching footsteps, and hastily scan the room to make sure all is in order.  It’s a heady mixture of righteousness and authority, and it’s a hard thing to walk away from.  But seriously, cool it Pittas!  Take it down a notch.  You’re not god’s gift to the world, and yes, even you are not 100% right all of the time.

The path to Kapha imbalance can be the most enticing of all.  The kapha seeks neither creativity nor power;  they are after comfort.  And who doesn’t want, nay, need that?  Who can argue with the right to sit on the couch and veg out after a long day at work?  And while I’m here I might just have a little bit of a snack, and watch just a little t.v.  And I might as well  just put my feet up and adjust the pillow for maximum comfort… and.. zzzzzzzzzzzz.  The problem is that life still has to go on, and things still need to get done.  In the immortal words of Lauryn Hill, “Every man wanna act like he’s exempt/  Need to get down on his knees and repent.”  Oh how I wish I had an exemption card for all of the demands of life!  But I’m willing to bet that just like me, all of you have someone in your life who is counting on you to pull your own weight.  So take your moment, and then up and at ’em Kaphas! This house isn’t gonna clean itself!

Ahh, now that I have had my little soap box, and revealed more about myself than you would want to know, take a minute to ask yourself where your tendencies lie.  The Siren’s call of each one is compelling and destructive.  It really is better in the long run to stay balanced.  I am guilty of all three, and have slowly been trying to catch myself in the early stages when I am going out of balance.  Sometimes it can’t be helped.  Life must be lived.  But luckily Ayurveda has lovely, systematic, and deliberate approaches to countering each one.

4 responses »

  1. Brooksley, thank you for this window into Ayurvedic practice. Vata, Pitta, Kapha… I’ve learned something today about how each dosha manifests itself–and why I might want to stay out of balance for a while. I definitely know what it is to be out of balance in each of them–because of the way you’ve described them. This makes me think, a bit, of the Enneagram model of 9 different personality types–it would be interesting to overlay Vata, Pitta, and Kapha onto that model. Thanks for a thought-provoking and informative post.

  2. “being out of balance can feel really good” – man, i loved this! as someone who knows (ahem, *knew*) nothing about ayurveda and doshas i felt like i really LEARNED something from this post – and in a way that skipped the sanskrit – i.e. made it accessible to me (in a way that i think is really difficult to do – very impressive!) and made it relevant to everyday life (cleaning the house, watching TV, etc.). thank you. more more more!!! 🙂

  3. As I always like to say, “Sometimes we have to go out of balance in order to find balance!” So I, too, love the idea that being “out of balance” isn’t this taboo thing. (And, yes, it can feel good!) Aaron: We’ll have to talk about the Enneagram. I love that stuff. 😉

  4. Thank you, Brooksley! Already I am thinking about the ways in which I celebrate my doshic tendencies in ways that might not serve myself and my family. I know too well the rebellion against balance. And I too am fascinated by the Enneagram and its overlap with the doshas. i wonder if the three gunas are connected too?

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