Meet Agni, the god of fire, and symbol of pitta dosha. I think I saw him practicing in our yogashala in mysore last year. Just kidding, not really, though….
Pitta types especially are drawn to Ashtanga because, like them, the practice can be very fiery. Pitta is associated with digestive fire, motivation, force, and effort. The pitta qualities of burning desire, enthusiasm, determination, and focus can really shine in Ashtanga.
While the vata types may be introduced to Ashtanga and take a while to ponder over it, consider it, try it here and there, and do a million other things in the meanwhile, pitta types may immediately recognize their own heat in the the fire of the Ashtanga practice and straight away say, ‘yeah that’s for me’.
Whether the engine fuelled by that fire rolls on gradually toward well-being and maybe enlightenment, or it charges right off a cliff… will depend on our subject for next week (guna), and karma, and possibly one’s inclination to appropriately follow the method and study with a qualified teacher.
The fire of pitta in its own way is a treasure, just like vata. If tempered with grounding and surrender, it can really help us get things done harmoniously. It can manifest in increased confidence and courage, improved memory and speech, healthy appetite and better understanding.
Pitta people tend to take care of business. They are often intent on getting the job done. They can be goal-oriented and driven. Daydreaming may seem a bit too unproductive for them. Doing nothing may take a lot of effort to learn.
On a physical level, pitta may appear as fair skin, light hair and bright eyes. This is, of course, quite variable given race. Under the tropical sun of South India, pitta people will put on those sunglasses or hat, as the sun can be irritating for them. The classic pitta body is medium build, maybe athletic, with steady thirst and apetite. The digestive fire, as you can guess, is strong. So they can eat a lot and quite varied foods.
Don’t let your pitta friend skip a meal, they might zap you with a laser beam from their third eye. Aggravated pitta may appear as inflammation, infection, or even just bad breath. Pitta people may be generally vulnerable in the stomach and intestines.
Pitta is balanced by cooling off and relaxing. Hydration and cooling foods are especially useful. The fire of pitta needs the air of vata to keep it moving, and also the grounding of kapha to keep it in check.
Be careful, pitta people, too much heat too fast, and you will burn out… Students prone to excess pitta are strongly recommended to practice under the guidance of a teacher who is really heavy (i.e. guru). Yes, even the most pitta types can practice Ashtanga traditionally without overheating.
The qualified teacher can help the student build strength and endurance, and learn to flow through the primary series without over-heating and aggravating pitta. This teacher will be able to save a practitioner who may be tempted to go deeper into their fire.
It’s a beautiful thing when there is a teacher with enough weight and wisdom to support a pitta student’s practice by holding him to high standards in poses and also keeping an air of humor ease. Students with a lot of fire can learn great patience by learning a pose thoroughly (sometimes for months or years) before going on to the next one. The students who let themselves ‘go after’ all these fancy advanced poses without first gaining competency in the fundamental asanas are doing theirselves a great disservice.
For many of us, finding the key that unlocks the pose is almost always in learning to direct the effort to surrender and softness. The pitta student may be tempted to try to power through poses like headstands or karandavasana (actually so many poses apply here), which in Ashtanga will lead to injury and defeat. Learning under the guidance of a qualified teacher for many is the blessing of finding the balance and grace that just may set him up to still be practicing in 30 or more years from now.
Pitta types may be prone to falling into the trap of over-zealous focus on the series structure of Ashtanga (the poses are learned one-at-a-time in order, and broken into series) and go full power to try and conquer those series. ‘Just one more pose!’ ‘Just until I finish the series!’ “Let’s get this done.”
Pitta types in Ashtanga often go through their own fire to learn to surrender, forgive and be gentle. An ashtangi’s pitta nature may blaze him through the Primary Series, maybe not without some soreness. But if he doesn’t slow down, the intermediate series may take that pitta, pump it through the nervous system, and fry him alive.
While learning to backbend there were times when my head felt like it was submerged in a pot of boiling water. Thank God it did not pop off and melt. There is an asana in the second series with a deceivingly light name (kapotasana, the little dove pose;-) that can really show a practitioner his inner fire. I am very grateful that I had a qualified teacher who took me through the series one pose at a time, giving me poses as I became ready.
Pitta is represented by the planet Mars, which is small, red hot and, according to astrology, sometimes associated with difficulty.
Another spot much closer than Mars but also a good example of pitta is right out front of our yogashala gates at 4 o’clock in the morning. The students have learned the discipline of showing up on time and are all waiting to be let in. While the vata person is still contemplating the brilliant dreams she saw earlier that night, and the kapha person can barely believe that they are out of bed already, the pitta person may be scratching at the gate anxious to get in. He has already emptied his bowels, chanted a few round of mantra on his mala (rosary beads), and may already have some sweaty palms or feet!
Meanwhile the ‘enlightened pitta people’ are standing away from the group doing their best not to get angry at the ‘pushy pitta people’ who are stampeding the entrance, anxious to leap into the shala and take ‘their’ spot 😉
There are, of course, also many ashtangis in need of more pitta for balance. This is one of the advantages of practicing together – we balance each other out. The vinyasa method can ignite the flame of digestion (of both food and knowledge) in vata and kapha types. The primary series is designed to stimulate and cleanse the digestive system with its heat and forward bends. The flowing style of the practice teaches us to keep our rhythm in life, to be courageous and productive.
I am currently collecting data on a theory about pitta and Ashtanga. Are all those headstands channeling my pitta through the crown of my head and making me bald? If feels like head may very well burn a hole through my bullet-proof manduka yoga mat. Does anyone else out there find it unusual that there are so many bald dudes among Ashtanga practitioners? Ideas?…
Do you see pitta in yourself? If so, more or less than vata?
Come back tomorrow for more on kapha dosha.