Yoga Body? Ayurveda: Vata, Kapha, Pitta.

Via on Aug 18, 2010

There are some simple ayurvedic reasons you and I may never look as skinny as Tara Stiles. No matter how much yoga we practice.

The simple reason for this is found in the sacred tradition of yoga’s sister science, namely ayurveda.

According to ayurveda, there are three basic body types. These three bodily humors can manifest themselves in a variety of forms, and very few of them look anything like most yoginis featured on the cover of Yoga Journal.

Here they are:

VATA

The physical appearance of vata yogis: they are either tall or short, non-muscular, with thin and bony limbs and have a quick gait with short, fast steps. In other words, vata yogis can twist their bodies into just about any asana position practiced in a hatha yoga studio this side of the Ganges river!  Tara Stiles seems like your typical vata yogini.

PITTA

Pitta yogis have a moderately well developed physique with muscular limbs and a purposeful, stable gait of medium speed. Their bodies are often hot and sweaty, so steamy hot Bikram classes are actually not the best for their hot-tempered pitta personality. Better for them to do asanas in an ice-skating rink!  Rodney Yee seems like a typical pitta yogi, at least physically.

KAPHA

Kapha yogis have a thick, broad, well-developed frame, large bones and muscles and are relatively short=statured. They may have difficulties siting in full lotus or pulling both feet behind their ears, but they are good-natured and will fail with a considerate smile. Neem Karoli Baba, with his rotund body, might have been a kapha yogi.

But of course, we yogis do not always fit neatly into these three physical categories. Because there are actually many variations of these body types, including pitta-kapha, vata-pitta, vata-kapha, and pitta-kapha-vata.

So you may be a skinny vata yogini with large kapha hips, for example. Or a tall vata yogini with large kapha hips.

The point is: if you have a pitta-kapha body (like myself), you will never, ever look like a string bean…or a wonderful yogini the likes of Tara Stiles. Never, ever.

You may fast and eat nothing but fruits and vegetables for years, but your hip bones and your hips may, if you are a pure kapha, for example, remain as large as a beautiful horse’s ass—even though you have less than an ounce of body fat.

Hence, when I started yoga, it took me a while to get into lotus pose. And once I was able to get into it, I could barely get out of it! All this sweat and agony due to my large bones and muscles, while my vata brethren in the ashram in India could sit in lotus all day without batting an eyelid.

Consequently, siddhasana, or half lotus, has become my favorite meditation pose, because I can comfortably sit in it for long periods of time. Indeed, this royal seat of asana is preferred by many yogis for various higher meditation practices.

In other words, it does not necessarily make you less of a yogi because you are unable to sit in lotus pose for hours on end without feeling pain. Yoga is not just about physical looks and abilities.

Many great yogis looked like pot-bellied weirdos and hardly ever practiced yoga asanas in the first place.

But is this physical and spiritual diversity reflected in the ads and the photos in yoga magazines today? Hardly. More like: hardly ever! Most yogis or yoginis (yes, they are mostly yoginis) featured in magazines are skinny and bendable saplings of either a vata or a vata-pitta nature. In other words, they tend to look like Tara Stiles.

But (fortunately) most yogis look like you and me, with bodies that reflect the whole ayurvedic spectrum of human body types.

Indeed, yogis come in all shapes and types. Some small and thin, some short and relatively large, some tall and shaped like a plump pear, some tall and skinny like a young tree, some medium and muscular like a pit bull. And we are all yogis, and we are all beautiful! Yes, indeed!

Shouldn’t our yoga magazines and books better reflect this yogic and ayurvedic reality?

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About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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34 Responses to “Yoga Body? Ayurveda: Vata, Kapha, Pitta.”

  1. Jhon says:

    Aren’t we done with the skinny-fat posts already? Yikes, let’s move on.

  2. ARCreated says:

    beautiful…or like I tell my students…being skinny or able to do hanumanasa doesn't make someone more enlightened…what matters is on the inside! I'm not "over" this conversation any more than I am "over" equal pay for women, equal marriage rights for all, and animal rights…Until things change you can't get over it…and for the rounder yoginis and yogis in the world you can't hear this enough!!! The average person is bombarded with skinny perfection to hear or read a post like this once in awhile is hardly a dent in the destructiveness of this pervasive skinny is better attitude…HEALTHY, HAPPY, SECURE That's what matter…so my skinny sisters you are beautiful, my thick and curvy sisters you are beautiful too…I wish we could celebrate beauty in all forms.

    • Ramesh says:

      ARCreated, Thank you, thank you! Well said!!!!

    • Selena says:

      Amen! Self-acceptance and love are the key. I stayed away from yoga for years out of fear of not fitting in physically. The funny thing is, once I was able to stare my fear in the face and start attending class, I found that no one cared about my size or skin condition like I thought they would! I felt more love from my yoga group than I had in years, which helped boost my self-esteem even more and equipped me with the confidence to dive into Ashtanga practice! Never in a million years would I have imagined the joy and peace I would find about my body simply through yoga. What a shame I stayed away out of fear for so many years.

      • ARCreated says:

        I am soooo happy to read your post Selena, as a teacher it's what I live for!!!!!! You should write an article about your experience more people need to hear this!!! …check out my recent blog… http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/mirror-mir

        I had a similar experience with yoga that's why I fell in love…sure I lost weight but at a certain point I felt good even without being skinny. I was once "skinny" before babies…I've had some medical issues ….err mental issues really that haven't helped and in the end it doesn't matter…Because in the end we aren't are bodies anyway

      • Ramesh says:

        GREAT story Selena. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  3. Ramesh says:

    Valerie Soraci Mitchell commented on a post you were tagged in.

    "I'd rather be buff or sexy than just plain skinny. Skinny is so 1980's…"

    Kateri Porto commented on a post you were tagged in.

    "I did not like this article. Seemed to be picking on Tara. The information
    could have been presented in a less cynical way. "

    Nye Walker commented on a post you were tagged in.

    "I liked this article because it brings yoga back to reality. It was a bit much
    on the Tara Stiles negativity, but its overall message is that yoga is for every
    body."

    Marilee Reinertson Torres commented on a post you were tagged in.

    "Kateri I, did not read it that way or think it until you shared it. ..and yeah,
    maybe a little, but not so much Tara as a person but her as an ideal and a
    stereotype image born of her opting to become a public figure as a model.your
    post shows sensitivity and concern -and that is nice :)"

  4. Ramesh says:

    Yes, I did single out Tara Stiles, not as a person, but only as a public example of the skinny perfection ideals that we are bombarded with in the yogic media. These ideals have nothing to do with reality, because in reality yogis come in all shapes and colors, and this diversity needs to be celebrated, not ignored and subverted.

  5. Ramesh says:

    elephantjournal.com commented on a post you were tagged in.

    "Kateri, You must have been reading a different article. There is no 'picking
    on' Tara! In fact, the only personal reference to her is "wonderful". via Ben
    Ralston"

  6. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Luanna Marie Archambault commented on a post you were tagged in.

    "We all have the potential to be skinny."

  7. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    I disagree. The point of my article was to emphasize that people with a kapha or pitta-kapha constitution, and even some with a vata-kapha body will never be as skinny as a primarily vata or pitta body type. Never ever, even if you are not fat at all.
    Many yeaars ago, when I was living in India and had been in an ashram for over a year and nearly died from blood dysentery, I looked very thin, you could see my ribs. And I thought I was skinny. But one day, while at the river taking a bath with the other sadhus, one American guy said to me: Wow, you lost a lot of weight from that illness, but you'll never loose those big bones and those leg muscles. At that point I was probably 30 lbs below my normal weight, and I still did not look skinny.
    Today, I am about 10 lbs over my normal weight as a 20 something, and I look like a yogi bear.

    So to try to become something you will never be able to achieve is counterproductive, unhealthy and totally against the spirit of yoga. Yoga is about embracing who you are and finding health and happiness within the body that God graced you with!

  8. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Catrina Marie commented on a post you were tagged in.

    "I think this was a great article about accepting yourself just as you are and
    how we are all made different….that is part of our individual beauty! "

    • Ramesh says:

      Sheila Kulkarni commented on a post you were tagged in.

      "Yoga is for everyone and accessible to everyone, no matter what their body
      shape. Nice article."

      • Ramesh says:

        Susan Purcell commented on a post you were tagged in.

        "I have seen those yogis with the pot bellies! (in pictures) Totally high
        masters. ha! Thank you for helping me out with the confusion I had felt over
        that. Great article."

  9. [...] bull. And we are all yogis, and we are all beautiful! Yes, indeed!” Ramesh Bjonnes – ElephantJournal.com   Leave a [...]

  10. integralhack says:

    Thanks, Ramesh, great post on why our bodies look the way they do based on the ayurvedic perspective. Now if I can just avoid using this as an excuse for my sloth!

  11. Great article Ramesh!

    • Ramesh says:

      Thanks, Chris, means a lot to me from a great writer like yourself, one who is back in the world of "round doorknobs". (just loved that description in your bio about coming back to the US)

  12. realyoganyc says:

    Interesting article, Ramesh!
    But lets not confusing self acceptance with an excuse to get lazy and overeating. We all have different body that we found respect and nurture but not abuse whether with extra food or with overexertion due to lack of food and too much exercise. Yoga teaches us to find the perfect balance and to understand our body's signals.

    While Ayurvedic constitution types do rely a lot on physical qualities of the body, to determine your inborn Prakruti (nature), one needs a pulse diagnosis from a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner. It would not be correct to assume that every overweight individual is a Kapha type, since it extra weight can be cause by a major dosha imbalance.

    When using Ayurvedic questionnaires and answering questions relying on your current state of health, the result will show your current dosha state/distribution (Vikruti), which is 99 percent of the time pretty far from the original inborn Prakriti due to lifestyle and other environmental effects. More details on Prakruti and Vikruti here http://www.holisticonline.com/ayurveda/ayv-basis-

    While a healthy Kapha won’t be as skinny as a healthy Vata, a unhealthy Vata can easily be overweight and heavier than a healthy balanced Kapha.

  13. Ramesh says:

    Thank you, realyoganyc, for these additional insights into ayurveda. You are absolutely right, and you highlight the complexities and imbalances ayurveda is so adapt at diagnosing and restoring. Yes, indeed, a healthy kapha can be skinnier than an unhealthy vata. Yes, indeed, a vata may also be overweight.. And an overweight person may be so due to a vata imbalance. So, thanks for addressing these important issues, as well.
    Indeed my teacher in ayurveda was an overweight vata before she encountered ayurveda and was able to restore balance and loose weight.

  14. [...] each of us has a unique constitution, sessions are customized to the different body types. One massage might use vigorous, deep pressure while another might use lighter pressure with a [...]

  15. [...] · Talk about it — for real. It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea that yoga’s for all body types.  It’s not always easy to actually believe it and practice it. Dig into this conversation to [...]

  16. [...] a constitutionally agitated person, I was naturally attracted to yoga and meditation early in life. Since I veered off the yogic path [...]

  17. [...] be a part of the media culture that relentlessly bombards girls with the message that there is only one kind of beautiful, and it is imperative that they conform to it? I know you have not created that media culture, and [...]

  18. [...] are three Ayurvedic seasons that correspond with the nature of the doshas, or elemental constitutions: Vata, pitta, and [...]

  19. Carin says:

    Just think about Yogananda or Ammachi… are they any less of a yogi because they look so sweetly yogi bearish with their overall kapha bodies? :-) That we even need to discuss this issue means that there is still judgment. It is really the kapha quality which often brings out the greatest and most loyal devotion through bhakti yoga. Due to their general sense of stability their practice tends to be rather regular, deep and very committed. It is the kapha quality which created Ammachi's "grounded" and "unwavering" love. The universe needs such nurturing leader types. The kapha qualities sure make some of the the greatest yoga masters. :-)

  20. [...] comprehensive healing system, Ayurveda is perhaps most well known for its characterization of three distinct energetic types or doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Most of us are predominantly one (sometimes two) of these types, and [...]

  21. yogiclarebear says:

    I admittedly do not know much about ayurveda (yet) but sometimes when I read about it in magazines or articles it just seems like labeling obsessions. I can imagine that there is a deeper science behind it, but why are we using it to feed our obsessions to categorize our body shapes?

  22. Karen says:

    I am most definitely a Kapha; even in my teens when I was a dancer, I had curves and big bones and a roundness about me; the quinessential “Earth Mother” build. I remember a guy telling me I had “babybearing hips”, and he was right.. These hips brought forth three beautiful children. I am now a bit more curvy but it does not stop me from my yoga practice; if anything, yoga has allowed me to make peace with my body, accept it’s limitations, and celebrate it’s many gifts. Thank you for a fantastic article, Ramesh.

  23. The objective of yoga is the union with the Supreme. In my humble opinion, yoga should not be reduced to just yogasanas. Yogasanas should lead to yoga. Realyoganyc was spot on.

  24. Ramesh says:

    Beautiful, Cora YogaCrone. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

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