Pitta as it manifests in the body and the mind
Lean physique, linear strength, symmetry, tendency toward hot, oily T-zone, strong digestion, increased blood flow, sharp facial features, red skin, logical, precise, ability to solve problems, converts energy quickly, eats routinely, enjoys spicy food.
Common pitta disorders
Burnt-out physique, lack of flexibility, excess heat in the body, hot and dry skin, obsessive, argumentative, anger, hypoglycemic, tendency toward inflammatory disorders, loose stool, heart disease, increased stress.
Pitta in Nature and the Physiology
It may seem that fire and water would act against each other, but from an Ayurvedic perspective, water is the element that helps maintain the fire. Wood provides the fuel for the fire to burn, but the fire will burn out quickly if it is too dry. Water’s function is to bind, and when fire and water come together, the fire burns efficiently. It can break down or convert anything thrown into it very quickly. This is the quality called pitta.
Physiologically, pitta helps with conversion functions. It is responsible for metabolism, digestion, and the production of hormones and enzymes. Air moves things into the fire, and pitta’s major purpose is to convert them. In this way, we begin to see how the body has both vattic and pittic qualities.
The Pitta Body and Mind
The pitta body is naturally lean, with sharp facial features and reddish skin. Heat dilates, creating increased blood flow, and you can often look at the forearm of a person and know they are pitta because you can see their veins. They have strong digestion, enjoy spicy foods, and eat routinely. If you know someone who gets hangry (angry when hungry) when they do not eat, they likely have a pitta digestion. Pittas have looser stool, and almost never get constipated.
Mentally, pittas are logical and precise, and they are natural problem solvers. Unlike vatas, who are natural storytellers, pittas are straightforward and to the point. If you want to find a solution to a problem, or if you need someone to take a logical view on an issue, be sure to ask a pitta. They will not only be good at it, but they will happily volunteer for the position! As a clinician, I take special care to assist those with mentally pittic natures by showing them double-blind, placebo-controlled studies that demonstrate the efficacy of what I plan to recommend.
Pittas generally find self-realization through knowledge. They are the scholars, the ones who research and study. They often find solace in scripture. If they can understand something, they will find a way to embrace it.
Pitta at Work
The strong intellect of a pitta-minded person leads them to occupations that are outcome-oriented. They do well in jobs like accounting, engineering, evidence-based sciences, research, or any other task that yields results. A pitta may not be the architect who draws the plans for a bridge, but they will surely be the one to ensure safety and regulations are taken into consideration before the bridge is built. It is important that pittas do not relegate themselves to full-time desk jobs. They need the opportunity to exercise or take breaks so their body and mind do not feel like they will spontaneously combust.
Pitta in Love
As a reminder, your constitution brings as much to a relationship as does your life experience. Remembering this truth will help you utilize these guidelines in understanding your own relationship.
Pittas are the most misunderstood in love, as they tend to function more out of logic than emotion. They pair well with any constitution, vatas and pittas tend to fight each other, and the pitta’s motto of “my way or the highway” can make the vata constitution unable to express themselves clearly. Two pittas can work well together, although theirs may be a fiery relationship. Pittas and kaphas can make a good pair as long as both are willing to step outside their stubbornness and recognize each other’s strengths.
If you are with someone who is pitta, remember that they value straightforwardness and the desire to learn together in a relationship. Setting goals together is an important way to keep the partnership strong.
Pitta and Exercise
Pittas often feel like they need to exercise to release their pent-up energy. They love to run, bike, do CrossFit or hot yoga. Although these activities help pittas stay focused, it is important that pittas do not overdo it when it comes to exercise. For example, hot yoga may feel detoxifying, but that heat buildup can also perpetuate inflammatory disorders. Instead, I recommend pittas also engage in water sports or activities that put their feet in the soil (like gardening).
Pittas benefit from a varied exercise regimen. I generally recommend avoiding anything too competitive, as they tend to get obsessive about their chosen sport. The obsessiveness can present as stubbornness. Unlike kaphas (who might say, “this is the way I am used to doing things, I do not want to change it”), pittas’ stubbornness presents more like, “as long as this works for me, I will not deviate from the course.”
Specific Dietary Principles for Pitta
Plenty of fats and vegetables are encouraged for the pitta constitution. Cooling foods and drinks are suggested, but that does not mean cold food. Coconut curry is an example of a cooling food, as coconut milk has cooling properties. Pittas have a strong digestion, so they are the only constitution that may benefit from snacking during the day. But this also means foods that break down too quickly (like simple sugars, highly processed foods, and simple carbohydrates) should be avoided. Dairy can be inflammatory in nature for many, and pittas who do not tolerate dairy well should avoid it.
Similar to vata, pitta can increase in any constitution regardless of your primary mind/body type. Anything that increases heat in the body (like too much spicy food) or foods that create an inflammatory response can create a pitta imbalance. That said, we naturally tend in the direction of what we already are when we are in balance, so most of the time we see pitta imbalances manifest in pittas. Pittas already have a natural sense of inflammation in the body, so eating foods outside their constitution is not recommended. Doing so asks the body to work harder than it needs to do, increasing the pitta’s natural state of inflammation. Pittas are also sensitive to having allergic reactions to pollen or environmental pathogens.
When imbalanced, pitta manifests its hot, sharp qualities. The body can become burnt-out looking, lack flexibility, and have hot, dry skin. When stimulated into fight or flight mode, pittas can become argumentative or exhibit angry behavior, obsessiveness, or increased stress. Pittas have a tendency toward autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, and pitta imbalance can aggravate these conditions. Hypoglycemia may also manifest in pittas, as the digestion is so strong that blood sugars rise and drop quickly, causing insulin resistance.
A great example of a pitta imbalance is inflammation. When the body does not know how to process something, it considers it a foreign substance and creates a beautiful inflammatory response toward this substance to fight it. When we continue to give the body something it cannot process, it stays in that state of high inflammation and pitta can rise. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a common cause for this problem today. Our bodies have a strong connection to nature, and since GMOs are not inherently natural, the body treats these foods like a foreign substance on a molecular level — similar to the response if one were to eat plastic.
Stress is another big factor. We live in a pitta society — the expectation is to push ourselves harder, do more, be accountable. This can be slightly balancing for those of us who tend to be more vata and kapha in nature, but it can lead to pitta imbalances if pushed too far (especially for pittas). Stress can show up in many different ways, but it generally displays in the body as inflammation or waking up in the middle of the night.
As we understand pitta through the five elements, it is the quality of fire and water: hot and damp. When addressing pitta imbalances, we aim to decrease food and activities that increase inflammation, heat, and aggravation in the mind and physiology. The most important thing to avoid when pitta is imbalanced is heat. Whether it is hot food, hot yoga, or a hot bath, staying away from too much heat is critical for the pitta constitution. This may sound slightly contradictory, as Ayurveda’s philosophy is to ensure we eat warm, cooked foods. But when pitta is very out of balance, this is the time and place to consider taking in foods that are cooler in both temperature and quality. Bland food with less pungency and fewer spices will pacify pitta. Even spices like turmeric that are considered anti-inflammatory are stimulating to the digestion, so they should be taken only in moderation.
When it comes to activities, it is important to stay away from intense exercise, like CrossFit, high intensity interval training, or hot yoga. Instead, consider swimming, snow sports, flow-style yoga, and gardening or other activities that put your feet in the soil. Putting the mind into a “cooler” place is important, too. Examine where the mental stresses originate instead of letting them perpetuate. It is also helpful to bring in kapha qualities, such as finding compassion and empathy for others and for yourself.
Therapies like self-oil massage with cooling coconut oil are excellent for pitta imbalance, and developing a daily meditation practice is particularly helpful for pittas. Meditation teaches us to be in the world without reacting to it and to find peace with the way things are (without feeling the need to fix things).