Mind-Body Health

Ask Dr. Sheila: Do Certain Doshas Do Better with Different Styles of Meditation?

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Sad girl in bed, backlit scene. Desaturated image.

Every month, Dr. Sheila, Chopra’s Chief Medical Officer answers questions from our followers. If you have a general question for her around health and wellness, please send us an email to askdrsheila@chopra.com, and your question may be the one she answers next month. You can also submit questions during her Instagram Lives that take place every Wednesday at noon (PST) Pacific on our Instagram.

Dr. Sheila: Thanks for all the question submissions! It’s great to see all the interest in Ayurveda. There were several email questions regarding doshas (mind-body types), so I’ll address several of them here.

Question 1: With regards to Vata, Ayurveda says dry food is hard to digest. What about healthy foods such as homemade granola or tortilla chips? If eaten with something moist such as granola with yogurt and fruit, or chips and hummus, does this offset the dryness?

Dr. Sheila: This question addresses the very common issue that people have of digesting raw, dry, and/or cold foods, even healthy ones. This is especially true for Vata types (if you don’t know your mind-body type, take the quiz here).

That being said, if your digestive ability (agni) is strong, and you are not experiencing any adverse symptoms after eating dry, raw foods, you can certainly continue eating them. However, many people find it hard to digest these foods.

In my medical practice, I frequently see people coming in who are trying to eat healthy foods, yet experience gas, cramping, or bloating after eating foods such as granola, yogurt, chips/hummus, or nuts, raw veggies, and salads. This can also result in irregular stools or constipation. If that is the case, then Ayurveda recommends limiting or eliminating the dry, raw foods and, instead, cooking the foods and eating them warm. In my practice, I have often seen people with these irritable bowel symptoms feel better after just this one change.

You can also combine dry foods with moist foods and see how you feel. Your body will always tell you (by having symptoms or not) if you are digesting the food well, so adding moist yogurt to granola or moist, creamy hummus to chips can balance each other out. This works like balancing cold water with hot water, as we do in the tub. But if you find that still doesn’t eliminate digestive symptoms, here are other ways to adjust the diet to make dry, cold, or raw foods more digestible:

  • Granola: Try eating these same healthy whole grains as a cooked muesli or multi-grain cooked cereal.
  • Tortilla chips: Try eating warm, fresh tortillas with your salsa or guacamole.
  • Salad: Take all those healthy greens and veggies and sauté them in a pan with a little oil.
  • Raw veggies: Steam, sauté, or roast them, or cook and blend them into a soup.

In addition, adding healthy spices to any meal stimulates and activates your own digestive enzymes so you digest better. Try sprinkling these spices into or on top of any of your meals:

  • Cumin
  • Black pepper
  • Coriander
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Cardamom

All spices can help the digestive process and make your food more delicious. Find ones that you enjoy.

Question 2: Do certain doshas do better with different styles of meditation?

Dr. Sheila: I encourage everyone to try all of the various types of meditation to find what suits you best. Of course, since all mind-body types (doshas) are different, it isn’t surprising that over the years of teaching meditation, I have found that different doshas prefer different styles of meditation. This is what I find, in general:

Vatas
Since Vata represents movement and change, this mind-body type can sometimes find it challenging to sit in one position for a long period of time and often feel that they have too many thoughts to be a meditator. A tip for Vatas is to do a little bit of gentle movement, either a few yoga stretches or some slow breathing, for a few minutes before sitting to meditate. This calms that Vata energy and makes for a more comfortable meditation. You can also try guided meditations, where a voice speaks intermittently during the meditation, if long periods of silence aren’t comfortable.

If a seated meditation doesn’t suit you, Vatas also can enjoy moving meditations. You can take a mindful walk in nature or do a walking meditation inside your house, where you walk slowly, noticing each step, and bring your awareness to the sensation of your feet with each step. You can also use a yoga practice as your meditative movement, keeping your awareness in your body sensations to feel grounded. And always make sure to lay in Savasana after your practice to balance the movement.

Pittas
Since Pitta represents focus and precision, many Pittas enjoy using a mantra to meditate. It allows for a specific focal point that they can easily bring their mind’s attention to. Pittas often don’t need or enjoy a guiding voice throughout meditation and, outside of a few short instructions in the beginning, are happy to spend some intense time in silence. Another style of meditation that Pittas may enjoy are visual meditations, where their gaze is focused on an object for an extended period of time, taking in the precise form and color. They are well-suited for these types of focused awareness meditations and can cultivate concentration in their daily activities or work as well.

Kaphas
Since Kapha represents calm and stability, many Kaphas find it fairly easy and natural to meditate. They can sit for periods of time without feeling like they have to get up and move, and their minds tend to be calm at baseline. They may enjoy just sitting quietly in the present moment and doing a mindfulness meditation practice, where the attention goes from one thing to another without attachment or judgment. The object of attention may be a thought, sensation, or even a sound or visual object. As a Kapha myself, my favorite mindfulness practice is watching clouds float by, as there is no way to be too attached to the shape of clouds! This type of present moment awareness can be carried into daily activities as well, such as being mindfully aware while doing dishes, folding laundry, or performing other daily activities.

All of this being said, all styles of meditation are good for everyone. We can all benefit from the depth of doing a mantra meditation, cultivating presence with mindfulness meditations, and moving our bodies with moving meditations. It is good for Vatas to cultivate stillness from being seated, Pittas can learn to let go and surrender during an extended guided meditation, and Kaphas would do well to do moving meditations! In addition, since any of our doshas can get out of balance, we may enjoy different styles at different times, depending on our circumstances and current state of balance.

Mediate anytime, anywhere with the Chopra App. Access guided meditations on the go from the well-being pioneers.

There was also a question this month regarding the treatment of joint pain. I have a previous article with a mind-body approach to osteoarthritis, which is a common cause of joint pain and stiffness. Take a look here.

Question 3: How can Pitta types prevent boils/abscesses/cysts?

Dr. Sheila: Although Pitta types do tend to develop more issues related to skin, likely related to genetic tendencies, anyone can develop a Pitta imbalance of the skin depending on lifestyle and circumstances, so these recommendations can apply to anyone with these skin issues.

According to Ayurveda, boils/abscesses are an expression of Pitta imbalance of the skin. When there is an accumulation of heat, or the fire element, in the physiology, it presents as inflammation and/or infection. The combination of these two things can lead to boils.

To decrease the heat from the system, a general Pitta-balancing regimen should be taken. This includes eating cooling, pitta-balancing foods such as leafy greens, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Examples are cucumber, dates, coconut water, mint, and cilantro, as well as ripe mangoes and melons. Minimize or eliminate foods that are excessively spicy, oily, acidic, or that contain refined sugar or flour. This includes minimizing citrus, tomato, fermented foods, coffee, and alcohol. Some people also notice their skin clears up with the elimination of dairy or gluten, so you can try this elimination diet for 2-3 weeks and see if that helps.

In addition, you can perform daily dry brushing before showering (avoid brushing directly over any acutely inflamed or infected areas). Apply a cooling body oil after dry brushing, such as coconut oil. Wait 5-10 minutes, shower using water that is not too hot, and then pat dry. You can moisturize and cool the skin with healthy skincare products that contain ingredients such as rose, aloe vera, or rice extract. All of these suggestions help to maintain the integrity and health of the skin.

For the face, try natural skin products that have antioxidants such as resveratrol or anti-inflammatories such as bakuchiol. Part of the inflammation on the skin is due to free radical damage from too much sun, so stay out of direct sunlight for extended periods of time, and when outside use wide-brimmed hats and natural sunscreens to protect the skin.

Thanks for all the great questions!

Sheila Patel, M.D., is the Chief Medical Officer for Chopra Global and a board-certified family physician who is passionate about bringing holistic healing practices into the Western medical system. She earned her M.D. at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and completed her residency in family medicine at the Ventura County Medical Center in Southern California. For more than a decade, she practiced full-spectrum family medicine, from prenatal care and deliveries to ER coverage and primary care for all ages. In addition to her work at Chopra Global, she sees patients in an outpatient family medicine setting bringing integrative mind-body practices to her patients to help them achieve their best health.