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Understanding Pitta: The Energy Governing Transformation, Metabolism, & Temperature

By Samantha Case

The concept of doshas is foundational in the teachings of Ayurveda. Put simply, doshas are energies within the body that influence how we feel and how we act. We’re all born with our own individual makeup of these energies, providing a unique blueprint that one can use as a guide to greater self-awareness and personal health.

The energies that compose the doshas are ether (space), air, fire, water, and earth. They combine in different pairs to form the primary energies within each of the three doshas: Vata (air and space) Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (earth and water).

Though we each have all three doshas within us, we typically have one dominant one that influences our physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. (Take this quiz to discover your dosha constitution.)

What Is Pitta Dosha?

Pitta dosha is composed of fire and water, though fire is its primary element. Its general qualities include: fluid, light, hot, slightly oily, mobile, penetrating, sharp, yellowish, foul smelling, sour and pungent, and spreading. In the body, pitta is the ruler of transformation, digestion, and metabolism. It allows the body to digest not only food, but also the information and emotions that we experience day to day. For a healthy mind and body, we need the ability to metabolize what we come into contact with and absorb its nutrients while disposing of waste. Pitta dosha makes this possible. Pitta is the primary dosha within many leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s the dosha that gives life to qualities like courage, determination, and intellect. When out of balance, it fuels emotions like anger, frustration, and jealousy.

Qualities of Pitta (in balance)

Someone with a pitta dosha constitution will likely have an athletic build, have the ability to eat and digest larger amounts of food, and will be very driven and active in their life. Even if pitta isn’t your dominant dosha, it will inspire motivation and strong digestion (amongst many other things) in your life.

Personality Characteristics
  • Motivated, courageous, prone to anger, determined, leadership, ambitious, confident, focused, organized, passionate, entrepreneurial tendencies, intelligent, enthusiastic, goal oriented, logical, charismatic, assertive, prone to perfectionism and overworking, adventurous, social, charming, loyal, brave, alert, decisiveness, direct, outspoken

Physical Qualities
  • Medium height and weight, athletic or muscular frame, lots of energy, lustrous skin, oily skin texture, thin and/or oily hair, rosy and glowing skin, strong digestion, easily builds muscle, warm body temperature, strong appetite, strong sex drive

Pitta Imbalance

When out of whack, pitta is responsible for any of the physical, emotional, and mental characteristics we experience that are heat related. Among other things, it’s the root cause of red and inflamed skin, acid reflux, and fiery-tempers.

Symptoms of Pitta imbalance include:
  • Feeling hot even in cooler environments

  • Yellow tinted skin or eyes

  • Difficulty sleeping, particularly difficulty falling asleep

  • Heightened anger, irritability, or jealousy

  • Controlling and judgmental tendencies

  • Short tempered and quick to react

  • Aggressive and threatening

  • Extreme perfectionism and overworking

  • Boils, acne, rashes, or other skin aggravations

  • Burning sensation on skin

  • Heartburn and acid reflux

  • Acne, rashes, rosacea, or hives

  • Especially painful or intense PMS (premenstrual syndrome)

  • Excessive thirst

  • Inflammation in body or joints

  • Ulcers

  • High body heat and excessive sweating

Causes of Pitta Imbalance

Based on the Ayurvedic belief that like increases like, pitta shifts out of balance when we have an excess of heat (from food, lifestyle choices, environment, etc.) in our bodies and lives. Pitta is most likely to shift out of balance during the summer months when pitta is more prevalent in the environment. But like all doshas, it can be imbalanced at any point depending on our lifestyle habits.

Some common causes of Pitta imbalance include:
  • Over consumption of foods with pungent, sour, and salty tastes

  • Foods that cause burning in the stomach, like vinegar and highly fermented foods

  • Eating a high quantity of foods that are pitta aggravating. This includes yogurt, fish, mustard, alcohol, sour fruits, buttermilk, peppers, sesame, horseradish and oily, hot, salty, and fried or heavy foods.

  • Prolonged or repetitive exposure to heat, such as sunlight, hot showers, saunas, heated pools, and hot tubs

  • Allowing anger, sorrow, and fear to fester

  • Overworking oneself

  • Not getting enough rest or down time

  • Exposure to chemicals

How to Balance Pitta

Since like increases like, we must incorporate opposite qualities of an imbalanced dosha in order to regain balance. Therefore, balancing pitta dosha requires bringing in more cooling, sweet, and stabilizing activities, habits, and foods into our lives. Below is a list of suggested foods and activities to balance pitta. But if you’re ever unsure if a particular choice will aggravate or support pitta dosha, ask yourself what qualities the food or activity offers. Those with cooling and fire-alleviating characteristics are the best choices.

Best Foods to Balance Pitta

In general, it’s best to eat cooling foods to balance pitta. More specifically, foods with astringent, bitter, and sweet tastes are especially supportive. The most favorable foods for an imbalanced pitta dosha include:

  • VEGETABLES: Cucumbers, asparagus, green leafy vegetables, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, sprouts, zucchini, celery, cauliflower, okra, green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes

  • FRUITS: Sweet fruits like bananas, grapes, melons, cherries, coconuts, avocados, mangoes, oranges, plums, pineapple (fully ripe)

  • DAIRY, FATS, AND OILS: Ghee and milk (dairy is good for pitta, as long as it’s not fermented like yogurt, sour cream, and cheese); olive, sunflower, and coconut oils

  • NUTS, SEEDS, AND LEGUMES: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds

  • GRAINS: Wheat, rice, barley, oats

  • PROTEIN: Chicken and turkey

  • SPICES: Coriander, cilantro, fennel, cardamom

Foods to reduce or avoid: honey, grapefruit, berries, apricots, tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic, onion, carrots, beets, eggplant, pickles, sour cream, yogurt, beef, black pepper, ginger, vinegar, alcohol, coffee, and spicy foods

Pitta-Pacifying Activities & Recommendations:
  • Moderate and regular exercise that isn’t too exhaustive

  • Soothing comforts like evening walks, cooling scents (sandalwood, rose, mint, lavender, chamomile), time in nature, and soft music

  • Abhyanga (self massage) with cooling oil. ZV Botanicals CHILL Massage Oil is an especially supportive choice because of its calming and pitta-pacifying herbal ingredients.

  • Allow free time and space in the day; balance activity and rest

  • Eat at regular times throughout the day without skipping meals

  • Wear clothing with cooler colors like blues, greens, and silver as well as clothing that will keep your body temperature cool (i.e. cotton and linen)

  • Laugh as much as possible!

  • Surrender to day-to-day experiences rather than control them

  • Practice Yin Yoga and pranayama exercises

  • Include a gratitude practice in your day before you go to bed or when you wake

Bring pitta-pacifying herbs into your diet or use herbal products, like ZV Botanicals CHILL CBD Tincture with cooling neem and fennel.

Balancing affirmation for pitta dosha: I am calm and mindful. I have patience and time to complete everything I hope to accomplish. I pursue my life with ease and steadiness, taking time to enjoy the journey and not just reach the destination.

Thanks to pitta, our bodies are equipped to digest food, emotions, and experiences that we consume daily. We also have pitta to thank for the determination, courage, and willpower that helps us accomplish our goals and stand in our truth. But like fire, when pitta dosha is out of control in our bodies it can express itself as anger, inflamed skin, and excessive overworking.

Ayurveda helps us recognize what an imbalanced pitta dosha looks like and provides a number of tools that we can use to bring it back into balance. Optimal health isn’t a secret code to discover. It’s a state of being that we all have access to, especially as we become empowered with the knowledge and resources we need to bring change to our own lives.

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