Ayurveda: The Ancient Secret to Health

Use the art of Ayurveda to make healthy changes that will stick.
Ayurveda: The Ancient Secret to Health
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Body type Mesomorph, medium-build with good musculature
Emotional tendency Anger
Biggest heart risks Inflammation, high blood pressure and sudden heart attack
Heart-health focus A plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet

You’re a pitta if
Your energy is intense, and you’re driven to reach your goals.
You often get heartburn or even ulcers.
You don’t do well with hot or muggy conditions.
You sleep pretty well.
Your skin is oily or reddish and prone to rashes or irritation.
You’re the life of the party and like a lot of excitement around you.
Your appetite is strong and you don’t like missing meals.

PITTAS ARE THE go-getters of the world, who harness their fiery energy to achieve their goals. Pitta types have a strong ambition; it’s never about being good enough, it’s always about being the best.

While these type-A gogetters can marshal their wills to achieve their goals, all this focus and intensity can lead to burnout and anger, the emotional defaultsetting for an out-of-balance pitta. And anger, explains Mimi Guarneri, M.D., medical director of Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego and author of The Heart Speaks, is devastating to heart health. “When you get angry, your blood pressure goes up, your platelets get sticky, your immune system gets suppressed,” she explains. “Anger is the most lethal emotion for the heart—your risk of suffering a heart attack goes up by 230 percent after an angry outburst.”

Study after study has correlated anger with heart disease—and especially heart attack. In fact, in a meta-analysis of studies covering 80,000 heart patients published in a 2009 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, British researchers found that anger and hostility increased risk of heart attack among healthy patients and significantly worsened outcomes for sick ones. It’s an important finding for driven pittas, since the ill effects of their anger might not be felt until it’s too late. “Pittas have a high pain threshold and can keep pushing themselves even when they are not well,” Yarema explains. “They are prone to sudden and completely unexpected calamities like a massive heart attack or stroke.”

Another pitta-related risk factor is inflammation—a side effect of all that inner heat. “And we know that inflammation may increase risk of heart disease,” says Schauer. The key to heart health for pittas, then, is to chill—from the inside out.

Focus on eating well
An anti-inflammatory diet is essential for imbalanced pittas. That means emphasizing a plant-based diet that includes lots of dark leafy greens, beans, fresh herbs, whole grains and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. Sweet seasonal fruits also help dampen the fire of inflammation—but should not be eaten in excess. The American Heart Association recently revised its dietary recommendations to limit sugar intake, in part because of the link between sugar consumption and inflammation. Just as important for pitta types is what not to eat: anything with too much caffeine, alcohol, “flesh foods” (such as fish, chicken and red meat) or spicy cuisines. Limiting these foods can be a hard sell for aggressive pittas. “Pittas often have voracious appetites, and will leverage their intensity with food,” says Scott Blossom, L.Ac., a certified yoga therapist and Ayurvedic consultant based in Berkeley, Calif. “They love the thrill of a triple macchiato, the intoxication of a 16-ounce steak, the cocktails they drink while they’re trying to play as hard as they work. But this will only lead to more inflammation.” Instead, pittas should reach for these cooling foods: apples, pears, coconut water, kale, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and cooling spices, such as cilantro, fennel or coriander.

Other heart-health moves for pitta types:
Calm your anger ball Since pittas are typically headstrong and can lose their tempers easily, mantra-based meditation can be an effective tool for immediate—and ongoing—stress relief. “Mantras clear the mind of excessive thinking,” says Mas Vidal, founder and director of Dancing Shiva Yoga and Ayurveda in Los Angeles. Choose one that helps you calm down and use it not only during meditation, but whenever anger or frustration become an issue—when you’re standing in line, stuck in traffic or waiting on someone who’s late. Another quick stress reliever is a shitali pranayama, or cooling breath. Curl your tongue as you extend it and inhale fully through your mouth; then close your mouth and exhale through your nose, swallowing the air and feeling the coolness throughout your body.

FITNESS FIX: Quiet your competitive streak Pittas naturally gravitate toward competitive pursuits, which can be a good source of exercise if not taken to the extreme, says Yarema. “If you stop having fun—or the people around you stop having fun because of you—reconsider what would be fun for all,” he says. Friendly matches of tennis and rounds of golf are good. Yoga is another great option, though pittas should avoid intense Bikram and Ashtanga classes, and opt instead for calming Viniyoga or Iyengar classes where their attention to detail will be appreciated. Swimming is even better, as the water is inherently cooling.