Originally published in Collective Evolution on September 10, 2016.
As an Ayurvedic Practitioner, Sports Nutritionist and Holistic Health Coach, I believe that the secret to lasting health is blending ancient Eastern health wisdom with modern Western nutritional science.
I have always been fascinated by the differences in the human-body, which drew me to Ayurveda, the world’s oldest health system originating from India 5,000 years ago.
Ayurveda is based on the concept of bioindividuality- that each person has innate differences due to their DNA, thus must feed and treat their bodies in different ways. There are three main mind-body types in Ayurveda- Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These are called the Doshas.
I loved how Ayurveda was so customized to the individual’s biological differences and longed to find a similar finding of body types in Western nutrition. I finally found it in my studies in Sports Nutrition.
In the Sports Science world, there are three main body types, endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph. These body types dictate how we store fat, what types of exercise we naturally excel at and what we should do for recovery.
I immediately noticed a direct relationship between these mind-body types in Ayurveda and the body types in Sports Nutrition. This finally backed-up the ancient Ayurvedic findings with the modern research I was looking for. These Indian sages were truly geniuses and so far ahead of their time.
The reason our bodies differ is based on the growth of our fundamental tissues in the womb. There are three main tissues- the ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm.
In this article, I will first explain what each of these layers are, then I will connect the Sports Nutrition and Ayurvedic body type to each layer, giving you both a Modern Western and Ancient Eastern perspective to understanding your unique physiology.
The Ectodermal Layer
The ectodermal layer is comprised of the tissues that connect us with the world outside of us. This layer includes
Bottom of Form
- the central and peripheral nervous system
- the sensory part of eye, ear, and nose
- the pituitary gland (our hormones)
- sweat glands
The Mesodermal Layer
The mesodermal layer is comprised of the tissues that support us. This layer includes:
- the vascular system
- blood cells
- lymph cells (fat)
- urogenital system
- adrenal glands (regulate appetite and stress)
- gonads (regulate growth, sexuality, and reproduction)
The Endodermal Layer
The endodermal layer is comprised of the organs within us. This layer includes:
- gastrointestinal tract
- thyroid (regulates metabolism)
- lining of the respiratory tract
- lining of the tympanic cavity
- Eustachian tube of the ear
So what does this have to do with our body types?
We all have ectodermal, mesodermal, and endodermal tissues… but not in the same amounts. Some of us have more development in our ectodermal layer, while others have more in their mesodermal or endodermal layer. This will greatly impact our entire physiology. We will carry fat in different areas, digest food in different ways, and gain muscle in various amounts, all dependent on the natural tendency of our bodies.
We were each handed a unique deck of cards at birth. This is our DNA. We are better able to provide and care for our bodies when we have more awareness of what our deck of cards are. Most of us are shooting arrows in the dark, trying to diet and exercise correctly, but knowing nothing about our own bodies. In order to achieve true, radiant health, we must have deep awareness of our physical condition
Just like no two have the same fingerprint, no two people’s genetic makeup is identical. Therefore, our diets and lifestyles must reflect these changes. Though Ayurveda has known about these nuances for thousands of years, the Western world is only starting to wake up to the fact that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to health really fits no one.
The Sports Nutrition categories do not go as in-depthly as the Ayurvedic and are based more on muscularity and performance, but their discovery shows that the Western world is beginning to scratch the surface of the concept of bioindividuality. In time, Ayurveda will become a well-practiced approach to health that I believe will be as popular as yoga one day, as they are sister sciences meant to be practiced side-by-side.
By now you may be wondering how these layers relate to the Ayurvedic Doshas, so I will explain each layer, the physical and mental characteristics its dominance gives us and how it relates to the Ayurvedic Doshas. Then I will give you brief dietary, exercise and lifestyles suggestions for each Ayurvedic mind-body type that you can begin implementing in your life today. If you’d like more, check out my 12 Week Program over at eatfeelfresh.com
Ectodermal = Vata
Some of us have increased development of the ectodermal layer, contributing to a more active nervous system and faster catabolism (the breakdown of muscle tissue.) This makes make us more naturally small-boned, full of thoughts, sensitive to external surroundings and energy, and often cold — exactly like a Vata.
Vata is regulated by Ether and Air energy, regulating the nervous system as well. Vatas are thin-bodied, dry-skinned, bold-bodied, hypersensitive to their surroundings, and imaginative. When they’re off balance, they can become anxious or anemic. I often compare Vata to the Fall wind — cool, dry, creative, and a little bit all over the place.
If you are an Ectomorph/ Vata, then I recommend consuming a more warming, grounding foods like soups, stews, and proteins. Avoid too much cold, raw food, which will cool down your already weak digestive fire. Make sure you stretch your body to prevent it from getting stiff and practice strength-training exercises. Practice more mindfulness.
Others of us have increased development of the mesodermal layer. We’re naturally more muscular, prone to stress, with strong bones and appetites — just like a Pitta.
Pitta is comprised of Fire and Water energy, controlling transformation — metabolism, digestion, assimilation, and muscle development. Pittas are naturally athletic, high-achieving people with strong work ethics (and appetites). When they’re off balance, they can become impatient, overheated, or agitated. I often compare Pitta to the summer — hot, fiery, and passionate!
If you are a Mesomorph/ Pitta, I recommend consuming more cooling, hydrating foods like fresh fruit and leafy greens. Avoid spicy food, caffeine, and chocolate, which are all too stimulating and heat-inducing for your already hot system. Be careful not to overexert yourself and become overly competitive. Practice yin yoga and meditation regularly.
And there are those of us with increased development of the endodermal layer. We may have slower metabolisms and digestions and are prone towards respiratory issues, exactly like the Kapha Dosha.
Kapha is comprised of Earth and Water energy, regulating structure, body tissue, and bone structure. Kaphas are peaceful, easy-going, good-natured, people. When out of balance, however, they can easily become overweight and lazy, and catch colds frequently. I like to compare Kaphas to the Spring — cool, wet, and dense.
If you’re an Endomorph/ Kapha, I suggest favoring light, stimulating foods like well-spiced quinoa, steamed vegetables and bitter greens. Avoid sweet, cool, and creamy foods like ice cream or pasta, which will make your sluggish digestive system even slower. Make sure you break a sweat every day to prevent yourself from becoming lethargic. Try something new every day.
Connecting the Dots
I hope this article taught you that our physical and mental characteristics we have are not just incidental. They are indicators of our internal constitution. Every function of our body is connected to the larger whole, helping us unravel another piece of the puzzle for perfect health. The smallest thing about the way you digest food can actually say everything about you. By learning about your mind-body type, you are better able to nourish it with the foods it needs to become your healthiest self.
I hope this helped you further understand your body so you can treat it like the temple that it is. If you’d like to discover your Ayurvedic mind-body type, be sure to take my quiz on eatfeelfresh.com. Unlike any other Ayurvedic quiz, I separated the results for the mind and body type, giving you the most accurate results. Be sure to follow my posts on Ayurvedic wisdom and recipes on Instagram and Facebook.