Ayurveda, India’s traditional system of medicine, is believed to be around 5, 000 year old, and is considered to be the longest continuously practiced system of medicine. Long before blood tests, MRIs, CAT scans, EKGs, and x-rays, there was the eightfold examination process called ashtavidha pariksha. (Ashta means eight, vidha means fold or process, and pariksha means exam.) This checkup is still practiced today by Ayurvedic medical doctors and certified consultants.
When getting an initial consultation, plan to spend about an hour with the practitioner. The eightfold exam is a thorough process in which the consultant really gets to know you. It consists of examining eight areas of the body and bodily functions, all of which reveal places of balance and imbalance.
The Eightfold Exam
Pulse. Taking the pulse is a way to determine one’s constitution and current state of imbalance. The pulse is taken on the right wrist for men and the left wrist for women. The Ayurvedic practitioner feels for the strength of vata, pitta, and kapha in the pulse. He or she looks for the overall qualities of the pulse as well: hot or cold, feeble or bounding, stable or mobile, heavy or light. Vata is felt under the first finger, pitta in the middle finger, and kapha under the ring finger. A dry, light, cold pulse reveals the presence of vata; a hot, bounding, sharp pulse indicates pitta; a slow, soft, steady pulse is more kapha in nature.
Urine. Talking about urination might feel uncomfortable, but there’s important information available in this discussion. The color can indicate if one is properly hydrated; the frequency can indicate if there’s enough fluid intake. Pain or discomfort could indicate a more complicated concern. Scanty urine can reveal the presence of vata dosha; hot urine can show the presence of pitta dosha; cloudy urine may indicate excess kapha.
To try it yourself, collect a sample of fresh urine in a glass jar (midstream in the first urine in the morning). Place a drop of sesame oil on the surface and observe its pattern:
- Vata conditions: Oil floats and pattern resembles a snake
- Pitta conditions: Bubbles appear; splits into small drops; makes the shape of a ring
- Kapha conditions: Looks like a pearl and may sink
Feces. Again, a little uncomfortable to discuss, but it can reveal vitally important information about digestive health. Daily elimination (or lack thereof) is a visible indication of digestive health. Ideally, we should eliminate every morning within one hour of waking. The bowel movement should have no pain or strain and be the consistency of a banana. Constipation indicates that vata is present, loose stools indicate pitta, and heavy, sludgy stools indicate kapha. To cleanse the digestive system, begin your day by sipping hot water with lemon. Simply fill your favorite mug with boiled water and squeeze in fresh lemon juice to taste.
Tongue. When examining the tongue, the consultant looks at the color and shape, checking to see if there are scallops on the sides, movement, coating, or cracking. A large, round-tipped tongue indicates more kapha; redness suggests pitta; cracking and a thin, pointed-tip tongue is more prevalent in the vata dosha. Scalloped edges on the sides of the tongue (teeth impressions) indicate possible malabsorption or malnutrition. Coating indicates a presence of ama, or undigested food, in the digestive system.
Try sticking out your tongue first thing in the morning and doing an Ayurvedic self-evaluation. Is there coating? If yes, what color? White is an indication of kapha, yellow pitta, and brown vata. It‘s important to remove this coating every morning using a metal tongue scraper and gently scraping from the back to the front of the tongue, three to five times. This removes digestive waste and stimulates the digestive system.
Sounds in the body. Gurgling in the stomach or cracking of the joints indicate the presence of vata. Eating cooked foods and keeping regular mealtimes can help with gurgling, and rubbing the joints with sesame oil can soothe cracking sounds in the joints. The quality, speed, and tone of your voice also give information about your constitution. If you speak quickly and tend to lose your train of thought, there may be excess vata present. Those with more pitta in their constitution speak sharply and clearly. Kapha types take their time expressing their thoughts while speaking sweetly and slowly.
Eyes. The doshas affect both the shape and color of the eyes. Small dry eyes indicate vata; medium, piercing, intense eyes are present with pitta; big, watery eyes are kapha eyes. If there is redness or yellowness in the whites of the eyes, pitta is present. Soothing the eyes daily by splashing cool water on them or adding a few drops of rosewater can relieve red, itchy, dry, and tired eyes.
Nails. The nails also indicate the presence of vata, pitta or kapha: Long vertical lines can indicate malabsorption; soft, flexible nails indicate pitta; brittle nails that break easily are more vata; and kapha nails are thick, oily, and strong. Dry skin is a feature of vata; oily skin prone to acne and rashes is a sign of pitta imbalance; and kapha skin is thick, soft, and smooth.
General appearance. Your body shape, the color and texture of your hair, your energy level, and even your gait can indicate the predominance of vata, pitta, or kapha. A vata body is one which thin, small bones, sinewy and without much curve or musculature. Pitta types are usually medium-framed with a moderate amount of musculature. Kapha types are fuller and bigger-boned with more curves. Vata hair is typically average in amount, dry, and light brown or blonde. Pitta types often have thinner hair, reddish or auburn, and may bald or go gray early in life. Kapha hair is generally thick, curly or wavy, dark brown, and oily.
Vata types have a sporadic amount of energy—bouncing around in one moment and exhausted in the next. Pitta types have a strong energy, but tend to burn themselves out by overscheduling. Kapha types are slow and steady; they have the stamina to go the long haul, but they don’t move terribly fast in the process.