Reevaluating “Constitution”: A Challenge to Popular Ayurveda


As the cosmic movement of air, sun and moon are difficult to know,
so is that of vāta, pitta, and kapha in the body.
Caraka Samhita VI 28:246


This post deconstructs what I feel are some common but avoidable problems with the practice of Ayurvedic constitutional typology. I realize that there are several forms of Ayurveda (including that represented by the modern BAMS syllabus) that do not necessarily foreground constitution in practice. My focus here is limited to the popular and global modes of practice supported by English language literature and often associated with modern global yoga culture. My intention is to clear a path for future research into what the old insights of typology might reasonably offer today. Because this piece is lengthy, I’ll begin with a redux of themes:

  1. While Ayurveda and contemporary science share a common empirical root in the systematic observation of natural patterns, Ayurveda no longer belongs to the discipline of  “science” as it’s commonly understood today. It is now perhaps more properly understood as an interpersonal and intersubjective art form, ideal for any therapy and counseling that seeks to bridge categories of body and mind. Claiming that it does more than this makes Ayurveda vulnerable to the charge of pseudoscience.
  2. The popular and now global practice of Ayurvedic constitutional typology (prakṛti) is particularly vulnerable to pseudoscientific claims, cognitive fallacies, essentialism, unchecked transference and countertransference, and blindness to how bodies are assigned meanings through social construction. These flaws are often amplified or excused by romantic Orientalism.
  3. If they can first uncover and then reach beneath these flaws, modern Ayurvedic practitioners may be able to access layers of awareness rooted in the intimacy of their mirror neurology — a kind of  “hardwired empathy.” Their task, if it is possible, would be to isolate this “first sense” of how another person feels themselves in the world towards therapeutic ends, before it is distorted by the sweep of cultural ideology, whether global-capitalist or antique-Orientalist.
  4. If it resists cultural ideology, the art of constitution can utilize the poetry of bodily states to initiate empowering dialogue about how different subjects experience the world organically, emotionally, and socially. In this way, a truly dynamic theory of “constitution” might take shape and be of benefit to a wide spectrum of healing disciplines.
  5. The most empirically honest and psychologically effective use of typology leaves the subject unlabeled and undetermined, and therefore able to construct for themselves a rich dialogue with their evolving body-mind patterning.

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