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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
“Astrology developed into a strange discipline: a mixture of careful observation, mathematics and record-keeping, but rife with fuzzy thinking and pious fraud. Nevertheless: it survived and flourished. Why? Because it seems to lend a cosmic significance to the routine of our daily lives. It pretends to satisfy our longing to feel personally connected to the universe.” – Carl Sagan
The late Carl Sagan is spot-on here, but he left a few tasty ingredients out of the astrology stew. He left out poetry. Narrative acumen. The psychological intuition that comes out of watching people as carefully as one must watch the planets to predict their movements. He left out the burning desire to give consolation and express empathy through the correlation of cosmic and character patterns. And: the yearning for this consolation to come quickly, when research and science take so much effort. Sagan omitted the inscrutable moments of intimacy that can occur between two people as they consider the aspirations and anxieties of life, through a horoscope, darkly. His omissions are to be expected: he never practiced astrology. But I did. Continue reading ““Vedic” Astrology: A Strange and Lovely Art from Time Gone By, Rife with Tender Bullshit Today”
Deepak Chopra muddles words like “consciousness” and “quantum”, but that doesn’t make him a charlatan
Thanks to Julian Marc Walker for his excellent, exhaustive analysis of Chopra’s use of language, and to Rene Tschannen for hosting the Facebook dialogue that stimulated this post.
Deepak Chopra gives me an ambivalence migraine.
On one hand, he’s largely responsible for the groundswell of interest in the art of Āyurveda, which I love and practice. I’ve had many students and clients seek Ayurvedic counsel based upon their exposure to Chopra’s conveyor belt of books. Those who have been especially comforted by him often had unfulfilling experiences with biomedicine that would make a former biomedical practitioner who had moved on to something more transcendent very attractive. In Chopra they found a post-medical expert who mirrored their own post-medical yearnings. Continue reading “Deepak Chopra muddles words like “consciousness” and “quantum”, but that doesn’t make him a charlatan”
The following article brings together some early treatments of subjects that I will be addressing in more polished form in my forthcoming book called Ayurveda: an Ecotherapy for our Time. Because I belong to no distinct Ayurvedic lineage, school, or professional organization, I offer this work in draft form to the global Ayurvedic community with a request for feedback, criticism, and correction. Continue reading “Ayurveda and the accusation of pseudoscience”