by Leah Barr, Clinical Ayurvedic Practitioner
Remember that 5 minute middle school science lesson— the one where you learned about the three body types: Ectomorph (the slight frame), mesomorph (the moderate frame), and endomorph (the larger, stockier frame)? While we may be taught a vague notion of different body types in grade school, we are generally not taught about how important this knowledge is for our health. Instead, we are conditioned to aspire to be somewhere on the ectomorph to mesomorph spectrum regardless of our natural type.
The emphasis on one ideal body type leads to a one size fits all notion of health that can lead to health problems. People towards the ectomorph end of the spectrum (slight frame) who over exercise or lift heavy weights may find that they develop problems with depletion conditions like fatigue, joint strains and injuries, or even more serious conditions. People towards the endomorph side of the spectrum may suffer the effects of yo-yo dieting, and experience frustration and shame over not being able to meet the societal standard that has been set around what a healthy body looks like.
Ayurveda predates the taxonomy of ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph and also takes it several degrees further in its articulation with the three Ayurvedic constitutions: Vata (slight frame), Pitta (moderate frame), and Kapha (robust frame). Ayurvedic philosophy, practices, and interventions are organized around where the individual falls on the body type spectrum. Our body type can’t tell us everything about who we are because we are much more than our body type. But it can tell us how to take care of ourselves all the way from what our optimal exercise routine should look like (so that we are neither straining nor stagnating), to what our diet should consist of, to what lifestyle practices will best serve us, to what meditation techniques or spiritual practices might be most beneficial.
As biological beings, we are bound to the terms and conditions of earthbound existence. This limitation need not be disheartening, but is the best way to locate the potency of where and how we best function so that we are even more free to explore our dreams, work, careers, art form, or spirituality. Ironically, the more refined we are in our understanding of our individual constitution the more empowered we are to fulfill that part of us that can’t be reduced to a constitution.