3 Styles of Brain Functioning

Dharma Parenting draws on the time-tested knowledge of Ayurveda’s mind/body types and combines it with the latest understanding of how the brain is shaped by natural maturation and experience. These two factors— natural patterns of response and ongoing brain changes—contribute to what we call brain/body types, which are enormously useful for understanding your child’s behavior.

Many of you have heard of Ayurveda from popular TV shows, health articles, or books. Originating in India, Ayurveda is the most ancient system of natural medicine. It includes a rich knowledge of the therapeutic use of plants, food, and spices, which modern science is now recognizing and researching in order to better deal with heart disease and cancer, among other disorders. Ayurveda defines physical, mental, emotional, social, and behavioral tendencies in terms of three main patterns, or brain/body types, which are traditionally called Vata (vah´tah), Pitta (pit´ah), and Kapha (kah´fah). (Appendix 1 gives fuller details on Maharishi Ayurveda.)

  • The Vata body type is sensitive, always changing, and creative.
  • The Pitta body type is dynamic, strong willed, and inquisitive.
  • The Kapha body type is calm, steady, and kind.

At any time of the day, your child’s brain/body type can be either balanced or imbalanced, resulting in corresponding behavioral, emotional, and physical states. Understanding what triggers imbalance in your child will help you understand what they’re experiencing and how to help them with their reactions. In addition, transformation in brain circuits occurring during childhood, colors the way your child’s natural tendencies are expressed. By attending to your child’s brain/body type—his natural tendencies and changing brain connections—you will be able to better understand what your child needs to be happy and successful.

We’ve developed a theoretical model and are conducting research to test that model. We are particularly focusing on the executive system, located in the frontal lobes of the brain. This is the system that controls the brain’s “higher” functions:

  • interpreting information that comes in through the senses
  • focusing attention
  • controlling emotional impulses
  • making decisions
  • creating long-term plans

We suggest that in the Vata type, this system processes information very quickly and also tends to switch attention very rapidly. Because this type has more pieces of information to consider in any situation, and has trouble inhibiting emotional reactions, the Vata brain can be inundated by outside stimuli, disallowing focused attention, which leads to the possibility of mistakes. This would explain why the Vata brain/body type learns quickly yet can also become overwhelmed with too much information.

In the Pitta brain/body type, we would predict that the brain’s executive system processes information at a moderate to high rate, while at the same time focusing on details. Even with this great ability to focus the Pitta type sometimes cannot inhibit strong emotional impulses, particularly anger..

The Kapha brain/body type processes information more slowly, but it is extremely reliable and accurate. Consequently, Kaphas are slow learners, but at the same time their thinking is very methodical and steady. . The Kapha brain is also generally quite good at controlling the emotional centers. They are also the most emotionally stable type.

The massive reorganization of the brain during childhood will affect each body type differently depending on which brain areas are used most frequently, and when each brain area develops.