About Ayurveda — The Doshas
Ayurveda divides the elements that make up an individual person’s constitution into doshas. The three Doshas, as they are commonly called, are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
These have come to be understood in the west as:
- Vata Dosha, described by the air and ether elements, otherwise known as “wind”
- Pitta Dosha, described by the fire and water elements, otherwise known as “fire”
- Kapha Dosha, described by the earth and water elements, otherwise known as “earth” or “water”
Vata is the energy that is involved with movement. Vata is always moving. Like the wind.
Pitta is the energy used in transformation and digestion, as in your “digestive fire.”
Kapha energy is involved with fluid dynamics, coshesion and structure.
Every person has the traits and functions of all three doshas. But each person has a unique balance of the three, which is one of our determining factors of individuality.
It is important to know that each dosha has an in-balance and out-of-balance state, and so does each person. An individual has the state of their doshas at conception, which is their in-balance state, as well as the current state of their doshas, which is often an out-of-balance state.
The goal of Ayurveda is to help you return to your original state of balance and maintain it. When working with an Ayurvedic practitioner, the practitioner uses the unchanging characteristics in your body, as well as long term patterns, to determine your original balanced state, and they use your current symptoms and patterns to determine your current or imbalanced state.
It is also important to know that Ayurveda is not just about the three doshas in the body and mind. The framework of the elements describes everything in existence: the food you eat, your environment, and your activities. In this way, you can see how you fit within the big picture, and you can understand why the foods, environments, and activities you partake in cause you to be in or out of balance.
The Vata Dosha
The Vata Dosha is described by the air and ether elements, and is the energy of movement in the body for example breathing, muscle movement, heartbeat, elimination, circulation, absorption and elimination. Vata also characterizes the movement of the mind; when Vata is in balance there is enthusiasm, flexibility, creativity, expansiveness, and the ability to understand esoteric concepts.
The body of a person who is Vata nature from conception has long bones, is naturally thin, does not produce much sweat, and tends towards dryness. The potential interests of a person of Vata nature include art, philosophy, dance, hiking, running, jobs that require physical movement and jobs that include speaking.
Vata is cold, dry, light, unstable, and mobile, and so symptoms of Vata dosha imbalance take on these qualities. Examples of Vata imbalances include a dry cough, cold hands and feet, systemic dryness, dry skin, hair & or nails, poor circulation, sensitive digestion, gas, constipation, malabsorption, insomnia, forgetting to eat, worry, anxiety, PMS, twitches and tics, osteoporosis, as well as other specific disease conditions and psychological/neurological conditions. Long term Vata imbalance leads to depletion and emaciation. It may be no surprise to you then that the age of 65+ is also characterized as the Vata time of life. Aging in Ayurveda is seen as an increase in Vata.
Diet & Lifestyle for Vata
To bring balance to Vata dosha we apply the opposite qualities. The digestive fire is strengthened with warming foods and digestive spices, to increase the fire element, as well as healthy moisture in the form of oils for Vata like ghee, sesame or avocado oil. The best tastes for Vata are sweet, salty, and sour. Food is cooked, unctuous and warm, lots of soups and broths. Warming spices like fresh ginger and cinnamon help balance Vata individuals. It is contraindicated for people with Vata dosha to eat raw or cold foods. Since Vata dosha inherently brings variability, Vata is reduced by having strict routines around meal times and sleep. There are specific herbs that target Vata type diseases and symptoms.
Vata Seasons & Time of Life
Vata tends to accumulate in the body when the summer starts to cool down, and peaks in the coldest dry months of winter. Vata can also be aggravated during a change of seasons as your body adjusts to the new environment. These moments are when humans tend to catch a cold or experience cold, dry symptoms. This does not mean that this is the only time of year that you can experience a Vata imbalance. A Vata imbalance can occur at any time, although they are more likely during the Vata time of year.
The Pitta Dosha
The Pitta Dosha is described by the elements of fire and water; and is the energy of transformation and metabolism. Pitta dosha governs the eyes, the skin, the lower stomach, digestive acids, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and blood. Pitta dosha governs the “digestion” and understanding of stimuli. The body of a person who has Pitta in their constitution at conception has medium size & or deepset eyes, medium sized features, angular bones for example a prominent jaw, medium height and musculature, as well as a tendency towards skin flushing, and warm body temperature. They have a strong digestive system and appetite. The mind of a Pitta nature individual is perceptive, intelligent, focused, and logical. They are natural born leaders, planners, organizers, academics, and enjoy competition.
The fire element is hot, and so symptoms that relate to Pitta dosha take on that quality. Fevers, inflammation, anger, intensity, burning symptoms, loose stool/diarrhea, judgment, criticism, Chron’s disease, ulcers, burnout and burnout related illnesses, a cough with yellow sputum, arthritis, and jaundice, are all examples of symptoms caused by excess Pitta. Instead of having the tendency towards a flushed face, the out of balance pitta may be very red in the face. There are specific herbs which target Pitta type diseases and symptoms.
Diet & Lifestyle for Pitta
To bring balance to Pitta dosha, cooling, anti-inflammatory, purifying foods like bitter greens; as wells as sweet, grounding, nourishing foods like grains and vegetarian sources of protein. The best tastes for Pitta dosha are sweet, bitter, and astringent. Cooling digestive herbs like cilantro and peppermint, along with cooling oils like coconut oil, sunflower oil, and ghee help to balance Pitta individuals. Routines around sleep and eating are very important, as well as moderate exercise.
Pitta Seasons & Time of Life
The heat of summer time is when Pitta dosha peaks in the environment and so people may be more likely to have a Pitta imbalance at this time of year. However, Pitta imbalances can occur at any time. The Pitta time of life is Puberty to age 65.
The Kapha Dosha
The Kapha Dosha is described by the elements of earth and water; and is responsible for hydrodynamics and structure in the body. All tissues and moisture in the body are Kapha dosha. Examples of Kapha present in the body are protective mucus membranes, the fluid in joints, the moisture in the skin, the lymph and saliva. The person with a lot of Kapha in their constitution at birth will have round and full features like full lips, large eyes and big bones. They have a strong immune system and withstand stress well. When in balance, the Kapha nature individual is nurturing, stable, dependable, and has a great memory. They tend to enjoy calm activities and avoid strenuous movement.
The earth and water elements are heavy, and so symptoms associated with Kapha dosha are heavy. Examples are depression, over-attachment/clingy, melancholy, lethargy and paleness, water retention/ swelling, slow digestion, nausea after eating, excess mucus, a cough with thick white phlegm, pneumonia, cystic acne, excessive sleep, and excess tissue like growths.
Diet & Lifestyle for Kapha
To bring balance to Kapha dosha, warm, light stimulating foods are consumed, focusing on the bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes. Examples include cooked greens, copious amount of vegetables, small amounts of grains that are lighter in nature like quinoa and barley, and hot spices like pillali, dry ginger and black pepper. Kapha individuals should minimizing heavy, fatty foods. The lifestyle should include movement that gets them warm and sweating, as well as inviting spontaneity. There are specific herbs that target Kapha type disease conditions and symptoms.
Kapha Seasons & Time of Life
The season associated with Kapha dosha is spring time and early fall, when the temperatures are moist and cool. People do have a tendency to become out of balance with Kapha dosha at this time of year, but a Kapha imbalance can happen at any time depending on the person and the qualities present in their body and mind. The time of life associated with Kapha dosha is childhood to puberty.
Your Unique Balance of Doshas
As you probably noticed from the descriptions of the doshas above, every person has traits and body functions of each dosha. The trick is that we all have our own unique balance of these doshas which determines our current state of health. As you saw, you can have in-balance or out-of-balance doshas, which determine your unique lifestyle and nutritional needs. When you work with an Ayurvedic Practitioner, they will break it all down for you in an understandable way. Most people find that they are amazed by how accurately their dosha describes their body and mind, and how this lays out a clear path to wellness.
It is important not to identify with your dosha, as most of the time they indicate imbalances. Every person’s current dosha will shift throughout their life, although they may have tendencies determined by their constitution at conception to go towards one dosha or another. Some people experience dual doshas where two of the doshas are prominent. In some rare cases, all three doshas are equally out of balance. Each permutation and combination of the doshas whether Vata/Pitta, Vata/Kapha, Pitta/Kapha, or Vata/Pitta/Kapha, all have their unique challenges to creating and maintaining balance.