In Sanskrit, Ayurveda is the knowledge of life and longevity. Collectively known as the doshas—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha—are one of the cornerstones of the Ayurvedic tradition. Derived from five possible states of matter: earth, water, fire, air, and ether (or space), each dosha represents an individual’s physical, emotional, and mental characteristics.
According to the theory and practice of Ayurveda, life is fundamentally a field of intelligence and pure knowledge. Knowing your dominant dosha empowers you to balance your mind, body, and consciousness through diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Before we dive into discerning your dosha, let’s do a little Ayurveda 101 and a quick overview of the three doshas.
Intro to Ayurveda
Ayurveda is ancient Indian knowledge that has been around since time immemorial. As opposed to our Western reactive attitude towards health, which treats symptoms of diseases, this holistic philosophy focuses on prevention, balance, and maintenance. As Ayurveda.com puts it, “Balance is the natural order, while imbalance is disorder.” Disease—an imbalance within our natural state of "ease" is disorder, while health is order.
Ayurveda can be defined as the dynamic state of balance between mind, body, and environment. The practice invites you to pay attention to how emotional and physical stresses such as feelings, diet, seasons and weather, physical trauma, work, and family relationships affect your thoughts, lifestyle, and nutrition. An excess or deficiency of vata, pitta, or kapha is thought to cause disease. Therefore, this philosophy suggests changes you can make to your lifestyle that will help balance your dosha and maintain your health.
The Three Doshas
Vata, pitta, and kapha are the three types of energies or doshas that are present in everyone and everything. Vata is the energy of movement; pitta is the energy of metabolism or digestion; and kapha is the energy of structure and lubrication, according to Ayurveda.com. Each of the three doshas is present in everyone, but one is most dominant in each person.
According to the Ayurvedic philosophy, everything is a result of the interplay between earth, water, fire, air, and ether, or space. Consequently, each of the three doshas is a combination of these energies. Additionally, 20 qualities or characteristics—called gunas—are inherent in all matter: heavy/light, cold/hot, unctuous/dry, dull/sharp, stable/mobile, soft/hard, non-slimy/slimy, smooth/coarse, minute/gross, and viscous/liquid. Why are gunas important? “Knowing what elements a substance is made of is important to understanding the kinds of effects it produces,” according to Ayurveda.com.
You will likely be able to single out which dosha you identify with from the description, but if not, there are plenty of free quizzes online.
Vata: The Energy of Movement
Vata translates to "wind" or "that which moves things," which makes sense since it is a combination of the elements of air and ether or space. Dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, and clear are the gunas or qualities that are attributed to this dosha. In the body, vata provides the essential motion for all vital processes: breathing, heartbeat, neurons firing, bowel movements, blinking, etc. Vata people are active, creative, communicative, have a quick mind, and are flexible. Like the wind, vata people are very active. According to euroved, “Vata types are usually very small or very large people. Their stature is rather delicate and sinewy, like that of marathon runners or models.”
Alert and restless, vata folks talk fast, walk fast, and think fast, but they tire themselves out quickly too. Gone with the wind, vata types spend money as soon as they get their hands on it and grasp concepts as quickly as they can be forgotten. Due to poor planning, vata dominant folks may suffer economic hardship.
Disease too can be attributed to wind. Vata types are more susceptible to afflictions that involve air, such as emphysema, pneumonia, and arthritis. “Other common vata disorders include flatulence, tics, twitches, aching joints, dry skin and hair, nerve disorders, constipation, and mental confusion,” according to Ayurveda.com.
Also like the wind, vata types often feel unstable and have a hard time becoming and staying grounded. “Routine is difficult but essential if vata is to be lowered and controlled,” Ayurveda.com notes. Vata types require more rest than others, which is why it is recommended that they go to bed by 10pm. They may have a lower tolerance for change, and also have less willpower, confidence, and boldness than other doshas. When in balance, vata promotes creativity and flexibility. However, an imbalance produces fear, anxiety, and nervousness. Traveling frequently, loud noises, and constant stimulation can all throw vata constitutions out of whack. Moisture is good in general for vatas, who usually benefit from taking a detoxifying steam, sleeping with a humidifier, and applying oil before bathing to help retain the skin’s moisture.
“Intensity itself can be intoxicating to vata” according to Ayurveda.com, which recommends relaxation and meditation to reduce vata. Fall and the changing of the seasons are the most important times to pay attention to diet and lifestyle. Vata types should keep warm and avoid the cold. Eat Taste Heal offers these general guidelines for balancing vata:
- Eat in a peaceful environment.
- Engage in wholesome and contemplative activities (like spending time in nature).
- Follow a regular daily routine.
- Meditate daily.
- Do gentle physical exercises like yoga, swimming, tai chi, or walking.
Pitta: The Energy of Digestion and Metabolism
Made up of fire and water, Pitta translates as “that which cooks". Oily, sharp (or penetrating), hot, light, mobile, and liquid are the gunas that are attributed to this dosha. An excess of any of these qualities aggravates pitta. In the body, pitta is expressed as the metabolic system, which governs things like digestion, nutrition, and metabolism. Pitta people are of medium height and build. Their warm bodies tend to perspire easily. While the pitta population’s ruddy or coppery skin is less wrinkled than vata’s, it’s usually spotted with multiple moles and freckles. Although silky, their mane may go gray prematurely or fall out.
Firey pitta folks have penetrating ideas and sharp intelligence. However, there’s a difference between a fire you can warm up next to and being completely engulfed in flames. Pitta people must keep their internal inferno in check so it doesn’t burn the house down. When balanced, pitta promotes understanding and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta people can become angry, hateful, jealous, easily agitated, aggressive, and short-tempered. Mentally, pitta types are alert and comprehend things well, which makes them great leaders and planners. We are living in a material world and pittas are material girls, often showing off their wealth and possessions.
Pitta types sleep soundly, for a medium duration. Hot-blooded pitta types have a “lower tolerance for sunlight, heat, and hard physical work,” according to Ayurveda.com, and will do well to stay cool in the shade or pool, slathered in SPF. The dog days of summer, which is pitta season, can add more fuel to the fire, resulting in an already short-tempered pitta becoming more snippy, or succumbing to summertime maladies such as poison ivy. Disorders like these tend to fall away like the leaves on the trees come autumn when cooler weather welcomes cooler heads to prevail. Inflammatory diseases, fevers, and jaundice are also common with this fiery dosha. “Common symptoms include skin rashes, burning sensation, ulceration, fever, inflammations, or irritations such as conjunctivitis, colitis, or sore throats,” as per Ayurveda.com.
- Avoid excessive heat
- Avoid excessive oil
- Avoid excessive steam
- Limit salt intake
- Eat cooling, non-spicy foods
- Exercise during the cooler part of the day
Kapha: The Energy of Lubrication
Formed from earth and water, Kapha translates as “that which sticks”. In the body, Kapha is the glue that’s holding everything together, from cells to bones, muscles, and tendons. It also supplies the water for all bodily parts and systems, which is pretty important considering that the majority of the human body is water. Kapha helps lubricate joints, moisturize skin, and keeps the immune system operating properly. Heavy, slow, cold, oily, slimy (smooth), dense, soft, static (stable), and cloudy or sticky are the gunas attributed to this dosha. When these qualities are balanced, Kapha is expressed as love, calmness, and forgiveness. If Kapha is imbalanced, greed, envy, attachment, and possessiveness can take hold.
Kapha types are known for their strength, endurance, and stamina. They tend to be grounded and stable, which helps them earn and hold onto money. Their calm, tolerant, and forgiving nature makes Kapha types great teachers. Although it may take them a while to comprehend something, they have the memory of an elephant. A combination of slow metabolism and a tendency to shun exercise and gain weight easily may make the kapha body elephant-like as well. Their thick skin is oily and smooth. Kapha folks have large, attractive eyes that are framed by long lashes and thick brows. They don’t sweat much, but boy do they sleep. Lethargic kapha people enjoy deep and prolonged slumber.
Diabetes, excess weight, headaches, sluggishness, and water retention are common with Kapha types, who are more likely to develop mucus-related diseases such as the flu and sinus congestion. Fluid retention will aggravate kapha types, who already have plenty of H2O. Winter is kapha season when it is most important for kapha folks to pay attention to their dietary and lifestyle choices.
- Get plenty of exercise
- Keep active
- No napping during the day