In our previous blog about the five elements, it describes what the elements mean in Ayurvedic medicine. Please read about the 5 elements before the doshas to have a broader understanding of the doshas.
Introduction to the Three Doshas
We are all made up of a particular balance of the five great elements (you can read about them in our previous blog) but the Sanskrit term ‘dosha’ is used to summarise each Ayurvedic mind-body type. Essentially the doshas are a shorthand way of describing a predominance of two particular elements in that:
– ‘Vata’ is composed of ether and air
– Pitta is composed of the fire element with some water
– Kapha is composed of earth and water
Together, Vata, Pitta and Kapha govern all physical and mental processes and provide us with an individual blueprint for health and fulfilment. We are all made up of a unique combination of these three forces. Like the foundations of a building, these forces determine who we are, what we like to eat, how thirsty we get, how much sleep we need, how we respond to stress, which disease we may be likely to get…. even how loving we are! This unique combination, determined at the moment of conception, is our constitution known a ‘Prakruti’. However, these forces constantly fluctuate according to our environment (diet, the seasons, the climate, our age and many more factors). The current state of these defines our imbalance, or ‘Vikruti’. Since we all have a unique constitution, and unique imbalances, it makes sense that each person’s path toward health will also be an individual one. This is a major principle of Ayurveda.
Understanding our Prakruti and our Vikruti offers each of us our own path to health and healing. There is a great dosha questionnaire on Deepak Chopra’s web-site here to help you start unravelling your ‘true nature’ and where you are out of balance. Please note this is not definitive and you may well get different answers using different doshas quizzes. It can be a little confusing as you may well be ticking boxes covering both Prakruti (nature) and Vikruti (imbalance). For example, you may be suffering from recent bouts insomnia and constipation (signs that Vata may be out of balance) but this is not the real you. Have fun filling it in but please take with a big pinch of salt and use as a springboard to a deeper exploration of your doshas constitution, perhaps with a qualified Ayurvedic Practitioner. http://doshaquiz.chopra.com/
Vata: The energizer
Qualities: Dry, light, rough, subtle, cold, mobile, clear, astringent
People with a Vata dominant constitution tend to have light, narrow bones, with dry skin and they don’t sweat much. This cold, dry nature makes them uncomfortable in cold, windy weather and they crave the warmth. When balanced, they are quick, creative, vibrant, dynamic and good communicators. They learn fast though they may forget as quickly. They can be highly perceptive and sensitive and are ready to help others. Professionally, they often work in creative industries, as artists, in media or marketing. They have a restless disposition, constantly on the move, walking and talking rapidly. They love travelling and new adventures. They tend to have low immunity, stamina and a variable appetite. They are easily fatigued and prone to stress anxiety and panic attacks. They are nature’s ‘born worriers’! This isn’t helped by the fact that they are typically light sleepers (5-7 hours a night), and are prone to insomnia and vivid dreams. They may also have issues holding on to energy and are prone to Chronic Fatigue. Vata occupies spaces in the body such as the large intestine, joints, ears and head. Common complaints are related to these sites, such as bloating, irregular bowel movements, constipation, osteoarthritis and cracking joints, tinnitus and mental health problems.
Pitta: The transformer
Qualities: Hot, Sharp, light, liquid, pungent
Due to their ‘fiery’ nature, Pitta predominant people have penetrating ideas, strong opinions and sharp intelligence. Their speech is direct and assertive, and they enjoy public speaking. However, they may also become ‘hot under the collar’, often intolerant and insensitive to others. They are competitive, so tend to succeed in business and sports, being high achievers. They have warm bodies and are prone to fevers. For this reason, they tend not to like hot weather or saunas and may suffer from heat rash, sunburn and body odour. Their eyes can also be sensitive to the light – these types are often seen in sunglasses and also may suffer from poor vision. Their quick-burning nature also means they may also go grey in their twenties and lose their hair early. Pitta people have strong appetites for both food and life and tend to produce copious amounts of faeces, urine and sweat. Pitta is mainly located in the small intestine, blood, liver, skin and eyes. Out of balance, problems are seen in these areas first such as excess acidity, body odour, blood disorders, skin issues and diarrhoea.
Kapha: The Builder
Qualities: Cold, heavy, moist, oily, slow, smooth, firm, sticky, sweet
Kapha predominant types are blessed with strength, endurance and stamina, tending to be calm, tolerant, loyal and forgiving. They make good friends, parents and providers for this reason. However, out of balance, they can tend to be lazy, possessive and greedy. Physically they are well-built, with a cool nature and a tendency to gain weight. This cold nature draws them to warm climates and sources of heat. They have a firm, smooth complexion and age well. Everything about them is slow and steady – speech, movement, appetite, metabolism, stamina – and they love to sleep. Sexually, their passion is slow to get going but once aroused they have good stamina. They may also take longer to learn new skills or facts than other doshas, but they never forget. Located mainly in the upper body, such as head, heart, chest and lungs, Kapha imbalance can be seen in excess mucous and congestion of these areas such as asthma, depression, coronary heart disease, sinusitis and nausea. They may also suffer excess weight gain and water retention as they have slower metabolisms, and a tendency love a sweet, fatty diet and be too immobile!
A regimen for the Doshas to stay healthy
Ayurveda prescribes different regimens for balancing doshas in each individual in order to stay healthy. Just remember the following guidelines and you can start looking at the world through an Ayurvedic lens:
Vata- need routine, nourishing, warming, and grounding
Vata types have variable appetite & digestion, and often attracted to salad & raw vegetables, predominant in the astringent taste. However, they are balanced by three or four meals a day or nourishing food at regular times. Favour oily, warm, moist foods to counter Vata’s light, dry, cold qualities e.g.: warm milk, butter, soups, stews, hot cereals, warm fruit compote, pancakes, cooked grains and cereals, steamed vegetables, and avocados. ‘One pot meals’ are great e.g.: casseroles, soups and stews, and khichdi (basmati rice and mung dal). It’s best to minimise cold, dry, light, airy foods e.g.: sandwiches, raw foods, iced drinks, toast, dry cereals, dried fruit, popcorn, oatcakes, rice cakes, refined sugar, fizzy drinks, coffee, tea and all stimulants in general as they disturb Vata.
Lifestyle tips for Vata:
A good routine is the single most important thing for you. Take time to interact with nature but avoid exposure to wind, cold and dryness. Focus on one thing at a time, minimising stress, overwork and personal conflicts. Nurture emotions of fearlessness, courage, and peace. It’s healthy for you to have a creative outlet through work or hobbies. Reduce sensory stimulation, especially in the evening such as checking emails. In particular, you can be sensitive to noise so surround yourself with soothing music and sleep in a quiet place. Talkative Vatas will benefit from some daily silence! You probably love travel, but it can be too much so favour restful holidays. Flying is also aggravating so avoid if you can or at least keep well hydrated on the flight to avoid constipation. You tend to love vigorous exercise but this can strain already vulnerable joints. Rather than jogging, something gentler suits you better, especially controlled movement (T’ai chi, yoga, walking, swimming etc). Avoid strenuous, competitive, frantic activities. If you practice yoga, think less is more, rather than exhausting yourself! Practice deep breathing and right nostril breathing (Surya Bhedana) which is warming.
Useful herbs for Vata types:
Vata types can benefit from tonic herbs to improve their energy levels. ‘Ashwagandha’ is the King of Ayurvedic herbs in this respect. Herbs to counter stiff, arthritic tendencies can also be very useful, especially over the age of 50. If there is dryness in the bowel, and constipation, a mild laxative may be needed. ‘Triphala’ is a common Ayurvedic household remedy for this problem. More widely, Triphala can benefit everyone as it aids with the absorption of Prana (life-force) from food. Herbs to calm the mind can also be helpful in stressful times. Other useful herbs are ‘Brahmi’, ‘Shatavari’, ‘Tulsi’, ginger and fennel. As a general rule, Vata types can take their herbs with warm water, milk, almond milk and raw honey.
Pitta types- need cooling, calming, moderating
You have a strong efficient digestion, so can generally eat just about everything! However, excess salty, sour and spicy food, as well as overeating, can cause digestive upsets, acidity and ulcers. Red meat and seafood are especially heating and vegetarian foods are good for you, being cooling. Favour grains, beans, vegetables, milk and ghee. Favour cooling drinks, sweet fruit juices and warm herbal tea (e.g.: cooling peppermint and liquorice). Minimise fried, oily, fermented foods, egg yolks, seafood, red meat, hot spices and chillies, pickles, citrus fruits, tomatoes, yoghurt, sour cream, hard cheese, and vinegar (use lemon juice instead). Processed and fast foods tend to be salty and sour and do you no favours! Coffee and alcohol are both very pitta aggravating.
Focus on activities that cool the mind, emotions, and body, such as swimming, Tai Chi, hiking or a brisk walk in a green space. Exercising at midday is not advised, though. The ancient texts advised Pitta types to gaze at moonlight, open water and fountains – all thought to help cool the mind! Cultivate the virtues of forgiveness, compassion, friendship, contentment and control. You are best of avoiding exposure to sun, heat and fire. Try to avoid competition, conflicts and arguments, instead focusing on relaxation and playfulness to counter your competitive nature. You benefit most from a regular yoga practice in a cool room. Bikram yoga in a heated room is too hot for you! Astanga yoga may also be too heating, encouraging you to complete with yourself as you work through the Series. Cooling breathing practices and left nostril breathing (Surya Chandana) can reduce heat and irritation. Meditate on opening the heart, devotion and compassion.
Useful herbs for Pitta types:
Herbs to cool and calm are most useful for Pitta types, or those with Pitta related problems. Aloe Vera has been used for thousand of years, and can be kept on the kitchen window sill at home for when you suffer a burn! Amla is especially good for Pitta, and is also known as ‘the nurse’ in Sanskrit so wide are its healing properties. Other useful herbs for Pitta types are ‘Brahmi’, ‘Shatavari’, coriander, fennel, turmeric and liquorice. Herbs can be taken with warm water, milk or aloe vera juice.
Kapha types –need drying, stimulation and expression
You tend to have a slow digestion, so it’s easy to eat too much. Key advice is to reduce your food intake, skipping breakfast (unless you are really hungry!) and not eating too long after sunset. You may love cheese, butter, wheat, potatoes and ice cream but these foods are all very heavy, sweet and cold in nature. A weekly fast for a day is also highly beneficial to help your system digest any remaining food in the GI tract. Favour warm, spicy, light, dry food cooked with minimum butter, oil, and salt (can lead to fluid retention). Indeed dry cooking methods (baking, grilling, and sautéing) are preferable to deep-frying, steaming, boiling, poaching. Stimulating spices such as black pepper, ginger, fenugreek, turmeric and cumin are very beneficial. Lots of green leafy vegetables are great, along with pulses and beans. You most likely have a sweet tooth but such foods are not recommended. However, honey is the best sweetener for you as it is heating and drying, but no more than a spoonful a day. It’s best for you to minimise all cold foods and drinks, favouring hot water and herbal teas.
As well as needing foods to stimulate and invigorate, you are best off with a vigorous, hot exercise regime. Climbing, hiking and jogging are all advised, especially in the morning when you can feel a little sluggish. However, it’s best to avoid exposure to cold and damp conditions (challenging in the UK!). In general, do your best to avoid sedentary activities, reducing sleep generally (5-6 hours is deemed ideal) and definitely no cat naps! Mentally, it’s helpful for you to cultivate feelings of detachment, independence, adaptability and courage. Regarding your Yoga practice, your type needs fast Sun Salutes and more heating types of Yoga such as Bikram and Astanga may suit you well. Strong, deep breathing and more rapid heating breathing technique are good (e.g.: Kappalabhati).
Useful herbs for Kapha types:
Warming, drying herbs to help remove stagnation and boost circulation are useful for Kapha types. Common kitchen herbs to meet the bill include ginger, turmeric and black pepper. ‘Trikatu’ is a good all round Ayurvedic formula for Kapha types in this respect. ‘Tulsi’ can help with Kapha related respiratory issues. Herbs to help reduce excess mucous in the head region can be especially useful. Herbs are best taken with warm water and a little honey.
“The interface between self-healing and self-realization is the union between Yoga and Ayurveda”. (David Frawley, ‘Ayurveda and Yoga’)
When the doshas get unbalanced
Disease occurs when the balance of doshas is disturbed. The law of similarity and dissimilarity explains why Vata dosha (with cold, dry, mobile qualities) is aggravated in Autumn, by cold or frozen food and excess travel. Pitta dosha (hot, liquid qualities) in Summer, by eating spicy food and having too many saunas. Kapha dosha (cold, watery qualities) in Winter, and by cold, heavy food, daytime naps and not moving enough. Again according to this law, Vata can be reduced by substances with opposing qualities such as warm, oily, nourishing foods; Pitta with cool, slightly drying substances; and Kapha by things with light, warming and drying qualities. So a person with a cold is suffering from congestion and mucous due to excess water and earth elements in their system. To alleviate symptoms they take ginger tea, predominant in the fire element. They would also do well to avoid dairy and cold foods which make congestion worse.
Ways to Throw Vata off Balance:
– Eating lots of cold, raw foods, frozen foods and leftovers.
– Lack of good routine.
– Lack of sleep.
– Working in a job with constant interruptions or night shifts.
– Excess travelling.
– Stimulating the body with drugs, alcohol, refined sugar or cigarettes.
– High impact sports such as jogging or adrenaline inducing sports such as bungee jumping.
Ways to Throw Pitta off Balance:
– Drinking excess coffee, tea and alcohol.
– Eating spicy, salty food and red meat.
– Getting worked up, frustrated or angry.
– Exercising at noon.
– Bikram yoga.
– A hot climate.
– Being too competitive.
– Regular steam baths and saunas.
– Using drugs and cigarettes.
Ways to Throw Vata off Balance:
– Too much heavy, sweet or greasy food.
– Overeating constantly.
– Taking daytime naps.
– Indulging your tendency to inertia.
– A cool damp climate.
– Watching hours of TV.
– Taking drugs, especially sedatives.
– Bottling up feelings.
– Avoiding intellectual challenges.
Understanding your dosha mix is a fantastic tool in getting to know yourself better. Self-knowledge fosters self-acceptance! Over time, your knowledge of yourself will deepen and your dosha influences will become clearer. By making subtle changes to diet, lifestyle, how we work and relate to others, the doshas can be brought back into a more balanced state with profound effects. The aim is not to become a new you, but to remain true to yourself as you become the best possible you. Managing your life is like running your own business: to be successful we need the influence of Vata to come up with ideas, creatively and enthusiastically; the influence of Pitta provides the ambition, determination and drive to sees these ideas through to completion; finally the steady, sustaining influence of Kapha keeps it all going on a day to day level. Furthermore, an understanding of the doshas also allows us to understand others better. In this way, doshas can be a ‘lens’ through which we look at the world.
To start with, this Ayurvedic theory may appear complex, but its principals are beautifully simple. Essentially, Ayurveda is the art of living wisely, in harmony with nature. At its heart is the concept that everything exists in relation to something else. The body affects the mind and vice versa, and Moksha (liberation) can only be achieved by those in good physical, mental and spiritual health. This is the ultimate goal of Ayurveda.
It’s best to consult a fully trained Ayurvedic doctor or practitioner for a full assessment, as registered with the Ayurvedic Practitioner’s Association to:
– Help you determine your unique constitutional type (or dosha)
– Offer advice on maintaining a healthy digestive system
– Give guidance on diet, lifestyle, detox and rejuvenation
– Show you how to give yourself a soothing self-massage
– Advice on herbal remedies to help bring you back into balance
The Ayurvedic Practitioners Association (http://apa.uk.com/)- a very useful one-stop shop for learning more about Ayurveda and finding a local therapist in the UK.
It’s generally accepted that Ayurveda evolved as a medical tradition from spiritually enlightened prophets (‘rishis’) living in North India in the 5th Century BC.