A Story of Three Doshas
To be able to use auyurveda, we need to know what our “constitution” (or prakruti) is. Our constitution is made up of a unique mixture of three energy types in our body, called doshas. The doshas are this awesome way of categorizing the way the five elements (Ether, Air, Water, Fire, and Earth) come together in our bodies and make up our very own constitution. These five elements, working through the doshas, determine the physiological processes happening in our bodies.
Our particular balance, or mixture, of these three doshas are what cause us to have the reactions (good or bad) that we do to food, situations and physical environments. And it is the reason we all react differently. What one person finds energizing might need to end in a nap for someone else.
The doshas are responsible for keeping us fluid, moving and changing, and can also be the culprit when we are stuck, or feeling bogged down. Our doshas translate to mean “fault”, and they are indeed the juncture where things can go off kilter. But sometimes the movement of a dosha is exactly what we need to get out of a rut.
Vatta, Pitta & Kapha
The three doshas at work in our bodies are known as vata, pitta, and kapha.
Vata is made up of ether and air, and can be thought of like the wind on a stormy fall night. It kicks up the dust and old leaves to create room for new life; new experiences. It is the energy of movement, breath, and elimination. Vata is change. But it can be flighty and cause us to become un-grounded if it becomes imbalanced or if we have a lot of it naturally. An imbalance of vata might result in worry, anxiety or fear.
Pitta is fire and water; it is the energy of digestion: of food, the environment, and our experiences. It is that “fire” within that we feel when starting an exciting new project or competing on the soccer field. An imbalance of pitta could be the cause of skin rashes or excess anger.
Kapha is earth and water. It is the energy that holds us together. It is the glue; our stability. Kapha energy keeps it real, keeps us grounded in the now. When kapha is imbalanced, a person might become lethargic or depressed.
What is my Dosha Combo?
Discovering what dosha(s) are present in which quantities in us is one of the most fun and exciting things about ayurveda! When I determined mine, I realized that some of my “bothersome” tendencies are in fact simply part of who I am; part of my makeup. Tendencies that need not be changed, but rather, must be worked with. To maximize my happiness and effectiveness, I need to care for myself in a specific way. The attributes for each dosha (listed below) are about what our bodies are like physically as well as our mental/emotional proclivities.
A lot of people have one dominant dosha, but many people have two dominant doshas, and the rare few have a more or less equal combination of all three. The doshas have a total of 25 gunas, which are the characteristics of the doshas. The gunas are the fundamental qualities of each dosha.
Characteristics of Vata
Vatas are the dreamers, the artists, the life of the party
- Dry -dry skin, nails, hair, mucous membranes; premature wrinkles
- Moving – unable to sit still, lively, mulit-tasks, speaks quickly, light sleeper and tends to insomnia
- Cold – tends to feel cold more often than hot, tends toward constipation or gas when digestion is off
- Light – thin body frame, not muscular and doesn’t easily put on weight, variable hunger, irregular/light menstrual cycle
- Changeable – can be “spacey”, moods change quickly, spends money as soon as it comes in
- Subtle – hair tends to be thin and fine, agile, has well-developed intuition and psychic abilities
- Rough – likes crunchy foods that are dry, such as crackers and chips
- Quick – fast learner but can forget just as quickly, drawn to drama and tend to be artistic/creative, may be drawn to mind-altering substances
Out of balance Vatas will tend toward anxiety, fear, nervousness
Characteristics of Pitta
Pittas drive the world – the movers and shakers
- Hot – tends to feel hot more than cold, may have a quick temper; passionate
- Sharp – quick-witted, competitive, focused; a leader
- Light – medium build with a muscular body, hair may be light in color and prematurely grey
- Moist – often thirsty, has a strong appetite and requires regular meals
- Slightly oily – sensitive skin, rosy in color and prone to rashes and acne
- Fluid – saves up money for splurges on luxuries
- Sour – intense, feel they know the “right” way to do things
Out of balance Pittas may be intense, irritable, angry.
Characteristics of Kapha
Kaphas are our Earth Mothers – love and comfort
- Heavy – tend toward slower digestion and can feel heavy after eating; gain weight easily
- Cold – body temperature is cool
- Oily – calm and consistent, sweat a lot but sweat smells sweet
- Sweet – loving and loyal, tend to like sweet foods
- Steady – self-contained, not thrown out of balance as easily as the other two doshas
- Slow – may learn at a slower pace, but once learned have a great memory
- Soft – earthy, grounded, have soft skin and big eyes; a sweet voice with kind words
- Sticky – can hold onto things physically and emotionally, save money well
- Dull – sleep heavily, love to sleep in late
- Smooth – slow, deliberate, fluid movement
Out of balance Kaphas can be possessive, depressed, sluggish
Did you notice how the attributes (or gunas) of the doshas relate to the earth elements that they correspond with? The fiery, passionate pitta personality; the fun, flitting vata; the steady, loving kapha. The reason we want to know our doshas is so we can decide which habits to cultivate that will serve our specific needs.
When we know what to look for, we can be sure to take care of ourselves in ways that keep our dominant dosha(s) in balance. Those hot-blooded pittas do well not to get overheated, especially in the summer (or watch out!). Kaphas do best when they get up bright and early and engage in some vigorous exercise — preferably outside. Vattas absolutely thrive on yin yoga and staying warm in the colder months.
Here’s the kicker though: a vata person wants to do a five mile run, the pitta wants to be in a competitive field and eat spicy food, and a kapha soul wants to curl up in front of the fire and snooze!
In what can seem like a counter-intuitive way, what a person needs to do in order to balance their doshas is the opposite of what they are like constitutionally. For example, a vata person is dry and airy, so what they require is warm, hearty stews and oil massages, but they prefer crunchy, dry crackers and running on empty until they collapse. A pitta may want to have a “friendly” game of basketball with his brothers, but should really consider Thai Chi in the park. Kaphas love to lounge about but would do better to have a brisk after-lunch walk. And the hot steamy vacation locale that is perfect for Mrs. Vata might be a hellish heatwave nightmare for Mr. Pitta.
Chart to Determine Dominant Dosha
Look at each category below and write down which dosha you are in that category. Then total up the amount you get from each category. The one with the most picks is your dominant dosha. You may have two that are dominant.
Ayurved-ish Rejuvenation Time
Soak in an Epson salt bath with an organic essential oil such as lavendar, ylang-ylang, or frankincense. Do the works – candles, calming music, low lighting, etc. – you may be surprised at what a little bit of “setting the stage” can do. Have your bath at a time you won’t be disturbed (very funny, you say) – try it, it will provide grounding and a sense of peace.