What are the Ayurvedic Doshas?
As the field of alternative health and wellness expands, public interest in holistic practices like Ayurveda is steadily increasing. Previously esoteric Ayurvedic herbs like ashwagandha, neem, turmeric, etc., are now readily available at your neighborhood smoothie store, natural market, or even coffee shop.
With the popularization of Ayurveda comes the need for more understanding of this ancient system and how to effectively apply it in our lives. If you have had any exposure to Ayurveda, you have probably come across the term dosha, but what exactly does this word mean and how can we apply it to our lives?
A fundamental aspect of Ayurveda is that it is not a one-size-fits all approach. In fact, what sets Ayurveda apart from other health practices is the fact that it recognizes every single person as a completely unique individual, with a dynamic, ever-changing state of being. As such, each Ayurvedic protocol must be tailored to the physical, mental and spiritual state of a person, also taking into consideration factors like the seasons, weather and geographic location.
What sort of implications does this have? Well, maybe you heard your friend raving about an herb that completely cured her insomnia and anxiety. You decide to take it, and find that not only did it not help, it actually made you more jittery and unable to sleep. In Ayurveda, what helps one person does not necessarily work for someone else, depending on your state of being, or constitution.
Doshas: Your Unique Mind-Body Type
The idea of the doshas, which are are three types of bio-energies (vata, pitta and kapha) present in our body and mind, is a foundational concept in Ayurveda. In Sanskrit, the word dosha literally translates to “that which has the ability to cause fault.” A way to think about this is, just as earthquakes occur on the earth’s fault lines, our dosha is our individual fault line, where we are more susceptible to illness. Everyone has the qualities of all three doshas in them, but there is typically one that is dominant. Some people may have two equally prominent doshas, and very infrequently, someone will have equal dominance of all three doshas. We are more susceptible to imbalances relating to our primary dosha. Doshas can go in and out of balance quickly depending on our actions, food that we eat, emotions and any other sensory inputs we experience.
Each dosha has a primary function in the body and relates to the five elements of ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Vata is the moving force, with the mobile qualities of air and space; pitta controls digestion and assimilation, with the cooking qualities of fire and water, and kapha is the force of stability, comprised of the heavy qualities of earth and water.
If your dominant dosha is pitta, then you may experience heartburn after eating spicy foods. A common vata imbalance is dry skin or constipation. If kapha is your primary dosha, then you may be more prone to lethargy. When it comes to the doshas, like increases like, and opposites balance. So for pitta dosha, spicy things will increase the fiery nature and create imbalance, while cooling, alkalizing foods like cucumbers and coconut and leafy greens will counteract the tendency towards heat and inflammation.
Prakriti and Vikriti
We all have a constitution that we are born with, which is called our prakriti. This is the combination and proportions of vata, pitta and kapha naturally within us. The word prakriti literally means nature in Sanskrit, so our prakriti is our unique, individual nature or state.
The doshic ratio is different in each person. Because of this, everyone’s path toward maintaining or regaining health is unique. Ayurveda addresses each person individually, since two people could express identical symptoms, but need completely different treatment protocols based on their different doshic balance.
While our prakriti is the doshic state that we were born with, our vikriti is our current doshic state, which represents how far we have deviated from our original prakriti. In Ayurveda,we base treatment on understanding both a person’s prakriti and vikriti, working to return the body to its original doshic state, while also mitigating imbalances we are prone to as a result of our dominant dosha.
In Sanskrit, the word vata means “that which moves.” Typically, someone who has vata as their dominant dosha will be thin, either very tall or very short, with cold, dry skin, and dry hair. Some common signs of vata imbalance are anxiety, disorders relating to dryness, constipation, poor circulation and restlessness.
How to Balance Vata
To balance vata, we want to avoid too much cold, raw and processed food. Foods that are beneficial for vata dosha are soups with spices like cumin and cardamom, nourishing grains, and cooked vegetables.
Pitta translates to “that which cooks” in Sanskrit. The fiery aspect of Pitta dosha is responsible for digestion and absorption in the body. Someone who is pitta dominant usually exhibits the physical traits of a medium height, medium weight, sensitive skin and medium sized eyes. Signs of pitta imbalance are infection, skin issues, ulcers, heartburn, inflammation and fever.
How to Balance Pitta
To balance pitta we want to avoid caffeine, alcohol and pungent foods, including onions and garlic and spicy and hot foods. Instead, we want to eat cooling foods, such as dark, leafy vegetables, legumes, coconut, cucumber, etc. Spices that are balancing to pitta are coriander, fennel and turmeric in small amounts.
The word kapha means “that which flourishes in water” in Sanskrit. This is the dosha that governs stability and nourishment in the body. Physical traits associated with kapha are the tendency to gain weight easily, large eyes, and thick, shiny hair. Common disorders associated with kapha imbalance are sinus issues, water retention, low energy, and anything relating to mucus.
How to Balance Kapha
To balance kapha, we want to avoid heavy foods and foods that are mucus producing. Particularly aggravating to kapha are wheat, milk and dairy. We want to instead consume foods like legumes, vegetables and any type of spice, emphasizing those that are spicy and pungent.