The Three Doshas in Ayurveda

In this day and age, more and more people want to take charge of their health and wellness. One amazing tool is Ayurveda, the world’s oldest healing science. Although it was developed 5000 years ago in India, Ayurveda is still highly relevant today. In fact, over the last three to four decades, Ayurveda has gained a lot of popularity worldwide.

One of the reasons Ayurveda is so popular is its intuitive and easy-to-understand approach to life, health, and disease. Thus, you don’t need to be a seasoned Ayurvedic practitioner to benefit from this ancient wisdom. Even as a novice, you can implement many Ayurvedic principles to improve your wellbeing and vitality. 

To start your personal journey on the path of Ayurveda, it’s important to understand its foundational principles – starting with the three doshas.

What are Doshas?

According to Ayurveda, everything consists of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. They are the building blocks for the material world. These elements, in turn, form the three doshas – vatapitta, and kapha. Every dosha is a combination of two elements and has unique qualities, functions, and responsibilities.

The three doshas can be observed everywhere in the natural world – the different seasons, climates, fauna, and flora around the planet – and in the human mind-body system. In essence, the doshas are energetic forces of nature. They help us make sense of ourselves and the world around us. 

You might be surprised to find out that all people have the energies of vata, pitta, and kapha – but in different proportions. This particular ratio is known as your constitution. You can think of it as your personal blueprint: it determines your physical, mental, and emotional characteristics.

It’s important to note that all three doshas are essential for the functioning of the human body. Each of them has very specific roles to play in order to keep us balanced and healthy. Therefore, no dosha is “better” or “worse” than the others. Moving on, you will learn about the most important functions, qualities, and responsibilities of each individual dosha.

Vata Dosha

Vata is composed of the elements air and ether. It governs all movement in the body – the pulsation of the heart, the flow of the breath, the muscle contractions, and movement on a cellular level – as well as sensory perception and communication. Vata enables us to experience creativity, flexibility, and joy.

Vata has dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, and clear attributes. Therefore, people whose constitution is dominated by this dosha tend to embody the same qualities. Vata types have a thin, slender frame. Their skin is delicate, dry, and cold to the touch – with pronounced veins and joints. They generally have dry, curly hair. Most vata types have a variable appetite and digestion.

Mentally, vata people are creative, enthusiastic, and flexible. They tend to learn new things fast but forget just as quickly. Blessed with a quick mind and an active imagination, they think, talk, and move fast. However, they can become easily fatigued and need more rest than the other two types. They have less tolerance for change and therefore often feel restless, unstable, and ungrounded. Vata types are more susceptible to diseases involving the air principle, such as arthritis, pneumonia, or nerve disorders.

Pitta Dosha

Pitta is the energy of transformation – composed of the elements fire and water. It governs the appetite, digestion, metabolism, and body temperature. Mentally, it is associated with intelligence, as well as the digestion of thoughts, emotions, and experiences.

The qualities of pitta are sharp, light, liquid, oily, and of course, hot. People with a predominant pitta dosha are of medium height and build, with warm skin. Their hair is silky and they often experience premature graying or hair loss. They have a strong appetite and fast metabolism. 

Mentally, pitta types are very intelligent and charismatic. Their ambitious character and self-confidence make them excellent leaders. However, pitta types have a short temper – they are easily agitated and tend toward anger, jealousy, and impatience when imbalanced. They seek wealth and enjoy exhibiting their material possessions. Pitta types tend to have diseases connected to the fire principle, like fevers and inflammatory diseases.

Kapha Dosha

Composed of earth and water, the kapha dosha provides structure and holds the body together. It forms solid bodily structures like bones, tendons, and muscles. It also supplies and regulates bodily fluids – thus lubricating the joints and moisturizing the skin.

According to Ayurveda, the attributes of kapha are heavy, slow, cool, oily, smooth, dense, soft, stable, gross, and cloudy. As a result, kapha types have smooth and oily skin, rich hair, larger proportions, and a robust frame. They have a slow metabolism, meaning they might gain weight easily. 

Mentally, those with kapha-dominant constitutions are calm, compassionate, and forgiving. They learn slowly but have excellent long-term memory. Steady like a rock, kapha people remain grounded and calm even during challenges. However, they may easily become lethargic. They are most susceptible to health challenges related to the water principle, such as the flu, sinus congestion, and other diseases involving mucous. 

Constitution vs. Imbalance

To assess how the doshas affect your life, it’s crucial to understand the difference between prakriti, the balance of doshas that you were born with, and vikriti, your current state of imbalance.

Prakriti is your constitution which is determined at conception and remains the same throughout your life. It determines everything from your body type to your predisposition toward specific diseases. Prakriti is free of symptoms – it is your ideal state of health and equilibrium.

However, your constitution can be disturbed by many factors, like your diet, relationships, and emotional state, as well as the weather and seasons. These internal and external stresses cause an imbalance – the excess or deficiency of a certain dosha. Your current state of imbalance is called vikriti. When vikriti is close to prakriti, you’re living in health and harmony. But when vikriti moves away from your original constitution, symptoms of disease arise.

Dosha Imbalances and Disease

The Sanskrit word dosha means “that which gets messed up.” When a dosha accumulates in excess, you will experience symptoms that reflect the qualities of this dosha. See the most common diseases related to each individual dosha below: 

Vata Imbalance: A vata imbalance occurs when vata is in excess. This can cause a scattered mind, as well as feelings of restlessness, anxiety, fear, and ungroundedness. Physically, a vata imbalance can lead to dry skin, cracking joints, poor circulation, constipation, insomnia, twitches, or tremors.

Pitta Imbalance: A pitta imbalance occurs when pitta is in excess. It is often expressed through anger, impatience, and jealousy. Physically, a pitta imbalance can cause inflammation, excessive heat, heartburn, migraines, rashes, strong hunger, an overactive metabolism, loose stools, and difficulty sleeping.

Kapha Imbalance: A kapha imbalance occurs when kapha is in excess. This can cause a lack of motivation, resistance to change, depression, lethargy, attachment, greed, envy, and heaviness in the mind and body. Other symptoms are excessive sleep, a sluggish metabolism, congestion, and water retention. 

While an imbalance can show up in any of the three doshas, it is more likely to occur in the dosha that makes up the biggest part of your constitution. It is also possible for more than one dosha to be out of balance at a given time, or for all three doshas to be imbalanced.

Balancing the Doshas

According to Ayurveda, imbalance is the root cause of disease. Therefore, the main goal is to return to your innate state of balance. Balancing the doshas follows the simple principles that “like increases like” and “opposites balance each other out.” 

Balancing Vata: Because of its cold and dry qualities, the vata dosha is aggravated by loud noises, overstimulation, frequent travel, cold environments, and cooling foods. As a result, heat and moisture help to decrease vata. Warm showers, steam baths, sauna, and daily oil massages are recommended. In general, people with excess vata should avoid cold, frozen, or raw foods. They respond best to warm, oily, and heavy foods. Another key element for pacifying vata is establishing a daily routine and prioritizing rest. 

Balancing Pitta: The most prominent quality of the pitta dosha is fiery heat. Therefore, you can treat pitta disorders with cooling and soothing remedies. Limit your intake of salt, chili, and other spices – as well as coffee, alcohol, and tobacco. In addition, you should avoid hot environments and exercise during the coolest hours of the day. 

Balancing Kapha: An excess kapha dosha is marked by heaviness of body and mind. Therefore, you should keep active: get plenty of exercise, vary your routine, and avoid excessive rest. Heavy, fatty, and oily foods should be avoided, as well as iced foods or drinks. 

If you stick to these guidelines, you will feel soon be able to observe the positive changes in your physical, mental, and emotional health. On this journey toward wellbeing, it is important to remember that everybody has innate strengths – as well as challenges. The doshas will help you understand both, thus not only improving your health but also increasing your self-awareness.

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