Ayurveda Life: The Doshas
In honor of National Yoga Month, we are excited to bring you the second in a comprehensive series on the practice of Ayurveda. ‘Ayurveda Life’ will be a weekly series of posts from some of the most influential Ayurvedic authors and organizations. We are proud to partner with Banyan Botanicals and hope that you enjoy and share these posts with your communities.
“Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences that developed together and repeatedly influenced each other throughout history. Yoga and Ayurveda work together to enhance their great benefits on all levels”.
“The link between yoga and Ayurveda is prana, or the life force. Yoga is the intelligence of prana seeking greater evolutionary transformations, while Ayurveda is its healing power…” ~ Dr. David Frawley
Ayurvedic philosophy teaches that we are all unique, not just by looks, but by the things we are made of. We know we are made of bones, skin, hair, and squishy stuff. And true, we all are built with two eyes, two arms, two feet, and a liver, but none of these parts are the same shape and size in any of us. In Ayurveda, one size does not fit all. Ayurveda recognizes and honors our uniqueness.
This is where Ayurveda gets interesting. There are only five elements that exist. Those five great elements are: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Simply put, the Universe has lots of space in it. The mountains (earth), the oceans (water), bon fires (fire), trees (space, air, fire, water, earth), are all part of the nature surrounding us. Now think about your body. You have hard parts (earth), liquid parts (water), warm parts (fire), parts that move other parts (air) and holey parts (space). Since big nature is made of the same things we are, it makes sense that we feel best when surrounded by nature because we ARE nature.
From those five elements, come three energies. Those energies are called doshas. We are each made of all three doshas, but each have our own unique combinations. This unique combination of doshas is what makes us, US! It’s our individuality and authenticity—our stamp on that says, “Yessss this is ME!
The three doshas are vata, pitta, and kapha. Each dosha serves a different purpose and works together to create our unique physical, mental, and emotional make-up.
Vata, the energy of movement.
Elements: Space & Air.
Main Location: Colon
Qualities: Cold, Dry, Rough, Light, Mobile
Vata is responsible for the movements of the body including heart beating, eyes blinking, food moving though digestion, breathing, talking, walking, jumping, pooping, and giving birth. Pitta and kapha cannot move without vata, so vata is considered the king of the doshas.
Because vata is made of space and air, there really isn’t much holding it together. In nature, vata relates to the wind as it is quick to change, moves fast, and is usually cold. Vata people tend to be thin with visible bones, thin dry skin and hair, long delicate fingers, and oval faces. They talk and move a lot (and fast), are highly creative, animated storytellers, great musicians, dancers, actors, artists, vivacious, full of exuberance, and the ones who “light up a room.” They change their mind often, can come up with a million creative ideas, but tend not to finish what they start. Vatas are impatient, often distracted, and complain often because something usually hurts, including their brain. Their mind worries about the future rather than staying present and focused. Remember, they HAVE no ground because it’s not in their nature! Vatas are busy doing many things at once and if they are not careful they will turn into a tornado (talk about wind!) to the point of exhaustion.
Constant vata motion creates inner turbulence and the energy runs amok, no longer functioning as it should. Some vata imbalances include anxiety, panic attacks, low self esteem, insomnia, constipation, chronic headaches, tremors/twitches, overall weakness, memory loss, osteoporosis, even heart attacks. If you are with an out-of-sorts vata, give them a space heater or throw them (gently) in a hot tub. They will feel much better.
To stay balanced, vatas need grounding, structure, slowness, warmth, and oiliness. They feel best with a reliable schedule they can stick to. They should favor saucy vata foods that are heavy, warm, and mildly spicy. Vatas desperately need fats and oils in their diet because of their dry quality. They need consistent, quality sleep, and an exercise routine that builds strength and stamina like yoga, walking, or light weight training.
Pitta, the energy of transformation
Elements: Fire & Water
Main Location: Small Intestines
Qualities: Hot, Sharp, Mobile, Oily, Light, Smooth
Pitta is responsible for transforming our food, thoughts, and emotions. Pitta is the main player in digesting our food as it is closely related to our digestive fire. It is the only dosha with the fire/heat element to it. Without pitta, everything would be cold and rigid.
Pitta is made of fire and water elements, so think of pitta like a hot, sharp, oil transforming everything in its path. In nature, pitta relates to the sun, the giant fire in the sky. Pitta people tend to have a medium build with good muscle tone, pink skin with moles or freckles, straight silky hair, early gray or early balding, usually wear glasses or contact lenses, pink finger nails, and have sharp features on their face. They have a sharp intellect and tongue, are quick-witted, organized, disciplined, make great athletes, lawyers, politicians, and anything else that has a competitive edge. They love politics, news, and talk radio. Pittas are leaders and people instinctively want to follow them. They stick to the plan (they do not appreciate spontaneity) and strategy comes natural to them. They are not quick to agree to someone else’s ideas and ask a ton of questions until they have analyzed the situation down to nothing. Pittas live in the present moment, which makes them excellent and fast problem solvers. Because they are smart and not afraid of hard work, pittas will carry the weight of the world on their shoulders while holding in a lot of stress. This is partly because they want to ensure high quality results and partly because they want things done their way.
But, have you heard of burn out? Pitta imbalances are the results of stress and heat, like acne, rashes, eye irritation, high blood pressure, acid reflux, heartburn, blood or liver disorders, any inflammation, and are easily burned by the sun. If you have an inflamed or angry pitta on your hands, give them ice cream (or put it on their sunburn). They will chill out in 10 seconds.
To stay balanced, pittas need calm, serenity, cooling, grounding, and downtime. They feel best when they have a balance of mentally stimulating work and challenging fun, which is likely to be physical activity. They should favor pitta foods that are heavy, cool, and mild, with lots of fruits and vegetables. Pittas can eat most anything because their digestive fire is so strong, but they should avoid high-heat foods like red meats, alcohol, and very spicy foods. Pittas need enough sleep so their mind can rejuvenate. The best exercises for pitta are bike riding, swimming, yoga (not hot yoga), and evening walks. Pittas should never exercise in the hot sun.
Kapha, the energy of lubrication and structure
Elements: Water & Earth
Main Location: Chest & Stomach
Qualities: Cold, Wet, Heavy, Oily, Static, Gross, Dull
Kapha is responsible for sticking everything together. Kapha brings coolness and creation and without it, everything would be a windy inferno. They may even refer to themselves as the “glue” that holds a family or team together.
Kapha energy is cool, heavy, and wet, like a dollop of yogurt, which moistens vata and cools pitta while sticking these doshas together. In nature, kapha relates to the moon which is soothing and cooling. Kaphas are mentally and physically strong with a sturdy build and thick joints, but they don’t like to move. They have oily skin, thick lustrous hair, substantial fingers and hands, round angelic facial features, long eyelashes, and beautiful teeth. Kaphas are the caretakers, nurturers, chefs, and singers, and have a love for music. They tend to be on the shy side and listen more than they speak. They are averse to change and love familiarity and routine. Kaphas are extremely patient, slow to anger, and smile almost all of the time. They often live in the past and have a tendency to linger in sadness, grief, or past trauma that is hard for them to shake.
Kaphas carry extra emotional, physical, and material stuff which adds to their heaviness. Some kapha imbalances include depression, weight gain, obesity, water retention, swelling, allergies, extra mucus or congestion, lethargy, laziness, cloudiness of mind, and grief. If you have a heavy kapha, make them laugh and give them garlic. This will lift their spirits and stoke their digestive fire. So will the garlic.
To stay balanced, kaphas need lightness, warmth, dryness, spiciness, and movement. They feel best around people who are light-hearted, funny, and sharp. They should favor kapha foods that are vegetarian, light, warm, and spicy. Kaphas will want sweet foods, but need to limit them since “sweets” in Ayurveda are heavy foods. They need good sleep, but not too much because it can cause heaviness. Kaphas need dry heat, like a sauna or Arizona! Kaphas feel amazing when they are in dry, sunny, hotness. Exercise should be a fun cardio to help raise their heat and break a sweat. A challenging yoga class or brisk walks are also good, but kaphas will best stick to exercise with a fun, chatty buddy.
Aren’t you curious to know which dosha is prominent in your being?! Take this quiz to learn more about YOU!
Monica Bloom is an Ayurvedic practitioner, writer, lecturer, and creator of the blog, HeyMonicaB.com: A Blooming Resource on Ayurveda. Her purist delivery of Ayurveda’s ancient wisdom fused with Midwest humor and practicality make her an impactful & entertaining healer. Monica is a wife, mama of a spirited toddler, and ‘parent’ to three animals. She currently works a 40-hour corporate grind in San Francisco, making her an expert at tucking Ayurveda neatly into our modern lives. Join the fun on facebook and her blog.