Often misunderstood or asked, “What is my dosha”? the following is a basis for understanding the 3 doshas that encompass all of us but in differing amounts. Ayurvedic medicine has been a large part of my practice for many years now. It is an Ancient science, before Acupuncture, and its goal was to keep people healthy while they pursue their more important spiritual goals. For me, it has been the study of life, as it is not just medicine. Ayurveda is a lifestyle and a belief in the awareness that there is a very complex network of energies guiding us and with us. It has a vast body of knowledge that helps to explain and understand this world and her people.
A ”Dosha” is translated as energy. The three doshas are Vata, Pitta, Kapha. The energies that form our specific constitution of who we are, are grouped by ten pairs of opposites. These attributes that make up the doshas are…cold/hot, moist/dry, heavy/ light, gross/ subtle, dense/flowing, static/mobile, dull/sharp, soft /hard, smooth/rough, cloudy/clear.
In Ayurveda, the word attribute is synonymous with the word nature, as in the nature of the patient, or as in nature of the disease. These attributes or qualities make up all of matter. As Dr. Marc Halpern states,” By understanding the qualities within matter, the physical nature of matter is known, and the interactions between the different forms of matter can be predicted”.
The five elements are sort of like poetic metaphors that help us understand the world around us. EARTH, WATER, FIRE, AIR, ETHER. These are the basis of understanding the 10 opposites and the 3 Doshas.
These twenty qualities or attributes form taste, sound, smell, sight, and touch-which are our 5 senses.
So, if we apply the principles of the 20 attributes, add in the five elements we get the makeup of the 3 doshas in varying amounts. As no two people are alike, there are an infinite amount of possibilities. It is very important to remember as you read below that you will have a combination of all three.
Elements: Air and Ether
Qualities: Light, Dry, Cold, Mobile
Physical Attributes: Long, thin, small
Emotions when in balance: Enthusiastic, energetic, adaptable, artistic, good communicator, a strong sense of human unity, strong healing energy, positive spirit, good capacity for positive change and movement
Emotions when out of balance: Anxious, overwhelmed, indecisive, unreliable, hyperactive, overly talkative, superficial, disruptive, fearful, dishonest
Common Physical Challenges: Dry skin, constipation, insomnia, anxiety, underweight
Balanced by: Heavy, Moist, Warm, Stable qualities
The Vata dosha is said to be made up of air and ether elements. This means that it has qualities that are similar to these elements. Vata is very much like the wind- it is cool, light, dry and mobile. In the body, those people with a Vata nature experience more of these qualities. Their bodies tend to be light, their bones thin, and their skin and hair dry. They often move and speak quickly. When out of balance, they may lose weight, become constipated, and have weakness in their immune and nervous systems.
These qualities are reflected in the personality. Those with a Vata nature tend to be talkative, enthusiastic, creative, flexible and energetic. Yet, when out of balance, they also become easily confused and overwhelmed, have difficulty focusing or making decisions, and have trouble sleeping. This becomes more apparent when they are under stress. They are challenged by cool emotions like worry, fear, and anxiety.
In order to bring balance to Vata, programs are designed that empathize the opposing qualities of warmth, heaviness, (nourishment), moistness and stability. In the diet, this is reflected in the consumption of grains such as rice and cooked vegetables, as well as the intake of warm milk with spices. Pungent herbs, like ginger, that increase the internal heat and nourishing herbs like Ashwagandha, bring balance to Vata.
Elements: Fire and Water
Qualities: Hot, Light, Unstable, Slightly Moist
Physical Attributes: Medium build and features, muscular, deep-set eyes, angular face, rosy or red complexion
Emotions when in balance: Perceptive, clear, intelligent, independent, warm, friendly, courageous, discriminating, good guide and leader
Emotions when out of balance: Aggressive, selfish, controlling, angry, critical, reckless, manipulating, sharp, jealous, hateful
Common Physical Challenges: Burning indigestion, diarrhea, Acne, fever
Balanced by: Heavy, Cold, Stable, Slightly Dry qualities
The Pitta dosha is said to be made up of the fire and water elements. Fire is much more predominant, and those with Pitta nature have many of the qualities of fire within them. Pitta tends to be hot, sharp and penetrating. It is also somewhat volatile and oily. The oily nature of Pitta is related to the second component of water. People with a Pitta nature reflect these qualities. They tend to feel warm, have somewhat oily skin, penetrating eyes, and sharp features. They tend to have moderate weight and good musculature. When out of balance they tend towards diarrhea, infections, skin rashes, and weakness in the liver, spleen, and blood.
These qualities are also reflected in their personality. Pitta people tend to be highly focused, competitive, capable, courageous, energetic, and clear communicators who get right to the point. They like to solve problems, and when under stress, they dig their heels in. They can also become overly intense and speak with a sharp tongue. They make great friends and feared enemies. Emotionally they are challenged by the heated emotions of anger, resentment, and jealousy.
In order to bring balance to Pitta, programs are designed to emphasize the opposing qualities of coolness, Heaviness, (nourishment), and dryness. Cool spices like fennel, are recommended in the diet, along with foods such as raw vegetable, cooked rice, and wheat as well as most beans. Sweet herbs like Shatavari are used to nourish the body, while bitters like dandelion root temper the fire.
Elements: Earth and Water
Qualities: Heavy, Cold, Moist, Soft, Stable
Physical Attributes: Large bones, stocky build, good musculature, soft skin, luxurious hair
Emotions when in balance: Compassionate, calm, peaceful, content, devoted, nurturing, supportive, stable, loving, receptive, forgiving, consistent, strong faith
Emotions when out of balance: Attached, controlling, sentimental, materialistic, greedy, apathetic, slow comprehension, insensitive, needing security, seeking comfort and luxury
Common Physical Challenges: Respiratory challenges, increased mucous, overweight, lethargy
Balanced by: Light, Warm, Mobile, Dry qualities
Within Kapha dosha there is a predominance of the water and earth elements. Like these elements, Kapha tends to be cool, moist, stable, and heavy. In the body, these qualities manifest as dense, heavy bones; lustrous supple skin, low metabolism, and large stocky frames. In addition, those with Kapha nature tend to feel cool. When out of balance, Kapha individuals are prone to gaining weight and tend to have weaknesses in their lungs and sinuses, where they accumulate mucous.
The elements of water and earth are also manifested in the personality. The heavy stable nature of Kapha is reflected in a steady personality that is not prone to quick fluctuations. Those with a Kapha nature handle stress very well, often not even noticing that it exists. They don’t like change, are generally conservative, and would prefer to keep things just the way they are. Those with a Kapha nature are also comfort seekers. This relates to the soft watery nature of Kapha. Too much comfort, however, can lead to a lack of motivation and a feeling of becoming stuck. When Kapha is out of balance, the heavy emotions of depression and lethargy result.
In order to bring balance to Kapha nature, the opposing qualities of lightness, dryness, and warmth are recommended. Grains such as quinoa, and amaranth are recommended, as well as hot spices such as cayenne pepper. Lots of vegetable and very little nuts and dairy are prescribed. Cleansing herbs like guggul and pungent spices like clove bring balance to Kapha.