If you’re always on the search for holistic ways to feel your best or are a regular in yoga class, you’ve probably come across Ayurveda and wondered what doshas mean for your health. Figuring out your doshas can help you find simple, effective ways to support your overall health and help–or keep–you feeling well.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda’s been around about 3,000 years and is one of the oldest forms of medicine. The word “Ayurveda” is Sanskrit and translates to “knowledge of life.” And that’s exactly how it approaches the whole-body, whole-person care. In Ayurveda, there are 5 key elements in the world around us:
- Prithvi, or earth
- Vayu, or air
- Jala, or water
- Teja, or fire
- Akash, or space
All together, these elements form the different energies in your body. Ayurveda defines three energies, or doshas, that are within each of us: vata (air/ether), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth/water). No dosha is better than another and each one is responsible for different biological functions in the body, along with a variety of physical and personality characteristics. For example, here’s what doshas means for your health and your body’s function:
- Vata allows for our voice, breathing, blood flow, digestion, energy, nervous system, and more.
- Pitta corresponds to basal body temperature and metabolism and, influences hormone balance.
- Kapha helps our immune system, maintains regular fluid balance (water retention), manages weight, builds muscle, and more.
Even though every single one of us have all three doshas, your dosha combination is as unique and individual as you are. Generally, though, one dosha dominants in each of us. Knowing your dominant dosha is important because it allows you to make educated health and lifestyle decisions designed to help you prevent disease and bring your body into better balance.
What dosha am I? Figuring out your dominant dosha(s)
So what’s your dominant dosha? There are a number of dosha quizzes out there that can help. But rather than start with a quiz, we’d recommend taking a few minutes to learn about each dosha first and thinking about your natural tendencies. When you give yourself permission to intuitively think about your physical, mental, and emotional traits, figuring out your main dosha gets less complicated.
Learning your dominant dosha, or prakruti
Sometimes, dominant doshas, which is also called prakruti, get tied to body shape–without considering anything else. Yes, your body type is a clue to figuring yours out, but doshas aren’t only about physical characteristics. Your mental and emotional qualities are an equal part of the equation.
Vata dosha reflects the Ayurvedic elements air and ether. Usually (but not always!), people who are primarily vata have a small or light frame. You might get told you look thin or fine-boned, and the hips and shoulders are usually slim or narrow.
Because of the air and ether elements of their dosha, vatas tend to get dry skin, lips, and hair and become cold easily. You may deal with ups and downs digesting different foods. But, on the plus side, vatas have plenty of energy and movement. They embrace art and music and are easily moved. Though they’re creative, bright, and spontaneous, vatas can sometimes seem to “float” about absentmindedly and forgetfully through life–both physically and mentally.
When pitta dosha dominates, you can expect a good metabolism and digestion with a moderate or medium frame. Pittas usually own plenty of their elements, fire and water. Pittas have warm skin and their hair usually stays well-moisturized without much extra effort. They also have type-A personalities and are meticulous, planners, early birds, good at articulating thoughts, and love to attack a challenge. With so many heat-like qualities, many burn after awhile in the sun and get stressed or irritable.
If kapha is your main dosha, you might have a larger-bone build and a good sense of “groundedness.” (Kapha’s elements are earth and water.) Kaphas usually aren’t as energetic as the other doshas, may love to veg, and can become complacent instead of motivated. But they more than make up for it with a caring, supportive nature, thought-through actions, and their unfailing stability.
What doshas mean for your health and what symptoms they cause when out of balance
Each dosha has many good things about it–and also some cons, too. Keeping your doshas in balance helps you enjoy the benefits each one brings, which is key to your well-being. How do doshas get out of balance?
Many of us unknowingly feed our dominant dosha (prakruti), both in what we eat and our lifestyles. How so? Many pittas love a project. They take on one after the other, which only creates more heat in their already fire-driven bodies. Or, they order spicy foods because they like the heat–even though it’s the last thing they need more of. Instead of a warm, grounding meal, Vatas graze on light foods throughout the day, which aggravates their air-like qualities. And, kaphas go through periods where they camp out on the couch too much, when some movement would be better instead.
But feeding our prakruti without counteracting it is a recipe for disaster. It leaves us open to symptoms no one wants and can end up manifesting disease and chronic health conditions. Too much pitta, or fire, fuels more inflammation in the body and can cause acne, liver issues, eczema, autoimmune disorders, and more. Excess vata can aggravate air-related conditions, like asthma, vertigo, or joint pain. Kaphas are susceptible to brain fog, fatigue and chronic fatigue, and depression.
Symptoms of excess vata
With vata too dominant, dehydration and constipation can crop up. Your lips may get chapped and your skin feel tight and dry. It’s also common to be extra forgetful. Anxiety can worsen and bother you more than it ordinarily does. Trouble sleeping, turning off your mind, aggravation of asthma, or weight loss can all signal that your vata needs attention.
Symptoms of too much pitta
Pitta that’s out of balance can mean inflammation, and with inflammation comes more heat and pain. Acne, high stress hormones, getting angry easily, acid reflux, indigestion, sinus problems, or symptoms of irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) can be linked to excess pitta. You may also begin to feel like you’re always warm, even when it’s not hot outside, and you may notice that you sweat more than normal.
Symptoms of too much kapha
Excessive tiredness usually points to an issue with high kapha. You may have trouble forming thoughts, processing ideas, digesting, or getting moving. All of these can make for a depressed mood or even make clinical depression worse. Other symptoms to look out for are too much mucus or new or heightened allergies.
Basic tips for balancing or counteracting your dominate dosha
There are simple, everyday things you can do to help counter your prakruti. Depending on your dominate dosha, try some of these tips to help put your body at ease and feel more balanced.
How to balance vata dosha
Vatas do best in warm, moist environments to counter their dry tendencies. If stuck in environments with cold or even dry heat, dress warm and add in warm oil self-massage to your day. Instead of eating light foods or small snacks, aim for warm, heavier, grounding meals, like oatmeal and hearty soups or stews.
How to balance pitta dosha
Pitta dosha needs to emphasize cooling properties in her life. Instead of joining in on high-intensity exercise, keep it moderate with yoga, hiking in the autumn or winter, or a slow run. Avoid egg yolks, lentils, and spicy foods, which add heat to the body and digestion. Instead, reach for sweet fruits and other legumes. Many pittas do well with a vegetarian diet and find it helpful to steer clear of dairy food–especially later in the day.
How to balance kapha dosha
On the other hand, kaphas do well avoiding daytime naps. Daily exercise, or movement, is also important–and so is keeping meals on the lighter side. Add spice to foods and avoid anything that’s overly dry. What’s overlooked but that really helps kaphas is being open to or even instigating change. Break free of routine. Look for new opportunities. Be open to new ideas and topics of conversation. Kapha easily gets comfortable and even complacent, and those two things only lead to an increase in this dosha.
Understanding intricately what doshas mean for your health
Ayurveda is a beautiful way to realign your self-care and bring more well-being into your life. If you’re wanting to know more about how your doshas are affecting your health, consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner or certified Ayurvedic Wellness Coach. You’ll be able to dive deep into your history and the specific things you’re dealing with to get personalized advice on herbs and other lifestyle remedies. (For steps every woman can benefit from, check out Ayurvedic Wellness Coach Erica Snyder’s advice here.)