Ayurveda is an ancient and natural health-care tradition, originating in India over 5,000 years ago. It gives us the knowledge of how to live in harmony with our bodies for a healthy, happy, stress-free life. It is based on knowledge of the five elements and three doshas, which help to determine our unique constitution. Throughout our lives these five elements combine with each other to give rise to the three bio-physical forces (or doshas) within the human body – Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (water and earth). Together they are known as Tri-dosha and govern all the biological, physiological and psychological functions of the mind and body, as well as affecting how an individual interacts with everything around them.
Every individual has within them all three biophysical forces, but it is the dominance of any one or two, or all three, that makes up a person’s individual constitution or Prakriti.
Although a person’s dosha type is determined at the moment of conception, doshas are constantly shifting within the body. Just as the five basic elements fluctuate within nature, these elements will also fluctuate within the body. Therefore the dosha dominance changes with age, time of day or night and the season etc. Ayurveda seeks to treat the mind and body according to a person’s dosha, using a system combining diet, herbal remedies, detoxification, yoga, ayurvedic massage, lifestyle routine and behaviours, which stimulate positive emotions.
The three doshas are explained in more detail below, along with descriptions of a Vata type of person, a Pitta type and a Kapha type. Which one do you think you are? Many people are a dual type, yet to some degree we all have elements of all three, be it in our physical body or our minds. An Ayurvedic therapist can advise you on which dosha you should be treating.
If you’re a Vata type or have a Vata imbalance, you have more of the wind and space elements in you. You will tend to Vata-type ailments such as dryness (in skin, stool, eyes, etc), constipation, gas, bloating and arthritis. Vata’s main symptoms are anxiety and pain.
Physical – Vata types have a long, thin or small face, the skin can be dull, and the eyes and lips are small. Vatas are often tall or short. The body is thin in relation to height, with an under-developed physique. Vata people easily lose weight and find it hard to keep weight on.
Appetite – Variable, erratic, erratic mealtimes, may snack, can feel fearful when hungry.
Stools – Dry, small, dark, hard, can be difficult to pass, can come at irregular times. Tends to gas (flatulence) and constipation (often doesn’t have a bowel movement every day). The constipation can be chronic.
Menstruation – The cycle can be 24-27 days with a flow that is light and irregular. The blood may be dark. Flow lasts two to four days. There may be fatigue, sharp pains and cramps before flow starts and during it. Note: when Vata is in balance, the cycle is 28 days with no PMS.
Mental – Likes change and stimulation.
Negative Tendencies – Worry, anxiety, fear, erratic, fickle, disorganised, gets nervous, false enthusiasm. Hard to rest, relax and be still, mentally and physically. Loves movement and activity.
Positive Tendencies – Artistic, flexible, adaptable, creative, communicative. Desire to help others through sharing and communication.
Vata dosha is dry, light, rough, cold and erratic. Therefore, as Ayurveda works on the principle that ‘like increases like’, Vata types will be healthier when they avoid foods and activities that are dry, light, rough, cold and erratic. That includes cold weather, wind and draughts, cold emotions like anxiety, erratic or jarring exercise such as running, cold food, foods that are raw, rough or dry (e.g. salads, cold cereal, biscuits, crisps).
Vata can be balanced by soothing, heavy, warming and nourishing foods and activities, and by regularity. Introduce regularity to your bedtime, mealtimes, and all habits. Eat nourishing foods like cooked whole grains, vegetables, dairy and fruits, have soups and herbal teas, have warm baths. Your best types of exercise are yoga, tai chi, walks in nature, non-strenuous cycling and swimming especially in natural surroundings. Avoid too much multimedia stimulation and make time for rest and relaxation, especially in the last few hours before bedtime.
If you’re a Pitta type, you have more of the fire element in you (and secondarily water). Pitta types will tend to get Pitta-type ailments such as loose stools, diarrhoea, acidity, acne, burning sensation, cold sores, skin conditions with burning and redness, sore throat, tonsillitis, ulcers, inflammation, infection and fever. The main symptoms of Pitta excess are heat related problems, skin disorders and anger.
Physical – Pitta types are medium height, with a moderately developed physique. The face is moderate size and shape, with sharp contours, redness in the skin. The eyes are moderate, and tend to redness, and the gaze is sharp (penetrating). Body weight is moderate and Pittas can easily lose or gain weight when they want to. The hands are angular with redness.
Appetite – Strong, sharp. Always hungry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Often able to digest anything and eat lots without gaining weight. Irritable if food is late, especially lunch.
Stools – Abundant, loose, can be yellowish, smelly, tends towards diarrhoea (can go 2-3 times a day). Note: all of these signs mean Pitta is in excess. A visit to a therapist is advised.
Menstruation – Regular, a 28-day cycle, heavy flow lasting 3-5 days. Tends to a heavy flow. Possible pain beforehand, and often frustrated and irritable before flow starts.
Mental – Has purpose and passion, and likes to have goals and challenges.
Negative Tendencies – Irritable, angry, critical, frustrated, likes to control things, overly analytical, overworks, fanatical. Anxious about their goals, and of what others think of them. Likes to be right.
Positive Tendencies – Perceptive, determined, passionate, organised, reliable, logical, articulate, good leaders, good discipline, sharp sense of humour. Desire to help people understand the nature of things.
Pitta dosha is sharp, slightly oily, hot, light, bad-smelling and mobile (spreading). Therefore, as Ayurveda works on the principle that ‘like increases like’, Pittas will do best by avoiding heating foods and activities. Stay cool! Avoid hot weather, hot baths, stress, anger, overwork, over-exercising and over-competitiveness. Avoid hot spices, alcohol, cigarettes, oily or fried food, and acidic and fermented foods like vinegar, yeasted breads, soy sauce, yoghurt, sharp and sour fruits, and hard cheeses.
Eat cooling, mild tastes, mainly whole grains and vegetables, with some sweet fruits, fresh dairy, beans, fresh tofu, chicken if eaten, and interesting salads. Have cool showers, do yoga, tai chi, fun team sports, walks in nature or other non-competitive exercise, let go of control, make time for meditation, breathe… and smell the roses! And relax.
If you’re a Kapha type, you have more of the earth and water elements in you. You’ll tend to have Kapha ailments such as congestion, mucus, slow digestion, colds, asthma, swollen joints, excess water and swelling, white pus, lung conditions. The main symptoms of Kapha or a Kapha imbalance are congestion, weight gain and sluggishness.
Physical – Kaphas are stout, stocky, often short, big (in relation to their height) with a well-developed physique. The face is large, round, often fat, white or pale, soft contours, a ‘moon face’. The eyes are big, round, prominent. Gain weight easily and find it hard to lose. Hands are square or round.
Appetite – Constant but low. Attached to food. Can often skip breakfast with no problem.
Stools – Moderate amount, solid, sometimes pale, mucus in the stool. When digestion is imbalanced, tends to constipation as the metabolism is slow, but the stools won’t be hard or uncomfortable when they do come.
Menstruation – A regular cycle, can go up to 29-30 days, with a light flow lasting 3-7 days. When imbalanced, the cycle is still regular but there are swollen breasts, water retention, feelings of guilt, unworthiness, failure, unloved.
Mental – Likes stability and security.
Negative Tendencies – Attached (to things, relationships), greedy, sentimental, lethargic, heavy heart. Anxious or angry if stability or family threatened. Puts things off and never moves or acts quickly.
Positive Tendencies – Calm, content, grounded, steady, loyal, tolerant, patient, compassionate, nurturing. Desire to help others, be comfortable and cared for.
Kapha dosha is heavy, oily, cold, slow, static, stable and soft. Therefore, as Ayurveda works on the principle that ‘like increases like’, Kaphas will do best by avoiding cold, oily and heavy foods and activities. Eat hot, spicy, light foods, mainly vegetables, beans and whole grains, and have spices with every meal. Avoid or reduce dairy, nuts and sugar.
Kapha types need activity and stimulation; otherwise they tend to congestion, lethargy and dullness in mind and body. Lead an active lifestyle. Pursue activities that challenge the mind. Do some stimulating exercise every day that makes you sweat, like brisk walks, cycling, swimming, dynamic yoga, or running (consult your GP first if you haven’t exercised for some time or are overweight). Don’t be a couch potato.