Ayurveda offers each of us the opportunity to become our own healers. To step into this role is a journey, one that requires a commitment to learning the unique functions of your mind and body.
The doshas -- vata, pitta and kapha -- are one of the foundational tools that Ayurveda offers to go within and find out why you feel, act and look the way you do. The doshas are profoundly important to understanding your body and mind, but they are often oversimplified and misunderstood.
Beyond the dosha quiz
A person’s first experience with Ayurveda is often marked by taking a dosha quiz. The results usually include lists of foods and activities to avoid for your dosha (or products to buy). But living according to a black-and-white list is opposite of what Ayurveda teaches.
The most powerful lesson this ancient science shares is how to align ourselves to the rhythm of nature. Nature fluctuates by the day and the season, and our bodies and minds follow suit. Narrowing the foods you eat to a specific list or relying only on external remedies to bring balance can lead to a sense of deprivation, and may cause greater imbalances in reaction.
Your constitution, meaning the amounts of each of the doshas that make up who you are, is as unique as your fingerprints. Understanding how the doshas work within you is a lifelong journey of exploring cause and effect. Dosha quizzes can be helpful guides if you use them with viveka, discernment, but when you pay attention, you’ll see that you experience the doshas differently from one day to the next. Changes also come with the seasons and as you age. Understanding your state of balance is a daily practice that offers great empowerment and insight.
So what are the doshas?
From the Ayurvedic perspective, everything on the planet (including us) is made up of different combinations of five elements: earth, water, fire, air and ethers. The three doshas – vata, pitta and kapha – each represent two elements and are responsible for various functions in the body and mind.
You may be surprised to learn that you have all three doshas present in you. They are all necessary for living, but they appear in each person in different amounts. Most people have two primary doshas. Some people have one primary and, less frequently, some have a constitution in which all three doshas are present in equal amounts.
Looking at the responsibilities and qualities of the doshas gives you insight into how they function in your body and mind.
Prakruti and vikruti
To understand how the doshas affect your life, it’s important to understand the difference between prakruti, the balance of doshas that you were born with, and vikruti, your current state of imbalance.
Your prakruti is the unique balance of energies in your body and mind that were determined at your conception. It determines everything from your bone structure to your predisposition toward certain health challenges. Prakruti is free of symptoms and any signs of imbalance -- it is a perfect state of balance unique to you. Vikruti is what has happened since that point, meaning how far you have moved away from prakruti.
When vikruti is close to prakruti, you’ll experience little to no symptoms. But when vikruti is away from your original state, even a little bit, symptoms, illness and disease are present.
When you are assessing your constitution, whether through a dosha quiz or as part of an Ayurvedic consultation, it’s important to look at how you experience life in the present and what it’s been like over time. From there, you’ll get a more accurate picture of the constitution you were born with and the imbalances that are present right now.
The doshas: Imbalance and balance
The translation for “dosha” means “that which gets messed up.” This tells us a lot about why it is so important to understand the tendencies of the doshas.
When doshas accumulate in excess, they cause symptoms and illnesses that reflect the qualities of that dosha. Imbalance can occur in any of the three doshas, but it is more likely to show up in the dosha that makes up the main portion of your constitution. For example, if your prakruti is primarily kapha and you are living out of harmony with kapha by eating a lot of heavy food and living a sedentary lifestyle, you are likely to face health issues related to kapha, e.g., weight gain, depression or diabetes.
The key to regaining balance is in the Ayurvedic principle of “like creates like and the opposite brings balance.” This means if you experience signs of heat from excess pitta, apply cooling and soothing remedies to bring balance. If you experience symptoms of vata imbalance, such as restlessness, eat foods that are grounding and nourishing. And if you experience signs of kapha’s stagnation, lighten up your diet and lifestyle and you’ll see quick improvements.
Once you understand the tendencies of each dosha and have a sense of where you are more likely to go out of balance, it’s easy to identify the remedy.
What follows is a very brief list of the qualities of the doshas in and out of balance (you can learn much more about the doshas in our online Ayurveda health counselor and health advisor programs). As you read through this, think about your tendencies, both now and in the past.
A simple way to find balance
The key for healing, no matter your dosha makeup, is to point yourself in the direction of sattva, balance and harmony. Cultivate this by eating simply, slowing down and experiencing the richness of life.
Through the lens of sattva, you can understand the doshas through your direct experience. When you look for balance in all areas of life, you’ll easily know when imbalance is present. With this framework, you won’t need a dosha quiz to tell you what is happening with your body and mind. Just tune in and ask: What will bring me balance today? Listen for the answer that comes in a soft, clear voice (not one that demands or yells).
In the light of sattva, you can more clearly see the truth of your balances and imbalances. You can see how your choices have led you to either feeling better or worse. Then you have the ability to stop doing the things that make you feel bad. Healing is that simple.
Getting started with Ayurveda
If you are new to Ayurveda, start by working with a trusted Ayurvedic practitioner who can help you understand your imbalances and steps to correct them. Over time, you’ll learn to tune in to the cues your body and mind are giving you and make changes at the first sign of imbalance, long before you experience illness or disease. This is the true freedom that is possible with Ayurveda.
It is your nature to feel well in body, mind and spirit. Believe in that, tune in to the subtleties of your body and mind and true health will unfold before you.