What are Ayurvedic doshas? A beginner’s guide to mindful health and wellbeing

By Malavika Pradeep

Published Oct 8, 2022 at 09:15 AM

Reading time: 8 minutes

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As a South Asian hailing from a coastal state in India, there are three statements that echoed throughout my childhood: Don’t play under coconut trees, ginger tea solves everything, and when in doubt, always choose Ayurveda. As a child, I never bothered to dwell on the latter—the closest to ‘natural healing’ that I required was the slathering of hand-crushed tulsi (holy basil) onto mosquito bites and itches.

Over time, however, some of my health conditions (including deteriorating eyesight and a poisonous spider bite) tumbled me into the therapeutic world of Ayurveda, and I soon realised that there’s more to the natural system of well-being than meets the eye. So, if you’ve been searching for a holistic way to balance your mind, body, and soul, let me guide you into one of the world’s oldest healing systems that is still widely used today.

More specifically, a unique combination of biodynamic energies that align with elements of nature—the knowledge of which will help you make wiser choices in regard to your diet, lifestyle, and more.

What is Ayurveda?

Originating in India more than 3,000 years ago, Ayurveda is a natural system of medicine that is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘ayur’ (meaning ‘life’) and ‘veda’ (‘science’ or ‘knowledge’). Thereby translating to ‘knowledge of life’ or ‘science of life’, the ancient practice is based on the idea that diseases are caused due to an imbalance or stress in a person’s consciousness. Ayurveda hence encourages certain lifestyle interventions and natural therapies to regain an ideal balance between the body, mind, spirit, and the environment.

As noted by Johns Hopkins Medicine, Ayurvedic treatments typically start with an internal purification process, followed by a special diet, massage therapy, yoga, and meditation. While 90 per cent of Ayurvedic remedies are plant-based (derived from roots, leaves, fruits or seeds), treatments also include the use of animal products (including milk, bones, and gallstones), and minerals. Focusing on holistic health and wellbeing, the practice is the opposite of a ‘one size fits all’ approach—in turn, hinging on the concepts of universal interconnectedness, the body’s constitution, and life forces.

“Goals of treatment aid the person by eliminating impurities, reducing symptoms, increasing resistance to disease, reducing worry, and increasing harmony in life,” Johns Hopkins Medicine goes on to add.

What are Ayurvedic doshas?

Now, Ayurveda believes that everything in the universe is made up of five basic elements: aakash (space), jala (water), prithvi (Earth), teja (fire), and vayu (air). Working on the powers and qualities of these five elements, the natural system of medicine pushes the importance of keeping them balanced for a healthy body and mind. And this is where the concept of life forces, known as ‘doshas’, makes its vibey debut.

According to Ayurveda, doshas control one’s body type, food preferences, and the creation, maintenance and breakdown of bodily tissue, as well as psychological aspects like emotions, understanding, and love. The practice believes that everyone under the sun is influenced by certain elements more than others, which leads to the conception of three dosha types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.

“Ayurveda divides all living beings, not just humans, into three distinct body types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha based on their unique constitution,” said Salila, Ayurveda health coach and founder of wellness travel consultancy Ayurgamaya. “The three doshas are Vata energy, Pitta energy, and Kapha energy.”

Unlike how typical body types and categorisations work, there is no one single dosha for a person. On the contrary, everyone has a unique ratio of all three dosha types within them. “This is fundamental to all of us,” Salila explained. “Each biological dosha energy has a vital role to play in our health and wellbeing.”

While air and space dominate Vata dosha, fire and water are associated with Pitta, and Earth and water are linked to Kapha. “Vata is the intelligence behind all movement in the body. Pitta is the intelligence that governs metabolism, transmutation, and the acid-alkali balance. Kapha energy helps to build up bulk in the body,” Salila continued. Let’s jump into a crash course on each of these dosha types now, shall we?

Vata body type

People with Vata dosha tend to have a lean or delicate build with dry skin and frizzy hair—reportedly triggered by highly-functioning circulatory systems within their bodies. Considered as an energetic dosha, Vata is linked to flexibility, creativity, and a free-flowing spirit. It’s associated with bodily movements like breathing, muscle contraction, and heart function.

Vata body types are further known for thinking outside the box but they can become easily distracted. What’s more is that their mood is highly dependent on the weather, the people around them, and the food they eat. While they are kind-hearted and on-the-go multi-taskers, they can get overwhelmed pretty easily, be highly sensitive to the cold, have an irregular appetite and eating patterns, as well as be prone to digestive issues. But hey, all hot girls have gut problems, right?

Pitta body type

Known for their tenacious personalities, Pitta types are said to have a muscular build, be very athletic, and serve as strong leaders. They’re highly motivated, goal-oriented, and competitive. At the same time, however, their aggressive and tenacious nature can be off-putting to some people, which can lead to conflict.

People with Pitta dosha are more prone to acne, have oily skin, be sensitive to hot temperatures, and harbour strong digestion and intense appetites—both for food and challenges. This is why if they miss a meal, they are likely to become grumpy and take a ‘bite’ out of someone instead. “When the Pitta is in a negative state of mind, their circulation and absorption of nutrients and waste materials are suppressed. They develop diarrhoea, rashes, ulcers, and inflammatory conditions,” Salila explained on her website.

Kapha body type

Lastly, Kapha types can be described as steady, stable, slow, cold, and soft. People with this dosha are described as strong, thick-boned, caring, and forgiving. They’re known for keeping things together and being a support system for others. Kapha-dominant people rarely get upset, think before acting, and go through life in a slow and deliberate manner.

While they are patient and romantic, they have a slow metabolism, face breathing issues like allergies and asthma, have a higher risk of heart diseases, and are prone to weight gain. They are also more susceptible to depression, and need regular motivation and encouragement. “When Kapha displays a negative state of mind, they curl up in bed, they like to stay at home and they frequently catch coughs, colds, sinus infections,” Salila wrote.

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A post shared by Salila ✨ 4th Gen. Ayurveda Healer (@salila.ayurveda)

Benefits of knowing your dosha type

At this point, I know what you’re thinking: Why should I be aware of my dosha type? How can it help analyse my health and wellbeing in the first place?

“Your unique constitution, your dosha imbalance, is determined by the basic element that is dominant in your body,” Salila explained. Now, what does that mean exactly? Well, think of your unique combination of energies as your own personal blueprint. As you move through life, the proportion of each of the three doshas constantly fluctuates according to your environment, diet, and age, as well as the seasons and climate. As they move in and out of balance, the doshas can affect your health, energy level, and overall mood.

“Once you figure out your Ayurvedic body type, you will understand what causes an imbalance in your body,” Salila continued. “You will be able to make great diet and lifestyle choices that will leave you feeling vibrant, rested, and well cared for. This feeling of ease and balance is bound to have long-lasting healing benefits for your mind, body, and soul.”

When SCREENSHOT reached out to Ayurveda and wellbeing practitioner Dr Nikhita Shere, the Gurgaon-based expert also mentioned how the tridoshas greatly aid in defining an individual’s body constitution. “Prakriti further helps determine the most suited diet, lifestyle, and wellness choices that bring harmony to the mind, body, and spirit,” she said. At the end of the day, remember that balance is everything at this forefront, and it’s achieved by harmonising the three types of life forces in question.

According to Dr Shere, there aren’t necessarily any positive and negative factors associated with the three body types, but a distinction in the unique composition of individuals. “One person’s strength may be another’s weakness, so embracing your body constitution and building self-awareness is the best way to deal with imbalances,” she added.

When asked about the qualities linked to the three doshas, Salila went on to share how they make up the fundamental principles of Ayurveda. “Once we start seeing Vata, Pitta, and Kapha everywhere and see the world with this lens, we become wiser about our choices of diet and lifestyle, rituals, and environment. We even start to benefit from this knowledge in all aspects of our life, including who we need to call up when we are in a fix. For example, a fiery Pitta in the middle of a meltdown should reach for a supportive Kapha friend. A Vata friend would be a bad idea since the Vata has a propensity for anxiety.”

Now, as we’ve learned, an ideal balance between the doshas results in a healthy body and mind. However, there are certain factors including improper diet, poor lifestyle management, and stress and tension that can lead to imbalances. Whatever may be the reason, when any of the doshas get vitiated, it disturbs the state of harmony.

“Imbalance in doshas lead to ‘Vikruti’, that is disorders or disease,” Dr Shere explained. “In order to correct these, we must find the root cause and work towards realignment of the body. An Ayurvedic doctor can help you with this, as they are equipped with years of experience and training to bring this shift with the help of diet, lifestyle, wellness rituals, and medicinal herbs, if needed.”

As per Salila, such imbalances can be corrected by applying the ‘Samanya Vishesha’ principle. “Like increases like and opposites calm and soothe. So, with this in mind, it’s easy to see how an anxious Vata who is feeling dry, dehydrated, and cold can soothe themselves with a warm cup of fall veggie soup spiked with spice and lots of ghee (roasted sesame for a vegan alternative). The unctuousness of ghee or sesame offers protection, liquid helps with restoring hydration, and spices warm up the body.”

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A post shared by Dr Nikhita | Ayurveda (@doctornikhita)

How to determine your dosha type

If all of this information has piqued your interest and the mini crash course offered earlier didn’t exactly help determine your Ayurvedic body type, don’t fret just yet. A cursory Google search with the keywords ‘dosha quiz’ will list hundreds of online questionnaires that you can fill to zero in on your unique combination, borderline Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) style.

Ranging from questions about your body temperature, appetite, stamina, and sleep patterns to stress management, memory, and bowel movement, the quizzes cover physical characteristics, health concerns, and mental disposition to determine your dosha type. That being said, it also makes one wonder as to how precise these online tests are in the first place.

According to Dr Shere, while an Ayurvedic quiz is the “quickest and easiest way to find your dominant dosha and determine Prakriti, a one-on-one consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor is the most accurate method—as they are well-experienced and trained to conduct an in-depth assessment.”

At the same time, Salila highlighted how an online quiz is essentially a great place to start. “I have one on my website which is quite popular with my community. This is the first step to connecting the dots on what it means to be a ‘dosha type’. From here, we are able to gain a lot more from a consultation with a practitioner,” the health coach shared. “I find that people who come to me for consultation with absolutely no knowledge of Ayurveda do not really have successful outcomes unless they begin to use a consultation as a jumping off point for learning more.”

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A post shared by Salila ✨ 4th Gen. Ayurveda Healer (@salila.ayurveda)

Befriending Ayurvedic wisdom in modern life

In Sanskrit, Ayurveda translates to ‘the science of life’. In the Western world, however, the practice is still classified as a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Now, CAM carries a stigma, as many Western medicine practitioners believe Ayurveda is not rooted in science and provides treatments that are ‘unproven’ and ‘ineffective’. When it comes to doshas, while many proponents have backed its link to optimal health, many have pointed to the lack of ‘scientific’ evidence to prove the same.

When asked about her expert take on the discourse, Dr Shere said, “Ayurveda is an ancient science which has been time-tested and yet holds true. However, it may not have enough scientific data to support the wisdom it beholds, but with time, I am sure this won’t be a challenge.” The practitioner added that, especially when it comes to the case of herbs and their benefits, the so-called ‘scientific’ findings are aligned to the ones in Ayurvedic scriptures themselves—in turn, proving their results and efficacy.

“Ayurveda sutras were compiled when the rest of the world was still in the Stone Age,” Salila shared on these terms. “These principles do not need scientific studies to make them valid or useful for the public, they have been proven through hundreds of generations of use to be of immense value to humanity.”

According to the coach, scientific rigour should be applied to test Ayurveda’s evidence-based knowledge so that we can find new ways to formulate modern medicines from the classic recipes. “Can you imagine Chyawanprash drops or transdermal patches? Ayurveda offers a 360-degree view of the root cause to disease and patient management—modern medicine has much to learn from this.”

At the end of the day, remember that Ayurveda emphasises prevention and health promotion rather than the treatment of disease, with a holistic approach that has survived for thousands of years. So irrespective of the CAM stigma Ayurveda has long been attached to, if you’re looking to befriend the doshas in your life, understand their qualities, and adapt yourself in accordance with your type, it’s best to book a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor before making any drastic life changes—just like in the case of any other system of medicine.

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