Ayurveda is a holistic science of health, focusing on maintaining a physically and emotionally balanced state. Ayurveda began about 5,000 – 6,000 years ago when Indian monks were looking for new ways to be healthy. Revering their bodies like temples, the monks believed that preserving their health would help them meditate and develop spiritually. Over thousands of years of observations, they gathered all their conclusions and advice and preserved it for future generations. This collection of knowledge came to be known as the “science or knowledge of life” — Ayurveda.
In Ayurveda, every individual is unique and there is no diet or lifestyle routine that works for everyone.
Prevention is key. Ayurveda focuses on providing specific advice and guidance on how to maintain physical and emotional health.
Food and lifestyle routines are considered the most important medicine. If you come to an Ayurvedic doctor with a complaint, you are more likely to leave with a recipe than with a prescription for pills.
Ayurveda is based on the principles of three doshas. Doshas are the energies that make up every individual, which perform different physiological functions in the body:
Vata Dosha — Energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and your heartbeat.
In balance: There is creativity and vitality.
Out of balance: Can produce fear and anxiety.
Pitta Dosha — Energy that controls the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and your body’s temperature.
In balance: Leads to contentment and intelligence.
Out of balance: Can cause ulcers and anger.
Kapha Dosha — Energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system.
In balance: Expressed as love and forgiveness.
Out of balance: Can lead to insecurity and envy.
Creative; Quick to learn and grasp new knowledge, but also quick to forget, Slender; Tall and a fast-walker; Tendency toward cold hands and feet, discomfort in cold climates; Excitable, lively, fun personality; Changeable moods; Irregular daily routine; High energy in short bursts; Tendency to tire easily and to overexert; Full of joy and enthusiasm when in balance; Responds to stress with fear, worry, and anxiety, especially when out of balance; Tendency to act on impulse; Often have racing, disjointed thoughts; Generally have dry skin and dry hair and don’t perspire much.
Medium physique, strong, well-built; Sharp mind, good concentration powers; Orderly, focused; Assertive, self-confident, and entrepreneurial at their best; Aggressive, demanding, pushy when out of balance; Competitive, enjoy challenges; Passionate and romantic; Strong digestion, strong appetite, get irritated if they have to miss or wait for a meal; When under stress, Pittas become irritated and angry; Skin fair or reddish, often with freckles; sunburns easily; Uncomfortable in sun or hot weather, heat makes them very tired; Perspire a lot; Good public speakers; Generally good management and leadership ability, but can become authoritarian; Subject to temper tantrums, impatience, and anger; Typical physical problems include rashes or inflammations of the skin, acne, boils, skin cancer, ulcers, heartburn, acid stomach, insomnia, dry or burning eyes.
Easygoing, relaxed, slow-paced; Affectionate and loving; Forgiving, compassionate, nonjudgmental nature; Stable and reliable; faithful; Physically strong and with a sturdy, heavier build; Have the most energy of all constitutions, but it is steady and enduring; Slow speech, reflecting a deliberate thought process; Slower to learn, but outstanding long-term memory; Soft hair and skin; tendency to have large “soft” eyes and a low, soft voice; Tend toward being overweight; may also suffer from sluggish digestion; Prone to depression; More self-sufficient; Gentle, and essentially undemanding approach to life; Excellent health, good immune system; Very calm; strive to maintain harmony and peace in their surroundings; Not easily upset and can be a point of stability for others; Tend to be possessive and hold on to things. Don’t like cold, damp weather; Physical problems include colds and congestion, sinus headaches, respiratory problems including asthma, allergies, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Most books and websites on Ayurveda will offer questionnaires that can be used to determine your mind/body constitution. My favorite one is offered by Holistic Online, which is very detailed and thorough. Most questionnaires are very similar and will provide similar results. Please keep in mind that shorter questionnaires will give a more generalized and approximate result. Also, your body changes with age, seasons, and life situations so the results will change as well. Taking a few different questionnaires will give you a more definite result for your Dosha type.
Now you should try to follow the diet and lifestyle routine that fits your mind/body constitution. For example, if you are predominantly Vata, you should include more cooked, warm foods, stay away from icy drinks, and add more warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger to your food. This will prevent any digestion issues that Vata types tend to get, as well, as anxiety, dry skin, or insomnia. Here are some general guidelines for each type.
Maintain regular habits, try to eat and sleep at the same time every night. Get enough rest and choose foods that are warm, cooked, nourishing, and easy to digest. Sweet berries, fruits, small beans, rice, and all nuts and dairy products are good choices for Vata types. Exercise intensity should be moderate. A more meditativeyoga, Tai chi, walking, and swimming are all good. Avoid strenuous and frantic activities.
It’s important for Pittas to keep cool by avoiding overexposure to direct sunlight and fried and spicy foods. Avoid alcohol and tobacco, overworking, and overheating. When aggravated, susceptible to feeling negative emotions like hostility, hatred, intolerance, and jealousy. Choose fresh vegetables and fruits that are watery and sweet, especially cherries, mangoes, cucumbers, water melon, and avocado. Have lots of salads with dark greens such as arugula, dandelions, and kale. Avoid conflicts. Cultivate the virtues of honesty, morality, kindness, generosity, and self-control.
It’s important to be active on a daily basis as Kapha types are prone to sluggishness, depression, and being overweight. Getting out of the house and actively seeking new experiences is also recommended. Be receptive to useful change, be intentional in implementing life-enhancing actions. Choose foods that are light, warm, and spicy. Tea with dried ginger and lemon is a great pick-me-up for Kaphas. Avoid heavy oily and processed sugars, which are detrimental to Kaphas. Use lots of spices such as black pepper, ginger, cumin, chili and lots of bitter dark greens.
There are two distinct, yet inter-related, classifications of a person in Ayurveda. The first relates to the body, and the second to the mind. Your nature is determined by this combination of body and mind types, and is known as your prakriti. Prakriti means “nature”. When referring to the theory of creation, it is the unmanifested nature of cosmic matter. When referring to humans, prakriti means the unique physical and psychological nature displayed.
Knowing your dosha and guna provides you with an understanding of your basic physical and psychological nature, and helps you tailor a personal diet and lifestyle that maintains optimum health and peace of mind. Each person has a unique dosha with unique nutritional needs. Establishing your dosha enables you determine suitable diets, exercise and lifestyles to maintain balance. This is the key to maintaining health.
It is difficult to translate the precise meaning of dosha. It is often translated as “biological type” or physical constitution. This definition allows a simple and easy understanding of the concept. However, the original definition of dosha is more complex. In Sanskrit, dosha is defined as “doosyati iti doshah.” The literal meaning of this is “that which contaminates is called dosha.” So doshas may be considered the pathogenic factors, or disease-causing agents in the body. Imbalance of vata, pitta and kaphadoshas cause disease in the body.
Dosha only refers to the three biological energies of vata, pitta and kapha. As an imbalance of these elemental combinations is the direct cause of physical disease, they are the prime disease causing factors (the “contaminants”). Secondary factors in the disease process, like body tissues (dhatus), toxins (ama) and waste materials (malas) are actually the product of, or dependent upon, an imbalance in the doshas.
Knowing your prakriti helps you to tailor a personal diet and lifestyle that can prevent disease and physical disorders, and obtain peace of mind. It provides you with an understanding of your basic physical and psychological nature, and how to keep it in balance with your surroundings. This is the key to maintaining health.
Every human usually has varying degrees of vata, pitta and kapha. The doshas are usually not present in equal proportions. In most people there is a natural uneven distribution. Very rarely, a person may have a completely even distribution of doshas.
Although we each have characteristics of vata, pitta or kapha to different degrees, one of these elemental natures will dominate and that is the “main” dosha. The secondary dosha is the one present in the next highest proportion. Every dosha type or combination is acknowledged in Ayurveda, which lists seven separate physical constitution types based on the basic three:
People with a predominant vata dosha display physical and emotional characteristics linked to the elemental qualities of space/akasha and air/vayu. They are very active – mobile, restless and energetic. They have fast metabolisms, so are often thin with little muscle development and protruding joints that may make cracking noises. Their skin is dry, rough and thin with
Sleeping, eating and personal habits are irregular and erratic, with appetite and sexual desire varying between extremes. They sleep lightly, are easily disturbed and prone to insomnia. Their speech and movement is usually fast, and they are talkative and enjoy all forms of communication. Their pulse is fast, weak and irregular. They dislike cold, windy or dry environments and feel chilled quickly or shiver easily. Extremities (hands and feet) are often cold, or become cold easily.
Mentally and emotionally they are rapid. They gather information or display emotions quickly, or determine swiftly whether they like or dislike something. While they learn quickly and are usually intellectual, their retention is poor. Money is spent quickly and impulsively. They demonstrate high creativity, innovation and sensitivity.
Individuals with this nature are introspective, shy, modest and lacking in confidence. They are often unsettled and impatient, but very flexible and adaptable to change. People with vata dosha often feel anxious, worried or stressed – especially in unfamiliar, cramped or noisy environments. They are most likely to be loners, or non-conformists.
People with a pitta dosha display an inherent fire/agni elemental character. They are of medium build, with greater muscular development than that displayed by vata. Their skin is soft and warm, and they have a lot of body heat and often perspire excessively. Their hair is thin and often reddish or blond, and they may experience premature graying, baldness or excessive hair loss. Their skin flushes easily and they often have many freckles and moles. Their skin develops acne, rashes, bruises or sunburn easily.
Their desires (appetite, sex) are strong in nature. Sleep is moderate and not easily disturbed. The pulse is strong and stable. Individuals with pitta dosha predominant speak loudly and passionately, and often dominate the conversation. They have an aversion to hot weather, sunlight and heat, and their eyes are sensitive.
In temperament, they are extroverted and love to be the focus of attention. Although they can usually control their emotions, they may become irritable, angry and judgmental under stress. Money is prudently managed. They are decisive, aggressive, ambitious and determined, often aspiring to positions of leadership. They enjoy competitive sports and games, either as spectators or participants. Their intelligence is high, and they have good insight and a keen sense of discrimination.
People with a predominant kapha dosha tend to have a heavy and solid, or large build. They are often overweight, gain weight easily and have high muscle development (plump and round). Their skin is thick, smooth and moist with few wrinkles. Their complexion is usually clear, fair or pale, and hair is oily, thick and wavy. Their teeth are strong, white and well formed.
People of the kapha type have a moderate or low appetite and slow digestion. They enjoy eating gourmet or luxury foods (that appeal to taste and smell) or buying and preparing food. In movement and activity, they tend to be slow and methodical, with a lot of endurance. However, they are sluggish and lethargic or difficult to motivate. They are prone to sleep heavily and excessively. Their pulse is slow, steady and regular. They have a pleasant appearance and voice. Those with kapha doshadislike damp conditions
In temperament, they prefer familiar surroundings and tradition. They learn slowly, but have excellent memories. Money is hoarded (or they are thrifty) and they are good, stable providers. Typically, they are serene and tranquil and their emotions are slow to become excited or aroused. However, they can be sentimental, nostalgic and romantic in nature. They are highly tolerant and forgiving, with medium intelligence. They prefer to belong to a group, club or community. They cling to their family or familiar associations.
You cannot change your elemental nature or dosha. For instance, if you wish to acquire kaphaqualities, you cannot do so by eating a lot of food high in kapha elements of water/jala and earth/prithvi. By doing so, you will only disturb your primary dosha. Changing your nature through acquiring positive qualities, and minimizing negative temperamental characteristics, is the role of the mind.
When you are healthy, you are generally instinctively attracted to foods and activities similar in elemental composition to your own body. When you are sick and the elements are unbalanced, you are attracted to those foods opposite in nature. For example, if you are suffering from a cold, or chest congestion (due to an imbalance in kapha), you usually choose to avoid those foods that are kapha in nature such as dairy products, or heavy and oily foods.