Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that refers to the science of life and longevity. 'Ayur' means life and 'Veda' means knowledge. Ayurveda is a 5000-year-old ancient Vedic medicine system that has its roots deeply entrenched in the rich, Indian landscape. It is the only medicinal system in the world that follows preventive + curative methodology.
The base of Ayurvedic philosophy is to balance the body, mind and spirit. According to Ayurveda, each person is born with a life force that comprises the five elements or building blocks of nature: Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Space. We possess a unique balance of these five elements in varying degrees. This imbalance of elements is known as a Dosha. There are three fundamental doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and good health is considered to be a perfect state of balance between these three doshas.
- Vata is constituted by space and air, which is the energy of movement.
- Pitta is constituted by fire & water which is the principle of digestion and metabolism.
- Kapha is constituted by water & earth, the dosha of structure and lubrication.
Unhealthy diet, stress, repressed emotions and insufficient exercise are considered to be elements that disturb ones' doshic balance. Hence, to maintain balance and good health, a person has to juggle with the three doshas, and increase or decrease them, as conditions demand. In simple words, health means to order and balance, whereas disease is disorder and imbalance. Everyone has all three doshas, but one of them is usually primary, the other secondary and the third one is the least prominent.
The Three Doshas: An Overview
What determines your dosha? The human body is made up of 5 elements -air, ether, earth, water and fire. A combination of these five elements determines one's ‘prakriti’ or constitution. Ayurveda defines the combination of these five elements into three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Although each human body is composed of all three doshas, each body has a different combination of them and this determines one's genetically inherited physical and personality traits. Throughout one's life, these constitutions may change based on physical, mental and emotional conditions. It is important to identify one's dosha and then create a lifestyle that suits it. This means adopting a diet and daily routine based on one's dosha.
Ayurveda divides the different body types into seven categories. Hence, a person can be: vata, pitta, Kapha, vata-pitta, pitta-Kapha, vata-Kapha, or tri-dosha. However, there is no 'best' or 'perfect' body type or dosha. Each of the categories has its advantages and disadvantages.
- Vata: Vata is considered the leader of the three Ayurvedic Principles in the body. As the principle of mobility, Vata regulates all activity in the body, mental as well as physiological. It is responsible for breathing, blinking of our eyes, beating of our heart and many more functions. When in balance, the Vata is lively and energetic. Adequate rest is needed to keep the vata in balance. Dry skin, cough and dry hair are some problems that one may face when the vata is imbalanced.
- Pitta: Pitta is the fire element. It is responsible for regulating body temperature through the chemical transformation of food, promoting vitality and appetite. Those dominated by the pitta dosha are strong-willed, determined and tend to have leadership qualities. If the pitta is imbalanced, it can lead to anger and agitation, and may even cause burning disorders such as ulcers and inflammation. To maintain a balance, meditation, massages and inhaling cooling scents such as rose, mint and lavender can help relax the body.
- Kapha: This dosha maintains body resistance. This dosha is responsible for nourishment & lubrication. Those dominated by Kapha are said to be thoughtful, calm and steady. To maintain a balance, gentle exercises, stimulating activities and an extra intake of fluids can keep the energy flowing. Kapha is primarily responsible for anabolism, the process of building the body, growth and creation of new cells as well as cell repair.
यत् किञ्चिद्दोषमास्राव्य न निर्हरति कायतः|
आहारजातं तत् सर्वमहितायोपपद्यते||८५|| - Charak Samhita
Understanding Imbalances in the Doshas
Imbalances in the doshas are generally caused by unsupportive diet and lifestyle choices, as well as stress or emotional trauma. These disturbances tend to upset the natural state of internal equilibrium represented by one's constitution. When the doshas become aggravated, each of them disrupts the body in its unique way. Therefore, Vata, Pitta and Kapha are each associated with a particular set of health challenges and tendencies toward disease.
While we are all susceptible to excess in any of the three doshas, we also tend to be somewhat predisposed to imbalances in our predominant doshas. In other words, vata-pitta predominant individuals will usually tend toward vata and pitta imbalances before Kapha imbalances.
When out of balance, vata tends to cause fear, anxiety, isolation, loneliness, and exhaustion. It can lead to both physical and energetic depletion, disrupt proper communication, and cause all sorts of abnormal movements in the body, such as tics, tremors, and muscle spasms.
When out of balance, Pitta causes fiery, reactionary emotions such as frustration, anger, jealousy, and criticism. Imbalanced Pitta is often at the root of inflammatory disorders, which can affect organs and tissues throughout the body.
When out of balance, Kapha triggers emotions of attachment, greed, and possessiveness and can also create stubbornness, lethargy, and resistance to change. Physically, Kapha tends to invite stagnation and congestion in organs and tissues throughout the body—including the mind.
How to Balance the Three Doshas?
To help balance your Pitta, here are some things you can do:
- Eat more foods that are naturally sweet (dates), bitter (turmeric) and astringent (pomegranate).
- Consume cooling foods (both actively and in temperature)
- Eat freshly prepared foods (raw foods)
- Avoid direct exposure to the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Include a moderate quantity of high-quality olive, sunflower and coconut oils in your diet.
Below are some points to help keep your vata balanced:
- Stick to a normal routine. This involves getting at least 8 hours of sleep at night and having enough 'down-time'
- Warm, moist foods are great at balancing vata, especially if it's sweet, sour and salty. Meals should also be consumed at regular times.
- Massaging your body with warm oil several times a week assists to nourish and protect the skin.
- Avoid deep-fried foods and alcohol.
To keep Kapha balanced here are some tips:
- Try having a diet that comprises pungent, bitter or astringent taste. Warm foods and spices such as ginger, chilli and cinnamon are good for keeping you in balance.
- Consume drinks at room temperature or warm drinks
- Create a routine on when to eat your meals
- Get moving. This could mean a walk in the morning or a yoga class during the day.
- Give yourself a massage using raw silk gloves.
- Stay warm and dry. Those who are Kapha-dominant may be extra sensitive to the cold and may get clogged easily. To overcome this, using a heat lamp or heating pad near the chest/ back area can help.