The Ayurveda Series: The Doshas
[DISCLAIMER: I don’t necessarily understand Ayurveda as having all the answers to life’s questions, I believe there are important lessons to be found in all religions/schools of thought/practices, and encourage exploration of them equally]
Those of you who know me personally know that dropping Ayurvedic philosophy/medicine/references into day-to-day conversation is something I’m quite good at (some of my friends like to call it ‘waffle’). I first came across Vedic teachings two years ago when I was doing my YTT and have subsequently forgotten most it. So, I’ve decided to put together my first series to educate you (and re-educate myself) on all things Ayurveda. I will be covering The Doshas, The Chakra System and The Yamas and Niyamas - if this seems like gibberish to you, don’t worry, we’ll get to it later.
What is Ayurveda
Thought to be around 5000 years old, Ayurveda - meaning “knowledge of life” in Sanskrit - is an ancient medical system originating from the Vedic culture in India. Even now it is still integrated into daily life in India, and is practiced by many worldwide. Essentially, Ayurveda is an individualised system of medicine. It sees each human as being uniquely individual and having their own relative expression of health. What is medicine to one person, may be poison to another, and vice-versa. The philosophy not only takes in physical health, but encompasses a complete sense of wellbeing. The aim is to get you in touch with your true nature so you can celebrate life with a full, embodied, sense of wellness.
First in our series are The Doshas. Any of you who did P.E GCSE or A-Level (sorry if there is anyone not from the UK reading this, I promise I’m making sense) will know about the three body types; Endomorph, Ectomorph and Mesomorph. Well, you can think of the Doshas as the Ayurvedic version.
According to Ayurveda, there are three body types; Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each of these body types are made up from a combination of the five elements that make up everything in our universe; Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Ether (space).
All three Doshas are present in everyone, but the ratio from individual to individual can vary exponentially. Your own personal constitution is called Prakriti. Essentially this is your own particular combination of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, established within you from conception and cemented at birth. Our own blend of the doshas significantly influences our physical, mental and emotional traits. No one dosha is better than the next. That being said, to be in a healthy state of being, it is important each dosha is balanced within the body.
As the most powerful of the three Doshas, Vata is in charge of the movement and the body in motion. In fact, ALL forms of movement within the body are a result of Vata energy. This includes walking, breathing, digestion and even the regulation of the nervous system (perception, reactions and memory). The qualities of Vata are; cold, light, dry, irregular, rough, moving, quack and changeable.
Those who are predominately Vata tend to always be on the go. When in balance, they are creative, energetic and free flowing. Their body type is lean and athletic, and if found in a good mood, they will be enthusiastic and lively.
A mostly Vata dosha will be thin, agile and light. They will be highly energetic one minute, then fatigued the next. Typically, they will have dry skin and hair, with usually cold hands and feet. Eyes will be small and the face will be long and edgy.
Vata types are quick in thought, fast to act and free in mind. They often burn their energy quickly and their restless activity can cause them to become unbalanced easily.
How to Balance Vata
- Regularity, warmth and consistency will ground and centre Vata dominated individuals.
- As your energy comes in bursts, its important not to push yourself too hard. Slower exercises like yoga or Pilates will help to maintain balance and increase flexibility.
- Remember to relax. Give yourself a break and calm down. Take a walk in nature to ground you and give your racing mind a rest.
- Choose foods that are rich and nourishing. Heavier meals with good fats and oils are great for grounding a Vata energy.
- Maintain a routine. Eat at the same time each day, get enough sleep and try to establish a pattern to live by.
Pitta is the combination of fire and water. This polarity is important as it creates an energy responsible for transformation. Pitta is neither still or moving, much like fire and water, it spreads. For example, transforming food to energy and controlling enzymes and neurotransmitters. Where Vata moves nerve impulses to and from the brain, Pitta converts the impulses to thought.
Pitta holds the middle ground between a leaner Vata, and heavy Kapha. They are known for having a strong appetite and being able to maintain a healthy weight without loosing or gaining any pounds quickly. Pitta peeps enjoy physical activity, but may be prone to sweating - a lot.
Pitta people usually have a quick mind and good concentration. They easily absorb information and are eager to give their opinion on it. Oozing with ambition and focus, they are committed to following their dreams and achieving their goals. This makes them exceptional leaders and fiercely loyal friends. On the other hand, pittas can also be aggressive, impatient and opinionated. Their perfectionist nature means they have a tendency to overdo things.
How to Balance Pitta
- Cool Down the body and the mind. Keep the body cool and relax the mind with slow breathing techniques.
- Keep food light and fresh. Avoid oily foods, spicy foods or large, hot meals. Use herbs like peppermint, coriander and fennel.
- Stay away from aggressions and competition. Fire feeds fire!
- Practice compassion. We should all be doing this, but pittas can find it hard to stay open minded when they become irritable.
Kapha is the integration of the earth and water elements. Their combination brings the structure into our minds, body and souls, and hydrates the entire system. This dosha is responsible for the lubrication of the joints, moisturising the skins, supporting the immune system and protecting the connective tissues throughout our bodies. Kapha is also recognised as the embodiment of watery energies such as love and compassion.
Kaphas usually have a strong solid frame, wide hips, and broad shoulders. This usually makes them either tall and strong or small and sturdy. People who are predominantly kapha can have trouble losing weight due to their slow metabolism, but are able to maintain good stamina. Their hair is usually full, soft and voluminous, eyes are big and round and their lips and teeth are large.
Kapha are patient, affectionate and loyal, with a calming and gentle nature. They will often move slowly, yet their actions will be carefully through through and executed with purpose. Their loving nature makes them easily approachable, they are more than willing to listen to others problems and offer compassionate advice or assistance. They are well organised and can easily save money, but also have a tendency to become materialistic.
Kaphas can often feel lethargic, especially after meals. They can struggle to stay energetic throughout the day and often need periods of rest or even afternoon naps. If unbalanced Kaphas can come across possessive, stubborn and highly materialistic. Their sedentary nature means it can take a long time for emotional pain to leave their system. This makes them prone to bouts of depression, and also enables them to hold grudges for a long time. Kaphas also find it difficult to adapt to change. When faced with a stressful situation they favour a head-in-the-sand response, not wanting to face the challenge in front of them.
How to Balance Kapha
- Stay warm, dry and comfortable. Keep clear of wet or damp conditions.
- Choose vigorous, dynamic exercises like dancing, running or martial arts. These will keep you warm and boost your energy,
- Eat foods with spices such as chilli, cayenne, cinnamon or ginger.
-Vary your routine as much as possible - don’t nap during the day, don’t resist change and cultivate excitement for the future.
-Learn a new skill, travel and take up a hobby.