The Three Doshas

Dosha is a Sanskrit word that translates as “mind-body constitution” or “mind-body personality.” According to ayurveda – the 5,000-year-old “science of life” – there are five master elements that make up everything within our bodies and everything outside of our bodies: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Space carries all the aspects of pure potentiality – infinite possibilities; air has the qualities of movement and change; fire is hot, direct, and transformational; water is cohesive and protective; and earth is solid, grounded, and stable.

Biological systems weave these elements into three primary patterns known as doshas. They are most easily thought of as mind-body principles that govern our style of thinking and behaving. The three doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and each is mainly a combination of two elements. Vata dosha, woven from space and air, regulates movement and change in our minds and bodies. Pitta dosha, comprised of fire and water, governs digestion and metabolism. Kapha dosha, made from earth and water, maintains and protects the integrity and structure of our mind and body.

All three doshas are present in every cell, tissue, and organ – for movement, metabolism, and protection – and are essential components of life. What makes life interesting is that although everyone has all three doshas, each of us mixes them together in a unique way, which determines the distinctive qualities of our mind and body. While it is not unheard of for people to have nearly equal proportions of the three doshas or just one very predominant dosha, most people have two doshas that are more or less equally dominant, with the remaining one less dominant. Thus, there are ten classic types of combinations possible:

  1. Vata (where Vata is much more dominant than either of the two other doshas)
  2. Pitta (where Pitta is much more dominant than either of the two other doshas)
  3. Kapha (where Kapha is much more dominant than either of the two other doshas)
  4. Vata-Pitta (where Vata and Pitta are the two major doshas with Vata being slightly more dominant than Pitta)
  5.  Pitta-Vata (where again Vata and Pitta are the two major doshas, but Pitta is slightly more dominant than Vata)
  6. Pitta-Kapha
  7. Kapha-Pitta
  8. Kapha-Vata
  9. Vata-Kapha
  10. Vata-Pitta-Kapha (also called Tridoshic)

Vata: Movement and Change

If Vata dosha predominates, movement and change are characteristic of your nature. You will tend to always be on the go, with an energetic and creative mind. As long as Vata is in balance, you will be lively and enthusiastic, with a lean body.

If excessive stress in your life leads to your Vata force becoming imbalanced, your activity will start to feel out of control. Your mind may race, contributing to anxiety and insomnia. You may start skipping meals, resulting in unintended weight loss, and your digestion may become irregular. If you notice these early symptoms of a Vata imbalance, slow down, take time to meditate, don’t skip meals, and get to bed earlier. A regular lifestyle routine helps ground Vata so you are not carried away into the ethers. Learn more about Vata here.

Pitta: Transformation and Metabolism

A healthy Pitta constitution results in strong appetites and strong digestion of both information and experience. When Pitta becomes imbalanced, heat begins to rise in the body and mind. Heartburn, ulcers, hypertension, and inflammatory conditions reflect excessive accumulation of the fire element.

Mentally, too much Pitta manifests as irritability and anger. These symptoms are signals to “chill.” Stop packing in too many things to do in too little time. Reduce your competitive activities, decrease your consumption of alcohol (fire water), and go for a walk in a natural setting where you can be surrounded with abundant blue (water) and green (plants). Learn more about Pitta here.

Kapha: Structure and Fluidity

People with a predominance of Kapha in their nature are solid, reliable, contented souls. But when Kapha builds to excess, weight gain, fluid retention, and allergies manifest in the body. Excess Kapha in the mind manifests as resistance to change and stubbornness. People with an excess of Kapha tend to hold on to things, jobs, and relationships long after they are no longer nourishing or necessary.

To lighten the heaviness of Kapha, get yourself moving and start exercising today. Eat lighter, spicy foods, and give away things you have been accumulating that you know you’ll never use.

* * *

Of course, each of us has a unique doshic thumbprint, and an ayurvedic healer can help you discover that unique doshic make-up and the exact nature of imbalances in order to recommend a very individual program for restoring balance. For good health and well-being to be maintained, the three doshas within you need to be in balance.

That does not mean they need to be equal, unless you were born with equal doshas; it means that you need to maintain your original doshic make-up through life as much as possible to maintain good health. Unfortunately, factors such as the dietary choices you make, the lifestyle you lead, the climate where you live, levels of environmental pollution, the work you do, the nature of your relationships with people and even just the passage of time can cause one of more of the doshas to increase or decrease from its original level in your constitution, creating imbalance. If this imbalance is not corrected, you eventually lose your good health. That’s why restoring balance is the central theme of the ayurvedic approach to health.

* * *

Figuring out your dosha is a helpful way to maintain balance in your life. It’s like holding up a mirror to your bodymind and seeing what needs to be adjusted and healed. Once you know what your innate tendencies are, you can make more nourishing choices. One easy, natural technique that balances all of the doshas is meditation. A spacey Vata, a fiery Pitta, and a lethargic Kapha can each move forward on the path to balance through a regular meditation practice.