A Guide to Understanding the Ayurvedic Doshas
A fascinating aspect of Ayurveda is how it honors one of life's absolutes: that beings and nature are always evolving. "I like to equate it to dance," says Michelle Magid, CAS, PKS. "We're always moving, shifting and changing."
Magid's cadence for explaining Ayurveda comes from her passion. She fell in love with the ancient science as a teenager. Today she is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, herbalist, and healer in Portland, Oregon where she offers personalized Ayurvedic treatments and holistic health and wellness support in her private practice. Her approach is tailored to each individual, and can include Ayurvedic body therapies, nutritional and lifestyle recommendations, and cleansing treatments. Magid says that an essential part of her Ayurvedic practice is understanding a person's unique combination of the five primal elements in nature—space, air, fire, water, and earth and their corresponding qualities . Those elements and qualities exist in the external world, "what can be referred to as the macrocosms," says Magid. And they also exist inside of us "in the microcosm."
These natural elements combine together in different ways to make up the three doshas in Ayurveda: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These influence your being, body-mind and emotions including your behavioral tendencies. The three doshas exist in everyone, but according to Ayurveda each of us is born with our own unique constitution—a specific combination of the doshas—and most have one dosha that is dominant, the dosha that is predominantly expressed with then a secondary and tertiary dosha.
Understanding the different types of energy is both fascinating and telling as it unveils the keys to optimal wellbeing. A healthy state is when our doshas are in balance, "the same as when we were conceived," says Magid. When our unique makeup of doshas are unbalanced we can become unwell. This can manifest in various ways from digestive issues, mental and emotional imbalances to deeper diseases. Ultimately, "it's about understanding yourself, and what keeps you in balance, and then how you can support yourself in maintaining that balanced state," says Magid.
To gain a deeper insight into your dosha Magid recommends that you reflect back on your life and observe yourself through all the seasons. "It took me years to fully understand my constitution and all it’s nuances, and this was with observing, studying, and practicing, on myself over several years." Which brings us back to the idea of change. Because there are different elements and qualities at play throughout the year, people are always shifting with the seasons and current environments. To honor your dosha and keep it balanced, it’s essential to be aware of the natural changes that occur throughout the year and as we age. "If you continue to do the same things that you did in winter as you did in summer or when you’re twenty versus sixty, that may not be supportive," says Magid, who below shares the basic qualities and principles of the doshas and unveils the ways we can honor our constitution and "life's constant state of change."
Our natural constitution, which is our unique combination of the doshas, is called Prakruti. In Ayurveda, identifying and honoring our Prakruti is essential to health and wellbeing as this is how we maintain balance.
Our current state is Vikruti, which can sometimes be seen as the imbalanced state. "When doshas go out of balance, they increase," says Magid. "Everybody's balance is different. When someone is focusing on restoring their health and balance, it’s not about getting all the doshas to be equal but rather to have all the doshas in the same proportion as when you were conceived."
The Three Doshas & Their Qualities
Each of the doshas contains two of the five elements and each element can be understood through their qualities like hot, cold, light, heavy, dry, moist, etc. "When we are dealing with an imbalance and are focused on coming back to balance, we want to remember one of the fundamental principles of nature. That like likes like, and opposites balance," says Magid.
Vata: Air and Space
- Meaning: That which moves things. Vata is expressed and understood through movement, expansiveness, and lightness.
- General qualities: mobile, cold, light, dry, rough, clear, and subtle.
- Time of day: 2 to 6 am & pm
- Vata governs the fall and early winter season (mid-September to mid-February).
- Physical characteristics: Vatas are typically thinner and lighter. They tend to run cold and have dryer skin.
- Balance: There is creativity and vitality when Vatas are in balance. Fear and anxiety can arise when out of balance.
Vata finds balance in things that are warming, grounding, and with routine. Consider nourishing foods that are warm, have healthy fats, and have the predominant tastes of sweet, salty, and sour.
Pitta: Fire and a bit of Water
- Meaning: That which transforms things. Pitta is expressed and understood through illumination, transformation, and heat.
- General qualities: hot, oily, light, sharp (penetrating), acidic, and slightly moist.
- Time of day: 10 to 2 am & pm
- Pitta governs the summer season (mid-June to mid-September).
- Physical characteristics: Pittas are more medium build with a good muscular structure. They tend to have a warmer body temperature.
- Balance: There is contentment and intelligence when Pittas are in balance. Ulcers and anger can arise when out of balance.
Pitta finds balance in things that are cooling, calming, and moderate. Consider foods that are cooling and have the predominant tastes of sweet, bitter, or astringent.
Kapha: Water and Earth
- Meaning: That which sticks. Kapha is expressed and understood through stability, groundedness and attachment.
- General qualities: stable, cold, oily, heavy, cloudy, dull, smooth, slow.
- Time of day: 6 to 10 am & pm
- Kapha governs the late winter and spring season (mid-February to mid-June).
- Physical characteristics: Kaphas have a stockier build with bigger bones. They are more prone to weight gain.
- Balance: There is love and forgiveness when Kaphas are in balance. Insecurity and envy can arise when out of balance.
Kapha finds balance in things that are drying, stimulating, and warming. Consider foods that are drier and lighter and have the predominant tastes of pungent, bitter, and astringent.