Doshas Decoded: Determine Your Dosha + Dos & Donts for Balancing Your Doshas
Ayurvedic treatments center around bringing your dosha into balance. So what are doshas? In Ayurveda, it is believed that the five elements—earth, fire, water, air and ether—manifest within the body as doshas. There are three doshas (also known as body types or energies): vata, pitta and kapha. While most people have a combination of doshas within them, we all have a prominent dosha that makes up our individual constitution. Knowing your prominent dosha is key to treating your body and well-being most effectively. Any ailment you may have, whether it is a stomach ache or stress, can be explained by dosha imbalance. Ayurvedic practices can thus be used to treat an imbalance in doshas.
As mentioned, we all have a small bit of each dosha within our bodies. So even though one is more likely to experience an imbalance in one’s predominant dosha (i.e., a pitta type is likely to have pitta-imbalance issues), one can also experience an imbalance in one of the other two doshas. Imbalances within non-predominant doshas can sometimes happen due to external triggers such as changing seasons. For instance, although kapha types are more susceptible to depression in the winter, many vata and pitta types can also experience it.
Before delving further, we recommend first determining your dosha; a few resources we like: take our online quiz, or another quiz such as Mind Body Green's - here; review our blog post and our podcast on understanding each dosha. Understanding one's dominant dosha can be a journey as sometimes, as noted above, a non-dominant dosha can present as dominant when it is out of balance (a change in one's diet habits, changes to your environment such as move or a job change, etc.) - so we recommend revisiting the resources periodically over a 3-6 week timeframe to establish what your true dosha might be. Seeing a trained Ayurvedic physician is another great way to
Vata types tend to be very creative spirits—they are often lively, enthusiastic, and often restless or anxious when they find themselves out of balance. Vata skin tends to be dry, thin, and often rough, while hair is brittle and frizzy.
- Cold/frozen foods (including chilled beverages)
- Dry foods (like popcorn and crackers)
- Stimulants (such as coffee)
- Oily, moist, and smooth foods
- Warm or hot liquids (like soup and stew)
- Avocado, coconut, olives, buttermilk, cheese, eggs, whole milk, wheat, nuts, seeds, berries, melons, summer squash, zucchini and yogurt
- Green grapes, oranges, and pineapple (in small quantities)
Vata skin tends to be dry, rough and darker in tone. Cool and often thin to the touch, Vata type skin is especially vulnerable to excessive dryness, flakiness, even eczema during times of stress.
Because Vata types are more likely to have dry skin, it is crucial to protect it from extreme temperatures and keep it well moisturized. One can do this by drinking plenty of water in order to keep the body hydrated, as well as properly moisturizing the skin. Adding natural hydration boosters such as rose water (instead of an alcohol based toner) can be tremendously helpful in promoting the skin’s natural moisture barrier. One should also avoid traditionally drying cleansers that are often soap-based. Try nut powders, oats and honey as an alternative. Aloe vera gel or cream may also be used to gently massage and add extra moisture to the facial skin. Antioxidant- and oil-rich avocado has a number of benefits for the skin, and is chock full of healthy fatty acids and vitamins. Try this: mash up an avocado into a smooth paste and apply it evenly to the face. Once it dries (in roughly 15 minutes), rinse off with cold water. Face oils are especially beneficial to this skin type to aid and restore the skin’s natural lipid barrier.
Vata types are more prone to anxiety and stress, so it is important to take care of oneself even in high-pressure moments. Because vata people often have trouble sleeping, it is beneficial to go to bed earlier and take time to calm nerves through meditation. Also, try rubbing your feet with sesame oil at bedtime for a more restful night of sleep. Vata types will also derive tremendous benefit from head stands, backward bends, ploughs, cobra, locust and lotus poses.
Pitta-dominant people can have controlling and jealous personality traits, but they are also often courageous, articulate, ambitious and witty. Pitta skin tends to be smooth, oily, and warm and sensitive (especially in the sun).
- Pungent/sour vegetables (like tomatoes, hot peppers, carrots, beets, eggplant, onions, radishes and spinach)
- Fruits (such as grapefruits, apricots and berries)
- Spices (like ginger, cumin, black pepper, fenugreek and cloves )
- Chili peppers and cayenne
- Beef, eggs and seafood
- Buckwheat, corn, millet and brown rice
- Oils of corn, mustard and sesame
- Bland vegetables (like asparagus, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, etc.)
- Predominantly sweet fruits (such as grapes, melon, cherries, mango, etc.)
- Soothing spices (coriander, cardamom, saffron, and fennel)
- Virgin coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower oil and ghee
- Wheat, white rice, barley and oats
- Turkey, chicken and pheasant (in moderation)
Pitta skin is typically soft, oily, fair to pale with a warm complexion. When experiencing an imbalance, this medium-thick type of skin is more prone to rashes, acne and sores.
Pitta skin is also often very sensitive, so it is important to protect it from both environmental toxins and sun exposure. Keep the skin cool and balanced to avoid breakouts and irritation. Sandalwood is deeply healing to Pitta skin and can be integrated either in the form of oil or paste.
Because Pitta types are often controlling in nature, it is important to remember to let go of things from time to time. Coconut oil self-massages (try them as a pre-shower ritual in the morning!) can help cool the mind and body. Maintaining a regular routine and practicing yoga will also help alleviate stress for Pitta types. Pitta imbalances can be corrected by practicing shoulder stands, half wheel, hidden lotus and fish poses.
Those with a kapha-dominant dosha generally possess a calm energy, but are often slow to accept change. They are caring and thoughtful, but their feelings are often hurt easily. Kapha skin is thick, oily, often pale, and prone to blemishes.
- Fruits (like oranges, bananas, avocados, pineapples, peaches, melons, dates and figs)
- Avoid juicy, sweet vegetables such as zucchini, tomatoes (with the exception of cooked tomatoes), sweet potatoes, tapioca, and other tubers
- Grains of oats, rice, and wheat
- Traditional fats such as dairy, nuts and most oils
- Light, pungent, astringent, and bitter foods
- Apples, pears, pomegranates, cranberries, and apricots
- Spices like ginger, pepper, cayenne, and black mustard
- Chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs
- Buckwheat, rye, millet, and corn
- Clarified butter (sparingly) instead of oils
- Sunflower and pumpkin seeds
Kapha skin is thick, oily, usually very light and cool to the touch. During instances of imbalance, Kapha skin tends to most show enlarged pores, blackheads and water retention.
It is important for kapha types to detox (both internally and externally) to avoid breakouts from toxins that often cause irritation and blemishes. Try this at-home facial: gently scrub the face with a mixture of sea salt and honey, then steam it with a combination of water and mint leaves. Massage the face with a concoction of aloe vera and turmeric paste, then apply a mask consisting of clay (preferably kaolene), honey and rose water. Using clarifying skincare products and eating a well-balanced diet will also help keep Kapha skin in check.
Repressed emotions can cause many problems for kapha types, which can result in stress, emotional attachment and complacency. For kapha people, it is important to regularly exercise (to avoid being too stagnant) and wake up early. Within yoga, boat, lion, palm tree, half wheel and spinal twist poses are especially beneficial for Kapha types.