Discover your Dosha: An Introduction to Ayurvedic Body Awareness
Ayurveda is a time tested health system that excels at guiding individuals toward greater well-being through lifestyle habits, individualized diet recommendations, and mind-body practices.
These days health and well-being can be hard to come by. There is so much information out there about diet, exercise and lifestyle. You may wonder what diet you should be eating. Vegetarian, paleo, raw, vegan? Should you go gluten free? Should you cut out dairy? Caffeine? What is the best exercise for you? Yoga, pilates, Cross fit, running? What are the best strategies for better sleep, more energy and manage stress?
Ayurveda can help! In this post, I am going to give you an introduction to Ayurveda and the Ayurvedic dosha model, a time-tested wellness model that can help you understand your own unique mind-body so you can make choices to optimize your wellness.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda means the “knowledge or wisdom of life.” Ayurveda is a holistic system of health and well-being that originated in India and is considered the sister science to yoga as it shares with yoga the goals of optimal physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Ayurveda offers a holistic approach to health promoting lifestyle habits and guidelines, specific body practices, individual diet recommendations, and herbal remedies.
A central concept in Ayurveda is the tridoshic system. Health is considered to be the balance of three basic energetic forces or principles called doshas. When these doshas are in a normal state in terms of quality and quantity, there is a balance. When the quality or quantity of a particular dosha shifts, there is an imbalance.
In this post I give an overview of Ayurveda’s 3 dosha model. This knowledge can help you choose an appropriate diet, movement and lifestyle for your unique body and mind.
When it comes to health, there is no one size fits all.
Every human is unique. Your mind-body is unique. Not understanding your unique physical and mental constitution can lead to suffering. When you don’t know how to eat, move and care for yourself, you may make choices that compromise your health and wellbeing.
How I discovered Ayurveda
I’ve had a life-long interest in healthy living. I come from a family that valued exercise and embraced healthy eating. In college, I learned whole foods cooking at a collectively-run vegetarian restaurant. At that time, I also discovered yoga. Through yoga, I began to learn more and more about my unique body and mind, and I began to discover my innate strengths and limitations. I became more and more curious about how to build a healthy life for myself.
Around that time, I read Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra. It was in this book that I first was introduced to the ideas of Ayurveda. Chopra writes:
“Everywhere you look, your body is doing something unique with every molecule of air, water, and food you take in, guided by its innate tendencies. You have the choice to follow these tendencies or to modify them, but to recklessly oppose them is unnatural. In Ayurveda, living in tune with nature – easily comfortably and without strain – means respecting your uniqueness…
The Ayurvedic body type is a blueprint outlining the innate tendencies that have been built into your system….. By knowing your body type, an Ayurvedic doctor can tell which diet, physical activities and medical therapies should help you and which might do no good and even cause harm.”
This was my introduction to Ayurveda and it was compelling and also comforting. I began to see and appreciate my innate physical, mental and emotional tendencies.
Through learning Ayurveda, I have learned to understand and respect my body and mind and to live in harmony with myself and the world around me. Even though I was pretty healthy, before discovering Ayurveda, I tended to suffer from worry, anxiety, stress, poor sleep, and poor digestion. The knowledge of Ayurveda helped me adopt a diet and daily routine that are right for my constitution. As a result, I now get deep rest, feel naturally exuberant, grounded and well nourished.
I’m excited to share the Ayurvedic body-mind constitution model with you.
Doshas at a glance:
Vata Dosha Characteristics at a Glance:
Vata is governed by the elements of air and space. Vata people are enthusiastic, mentally quick, alert, creative, flexible, and may speak quickly. Vata people tend to have lankier, slighter builds and less stable joints. Vata eating patterns and digestion can tend to be irregular. When a vata person is out of balance, she may feel over-stimulated, ungrounded, restless, and suffer from anxiety and insomnia. Vata individuals are aggravated by dry, cold windy weather, overstimulation, travel, lack of routine and too much change. Those with vata constitutions benefit from a consistent daily routine for rising, eating and sleeping and need to focus on keeping warm and hydrated.
Movement and Yoga for Vata Dosha:
Think slow and grounding. Vata people benefit from yoga sequences with slower pacing and longer holds. Fast vinyasa flow styles of yoga can aggravate vata dosha. Poses that work on the lower part of the body colon (the bodily seat of vata), intestines, pelvis and include pelvic compression (forward bends) as well as twists can be beneficial for grounding the body and relieving constipation which tends to plague vatas. Back bends can be overstimulating for vata dosha. Sun salutations done slowly are better. Vata bodies can tend to have unstable joints (hyper flexibility) and should favor yoga styles with a strong emphasis on alignment. Incorporate restorative poses, meditation and longer sessions of Savasana for helping calm the bodymind. Pranayama practices that soothe such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) are helpful.
Diet for Vata Dosha:
In general, Vata people do best with foods that ground and calm their tendency toward anxiety and overactivity. This means eating heavier, cooked foods served mostly warm. Vatas may tolerate dairy and animal products better than other doshas because these are building and grounding foods. Vatas do well with foods cooked or served with fats and oils such as ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil. Foods that are naturally sweet such as grains and root vegetables. Juicy fruits and vegetables, heavy fruits (such as avocados and bananas). Vatas do well with sour foods, but should avoid hot, spicy foods. Vatas can handle more salt than pittas and kaphas.
Signs of balance for Vata: Grounded, calm, clear.
Pitta Dosha Characteristics at a Glance:
Pitta is governed by the elements of fire and water. Pitta people tend to be passionate and intense. They generally have medium, athletic builds, paler, ruddier complexions and lighter colored eyes. They exhibit strong precision, willfulness, focus, courage, articulate speech and goal oriented behavior. Pitta individuals have strong appetites, strong thirst, and generally have regular digestion. When out of balance, a pitta person will overwork, burning the candle at both ends. An out of balance pitta person will become aggravated, overly competitive, controlling, quarrelsome, intolerant and enraged. Excess pitta manifests as inflammation, infection and irritation.
Movement and Yoga for Pitta Dosha:
Think relaxed, calm and balanced. Pitta energy is hot and tends to concentrate in the head and belly. Pitta types have a strong drive and tend to like challenging sports (skiing, hiking, tennis, and mountain climbing). Because of their competitive nature, Pittas need to be careful not to increase their stress while exercising - comparing themselves to others or wanting to win at all costs. A Pitta will tend to be governed more by the head than by the body, so a Pitta’s challenge in movement is listening to the body. Pittas are often natural athletes and are good at all exercise in moderation. Pittas benefit spending time in nature. Swimming is great for Pittas as it cools their fire. Pitta people benefit from having a relaxed attitude toward their yoga practice. Pitta bodies tend to generate excess heat, so it is recommended that they avoid yoga styles that provoke profuse sweating and/or incorporate really long holds that can generate a lot of heat in the head. Practicing yoga in the cooler part of the day is helpful. Pitta fire is in the belly so all poses that open and stretch the chest and belly but are not held for too long are helpful such as belly down backbends, pigeon pose prep, camel, upward bow, and Half Moon. Strong warrior sequences and arm balances and headstand can aggravate pitta if held for long periods. Savasana for soothing the body after asana is crucial. Pranayama practices that are cool such as sitali are beneficial.
Diet for Pitta Dosha:
Fiery pitta needs to be cooled down. Pittas do well with food served room or cool temperatures, but not ice cold which inhibits digestion. Pitta types often have a strong appetite and good overall digestion. Sweet, ripe fruits and all vegetables except garlic, tomatoes, radishes, and chilies are pitta-pacifying. Moderate portions of dairy products may be fine. Pittas should minimize sour, salty or pungent foods.
Signs of balance for Pitta: Relaxed, absence of inflammation and irritation, open-hearted attitude, patience, tolerance.
Kapha Dosha Characteristics at a Glance:
Kapha is governed by the elements of water and earth and tend to be calm, unruffled people by nature. Kapha individuals tend to have larger, stable body types, large, soft eyes, slower metabolisms. When in balance, kapha people tend to be grounded, consistent, calm, romantic, devoted, and patient. When out of balance, kapha people can be stubborn, feel stuck and sluggish in body and mind, tend toward procrastination, weight gain, excessive sleep, and may become possessive, melancholy and depressed. Kapha is aggravated by cool and damp weather.
Movement and Yoga for Kapha Dosha:
Think invigorating, stimulating and energizing. Kapha energy contains, collects, rather than dissipates. Because of this, Kapha bodies have more natural stamina and strength than the other two doshas but if the kapha dosha is out of balance, a kapha person can tend to feel lethargic and carry excess weight. Because Kapha individuals have strong, steady energy and great physical strength, they enjoy and can excel at endurance sports (long distance running, aerobics, dance, soccer, rowing). Any kind of aerobic activity that works up a good sweat is powerful for clearing Kapha congestion and sluggishness. It may take more to kickstart a kapha, but when a kapha person gets going their stamina will carry them far.
Faster paced, vinyasa style practices that help to warm and lighten are beneficial and will aid in circulation and digestion. Kapha bodies benefit from a challenging practice that generates heat and counters the kapha tendency toward sluggishness and cold. Kapha people also may enjoy yoga more when they do it with friends because relationships are vitally important to kapha dosha. Good pranayama practices for kapha are stimulating and warming such as: ujjayi, kapalabati, and bhastrika.
Diet for Kapha:
Cool, denser kapha bodies needs to be stimulated and warmed up. Light, dry, warm foods reduce kapha. Use minimal amounts of fats and oils. Lighter grains such as quinoa, millet, and buckwheat are the better for kapha types, as are light, dry fruits, such as apples and cranberries. Kaphas should minimize dairy and animal products as these can lead to congestion. Kapha types can eat all spices and herbs but need to be cautious with salt.
Signs of Balance for Kapha: Comfortable, good energy, invigorated, healthy body weight, and absence of congestion.
What constitutional types) or doshas seems to best fit who you?
Note: Most people exhibit more than one dosha with one dosha being more dominant. Constitutional types include:
Vata, Pitta, Kapha, Vata-Pitta, Pitta-Vata, Vata-Kapha or Vata-Pitta-Kapha
Take an Ayurvedic Constitution Assessment
Download and print this PDF to discover your Ayurvedic dosha
Download the Discover Your Dosha graphic
Interested in learning more?
If you are interested in learning more about how Ayurveda can help you align your body with the rhythms of nature for better sleep, better nutrition, and optimal energy, please contact me.