Ayurveda literally translated means “the science of life”. It is a philosophy that dates back thousands of years. Today, the World Health Organization recognizes Ayurveda as a traditional system of medicine. In fact, the Organization adapted its formal definition of health from Ayurvedic teachings.
Ayurveda holds the view that all things in the universe, including humans are made up of five basic elements: earth, fire, water, air and space. Each element has its own qualities for example: earth has the quality of heaviness; water, the quality of coolness; fire has the quality of heat; air, the quality of movement, and space the quality of subtleness.
The elements and their corresponding qualities are paired together to form three “doshas”. In terms of the human body, we can think of the doshas as mind-body types.
Elements and the Doshas
Your dosha type determines your physical and psychological tendencies.
Understanding your dosha type helps you make choices in life that support your health instead of undermine it. When you nurture your true nature you feel your best.
All About Balance
According to Ayurveda, we can get out of balance by accumulating an excess of one or more of the elements. This leads to undesirable symptoms and conditions and can lead to long-term chronic illness.
To regain or maintain balance, Ayurveda uses a principle of opposites. Many things affect our doshic balance since everything in the universe is comprised of the same basic elements as we are. Some things we have control over, like what we eat, and others we simply need to be aware of so we can understand the dynamics of how external things like seasonal change affect us.
Control Over: What we eat – What we do – What we think
Little or No Control Over: Seasons – Time of Day – Stage of Life
Below are some examples of how our choices affect our doshic balance:
Vata types are cold, dry and mobile. Cold, dry windy fall/early winter weather can be problematic for Vata types, sometimes leading to conditions like insomnia, constipation and feeling scattered. Eating warm, moist nourishing soups and stews, using warming spices like cinnamon and choosing activities that emphasize stability and focus during the cold, windy months can help Vata’s energy stay more consistent and help them stay more grounded.
Pitta types are hot and fiery. Playing aggressive sports and eating hot spicy foods in the heat of summer may lead to heartburn, increased irritability and impatience for Pitta. Choosing an activity like swimming in cool calm water during hot days and eating watery, cooling foods like watermelon would be more beneficial for Pitta balance.
Kapha types are heavy and static by nature. During late winter/early spring Kapha types may be especially prone to congestion. Kapha types will benefit from reducing frozen, sweet or rich foods and drinks like milkshakes, avocado and banana, which lead to more congestion. Eating lightly and participating in activities that encourage movement, like aerobics or dance, can help Kapha types feel more balanced.
Birth Dosha (Prakriti) and Current Condition (Vikruti)
When we think about staying balanced we need to remember that what you are balancing is the elemental qualities you were born with: your birth dosha or Ayurvedic constitution known as your Prakriti in Ayurveda.
Although all three doshas (and their corresponding qualities) are present in all things, there is usually one or two doshas that are more prevalent in each of us at birth. This does not change throughout our life time. Your Prakriti is your Prakriti. You are you.
However, since we all have at least some of all three doshas, we can become unbalanced in any one of them. For example, even if you are a Vata type by birth, you can still experience a “Pitta overload”. All that means is you’ve added too much of the qualities that are present in Pitta (sharp, hot, liquid etc) to your constitution.
Having said that, you have more of a tendency for overload in the qualities you already possess more of. Vata types for example are light, subtle, cool and mobile by nature. These qualities are more likely to become overloaded simply because by nature, Vata already has more of these qualities to begin with.
Generally, Ayurvedic practitioners are working primarily with your current imbalance (Vikruti) but also factor in your general health history, your birth constitution (Prakriti) and your current lifestyle to come up with the best treatment plan for you.
Ayurvedic Yoga for Your Dosha Type
As we said above, one of the things we can control is what we do. Ayurvedic Yoga is one of the best ways to help bring your dosha back into balance. Rather than one-size-fits-all, Ayurvedic yoga is done one-on-one and uses postures, breathing practices, relaxation techniques and meditations that are specifically designed to balance your particular mind/body type, or dosha type.
For example, if you are a hot, fiery Pitta type, you may be prone to impatience or physical conditions like heartburn when you push yourself too hard. To counter these tendencies, your practice will be more cooling and calming. If you are a light and mobile Vata type, you may have a tendency towards being “spacey” or suffer from insomnia when you’re been doing too many things at once. To create better balance, your practice would be geared towards stability and grounding. If you are a solid and heavy Kapha type, your practice would be a little more dynamic and light to counter Kapha’s tendency towards congestion and lethargy.
Knowing your elemental type, or dosha type and understanding your current elemental status is knowledge you can put to practical use to help you feel strong, healthy, happy and vibrant.