Ayurveda Basics: Balancing Your Doshas

But first, what’s a dosha?

From golden milk lattes; to smoothies fortified with coconut oil and cinnamon; and yoga classes that promise to balance your dosha, the healing power of Ayurveda seems to be everywhere. Yet for many of us, it’s a bit of a mystery. 

Ayurveda 101

Translated as the Science of Life, Ayurveda is an ancient system of healing from India. According to Ayurveda, our wellbeing is related to the balance between the body, mind and spirit as well as our relationship to our external environment.  Ayurveda believes in five elements: earth, fire, water, air and ether or space. These elements form everything from the taste of food, to the changing seasons, to our unique individual constitution.

These five elements also combine together to form three different vital bio energies called doshas. Our unique balance of doshas then informs our physical, emotional and mental characteristics.

Author: Insiya Rasiwala-Finn


What Are The Three Doshas?

The three doshas are vata, pitta and kapha. Each one of us has characteristics of all three doshas, yet some predominate, while others are secondary and even tertiary. Here’s how they break down into elements:

Vata is a combination of air and space.
Pitta is a combination of  fire and water.
Kapha is a combination of water and earth.

Doshas sound complex, but we use them colloquially in conversation all the time.  For example, consider someone you know who you think of as rather “airy.” Chances are, they are quick to walk and talk, changeable and often hard to pin down for a date.  They might also be thinner.  Ayurvedically, you are describing someone with a lot of the air element in their constitution, which would imply a prominence of the Vata dosha.

Similarly, do you know anyone that you’d describe as “fiery?”  They might be passionate, confident, determined, ambitious and athletic.  In Ayurveda, this individual has a lot of fire in their constitution – or Pitta.

Lastly, we have Kapha. Can you think of someone you know who is “earthy” or grounded? Kapha constitutions are dependable and larger boned. They give the best hugs and you can count on them to pick you up at the airport when you show up unannounced.

(Having trouble deciding what you are? You can always take a quiz online, or better yet, meet with an ayurvedic health counsellor to determine your exact constitution.)

When Your Doshas Become Unbalanced

Vata in balance is wonderful. It gives us creativity, quickness, alertness, sensitivity to new ideas and the ability to develop non-attachment to material things.  Many artists have much Vata in them. However, when we are overrun by Vata, we can become unfocused, unable to complete tasks, overwhelmed, anxious and our digestion suffers.

Pitta in balance allows us the ability to channel our creativity out in the world as concrete plans.  When out of balance, we can get burnt out, literally feeling adrenal fatigue. We tend towards irritability, anger and frustration and can suffer from ulcers and gastric reflux.

Kapha, the most stable of the three doshas when in balance offers us calm, patience and the ability to follow things through to their end point.  When we have too much Kapha, however, we can become too rigid.  We begin to lose our fire and become depressed, feel lethargic and gain weight.

Rebalancing Your Doshas

An Ayurvedic principle says: like increases like, while opposites balance. So to balance a particular dosha, we must cultivate the qualities opposite to the dosha(s) we are trying to balance. For example, if we have too much air in us, we need more fire and earth.  To achieve this, we then assess everything from the food we eat, to our daily routine, through the lens of the doshas.

It takes a lot of self-awareness, mindfulness and discipline to start to make the shifts that truly do help us to experience more balance.  But we have to start somewhere! Here are some practical suggestions to balance each of the doshas.

To Balance Vata:

Practice a routine. Vata loves spontaneity which can further throw it out of balance.  Create a disciplined routine around waking up, sleeping and eating your meals. Eat meals at the same time daily, wake early before sunrise,  and sleep by 10 p.m. to balance your hormones and endocrine system.

Minimize time spent on your tech devices. Turn everything off 1 hour before bedtime. This will help to calm the nervous system which is impacted by Vata.

Eat seasonally. In the winter, abstain from eating raw veggies and smoothies as they increase vata. Favor warm spiced soups and stews, cooked fruits and warm grains for breakfast and spiced, warm milks.

Slow down the pace of your life. Avoid multi-tasking and create boundaries regarding answering emails.  Choose one thing and do it slowly.  This will increase your focus and productivity.

Slow down your workout. Avoid too many quick sports such as running.  Instead, go for a sustained, longer walk out in nature. Try a slower paced yoga class.

To Balance Pitta:

Minimize coffee. Coffee is a pitta aggravating drink.  If you do drink coffee drink it with milk, which helps to cool the acidic heat of coffee.

Eat cooling foods. Grains such as cream of wheat and oats will bring cooling sustenance to your fire.  Eat leafy green salads and avoid too much red meat, which is also pitta provoking.

Practice sports without a competitive mindset. Challenge yourself physically but look at the entire practice as a journey, not a destination, so you can stay calm and still enjoy yourself. Stay away from hot yoga or any activities in a heated environment.

Dedicate your work to a higher cause. Cultivating an attitude of service will help ease your perfectionism and ego while allowing you to give back to others.

Indulge in a little self-care. Enjoy a bath with lavender and rose oils to soothe your soul.

To Balance Kapha:

Commit to daily exercise. Kapha needs to sweat to move out excess Kapha out and can endure stronger exercise such as long distance running, weights and vigorous yoga. You can also sustain some heat as Kapha tends to run cold.

Create more spontaneity in your life. Commit to trying one new thing every month, so you step outside your comfort zone and don’t spend too many nights on your couch.

Minimize dairy and carbs such as wheat in your diet. Instead eat grains such as quinoa, millet and barley which are lighter on the body.  Eat lots of vegetables, less meat. Add warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon and black pepper to your food and use only raw honey as a sweetener to your foods and tea.

Try dry brushing. Adding dry brushing to your daily routine after you shower will stimulate the lymphatic system.

The Benefits of Balancing

Ultimately, says Ayurveda, we inhabit this lifetime to carry out a specific purpose.  If we are able to stay healthy, we are able to fulfill our calling with more ease, vitality and bliss. And the more we can do to balance our constitution, the easier it is for us to stay truly healthy from the inside out.    

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