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.
Translated as the science of life, Ayurveda is an ancient system of healing from India. According to Ayurveda, our well-being is related to the balance between the body, mind, and spirit as well as our relationship to the external environment. Ayurveda believes in five elements: earth, fire, water, air, and ether/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.
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’re quick to walk and talk, changeable, and often hard to pin down for a date. They might also be thinner. Ayurvedically speaking, you’re 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, or pitta, in their constitution.
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 counselor 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, and anxious. Our digestion also 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 burned out and feel 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 points. 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’re 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 one hour before bedtime, which will help to calm the nervous system impacted by vata.
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 warm, spiced milks.
Slow down the pace of your life.
Avoid multitasking and create boundaries regarding answering emails. Choose one thing and do it slowly, which 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 more slowly paced yoga class.
To Balance Pitta:
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. Stay calm and still enjoy yourself. Keep 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 essential oils to soothe your soul.
To Balance Kapha:
Commit to daily exercise.
Kapha needs to sweat to move out excess energy 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. 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 and less meat. Add warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper to your food. 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, according to Ayurveda, we inhabit this lifetime to carry out a specific purpose. If we’re able to stay healthy, we’re 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.