What's a dosha?
"Same same but different." This was an expression the locals said when I was visiting Thailand, and holds true for how I can explain the concept of an individual constitution. Ayurveda recognizes that we are a microcosm of the macrocosm, like a mini universe, and the five elements in nature are reflected in each and every one of our bodies. Air moves as we breathe, fire digests our food, water makes up our blood and plasma, earth gives us substance and fat, ether (or space) is found inside bones and inside the entire GI tract, to name a few quick examples. Fire is hot, sharp and transforms by cooking or burning. Water is cool and fluid, and nourishes our cells. Earth is solid, stable, and supports. Air is light, dry and moves. Ether is expansive, subtle, and clear. It's that "high vibe" feeling you get after eating at Life Alive, or the rejuvenation you feel in savasana.
These five elements combine to form the three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. The three doshas are energies that exist in everybody and everything, including seasons, times of day, and stages of life. Their qualities are used to describe your food, body, mind, and environment. To break each one down:
Vata is air and ether
Pitta is fire and water
Kapha is earth and water
What do these energies do?
Vata controls movement. Think of all the movement happening in our bodies: walking, talking, chewing, peristalsis, firing synapses in our nervous system, eliminating waste, breathing, thinking, and the heart's pulsation. Healthy vata promotes creativity, good elimination and enthusiasm. Imbalanced vata leads to anxiety, gas/bloating and abnormal movements.
Pitta transforms or digests. It's the body's metabolism; it assimilates, absorbs, and digests everything we take in. Pitta is a combo of fire and water, which can seem incompatible, but think of bile and digestive, acidic juices. Healthy pitta means proper body temperature regulation, vision, appetite, a luster to your skin and hair, intelligence, courage, confidence and drive. Imbalanced pitta leads to excess fire or water, which manifests as acid or burning in the GI, acne or skin rashes, anger, overly competitive, early balding or greying, excess sweating, red or yellow in the whites of the eye, live problems, diarrhea and ulcers.
Kapha's function is structure and lubrication. Pain free joints are thanks to kapha. A healthy lymphatic system and therefore strong immune system is due to kapha. Hydrated cells, smooth skin, thick hair is because of kapha. Kapha supports any fluids in the body so it also supports reproductive health, both in men and women, and production of breast milk. Our substance, muscles, fat, connective tissue, and the lining of our intestines, heart and lungs are all supported by nourishing the kapha dosha. Our entire nervous system is coated and dependent on fats, which is one reason Ayurveda is obsessed with eating ghee. Because of the dense and heavy qualities of earth and water, excess kapha dosha can lead to weight gain, mucous or congestion, allergies, and edema.
Your Unique Body Type
Everyone is born with a unique constitution that shapes their physical features, personalities, tendencies, and passions. Your constitution is a combination of vata, pitta, and kapha, with one or two predominant. During a consultation, I look for the dominant dosha in a number of categories. Try a couple questions:
1. How do you sleep?
a. difficulty falling asleep, light sleeper, especially from 2-6am
b. moderate and sound, but sometimes stay up doing work
c. deep and long
a. vata types tend towards worry which can make going to sleep tough. Vata has the light quality, so even sleep can be light.
b. pittas are middle of the road and can sleep well if they let their brains turn off.
c. kapha's qualities are dense and heavy, so that applies to sleep as well. These guys can sleep forever like a rock.
2. How do you gain weight?
a. have a hard time putting on weight, sometimes forget to eat
b. can both put on weight or lose it fast if I try
c. gain weight just looking at food and have a hard time losing
a. vata: typically lean
b. pitta: medium build, muscular body type
c. kapha: curvy, bigger build
The Difference Between Prakriti and Vikriti:
It can be really fun to figure out your constitution because it explains your tendencies, like why some people love a hot humid tropical vacation and others crave snow covered mountains. Or homebodies vs. adventure seekers. But there are two types of constitutions, your prakriti, which is your constitution at birth, and your vikriti, your current state of imbalance. It can be really difficult to figure out your true nature because of our unnatural modern lifestyle. We are able to stay up late and work from home on computers and scroll social media on phones, we surround ourselves with artificial light that messes with our hormones, and we can eat any food from any part of the world in any season, which we sometimes eat in front of our computer or TV.
So first and foremost we must identify the imbalance (vikriti), correct it, and start peeling back the layers until your prakriti, your true Ayurvedic constitution, is revealed. This is when you start feeling your best self.
How do doshas become imbalanced? Like Increases Like
Doshas have the tendency to get out of balance. It's actually expected when the season shifts, and even as you age. This is why so much emphasis is placed on foods and self care practices that balance these changes to. Ayurveda is essentially the art of keeping vata, pitta and kapha in the proper ratio for your constitution, in the current season, and current phase of life.
Summer is pitta season. When it's summer and it's hot AF and all you want are green juices, raw foods and ice cream, those are normal cravings because they are light foods and/or cool the body down. So then the leaves start to change and everything gets cold and crisp and windy and BAM it's vata season. If you continue your summer plan of green juices, raw foods and cold ice cream, your body will take on those same rough, cold, light qualities potentially leaving you cold, dry, constipated or gassy, and even feeling ungrounded or anxious. Who feels anxious in the fall? There's an energy of change. And so the antidote lies in the opposites. Bring in the warm, heavy, grounding foods and self care. Good quality wheat bread, sweet potatoes, pumpkin everything, warm oil massage, routines and stability!
So now you're feeling cozy and nourished eating alll the comfort food. But then kapha season hits in late winter/early spring and the ground starts to thaw. It's the season of earth and water, and overall there is a heaviness in the air. The body starts to thaw too (runny nose season!), so if you keep indulging in heavy foods during mud season, expect weight gain, mental fog, congestion and seasonal allergies. Ugh this was always my worst season and now I know why. But no worries guys! Kapha season has its own list of opposites: spicy light foods like steamed asparagus, ginger tea, anything clear. It's all about lightening and invigorating, so hot yoga and spin class make sense here. Sauna, dry brush. Anything light, dry, and hot. Do you see the pattern? Figure out the season, remember the predominant elements, and look to bring in the opposite elements in the form of food, exercise, and self care.
Even if you don't know what your constitution is yet, start thinking about the qualities of the season. As I write this it's 90 degrees out. If the environment resembles pitta (the fire dosha), I go for a sweaty run in the hot sun, and I choose to eat foods that increase pitta, like spicy, sharp, sour or salty food, like increases like and I could tip the scales towards pitta imbalance. I might get heartburn or a skin rash, or see fire in my personality and get a little impatient or hot tempered. So food can be medicinal to balance the qualities of the season. Cooling food like cucumber, coconut water, cilantro, and blueberries are all foods in abundance in summer that cool the body and promote wellness. If it's determined that you also have a pitta constitution, you will find cooling, sweet, and bitter foods will be your friend most of the year, especially in summer.
If you can relate to this and feel like a pitta hot mess, see where else you can weave in cooling medicine. When I come home from walking in the hot city, I love to take a cool shower or even just run some cold water in the tub and rinse off my feet. If you're being judgy or critical to yourself or others, try a metta meditation to cultivate compassion. Rest your eyes on nature. My man and I have started a new habit of going on an after dinner walk around the Fenway gardens without our phones!!! One night during our tree-lined walk, a flock of baby geese and their geese parents started walking across the street towards the Museum of Fine Arts. This is a very busy road, so a very brave group of college boys jumped in as traffic police until they all crossed safely. This was highly instagramable, but without my phone I am still able to remember the soft glow of dusk, a refreshing breeze on my skin, the cute fuzzy and awkward baby geese, and enjoying nice chats with my man. Notice your night time patterns. Do you watch TV out of habit? Where can you increase your daily dose of nature or connection? Both will always be balancing to any dosha.