What is a Dosha?
The Ayurvedic concept of prakruti, which translates literally from Sanskrit as “nature, ” refers to our natural mind-body constitution – the unique characteristics that each of us is born with, perceptible through emotions, behavior, body type, metabolism, and health tendencies. The overall nature of a persons constitution is largely determined by which of the doshas (vata, pitta, or kapha) is predominant. All three doshas exist in varying levels in each of us. Imagine a pie chart with three sections – these proportions are different for each person, but always add up to 100 percent. When in equilibrium, the doshas help us to be our best selves. But when they go out of balance, they create problems such as sluggishness, dehydration, inflammation, and other sensitivities. If you consider that dosha literally translates from Sanskrit as “that which easily goes off balance, ” it becomes clear that staying in balance is a challenge for us all.
Most of us comprise more of one dosha than the other two, and our emotional capacities, physical characteristics, and behaviour will mostly reflect the qualities of the dominant dosha. Some of us exhibit more than one of the dosha characteristics, in that two of the three doshas exist more or less equally in a higher proportion relative to the third. These are “mixed dosha” types. It is quite common, for example, to be a vata-pitta type, exhibiting the physical and emotional characteristics of both doshas. In other cases, one dosha might dominate physical traits and another dosha show itself in emotional traits, or both characteristics could be a mix of both doshas. Very few people will actually have equal proportions of all three doshas, making them “tri-dosha” types.
The Vata Dosha
The characteristics of vata (air and space) can be likened to those of a desert or outer space – a vast amount of space with air moving through it. Unobstructed, the air can change its course with complete freedom and flexibility. People with a vata- dominant prakruti are creative and free-spirited. They have amazing thinking power and perhaps a bent towards spirituality. They make talented artists, composers, writers, or scientists. Saraswati, the Vedic goddess of knowledge, personifies the inner beauty of the vata dosha. She is the consort of Brahma, the creator of the universe, and represents learning, creativity, knowledge, and vitality of the intellect. In mythology she is always depicted holding a veena (a wind instrument), a book, and a beaded necklace, each bead representing a branch of ancient Vedic knowledge. Physically, vatas tend to be small boned, with a tendency towards dry, think, translucent skin; dry hair; cold extremities; and erratic eating patterns, behaviours, and habits. Vatas have a hard time sitting still.
Vata is the most volatile of the three doshas. Too much vata energy creates dryness in the colon, causing pain, fatigue, and lowered immunity. It sets into the mind as anxiety, the inability to focus, and fear. People with vata imbalances tend to be “spacey” and forgetful. They lack the ability to focus and have erratically. Low skin elasticity begins to manifest as wrinkles. This is exacerbated by delicate nerves and disturbed sleep patterns.
The Pitta Dosha
The pitta constitution (fire and water) is like a volcano – it has a liquid heat smoldering deep inside, which sometimes accumulates and comes rushing out with dynamic intensity and drive. People with a pitta–dominant prakruti are intense, organized, and execution oriented, with a fantastic sense of purpose. They are able to process thoughts in a logical manner and make excellent leaders, managers, or mathematicians. Parvati (or Durga) is the goddess of strength and power, and well represents the beauty of the pitta dosha, which can at once be destructive and dangerous as well as powerful and seductive. She is the consort of Shiva, the destroyer of negativity, and is his counterpart in providing humanity with the power of active energy to choose good over evil. Physically, pittas tend to have oily skin and hair with a “patchy” quality to it (This can mean an uneven skin tone, combination skin that is more oily in the T-zone, thinner hair, and / or a certain flush to the skin.) Their hair and skin react easily to hormonal sensitivity and they are generally more prone to feeling hot and irritable.
Pitta imbalances raise heat in the mid-digestive tract. Too much pitta energy manifests itself emotionally as anger, intolerance, and criticism or physically as acidity, inflammation, and sensitivities. People with pitta imbalances are prone to acne, heat toxins, any kind of “it is”, food sensitivities (or allergies), cosmetics, dust and pollen.
The Kapha Dosha
The soothing and stable qualities of kapha (water and earth) resemble those of clay – sand and water coming together to form something that can take shape and create vessels that have holding power without being easily disturbed. People with a kapha-dominated prakruti are nurturing, compassionate, meticulous, and have a wonderful ability to put physical structure to ideas and plans. These people make great health-care workers, caregivers, or workers in any occupation that requires persistence, physical stamina, and precision. Physically, they are heavier, stable people with skin that is cool and moist to the touch, thick hair all over the body; and thicker, more spongy skin. Kaphas tend to feel cold and break out into cool, clammy perspiration. The kapha dosha is synonymous with bounty and plentifulness, especially that which lasts a long time. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealthy, exemplifies the beauty of the kapha dosha. The consort of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, she is bountiful and earthy, always depicted with jewels and ornaments. Lakshmi is responsible for showering wealth and stability upon society.
Kapha imbalances secrete excess juices in the upper digestive tract, causing sluggishness, depression, water retention, fat, and excessive mucus. People with too much kapha energy have clogged pores and follicles; mousy, congested skin, and manifest “couch-potato” behaviour, where they remain lethargic and eat for comfort.
The Importance of Balance
The pressures of modern life wreak havoc with our doshas. In ancient times, people modelled their lifestyle on nature and the seasons. Today, environmental influences like light, heat and water that once ruled our work and sleep patterns now fall easily under our control. Conveniences like eating seasonal fruits year-round, driving instead of walking, and unhealthy diet and exercise habits distract us from our natural rhythms. As a result, it’s easy to find yourself run-down, stressed, and feeling out of balance. Our predominant dosha is understandably the one most likely to become imbalanced. Learning to read these signs will help you get back in balance quickly. Ayurveda recognizes the need to rejuvenate from within by setting the dosha composition back to prakruti, its natural starting point. This doesn’t mean returning to the ways of our ancestors, but rather, gently adjusting our lifestyle to bring us back into balance.
When first introduced to the concept, many ask the question, which of the doshas is the best? In fact, they are all the best when they are balanced, and they are all the worst when they are imbalanced. No matter what our dosha, the goal is to bring it into balance and live closest to prakruti, our natural state of inner beauty.
Have a read through the previous posts in this series: Part 1: An Introduction to Ayurveda and Part 2: Top 5 Ayurvedic Longevity Tips.
About the Author
Reenita Malhotra Hora is an Ayurveda Clinician and broadcast journalist with RTHK Radio 3 Reenita is the author of Forever Young – Unleashing the Magic of Ayurveda, published by Pan Macmillan India; Inner Beauty, published by Chronicle Books; and Ayurveda, The Ancient Medicine of India, published by Mandala press. Having founded, built and subsequently sold Ayoma, an Ayurvedic self care product line and the Ayoma LifeSpa, a premier Ayurvedic wellness spa, she has provided Ayurvedic spa therapy training to top spa wellness retreats like the Four Seasons, Champneys, the Canyon Ranch, and Miraval and has taught clinical and CME programs to health care practitioners at the University of California San Francisco, University of California at Davis and University of North Carolina’s Global Medical Education center, and yoga teachers through Los Angeles based Yoga Life.
Meet Reenita at Made in HK Local Artisans Pop Up
Reenita is hosting a customized Ayurvedic Beauty Bar in our Green Queen Living section on the Ground Floor of The Space (210 Hollywood Road) where she will be mixing bespoke ubtans, which are Ayurvedic cleansing scrubs. This involves a brief consultation with her where she will analyze you and determine your Ayurvedic dosha (mind-body type); she will then blend an ubtan specially suited for your needs and the current climate for you to take home and purify yourself with. Don’t miss out! She will also have copies of her bestselling book Forever Young – Unleashing the Magic of Ayurveda.
This article is excerpted and edited from Forever Young – Unleashing the Magic of Ayurveda. Photo credit: Shrini Photography via photopin cc.