Ayurveda 101: The Science of Life

"Doshas are biological energies found throughout the human body and mind. They govern all physical and mental processes and provide every living being with an individual blueprint for health and fulfillment."

Have you ever wondered what actually accounts for differences in people? Why some people are hyperactive and fast-moving, while others exude grace and stillness? Why some people can eat a five-course meal with ease, while others can barely finish a salad? Why some people are inherently joyous, while others carry the weight of the world on their shoulders? Genetics offers some insight, but what about the characteristics and idiosyncrasies that make every person unique? Ayurveda answers these questions with the three Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.

The three doshas derive from the five elements - space, air, fire, earth, water -  and their related properties. Vata is composed of space and air, pitta of fire and water, and kapha of earth and water.

A person with a predominantly vata constitution will have physical and mental qualities that reflect the elemental qualities of space and air. That is why vata types are commonly quick thinking, thin, and fast moving. A pitta type, on the other hand, will have qualities reflective of fire and water, such as a fiery personality and oily skin. A kapha type will typically have a solid bodily frame and calm temperament, reflecting the underlying elements of earth and water. 

While one dosha predominates in most individuals, a second dosha typically has a strong influence. This is referred to as a dual-doshic constitution. (To begin figuring out your own unique constitution, complete the Dosha Quiz listed under "Resources".)

These doshas are dynamic energies that constantly change in response to the foods we eat, our emotions, the seasons, and any other sensory inputs that feed our mind and body. When we live in alignment with true individual nature, we generally make lifestyle and dietary decisions that foster balance within our doshas. When we choose unhealthy patterns, we end up with physical and mental imbalances.

We are most susceptible to imbalances related to our predominant dosha. If you’re a pitta type, for example, you may experience heartburn (a common pitta disorder) after eating spicy foods. The key to remember is that like increases like, while opposites create balance. By simply choosing cooling or more alkalizing foods, you can avoid heartburn, while also supporting your underlying make-up, or constitution.


Vata

This dosha derives from the elements of space and air and translates as “that which moves things.” It is the energy of movement and the force governing all biological activity. Vata is often called the “King of the doshas,” since it governs the body’s greater life force and gives motion to pitta and kapha.

Just as the wind in balance provides movement to the natural world, a balanced vata is active, creative and has a natural ability to express and communicate. When the wind in a vata type rages like a hurricane, negative qualities quickly overshadow these positive attributes. Common signs of vata imbalance include anxiety and bodily disorders related to dryness, such as dry skin and constipation.

The qualities of Vata are dry, rough, light, cold, subtle, and mobile. A Vata individual will display physical and mental characteristics that reflect these qualities in both a balanced and an imbalanced state.

The main locations of Vata in the body are the colon, thighs, bones, joints, ears, skin, brain, and nerve tissues. Physiologically, vata governs anything related to movement, such as breathing, talking, nerve impulses, movements in the muscles and tissues, circulation, assimilation of food, elimination, urination, and menstruation. Psychologically, vata governs communication, creativity, flexibility, and quickness of thought.

Key Words to remember: Grounding, Warming, Routine
 

Pitta

This dosha derives from the elements of fire and water and translates as “that which cooks.” It is the energy of digestion and metabolism in the body. While pitta is most closely related to the element of fire, it is the liquid nature of these substances that accounts for the element of water in pitta’s make-up.

The qualities of pitta are oily, sharp, hot, light, moving, liquid, and acidic. A pitta individual will display physical and mental characteristics that reflect these qualities in both a balanced and imbalanced state.

The main locations of pitta in the body are the small intestine, stomach, liver, spleen, pancreas, blood, eyes, and sweat. Physiologically, pitta provides the body with heat and energy through the breakdown of complex food molecules. It governs all processes related to conversion/transformation throughout the mind and body. Psychologically, pitta governs joy, courage, willpower, anger, jealousy, and mental perception. It also provides the radiant light of the intellect.

When a person has a tendency to “overheat,” excess pitta is usually the culprit. Just as a campfire may turn into a forest fire without proper care, the internal fire of the mind and body must be kept in check.

The balanced Pitta individual is blessed with a joyful disposition, a sharp intellect, and tremendous courage and drive. As the fire of the mind and body becomes unruly, however, the laughing pitta can quickly become the yelling pitta. Anger, rage, and ego replace pitta’s positive attributes, leaving an individual who is bitter with life and overbearing towards others. Pitta imbalances commonly manifest in the body as infection, inflammation, rashes, ulcers, heartburn, and fever.

Key Words to Remember: Cooling, Calming, Moderation

 

Kapha

This dosha derives from the elements of earth and water and translates as “that which sticks.” It is the energy of building and lubrication that provides the body with physical form, structure, and the smooth functioning of all its parts. Kapha can be thought of as the essential cement, glue, and lubrication of the body in one.

The qualities of kapha are moist, cold, heavy, dull, soft, sticky, and static. A kapha type will display physical and mental characteristics that reflect these qualities in both a balanced and imbalanced state.

The main locations of kapha in the body are the chest, throat, lungs, head, lymph, fatty tissue, connective tissue, ligaments, and tendons. Physiologically, kapha moistens food, gives bulk to our tissues, lubricates joints, stores energy, and relates to cool bodily fluids such as water, mucous, and lymph. Psychologically, kapha governs love, patience, forgiveness, greed, attachment, and mental inertia. With its earthly makeup, kapha grounds vata and pitta and helps offset imbalances related to these doshas.

Just as a nourishing rainstorm may turn into a rampant flood, the fluids of the body may flood the bodily tissues, contributing to a heavy dampness that weighs down the body and clouds the mind. This dense, cold, and swampy environment becomes the breeding ground for a number of bodily disorders such as obesity, sinus congestion, and anything related to mucous. Mentally, the loving and calm disposition of the kapha individual may transform into lethargy, attachment, and depression.

Key words to remember: Drying, Stimulating, and Expression

Sachi Doctor

Elemental Alchemy, 90 Rio Vista Avenue, Oakland, CA, 94611

Sachi Doctor is an Ayurvedic practitioner and holistic health coach who founded Elemental Alchemy with the mission to provide a resource for those navigating their way towards optimal mind-body health.

Diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at a young age, Sachi has spent over twenty years exploring different health modalities, treatment plans, diets and mindfulness practices to help alleviate chronic pain and restore balance.

After years of looking to others for a model of health with no relief, Sachi realized that the answers she sought were not hidden in someone else’s prescription for wellness but unique to her, and that the first step towards discovery was actually tuning out what was right for others and tuning into herself.

As she tapped into the wisdom of her own body, she discovered that the elements foundational for health  — the blueprint she so fervently sought — was within her, within each of us. Since then Sachi has been passionate about helping others also cultivate clarity and inner wisdom for vibrant health.

In addition to her Ayurvedic and nutrition education, Sachi has completed over 800 hours of yoga teacher training and continues to study with her mother, her first yoga teacher, for whom these practices are a way of life.

Sachi is a board member of the Prison Yoga Project at San Quentin State Prison and serves as an ambassador for Yoga Gives Back, a non-profit that raises funds within the US yoga community to support microcredit programs for women in India. She holds a Msc in Development from the London School of Economics.