What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is a 5000-year old system of holistic medicine that originated in India. It is thought to be the oldest system of medicine in existence. It literally translates to mean “the science of life.” In this way, Ayurveda’s aim is not to simply treat disease, but rather to maintain optimal health and prolong life.

So what is Ayurveda? What are its uses? Ayurveda is mind-body-spirit medicine. It sees the human body as a microcosm of the greater macrocosm of nature and the Universe. In other words, the same things that happen in nature during the changing of the seasons and from night to day, also happen within our bodies and minds.

One of the ways in which Ayurveda explains these actions and their impacts is through the 3 dosha types – vata, pitta and kapha.

Three Doshas – Vata, Pitta, Kapha

The ancient sages that cognized Ayurveda discovered that everything in the Universe as made up of the five elements – earth, air, fire, water and space. The way they further categorized these elements was with the three Ayurveda dosha types:

Vata: Air and Space

Pitta: Fire and Water

Kapha: Water and Earth

There are seven possible combinations of these Ayurveda dosha types that exist: Vata-Pitta, Vata-Kapha, Pitta-Vata, Pitta-Kapha, Kapha-Vata, Kapha-Pitta and Vata-Pitta-Kapha.

Dosha means “weakness.” So if you have a Pitta dosha dominance, that means you are more susceptible to aggravating pitta dosha and need to pay special attention to the foods and habits that may do so. There are many free quizzes available online that can help you determine your Ayurveda dosha type.

Prakriti and Vikruti

The Ayurveda dosha types exist in everything – our physiology, our psychology and in everything in nature. Within the body, the doshas make up our Prakriti and Vikruti. Prakriti, means “nature” or “original creation” and refers to the original state of something or of an individual’s being, otherwise known as their Constitution. A person’s constitution is determined by the interplay and balance of the three Ayurveda dosha types, which influence their body type and personality.

VIkruti means “after creation” and refers to the imbalance of the doshas that occurs after birth due to external influences in the environment such as diet, lifestyle, trauma, etc. It is the imbalances which lead to disease.

Vata - Air and Space

Within the body and mind, vata dosha governs movement, transportation and communication. It regulates the breath, movements of the limbs, circulation of the blood, elimination, menstruation and thoughts. The qualities of vata are cold, light, dry, rough, hard, moving and irregular.

Physiologically, those with vata dosha predominance will tend to be naturally lean, agile with dark hair and eyes. They tend to be energetic, yet can fatigue easily. They are light sleepers, have sensitive and irregular digestion and typically experience dry skin and hair and cold hands and feet. When vata dosha is out of balance it may result in constipation, insomnia, arthritis, weight loss and weakness.

On a psychological level, vata dosha is enthusiastic, social and creative, yet focus can be an issue as the mind tends to get distracted easily. When out of balance, vata dosha may present as anxiety, lack of focus, stress, overwhelm and guilt.

Routine, regularity, nurturing activities and consuming warm, cooked foods are especially beneficial to keep vata in balance.

Pitta - Fire and Water

Pitta dosha governs digestion, metabolism and transformation. It regulates energy production and all metabolic processes within the body. The qualities of pitta are hot, light, sharp, intense slightly oily and flowing.

Those with a pitta dosha predominance will tend to have a more athletic build, with blond or red hair and blue eyes, and tend to run warm. Strong digestion and a healthy metabolism are characteristics of pitta dosha, as are a strong sex drive, robust energy, lustrous skin complexion and sleep soundly for short bouts of time. When out of balance, pitta dosha can contribute to skin rashes, allergies, premature balding, inflammation, ulcers, indigestion and heartburn.

Pittas also tend to be very ambitious, talkative and outspoken. They are incredibly intelligent with a strong ability to focus and concentrate. They are go-getters and like to check things of the list to get to the next goal. When out of balance, pitta can lead to intense anger, blaming and an argumentative nature.

Taking rest and regular breaks are important for pitta’s determined nature. To keep pitta in balance, spending time in nature and not skipping meals are also essential.

Kapha - Water and Earth

Kapha governs the strength, structure and lubrication. It regulates the body’s immunity and holds the body’s muscles, bones and tendons together. The qualities of kapha are cool, heavy, cloudy, unctuous, stable, soft and slow.

People with a kapha dosha predominance will tend to have a larger body type, with smooth, supple skin, large eyes, and thick hair. They sleep soundly, however, need to be cautious about oversleeping. Kapha types tend to be less active so physical activity is especially important for this dosha. When out of balance, kapha dosha can lead to weight gain, weakened immunity, excess colds/congestion, edema, diabetes and asthma.

On a psychological level, kaphas have a very nurturing and motherly nature. They are calm, patient, loyal and generally cheerful. Routine can come easy for kaphas. However, when out of balance, excess kapha can lead to depression, an inability to let go of things, stubbornness and avoidance.

Breaking routine and seeking new adventures and activities are great for kapha types. Regular physical activity first thing in the morning, eating a light diet, fasting once a week and reducing sweets are necessary to keep kapha in balance.

Like increases Like and Opposites

Two of the main principles to understand when it comes to dosha imbalance are that of “like increasing like” and the principle of “opposites.”

“Like increases like” essentially means that if you eat something cold, you will increase cold in the body, which is a quality of vata and kapha. For someone with a vata dosha predominance (or a vata imbalance), it’s important to be extra cautious of eating too many foods with vata qualities and partaking in vata-aggravating activities.

Instead, adhering to the principle of opposites will be most beneficial to a vata balancing diet – eat more warm, grounding foods, practice less stimulating and intense physical activity, and maintain regular routine.