Ayurveda is one of the oldest holistic health practices that originated in ancient India. We at Ayurkula believe that Ayurveda, in conjunction with modern-day science, has a great deal to teach us. In this blog post, we’ll be exploring the different doshas in Ayurveda, and answer the question: can your dosha change, and how?
Ayurveda and modern science
At Ayurkula, we like to think of Ayurveda as a simplified model that helps us to understand something incredibly complex: human health and wellness. Like all models, it’s not perfect, but it can be a powerful system for helping you optimize your health when used in conjunction with modern science.
Modern science has vastly improved our ability to treat diseases, but it often focuses on treating acute disease rather than preventing illness. Ayurveda, on the other hand, focuses on holistic health and the prevention of illness by making choices that will improve our mental and physical health.
The Ayurvedic approach is very individualized. Many Ayurvedic foods or plants have been marketed as “superfoods” for everyone, whereas in traditional Ayurveda their use is recommended for some but discouraged for others. A practitioner will seek to understand your individual baseline health state and recommend interventions that balance your deviations from that baseline. This is where doshas come in.
Before we get into the ways your doshas can change, let’s review what they are in the first place. Doshas are one of the most important concepts in an Ayurvedic framework: the three doshas, Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha.
Let’s dive into one of the most important concepts in an Ayurvedic framework: the three doshas, Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha.
What are doshas in Ayurveda?
In Ayurveda, people are said to be made up of three different doshas, which can very roughly be understood as variables that characterize our physical and psychological nature.
There are three doshas: Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha. We exhibit doshas in different proportions. Each has beneficial qualities when in line with our steady state, and detrimental qualities when it is out of balance from our steady state.
Ayurveda asks two main questions: (1) what is your individual baseline dosha, or constitution (your natural state), and (2) how are you out of balance from it?
Your individual’s baseline constitution, called your swabhav, is determined at conception and does not generally change. However our swabhav is generally fully manifested and discernible best in our youthful state. Your swabhav is made up of your ratios of physical and mental attributes, which are called doshas and gunas. Here, we’ll focus on doshas.
As we go through our lives, we deviate from our steady state. Our proportion of doshas changes with age, season, and even time of day. Pronounced deviations manifest as physiological or psychological disturbances, which we call vikritti.
Depending on your specific constitution, you may benefit from exposing yourself to more or less of certain foods or environments. In fact, science is increasingly corroborating that food can affect people in different ways, for example causing blood sugar spikes in some, but not others.
The different types of doshas in Ayurveda
Each person has a different proportion of each dosha. There can be at least seven combinations depending on the dosha dominance: Vatta, Pitta, Kapha, Vatta-Pitta, Vatta-Kapha, Pitta-Kapha, and Vatta-Pitta-Kapha.
In fact Vatta, Pitta and Kapha can be associated with both physiological and behavioral characteristics. They also are associated with particular disease conditions when they are out of balance from someone’s steady state.
It is critical to know both your swabhav dosha combination and your current deviations from it. Your swabhav combination may broadly be Pitta type, for example, but you may be currently exhibiting an overdominance of Vatta.
Vatta Ayurveda type:
Vatta is associated with properties of air, water, coolness, dryness, and light. Vata impacts the input/output and transport mechanisms in the body, such as breathing or transporting digested food through our intestines.
- Body constitution: Tall, prominent bones, low weight, dry skin, thin hair, variable
hunger, less sleep
- Behavior: Creative, grounded, quick, adaptable
- In extreme: Anxiety, nervousness, arthritis, insomnia
Pitta Ayurveda type:
Pitta is associated with the properties of fire, water, heat, slight oiliness, light, and sharpness. Pitta impacts transformation in the body, for example the breakdown of food through bile or the processing of emotions.
- Body constitution: Medium build, moderate weight, good musculature, good hunger, moderate sleep
- Behavior: Goal-oriented, sharp mind, courageous
- In extreme: Quick/sharp anger, temperamental, gastric issues, inflammation
Kapha Ayurveda type:
Kapha is associated with the properties of earth, water, cold, oiliness, heaviness, softness, slowness, and stability. Kapha impacts the assimilation, storage, and energy input mechanisms in the body, like the creation of the body structure or the assimilation of fat.
- Body constitution: stocky or big and tall, heavy, oily or smooth skin, a generous appetite, heavy sleep
- Behavior: calm, steady mind, loving and compassionate
- In extreme: Diabetes, sleep apnea, lethargy, excess attachment
Can your dosha change?
Your swabhav, or ideal balance, of your dosha doesn’t not change, but you can deviate from it. It is like an idealized weight range for our health—we each have our own ideal range depending on various factors including gender, age, genetics, and individual circumstance, but we can deviate from it.
These deviations happen as our underlying doshas change from our swabhav, or baseline state, on the basis of two reasons.
One reason for fluctuation is natural processes that don’t normally cause disease, such as age, season, or time of day. Youth, summertime, and mid-afternoon are all associated with the Pitta dosha, for example. The body is able to automatically adjust to these fluctuations and maintain a state of dynamic equilibrium.
A second reason that your doshas can change are lifestyle and environmental influences, which often result in disease. If we eat too much inflammatory food or sleep too little at night, we may risk disease as the body fails to achieve dynamic equilibrium. The lifestyle and environmental driven extreme influences on doshas are captured in this Sanskrit shloka:
Lifestyle and environmental influences which lead to insufficient, wrong, or excessive utilization of time, and sense organs including mind and speech are responsible for dosha imbalance leading to disease. Whereas balanced utilization leads to a healthy state.
The natural reasons your dosha can change
It is logical that we are closely intertwined with our environment. In fact, in 2017, the Nobel prize in medicine went to research on the consequences of not synchronizing our actions with our circadian rhythms, which can include both daily and seasonal change.
This Sanskrit sloka from the Ashtanga Hridayam, from around 500 AD, captures this point:
The day to day variations in physiology denoted by Vatta, Pitta, Kapha are referred to here and are noted to be predominantly present in the last, middle and first stages of day, night, meals and life.
The chart below exhibits how doshas can vary with time of day, season, and age. Let’s look at them one at a time.
Your dosha can change throughout the day
Different doshas are prominent in different parts of the day. Kapha dominates during the early morning (6-10am) and early evening (6-10pm). Kapha connotes stability, so early morning before sunrise would be an ideal time to sit down to meditate. To counterbalance Kapha and add heat as you transition to your day, you may want to have warm teas at these times as well.
Pitta dominates in mid-day (10am-2pm) and midnight (10pm-2am). Since Pitta helps spark our digestive fire, the heaviest meal of the day should ideally be reserved for noon, when your Pitta is highest.
Vatta is dominant in the afternoon (2pm-6pm) and late night to early morning (2am-6am). Vatta connotes mobility, making the afternoon a good time for a workout.
Your dosha changes with the seasons
Spring and winter are Kapha dominant, summer is Pitta dominant, and the windy Fall is Vatta dominant. Generally, Ayurveda advises people to follow a lifestyle in tune with the seasons.
Someone with a Pitta overdominance may have to work harder in the summertime to get back to balance. Seasonal cooling foods like mint, cucumber, or fennel may be used to counter gastric issues resulting from excess Pitta. Conversely, you can include seasonal heating herbs like cinnamon and cloves in the winter to counter cool Kapha.
Your dosha changes with age
A natural progression in dominance of doshas occurs as we grow up. The growing body of a child has a natural Kapha dominance, since the Kapha dosha is assimilative in nature and contributes to growth. In contrast, our youth is dominated by the Pitta dosha, which connotes transformation and action. Finally, old age is dominated by Vata and gradual disintegration as the body slowly dries and withers away like a fall leaf.
How do you keep your doshas in balance?
Ordinarily, you don’t have to do much. Given natural processes like time of day or season, your body is capable of maintaining a dynamic equilibrium. Just follow natural circadian rhythm, listen to your body signals, and eat seasonally in line with nature’s offerings.
That said, some general practices are helpful regardless of your dosha type. These would include eating at the right time, not overcooking or overprocessing food, avoiding complex food mixtures, and keeping food simple. They would also include gentle deep breathwork and basic meditation practice.
When your doshas are out of balance, the first thing to do is to try to remove the root cause of imbalance. Removing negative inputs (whether food or mental stimuli) is more important than adding any additional supplements. Both grazing on TikTok and snacking on chips are unhelpful, since it is important to periodically create an empty peaceful mind as well as an empty relaxed stomach! You may also try to counterbalance using inputs of opposing food qualities, tastes and impact.
For example, someone with a baseline swabhav of Pitta, but who is exhibiting an excess amount of Vatta, may alter their diet to reduce cold water, raw vegetables, and excess mental stimuli and increase peppers, warm food, heavier whole grains, and fat. We will go deeper into how to balance your doshas in a future post.
We are complicated!
So far, we’ve gone through the different doshas in Ayurveda and discussed whether your dosha can change. But what you’ve read so far is a very, very simplified version of the truth. Many factors influence our dosha balance, including our mind, our digestive capacity (agni), and our gut (koshta).
To make a prognosis on any given individual, a seasoned practitioner would evaluate the ratios of her doshas and gunas, assess her digestive fire (agni), and examine her bones ( asthi), tissues (dhatu) and toxins (mala).
The important thing is for us to take the first steps towards removing white noise and being able to listen to our body’s signals to make lifestyle changes towards wellness. Ayurveda does not seek to be a practitioner driven and administered approach, rather it is a self driven realization of health.
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All content is for educational purposes only. Please consult your medical practitioner before attempting any therapeutic, nutritional, exercise or meditation related activity.
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