Understanding the Doshas
Radiant health, according to Ayurveda, is simply a state in which you experience a zest for life and feel integrated and whole. Your appetite, digestion, and elimination are good, you breathe deeply and easily, your skin is radiant, you sleep well, and you experience the full range of human emotions in a manner that is congruent with your experiences. How each of us achieve this state of integration and wholeness, as well as how we experience physical and mental disease and suffering, is a function of our individual and unique, by degree and manifestation, bodymind type or dosha.
While there are three doshas, they combine into ten types,
a) the three monodoshics: in which one dosha strongly predominates, and the other two are equally secondary.
b) the six bidoshics: in which one dosha strongly predominates, the next dosha is of secondary strength within the bodymind, while the third is of weakest influence. These are:
c) Tri doshic: Those in whom the three doshas have equal value.
Each of the ten doshic types have specific characteristics, some of which are as follows:
Vata types are light and thin in build, move quickly in speech, activities and thought, tend towards dry skin, are averse to cold, dry weather, have irregular appetites, digestions, and schedules, tend to worry, become constipated easily, and sleep lightly and with easy interruption. Their eyes are light colored and can be nervous. Hair is thin and dry.
Pitta types have a moderate build with prominent tendons. They have penetrating intellects, are enterprising and sharp in character, good public speakers, with a tendency toward quick anger and irritability. They have intense hungers, can’t skip meals, are averse to hot weather and prefer cold drinks and foods. They tend toward reddish hair, moles, and freckles with oily and easily inflamed skin. Their eyes are sharp and penetrating. Hair is wiry.
Kapha types have a solid large boned heavy build. They have good strength and endurance, are slow and methodical, can be steady and tranquil with oily and smooth skin. They have mild hunger, and slow digestion and can gain weight very easily. Their eyes are large and like water and their sleep is heavy and long. They tend towards plentiful thick wavy hair.
As you can imagine, how each of these types combine in any one individual has a near infinite number of permutations and gradations, however, certain very generalized observations can be made about the nature of a dosha when balanced or imbalanced.
Balanced Vata is mentally alert with strong sleep, immunity, and exhilaration with life.
Imbalanced Vata has dry rough skin, insomnia, nervous disorders, anxiety and worry, underweight, intolerant of cold, and dry hard stools. The nervous energy of vata imbalance leads to exhaustion and non-specific fatigue.
Balanced Pitta has normal heat and thirst mechanisms, strong digestion meaning the ability to consume and digest physical and mental things easily, a lustrous complexion born of its natural fire element, a sharp intellect and sense of contentment.
Imbalanced Pitta suffers easily from inflammation of the skin or emotions, excessive bodily heat and heat in the digestive tract yielding disorders like ulcers, gastritis and hemorrhoids. They grey and bald early in life, develop hot-type visual disorders, and can be unnecessarily argumentative or irritable.
Balanced Kapha is possessed of above average muscular strength, good vitality and stamina, with good immunity and stability of mind and also joints.They are capable of strong affection, generosity, courage and dignity.
Imbalanced Kapha suffers from slow digestion, cognition, obesity, lethargy and dullness. They develop disorders of phlegm easily, like allergies and sinus congestion.
As you can now see, a Pitta-Vatta, for example, will have a combination of attributes and or imbalances that reflect Pitta having the primary role, Vatta the secondary, and Kapha the tertiary.
Can a PittaVatta type have an imbalance in Kapha? Absolutely, but their Kapha imbalance will tend to affect them less profoundly on both physical and spiritual levels than an imbalance in their predominant dosha.
For example, a PittaVatta type with a Kaphic imbalance might suffer some exacerbation of lethargy in the winter, which is the Kapha season, but would suffer much more from a Pitta imbalance in Summer, the Pitta season. Here their tendency towards heat and inflammation, if their Pitta were running wild, could lead to skin and digestive disorders, especially if the climate were tropical.
On the other hand, if a KaphaVatta were in Kapha imbalance during winter, they might develop full scale seasonal affective disorder, rather than just mild lethargy, particularly in a long, cold, wet, dark northern winter.
The role of the Ayurvedic physician is to accurately describe the patient’s dosha proclivities and imbalances, and then to give the proper dietary, lifestyle and herbal regimens to correct imbalances and promote radiant health.
There are specific diets to “pacify” each of the doshas, which means to keep them from becoming imbalanced. There are specific lifestyle recommendations to promote the most healthy physical and spiritual expression of each dosha as well. These recommendations extend from types of exercise, pranayam and meditation, to daily routines regarding when and how much to sleep and eat. It also involves responding to the rhythm of the seasons according to your individual doshic tendencies. Finally it involves an awareness of how the doshas transform through the ageing process.
For example, in the above case of KaphaVatta with a Kapha imbalance and seasonal affective disorder, the treatment would begin with a Pitagenic diet, that is a diet to strengthen digestive fire (agni) and Pitta so to warm and stimulate the cold damp Kapha. This would center on warming spices like cayenne, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardomom, and clove. It would involve lightly cooked vegetebles and soups with emphasis on lots of colorful and slightly bitter green vegetebles. Certain foods, like dairy products and wheat, especially pasta, and also deep fried foods would be avoided. Sweets would need to be minimalized, and green tea and bright stimulating herb teas like peppermint would be useful.
Of course full spectrum lighting would be recomended, and fast exercises, like aerobics, with intense music to push one out of one’s Kaphic imbalance. Staying up a bit later and doing something creative or exciting like an art project or music concert would be recommended. On the other hand, getting out at high noon (maximum pitta time) doing something like cross country skiing would be beneficial. Bring hot spicy tea with you.
Sauna, not steam, vigorous massage with warming mustard seed oil and essential oils like eucalyptus, tea tree, thyme, oregeno, jasmine, and sandalwood would be useful, as would walking meditation and breath of fire style pranayam breathing exercises. Warm intense bright colors would be useful in the home as well as clothing, for example crimson red, burgendy, turqoise blue and gold. This would be a case for fresh cut flowers, regardless of cost. Even fiery gems would be useful in jewlery, like rubys and fire opal. Gold is stimulating while silver is calming.In this case the healthy expression of feelings would be encouraged, perhaps in a safe therapeutic environment, so as to ensure that kapha, with its long memory, is not turning anger inwards, and that the free and open movement of emotions (like fear, sadness, attachment in its many form, loneliness, and its inverse selfishness) is not inhibited by Kapha’s sluggishness or Vata’s fear.
This person will benefit from volunteer work, dance class, playing a musical instrument, taking previously unacceptable risks, and making friends with some PittaKaphas. This is just a keyhole glimpse at the kinds of recommendations that can be made in an Ayurvedic consultation.
As you can see, they tend to cut to the heart of a problem, and do require a commitment on the part of the patient. It is very different than taking a pill, but well worth it if you are interested in long lasting, permanent, profound levels of change.