Ayurveda, or “science of life,” is an ancient Indian system of medicine founded on the immutable laws of nature. Ayurveda views each person as a unique, complex individual. Unlike other medical approaches, which focus on treating the symptoms of an illness, Ayurveda concentrates on the source of the patient’s imbalance, supporting the body’s innate wisdom to promote optimal health. The basis of Ayurvedic philosophy is the belief that the intelligence of the natural world is within each of us. The body is made up of the basic elements of the universe – ether, air, fire, water, and earth – which are expressed as three characteristic humors (doshas): Vata (ether and air), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (water and earth). Ayurvedic medicine stimulates our body’s inner intelligence, and activates our body’s own unlimited healing potential in order to achieve optimal balance of the three doshas.
Each of us is born with a unique combination of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. This combination in Ayurveda is known as our constitution, or prakriti. An Ayurvedic physician uses pulse diagnosis, along with lab tests and an extensive medical history, to determine an individual’s particular constitution and imbalances. The holistic physician then recommends certain herbs, foods, vitamins, exercises, and other treatments that will bring the individual’s doshas into balance and promote optimal health.
Functions of the Tridosha
A balance of the dosha is necessary for optimal health. The doshas increase by similar properties and are diminished by the opposite ones. For example, Vata is dry, light, and cold; so any food, medicine, lifestyle, or behavior that increases these qualities will increase Vata within the body. Conversely, oily, heavy, or hot factors will decrease Vata.
Together, the doshas govern all metabolic activities; anabolism (Kapha), catabolism (Vata), and metabolism (Pitta). There can be up to ten different constitutions, depending upon the permutation and combination of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The combination of the three humors remains unchanged throughout an individual’s lifetime and can indicate a person’s inherent strengths and susceptibilities. The combination can, however respond to environmental changes such as diet and lifestyle thereby providing the opportunity for the individual to maintain health or compromise it.
Vata is considered the leader of the three Ayurvedic Principles in the body. Vata governs all movement in the mind and body. It controls blood flow, elimination of wastes, breathing and the movement of thoughts across the mind. It's very important to keep Vata in good balance. The related elements are Air and Ether.
People of vata constitution are generally physically slender and small-framed. Their chests are flat with their veins and muscle tendons visible. The complexion is brown; the skin is cool, rough, dry and cracked. Vata people generally are either taller or shorter than average, with thin frames that reveal prominent joints and bone-ends because of small muscle development. The hair is curly, the eyelashes are thin, and the eyes matte. The eyes may be sunken, small, dry, and active. The nails are rough and brittle. The shape of the nose is bent and in some cases turned-up.
Physiologically, the appetite and digestion are variable. Vata people love sweet tastes, sour tastes, salty tastes, and hot drinks. The production of urine is scanty and the feces are dry, hard, and small in quantity. They have a tendency to perspire less than other constitutional types. Their sleep may be disturbed and they will sleep less than the other types. Their hands and feet are often cold.
Psychologically, they are characterized by short memories but quick mental understanding. They will understand something immediately, but will soon forget it. They sometimes lack willpower, tend toward mental instability, and are sensitive to tolerance, confidence, or boldness. Their reasoning power may be construed as weak and Vata people are nervous, fearful at times, and afflicted by much anxiety. Vata people tend to earn money quickly and also to spend it quickly. Thus, they tend to remain poor.
Common characteristics of people who have a predominantly Vata constitution:
- Creativity, mental quickness
- Highly imaginative
- Quick to learn and grasp new knowledge, but also quick to forget
- Sexually easily excitable but quickly satiated
- Slenderness; lightest of the three body types
- Talk and walk quickly
- Tendency toward cold hands and feet, discomfort in cold climates
- Excitable, lively, fun personality
- Changeable moods
- Irregular daily routine
- Variable appetite and digestive efficiency
- High energy in short bursts; tendency to tire easily and to overexert
- Full of joy and enthusiasm when in balance
- Respond to stress with fear, worry, and anxiety, especially when out of balance
- Tendency to act on impulse
- Often have racing, disjointed thoughts
- Generally have dry skin and dry hair and don’t perspire much
Typical health problems include headaches, hypertension, dry coughs, sore throats, earaches, anxiety, irregular heart rhythms, muscle spasms, lower back pain, constipation, abdominal gas, diarrhea, nervous stomach, menstrual cramps, premature ejaculation and other sexual dysfunctions, arthritis. Most neurological disorders are related to Vata imbalance.
Functions of vata include: create energy, endocrine gland function, elimination, and helps to distribute nutrients at a cellular level.
Locations: bladder, colon, thighs, feet, lumbar region and in the skin.
Foods beneficial to vata: most nuts, fruits, cooked vegetables, and cultured dairy products.
Food to avoid: broccoli, cauliflower, dry grains, and peas
Exercise beneficial to vata: yoga, walking, and slower exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.
Pitta is a force created by the dynamic interplay of water and fire. These forces represent transformation. Pitta governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism, body temperature, and skin coloration, the luster of the eyes, intelligence, and understanding. Psychologically, pitta arouses anger, hate, and jealousy. The small intestine, stomach, sweat glands, blood, fat, eyes, and skin are the seats of Pitta.
These people are of medium height, are slender, and their body frame may be delicate. Their chests are not as flat as those of vata people, and they show a medium prominence of veins and muscle tendons. The bones are not as prominent as in the vata individual. Muscle development is moderate.
The pitta complexion may be coppery, yellowish, reddish or fair. The skin is soft, warm, and less wrinkled than vata skin. The hair is thin, silky, red, or brownish, and there is a tendency toward premature graying of hair and hair loss. The eyes may be gray, green, or cooper brown, and sharp: the eyeballs will be of medium prominence. The nails are soft. The shape of the nose is sharp and the tip tends to be reddish.
Physiologically, these people have a strong metabolism, good digestion and resulting strong appetites. The person of pitta constitution usually takes large quantities of food and liquid. Pitta types have a natural craving for sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes and enjoy cold drinks. Their sleep is of medium duration but uninterrupted. They produce a large volume of urine and the feces are yellowish, liquid, soft, and plentiful. There is a tendency toward excessive perspiring. The body temperature may run slightly high, and their hands and feet will tend to be warm. Pitta people do not tolerate sunlight, heat, or hard work well.
Psychologically, pitta people have good powers of comprehension; they are very intelligent and sharp and tend to be good orators. They have emotional tendencies toward hate, anger, and jealousy. They are ambitious people who generally like to be leaders. Pitta people appreciate material prosperity and they tend to be moderately well-off financially. They enjoy exhibiting their wealth and luxurious possession.
Common characteristics of people who have a predominantly Pitta body type:
- Medium physique, strong, well-built
- Sharp mind, good powers of concentration
- Orderly, focused
- Assertive, self-confident, and entrepreneurial at their best; aggressive, demanding, pushy when out of balance
- Competitive, enjoy challenges
- Passionate and romantic; sexually have more vigor and endurance than Vatas, but less than Kaphas
- Strong digestion, strong appetite; get irritated if they have to miss or wait for a meal
- Like to be in command
- When under stress, Pittas become irritated and angry
- Skin fair or reddish, often with freckles; sunburns easily
- Hair usually fine and straight, tending toward blond or red, typically turns gray early; tendency toward baldness or thinning hair
- Uncomfortable in sun or hot weather; heat makes them very tired
- Perspire a lot
- Others may find them stubborn, pushy, opinionated
- Good public speakers; also capable of sharp, sarcastic, cutting speech
- Generally good management and leadership ability, but can become authoritarian
- Like to spend money, surround themselves with beautiful objects
- Subject to temper tantrums, impatience, and anger
Typical physical problems include rashes or inflammations of the skin, acne, boils, skin cancer, ulcers, heartburn, acid stomach, hot sensations in the stomach or intestines, insomnia, bloodshot or burning eyes and other vision problems, and anemia.
Functions of pitta: sight, digestion, temperature, and appetite.
Locations: lymphatic system, blood, spleen, liver, skin, eyes and the heart.
Foods beneficial to pitta: most beans, soaked almonds, and vegetables.
Food to avoid: sour fruits, red meat, potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant.
Exercise beneficial to pitta: a combination of rest and cardiovascular exercise is important to a Pitta constitution with a minimum of 45 minutes a day.
Kapha is the conceptual equilibrium of water and earth. Kapha is both structure and lubrication. One can visualize the Kapha force as the stirring force that keeps the water and the earth from separating. This dosha maintains body resistance. Water is the main constituent of kapha, and this bodily water is responsible physiologically for biological strength and natural tissue resistance in the body. Kapha lubricates the joints; provides moisture to the skin; helps to heal wounds; fills the spaces in the body; gives biological strength, vigor, and stability; supports memory retention; gives energy to the heart and lungs, and maintains immunity.
Kapha is present in the chest, throat, head, sinuses, nose, mouth, stomach, joints, cytoplasm, plasma, and in the liquid secretions of the body, such as mucus. Psychologically, kapha is responsible for the emotions of attachment, greed, and long-standing envy. It is also expressed in tendencies toward calmness, forgiveness, and love. The chest is the seat of kapha.
People of kapha constitution have well-developed bodies. There is, however, a strong tendency for these individuals to carry excess weight. Their chests are expanded and broad. The veins and tendons of kapha people are not obvious because of their thick skin and their muscle development is good. The bones are not prominent.
Their complexions are fair and bright. The skin is soft, lustrous, and oily, and it is also cold and pale. The hair is thick, dark, soft, and wavy. The eyes are dense and black or blue: the white of the eye is generally very white, large, and attractive.
Physiologically, kapha people have regular appetites. Due to slow digestion, they tend to consume less food. They crave pungent, bitter and astringent foods. Stools are soft and may be pale in color, evacuation is slow. Their perspiration is moderate. Sleep is sound and prolonged. There is a strong vital capacity evidenced by good stamina, and kapha people are generally healthy, happy and peaceful.
Psychologically, they tend to be tolerant, calm, forgiving, and loving: however, they also exhibit traits of greed, attachment, envy, and possessiveness. Their comprehension is slow but definite: once they understand something, that knowledge is retained. Kapha people tend to be wealthy. They earn money and are good at holding on to it.
Other body types are a combination and permutation of the doshas present in them. Life is considered a sacred path in Ayurveda; a ceaseless interaction between the internal Tridosha, environment and the external environment, or the sum of cosmic forces. To counterbalance external change, an individual may create a balance in the internal forces by altering his or her diet, lifestyle, and behavior.
Common characteristics of people who have a predominantly Kapha constitution:
- Easygoing, relaxed, slow-paced
- Affectionate and loving, forgiving, compassionate, nonjudgmental nature, stable and reliable; faithful
- Physically strong with a sturdy, heavier build
- Have the most energy of all constitutions, but it is steady and enduring, not explosive
- Slow moving and graceful
- Slow speech, reflecting a deliberate thought process
- Slower to learn, but never forgets; outstanding long-term memory
- Soft hair and skin; tendency to have large “soft” eyes and a low, soft voice
- Tend toward being overweight; may also suffer from sluggish digestion
- Prone to heavy, oppressive depression
- More self-sufficient, needless outward stimulation than do the other types; have a mild, gentle, and essentially undemanding approach to life
- Sexually, Kaphas are the slowest to be aroused, but they also have the most endurance
- Excellent health, strong resistance to disease
- Slow to anger, strive to maintain harmony and peace in their surroundings
- Not easily upset and can be a point of stability for others
- Tend to be possessive and hold on to things, people, money; good savers.
- Don’t like cold, damp weather
Physical problems include colds and congestion, sinus headaches, respiratory problems including asthma and wheezing, hay fever, allergies
Functions of kapha: stickiness, potency, heaviness, strength, courage, forgiveness, knowledge, and immunity.
Locations: head, tongue, stomach, joints, heart, chest and neck.
Foods beneficial to kapha: consume a wide variety of fruits. Avoid bananas, oranges, grapefruits or tangerines or consume in moderation.
Foods to avoid: dairy products and sugar.
Exercise beneficial to kapha: Kapha persons have a tendency towards inactivity but need cardiovascular exercise with fast aerobic running most beneficial for a minimum of one hour a day.
Ayurvedic Breathing Tips & Energetics
- Inhale through your nose, filling your lungs to full capacity.
- Hold the breath for 3 seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth.
- Repeat this exercise 16 times, twice a day.
- Open your mouth to form an “O” shape.
- With your mouth in this position, form a funnel with your tongue and place it between your lips.
- Slowly inhale through your tongue, swallow the breath, & feel the breath in your heart.
- Relax the tongue and mouth, and then exhale through your mouth.
- Repeat this exercise 16 times, twice a day.
- Put your chin to your chest and breathe deeply through your nose.
- Extend your neck all the way back and exhale through your mouth.
- Repeat this exercise 16 times, twice a day.
- Turn your head to the left and slowly inhale through your nose, filling your lungs to full capacity.
- Turn your head to the right and exhale through your mouth.
- Repeat this exercise 16 times, twice a day.
- Then repeat the process, turning your head to the right to start.