According to Ayurvedic philosophy, there are three main principles which comprise the human physiology. These three energies are referred to as doshas and they include Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each dosha is comprised of a combination of two of the following elements: space, air, fire, water and earth. In Ayurveda, it is believed that these five elements make up the earth. Vata is comprised of space and air; Pitta is comprised of fire and water; and Kapha is comprised of water and earth. When combined, these three doshas are responsible for all activities occurring within each of us.
At conception, each of us inherits an original combination of the three doshas known as prakriti. For most of us, there are two doshas that are more or less equal in dominance with the third dosha being the least dominant. There are rare exceptions in which the three doshas are nearly equal in proportion or where one dosha is very predominant.
In order to maintain good health and well-being, it’s important that one balance the three doshas within them and maintain their original prakriti as much as possible. This balance can be effected in a variety of ways through dietary and lifestyle choices, climate changes, environmental changes, work, relationships and the simple passing of time, all of which can cause each of the doshas to increase or decrease from their original levels. This results in an imbalance known as vikriti which, when left unchecked, can lead to poor health. Balancing the doshas is central to the ayurvedic approach to health.
A program for balancing the doshas can be obtained by visiting an ayurvedic healer and undergoing an ayurvedic pulse assessment and questionnaire. The following link is for a questionnaire that you can take online: http://doshaquiz.chopra.com/
Vata is the dosha comprised of space and air. In the Charaka Samhita, which is the most respected ayurvedic text, the characteristics of Vata are described as follows:
- Rookshaha, or dry and rough
- Sheetoha, or cool
- Laghuhu, or light in weight
- Sookhshmaha, or very tiny, penetrating molecules
- Chalota, or constantly moving
- Vishadaha, or broad and unbounded
- Kharaha, or rough
Individuals with a greater amount of Vata are typically thin and slender framed with delicate, dry skin and dry, voluminous hair. Their thoughts, speech and actions are generally quick and lively and there is a lightness in their laughter. The qualities of air can be seen in their step. These people tend to make friends easily. They are light sleepers and are typically drawn toward warmer environments. Change is common for those with greater Vata. When Vata is balanced, creativity and enthusiasm are characteristic.
Those whose prakriti has a greater amount of Vata in it will have many of the characteristics mentioned above. However, these characteristics can become excessive, which may be representative of an imbalanced Vata. Increases in Vata can result from a diet of too many dry or raw foods and ice-cold beverages, exposure to cold and dry winds, a varied day-to-day routine, excessive travel, and excessive mental exertion.
Signs that the Vata dosha is in need of balancing include the following: constant worry and anxiety; feelings of fretfulness and being overwhelmed; feeling tired yet unable to relax; difficulty falling asleep at night; restless sleep; dry, taut or flaking skin; brittle hair with split ends; raw, chapped lips; dry throat; irregular digestion and abdominal gas; inability to relax and a need for constant motion; a “spaced out” feeling; decreased memory and attention span; infrequent bowel movements.
To restore Vata to its original level, one can follow a Vata-balancing diet and lifestyle. In general, Ayurvedic philosophy follows a principle of opposites for minimizing an aggravated dosha. Thus, to balance Vata dosha, one must incorporate the opposites of dryness, coolness, roughness, lightness and constant motion into their diet and lifestyle.
Dryness can be balanced with foods that are liquid or unctuous, lightness can be balanced with heavy foods that offer substance and sustenance, roughness can be balanced with foods of a smooth texture, and coolness can be balanced with warm or hot foods. A Vata-balancing diet should include some clarified butter or olive oil, hot or warm cooked foods, nuts, and lots of warm water drunken throughout the day. Other good Vata-balancing foods include Basmati rice, wheat breads, and foods that are sweet, sour and/or salty in taste. The best vegetables are asparagus, beets, carrots, summer squash, sweet potatoes and tender leafy greens, all of which can be cooked with sweet, sour or salty spices. Avoid fat-free diets, dry foods like crackers and cold cereals, raw foods, nightshades, large beans, and tastes that are bitter, astringent or pungent.
|Grains||amaranth, oats, quinoa, rice, and wheat (cooked until tender)|
|Fruits||avocado, berries (all kinds), cherries, coconut, fresh figs, grapes, lemons, limes, mangoes, oranges, papaya, peaches, pineapple, plums, soaked raisins, and stewed apples|
|Vegetables||asparagus, carrots, green beans, lauki squash, parsnips, peas, sweet potatoes, tender greens, white daikon, and zucchini (all cooked)|
|Lentils||masoor dhal, mung beans, mung dhal, red lentils, toor dhal, urad dhal (all cooked until soft)|
|Dairy||butter, cream, cottage cheese, fresh paneer cheese, fresh yogurt (cooked into foods), lassi, and whole milk|
|Oils||cold-pressed nut oils such as walnut, ghee, olive oil, and sesame oil|
|Herbs||cilantro, curry leaves, fresh basil, fresh fennel, fresh ginger root, mint, and parsley|
|Nuts and Seeds||almonds (soaked and blanched), cashews, hazelnuts, pecans (soaked), pine nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts (soaked)|
|Spices||ajwain, asafetida (hing) in small quantities, basil, black pepper, black salt, cardamom, Chinese cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, dried ginger, dried mango powder, fennel, fenugreek, lemon and orange zest, oregano, mint, mustard seed, nutmeg, pomegranate seeds or powder, rock salt or sea salt, rosemary, thyme, and turmeric|
|Other||poppy seeds, raw honey, rice milk, soy milk, sucanat, tofu (in moderation, diced and cooked with spices), and turbinado sugar.|
Again, because ayurveda recommends opposites for minimizing an aggravated Vata dosha, you will to seek out the opposite of dryness, coolness, roughness, lightness and constant motion for your lifestyle. A regular routine can combat restlessness and constant motion. Ayurvedic massage can help to soothe dry skin, enhance circulation, and tone the muscles and nerves. The body should be massaged every morning prior to bathing using almond or jojoba oil, and the scalp should be massaged with warm oil two to three times per week prior to shampooing. Moisturizer should be used after showering or bathing to combat dryness.
Eat regular, nourishing meals, taking the time to sit in a peaceful atmosphere and pay attention to your food. Keep yourself warm and protect against cold and wind by layering clothes and wearing a hat and scarf. Walk for twenty minutes each day early in the morning, and meditate for about thirty minutes each day. Go to bed early, taking a cup or warm milk beforehand to help you sleep. Daily elimination is important for balancing Vata, and regularly taking Triphala Rasayana can help.
Pitta is the dosha comprised of fire and water. In the Charaka Samhita, the characteristics of Pitta are described as follows:
- Sahasnehamushnam, or hot and a little unctuous
- Tikshnam, or sharp and burning
- Dravamlam, or liquid and acidic
- Saram, or flowing unbounded
- Katuhu, or sharp and pungent
Individuals with a greater amount of Pitta are typically of medium proportion, being neither heavy nor petite. Their skin is typically warm and either very fair or ruddy. The skin may also be sensitive. The hair is typically fine with a tendency toward premature graying or thinning. Their thoughts, speech and actions are typically sharp and determined. Their step is purposeful and their voice intense. They are ambitious by nature with a particular self-confidence and entrepreneurial spirit. Those with more Pitta are usually drawn toward cooler environments. They are moderate sleepers.
Those whose prakriti has a greater amount of Pitta in it will have many of the characteristics mentioned above. However, an imbalance in Pitta dosha can cause these characteristics to be extreme or more pronounced. Increases in Pitta can result from a diets with too many hot or spicy foods, skipping meals, fasting, excessive sun or heat exposure, and emotional trauma.
Signs that the Pitta dosha is in need of balancing include constant impatience and irritability, a continually critical nature, an obsession with work or projects, rising early in the morning and not being able to fall back asleep, increased irritation or sensitivity of the skin, increased hair loss, heartburn, decreased tolerance for other people and situations, increased temper and frustration, feeling hot, increased thirst, red eyes, biting and sarcastic speech, and being argumentative.
To restore Pitta dosha to its normal levels, a Pitta-balancing diet and lifestyle can be followed. Following the Ayurvedic principle of opposites, Pitta dosha can be balanced by incorporating the opposites of sharpness, heat and acidity into the diet and lifestyle.
Dry foods can help to balance Pitta’s liquid nature and may include dry cereal, crackers, granola bars, cereal bars and rice cakes. Foods that are considered heavy can provide substance. Cool foods can counteract Pitta’s fiery qualities and may include sweet juicy fruits, milk, coconut, and sweet rice pudding. Milkshakes made with mangoes and either almond or dates are also very good. Moderate amounts of ghee, a cooking oil, can help to balance Pitta by cooling the mind and body. Foods that are sweet, bitter and/or astringent are good for balancing Pitta, while salty, sour and pungent tastes should be avoided. Good Pitta-balancing vegetables include asparagus, bitter leafy greens, carrots, fennel, green beans, bitter gourd, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower. These vegetables are better chopped and cooked with spices that are good for satisfying Pitta dosha. Basmati rice, wheat, oats and amaranth are good grains for balancing pita. Rather than drinking ice-cold water, sweet lassi should be drunken with lunch to provide a cooling effect while also aiding digestions.
|Grains||amaranth, barley, oats, quinoa, rice, sago and wheat (all cooked until tender)|
|Fruits||apples, avocado, berries (all kinds), cherries, coconut, dates, fresh and dried figs, grapes, mangoes, melons, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums, pomegranates, and soaked raisins|
|Vegetables||artichoke, asparagus, beets, bitter gourd, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celery, fennel, green beans, lauki squash, okra, parsnips, peas, sweet potatoes, tender and bitter greens, and zucchini (all cooked). Also, small amounts of raw carrots, cucumber or lettuce.|
|Lentils||black beans, garbanzos (in small amounts), lima beans, mung beans, mung dhal, red or brown lentils (all cooked until soft)|
|Dairy||butter, cottage cheese, cream, fresh paneer cheese, fresh yogurt (cooked into foods), lassi, and whole milk,|
|Oils||ghee, olive oil, and walnut oil|
|Herbs||cilantro, curry leaves, fresh basil, fresh fennel, fresh mint, and parsley|
|Nuts and Seeds||almonds (soaked and blanched), pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds|
|Spices||cardamom, Chinese cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, mint, saffron, small quantities of black pepper, sweet orange zest, and turmeric|
|Other||date sugar, rice milk, soy milk, sucanat, turbinado sugar, and tofu (diced small and cooked with spices and used in moderation)|
Given the Ayurveda prescription of opposites, an aggravated Pitta dosha can be balanced by seeking out the opposites of sharpness, heat and acidity for your lifestyle. Staying cool physically and emotionally can combat the heat of Pitta. Do not go out or exercise in the heat of the day and steer clear of situations that make you feel angry or heated. Protect yourself from heat by wearing loose cotton clothing in warm weather, along with a hat and sunglasses. Engaging in water-based activities like water aerobics can help you to remain cool while exercising. Walks after sunset, particularly along the water, are also great. And be sure to drink plenty of room temperature water.
Ayurvedic massage with coconut oil performed each morning before bathing can help to soothe sensitive skin, tone the muscles and nerves, and balance the emotions. The scalp should be massaged with warm oil two to three times per week before shampooing. After bathing, apply a gentle, pure moisturizer or use a pure rose or sandalwood water spray to cool the skin.
Eat regular meals, keeping your largest meal at lunchtime and having a lighter meal for breakfast and dinner. Avoid fasting, skipping meals, and waiting until you’re very hungry before eating. Sweet fruits are great snacks. Amalaki Rasayana can be taken to improve digestion and balance stomach acid. Daily elimination is important for balancing Pitta. Triphala Rasayana can be taken to aid regularity and tone the digestive system.
Balance work and play which, for most of us, means taking time for play and rest. Meditate for thirty minutes each day. Make sure that you go to bed early each day. Drinking a cup of warm milk with cardamom before bed can help.
Kapha is the dosha comprised of water and earth. In the Charaka Samhita, the characteristics of Kapha are described as follows:
- Guru, or heavy
- Sheetoha, or cold
- Mridu, or soft
- Snigdha, or unctuous
- Madhura, or sweet
- Sthira, or fixed and steady
- Tikshila, or slippery
Individuals with a greater amount of Kapha are typically of larger proportions, having a robust frame and padded joints. Their skin tends to be thick, smooth and oily, and their hair wavy and rich. Their thoughts, speech and actions are calm and stable. In their relationships, they are supportive and easy-going. Loyalty is a common characteristic for those with greater Kapha. They are often described as calm and sweet. They generally sleep heavy and long, and dislike damp environments.
Those whose prakriti has a greater amount of Kapha in it will have many of the characteristics mentioned above. However, an imbalanced Kapha can cause these characteristics to become extreme or more pronounced. Increases in Kapha can result from too many deep-fried, sweet or heavy foods in the diet, an excess of ice-cold food and drink, overexposure to cold and damp, a lack of exercise, and daytime sleep.
Signs that the Kapha dosha is in need of balancing include the following: easy weight gain; exhaustion not caused by physical activity; difficulty waking despite long hours of sleep; feeling unrefreshed and tired after waking; oily skin and breakouts; oily hair; congestion in the throat, head and chest; slow digestions with feelings of heaviness after eating; feeling withdrawn; resistance to change; and feeling unmotivated.
To restore Kapha to its original level, a Kapha-balancing diet and lifestyle can be followed. Given the Ayurvedic prescription of opposites for minimizing an aggravated dosha, balancing Kapha dosha can be achieved by incorporating the opposites of heaviness, softness, sweetness, cold, stability, and unctuousness into the diet and lifestyle.
Dry foods can balance the oily nature of Kapha, including dry cereal, salt-free crackers and rice cakes. It’s best to use only very small amount of ghee when cooking but otherwise avoid too many oily foods. Light but nourishing foods can balance the heaviness of Kapha and these may include clear vegetable soups with beans and vegetables, stews made with Kapha-balancing vegetables, bean casseroles, dhal soups, light grain and vegetable combinations. Avoid using too much salt, sticking with fresh herbs and spices instead. Good Kapha-balancing spices include asafetida (hing), black pepper, cayenne, cloves, coriander, cumin, dried ginger, fenugreek, and turmeric.
The best vegetables for balancing Kapha include asparagus, bitter gourd, bitter leafy greens, carrots, daikon radish, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. These are best chopped and cooked with Kapha-pacifying spices like fresh green chili peppers and fresh ginger root. Grains are best eaten in moderation with the best grains being light whole grains like barley, buckwheat, couscous and millet.
Keep snacks to a minimum and avoid sugary snacks. Warm foods with a bit of spice can balance the sweet and cold nature of Kapha. The best tastes for Kapha are pungent, bitter and astringent. Avoid salty, sweet and sour tastes. Honey makes for the best sweetener but should be used in small quantities. Be sure to drink lots of warm water throughout the day.
|Grains||amaranth, barley, basmati rice (in small amounts), buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, and sago (all cooked until tender)|
|Fruits||apples, apricots, berries, cherries, dried figs, lemons, limes, peaches, pears, pomegranates, prunes, and raisins|
|Vegetables||artichoke, asparagus, beets, bitter gourd, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, greens (all kinds), daikon, green beans, kohlrabi, lauki squash, and radish (all cooked)|
|Lentils||black beans, garbanzo beans (small portions), lima beans, mung beans, mung dhal, red or brown lentils, and toor dhal (all cooked until soft)|
|Dairy||cottage cheese (in small amounts), fresh paneer cheese (in small amounts), lassi, and whole milk (diluted with water)|
|Oils||ghee and olive oil (both used in small amounts)|
|Herbs||cilantro, curry leaves, fresh basil, fresh mint, fresh oregano, fresh thyme, neem leaves, parsley and sage|
|Nuts and Seeds||pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds|
|Spices||black pepper, cardamom, cayenne, Chinese cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, dill, dried ginger, fennel, fenugreek, lime zest, mace, marjoram, mint, mustard seed, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, rosemary, saffron, thyme, and turmeric|
|Other||crackers (used in moderation), raw honey (used in moderation), tofu (small quantities diced and cooked with spices), and unsalted unbuttered popcorn|
Given the ayurveda prescription of opposites, an aggravated Kapha dosha can be minimized by seeking out the opposites of heaviness, softness, sweetness, cold, stability and unctuousness for your lifestyle.
One of the best recommendations for balancing Kapha is to increase your level of exercise. Make sure that you do some form of exercise every day but be careful not to overdo it. Great forms of exercise for balancing Kapha include aerobics, jogging, racquetball and tennis (singles). It’s best to exercise early in the morning. Also be sure to meditate for thirty minutes each day. Another recommendation is to challenge yourself mentally by taking a class or solving puzzles, and to welcome new people and new relationships into your life. Add variety to your life with new experiences like travel and new hobbies.
Eat regular meals consisting of a light breakfast, sustaining lunch, and a light dinner. Do not fast or skip meals. Amalaki Rasayana can be taken to enhance metabolism and aid in digestion, while Triphala Rasayana can be taken to promote regularity and daily elimination. Protect against cold and damp by drinking lots of warm water (this can be steeped with spices like dried ginger, turmeric and black pepper). At-home steaming can also be great. Oily skin should be cleansed twice each day with a deep natural cleanser, and you should exfoliate the skin once a week. Use a gentle natural shampoo on the hair and cleanse the hair at least every other day. Perform an ayurvedic massage with oil each morning prior to bathing. When the Kapha dosha is unbalanced, feelings of exhaustion are common despite getting good sleep. To combat this, make sure that you go to bed early and rise early. Avoid naps during the day.