ABOUT THE DOSHAS
Have you ever wondered what actually accounts for differences in people? Why are some people hyperactive and fast moving, while others exude grace and stillness? Why can some people eat a five-course meal with ease, while others can barely finish a salad? Why are some people inherently joyous, while others carry the weight of the world on their shoulders? Modern genetics offers some insight, but what about the characteristics and idiosyncrasies that make every person unique?
According to Ayurveda, your constitution is established at conception, cemented at birth, and remains constant over the course of your lifetime. It influences your physiology, your physique, your likes and dislikes, your tendencies and habits, your mental and emotional character, as well as your vulnerabilities toward imbalance and disease. It is defined by the particular combination of vata, pitta and kapha that you were born with, and it represents your body’s natural state of equilibrium. Because your constitution serves as your blueprint for optimal health, understanding it—with the help of curiosity and self-awareness—can be truly enlightening. Our intention here is to introduce you to your constitution and to give you some of the tools necessary to court a deeper understanding over time.
Ayurveda answers all of these questions with the Three Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
The doshas are biological energies found throughout the human body and mind. They govern all physical and mental processes and provide every living being with an individual blueprint for health and fulfillment.
The doshas derive from the Five Elements and their related properties. Vata is composed of Space and Air, Pitta of Fire and Water, and Kapha of Earth and Water.
A person with a predominantly Vata constitution will have physical and mental qualities that reflect the elemental qualities of Space and Air. That is why Vata types are commonly quick thinking, thin, and fast moving. A Pitta type, on the other hand, will have qualities reflective of Fire and Water, such as a fiery personality and oily skin. A Kapha type will typically have a solid bodily frame and calm temperament, reflecting the underlying elements of Earth and Water. While one dosha predominates in most individuals, a second dosha typically has a strong influence. This is referred to as a dual-doshic constitution.
The doshas are dynamic energies that constantly change in response to our actions, thoughts, emotions, the foods we eat, the seasons, and any other sensory inputs that feed our mind and body. When we live into the fulfillment of our individual natures, we naturally make lifestyle and dietary decisions that foster balance within our doshas. When we live against our intrinsic natures, we support unhealthy patterns that lead to physical and mental imbalances.
If the proportion of doshas in your current state is close to your birth constitution, then your health will be vibrant. A divergence between these states, however, indicates a state of imbalance. Vikruti is the term used to describe this imbalanced deviation away from prakruti.
In total, there are three primary doshic states:
Balanced: All three doshas are present in their natural proportions; also referred to as “equilibrium.” Increased: A particular dosha is present in a greater-than-normal proportion; also referred to as an “aggravated” or “excess state.” Decreased: A particular dosha is present in a less-than-normal proportion; also referred to as a “reduced” or “depleted state.”
Of the three states, the increased or aggravated state leads to the greatest number of imbalances. Such imbalances can arise from any number of influences, including following a dosha-aggravating diet or, more generally, carrying too much stress in life. You can initiate a restoration of balance, however, when you begin to understand both your unique constitutional make-up and how to harmonize your internal environment and its needs with the external world.
We are most susceptible to imbalances related to our predominant dosha. If you’re a Pitta type, for example, you may experience heartburn (a common Pitta disorder) after eating spicy foods. The key to remember is that like increases like, while opposites create balance. By simply choosing cooling or more alkalizing foods, you can avoid heartburn, while also supporting your underlying makeup.
Ayurveda provides specifically tailored recommendations for every individual, ranging from general lifestyle changes to the treatment of disease (literally, an imbalance within our natural state of “ease”). For this reason, Ayurveda can truly be called a system of individualized health care, something remarkably different from the Western model’s “one-pill for all” approach. Since the doshas are used to detect imbalances before the manifestation of disease, Ayurveda is also a complete system of preventative medicine.
YOUR PITTA-KAPHA CONSTITUTION
It’s important to know that each of us has all three doshas in our constitutions: vata, pitta, and kapha. But the ratio between them—the specific quantitative and qualitative relationship between the three—is entirely unique to you. That said, as a kapha-pitta type, your constitution is predominated by kapha and pitta, and you probably have a lot in common with other kapha-pitta types who share that core distinction.
While there is undoubtedly no one quite like you out there, it is remarkable how accurate Ayurveda can be in predicting who we are—based simply on the broad strokes of our constitutions. As you read through this introduction, and start to piece together the ways in which kapha and pitta have shaped your constitution, you will probably begin to see your particular strengths and vulnerabilities more clearly. And as your understanding of your constitution expands, your capacity to use these insights to your advantage will also improve. Below are a number of traits that you can likely attribute to your constitution.
Please keep in mind that distinguishing physical characteristics should always be considered within the context of your ethnicity. For example, traits like eye color, skin color, or hair type are assessed in comparison to others with a similar heritage.
You probably have a well-proportioned and moderately-sized skeletal frame, with a sturdy bone structure and build. Your musculature may be either lean or well-developed, but with a little effort, you can almost certainly build muscle relatively easily. Your weight might be steady or tend to fluctuate a bit, but you may naturally carry a few extra pounds most of the time. Your face is a blend of kapha’s characteristic roundness with pitta’s sharp features and overall heart-shape. Your eyes are likely medium or large in size, bright and captivating, and your gaze is probably both piercing and compassionate.
Your skin is relatively fair, slightly oily, and may have some reddish undertones. Your hair is soft and may be straight or wavy. Your body temperature tends to feel relatively neutral to you, but you almost certainly prefer a drier climate to a humid one.
Personality: Mental and Emotional Tendencies
You are generally intelligent and discerning—with good concentration and memory, articulate speech, and a mind that is as clever and insightful as it is calm and steady. You are probably ambitious, hard-working, and dependable—especially when you are able to stay active without giving too much authority to your iron will. You tend to love learning and have a natural capacity for problem-solving.
These traits—combined with your grounded nature, impressive stamina, and love for competition—make you all the more likely to succeed in the world. When it comes to wealth, you probably have the capacity to make and save money with ease, though you may also be tempted to spend your savings on luxuries. You are highly principled, wise, and are probably a natural leader. On the other hand, when you are being overly perfectionistic, you can become highly critical of both yourself and others.
You very likely have a reliable appetite and a passion for food. You may consider yourself a foodie with a refined sense of taste, or you may be an excellent cook yourself. In addition, you are probably sometimes tempted to overindulge, you may experience intermittent emotional eating tendencies, and your digestion certainly has the capacity to become a bit sluggish or boggy. In general, you may not view eating as a particularly productive activity, so you may often multi-task while eating, hurry your meals, or chew less thoroughly than is ideal. In this respect, slowing down and offering your full attention to each meal would be highly beneficial for you. You probably enjoy regular elimination and your stools likely tend to be soft and oily, meaning that you rarely have to contend with being constipated.
Energy Levels, Stamina + Sleep
In general, you are blessed with a sturdy constitution and good overall health. In all likelihood, you have steady and lasting energy to offer the things that you care about. Both your endurance and your will are impressively robust, giving you strong athletic potential and a noteworthy capacity to maintain a single-pointed focus for long periods of time. Interestingly, pitta is apt to overestimate its reserves of strength and stamina (and is actually far more delicate than it would ever admit), while kapha is incredibly stable and needs stimulation. So for you, it is important to strike a balance between staying active and allowing yourself appropriate rest and relaxation—
learning to honor every aspect of who you are. Otherwise, you may occasionally find yourself feeling exceptionally unmotivated, and may even wrestle with a tendency toward lethargy.
In all likelihood, you are blessed with sound and easeful sleep, and require about seven or eight hours of it. You may have the capacity to be quite productive late at night, but probably also suffer a distinct sluggishness if you sleep past 6 or 7 a.m., so you generally do best when you retire by 10 or 11 p.m. and wake up early.
The Qualitative Nature of Your Predominant Doshas
Does this sound like you? It’s amazing how helpful the doshas can be in making sense of both our strengths and our weaknesses. In this next section, we hope to ground your understanding even further by exploring the primary qualities of both kapha and pitta, how they can impact the physiology and the mind, and how they can either support or challenge your health—depending on whether they are balanced or aggravated.
As you will see, your two predominant doshas have one quality in common, several that oppose one another energetically, and a couple that apply only to one of the two doshas. As you read through this section, you may begin to notice some of the ways in which each quality manifests in your system, giving you a glimpse into some of the more subtle aspects of your particular constitution. In time, it is precisely this type of deepening self-awareness that can inform your understanding of how best to promote optimal health and balance in your life.
Both Kapha and Pitta Are Oily
Oiliness makes for naturally soft and lubricated skin, smooth movement in the joints, and it bolsters our capacities to relax, accept nourishment, and give or receive love. In excess, it can lead to oily skin and hair, acne, excess mucus, or an especially manipulative (think slippery) personality.
Kapha Is Heavy; Pitta Is Light
- The heavy quality provides substance, lending a certain grounded, real, relatable, and embodied quality to the personality. In excess, it causes inertia, lethargy, weight gain, and feelings of being overburdened, weighed down, or depressed.
- Lightness often manifests as a trim, fit physique, easeful digestion, light-heartedness, a bright and alert mind, a magnetic or charismatic personality, light colored eyes, and fair skin. In excess, it can cause a flighty ungroundedness, light-headedness, excess upward moving energy (think headaches or baldness), low blood sugar, or sensitivity to sunlight.
Kapha Is Slow (or Dull); Pitta Is Sharp
- The slow quality creates a level of deliberate intentionality and purpose as well as the ability to pace one’s self appropriately. It allows us to be fully present, while creating depth, meaning, and connection. In excess, this quality can lead to a dull appetite, sluggish digestion, excessively slow movement or speech, a dull or uninspired mind, resistance to change, and boredom.
- A sharp mind is characteristically inquisitive, penetrating, quick, and highly capable of mastery. Sharpness is also behind decisiveness, discernment, a strong appetite, a penetrating digestive capacity (that easily
breaks down ingested foods), and sharp vision—whether literal, figurative or both. In excess, it can lead to a short temper, sharp words, the capacity to judge one’s self and others harshly, and sharp hunger.
Kapha Is Cool; Pitta Is Hot
- The cool quality may leave the skin slightly cool to the touch and can result in a calm, cool-headed personality that is not easily ruffled. In excess, this quality can dampen the heat and efficiency of the digestive fire, or cool one’s passion and inspiration.
- The hot quality creates a healthy blush in the cheeks, a naturally strong digestive fire, the capacity to stay warm in cold conditions, and gives the personality passion. In excess, it can manifest as skin rashes and breakouts, burning sensations, inflammatory disorders, excess acidity, and hot emotions like anger and rage.
Kapha Is Stable; Pitta Spreads
- The stable quality provides a distinct steadiness of mind and body, good balance, and is deeply appreciated by those who are naturally more reactive or flighty. In excess, the stable quality can lead to inactivity, stubbornness, or stagnation.
- The spreading quality can manifest as charisma and charm, the capacity for spreading influence, and may lead to exceptional achievement, broad recognition, and even fame. In excess, it is often behind a spreading rash and the capacity to create a toxic emotional environment.
Kapha Is Smooth
The smooth quality tends to make the skin, hair, and physical body smooth and soft, while supporting smooth movement in the joints, graceful movement of the body, and a soft, gentle, and loving personality. When aggravated, the smooth quality can cause water retention and excessive adipose tissue.
Pitta Is Liquid
The liquid quality supports proper salivation, healthy digestive juices, an appropriate capacity to sweat, and fluidity of movement throughout the digestive tract, blood, joints, and body. In excess, liquidity can dilute the digestive fire, cause bleeding gums, bleeding disorders in general, a tendency to bruise easily, and excessive sweat.