Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that refers to the 'science of life and longevity'. Ayurveda adopts a holistic approach towards healthy living and is considered to be one of the oldest medicinal systems in the world. Though native to India, this philosophy has gained popularity all around the world. The base of Ayurvedic philosophy is to balance the body, mind and spirit. Both prevention and healing are carried out through natural means.
According to Ayurveda, each person is born with a life force that comprises the five elements or building blocks of nature: Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Space. We possess a unique balance of these five elements in varying degrees. This balance of elements is known as a Dosha. There are three fundamental doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha, and good health is considered to be a perfect state of balance between these three doshas.
Vata is constituted by space and air, which is the energy of movement; fire and water constitute pitta, the principle of digestion and metabolism; and water and earth make up kapha, the dosha of structure and lubrication. Unhealthy diet, stress, repressed emotions and insufficient exercise are considered to be elements that disturb ones’ doshic balance. Hence, to maintain the balance and good health, a person has to juggle with the three doshas, and increase or decrease them, as conditions demand. In simple words, health means order and balance, whereas disease is disorder and imbalance. Everyone has all the three doshas, but one of them is usually primary, the other secondary and the third one is the least prominent.
The Three Doshas: An Overview
1. Vata: Vata is considered as the leader of the three Ayurvedic principles in the body. As the principle of mobility, Vata regulates all activity in the body, mental as well as physiological. It is responsible for breathing, blinking our eyes, beating of our heart and many more functions. When in balance, the Vata is lively and energetic. Adequate rest and relaxation is needed to keep the vata in balance. Dry skin, cough and dry hair are some problems that one may face when the vata is imbalanced.
2. Pitta: Pitta is the fire element. It is responsible for regulating the body temperature through the chemical transformation of food (governing digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition and metabolism), promoting vitality and appetite. Those dominated by the pitta dosha are strong willed, determined and tend to have leadership qualities. If the pitta is imbalanced, it can lead to anger and agitation, and may even cause burning disorders such as ulcers and inflammation. To maintain a balance, meditation, massages and inhaling cooling scents such as rose, mint and lavender can help relax the body.
3. Kapha: This dosha maintains body resistance. Those dominated by kapha are said to be thoughtful, calm and steady. To maintain a balance, gentle exercises, stimulating activities and an extra intake of fluids can keep the energy flowing. Kapha is primarily responsible for anabolism, the process of building the body, growth and creation of new cells as well as cell repair.
What determines your dosha?
Ayurveda Specialist, Dr. Surya Bhagwati from Dr. Vaidya's explains, “The human body is made up of 5 elements -air, ether, earth, water and fire. A combination of these five elements determines one’s 'prakriti' or constitution. Ayurveda defines the combination of these five elements into three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. Although each human body is composed of all the three doshas, each body has a different combination of them and this determines one’s genetically inherited physical and personality traits. Through one’s life, these constitutions may change based on physical, mental and emotional. conditions. It is important to identify one’s dosha and then create a lifestyle that suits it. This means adopting a diet and daily routine based on one’s dosha."
Ayurveda divides the different body types into seven categories. Hence, it is possible for a person to be: vata, pitta, kapha, vata-pitta, pitta-kapha, vata-kapha, or tri-dosha. However, there is no ‘best’ or ‘perfect’ body type or dosha. Each of the categories have their own advantages and disadvantages.
What to Eat for Your Dosha An imbalance of doshas in the body can be checked with the help of herbal remedies, warm oil massages, yoga, and your diet. To balance each dosha, certain foods need to be consumed while some need to be avoided.
Balancing Kapha: One of the major reasons for kapha imbalance is excessive food consumption, and therefore, a light, low-fat diet of bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes is recommended. This can include steamed or raw vegetables, ripe fruits, grains like oats, rye, barley and millets, honey and strong spices like pepper, cardamom, cloves, mustard and turmeric. According to Ayurveda expert, Dr. Dhanvantri Tyagi, "Kapha prakriti should avoid fats, milk and rice in their daily diet but can consume them occasionally."