Ayurveda is the ancient traditional medicine of India, the science of life in practice for more than 5,000 years. It is a system of energetics that, much like traditional western herbalism, shares many similarities with the elemental system of Greek medicine, which uses terms like hot, cold, damp and dry to describe the energetic effects of herbs & foods. Herbal energetics is a system that allows one to understand the effects of herbs through the senses, and to grasp the different constitutional types of people, which predict what kinds of health issues they will have as well as their solution through a holistic perspective.
Ayurveda is founded on the idea of the 3 main forces which function in the body, called the 3 doshas. These are the “master forces” of health which when in balance bring total wellness, and when in imbalance—disease. Let us talk briefly of these 3 doshas, how they determine the constitutional type you are, and how to bring your dosha into balance through diet & herbs.
THREE DOSHAS OF AYURVEDA:
Vata: The Vata dosha is fundamentally the catabolic force of the body, that breaks down tissues and eliminates waste. It is the force of movement, respiration and nervous energy and is elementally a combination of the Air & Ether energies. Ether in Ayurvedic Philosophy is associated with space and the fifth elements of western systems related to the spirit.
Constitution: The Vata type tend to be cold, have dry skin, and have a tall and skinny frame. This type is very curious, intellectually stimulated and have moods that rapidly change from happiness to anxiety. The Vata type has excellent short-term memory but has more difficulty with long term retention of information. They generally eat frequently and have a tendency towards hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). People of this type are very artistic and creative but tend towards feelings of fear and insecurity when out of harmony. They are the insomniac constitutional type, do not keep to schedules and are overall very restless, benefiting much from constant travel. The Vata type is the ectomorph type of modern constitutions, a type that has much nervous energy, tends to have a high metabolism and difficulty putting on weight.
Vata constitutions tend to be “thinking types”, filled with excess nervous energy, natural creativity, and a thin build.
Vata Imbalances & Diet: This type tends to suffer from pains of all types, whether that be headaches, arthritis, or chronic pains all across the body. They generally have lower libido and some difficulties with fertility. Overall, this type has difficulties with nervous overactivity, and irregular lifestyle habits. To balance Vata, foods which are warming, nutritious and easy to digest are best. Regular meals, setting aside dedicated mealtimes with full focus on eating, and mild spices are best for this type. They benefit from eating lots of cooked vegetables & grains, sweet fruits, nuts but should avoid all dry types of foods (grains, fruits) and any foods that cause gas such as beans, cabbage, or raw vegetables.
Vata Balancing Herbs:
Essential Oils/Incense: Lavender, Myrrh, Sage, Patchouli
Massage Oil: Castor Oil is the principal topical therapy for Vata types. NEVER ingest Castor oil!
Herbs: Ginger, Cinnamon, Garlic, Ashwagandha, Triphala, Valerian, Chamomile, Ginseng.
Spices tend to be particularly useful for Vata types to warm the system (Vata is cold). In general calming herbs that act on the nervous system are best (chamomile, valerian, ashwagandha) for Vata balance.
Kapha: The Kapha dosha is fundamentally the anabolic force of the body, the force that builds the tissues, maintains structures, and brings stability. Elementally it is considered to be a combination of Earth & Water energies and corresponds to the western energetics of Cold & Damp.
Constitution: The Kapha type is also often cold, puts on weight very easily, has low appetite that is constant. Psychologically this type is very calm, compassionate and takes longer to learn but has better memory and retention when they grasp new information. They have deep sleep, are romantics at heart but they often suffer from depression and a difficulty in staying active. This type corresponds to the modern notion of the endomorph, a bodily type that is larger, gains weight more easily and is very hardy.
The Kapha type tends towards sluggishness, loves sleep and taking things easy— like this here sloth.
Kapha Imbalances & Diet: The Kapha type tends to have diseases with excess mucus secretions such as colds, lung issues and may have kidney problems. To balance the Kapha dosha eating lower calorie, intermittent fasting and eating foods that are warming (spicy) and dry (dried fruits, rice cakes, etc.) can be very helpful. They do well with eating raw vegetables, avoiding heavy and fat dense foods, and abstaining from sweet foods, dairy and oils.
Kapha Balancing Herbs:
Essential Oils/Incense: Camphor, Eucalyptus, frankincense, lemon, peppermint, rosemary,
Massage Oil: Jojoba oil is best for Kapha types.
Herbs: Cayenne, Black pepper, Clove, Garlic, Cinnamon, Basil, Sage, Skullcap.
Like the Vata type, the Kapha type benefits from warming herbs (spices) to stimulate activity and warm the body but does not need the kinds of nerve sedatives that Vata does because they are already so calm!
Pitta: The Pitta dosha is the force of metabolism, or vital heat of the body. It is associated with the digestive processes, nutrition of the body, and is elementally a combination of Fire & Water. It is the most fiery and energetic of the forces in the body.
Constitution: The Pitta type tends to run very hot and can at times be a “hot head”. This type can be very intense, is often athletic, is a natural leader but is very prone to anger, aggression, and irritability. This constitution tends to be naturally muscular, strong and have an intense appetite. They are highly intelligent, “sharp” and have good overall memory. They can however be jealous, judgmental and the classic “Type A” personality. The Pitta is the mesomorph, the very lucky type that is muscular in nature and neither puts on weight too easily or with too much difficulty.
The Pitta type is intense and fiery as a lion but is prone to aggressiveness and anger when out of balance. They tend to be ambitious and passionate in their lives, sometimes leading to imbalances.
Pitta Imbalances & Diet: Fundamentally the Pitta type suffers from inflammation throughout the body and often has many issues with their skin such as rashes. They tend towards acid reflux, high blood pressure, fevers and irritable bowels and autoimmune conditions. This is due to the intense nature of the “fire” of this type, which can become excessive and cause inflammation and overstimulation throughout the body. This type LOVES spicy food but is the type to avoid it most as it makes their constitutional issues worse. Dietarily they do well with mild foods served cold, low oils and completed avoidance of spices. They benefit from sweet fruits, vegetables, beans, and cooling drinks (apple juice) but should avoid very pungent vegetables (onions & garlic), and fermented dairy (yogurt). Three regular meals is best for this constitutional type, whereas the Kapha type is better off with 1-2 light meals a day.
Pitta Balancing Herbs:
Essential Oils/Incense: Jasmine, Rose, Lavender, Sandalwood, Lotus.
Massage Oils: Ghee, Coconut, Pumpkin. Ghee is also great as a food for Pitta types.
Herbs: Aloe Vera, Gentian, Turmeric, Fennel, Mint. Rhubarb, Rose, Psyllium husk, Licorice, Dandelion root, Gotu Kola, Hibiscus.
Pitta types benefit from cooling herbs such as Aloe Vera, Peppermint and Hibiscus that decrease heat in body and lower inflammation. They also do great with digestive support herbs, as they are predisposed to digestive issues.
Conclusion: By now you should have a good understanding of your type, and it is key to mention that you can actually be a combination of 2-3 types, where one of them is predominant. Understanding your Ayurvedic dosha is incredibly helpful for knowing what your health weaknesses most are and how to choose herbs & foods that are specifically best for you, rather than whatever is the superfood of the moment (I’m looking at you goji berries). These forces are active in everyone at all times to differing degrees, but it is our constitutional type which tells us which ones of these doshas is most often out of balance in us. In this way Ayurveda is a true holistic healing system because it is focused on patterns in the body which can be changed through lifestyle habits, diet, mentality, and herbs.
References: The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs, Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Michael Tierra, 2008.