The Three Doshas in Ayurveda: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha

Tridosha: The Science Of Ayurveda and the three doshas (vata, pitta, kapha)

The ancient science of Ayurveda is the oldest known form of health care in the world. Often called the mother of all healing, it originated in India some 5000 or more years ago.

Recently Ayurveda has been having a profound impact upon the world of health care. Popular books by Deepak Chopra, M.D. and Andrew Weil, M.D. have called attention to the potential of this ancient healing system to bring healing to those suffering with chronic disease. In addition, Ayurveda promises to improve the health and longevity of just about everyone.

Ayurveda is a science of Self understanding. By understanding your own unique nature or constitution, you can begin to understand how you interact with your environment and thus make choices that will lead you toward greater health.

Ayurveda defines disease as the natural end result of living out of harmony with one’s constitution. Our constitution is the inherent balance of energies within our bodies and our minds. It describes who you are on the most fundamental level. This unique balance of energy determines everything from our bone structure to our predisposition toward certain health challenges. Our constitution defines what we are naturally attracted to as well as what repels us. It defines what is in harmony with our nature and what will cause us to move out of balance and experience sickness and disease. Because we all have a different balance of energy, Ayurveda shows that the path to optimal health is different for each person depending upon their constitution.

The science of understanding our nature or our constitution is the science of Tridosha. Tridosha defines the three fundamental energies or principles which govern the function of our bodies on the physical and emotional level. The three energies are known a vata, pitta, and kapha. Each individual has a unique balance of all three of these energies. Some people will be predominant in one while others are a mixture of two or more. Let’s look at each of these now.


The vata dosha is said to be made up of the air and ether elements. This means that it has qualities which are similar to these elements. Vata is very much like the wind--it is light, cool, dry and mobile. In the body, those people with a vata nature experience more of these qualities. Their bodies tend to be light, their bones thin, and their skin and hair dry. They often move and speak quickly. When out of balance, they may lose weight, become constipated and have weakness in their immune and nervous systems

These qualities also reflect in their personality. Those with a vata nature tend to be talkative, enthusiastic, creative, flexible, and energetic. Yet, when out of balance they may also become easily confused and overwhelmed, have difficulty focusing and making decisions and have trouble sleeping. This becomes more apparent when they are under stress. Emotionally they are challenged by cool emotions like worry, fear, and anxiety.

In order to bring balance to vata, programs are designed which emphasize the opposing qualities of warmth, heaviness (nourishment), moistness, and stability. In the diet, this is reflected in the consumption of cooked grains such as rice and cooked vegetables, as well as the intake of warm milk with spices. Pungent herbs like ginger which increase internal heat and nourishing herbs like ashwagandha bring balance to Vata. Ayurvedic programs include not only herbs and diet but also color and aroma therapies, detoxification, yoga, and meditation.

Pitta dosha

The pitta dosha is said to be made up of the fire and water elements. Fire is more predominant, and those people with a predominant pitta nature have many of the qualities of fire within them. Pitta tends to hot, sharp, and penetrating. It is also somewhat volatile and oily. The oily nature of Pitta is related to the secondary component of water. People with a Pitta nature reflect these qualities. They tend to feel warm and have somewhat oily skin, penetrating eyes, and sharp features. They tend to have moderate weights and good musculature. When out of balance they tend toward diarrhea, infections, skin rashes and weakness in the liver, spleen, and blood.

These qualities also reflect in their personalities. Pitta people tend to be highly focused, competitive, capable, courageous, energetic and clear communicators who get right to the point. They like to solve problems and when under stress they dig in their heels. They can however also become overly intense and speak with a sharp tongue. They make great friends but feared enemies. Emotionally they are challenged by the heated emotions of anger, resentment and jealousy.

In order to bring balance to pitta, programs are designed to emphasize the opposing qualities of coolness, heaviness (nourishing) and dryness. Cool spices like fennel are recommended in the diet along with foods such as raw vegetables, cooked rice, and wheat, as well as most beans. Sweet herbs like shatavari are used to nourish the body while bitters like dandelion root temper the fire. A Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist puts together programs that not only include foods and herbs but also aromas, colors, massage, detoxification, yoga, and meditation.

Kapha dosha

Within the kapha dosha there is a predominance of the water and earth elements. Like these elements, kapha tends to be cool, moist, stable and heavy. In the body these qualities manifest as dense, heavy bones, lustrous, supple skin, low metabolism, and large, stocky frames. In addition, those with a kapha nature tend to feel cool. When out of balance, kapha individuals are prone to gaining weight and tend to have weaknesses in their lungs and sinuses where there is an accumulation of mucous. Those of kapha nature are also most prone to non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.

The elements of water and earth also reflect in the personality. The heavy, stable nature of kapha reflects in a stable personality which is not prone to quick fluctuations. Those with a kapha nature handle stress very well, often not even noticing that it exists. They don't like change, are generally conservative, and would prefer to keep things just the way they are. Those with a kapha nature are also comfort seekers. This relates to the soft, watery nature of kapha. Too much comfort, however, can lead to a lack of motivation and feeling of becoming stuck. When kapha is out of balance, the heavy emotions of depression and lethargy result.

In order to bring balance to a kapha nature the opposing qualities of lightness, dryness and warmth are recommended. These qualities are integrated in dietary and herbal programs as well as aroma and color therapies, detoxification, yoga and meditation. Grains such as quinoa and amaranth are recommended as well as hot spices like cayenne pepper. Lots of vegetables and very little nuts or dairy are prescribed. Cleansing herbs like guggul and pungent ones like clove bring balance to kapha.

We must remember that we are all a combination of the three doshic energies. On the most fundamental level, pitta is our metabolism, kapha is our structure, and vata is the mobility that brings action and life into creation. Without all three energies, we simply could not exist.

To determine a person’s constitution, a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist conducts a two hour consultation taking a look at every aspect of a person. This physical, emotional, and spiritual evaluation identifies the balance of energies in a person's body as well as areas of imbalance. Once the nature of the person and the imbalance are identified, the Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist can then put together a treatment program utilizing the appropriate diet and herbs, aromas, colors, yoga and meditation aimed at restoring or maintaining balance.

Optimal health is achieved through Ayurvedic Medicine when we are living in complete harmony with our environment. In order to live in harmony, we must first understand our own natures. Only then can we intelligently make choices which support us on our journey. Good luck on yours!

What is Vata Dosha? Tips and diet for balancing vata

The word vata means to blow or move like the wind.

Consisting of the elements air and ether, it is the principle force of motion in the body and mind. When vata dosha is healthy, the movements of the body are graceful, unimpeded, and yet controlled. When out of balance, the movements become erratic, excessive, decreased, or blocked.

To understand the vata dosha, it is important to understand its qualities. Vata dosha is light, dry, mobile, cold, hard, rough, sharp, subtle, flowing, and clear. A body and mind in which the vata dosha predominates expresses or reflects these qualities.

Vata dosha is best understood in terms of its component parts, its subdoshas, which are the five types of vata or five types of movement. Each subdosha defines a direction of movement and governs specific actions in the body.

Prana Vayu: Prana vayu represents the force that draws sensory experience to us. It is the force of attraction and has a magnetic nature. The way it functions determines the types of impressions we expose ourselves to. Prana vayu resides in the head and heart (chest) where desire dwells, choices are made, and sensory experience is processed. When it is healthy, we are drawn toward that which is harmonious and which brings us health and well-being. When prana vayu is out of balance, we misuse our senses and bring inside of us that which will cause disease.

Samana Vayu: Whereas prana vayu represents the force of attraction, samana vayu represents the force of absorption, pulling the impressions we are drawn to toward the center of our being. For example, samana vayu carries nutrients from the intestines into the circulatory system, and the sensations of things we touch are carried from the skin to the central nervous system. When samana vayu is functioning properly, impressions are properly absorbed. When it is in a state of dysfunction, absorption becomes difficult, and malnourishment or numbness may occur.

Vyana Vayu: Once absorbed, an impression must be acted upon. This is the role of vyana vayu, which is the force that circulates the response, moving it from the center toward the periphery. Following our examples, in the digestive system blood carries the nutrients throughout the body so that each cell receives its proper supply. In the nervous system, a signal is sent from the central nervous system toward a muscle or organ.

Udana Vayu: Udana vayu is responsible for action and expression, which means putting the energy received to work. Cells take the energy received and perform their unique functions. Nutrients are used for cellular energy and for building proteins. The nerves instruct muscles and organs to act properly.

Apana Vayu: Cellular activity produces both work and waste. While udana vayu is responsible for the work, apana vayu is responsible for cleaning up the waste. Apana vayu eliminates waste primarily through the functions of urination, defecation, and menstruation. It is responsible for all the downward flowing energy of the body and as such is also responsible for the energy needed for carrying the child out of the womb and into the world.

The Qualities and Presentation of Vata Dosha

The natural expression of vata dosha in the constitutioni of the body and mind reflects the qualities inherent in the dosha. Examples of the way these qualities manifest are as follows:

Light: The bones of the body are narrow

Cold: A person tends to become chilled easier than others

Dry: The skin or eyes have a tendency to become dry

Mobile: A person moves quickly, often with a lack of focus

Subtle: The mind is open to new ideas, expansive, and interested in the esoteric

Hard: If the tissues of the body become dry, they will then become hard; this is easiest to see as an imbalance

Flowing: The mind flows easily from one idea to the next

Sharp: The bridge of the nose is thinner and sharper than in other constitutional types

Rough: As the skin becomes drier, it becomes rougher; which is easiest to see as an imbalance

Clear: The eyes are clear

When vata dosha is out of balance, there is an excess of the qualities that define the dosha. The specific symptoms produced as a result of the imbalance depend upon which srota (channel system) and which dhatu (tissue) inside that channel are affected. Generalized examples of excess vata qualities (imbalances) in the body are as follows:

Light: The body loses weight

Cold: A person feels chilled

Dry: The lips become chapped

Mobile: The voice becomes too quick and rambles

Subtle: A person is too easily affected by the feelings of others

Hard: The stools become hard and difficult to eliminate

Flowing: There is an inability of the mind to focus

Sharp: Pain in the body is sharp like the prick of a needle

Rough: The skin becomes rough

Clear: The eyes and the mind become vacant

Managing Vata Dosha

Ayurvedai offers many approaches to bringing vata dosha into balance. Whether the tools used are dietary, herbal, colors, aromas, mantras, massage oils, or lifestyle; the principles used to return to balance are the same. It is necessary to increase the qualities opposed to the imbalance. Where there is an excess of lightness, we increase heaviness; where there is an excess of coldness, we increase heat; where there is an excess of hardness, we increase softness; and so on. While each of the treatment tools noted above are valuable, by far the most important tool is lifestyle. Only through adopting an appropriate lifestyle can the vata dosha remain in balance and the cause of disease be removed.

One of the most important lifestyle tools for maintaining health and for supporting healing in the vata individual is the adoption of regular healthy routines that are in harmony with the rhythms of nature. Stability is greatly improved through eating and sleeping at the same times every day.

It is best to arise within a half hour of the sun rising. The morning routine should include time for self abhyanga (oil massage), meditation, and yoga asana practice in addition to proper daily hygiene. Meals should be taken regularly throughout the day; as many as five small meals per day taken every three hours would be appropriate. These meals should be taken at the same time each day. This increases both the heavy and stable qualities. The foods should be somewhat oily (moist), cooked when possible (warm), and moderately spiced (warm). Bed time should occur at about 9 or 10pm, though this depends somewhat on the rhythm of the sunset and varies season to season and by latitude. Waking and sleeping times should be consistent from day to day to increase stability.

Specific treatments are available for almost every known condition in the body, as such symptoms can be understood in terms of the ten pairs of opposite qualities. Once the qualities of the patient's constitution and condition are known, the experienced practitioner, knowing the qualities of the remedies, is able to design a treatment program that brings these opposite qualities into harmony. These qualities provide the body with the fundamental energies and raw material needed to support the healing process.

The Way of Success? Vata Style!

There are many roads to success. One of those is the path of inspiration. The inspired individual is one who draws inspiration from above and brings it down through their crown chakra into their heart where it gestates till ready to emerge through the organs of action and take form in the world.

Left unobstructed, success is guaranteed and the creation is one of divine beauty. Through the unencumbered mind, the divine river flows effortlessly. Action is guided by a higher power and the actor is its tool.

Inspiration is a fragile moment for many. A glimpse of the divine is often fleeting, as allowing it to flow continuously can be too much for many. For most, the wind of mind causes ripples in the stillness that distorts the perception of divine intention. This creates doubts, fear and subsequent overwhelm.

Do not doubt the moment. The moment of genuine inspiration will leave an imprint upon your consciousness. Within the ripples of confusion, the imprint remains like an echo. Move forward and jump in the water. Let go and allow the divine flow to carry you off. But how will you swim? That, you can figure out later. You may not have to. The river will carry you to where you need to be. All you need is to surrender and trust in the divine. As its waters flow over and around you, comfort will replace fear as you are lifted up and over the rocks. And should you drown, you will do so with a smile radiating from your heart and you will be reborn anew for we never really were.

With true inspiration, there is no real choice. We are drawn to the river. The next step is to jump in with joy!