I first learned about doshas during my yoga teacher training two years ago. While I had heard of Ayurveda, I didn’t know what Vata, Pitta, or Kapha meant, and the first time I took a “What’s Your Dosha?” quiz, I struggled to pick myself out of the options. It was a little like when I took personality tests back in high school youth group (“Are you phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric, or melancholy? What animal are you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert?”) Doshas are similar to personality, but more comprehensive because Ayurveda looks at personality, mind, and body as an interconnected package.
Since learning about the doshas I am gradually understanding why one friend can wear a tank top on a thirty-degree day while the girl next to her huddles in a puffy coat, and why my brother can eat semi-rotten meat while my sister has a hard time eating chicken. Understanding doshas helps me understand why my creativity is high in the autumn (but my ability to finish projects is not) and why I can be so sleepy at 10:00 p.m. but power-cleaning my bathroom at midnight.
The book Eat, Taste, Heal, by Yarema, Rhoda, and Brannigan, describes the doshas as, “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.” They are connected to the five elements of space, air, fire, water, and earth. While doshas are not visible themselves, one can see the effects of them as well as their qualities. I’ll describe some of these qualities, but know that a person might not have all aspects of a particular dosha—just a propensity towards one or two.
The doshas also exist in the seasons, time of day, and time of life. I’ll go into this in a later blog, but just know that Ayurveda translates as “science of life” for a reason. All of life connects to these five elements, and how the seasons and times of day affect the doshas in our lives is quite fascinating.
For now though, I’m going to really dumb this down. And I’m also going to use my three dogs as dosha mascots, because the internet loves dog photos.
A Kapha dosha is made up of the qualities of water and earth, and translates as “that which sticks”. Qualities of Kapha are cool or cold and wet, as well as sticky, dull, soft, moist, static, and heavy. This list of adjectives might not sound sexy, but Yarema et al. says Kapha has qualities of building the body as well as lubricating it, and keeping the body working is definitely sexy.
Doshas have locations in the body, and key locations for Kapha are the chest, throat, lungs, head, lymph, fatty tissue, ligaments, and tendons. The chest is important here—Kaphas love, whether it’s other people, food, or things. Kaphas are also good at patience, and forgiveness, unless imbalanced, in which case they tend towards greed, attachment, and mental inertia. When eating and exercising right, they’re healthy and peaceful. When not, they turn into couch potatoes (“I got stuck” is a common refrain of one of my Kapha friends). Paying attention to food intake is also important—while they love food and love to eat, they also easily gain weight.
I picked my Golden Retriever-mix Copernicus as this dosha’s mascot because he is happiest lying on the rug with his face in a bowl of food. He is healthiest, however, and least likely to get possessive of his food and toys when he gets a run or a walk every day. Ayurveda always addresses exercise as well as health, and points out that vigorous exercise is the most essential for a Kapha, but they’re the least likely to want to do it. Once they get going, however, they usually have great work ethic and endurance.
I’m not a Kapha, but I’m not surprised that some of my favorite people are.
Fire and water are the elements for Pitta, and the word Pitta translates as, “that which cooks.” Cooking is a transformative act, and Pittas are in the business of spreading and transforming. The physical locations of Pitta in the body are in the small intestine, stomach, liver, spleen, pancreas, blood, eyes, and sweat—in short, the places in the body that change a substance into something else. Some words often used to describe Pitta are oily, sharp, hot, light, moving, liquid, and acidic. Pittas often sweat profusely and literally can overheat. They usually hate hot weather.
The sharp element is obvious in the psychology of a pitta. Pittas have a bright personality and can demonstrate joy, courage, intellect, and willpower. They can also explode with anger and jealousy, and physically, they are prone to rashes and heartburn.
Like most Pittas, my pit pull Bailey is muscular, quick, and loves to exercise. We’re definitely alike in that way. When we go running, she’s determined to be in the lead. While pit bulls aren’t known for their stamina, they are known for their stubbornness, which has gotten her through many a long run. The bull-headedness shows up in her need to be the only one on my lap, the first to get her leash on, the first one up in the car or to the food dish. And when I tell her no, she replies with the face of a teenage girl getting grounded.
Pittas are good at getting things done. They’re also capable of running over people in the process, and when they get stressed out, they often respond to the rest of the world with an attitude of, “Why’d you have to do that?” Yarema says, “There is a saying that imbalanced Pitta individuals don’t go to hell; they simply create it wherever they go!” However, when balanced they are motivated and joyous, as well as natural leaders.
The Vata dosha is built on the elements of Space and Air, and Yarema et. al say Vata translates as “wind” or “That which moves things.” The qualities of Vata are dry, rough, light, cold, subtle, and mobile. If you think of a dry leaf blowing in the wind, you have a perfect image of Vata. If you’ve met my Australian shepherd mix Archimedes, you have another. The dog is always, always moving. He runs up to twenty miles with me when I’m training for marathons, and the only reason he doesn’t go farther is because I don’t want to carry that much water for both of us. After a long run, he still ambles around the backyard, barking at squirrels and passing cars. One of the defining words for Vata is vocal, and he only has to be locked in his room for a few minutes before he begins expressing his vocal stylings.
The physical locations of Vata are the colon, thighs, bones, joints, ears, skin, brain, and nerve tissues. Breathing, talking, conducting nerve impulses, pooping–these are all the territory of Vata, as is creativity, flexibility, and quick thinking. When a Vata is imbalanced, she can be plagued by dry skin and anxiety, as well as constipation, insomnia, and a host of other disorders; Ayurvedic texts say a Vata imbalance accounts for sixty percent of health disorders. When balanced, she can be a creative and gifted communicator, as well as compassionate and dynamic. Part of this balance involves eating foods with some substance (NOT sugar) and learning how to sit still. Meditation can be one of the most beneficial practices for a Vata type.
The goal in learning about doshas is to learn how to maximize the potential of the one (or two) we were each born with, while also learning to keep the dosha in check. My doshas are Pitta and Vata, and depending on the time of year, one will be stronger than the other. As a result, my constant challenge is not letting motion and the quest for achievement dominate my life. Meditation, a regular schedule, creative outlets (especially writing), and careful attention to my food, sleep, and exercise choices have been hugely beneficial for me. They also didn’t all come naturally, so if you try Ayurveda, hang in there. And try one thing at a time.
I’ll be blogging more on one thing at a time in the upcoming weeks and months. In the meantime, if you’d like to figure out your dosha or read more about Ayurveda online, check out http://doshaquiz.chopra.com/ or https://www.ayurveda.com/online_resource/doshas_elements_attributes.html