Ayurveda is a form of alternative medicine that is truly system of holistic healing unlike any other. Thought to be over five thousand years old, Ayurvedic medicine teaches us to see the world as it relates to the elements—or doshas—of vata, pitta, and kapha.
According to Ayurveda, everyone is born with a mixture of these three doshas. Determining your primary dosha is the first step towards finding your optimal state of balanced, natural health. If you don't know your own unique Ayurvedic body type, we encourage you to take our free dosha quiz
The name Ayurveda is derived from two words in Sanskrit, “ayuh” meaning “life” or “longevity” and “veda” meaning “science” or “sacred knowledge.” Ayurveda’s definition therefore roughly translates as “the science of longevity” or “the sacred knowledge of life.”
At its root, Ayurveda is a holistic tradition and way of living that can help each of us to claim and celebrate our capacity for wellness.
Ayurveda can help us:
In other words, Ayurveda is not simply about taking an herbal formula and waiting for the results. Instead, Ayurveda encourages you to be an active participant in your own journey toward healing.
The Sanskrit word for health, svastha, is a state in which the mind, soul, and senses interact harmoniously to experience a feeling of Self, wellness, and even bliss. Achieving this may seem like a lofty goal, but Ayurveda provides a treasure chest of elegant and insightful tools to help us get there.
Before you learn how Ayurveda can help you, you must first learn how to see yourself from an Ayurvedic perspective. The first step is to understand some key Ayurvedic principles, lenses through which Ayurveda views the universe.
These Ayurveda basics are foundational tools for:
Examining these core principles will also help illustrate what makes Ayurveda such a timeless art and science.
The Five Elements
Ayurveda recognizes five elements as the fundamental building blocks of nature:
Every substance contains all five of these elements. That said, in a given substance, one or two elements are typically predominant over the others.
The Twenty Qualities
Ayurveda also identifies twenty qualities (gunas) that can be used to describe every substance or experience. These qualities are organized into the following ten pairs of opposites:
The gunas are essential to understanding the Ayurvedic principle that like increases like and that opposites balance. For example, a person who is particularly cold natured, living in a cold climate, in the middle of winter, is likely to be experiencing an aggravation of the cold quality. The remedy? Heat—in the form of warming foods, hot drinks, heating spices, soothing baths, snuggly warm clothes, and if possible, an abundance of heart-warming experiences.
The Doshas and Your Ayurvedic Body Type
Then there are the three doshas (bodily humors): vata, pitta, and kapha. The doshas, or some combination of them, can be identified in various seasons, climates, landscapes, activities, plants, and animals. Each of them embodies a combination of elements and qualities to create a functional entity—an energetic force of nature.
All three doshas are present in everyone, but the ratio between them varies a great deal from one person to the next.
We will get to that in a moment, but first, here is an overview of the essential nature of each doshEach of us has a combination of these three doshas in our bodies at any given time. There is a combination of doshas we are born with, called our constitution, Ayurvedic body type, or prakriti in Sanskrit. We also have a state of balance (vikriti) which represents the doshas that are elevated within our body at a given time. If the doshas accumulate beyond healthy limits (those determined by one’s constitution), they can wreak havoc on our health.
The Difference Between Constitutions and Imbalances
Knowing both your Ayurvedic constitution and your current state of balance is incredibly helpful. This knowledge will allow you to adjust the most basic components of your day—like how you exercise or when you eat—to better support your overall well-being.
However, there are key differences between the doshas that comprise your constitutional makeup and the doshas that can be imbalanced within you.
As mentioned before, your constitution, prakriti, or Ayurvedic body type, is established within you at conception and remains constant throughout your lifetime. It represents your natural state of equilibrium and your blueprint for perfect health. Ayurveda recognizes seven basic constitutional types:
Your constitution influences your physiology, your likes and dislikes, your tendencies and habits, your mental and emotional character, and your vulnerabilities toward imbalance and disease. Therefore, learning how to manage your constitution can be truly enlightening.
Discovering your current state of balance will show you the present level of the doshas in your system. In contrast to one’s constitution, the current state of balance can and does change over time as we move through different climates, different seasons, and the various stages of life.
As mentioned earlier, Ayurveda teaches that like increases like and that opposites balance. (See the twenty qualities table above.)
For example, let’s say your pitta is aggravated. You’ve had a short temper lately, are overly judgmental, and have some acidity in your digestive tract. Which qualities should you be interacting with to find balance?
If you said “B,” you’re learning quickly! When we know which particular qualities are aggravated, we can be even more precise in our treatment strategies, finding specific practices to incorporate the necessary opposite qualities into our lives to find balance.
Which Dosha Should I Focus on Balancing?
Remember, if any of the doshas are out of balance (and for most of us, at least one of them is), your constitution will not tell you the entire story. Your current state of balance may actually be more important because it highlights which doshas you need to pacify in order to return to balance, and it can help you identify the most effective treatment strategies for your particular situation.There are, of course, some universals in Ayurveda: practices that are generally understood to be beneficial for all of us, regardless of constitution or current state of balance. But if you follow only general principles, you may inadvertently limit Ayurveda’s extraordinary ability to specifically support you and your changing needs.