Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest health systems, dating back thousands of years to the time of the Vedas, ancient Indian texts containing important wisdom. The world ‘Ayurveda’ is derived from the root words Ayus or Ayur meaning ‘life’, or ‘longevity’, and Veda meaning ‘knowledge’ or ‘wisdom’. We can understand the system of Ayurveda then, as the ‘science of life’, or the ‘wisdom of longevity’. This wise and ancient path of holistic health has recently experienced a surge in popularity again thanks to the growing number of people practicing yoga world-wide, who know there’s more to India’s rich and healing gifts than physical postures.
Whilst yoga is traditionally considered a spiritual practice, Ayurveda focuses on caring for the physical body, mind and emotions, and cultivating a life that flows in harmony with nature’s rhythms. The basic principles of Ayurveda state that everyone’s natural state is one of wellbeing, but that ‘health’ looks and feels different to everyone. Ayurveda treats each person as an individual with unique needs, but understand that each of us are intrinsically interconnected and interdependent with the world around us. Ayurveda works with nature and natural health as much as possible, and looks to prevent disease before it occurs.
One of the most well-known aspects of Ayurveda today, is the concept of the three ‘doshas’ or ‘mind-body types’. The word dosha literally means fault, not because doshas are inherently ‘bad’, but because they can cause dis-ease and disease if they accumulate within the body in an improper balance. As with everything, too much of one particular energy, food or activity can quickly disrupt our physical and emotional health (think of a time when you’ve eaten too much spicy food, experienced a prolonged period of stress, or the way your skin might feel throughout seasons with drier air).
The 5 Elements & 3 Doshas
The doshas are comprised of pairs of elements, which in turn hold specific qualities:
Kapha is made up of the earth and water elements, and qualities like heaviness, coolness, cohesion, growth and softness. In our bodies, Kapha makes up the ‘meaty stuff’; the muscles and fat tissue, as well as the watery aspects of synovial fluid around the joints. Emotionally, Kapha helps us feel strong, calm, loving and settled. We can experience an accumulation of Kapha energy however, when we consume too much cold and heavy food such as ice cream, or if we adopt a sedentary lifestyle. Too much Kapha energy results in an imbalance, which could manifest as excessive mucus, phlegm, weight gain, sluggishness, attachment and depression.
Pitta is made up of the fire and water elements, which combine to create an acidic, sharp, hot, focused, and oily atmosphere. In our bodies, Pitta is the fire within the digestive system (known as ‘agni’), the blood, and bile. Anything that we experience as ‘hot’ has pitta energy within it. Emotionally, Pitta helps us feel productive, it helps us digest food and experiences well, and can help with self-discipline. A Pitta imbalance however, can result in inflammation, acid reflux, irritability, a short temper, being overly self-critical, and a predisposition towards burnout. If we eat too much spicy, oily food, live a high-stress lifestyle or do too much high-impact vigorous exercise, we’re likely to accumulate too much Pitta energy.
Vata is made up of the air and ether elements, which we can recognise as lightness, irregularity, movement, dryness and coldness. In the body, Vata is the nervous system, thoughts, and anywhere there’s ‘space’. Emotionally, Vata energy feels like creativity, adventure, and the urge to communicate and socialise. We can experience a Vata imbalance during cold, dry and windy seasons like Autumn, any time we experience ‘change’, and if we consume too much dry, cold or rough food like crackers or raw vegetables. Excessive Vata energy can make us feel anxious, ungrounded, fearful, and can manifest as joint pain, gas and bloating, and dry skin.
Whilst the three doshas are all present within everyone, each of us is unique, and holds a different amount of each dosha. You may have more Vata within you for example, whilst your partner may be more of a Kapha type. Whichever your primary dosha type is will determine the best diet, lifestyle and daily routine for you. It will also help you understand and accept certain tendencies, cravings, habits or emotions you may often feel. To get started, it’s useful to take a dosha test, to discover which primary type you are. You could be purely one type, a combination of two such as ‘Vata/Pitta’, or occasionally, some people are a balance of all three, known as Tri-Doshic. Your dosha is set at birth, and is largely due to your parents’ doshas, the season you’re born in, as well as having a strong astrological influence. Count up your score for ‘vata’, ‘pitta’ and ‘kapha’, and your highest number or numbers will tell you which dosha you are! In the next blog, we’ll explore the best diet and lifestyle practices to help keep your dosha in balance.
Which dosha are you?
Words courtesy of @emmanewlynyoga
Emma is a 500hr qualified Yoga teacher, musician, holistic therapist, cook, and writer. Having grown up surrounded by Yoga and meditation, Emma began her practice at a young age and has a deep connection to Ayurveda. Emma currently teaches regularly in Sussex, co-leading teacher trainings, Ayurveda in-person and online training courses, retreats and workshops. She specialises in giving Ayurvedic and Holistic coaching session to private clients to help them find their own unique state of health and wellbeing. Find her at www.emmanewlynyoga.com