Ayurveda & Doshas
Ayurveda & Doshas
The Science of Life – Veda means ‘knowledge’. Ayur means ‘life’. Ayurveda’s approach is initially preventative rather than curative. It shows a person how to live in harmony with one’s own nature, as well as the natural cycles of the day, the seasons and life. As the science of Avurveda and Yoga sprang from the same fountain, they compliment each other. They are based on the same worldview, except that one focuses on life, the other on transcendence.
The doshas or biological humours, are the main factors in Ayurvedic thought, as they represent the underlying forces in the workings of both body and mind. The doshas operate to keep harmony between the elements in the body and ensure the functioning of the body’s systems. Each person holds all three doshas, but in varying distributions. One’s prakriti (‘nature’ or personal doshic distribution) is determined at birth (you can find out yours by filling out the Prakriti Assessment Form on this site). Prakriti turns into vrkriti when dosha imbalances set in due to improper life-style. If one’s yoga practice is constructed in a manner that takes into account one’s prakriti, as well as the effect that season, age, circumstances, emotional state etc. will have on one’s internal balance, it will lead to the ideal state where the body-mind is at perfect ease.
Vata is the dosha of air and thus is responsible for movement. It is dry, volatile, cold, irregular and flighty. A person who has a predominance of vata will usually be thin, with dry skin, frizzy hair, hard but brittle nails, uneven teeth and the eyes may have a greyish tinge. Vata people have great ideas, good short-term memory and are often impulsive, but lack the stamina and discipline to go through with things. A disturbance in vata is usually brought about by unstable circumstances, windy conditions and upheaval or change in general. It is exacerbated by raw foods, marijuana and psychedelic drugs, and a lack of routine.
If vata (air) prevails, you need to focus on grounding and strengthening. Excess vata makes it difficult to concentrate; one feels spacey and often anxious. You may be a vata-type or an imbalance in this field may just be a result of unsettling circumstances, such as a move, travel, a break-up or even just a windy day. The extremities often feel cold and special attention should be paid to safeguarding ankles and wrists. Standing balances and any postures that posit an altered foundation and therefore challenge one’s relationship with gravity are very useful. The breath is often shallow and needs to be deepened and lengthened through such pranayama practices as nadi shodana.
Pitta is the dosha of fire and a degree of water, and is responsible for digestion. It is hot, passionate and active. Pitta-types have reddish, irritable skin, and tend to sweat profusely. They are of medium and muscular build, their hair is often thin and straight and greys early, nails are rubbery, eyes are sharp, the teeth tend to yellow and the gums bleed easily. Pitta has a fiery temperament and they are the type of people who like to make things happen. Memory is astute, sex drive high and anger a predominant emotion. Pitta is exacerbated by spicy foods, stimulants and hot conditions.
Prevalence in pitta (fire-water) manifests as an excess in heat in the body-mind. You may be feeling hot-tempered, hyperactive and angry or the body may feel tense and restless. This energy needs to be harnessed and channelled. The focus in a pitta-regulating practice is on expending the energy evenly and awakening one’s capacity to fine-tune the senses. Impatience and pushiness can lead to injury and a feeling of depletion after the body has been “punished” through excessively vigorous practice. The practitioner needs to realise that being kind to oneself does not mean slacking, but rather directing the effort toward refinement of movement, which ensures correct alignment and smooth transitions. The exhalation is often much stronger and longer than the inhalation and therefore the inhalation needs to be supported and made conscious through such pranayama practices as veloma or bhastrika with antar kumbhaka.
Kapha is the dosha of earth and water, and is thus responsible for grounding. Kapha-types are usually heavy-set with oily thick wavy hair, big soft eyes, thick skin, large strong teeth and nails. They are of a mild, often lazy disposition, but once set into motion, have great stamina. They have good long-term memory, avoid confrontation and are often quite reserved. Kapha is exacerbated by oily stodgy foods and alcohol, a sedentary life-style and a lack of stimulation or exposure to the outdoors.
Imbalance in kapha (earth-water) manifests through sloth, torpor and a lazy feeling of heaviness. Before vigorously kick-starting the body in the dynamic flow, make sure to prepare by bringing the awareness to the feet, strengthening the core and ensuring pelvic stability. Kapha types often hold tension in the hips and thus supporting the body’s ability to safely open up this region is especially important. Any arm-balancing inversions and backbends are intensely invigorating and thus very useful. To keep things moving is the main motto here. The inhalation is often longer than the exhalation. Thus the capacity to release and let go on the exhale needs to be supported through such pranayama as bandha triyam in bhaya kumbhaka.