Ayurveda is the ancient science of health in India, or simply Indian traditional medicine. As in other traditional forms of healing (such as Traditional Chinese Medicine), Ayurveda classifies people according to ‘constitution’ or those having similar characteristics; in Ayurveda that is defined by the interplay of the three doshas.
Understanding Ayurveda Constitution-typing
There seems to be a lot of confusion about constitutions and Doshas. ‘Constitution’ here is not the US Constitution. It refers to the primary characteristics which can be used to categorize like with like. Someone’s constitution (or categorization) is determined by the proportion of the three Doshas in the body. Doshas are sometimes translated as “humors” or energies present, but are composed of the fundamental elements (air, space, fire, earth, water–as understood in Ayurveda).
Dosha can refer to:
- each of the different humors or energies present in the body
- someone’s specific constitution
- a cause of disease or ailment
- specific functions or energy flows within the body.
Determining Ayurvedic Constitution
Ayurveda looks at personality, body shape and function, pulse, tendencies, and inclinations to determine constitution as well as to aid in diagnoses and treatment.
Understanding your Constitution
There are three primary constitutions: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Here are some simple characteristics of each as understood for bodily constitution:
- Vata – Elements: space and air – High energy, soft voice, prone to disease and constipation, cold body, dry skin.
- Pitta – Elements: fire – Fast digestion, frequently hungry, warm body.
- Kapha – Elements: water and earth – Slow, deep voice, cold body, oily skin, larger body shape.
While we speak of the dominant Dosha, in truth, all exist in every body. It is really a matter of determining which one is dominant and which one is secondary. In an ideal state (which doesn’t exist) all three Doshas–or energies–are totally equal; none are excessive, nor deficient; none are controlling nor overpowering any others.
When asked ‘what is your constitution?’ in the context of Ayurvedic lifestyle or ‘which dosha are you?’ a typical response would be ‘Pitta-Vata’ or ‘Kapha-Vata,’ the first being the primary dosha and the second mentioned being seconary.
Working with your Ayurvedic Constitution
Once you’ve taken the Ayurvedic Constitution-typing test, you can start using that knowledge to be healthier by choosing foods specifically beneficial to your type, being aware of certain diseases that are typical of your constitution, and engaging in proper lifestyle habits to balance your doshas and make yourself more comfortable. This is why I recommended juices specific to each constitution, as well as salads.
Diseased state, or when a Dosha gets outta whack
Because the three doshas are never in equilibrium, they often get even more out of balance. And while you’d think the dominant one would tend to become stronger, that is not always the case. Sometimes an alternate dosha becomes aggravated and causes problems, or the dominant dosha gets blocked allowing the secondary dosha to become temporarily overpowering. All of these situations can cause health problems or a diseased state. That is why, when preparing a course of treatment, Ayurveda considers the person’s constitution, and also which dosha is vitiating (i.e. outta whack).
When following Ayurvedic nutrition, foods are selected based on which dosha they balance (i.e. decrease) and thus prescribed to that constitutional type. For example, Vata foods would seek to reduce Vata in the body while encouraging overall balance and good flow among the doshas. To explain further, when choosing foods according to constitution, if you’re Vata-Pitta, first select foods from the Vata list and secondarily from the Pitta list. If you are in a diseased state, or otherwise have a severly vitiating dosha, first consult an Ayurvedic doctor or Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant.
In the upcoming posts, read more about ayurvedic nutrition and choosing foods based on your dosha: Juice | Salad | Soup | Fruit | Veggies
Please forgive my oversimplified explanation of doshas and constitutions. This is typically covered in many class days, if not weeks, rather than in a 600 word blog post. Please ask questions below and I’ll be happy to clarify or elaborate.