The Ayurveda Series: The doshas

Today we look at the physical traits of each dosha, the cause and signs of each dosha's aggravation and look at ways in which these can be brought back into balance.


Vata


Vata's essence is movement. It is our life force (prana), derived primarily from breath. Vata is reflected in the circulation of blood and lymph and the impulses of the nervous system.

Vata traits;


  • A narrow or irregular frame and slight build

  • Some find it impossible to put on weight and some become overweight through stress, digestive problems and eating badly

  • Prominent bones, joints often crack

  • Rough, dry skin that can crack easily

  • Variable appetite and, as a result, eat irregularly as they find it hard to be still

  • However, if they don’t eat regularly they can become hypoglycaemic and easily feel faint or weak, then even more anxious

  • Feel the cold, poor circulation, any symptoms they have are worse in cold weather

  • Love warmth and sunshine

  • Dry skin and hair but their variability means some areas may be oily

  • Erratic digestion – wind, bloating, IBS

  • Changeable, fickle, find it hard to make decisions

  • Restless, hard to relax

  • Low stamina, they tire easily but use nervous energy until exhausted

  • When in balance – bright, enthusiastic, creative, full of new ideas and initiative and a visionary

  • Think fast, talk fast, love being with other people, enjoy travel and change

  • Good at initiating things but not so good at seeing them through!

  • Poor memory (take things in quickly but forget quickly), lack of concentration, disorganisation, fear and anxiety and can suffer from nervous problems such as disorientation (spaced out), panic attacks and mood swings

Causes of Vata aggravation;


  • Irregular, erratic lifestyle, irregular eating patterns, missing meals

  • Stress, grief, anxiety, fear, shock, loneliness

  • Change, such as moving, work or relationship

  • Flying, travelling, changing time zones, food, etc

  • Change of season (especially autumn)

  • Too much movement

  • Exposure to dry, cold, windy weather

  • Lack of sleep, exhaustion

  • Talking too much

  • Loud noise, overstimulation


Signs of Vata aggravation;


  • Constipation, wind, colic, bloating, anxiety related diarrhoea

  • Aching pains in the bones, cracking joints, arthritis, backache in the lower lumbar

  • Fatigue, lowered resistance to infection, loss of weight

  • Tinnitus, tingling and numbness

  • Feeling cold, poor circulation

  • Dry skin and hair, brittle nails

  • Restless sleep, tension and anxiety

Remember - if you have any symptoms that are unusual for you or that you are concerned about please visit your GP as this guide is not a replacement for professional advice.

Treatment of Vata aggravation;


  • Take plenty of relaxation, rest and sleep; avoid overstimulation and doing too much

  • Practice yoga, pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation

  • Regular routine, eating meals and taking gentle exercise

  • Massage or similar therapies

  • A light diet of warm, soft foods, avoiding hard, raw, dry and indigestible foods

  • Add mild spices to your cooking, such as fresh ginger, cumin, cardamom, fennel and coriander

  • Increase sweet, sour and salty foods and minimise pungent, bitter and astringent foods

  • Avoid processed or ‘windy’ foods and if you love salads have them in summer with plenty of oil

  • Avoid caffeine as it’s too stimulating and also cold and carbonated drinks. It’s better to go for herbal teas, hot water or warm milk

  • Vata can snack but avoid dry items such as crackers, crisps or cereal bars, go for fruits or soaked or well-chewed nuts

Pitta


Pitta's essence is transformation and heat and it controls all the chemical and metabolic conversions in the body that create energy and heat. Pitta is reflected in the digestion of nutrients which provides energy as well as the hormonal system.

Pitta traits;


  • Medium build and weight, well-proportioned figures

  • Skin is warm to touch, pale or pink in appearance and may be sensitive so prone to rashes or spots

  • Skin burns easily, often have moles or freckles

  • Sweat readily, even in cold weather and never seem to feel the cold

  • May have blonde or red hair, often fine, straight and oily and turns grey early

  • Men who go bald early are usually pitta dominant as high testosterone levels are a pitta phenomenon

  • Good appetite, love eating, fast metabolism

  • Hate to miss meals, when hungry, irritable and hypoglycaemic with headaches, dizziness, weakness and shaking

  • Digestion good and bowels efficient but if they get hot, agitated or angry or eat too many hot, spicy foods then they may suffer from indigestion, heartburn or diarrhoea

  • Methodical and organised

  • Good at public speaking, entrepreneurial

  • Obsessive about time and perfectionists

  • Often wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day

  • Sleep well, unless they’re worried but go to bed late and tend to work into the night

  • Highly competitive, fear of failure

  • Passionate, romantic, intense, can be obsessive and jealous

  • Aggravated by hot weather, vigorous exercise, hot, spicy foods and red meat

  • An excess of pitta causes irritability, anger, overly-critical and can become a workaholic!

  • Tendency towards infections and skin problems such as acne and eczema, heartburn and indigestion, eye problems, anaemia

Causes of Pitta aggravation;


  • Hot weather, getting overheated

  • Bright light, hot sun

  • Late spring and summer

  • Inflammatory situations, anger, jealousy, arguments, irritation, frustration

  • Perfectionism, overambition

  • Missing meals

  • Suppression of emotions

  • Overwork, over-commitment, over-competitive environment

  • Pungent, sour and salty foods, fried foods

  • Caffeine, hot spices, alcohol

  • Going to bed late


Signs of Pitta aggravation;


  • Inflammation, heartburn, acidity

  • Inflammatory skin problems such as eczema

  • Blood disorders, anaemia, high blood pressure

  • Eye problems such as conjunctivitis, styes and blephartis (inflammation of the eyelids)

  • Heat and burning symptoms, fevers, profuse sweat

  • Thirst, increased appetite, dizziness, diarrhoea

  • Cystitis, burning urination

  • Headaches, migraine

  • Hormonal problems, PMS

  • Irritability, intolerance, aggression, perfectionism, obsessions, over-competitiveness, addictions

Remember - if you have any symptoms that are unusual for you or that you are concerned about please visit your GP as this guide is not a replacement for professional advice.

Treatment of Pitta aggravation;


  • Relaxation and rest, going to bed early (ideally 10pm)

  • Avoiding overwork and burning the candle at both ends

  • Avoiding inflammatory situations and stressful people

  • Avoiding excessive exercise, especially when it’s hot

  • Drinking plenty of cool water

  • Relaxing in cool areas, such as by the water, swimming or walking by the sea

  • When hot, taking cool baths

  • Counselling, talking, meditation to release suppressed emotions/anger

  • Soothing or pleasant music, uncompetitive activities

  • Reduction of pungent, spicy, fried, sour and salty food

  • Avoiding alcohol

  • Sit down for your meals (and not at your desk!), eat in a calm environment

  • Snack if you feel hungry but opt for crackers and oat cakes with cottage cheese or hummus, organic cereal bars, crudites, fresh fruit or dried fruit

  • Avoid caffeine and hot drinks in the summer, go for water, warm herbal teas and fruit juices such as pomegranate


Kapha


Kapha's essence is growth and protection and it controls nourishment. It is reflected in the bones, muscles, tissues, cells and body fluids.

Kapha traits;


  • Biggest and strongest builds of the three doshas

  • Large bones, broad shoulders, big muscles and put on weight easily

  • Hair is thick and lustrous

  • Skin is usually cool and rather clammy to touch

  • Appetite is stable, though they are not often hungry first thing, when they tend to feel sleepy

  • Love food, tend to comfort eat

  • Digestion is slow and sluggish, as is metabolism

  • Grounded, emotionally and physically strong and resilient

  • Good immunity

  • Energy is steady and enduring

  • Placid, kind and thoughtful, slow paced and deliberate, mild and gentle

  • Sweet-natured, loyal, affectionate and avoids confrontation

  • Slow to learn but slow to forget

  • Good at earning money and saving

  • Don’t like change or unpredictable aspects of life and do anything to maintain the status quo

  • May have a tendency to be lazy (the couch potato who loves nothing more than sitting around relaxing and doing very little!)

  • Exerting themselves does not come naturally, although vigorous exercise can make them feel very good and healthy

  • Sleep heavily and love to lie in

  • Don’t mind extremes of weather but symptoms are often worse in cold, damp winter weather

  • Emotionally may feel complacent, greedy, materialistic and passive

  • May be a tendency to be stubborn, obstinate and narrow-minded and block out anything that might upset their equilibrium

  • Reluctant to delve into emotional life in counselling or therapy

  • Can suffer from depression and SAD

  • Excess kapha causes stagnation in tissues, congestion, cellulite, breathing problems, feeling cold, sleepiness

  • Prone to colds, catarrh, asthma, allergies, high cholesterol and diabetes

Causes of Kapha aggravation;


  • Sleeping in the daytime, excessive sleep, getting up late

  • Lack of exercise and change, laziness

  • Cold, damp winter weather

  • Not eating regularly, overeating

  • Excess sweet, sour and salty foods

  • Excess heavy, cold and damp foods


Signs of Kapha aggravation;


  • Colds, catarrh, coughs, bronchial congestion, hay fever, asthma

  • Slow digestion and metabolism, nausea and heaviness after eating, constipation

  • Overweight

  • Fluid retention

  • Lethargy, laziness, poor motivation, foggy-mindedness

  • Poor circulation

  • Possessiveness, acquisitiveness, greed, stubbornness, aversion to change, blocking out emotions

  • Low thyroid function, high cholesterol

Remember - if you have any symptoms that are unusual for you or that you are concerned about please visit your GP as this guide is not a replacement for professional advice.

Treatment of Kapha aggravation;


  • More exercise, vigorous activity, doing different things, trying to be open-minded

  • Reduction of sleep if excessive, getting up well before 8am

  • Eating a light diet with hot foods and regular meals

  • Drinking plenty of warming drinks

  • Adding hot spices to cooking

  • Your diet should lean towards vegetarian as meat can be a little heavy for you

  • Eat freshly cooked, warm and light meals that are a little dry so cooked with only a little fat

  • Avoid raw salads as they are hard for you to digest and eat them only in the summer and at lunchtime

  • Dairy products are heavy so use alternatives such as almond or goat's milk. Cottage cheese and goat’s cheese may be OK occasionally but they may make your sinuses flair up

  • Eat small portions and avoid snacking, make lunch your biggest meal

  • Avoid cold and fizzy drinks, spiced teas are good for you

  • Find a way to stop yourself turning to food when stressed!


Next blog... Agni - looking after your digestive fire