It’s been suggested that I write a bit about the different Ayurvedic body types and how to eat for that type. I’ve hesitated doing this because, like most good holistic therapies, healing through Ayurveda is not as simple as “eating for your type.” Even understanding what your type is, or rather, what “types” you are comprised of, can be complex and changing. Further, our bodies change constantly, just like the seasons, and our diets often need to adjust with them. That’s why it’s often common Ayurvedic knowledge to eat seasonally, since the same forces that make up the “types” also make up the seasons. But with that in mind, I’ll attempt to explain proper Ayurvedic food choices for the different “types” anyway. This is a large subject, so I’m breaking it down into a series so that you can digest the information in smaller pieces.
Ayurveda is most well-known for what it calls its “tri-doshic theory;” that is, the theory that there are three primary forces or humors within the body that govern everything else. These doshas, known as vata, pitta and kapha, are comprised of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) and the qualities that describe them. Vata dosha is comprised of the air and ether elements, and can be described the qualities: mobile, cold, dry, light and rough. Pitta dosha is comprised mostly of the fire element, with a little bit of the water element. The qualities that describe pitta are: hot, light, sharp, moist or oily and unstable. Kapha dosha is comprised of the earth and water elements, making kapha moist, heavy, dense, cold, static, soft and cloudy.
All of the doshas are present in nature, and because the natural world is a mirror for what occurs inside our bodies, all doshas are also present inside of us. We need each dosha in order to survive, in order to have a body, have that body function normally and perform all of its tasks. Therefore, we are never just one dosha or “type.” The following chart describes each dosha and how they govern different parts of our body and mind.
So, as you can see, we are a combination of the doshas rather than just one type. Your dosha or “type” will always be a combination of the three doshas. Where the specificity comes in is that each of us are comprised of our own unique mixture of the doshas. It is through understanding your unique mixture that you can make better decisions about your health, including what you eat, how you exercise, how you structure your time and how you work with others. (Yes, Ayurvedic doshic types tell us more about ourselves that simply what to eat!)
When looking at our unique mixture of the doshas, Ayurveda distinguishes between prakriti, your unique combination of the doshas at conception, and vikruti, your current state of imbalance. As an Ayurvedic practitioner, I’m interested in getting the closest approximation of your prakriti as I can because your health and healing goal is to get to back to that state of health — to your unique state of health as determined at conception.
Obviously, it can be difficult to determine the state of the doshas at conception, as a lot has happened between then and now . To determine prakriti, we look towards the things in the body that don’t change much, like the structure of your physical features: bone structure, facial features, hair type, skin complexion, etc. We also ask about long term tendencies like digestion, elimination and body temperature and then compare them to any imbalance found now. Your current state of imbalance, or vikruti, is our starting point for treatment. This is where your body is currently out of balance. In treatment, we start from your virkruti and work back towards your prakriti.
In Ayurveda, the rule is that we balance or reduce doshas that are high, allowing those that are low to naturally balance themselves out. Like increases like and opposites reduce. When it comes to diet and lifestyle choices, we treat from the current state of imbalance. So eating for your Ayurvedic “type” becomes eating to balance your current state of imbalance, then once that is achieved, eating to maintain your optimal state of health. For example, let’s say that someone with a pitta prakruti has a vata vikruti. This means that their natural state is one of high digestive capacity (fire) and quick transformational processes within the body. But they’re currently experiencing gas, bloating, spaciness, vertigo and other vata symptoms. In order to reduce vata symptoms, we’ll actually have them eat warming foods and spices and otherwise increase fire, water and earth in the body to first become grounded and then build back their digestive fire. Then, once that has happened, we’ll start to manage their natural tendency towards pitta.
I’ve created a dosha quiz, below, to help you understand your prakriti and vikruti. You can simply take this quiz once to get a rough understanding of your current “type.” To get the best results, take this quiz twice — once while thinking about tendencies over your lifetime, and the second time noticing where things have changed since you were young. Notice that it may only be your answers on the second page that change much. For prakriti, notice the percentage of each dosha. To do this, add up the total number of checks for each dosha and divide that by the total number of checked boxes. To understand your current state of imbalance, just notice the primary dosha out of balance, i.e. if things have changed, are they mostly vata, pitta, or kapha? Also, note that you can answer more than one on each question and take both of those answers into your results.
Next time, I’ll talk about each type in detail and how to start balancing through diet and lifestyle.