Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest forms of holistic medicine and is still widely used today.
Combining physical, psychological, and spiritual health, Ayurveda focuses on whole-body healing and states that a person’s dosha, a type of bodily humor, determines their personality and health.
Though Ayurveda translates to “the science of life” in English, many health professionals question the belief of personal doshas due to a lack of scientific proof.
Meanwhile, proponents of Ayurveda claim that adopting dosha-specific health practices leads to balance and well-being.
This article tells you all you need to know about the Ayurvedic doshas and whether science backs them up.
Ayurveda and doshas
Ayurvedic medicine is based on the idea that the world is made up of five elements — aakash (space), jala (water), prithvi (earth), teja (fire), and vayu (air).
Each element combines three humors, or doshas, known as vata, kapha, and pitta. These doshas are believed responsible for a person’s physiological, mental, and emotional health.
Every person is said to have a unique ratio of each dosha, usually with one standing out more than the others. For example, a person may be mostly pitta while another may be mostly vata. An Ayurvedic practitioner can help you determine your dosha.
A person’s unique ratio of vata, kapha, and pitta is said to define their Ayurvedic constitution, a blueprint to achieve optimal health.
Though there’s little evidence to prove the legitimacy of doshas, many proponents of Ayurveda point to a lack of studies and funding on the subject. Rather than discrediting the practice, they believe more research should be done to support its efficacy.
Summary: According to Ayurveda, a person’s health is based on their dosha — a balance of the five elements of the world known as air, earth, space, water, and fire.
What does each dosha look like?
Based on centuries of Ayurvedic practice, an Ayurvedic practitioner can determine one’s dosha based on physical, emotional, mental, and behavioral characteristics. Here’s a general overview of each dosha.
Vata consists mainly of the two elements air and space (also known as ether) and is generally described as cold, light, dry, rough, flowing, and spacious. Autumn represents vata for its relaxed, crisp days.
Those with the vata dosha are usually described as slim, energetic, and creative. They’re known for thinking outside the box but can become easily distracted. Moreover, their mood highly depends on the weather, people around them, and the foods they eat.
Strengths: learn quickly, highly creative, multitasker, kind-hearted, flexible, “on the go,” naturally slim
Weaknesses: forgetful, anxious, unstable mood, can get overwhelmed easily, highly sensitive to the cold, has trouble sleeping, irregular appetite and eating patterns, prone to digestive issues and gas, poor circulation (cold hands and feet)
According to Ayurveda, for optimal health, a vata-dominant person should follow a regular daily routine, manage stress through meditation and other calming activities, and maintain a warm body temperature by avoiding cold weather and consuming warm foods and drinks.
Kapha (pronounced “kuffa”) is based on earth and water. It can be described as steady, stable, heavy, slow, cold, and soft. Spring is known as kapha season, as many parts of the world slowly exit hibernation.
People with this dosha are described as strong, thick-boned, and caring. They’re known for keeping things together and being a support system for others. Kapha-dominant people rarely get upset, think before acting, and go through life slowly and deliberately.
Strengths: empathetic, caring, trusting, patient, calm, wise, happy, romantic, strong bones and joints, healthy immune system
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Weaknesses: prone to weight gain, slow metabolism, sluggishness, over-sleeping, breathing issues (i.e., asthma, allergies), higher risk of heart disease, mucus buildup, susceptible to depression, needs regular motivation and encouragement
For good health, a kapha-dominant person should focus on regular exercise, a healthy diet, maintain a warm body temperature (e.g., by sitting in a sauna or eating warm food), and establish a regular sleep routine.
Known for being associated with a tenacious personality, the pitta dosha is based on fire and water. It’s commonly described as hot, light, sharp, oily, liquid, and mobile. Summer is known as pitta season for its sunny, hot days.
People with pitta are said to usually have a muscular build, be very athletic, and serve as strong leaders. They’re highly motivated, goal-oriented, and competitive. Still, their aggressive and tenacious nature can be off-putting to some people, leading to conflict.
Strengths: intelligent, purposeful, learns quickly, self-determined, masters skills easily, strong desire for success, strong, natural leaders, quick metabolism, good circulation, healthy skin and hair
Weaknesses: impatient, prone to conflict, always hungry, mood swings when hungry, prone to acne and inflammation, sensitive to hot temperatures
Those with a pitta-dominant dosha should focus on work-life balance and avoid extreme heat (e.g., weather, spicy food).
Summary: Though it’s believed that each person has a unique constitution, they generally fall under one of three main dosha types — vata, kapha, and pitta — based on their body type, personality, and sensitivities.
Dosha practices and evidence
Despite many self-reported success stories, there’s little evidence linking a balanced dosha to good health.
Despite this, Ayurvedic medicine believes “like attracts like,” and that opposites help a person achieve balance and harmony. For each dosha, there are recommended foods, exercises, and lifestyle practices to achieve balance.
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Though limited evidence supports the idea, following an Ayurvedic diet based on a person’s dosha is believed to help them balance their dosha and achieve optimal health:
- Foods to eat: warm, “moist”, and soft foods (e.g., berries, bananas, peaches, cooked vegetables, oats, brown rice, lean meat, eggs, dairy)
- Foods to avoid: bitter, dried, and cold foods (e.g., raw vegetables, cold desserts, dried fruit, nuts, seeds)
- Foods to eat: spicy, acidic, and filling foods (e.g., most fruits and vegetables, whole grains, eggs, low-fat cheese, unprocessed meats, hot spices)
- Foods to avoid: heavy, “fatty” foods (e.g., fats, oils, processed foods, nuts, seeds)
- Foods to eat: light, cold, sweet, and energizing foods (e.g., fruits, non-starchy vegetables, oats, eggs)
- Foods to avoid: heavy, spicy, and sour foods (e.g., red meat, potatoes, hot spices)
When a person feels unbalanced, it’s recommended they avoid foods that are similar to their dosha. Moreover, people may need to change their diet based on the seasons, such as by eating warm foods in the winter.
Although many people claim they feel better on an Ayurvedic diet, no studies show that it helps balance one’s dosha, nor that digestion changes based on the time of year.
Though most foods recommended on the diet are beneficial to health, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and minimally processed foods, it’s essential to work with a health professional when making significant changes to your diet.
Depending on your unique dosha, your Ayurvedic practitioner may recommend specific types of exercise:
- Vata. Due to their “on-the-go” nature, those with vata-dominant doshas should focus on activities that involve constant movement, such as cycling, running, walking, yoga, tai chi, etc.
- Kapha. Kapha doshas work best with a workout buddy and should focus on a combination of cardio and weight-resistance exercise to stay interested and motivated. Any type of movement is beneficial for this group.
- Pitta. Pitta doshas tend to push themselves too hard and should avoid exercising in the heat. Team sports are an excellent way to stay active while satisfying pitta’s natural competitiveness.
Most research on exercise and Ayurveda surrounds slow, gentle movements, such as yoga and tai chi. These exercises have been shown to have numerous health benefits, such as improved quality of life, physical fitness, and stress management.
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Though choosing certain types of exercise based on your personality and sensitivities may make sense theoretically, no research proves that doing so is effective.
Ayurvedic medicine encourages whole-body healing, which includes physical, mental, and emotional health. This can include practices like yoga, meditation, mindful eating, sleep hygiene, spending time by yourself and with others, and managing your work-life balance.
In particular, it’s recommended to have a daily routine that encompasses these healthy lifestyle practices. In Ayurveda, a regular routine is believed to keep you in sync with the elements and promote good health.
Interestingly, one study found vata-dominant people were more likely to report poor sleep, while kapha-dominant people were more likely to oversleep and nap.
Beyond this, no research supports the Ayurvedic elements and routines. However, daily routines and pre-planning your day are associated with healthier lifestyle habits, such as exercise, healthy eating, and improved sleep.
Moreover, incorporating mindfulness and meditation has been shown to lower stress and improve quality of life, creativity, and decision-making.
While no evidence supports lifestyle habits based on personal doshas, incorporating these healthy habits into your daily routine is still encouraged.
Summary: Despite many claims, little research shows that diet, exercise, or other lifestyle practices will help you balance your dosha. However, many lifestyle habits promoted by Ayurveda can still benefit your health.
Ayurvedic medicine is widely used today for its focus on whole-body healing.
According to Ayurveda, an imbalanced dosha leads to poor health and disease. Therefore, choosing food, exercise, and lifestyle habits based on your dosha promotes optimal health and balance.
Many proponents of Ayurveda claim that good health is based on one’s dosha, yet there’s little evidence to support this.
While research on the Ayurvedic doshas is lacking, incorporating the many healthy lifestyle habits of Ayurveda into your routine is a great way to promote good health.