Summary: Explaining the key Ayurvedic principles Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Examining the seven possible combinations of these doshas and their effects on our mind-body type. Including pulse diagnostic techniques and links to online dosha determining resources.
In Ayurveda, the major constitutional types are made up from combinations of the three key Ayuvedic principles or doshas: Vata (V), Pitta (P) and Kapha (K). Unfortunately there are no words in the English language which directly correspond to these terms. In addition, these principles can be difficult to understand as we can’t directly see them – only infer their presence.
‘Lying as they do in the gap between mind and body, they resemble nothing that exists in our Western scientific framework’ D Chopra, ‘Perfect Health – The Complete Mind/Body Guide’
The following sections give an outline of the basic concepts for each of the three doshas.
The Three Doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha
- Vata governs bodily functions involving movement (Key word: ‘Movement’)
- Pitta governs bodily functions concerned with heat, metabolism and digestion (Key word: ‘Fire’)
- Kapha governs the structural aspects of the body and its fluids (Key Word: ‘Structure’)
Each of the three doshas is present in all of us, present in every living cell and present in every organ of our body! However, from an Ayurvedic perspective some organs are more associated with a particular dosha. For example, our stomach is associated with the ‘digestive fire’ element of Pitta, our continuously beating heart with the movement aspect of Vata, and our skeleton with the structural aspect of Kapha.
If we begin examining some of the dosha’s associations we find: Vata is linked to breathing, movement, the nervous system, and the process of elimination of waste products. Pitta is linked with strong digestion, energy, sharp intellect and good speaking ability. Kapha brings strength and endurance, mental stability and patience.
Before making any lifestyle, dietary or treatment advice Ayurveda’s greatest strength lies in its ability to classify everyone into one of seven major mind-body types based on the combination of the doshas V, P and K
So everybody (really: ‘every body’) will fall into one of the following seven categories according to which principles are naturally predominant in the individual’s mind and body. In Ayurveda this inherent natural balance is called one’s ‘Prakriti’.
If only a single dosha predominates the person will be described as having an inherent nature of Pitta, Vata or Kapha (often referred to as ‘pure Vata’, ‘pure Pitta’, etc.):
P or V or K
Often two doshas predominate, giving rise to categories:
PV (or VP): PK (or KP): VK (or KV)
Occasionally all three doshas are at the same level, giving rise to the final category of:
Ayurveda views anything that causes a change in this natural balance as potentially harmful. This disturbance could be due to many factors, such as improper diet, weak digestion, emotional disturbances and even environmental factors such as excessively hot, cold or windy weather.
In order to better explain the principles of Vata, Pitta and Kapha let us now examine the observable characteristics of people who just have a single dominant dosha – that is ‘pure Vata’, ‘pure Pitta’ and ‘pure Kapha’ mind-body types. It sometimes helps to ‘picture’ the pure dosha stereotypes. For example, a pure Vata type would probably apply to a ‘stick-thin’ fashion model whereas a pure Kapha type would probably apply to a large framed dark-haired motherly figure. People with a fiery personality and red hair are often Pitta types.
The following section lists the main physical and mental characteristics of these pure, single-dosha mind-body types:
‘Pure Vata’ Type Characteristics
Vata Physical Characteristics
- Light build and frame
- Irregular hunger and digestion
- Energy comes in bursts, performs actions quickly
- Talkative, fast speech
- Dry Skin
- Tendency towards constipation
- Aversion to cold and windy weather
Vata Mental Characteristics
- Learns very quickly, but also forgets quickly
- Tendency to worry and exhibit nervousness
- Can be vibrant, imaginative, excitable, moods change quickly
- Light and interrupted sleep, tendency to insomnia
- Dreams often are fearful, and involving flying, running, escaping
‘Pure Pitta’ Type Characteristics
Pitta Physical Characteristics
- Medium size frame and build
- Strong digestion, can experience sharp hunger and thirst
- Performs activity at medium speed
- Articulate, can be good public speakers
- Hair is often blond, light brown to reddish , tendency to hair loss
- Pale skin, maybe with freckles
- Aversion to sun and very hot weather
Pitta Mental Characteristics
- Medium time to grasp new information
- Tendency towards anger, aggression, arguments
- Often holds strong opinions, likes challenges, strong intellect
- Medium duration of sleep
- Dreams can be fiery and hot, waking up hot and thirsty
‘Pure Kapha’ Type Characteristics
Kapha Physical Characteristics
- Heavy, solid, powerful build
- Slow digestion, mild hunger
- Good strength, stamina, endurance, with slow actions
- Slow speech, maybe with a deep voice
- Dark & greasy hair, smooth oily skin
Kapha Mental Characteristics
- Slow learners but with excellent long term memory
- Very relaxed, ‘laid back’, tranquil, loving, forgiving
- Tendency towards inertia
- Long, heavy sleep
- ‘Romantic’ dreams
Please remember that the above lists just describe the characteristics of pure V, pure P and pure K types.
Many of us however have two dominant doshas with the third dosha taking something of a back seat in our makeup. For example, in one person P and V might be dominant over K, in another V and K dominate P, etc.
Taking a VK type as an extreme example, we might think that the overall outcome would be a homogenous blend of the two types – just like red and green light would combine to make an orange/yellow color. So, as a pure V type has a slim frame and a pure K type a heavy build, we might logically expect a VK type to have a blend of these two – namely a medium build. Unfortunately things are a little more complex.
In practice a VK type may exhibit either a V or a K trait in their physical build (but not usually a mixture of both). They might also exhibit either a V or a K trait in aspects of their personality (but not a bland mixture of both.) The same goes for different patterns in their digestion. Depending on external circumstances and at different times, a two dosha type may also switch between one dominant dosha trait and another! At this point we are getting beyond the scope of this introductory article – a really good description of the two and three dosha types is given in Deepak Chopra’s book ‘Perfect Health’ – highly recommended.
Determining our Doshas
Ideally, in order to determine which of our Doshas naturally predominate – our ‘Prakriti’ (our inherent ‘mind-body type’) we need to visit an Ayurvedic specialist for a ‘pulse diagnosis process’ of ‘Nadi Pariksha’ (aka ‘Nadi Vigyan’). Not only can a skilled practitioner determine our natural dosha predominance, e.g. Vata-Pita, they can also determine the current state of dosha imbalance (our ‘Vikriti’). Nadi Pariksha involves the practitioner feeling the pulse of the patient with three fingers – any imbalance results in subtle pattern differences which can then be detected. To do this takes a lot of training!
If we don’t have access to an Ayurvedic professional we can try a quiz! There are many online. A quiz is not as good as Nadi Vigyan as our answers to the questions might be more dependent on our current state of Dosha imbalance (Vikriti) rather than our inherent nature (Prakriti). With Nadi Vigyan we can determine both. But a quiz is fun and can often give us a ‘ball park’ idea. Doing a quiz also helps us see the major factors (in both mind and body) the Doshas influence in our lives. Enjoy.
Here are some online quizzes from very reputable Ayurvedic sources:
Additional Information on Vata, Pitta and Kapha Doshas
Further explanations of Vata, Pitta and Kapha and their qualities (external link)
Additional Information on Ayurveda
Introduction to Ayurveda. A range of articles for people new to this subject, including: Introductions, FAQs, Vata–Pitta–Kapha Explained and Origins of Ayurveda.
Top Tips from Ayurveda. Articles giving practical advice from Ayurveda on: Getting Better Sleep and Achieving Good Digestion.
Improving Our Immune System. More in-depth articles covering ways we can use Ayurveda to improve our immune system by: Using Herbs, Lifestyle Changes, Using Yoga / Pranayama / Meditation, Increasing our Digestive ‘Fire’ (Agni), Increasing Ojas.
Vedic Meditation. Articles looking at the techniques, health benefits and unique features of mantra-based Vedic Meditation.