Ayurvedic Body Types
There are two distinct, yet inter-related, classifications of a person in Ayurveda. The first relates to the body, and the second to the mind. Your nature is determined by this combination of body and mind types, and is known as your prakriti. Prakriti means “nature”. When referring to the theory of creation, it is the unmanifested nature of cosmic matter. When referring to humans, prakriti means the unique physical and psychological nature displayed.
Knowing your dosha and guna provides you with an understanding of your basic physical and psychological nature, and helps you tailor a personal diet and lifestyle that maintains optimum health and peace of mind. Each person has a unique dosha with unique nutritional needs. Establishing your dosha enables you determine suitable diets, exercise and lifestyles to maintain balance. This is the key to maintaining health.
Definition of dosha
It is difficult to translate the precise meaning of dosha. It is often translated as “biological type” or physical constitution. This definition allows a simple and easy understanding of the concept. However, the original definition of dosha is more complex. In Sanskrit, dosha is defined as “doosyati iti doshah.” The literal meaning of this is “that which contaminates is called dosha.” So doshas may be considered the pathogenic factors, or disease-causing agents in the body. Imbalance of vata, pitta and kapha doshas cause disease in the body.
Dosha only refers to the three biological energies of vata, pitta and kapha. As an imbalance of these elemental combinations is the direct cause of physical disease, they are the prime disease causing factors (the “contaminants”). Secondary factors in the disease process, like body tissues (dhatus), toxins (ama) and waste materials (malas) are actually the product of, or dependent upon, an imbalance in the doshas.
The Body Types - Prakriti
Knowing your prakriti helps you to tailor a personal diet and lifestyle that can prevent disease and physical disorders, and obtain peace of mind. It provides you with an understanding of your basic physical and psychological nature, and how to keep it in balance with your surroundings. This is the key to maintaining health.
Every human usually has varying degrees of vata, pitta and kapha. The doshas are usually not present in equal proportions. In most people there is a natural uneven distribution. Very rarely, a person may have a completely even distribution of doshas.
Although we each have characteristics of vata, pitta or kapha to different degrees, one of these elemental natures will dominate and that is the “main” dosha. The secondary dosha is the one present in the next highest proportion. Every dosha type or combination is acknowledged in Ayurveda, which lists seven separate physical constitution types based on the basic three:
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People with a predominant vata dosha display physical and emotional characteristics linked to the elemental qualities of space/akasha and air/vayu. They are very active - mobile, restless and energetic. They have fast metabolisms, so are often thin with little muscle development and protruding joints that may make cracking noises. Their skin is dry, rough and thin with
Sleeping, eating and personal habits are irregular and erratic, with appetite and sexual desire varying between extremes. They sleep lightly, are easily disturbed and prone to insomnia. Their speech and movement is usually fast, and they are talkative and enjoy all forms of communication. Their pulse is fast, weak and irregular. They dislike cold, windy or dry environments and feel chilled quickly or shiver easily. Extremities (hands and feet) are often cold, or become cold easily.
Mentally and emotionally they are rapid. They gather information or display emotions quickly, or determine swiftly whether they like or dislike something. While they learn quickly and are usually intellectual, their retention is poor. Money is spent quickly and impulsively. They demonstrate high creativity, innovation and sensitivity.
Individuals with this nature are introspective, shy, modest and lacking in confidence. They are often unsettled and impatient, but very flexible and adaptable to change. People with vata dosha often feel anxious, worried or stressed - especially in unfamiliar, cramped or noisy environments. They are most likely to be loners, or non-conformists.
Read more specific dietary guidelines for Vata.
People with a pitta dosha display an inherent fire/agni elemental character. They are of medium build, with greater muscular development than that displayed by vata. Their skin is soft and warm, and they have a lot of body heat and often perspire excessively. Their hair is thin and often reddish or blond, and they may experience premature graying, baldness or excessive hair loss. Their skin flushes easily and they often have many freckles and moles. Their skin develops acne, rashes, bruises or sunburn easily.
Their desires (appetite, sex) are strong in nature. Sleep is moderate and not easily disturbed. The pulse is strong and stable. Individuals with pitta dosha predominant speak loudly and passionately, and often dominate the conversation. They have an aversion to hot weather, sunlight and heat, and their eyes are sensitive.
In temperament, they are extroverted and love to be the focus of attention. Although they can usually control their emotions, they may become irritable, angry and judgmental under stress. Money is prudently managed. They are decisive, aggressive, ambitious and determined, often aspiring to positions of leadership. They enjoy competitive sports and games, either as spectators or participants. Their intelligence is high, and they have good insight and a keen sense of discrimination.
Read more specific dietary guidelines for Pitta.
People with a predominant kapha dosha tend to have a heavy and solid, or large build. They are often overweight, gain weight easily and have high muscle development (plump and round). Their skin is thick, smooth and moist with few wrinkles. Their complexion is usually clear, fair or pale, and hair is oily, thick and wavy. Their teeth are strong, white and well formed.
People of the kapha type have a moderate or low appetite and slow digestion. They enjoy eating gourmet or luxury foods (that appeal to taste and smell) or buying and preparing food. In movement and activity, they tend to be slow and methodical, with a lot of endurance. However, they are sluggish and lethargic or difficult to motivate. They are prone to sleep heavily and excessively. Their pulse is slow, steady and regular. They have a pleasant appearance and voice. Those with kapha dosha dislike damp conditions.
In temperament, they prefer familiar surroundings and tradition. They learn slowly, but have excellent memories. Money is hoarded (or they are thrifty) and they are good, stable providers. Typically, they are serene and tranquil and their emotions are slow to become excited or aroused. However, they can be sentimental, nostalgic and romantic in nature. They are highly tolerant and forgiving, with medium intelligence. They prefer to belong to a group, club or community. They cling to their family or familiar associations.
You cannot change your elemental nature or dosha. For instance, if you wish to acquire kapha qualities, you cannot do so by eating a lot of food high in kapha elements of water/jala and earth/prithvi. By doing so, you will only disturb your primary dosha. Changing your nature through acquiring positive qualities, and minimizing negative temperamental characteristics, is the role of the mind.
When you are healthy, you are generally instinctively attracted to foods and activities similar in elemental composition to your own body. When you are sick and the elements are unbalanced, you are attracted to those foods opposite in nature. For example, if you are suffering from a cold, or chest congestion (due to an imbalance in kapha), you usually choose to avoid those foods that are kapha in nature such as dairy products, or heavy and oily foods.
Read more specific dietary guidelines for Kapha.