Primer on Ayurveda’s ‘Doshas’
Last February, I spent two weeks in India studying Ayurveda, an ancient system of health and wellness that originated there some 10,000 years ago.
At its root, Ayurveda recognizes three fundamental traits that form the underlying structure of nature, known as “Doshas.” The Doshas, which characterize everything from people and places to seasons, are identified by their qualities:
Vata Dosha is cold, dry, rough, light, quick, irregular and always moving. Vail, winter and your flighty ballerina friend all possess extreme Vata.
Pitta Dosha is hot, sharp, quick and fluid. Death Valley, summer and your sharp-tongued chef friend all possess extreme Pitta.
Kapha Dosha is heavy, cool, stable, fluid and slow moving. Seattle, spring and your loyal, deliberate weightlifter friend all possess extreme Kapha.
Each of us is a different blend of the three Doshas, and the seasons either increase or reduce the effects of Dosha tendency in your body and mind. For example, a person with extreme Pitta might find cold winter in Vail quite soothing for their hot temper and physiology, and those with excess Kapha might find themselves burdened with colds, fatigue and allergies in the moist heaviness of spring.
As a largely Vata-dominant Dosha type, I probably couldn’t have picked a worse place to live. During our dry, cold winters, I tend toward weight loss, anxiety and dry skin. With summer just a few weeks away, Vata types are already fantasizing about long days by the pool.
Summer, however, can be problematic for Pitta types (reddish complexion, sharp temper, passionate, focused and organized). If any of the above apply, then you may be in the process of planning a move to the arctic circle. While your friends can’t wait to run and bike outdoors, summer for you means inflamed skin, short temper, jealousy, lack of sleep, acid reflux and feeling hot all of the time.
If this sounds familiar, Ayurveda offers some basic lifestyle guidelines that will help you balance your natural heat and allow the sun to fuel your passion, energy and enthusiasm without experiencing what I call “Total Pitta Meltdown”:
Intelligent exercise: As a Pitta you probably enjoy exercise, but in the summer take it early in the day, before the sun is at its full height. If that’s not an option, take it in the early evening before dinner. Consider swimming, which is a cooling activity. Seek out yoga classes that are more restorative or Lunar in nature, and enjoy heart opening poses such as cobra, cat’s pose and bridge.
Cooling foods: It’s natural to switch to juice and salads in the summer. This is your body’s way of balancing the effects of season. Consider that as a Pitta, you are already hot, sharp and sometimes a little sour without the help of foods that are spicy, fermented and stimulating (coffee, cheese, alcohol). Tend toward foods that are sweet (berries, sweet lettuces, light grains), bitter (leafy greens) and astringent (pomegranate, lentils). Foods that have a cooling effect on Pitta are cucumber, coconut, cilantro, aloe vera gel, rose petal jam and boiled milk cooled to room temperature before bed.
Soothing activities: Excess Pitta can manifest as competitiveness, frustration, and even jealousy. In order to keep your mind, emotions and relationships harmonious, spend time with your loved ones in non-competitive activities, relax near water, commit to a daily meditation practice, take walks in nature outside the heat of the day, and don’t forget to stop and smell the roses!
Julia Clarke offers 90-minute initial consultations featuring treatment programs designed specifically for each client, including diet and recipes, routine and exercise recommendations and cleansing program if needed. Call the Vail Vitality Center for information at 970-476-7960. Clarke teaches vinyasa flow yoga and Anjali restorative yoga and is the yoga director at the Vail Vitality Center; she is a certified Ayurvedic wellness Consultant.