Figuring out your predominant dosha is one of the most fun things about Ayurveda. The internet is now teeming with quizzes to help you determine your dosha. I even created one a while back. But often these quizzes oversimplify the concept of the doshas, and therefore the results are incomplete or even inaccurate.
Defining the Doshas
The doshas of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are organizing principles that describe the functions of the five elements—ether (or space), air, fire, water, and earth—within the body. We can best understand the doshas through the qualities they express.
Vata dosha is the principle of movement, and describes the functions of ether and air in the body. It governs all bodily movements, from the smallest nerve impulses to obvious movements such as breathing and walking. Vata has the qualities of being light (opposite of heavy), dry, rough, mobile, cold, subtle, clear, and astringent.
Pitta dosha is the principle of transformation, and describes the functions of fire and water in the body. Pitta is responsible for digestion—not only of the food we eat, but also the mental/emotional digestion of information and our life experiences. Pitta’s qualities include light (opposite of dark), oily, sharp, hot, fleshy-smelling, spreading, liquid, sour, and pungent.
Kapha dosha is the principle of nourishment, and describes the functions of water and earth in the body. Kapha provides us with physical support and structure, and also nurtures us emotionally through love and compassion. Kapha has the qualities of being heavy, slow, dull, cool, oily, slimy, dense, stable, and can be either soft or hard (think of the difference between adipose tissue and bone—both are kapha).
When the doshas are functioning properly, we don’t notice them. It is only when they become imbalanced that we begin to pay attention to them—when we experience something that’s “not right” with our body such as dry, rough skin (vata), acid reflux (pitta), or weight gain (kapha). And here’s the really cool thing: the doshas actually go out of balance to protect your body’s tissues! They’re an indicator that we’re doing or experiencing something that’s provoking an imbalance, so that we can adjust our diet and lifestyle in order to return to our natural state. It is only after we’ve ignored these signals for a long period of time, until they become chronic, that our body becomes weakened and the doshas can no longer protect the tissues, leading to disease.
This is why Ayurveda is such a useful method for preventing disease. Disease doesn’t just happen, it takes a long time to manifest. In Ayurveda there are 6 stages of the disease process—and western medicine doesn’t acknowledge a disease until the 5th stage of this process. If we can mitigate a provoked dosha before it gets to that stage, we have a much better chance at maintaining health and preventing disease.
The Difference Between Prakruti and Vikruti
We all have all three doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha—functioning in our bodies at all times. And we all have a natural and healthy expression of these doshas, which is your prakruti. Your prakruti is your natural state of doshic balance—the state of the doshas at the time of your conception. This is the state of balance that we aim to maintain and return to throughout our lives.
Your prakruti is as unique as your fingerprint, but there are 7 general types:
- vata-pitta-kapha (or tridoshic)
The most accurate way to determine your prakruti is to have an experienced practitioner read your radial pulse. For example, my prakruti is 3-3-1: in reading my pulse I feel 3 vata spikes, 3 pitta spikes, and only 1 kapha spike. This means I’m predominantly vata-pitta.
Your vikruti on the other hand is your present state, which is most often a state of imbalance. Again this can be felt in the pulse, and also understood through exploring your health history and current signs and symptoms. My vikruti is currently 3.5-3-1, which means that my vata is a little high. A perfectly balanced vikruti would match the prakruti, and that would be a sign of good health.
To balance a person’s prakruti and vikruti, we first apply diet and lifestyle changes that address the provoked dosha(s) at the vikruti level. Once balance is achieved, we can adopt a diet and lifestyle appropriate to the person’s prakruti.