How to Isolate According to Your Dosha: An Ayurvedic Guide

March 27, 2020

Ayurveda can provide insight on how to skillfully and lovingly navigate our own and our loved ones’ needs during times of stress. When we identify our innate constitutional makeup according to this ancient health science, we get an intuitive map to what makes us each tick. 

Ayurveda recognizes that everyone has a distinct genetic blueprint that manifests as a configuration of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Together, these elements coalesce to form the three doshas, or biological humors:

Vata dosha = Air and ether
Pitta dosha = Fire and water
Kapha dosha = Water and earth

Not sure which category you, or your family members, fall in? Take our quiz.

Ready to find out more? Here’s a quick guide on how the doshas generally manifest. Know that it is quite common to be dual-doshic or, for some, even tridoshic, meaning you may resonate with both vata and pitta, or kapha and pitta, or all three.

A Guide to the Doshas

Vata

Vata people have a predominance of ether and air. Like the wind, they move quickly, talk fast, and flutter from idea to idea. These are the social butterflies, the artists, the dancers and dreamers. Vatas are known for being enthusiastic—they’re the team cheerleaders. When met with a challenge, they may quickly erupt, but then promptly forget and move on.

Vatas are ruled by their senses, and can be easily overstimulated by excessive touch or sensory stimulation. Lacking an abundance of the earth and water elements, vatas do not have the same level of sustaining endurance that kaphas possess. Vata types are known to keep pushing even when their gas tank reads E, further depleting themselves and requiring more R&R.

Without a heavy helping of the fire element, vatas tend to run cold and have weak digestion. In times of stress, they may lose their appetite and tend toward gas, bloating, and constipation. Vatas can become untethered and spiral into a panicked thought vortex, especially at 2:00 am. Emotionally, out-of-balance vata shows up as insomnia, anxiety, and irrational fears. 

Pitta

Pitta folks are full of passion and drive, thanks to a good helping of the fire element. Pittas are often Type As who love to make lists and feel immense satisfaction as they check all the boxes. They are organized, direct, phenomenal leaders, sharp , witty, and goal oriented. Wicked competitive, these are the folks who play Uno for blood.

The sense organ that dominates pitta is sight. Fire folks are hypersensitive to light, and can be spotted sporting a pair of shades while grocery shopping. They require blackout curtains and an eye mask to sleep.

With their radiant, fiery minds, pittas are dedicated scholars and want to know how everything works. They are opinionated and relish intellectual debates. Pittas love to be right and can have a hard time admitting defeat or apologizing. They are not going to wax poetic or constantly tell you how much they love you—those words of affirmation would more likely come from a vata or kapha type, respectively. Pitta’s love language is expressed in action and protecting the foxhole. 

When the fire gets too high, pitta can spread like a brushfire. They are quick to anger and will smolder until they decide they are done being angry, which can take some time. They can become extremely impatient, snarky, acerbic, and dictatorial—and thus, prone to acid reflux and inflammation.

Kapha

Kaphas are the most stable and grounded of all three doshas. They are calm and steady, rarely flustered. Steadfast, they will assuredly maintain the peace during times of chaos. Kaphas love to love. They are humanitarians with massive hearts. Brimming with compassion, kaphas are often teachers or healthcare providers.  

Kaphas are all about potential energy, and live to bank energy. This can show up as holding onto relationships that no longer serve or hoarding nostalgic possessions. Public Service Announcement: No shame in holding onto that wardrobe from 25 years ago, as long as it brings happiness and is still being utilized. However, if it triggers a negative emotion, toss it!

Kaphas are creatures of habit and are perfectly content with routine; really, they were built for the quarantine life. The earth and water aspects of their constitution keep them rooted in habits, good or bad. They will drive the same way to work every day and eat the same breakfast for years, while being punctual and predictable. 

Out of balance, kaphas can become lethargic couch potatoes. This can lead to depression, lack of motivation, weight gain, and allergies.

The Doshas and the Nervous System

Before we get into ways to cope, here are two key concepts related to the emotional profiles of each dosha:

Under stress ….

Vata = Flight
Pitta = Fight
Kapha = Freeze

When relating to a loved one …

Treat vata like a flower
Treat pitta like a friend/spouse 
Treat kapha like their cheerleader or coach

Tips for Balancing While Spending Lots of Time at Home

Vata 

The ethereal aspects of vata dosha bestow them with oodles of creativity. Their thinking and talking are often expansive and excessive. Vatas talk fast and may even miss words because they are so excited about what they have to say. To quell this nervous chatter, they need to focus their attention with something calming and artistic. Dust off the mandala coloring books. Throw on some soothing music or a funny movie, and they could be enraptured with doodling for hours. 

Knitting is often recommended for smokers in lieu of reaching for a cigarette; it’s also great for a twitchy vata. Arm knitting is still trending; how about an arm-knitted blanket? Double win as the heavy, warm material will help ground a vata’s nervous system. 

Vatas also need to off-gas their nervous energy through movement. This could be done through a family dance party, going for gentle walks in nature, or doing an online yoga class.

Self-Soothing Practices for Vatas

  • Color
  • Knit
  • Dance 
  • Start an indoor garden
  • Restorative yoga
  • Yoga nidra
  • Chanting mantras
  • Walking meditation 
  • Soothing breath practices like Dirgha or Nadi Shodhana
  • Creative cooking—Chopped style
  • Get outside, or observe nature from your window
  • Read cozied up on the couch with tea and a pet (or blanket)
  • Foot massage, especially at night for sound sleep
  • Warm, cooked foods to help in staying regular—for breakfast, try oatmeal (maybe our baked oatmeal) with a scoop of flax and a generous sprinkle of ground cinnamon 
  • Play an instrument
  • Play catch with a family member, or the wall
  • Creative writing
  • Journal 
  • Make your own TikTok videos
  • Put on a family performance of your favorite play or musical
  • Have a mug of ojas milk in the afternoon
  • Beading or other jewelry making
  • Take warm Epsom salt baths scented with lavender 
  • Take virtual tours of museums
  • Learn about your favorite artist, writers, and musicians
  • Maintain faith, trust, and hope.

Pitta

To be honest, pitta is probably the most irate about being locked up. “But I still have that marathon in the fall! How am I supposed to keep up with my training?!” Pittas need to move and challenge their bodies while staying mentally strong. 

Pittas like to distract themselves through work. These are the folks that are up and at ‘em with the power washer at 7:00 am. Pittas often find purpose through their occupation and may be feeling a loss of identity if they’re not able to work. 

Create a daily schedule with your pitta child—in fact, all pittas benefit from a consistent daily routine. Come up with jobs, goals, projects. Have you always wanted to learn how to play the piano or master Hozier’s masterpiece Shrike on the guitar? Now is the time to carpe diem! Paint those cabinets, tighten all the screws in your house. And, pitta, don’t forget to be soft with those around you. Tell them you love them and appreciate their existence. 

Self-Soothing Practices for Pittas

  • Housework
  • Neglected projects
  • Research your favorite topics
  • Learn a new skill
  • Chess, checkers, Scrabble—remember, it’s only a game
  • Cool showers
  • Rose water spritz to the eyes
  • Moderate yoga
  • Box Breath, Nadi Shodhana, or Sheetali pranayama
  • Endurance-based training—plyometrics, perhaps
  • Metta meditation
  • Start a website
  • Start an Etsy page
  • Try making your own fermented foods—just don’t eat too much, they aggravate the fire
  • Practice gratitude 
  • Read inspiring works
  • Photography, graphic design
  • Draft plans for your dream house, job, dress
  • Write: Put your brilliance to paper
  • Play Legos on the floor with your kids
  • Check out all the free online classes offered by universities
  • Organize an effort to help those in need 
  • Cook (FYI, America’s Test Kitchen is right up your alley)
  • Laugh! Watch all the comedians, shows, performances that make you chortle
  • Give until it hurts, and then give more.

Kapha

As previously mentioned, kaphas are the most suited to shelter in place. If you or your spouse is a kapha, you may be relishing the extra time at home with the family. Homeschooling? No problemo, you’ve totally got this with your saint-like patience. Since you already have a deep nesting instinct, why not embrace that quality? Cozy up the house, perhaps even rearrange—your vata pal can help you pick out new paint colors.

Kaphas express their fondness through loving touch and food. Spouse, friend, kid, cat, dog, or plant, it doesn’t matter—go snuggle and take care of them. Get out the crockpot and make a massive batch of vegan chili. Better yet, sweetness soothes aggravated vatas and agitated pittas, so why not whip up a batch of your famous gooey chocolate brownies

Basically, let your love light shine. Nest and give yourself permission to read and be earthy. Your grounded energy is contagious. The world would benefit greatly from more kapha energy right about now.  

Explore more Ayurvedic wisdom with Lauren Gernady on Kripalu Connect!

Self-Soothing Activities for Kaphas

  • Bake 
  • Cook family style—freeze, deliver, or share a meal with your loved ones
  • Read a good novel
  • Escape into a rom-com
  • Tend to your plants; perhaps it’s time to get a bonsai tree, as those need lots of care
  • Reorganize your pantry
  • Clean out your closet
  • Spring cleaning all around
  • Rake the yard
  • Do Pilates, vinyasa yoga, or another online workout that lights you up
  • Dance like nobody’s watching
  • Sing, sing, sing
  • Reach out to loved ones 
  • Write letters to your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, children, or friends 
  • Bhakti yoga—listen to and chant with Krishna Das
  • Try stimulating breaths like Dirgha pranayama if you want some extra juice 
  • Arrange a gratitude circle
  • Host a game night via Zoom
  • Puzzles—kaphas have the patience for even the 1,000-piece ones
  • Worship: Some churches, synagogues, mosques, and meditation centers are now offering services online
  • Stay grounded in yourself, so others can mirror your stability.

A final word, for all doshas: Never forget that …

  1. Food and spices are your medicine.
  2. Breath and fear cannot coexist, so breathe deeply.
  3.  This, too, shall pass.

Lauren Gernady is the Academic Coordinator of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, an Ayurvedic Health Counselor, and a 500-hour Kripalu Yoga teacher.

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