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Detox Learning Center

Ayurveda: What Are Doshas and How Do You Balance Them?

Ayurveda, an ancient system of medicine, figured out what’s best for your body type long before modern science.

This age-old healing method dates back more than 5,000 years. It is much more than a form of medicine to treat illness. It’s a philosophy that addresses every aspect of your existence: body, mind, and spirit or consciousness. 

The science of Ayurveda is based on body types or doshas. It considers how to balance the energy of the doshas for each person. Disease happens when there’s an imbalance in the doshas, as well as a buildup of toxins. (1)

Ayurveda focuses on diet, herbs, and lifestyle activities — like meditation and massage — to help bring balance and health to your life. (2)

Here’s a closer look at Ayurvedic medicine, doshas, and practical ways to restore balance.

What Is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda (pronounced are-you-vay-da) is a holistic system of medicine that originated in India. In the Sanskrit language, the term means “the science of life.”

It is based on details recorded in ancient Hindu texts called Vedas. Its traditions have been passed down through many generations. Ayurvedic practitioners continue to teach its principles. (2, 3)

Here’s a closer look at its philosophy.

A preventive approach

In Ayurveda, the spotlight is on prevention. According to its philosophy, your natural state is to be healthy and in balance. (2, 4)

But, it may take some effort to maintain balance. Both internal and external factors can disrupt balance and compromise your health.

Examples of external variables include stress, relationships, and the weather. Factors in your environment, such as your house and the moon, can also affect balance. (2, 5)

Internal factors that can impact balance are your genes — though they weren’t known as such in ancient times. These “internal factors” are determined at conception. They are influenced by your mother’s diet and lifestyle during pregnancy. (6)

When internal and external factors cause imbalance, this can disrupt the harmony between your body, mind, and spirit. That can potentially lead to disease.

Balancing the external and internal variables to minimize their effects is the goal of Ayurvedic treatment. In other words, its like a true detox that considers every aspect of your being.

Additionally, Ayurvedic medicine considers your digestion to be of utmost importance. It’s referred to as “digestive fire” or agni (pronounced uhg-nee) If food isn’t broken down and assimilated properly, it becomes a toxic force called ama (pronounced ah-mah). This increases inflammation. (7

In contrast, digestion is often an afterthought in Western medicine. It only gets attention when it goes awry. Then standard treatments are used, like medications for heartburn.

But as you know, restoring health isn’t one-size-fits-all. 

Western medicine tries to “fit you into a box” to prescribe a specific medication or other treatment. Ayurvedic medicine tailors the box to fit you. (4)

Your unique self

A key part of the Ayurvedic philosophy is that everything is made of five elements: (2)

  • Space
  • Air
  • Water
  • Fire 
  • Earth

Everything that exists is a specific combination of these five elements — including you. 

At the same time, you are unique. No one else has a blend of the five elements that’s exactly like yours. The subtle differences in the amount of each element are what make you special — just like your fingerprint is yours alone. 

That said, the combination of the five elements can be grouped into three main categories or body types. These reveal common characteristics. In turn, these traits can point to areas where you’re susceptible to imbalance.

What Are the Three Ayurvedic Body Types?

Ayurveda pulse test

According to Ayurveda, the combination of the five elements creates three dominant forms of energy or doshas (pronounced doe-shahs). Some people call these body types.

The three doshas or body types are: (2)

  • Vata (pronounced vah-tah)
  • Pitta (pronounced pih-tah)
  • Kapha (pronounced kah-fah)

Each dosha consists of two of the five elements. You may have one or two dominant doshas, though you have qualities of each of them. Your unique ratio of the doshas is determined at conception, almost like having a “factory setting.” (6, 8)

According to Ayurvedic principles, the doshas influence you physically, mentally, and behaviorally. As you go through life, the doshas can get out of balance for your unique profile or constitution. This can lead to disorder and disease. (2)

Modern-day science is starting to back these ancient concepts.

For example, 262 healthy men of varied ethnic backgrounds were assessed three times to determine their dominant dosha. Specifically, two Ayurvedic practitioners, as well as a computer program, evaluated each man. They also looked at the men’s DNA. 

The researchers found 52 genetic mutations that varied significantly between the three doshas. These differences suggest the doshas reveal possible health pitfalls in your genes. In Ayurvedic medicine, these would be viewed as potential imbalances you should be aware of to avoid disease. (9

Read on for more details about each dosha and how to support yourself when you’re out of balance. 

What Is My Ayurvedic Body Type?

The most accurate way to determine your Ayurvedic body type or dominant dosha(s) is an evaluation by an Ayurvedic practitioner. They will observe you, do a physical exam, ask about your health history, and assess your pulse. (10)

The practitioner may also have you fill out a dosha questionnaire. But when used alone, a self-test may not be entirely accurate. (10)

That said, you may not have access to a practitioner skilled in Ayurveda. So, you can use a self-test or checklist to get an idea of what might fit for you.

Following are characteristics of each dosha. Additionally, there are Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle recommendations to help balance each dosha.


Vata multitasking

According to Ayurveda, the vata dosha is comprised of the air and space elements. It controls movement and nerve communication within your body. This includes the movement of materials in and out of your body.

More specifically, vata is said to regulate the movement of your gut contents, the elimination of waste products, the beating of your heart, and the communication of cells via nerve messages. (5, 11)

Because there is always movement within your body at a cellular level, well-supported vata is vital for good health. Moreover, vata helps regulate the other doshas. (12, 13)

Here’s a closer look at vata characteristics, signs of vata imbalance, and ways to balance or support vata. 

Vata characteristics

Remember, vata is associated with air. Think of how the wind moves things. If this is your dominant dosha, you may frequently be on the move. 

Some other characteristics of the vata dosha include: (12, 14)

  • Quick to learn but also quick to forget
  • Multitasker 
  • Lean build and little muscle mass
  • Insomnia
  • Fine hair and dry skin
  • Faster aging
  • Cold limbs due to poor circulation
  • Enthusiastic and talkative
  • Inconsistent appetite and bowel movements
  • Rapid mood changes
  • Creative and possibly impulsive

Vata imbalance

When vata is out of balance, it can disrupt your digestion and sleep. In fact, among the three doshas, vata-dominant body types may have the most trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. (15)

One factor in poor sleep is overstimulation. If you’ve ever watched an action-packed movie before bed and then couldn’t fall asleep, you know what this is like. Vata types can be easily overstimulated. 

Vatas are also prone to fear and anxiety. This can result from triggering the sympathetic nervous system. That leads to the fight or flight response. In turn, that could worsen circulation, which is a challenge for vatas. Your body keeps blood closer to your internal organs in this state. (12)

Studies also suggest that the genetics common to vata body types make them prone to joint issues like rheumatoid arthritis. (16)

Additionally, Ayurvedic medicine notes that vata-dominant people are prone to “wind” issues. Examples are emphysema and pneumonia.

Lastly, if vata is your dominant dosha, you may age more quickly. Many of the characteristics of vata are common in aging, including trouble sleeping and poor circulation. (11)

Balancing vata

Some key ways to help restore balance to vata include establishing better eating and sleeping routines, as well as managing stress. 

Based on Ayurvedic principles, here are some diet and lifestyle tips to help balance vata: 

  • Eat on schedule: To help combat inconsistent digestion and keep your energy levels stable, try to eat your meals at regular times. Snack if needed, but keep at least a two-hour gap between eating times. Eat enough to satisfy you, but don’t overdo it. (12) 
  • Eat earlier in the day: According to Ayurveda, digestive fire is highest at noon, so eat your larger meal then. Eat lighter fare for breakfast and dinner. Late-night eating can aggravate vata, so finish your last meal well before bedtime. (7, 12
  • Include fat in your meals: The vata body type is considered “dry,” so make sure you include enough fat in your meals. Sesame oil is said to support vata. Ghee (clarified butter) is often recommended in Ayurvedic cooking. (17)
  • Eat cooked foods: Warm, cooked foods are balancing for vata. Think “comfort foods,” like stews and casseroles. Choose these instead of the raw foods and salads you may prefer. Cold and frozen foods can aggravate vata. (18)
  • Sleep on schedule: To support sleep, go to bed at a regular time and create a dark, quiet environment. (15)  
  • Manage stress and overstimulation: Meditation helps lower stress levels. Ayurvedic massage with oil — called abhyanga (pronounced ah-bee-yahn-gah) promotes relaxation and helps balance vata. You can give yourself a daily self-massage, such as before you shower. (5, 7, 19


Pitta angry man

The pitta dosha consists of the fire and water elements. It is involved in regulating your metabolism, body temperature, energy levels, vision, skin coloration, and attention span. (12)

It’s considered a fast dosha and is characterized by robust metabolism. This leads to a hearty appetite. The pitta body type has better and stronger digestion than the other two doshas. (11

Here’s a closer look at pitta qualities, what they may look like when out of balance, and some strategies for regaining balance.  

Pitta characteristics

If you’re pitta dominant, you’re likely warm-bodied with good circulation. This may give you a red or flushed complexion. That makes sense if you think about the “fire” component of pittas. Their internal fire burns well, but this may come with a fiery personality. (12)

Some other characteristics of the pitta dosha include: (12, 14)

  • Goal-oriented, often in a leadership position
  • Sharp, analytical mind
  • Medium build with moderate muscle mass 
  • Soft skin and prone to moles, freckles, and acne
  • Moderate pace of aging but may go gray early
  • Strong-willed and passionate
  • Intolerant of heat
  • High metabolism
  • Usually hungry and irritated by missing meals
  • Frequent bowel movements

Pitta imbalance

Anything that creates too much fire throws pitta out of balance. That could result in issues like acid reflux, ulcers, and loose stools. (11, 1220)

The pitta dosha is more susceptible to fevers, skin rashes, and inflammatory diseases, too. That includes ulcerative colitis. (21, 22)

The internal fire also drives competitiveness in the pitta dosha. When out of balance, this can lead to issues with anger and irritability. (12)

Additionally, when out of balance, pitta promotes tissue breakdown and faster aging (though not as fast as vata). Think of it as how fire breaks down and burns wood. (8, 11)

Balancing pitta

“Cooling” the internal fire of pitta through diet and lifestyle approaches is key to balancing this dosha.

Based on Ayurvedic principles, here are some diet and lifestyle tips to help balance pitta:

  • Avoid skipping meals: Hunger agitates the pitta-dominant body type. The term “hangry” fits pittas well. Getting a good noon-time lunch is especially important to avoid temper flares. (12)
  • Choose cooling foods: Pittas do well with raw foods, as they help to calm digestive fire. Opt for salads, cucumbers, and fruits like black grapes and pomegranates. (20)
  • Avoid extreme food choices: Very spicy, garlicky, salty, and greasy foods will only make pitta imbalance worse. Choose wisely. (11, 20)
  • Reduce animal-based foods: Too many animal foods, especially seafood and eggs, may increase pitta. Try small amounts of mild dairy products instead, such as soft cheese. (23)
  • Get a little sweetness: Pitta is pacified by sweet flavors. It’s best to treat your sweet taste buds with fruits such as cherries, grapes, and watermelon. Pass up candy and other sweets that contain added sugar. (23)
  • Avoid alcohol and coffee: These beverages aggravate pitta, so avoid them as much as possible. You can try a coffee substitute made with Ayurvedic herbs. (20)
  • Enjoy Ayurvedic massage: Coconut oil is particularly recommended for an oil massage for pittas, as it’s cooling. (23)
  • Limit heat-generating activity: Pitta body types can easily become overheated. Physical activity is good, but choose to do it during the cooler parts of the day. Similarly, hot yoga or too much sauna may aggravate pitta. (11)
  • Make time to play: Since pittas are prone to overwork, remember to take time for leisurely activities. (12)


Kapha napping

Earth and water are the elements that make up the kapha dosha. It handles growth and storage, including energy storage. (13)

Because earth is heavy and solid, the kapha dosha is associated with stability. It’s what maintains your body. Kapha is the glue that bonds your tissues together and helps control your fluid levels and weight. (512)

Read on for more details about kapha qualities, signs of kapha imbalance, and ways to restore balance to the kapha-dominant body type. 

Kapha characteristics 

In contrast to pitta, If you are dominant in kapha, you aren’t easily angered. Kapha is also characterized as being steady and methodical in approach.

Moreover, kapha types aren’t in a hurry, whereas the other two doshas are generally more action-oriented. (12)

Some other characteristics of the kapha dosha include: (12, 14)

  • Solid build with thicker bones
  • Well-developed muscles
  • Easygoing and calm
  • Thinks things out before responding
  • Slower to learn but good memory
  • Firm, clear complexion 
  • Tendency to be overweight
  • Sleeps easily, falling asleep quickly and staying asleep
  • Slow to try new things
  • Sensitive to cold and damp weather
  • Ages slowly

Kapha imbalance

The kapha dosha is prone to imbalance in the winter since the season is cold and damp. When kapha is out of balance, headaches and problems related to mucus increase. (12, 24)

From an Ayurvedic perspective, it’s no wonder that winter is a prime time for influenza and sinus issues.

Kapha imbalance may also increase diabetes risk, and modern science supports this. In a small study, men with the kapha body type were 16 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than men who were dominant in the other two doshas. (25)

This increased diabetes risk may be associated with the kapha dosha’s tendency to gain excess weight. Kaphas may resist physical activity and sleep a little too much. These factors may also contribute to weight problems.

Lack of movement may also increase susceptibility to depression. In turn, depression may create a pro-inflammatory state, which could lead to gut issues. At the same time, gut issues may provoke depression. Remember, you need a healthy gut to produce serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter. (1)

Lastly, when out of balance, kaphas may become overly attached to things and get stuck in a routine. (1, 12)

Balancing kapha

Steadiness and a sweet, easygoing nature are kapha strengths. But when kapha is out of balance, greed and possessiveness can take over.

Based on Ayurvedic principles, here are some diet and lifestyle tips to help balance kapha:

  • Move more: Physical activity is especially important to balance the kapha dosha. If you’re able, do daily physical activity that is intense enough to get your heart rate up. (26)
  • Skip naps: As tempting as it might be, napping aggravates kapha. So, try to avoid sleeping during the day if you’re kapha dominant. (27)
  • Limit sugar: Because kaphas tend to gain weight easily and are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes, keep sugar intake low. This includes sweeteners like table sugar and maple syrup, as well as pre-sweetened foods. (27)
  • Enjoy more vegetables and fruits: Eat leafy salad greens, as well as steamed vegetables like broccoli and green beans. Pass up overly sweet fruits (like dates) and sour fruits (like grapefruit) in favor of moderately-flavored ones like berries, apples, and pears. (27)
  • Avoid high-fat foods: Heavy, fatty foods can aggravate kapha. That includes fried and greasy foods. Bake, roast, or broil foods rather than fry them. (27)
  • Limit dairy products: Dairy products may aggravate mucus production, which is a challenge for kaphas. In one recent study, people who eliminated dairy items had significantly reduced mucus production compared to people who consumed dairy products. (28)
  • Avoid extremes: Too many sweet, salty, or sour foods could aggravate kapha, so use these flavors in moderation. Keep frozen or cold foods to a minimum as well, especially during the winter months. (27)
  • Try something new: Variety is the spice of life but may require conscious effort for kaphas. Challenge yourself by breaking out of your routine. For example, try a new hobby or go somewhere you’ve never been. (12)

Support Balance Through Detoxification

Detox supplements

The ways to balance each dosha can be quite different. However, there are some approaches that help restore balance to all the doshas. 

According to Ayurveda, your gut is where dosha imbalance starts — regardless of which dosha(s) might be dominant. (1, 7)

The Ayurvedic medicine philosophy is that the buildup of wastes and toxins in your body is the underlying cause of disease and disorder. So, removing waste and toxins is essential. That includes moving your bowels regularly. (29)

Here’s a closer look at supportive nutrients that can aid drainage and detoxification no matter your Ayurvedic body type. 

Herbs to help drainage

Constipation leads to a buildup of wastes and toxins in your colon that can be reabsorbed into your body. In essence, constipation suppresses detoxification. 

You should aim to poop 2–3 times a day during detox to keep toxins steadily moving out of your body. Additionally, certain Ayurvedic herbs may help with constipation. 

Binders bolsters detox

Just like there will never be another you, nature has created some powerful substances that can’t be duplicated in a lab. Binders are used in alternative health practices to grab onto toxins and help remove them from your body. They also have additional support benefits

If you’ve already been working on drainage and detox, you have been following some Ayurvedic principles — whether you knew it or not.

Ayurveda and Your Healing Journey

An Ayurvedic proverb states: “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is right, medicine is of no need.” 

This ancient adage means that the more you give your body what it needs to run smoothly, the fewer health issues you’re likely to have.

Knowledge of Ayurveda and the doshas is a tool you can add to your toolbox. It can help you make food and lifestyle choices that support your unique body, mind, and spirit.

If you need additional support, functional medicine practitioners can help you navigate what treatments are best for you.

What could you adopt to bring more balance to your unique body type?