The Three Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha

Written by Keith DeBoer on . Posted in Ayurveda

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, good health is the natural by-product of balanced interaction between the mind, emotions, body and environment.

Everything in the universe consists of fluctuations of three fundamental operating principles. In reference to the physical universe, the Sanskrit name for these principles is gunas. There are three of them: satva (growth), rajas (maintenance) and tamas (decay). Though one guna may dominate, it cannot exist in isolation.

The three gunas are present in every particle of creation, and are the spokes of the wheel of evolution. No single guna can exist without the other two. In human life, the counterpart to the three gunas are the three doshas.

The doshas are tendencies, or operating principles, that govern our mental, emotional and physical existence. They have a natural balance, but that balance fluctuates according to the time of day, the time of life (age), the season, the climate, the geography and the style of our activity.


When the doshas are functioning normally, they balance and re-balance themselves seamlessly and naturally. But they can become disturbed and lose their ability to self-regulate when we repeatedly expose ourselves to unnatural activities and substances, like stress, fatigue, overexertion, improper diet and toxins.

Dosha imbalances can result in unhappiness, fatigue, sickness, disease and premature aging. On the other hand, balanced doshas create joy, health and higher consciousness.   

The main doshas are vata, pitta and kapha. They can be understood in terms of their general qualities and the manner in which they manifest themselves in various styles of our mind and body functioning.

Vata dosha
Vata dosha’s qualities include: quick, light, dry, rough and variable. This dosha controls all movement systems in the body including breath, blood flow, temperature regulation and the transmission of nerve impulses and thoughts. When vata dominates in the physiology, it can manifest as quick thinking, light hair, light skin and a friendly, enthusiastic personality.

Because the other doshas cannot move without it, vata is considered the leader of the three doshas. It is important to keep vata dosha in good balance.

This dosha can easily go out of balance any time the weather is cold and dry (winter) or when the seasons are changing. Signs of excess vata are: insomnia, dry hair or skin, anxiety, lack of appetite and constipation.

Vata dosha is nourished by regular sleep, diet and exercise routines. Eat foods that are heavy, oily, warm, wet, sweet, sour and/or salty to decrease excess vata. Stay warm and avoid overexertion, loud music, computer games and violent movies to reduce and balance this dosha.

Pitta dosha
Some of pitta dosha's qualities are hot, sharp, sour and wet. This dosha controls all forms of metabolism including the processing of food and sensory experience. Its presence creates a sharp intellect, articulate speech, a muscular body, powerful digestion and an ambitious personality. Pitta is associated with heat and may become excessive during the hot, humid summer months.

Signs of excess pitta include stomach acid, heartburn, waking up in the middle of the night, high blood pressure, acne, irritability and intense thoughts or emotions.

To reduce excess pitta, go to bed before 10 p.m. and avoid salty, sour, hot or spicy foods. Avoid violent movies, loud music, alcohol, pollution and excessive sexual activity. Instead, favor cool activities like swimming or walking outdoors and avoid exercising in the middle of the day or in hot weather.

A pitta pacifying diet includes three meals per day of sweet, bitter and astringent foods that cool the system. Foods such as salads, cucumbers, leafy greens, fresh raw, sweet, ripe fruits (especially pears) and aloe vera juice will help reduce excess pitta.

Kapha dosha
The last dosha is kapha, and its qualities are heavy, oily, slow and cold. It governs the structure of the body, and its presence creates a strong, solid physiology, thoughtful speech and an easy-going, compassionate personality. Strength, stamina, loyalty, graceful movements and good long-term memory are signs of balanced kapha.

When kapha becomes excessive, it may result in laziness or depression, congestion, asthma, oily hair and skin, mental dullness and weight gain.

To decrease kapha, try vigorous exercise and other stimulating activities. Warm foods with pungent spices such as fresh ginger, chilies and black pepper, cumin and turmeric will also decrease kapha and invigorate a sluggish metabolism. Favor astringent and bitter tastes like beans, cauliflower, broccoli, leafy greens, apples and pears.

Avoid sweet (dairy), heavy foods, cold foods, cold drinks, cold weather and sleeping during the day.

More info:

What’s my dosha? Take the quiz here.

Disclaimer: The sole purpose of this article and all my writings is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, prevention or cure of any disease. If you have any serious, acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively.



Keith DeBoer is a freelance writer, lecturer and consultant who became a certified teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique in 1976. He has studied Maharishi Ayurveda in the United States, Europe and India, and is the former Director of Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center in Lancaster, MA.  He has a doctorate of World Peace Studies from MERU Holland.

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