When we hear the words “my body type” in the West, we often think only of physical characteristics. You may have heard of people categorizing themselves into apple, pear, or hourglass shapes based on fat distribution. Alternatively, you might’ve heard about people calling themselves ectomorphs, mesomorphs, or endomorphs, based on their bodily composition.
Body types in Ayurveda are more holistic. In Ayurveda, the mind leads the body. Your body type is a reflection of both your mental, emotional and physical characteristics. There is no single “right way to be” —we each have unique strengths and weaknesses, and we have to work with our individual systems.
With that context, let’s take a deeper look at different body types in Ayurveda.
How does Ayurveda approach body type?
Our Ayurvedic type is made up of both our physical and mental attributes, which are characterized roughly by doshas and gunas. Let’s do a quick review of doshas before going ahead (read more background here).
Doshas, very roughly, are variables that can influence your physical and psychological nature. Ayurveda characterizes people based on both bodily and mental doshas, all of which we exhibit in different proportions. Let’s focus on the bodily doshas here: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Each person has a different proportion of these three doshas. There are three buckets of combinations, so you could either be:
- Single dosha: Vata, Pitta, or Kapha
- Dual dosha (with one dominant): Vata-Pitta, Vata-Kapha or Pitta-Kapha
- Tri-doshic: All three doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, in equal proportions.
Your steady-state proportion of these doshas, called your swabhav, is set at birth and does not change over time. If your doshas become unbalanced from your individual steady state, you may run into health issues.
It is critical to know both your swabhav dosha combination and how you are unbalanced from it. Your swabhav combination may be Pitta type, for example, but you may have health issues if you exhibit an overdominance of Vata.
Ayurvedic Body Type
Vata dosha body type constitution
Balanced: If you have predominant Vata dosha, you might have a tall, wiry frame, prominent, cracking bones, low weight, dry skin, and thin hair. You may also have a varied appetite, be sensitive to the cold, and require less sleep.
A balanced Vata individual is often a talkative, creative, quick learner who takes initiative and is adaptable to change.
Imbalanced: When the Vata dosha becomes imbalanced, you may experience tinnitus, arthritis, rheumatism, or digestive issues like constipation. Mentally, you may exhibit anxiety, impulsiveness, nervousness, insomnia, or excessive dreaming. You may find it difficult to complete tasks. Vata dosha imbalance has the greatest potential to lead to various disease conditions.
Pitta dosha body type constitution
Balance: If you have a predominant Pitta dosha, you may exhibit a medium build, moderate weight, good musculature, good hunger, and moderate sleep. You could also experience prematurely graying hair and profuse sweating.
A balanced Pitta individual is goal-oriented, with a sharp mind, good judgment, and courage to take on the world.
Imbalanced: If you have excessive Pitta, you may experience hair loss, gastric issues, irritable bowels, and inflammation. You also may have skin diseases such as acne. Behaviorally, you may have a sharp temperament.
Kapha dosha body type constitution
Balanced: If you have predominant Kapha dosha, you may have a wide body frame and be stocky, big, tall, and strong. You may have oily or smooth soft skin, a generous appetite and be prone to heavy sleep.
When Kapha is optimal, it is associated with compassion, a calm demeanor, and a steady mind. The Kapha body type in Ayurveda, when balanced, is generally the strongest and has the highest immunity levels.
Imbalanced: If you have excessive Kapha, you may experience accumulation of fat, which could lead to obesity, diabetes, sleep apnea, and lethargy. Excess Kapha is also associated with pulmonary diseases and chest/throat diseases and an attachment to material objects.
Let us take a deeper look at the characteristics of each dosha, which will help us better understand each of these body types.
The elements and qualities of the bodily doshas
In Ayurveda, we are a manifestation of consciousness and the five core elements: space, air, fire, water and earth. Each dosha has a predominance of two of these elements.
Ayurveda also describes a set of twenty opposing qualities. Each dosha is associated with a different set of these qualities.
Twenty Qualities in Ayurveda
Heavy <> Light
Slow <> Fast
Cold <> Hot
Oily <> Dry
Smooth <> Rough
Solid <> Liquid
Soft <> Hard
Stable <> Unstable
Small (subtle) <> Big (gross)
Non-slimy <> Slimy
Clear <> Cloudy
|Vata||Space and Air||Dry, cold, light, subtle, coarse, rough, mobile, clear|
|Pitta||Fire and Water||Slightly oily, hot, light, sharp, mobile, liquid|
|Kapha||Water and Earth||Oily, cold, heavy, soft, slimy, slow/dull, stable|
Elements in the Vata dosha emphasize mobility
The Vata dosha is made up of space and air. Space characterizes free flow, and air characterizes mobility and instability. This dosha relates to the atmosphere and breath. It’s also associated with touch and sound.
Vata impacts our body’s input, output, and transport mechanisms, like breathing or digesting. It plays a role in muscle contraction, joint movement, and hormone signaling, so it’s also associated with our nervous system. The mobility in the Vata dosha also plays a role in migrating diseases from one part of the body to another.
This ancient Sanskrit sloka captures the qualities of Vata:
The Vata dosha has properties of dryness, lightness, coldness, roughness, subtleness and movement.
Elements in the Pitta dosha emphasize energy
The Pitta dosha is made of combination of fire (heat) and water (liquidity from bile or body heat). Pitta symbolizes the Sun and relates closely to vision.
The pitta dosha impacts bodily metabolism and transformation, like the breakdown of food through digestive enzymes or processing of emotions. It maintains vision, controls body temperature, and gives the skin luster. It is associated with the endocrine system.
This ancient Sanskrit sloka captures the qualities of Pitta:
The Pitta dosha has the quality of being oily, piercing, hot, light, odorous, fluid, and radiating movement and liquidity.
Elements in the Kapha dosha emphasize stability
Kapha is primarily made up of the elements of water (fluidity) and earth (mass). Kapha symbolizes the Moon and is strongly associated with the sense of taste and smell.
Kapha impacts the assimilation, storage, and energy input mechanisms in the body, like the creation of tissues or assimilation of fat. Kapha controls our libido, lubricates our joints, and impacts growth, immunity and resistance.
This ancient Sanskrit sloka captures the qualities of Kapha:
The Kapha dosha has qualities of oily, cold, heavy, mild, viscous, smooth, clear, slimy like phlegm, jelly like, stability and immobility.
How to balance your doshas in Ayurveda
You may experience excesses of one dosha when you expose yourself to too much food or environments with the same qualities as that dosha. You may have excess Pitta, e.g., if you eat too much spicy, inflammatory food, in a hot, angry environment.
To counter these excesses and balance your doshas, you can try to expose yourself to food and environments with opposing qualities. (This is just like when you apply cool water or ice to help heal burns!) In the example above, if you have excess Pitta, you might have too much heat. You can counter this using mint, ghee, or calming meditation.
If you have excessive Vata, you may have too much dryness, coolness, and mobility. You can counter these through oil massage, warm fluids, and breathwork.
If you have excessive Kapha, you may have a slow, dull digestion. You can counter this with warm spices, exercise, and light meals. You will also benefit from fasting.
When we suffer from disbalances in all three of our doshas, the line of treatment is a complicated topic left to Ayurvedic practitioners.
Simple advice for balancing your doshas
Health is simpler than we might think. Following some simple steps can go a long way with dosha balance. You can practice mental calm through breathwork and meditation. You can reduce or eliminate processed food from your diet. Follow your natural circadian rhythm, listen to your body’s signals, and eat seasonally in line with nature’s offerings.
Remember, no one diet regime, plant, herb, or food alone is a magic pill. You might be looking for the one magic food they can add to their diet when in reality, you might benefit much more from removing one or two harmful foods or behaviors from your daily routine.
At the end of the day, remember to celebrate the uniqueness of your mind and body.
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All content is for educational purposes only. Please consult your medical practitioner before attempting any therapeutic, nutritional, exercise or meditation related activity.