Understanding Ayurveda

by Kristen Ma | Follow on Twitter

Vata, Pitta, Kapha: Which one are you?

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AYURVEDA IS AN ANCIENT INDIAN SCIENCE OF HEALING, which believes that wellness is found through the harmonization of our internal energies, known as Doshas. These Doshas are characterized by the elements:

  • Vata (air)
  • Pitta (fire)
  • Kapha (earth and water)

We all possess all three Doshas within us but are born with different ratios making us unique individuals – most often with one or two predominant Doshas.

According to Ayurveda, all ailments are caused by imbalance of our constitution.  When we live, eat and think in a way that accumulates too much or too little of our original make-up, this is expressed in our physical and mental bodies.

Problems with depletion stem from too much Vata space/ air in our bodies, while inflammation is prompted by excess Pitta heat, and a build-up of toxicity is rooted in the accumulation Kapha earth and water-retention.

This encourages more body-awareness as the focus is not on symptoms of disease, but the imbalances occurring on a subtle level.  Want to know more about Ayurveda and how it supports beauty and self-care?

Today, we are going to discuss each Dosha and its influence on our constitutions. Of course, Ayurveda is a vast and complex ideology with a history of over 500 years, making it difficult to fit into an intro article – more in-depth info (specifically on Doshic influences on the skin) is in my book “Beauty, Pure and Simple”.

Vata – Air

The Vata dosha embodies air, ether and space.  VataWith air being this dosha’s symbol, it is:

  • mobile
  • dry
  • rough
  • brittle
  • light


Vata is ever moving, ever-changing and inconsistent.  This makes Vata personalities both exciting and frustrating.  Vata governs movement, circulation and the intangible nervous system.  Vata-predominant people are said to be more spirit than matter.


They are highly conceptual people who tend to live inside their head and also do not have a robust physicality.  Their elongated, willowy body frames seem to be light and full of air unlike heavy set Kaphas.  Lightness is also expressed through other qualities. Vata is dry so their skin tends to be dehydrated, making it rough and prone to wrinkles and fine lines.  Their nails are brittle and weak, and their hair is fine, often curly and dry.  Vatas have little fat and oil so are at risk of premature aging.


The Vata personality tends to be creative, excitable and appreciates beautiful design, aesthetics and art.  They are forward-thinkers, open-minded and flexible who are early-adopters that love new innovations and ideas.  They love to learn but often lack confidence even when immensely knowledgeable.  This is because they tend to be cerebral over thinkers, leading to insecurity and indecisiveness.


Vatas also are very sensitive; loud noises, jarring images and touch affects them deeply.  So, Vatas can get stressed or feel ungrounded easily, which contributes to their tissue loss, dehydration and overall delicacy.  However, like air, Vatas are flexible, changeable and adaptable.  They have excellent interpersonal skills and are social creatures if they are not Vata-excess and over-think social dynamics.


Disorders relating to the nervous system are all due to Vata imbalance.  Vata-excess people can be paranoid, hyper, worried or have ADD.  Linked to the nervous system, the adrenals kidneys and colon are governed by Vata – and out of balance Vata easily becomes constipated (colon) and dehydrated (water-metabolism of the kidney is compromised)

This delicate dosha is beautiful with their graceful, statuesque proportions and youthful energy.

Pitta – Fire

The Pitta dosha is represented by fire as it is responsible for all that is:Pitta

  • hot
  • sharp
  • light


This is why inflammation is linked to an excess of this energy.  Pitta governs transformation (akin to how heat causes chemical changes), therefore it is responsible for transformation in the body: metabolism (transforming storage to energy), digestion (transforming food to usable energy) and cellular transformation.


Those with high Pitta tend to be ambitious, competitive and organized.  Fiery, type A personalities, Pittas are opinionated, impatient and extremely competent.

Pittas are often seen as highly intelligent as they easily and quickly digest and analyze information. Pitta people are sometimes difficult personalities to be around.  They have strong egos and are often uncompromising.  But once we understand Ayurveda, we can better understand that Pitta-predominant people are not “irritating or exasperating”, it is their dosha being overly heated and expressing this inflammation.  We should not take offense to their actions or label them but have compassion for their tendencies with love.  Pittas at their best are naturally magnetic as they express themselves eloquently and with great confidence making them very attractive.


Physically, Pitta expresses itself as a medium, athletic build.


Pitta skin is sensitive with redness and can be reactive and break out.  This is why this dosha must be looked at with chronic acne, rosacea, eczema and hives.  Internal Pitta ailments also stem from excess heat (fire) – examples include: ulcers, poor digestion and hyperacidity.  Furthermore, these and other health issues are often stress-related and are aggravated by the pressure Pitta-dominant people put on themselves.

Kapha – Earth & Water

The Kapha dosha is an energy described as earth and water.  KaphaThis dosha is characterized by qualities that embody these elements:

  • heavy
  • wet
  • cold
  • stable


Those of us with a strong presence of the Kapha display this in our bodies.  Like earth and water, they have mass so tend to more have robust bodies and immunity and are likely to be slow-moving and sometimes lethargic.


Because earth and water represent growth and storage, Kaphas have good memories as they store and retain knowledge excellently.  They also tend to be sentimental, storing and holding on to the past.


Physically, Kaphas are all about abundance, again because of the tangible characteristics of earth and water. Kaphas have heavier frames, more fatty tissue, voluptuous physiques and develop muscle easily.  Their skin is thick and oily with large pores. This is why they tend toward over-oiliness, cystic acne and dull complexions (stagnant blood flow creates paleness).  True Kaphas have beautiful large eyes.  Kapha lips are full.  Kaphas have thick hair and in abundance.


Ailments or issues from Kapha-excess manifests as too much abundance.  Problems with weight management (accumulation of fat), sinus congestion (accumulation of mucous), edema (accumulation of water) and cystic acne (accumulation of toxins and oil in the skin) are due to excess Kapha.


Their mental and emotional imbalances follow the same theme as too much of this dosha can translate into hoarding, slovenliness, being unable to let go of the past and past grudges, neediness and resistance to change. Kaphas are classically beautiful as they beam with health.  They are incredibly romantic and passionate making them very attractive.

About the Author
Kristen Ma

Kristen Ma is an esthetician, Ayurvedic practitioner and award-winning author of “Beauty: Pure + Simple – A Holistic Guide to Natural Beauty”. Kristen co-owns Pure + Simple Inc., an independent chain of holistic spas that also has its own line of natural skincare. She blogs regularly about natural, Ayurveda-inspired beauty at www.holisticvanity.com and tweets @holisticvanity. She also writes for a number of publications and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.