Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
We learn so much about ourselves by asking questions. Eight years ago, I took an online quiz to discern my dosha, or Ayurvedic body type. When I read the results for a vata archetype—anxiety, insomnia, coldness, weak digestion, bloating, gas, constipation, dry skin, amenorrhea—it was like reading my autobiography. This information finally put together pieces of my puzzle that I had previously assumed were unrelated. No longer did I feel like I was broken.
Thanks to the results of that quiz, I started to understand the ways my symptoms were interconnected. That led to my journey of bringing my body back into balance through a traditional Ayurvedic approach.
My results were clear, but they’re not always quite so obvious. If you’ve ever read about doshas and found that you experience a surprising number of traits and tendencies of all three—vata, pitta, and kapha—you might have felt confused about where to even begin. (Take our quiz to learn your unique dosha profile.)
What a dosha quiz can—and can’t—tell you
Taking an online quiz will typically give you one of not three, but four results in terms of your primary dosha and its corresponding elements and traits:
- Vata (ether and air): embodies creativity
- Pitta (fire and water): exudes passion
- Kapha (water and earth): craves stability
- Tridoshic: a combination of all of the above
What most dosha quizzes fail to explain is that there are actually two ways to look at our constitutions: our innate states and our current states. We are each born with a particular blend of doshas that creates our uniquely balanced constitution. This innate state cannot be ascertained through a few short quiz questions.
What taking a quick online quiz can help us understand is our current imbalances. We all experience each dosha in varying degrees in our specific constitutions, and at varying times throughout our lives. That means we are all tridoshic to some extent. As an example, just because you are imbalanced in vata doesn’t mean you can’t also have pitta and kapha attributes, tendencies, and imbalances. Your kapha might be prominent in your stability and bone structure and desire for staying at home, but you have some fire from pitta to digest your food and to pursue your desires. You also need vata for your breath as well as for creativity to inspire ideas.
It’s rare for someone to be truly tridoshic, which could lead to a greater likelihood of imbalance in all three doshas. Being tridoshic isn’t necessarily bad. The purpose of the ancient science of Ayurveda is not to typecast ourselves or others, but to provide a language that offers a more pronounced understanding of where we are currently misaligned. Having a sense of the balance—or lack thereof—in your mind and body is an important and special connection that allows you to make decisions that benefit you. When we have information about what is causing our behaviors or physical symptoms, we can begin to realign ourselves. Being tridoshic simply makes it more difficult to discern where to place your attention as you attempt to alleviate the discord.
How imbalance shows up in the various doshas
When we’re imbalanced in all doshas, it can become more difficult to discern which is influencing us most. Following are some primary ways in which an excess of each dosha tends to show up. See which relates to your current situation:
- Vata imbalance: Constantly feeling nervous and finding it difficult to sleep.
- Pitta imbalance: A tendency to push yourself to work or work out even when your body is begging for rest.
- Kapha imbalance: A fear of change and clinging to any type of stability, even if it isn’t healthy for you.
Start by adding structure to your day
No matter which dosha is prominent at the moment, your body needs structure to support itself as it comes back into balance. Start by looking at your everyday choices and routines. Notice what time you tend to wake and sleep, as well as when you eat. Then begin to regulate these habits based on which dosha you think might be imbalanced. Try a different routine related to a specific dosha, observe how your body reacts, and adjust accordingly. When you start to feel relief, that is a strong indication of which dosha is most in need of balancing. Implementing new routines that support balance will be the foundation from which you can start to bring everything else back into order.
Go to bed a little earlier and wake a little later to ensure that you get enough sleep. Make certain that you have three meals each day. Vata tend to forget to eat and sometimes don’t feel hunger until they’re running on air.
Go to sleep a little later and wake a little earlier. Take a break for meals, rather than waiting until you have time, to ensure you don’t become hangry.
Go to bed a little later and wake when it’s still dark out since kapha need the least amount of sleep. Eat at regular intervals so your body can anticipate and regulate the demand on your digestive system.
When all else fails, balance vata
If you think you might be tridoshic or are otherwise confused as to where to begin balancing, address vata first. When you have an excess of air, it can easily move other elements around and keep you in a constant state of misalignment. For example, if you have a strong pitta digestive fire, an abundance of vata air energy in your body can push that excessive heat toward your skin, where it may cause inflammation and redness.
In fact, an imbalanced air element is usually behind most of the physical issues you may notice. Up to 80 percent of symptoms can be traced back to this dosha, according to Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles by Vasant Lad (Ayurvedic Press, 2001).
Balancing vata translates to taking actions that ground you. This can include:
- Minimizing foods that are rough and cold, such as raw vegetables, and instead emphasizing cooked foods such as warm, soothing soups.
- Increasing grounding foods in your diet, like cooked root vegetables.
- Using oil massage (abhyanga) to hydrate your skin.
- Keeping yourself warm and avoiding drafts.
- Opting for exercise that focuses on stability over intense, fast-paced movement. Practicing more slow or Yin Yoga—in particular, poses that ground you or bring you closer to your muladhara, or root chakra, including Child’s Pose, Cat and Cow, and Downward-Facing Dog.
A few online questions cannot accurately assess anyone’s complete story. Discerning your current state of imbalance is just the beginning of your awareness. Knowing this will help as you search for answers and dive deeper, with practitioners and healing modalities, to find what truly works for you. With time, you will understand how to return to your original state—or as close to it as possible—and achieve holistic healing in mind, body, and spirit. As you continually strive to return to balance, remember, Ayurveda is a lifelong journey.
Sahara Rose, best-selling author and host of the Highest Self podcast, has been called “a leading voice for the millennial generation into the new paradigm shift” by Deepak Chopra. Connect with her at @iamsahararose.
From Spring 2022