At the core of Ayurvedic philosophy is the concept of balance. Balance leads to health whereas imbalance leads to disease. The three main pillars that create this balance are the mind, body, and soul. According to Ayurveda, balancing these three aspects of the individual can be achieved by maintaining balance among the three doshas. These are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.

These energies are said to compose all living things, each having their own unique dosha composition. You may have more Pitta energy while your friend may be Kapha dominant, for example. The balance between these three energies is constantly fluctuating based on our diet, lifestyle habits, the seasons, and more. We experience health when they’re in balance and illness when that balance has been disrupted. 

Identifying Dosha Imbalance

The first step on your journey of balance is understanding your unique composition, also referred to as Prakriti. Once you become aware of your energetic makeup, you can then take conscious action toward a healthier and more supportive lifestyle. When balance is disrupted it’s typically because we’ve accumulated too much of any dosha or element. This imbalance can occur in the short-term or become a long-term problem, which can lead to more serious issues.

The goal in Ayurveda isn’t to avoid experiencing any symptoms of imbalance, but rather to learn how to identify the smallest cues when they come up so that you can address them before they become a larger and more serious issue. Ayurveda emphasizes preventing disease rather than treating it, and the best way to do so is to focus on balancing your body day by day.

Here’s an overview of each dosha and the common signs associated with imbalance for each.

Vata Dosha & Signs of Imbalance

Vata is the dosha of air and space. It’s the energy of the wind. In general, it’s responsible for movement and communication in nature and in the human body and mind. Vata fuels creativity and change. It is the force behind feelings of joy, enthusiasm, flexibility, and intuition. Signs of imbalance include:

  • Sense of restlessness and consistent anxiety
  • Constipation, hard stools, or gas and bloating
  • Trouble staying asleep; waking throughout the night
  • Dry or chapped skin
  • Stiff muscles and joints
  • Irregular menstrual cycle

Learn more about Vata dosha.

Pitta Dosha & Signs of Imbalance

Pitta dosha is composed of fire and water, though fire is its primary element. Its general qualities include fluid, light, hot, slightly oily, mobile, penetrating, sharp, yellowish, foul smelling, sour and pungent, and spreading. Signs of imbalance include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Heightened anger, irritability, or jealousy
  • Extreme perfectionism and overworking
  • Boils, acne, rashes, or other skin aggravations
  • Heartburn and acid reflux
  • Inflammation in body or joints

Learn more about Pitta dosha.

Kapha Dosha & Signs of Imbalance

Kapha dosha is the primary energy of earth and water and embodies stability, lubrication, and substance. It’s composed of cold, wet, heavy, dull, slow, sticky, soft, cloudy, and dense qualities. Signs of imbalance include:

  • Lethargy, depression, or lack of motivation
  • Seasonal allergies and congestion
  • Water retention, swelling, and puffiness
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Sluggish digestion
  • Excessive sleep

Learn more about Kapha dosha.

Balancing the Doshas

It’s important to remember that we never reach a final destination of balance. Rather, it’s a state of being that’s constantly shifting. When it comes to maintaining balance, you should ask yourself the question “How am I feeling at this moment?” That answer will help you determine where you may be currently balanced or imbalanced and what your body may need in that moment.

When making choices to bring yourself into balance, here’s a good rule of thumb: like increases like, and opposites balance. By identifying your symptoms you can understand what dosha is out of balance, which will then inform you of the kind of qualities you need to integrate more into your lifestyle.

As an example, let’s consider an imbalanced kapha dosha. Kapha is the element of earth and water and has qualities that are wet, heavy, sticky, and dense. Based on the principle that like increases like and opposites balance, someone with a kapha imbalance should seek opposing qualities (light, smooth, fluid, dry) to bring themselves back into balance.

Balancing Activities for All Doshas

Finding balance through an Ayurvedic lifestyle is a very unique and personal process. Just as we each have our own unique fingerprint, we also have a unique energetic makeup. Understanding your makeup and your current symptoms will help you decide how to best care for your body and experience a balanced state of being.

However, there are particular habits that are likely to be beneficial and balancing for all dosha constitutions. If you’re not sure where to start, try one of these.

Follow a daily routine

The value of a daily routine cannot be overstated. In Ayurveda this is called dinacharya–daily rituals that create a life of optimal wellness. Together they provide a consistent rhythm in our lives, mirroring the rhythms of the natural world. Dinacharya should be practiced first thing in the morning as this will prepare you for the rest of your day and the routine to follow. When we start the day right, everything else flows more smoothly.

Eat a plant-based diet

The foods you consume directly impact your internal state of balance. The outer ecosystem coincides with your inner ecosystem, and what you feed your body is ultimately what provides your body with energy and builds your tissues. That’s why it’s so important to nourish ourselves from the outside in by eating directly from the source of life: nature.

If it’s an option for you, eat organic foods without preservatives, additives, and pesticides. These toxins seep into our bodies and lead to an imbalance in all doshas. Also, try to eat unprocessed and unfrozen foods. Freshly prepared foods contain more prana, or more energy, that provides the fuel and nutrients the body needs to purify itself.

Wake early

Ayurveda operates in rhythms and cycles. We experience not only a 24 hour circadian cycle, but also lunar, seasonal, and yearly cycles. Living in harmony with nature and experiencing rhythm in our lives means structuring our days, seasons, and years according to these cycles. 

Ayurveda suggests waking during Vata time, particularly at Brahma Muhurta (45 minutes before sunrise). This tends to be a peaceful and serene time of the day when clarity and wisdom are more accessible. By waking early, you’ll also inevitably go to bed earlier which will support a proper biological rhythm in your day-to-day activities based on the circadian cycle. Not to mention, you’ll be awake for the sunrise!

Practice oral health habits

Our oral health provides valuable insight into our overall state of health, and issues in the mouth can actually impact deeper organs and tissues in the body. That’s why having a consistent oral health regime can be beneficial to your overall health. Ayurvedic oral health practices like tongue scraping and oil pulling can lead to enhanced sense of taste, stronger digestion, improved organ and tissue health, and more. These are important to practice in addition to other oral habits you likely already have, like teeth brushing and flossing.

Meditation and pranayama

Breathing practices and silence calm the nervous system and help us tap into greater awareness and wisdom. Prana is our life force energy. When we give it our energy and intention, it awakens our minds, opens channels in the body, and supports our internal state of balance. By slowing down the breath and therefore our thoughts, we can more easily notice how we’re feeling and reflect on what it is that we need to feel healthy and balanced.

Move your body regularly

The practice of breathing into your body first thing in the morning through movement can increase blood flow and help you to move into your day with increased energy. It doesn’t need to be a high-intensity workout; light exercise is all that’s needed. Practicing yoga at this time of day is especially supportive to an Ayurvedic lifestyle and can help increase circulation, benefit digestion, and calm the nervous system.

Other practices like dancing, walking, biking, or jogging can also help loosen and release stagnant energy in the body, helping prana to flow more easily. When prana moves freely in the body we are more likely to experience a state of balance.

Balance of the doshas leads to a balance between the mind, body, and soul. This helps us feel our best, but it also plays a major role in the unfolding of our life’s purpose. When we’re healthy and balanced, we’re able to fulfill our dharma, our individual mission on this earth, and offer our unique gifts to the world. This in turn helps the world experience greater harmony. Where there is balance, there is health; where there is imbalance, there’s disease. Let your journey toward balance be a never-ending process of growth and development.