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Ayurveda 101: An Introduction to Ayurvedic Principles from Ayurvedic Wellness Coach, Anna Levesque

Would you like more power, greater energy, and a deeper connection in your life? Look no further than Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old sister science to yoga. The word “Ayur” means "knowledge/wisdom," and the word “Veda” means "life." So “Ayurveda” translates to the "knowledge or wisdom of life." Ayurveda’s wisdom deepens your connection to who you are and aligns you with the natural world that you call home.

The study and practice of Ayurveda is a journey to greater self-awareness. When you cultivate self-awareness, you increase your personal power. There is no greater empowerment than to know yourself well enough to make healthy choices that contribute to becoming the healthiest YOU in the body and mind. 

Watch my video to learn more or continue reading below for an introduction to Ayurvedic principles.

The Five Elements of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is based on the five elements of Nature: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether (Space). Each element has an associated set of qualities. For example:

  • Earth is heavy, cool, static, and dense.
  • Water is cool, liquid, and heavy.
  • Fire is hot, sharp, and light. Air is mobile, cold, rough, and dry.
  • Ether is subtle, clear, and light.

Along with the five elements of Nature, there are 20 specific qualities of Nature, according to Ayurveda. The 20 qualities are a pair of 10 opposites: light/heavy, cold/hot, mobile/static, and so on.

In its simplest form, Ayurveda is the practice of introducing opposite quality and action into your diet and lifestyle to counteract the quality and action of any current imbalance. The practice of opposite action and quality is also important for seasonal health.

The Three Doshas

Ayurveda organizes the five elements into three Doshas, or constitutions. The word "Dosha" means “that which is most likely to go out of balance.” The three Doshas are Vata (Air and Ether), Pitta (Fire and Water), and Kapha (Earth and Water). Your constitution never changes, but it can go out of balance due to diet and lifestyle choices.

Each of us has all three Doshas present in our bodies. Most of us have one predominant Dosha or two Doshas that are almost equal in portion (dual Doshic).

Below is an overview of each Dosha with some tips to incorporate the opposite quality/action to bring it back into balance in your body.

Vata Dosha

Elements: Air and Ether

Main function: Movement. Vata influences the nervous system and all movement in the body, including peristalsis (involuntary movements in the digestive tract), elimination, circulation, respiration, birthing, and the expression of emotions.

Qualities: Light, cold, dry, rough, mobile/erratic, clear, and subtle.

Time of Day: 2 – 6 a.m. and 2 – 6 p.m. This means that you want to focus this time of day with activities that pacify Vata. See tips to balance Vata below.

Season: Fall through early Winter. You should focus on a diet and lifestyle that pacifies Vata during this season, even if your predominant Dosha isn’t Vata.

Body Type: People with a predominant Vata Dosha tend to be small-framed, thin, and light. They tend toward low stamina and energy and often experience poor circulation, cold extremities, and dry skin.

In the Mind: Positive traits include creativity, enthusiasm, freedom, joy, vitality, adaptability, and generosity.

Vata Out of Balance: When Vata is aggravated, it can show up as gas, bloating, and constipation. Stiff muscles and joints, cramps, and spasms may indicate that Vata is high. In the mind, heightened fear, anxiety, worry, and scattered thoughts become more common. Lower immunity, insomnia, and mood fluctuations are also indications that Vata needs attention.

Tips to Balance Vata:

  • Develop and maintain a steady daily routine around mealtimes, exercise, and sleep.
  • Practice relaxing and mindful activities that are grounding, such as yoga, meditation, belly breathing, Yoga Nidra, and warm oil massage.
  • Dress warmly and avoid the cold.
  • Eat cooked, moist, and oily foods.
  • Use digestive spices such as Ginger, Cinnamon, Cardamom, and Turmeric in teas and cooking.
  • Use herbal formulas that include adaptogenic and nervine herbs such as Bacopa, Ashwagandha, and Ginseng for the mind.
  • Moderate cold drinks, raw foods (like salads), and caffeine.

Pitta Dosha

Elements: Fire and Water

Main Function: Transformation and digestion.

Qualities: Hot, sharp, light, oily, and liquid.

Time of Day: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. This means that you want to focus this time of day with activities that pacify Pitta. See tips to balance Pitta below.

Season: Late Spring through Summer. You should focus on a diet and lifestyle that pacifies Pitta during this season, even if you’re predominant Dosha isn’t Pitta.

Body Type: People with predominant Pitta Dosha tend to be of medium, muscular build, strong, and naturally athletic. They typically experience strong digestion, steady energy, and good circulation.

In the Mind: Driven, ambitious, focused, strong-willed, confident, courageous, and intelligent are words that can be used to describe someone with a predominant Pitta Dosha. They enjoy gaining knowledge and experience, and have an aptitude for self-study and growth.

Pitta Out of Balance: When Pitta is out of balance in the body, it can show up as inflammation, infection, skin irritation and breakouts, fever, bleeding, loose stool, and burning sensations. Feelings of anger, jealousy, hyper-competitiveness, and narcissism can manifest in the mind with increased Pitta.

Tips to Balance Pitta:

  • Eat cooling foods such as cucumber, cilantro, coconut, pomegranate, and bitter greens.
  • Use herbal formulas that include cooling herbs such as Aloe, Dandelion, Lavender, Passionflower, and Saffron.
  • Practice relaxation and meditation to cool excess Pitta in the mind and body.
  • Exercise during the coolest times of day during the summer season.
  • Moderate alcohol, hot/spicy foods, fermented foods, salt, caffeine, and sugar intake.
  • Avoid staying up too late (no later than 10 p.m.).
  • Limit intense, competitive, and hot forms of exercise/exertion.
  • Enjoy water sports and swimming holes in the summer.

Kapha Dosha

Elements: Water and Earth

Main Function: Structure and lubrication.

Qualities: Heavy, cold, oily, slow, slimy, soft, static, dense, and liquid.

Time of day: 6 – 10 a.m. and 6 – 10 p.m. This means that you want to focus this time of day with activities that pacify Kapha. See tips to balance Kapha below.

Season: Late Winter through early Spring. You should focus on a diet and lifestyle that pacifies Kapha during this season, even if you’re predominant Dosha isn’t Kapha.

Body Type: Kapha types have large bone structure, round bodies, and tend to gain weight easily. They have large, lustrous eyes and glistening hair. Someone with a predominant Kapha Dosha moves more slowly, but with great endurance and stamina.

In the Mind: Caring, compassionate, nurturing, grounded, patient, supportive, and centered are common traits of a person with a predominant Kapha Dosha. 

Kapha Out of Balance: When Kapha is out of balance, it can lead to depression, lethargy, excess mucous, low appetite, swelling, obesity, sweet cravings, and even high cholesterol. Feelings of attachment, aversion to change, greed, stubbornness, and clouded thinking can manifest in the mind when there is excess Kapha.

Tips to Balance Kapha:

  • Exercise daily (vigorous exercise is good).
  • Wake up early (between 5 – 6 a.m.).
  • Avoid cold drinks and food.
  • Drink warm water with lemon throughout the day.
  • Eat warming foods with digestive spices such as Ginger, Cinnamon, Clove, Turmeric, and Black Pepper.
  • Moderate dairy, wheat, sugar, salt, and snacking between meals.
  • Avoid sleeping during the day and sleeping in.

Uncovering Your Constitution

woman meditating

You were born with a unique combination of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha in your body. Your knowledge and understanding of this unique combination are important in optimizing your health, well-being, and immunity.

Once you know the qualities in your body and mind that are most likely to go out of balance (Dosha), you can then incorporate foods, routines, and activities of the opposite qualities to restore balance and energy.

To begin your journey, you can practice self-study by taking a Dosha quiz online and reading books and articles (like this one). You can also start to notice the qualities in Nature around you and in your body and mind. Pause and ask yourself from time to time: What are the qualities of this moment?

Another great step for deeper understanding, customizing, and optimizing your health is to consult with an Ayurveda Health Coach during one-on-one coaching and/or group coaching.

There’s so much to discover about yourself through the lens of Ayurveda. May your journey be fruitful, powerful, and healing.


Top photo: Scott Martin

Anna is the author of Yoga for Paddling, and an internationally celebrated paddling, yoga and Ayurveda health coach. She creates empowering experiences that help women build courage and confidence through mind, body and adventure. Anna has been featured in mainstream publications such as Outside Magazine, Time, Shape and Self, and was named one of the most inspirational paddlers alive by Canoe and Kayak Magazine. Anna lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband Andrew and adventure schnoodle, Ceiba.