how to tame your “vata”

Posted on April 21st, 2011

Yesterday, in an interview for Yoga Journal, I was asked what lifestyle techniques I wholeheartedly swear by. I’ve been saving this trick up for a while to share…it’s certainly one of the main approaches I live by for maximum wellness and solid-to-goodness ground-ed-ness.

I tame my vata.

But I have a theory. I believe untamed vata is the reason why people in our culture are feeling more and more unsettled and angsty, and getting weirdly unwell as a result. I make a big call, but read on.

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Our “vata” is out of balance. Contemporary life turns us into vata types. But it also aggravates vata energy. We’re set up to #epicfail!

Have no idea what I’m talking about?

OK, I’ll break this whole vata thing down

* Vata is an Ayurvedic term.

* Ayurvedic healing, IMO, is the most grounded approach I’ve encountered. Yoga as we know it today – all of it – and meditation and a lot of the dietary theory I espouse comes from this tradition which is more than 5000 years old (some say 10,000). It started in India. Buddhism stemmed from it 3000 years ago.

* If you want to learn more, Deepak Chopra’s book Perfect Health is a good start.

* Anyway. According to Ayurvedic thinking, we’re all made up of 3 doshas – vata, pitta and kapha. This is less woo-woo than it sounds. Promise. It’s simply a way to categorise body/personality types that exist for a multitude of evolutionary reasons. We all possess all three doshas, but tend to have one that dominates. Our dominant dosha can get out of balance, which causes us different digestion/weight, health and emotional issues.

Make sense?

So, generally…

Vata types have: light, flexible bodies and big, protruding teeth; small, recessed, dry eyes;  irregular appetite and thirst; often experience digestive and malabsorption problems; easily excited; alert and quick to act without much thinking; may give a wrong answer but with great confidence. Their dominant force is wind so do not like sitting idle, and seek constant action. They’re FLIGHTY! Vatas hate cold. Hate, hate, hate it. They need warm, mushy foods to bring them back down to earth. And they love summer.

Pitta types have: a medium frame and weight. They seldom gain or lose much weight. Their eyes are bright but tend to be sensitive to light. Pitta people usually have strong appetite and thirst. They have excellent abilities for learning, understanding and concentrating; highly disciplined; can be judgmental, critical and perfectionistic, and tend to become ANGRY  easily; have moderate strength, medium span of life. Their force is fire – so summer is the time when pitta gets easily aggravated. Sunburn, poison ivy, prickly heat and short tempers are common. Pittas need and love cooling foods (salads), and should avoid chilies and hot spices. I’ve noticed pitta men are often bald…too much heat coming out the top of their heads!

Kaphas types have: a strong and large body frame, big eyes, strong teeth and thick, curly hair; thick, smooth, oily and hairy skin; slow digestion and metabolism which often result in weight gain; cravings for sweet and salt; a calm, steady mind;  a deep melodious voice and a monotonous pattern of speech. Kapha is a an earthy type and can get heavy – they need firing up. The respond well to coffee and spices. Kapha tends to get aggravated as the moon gets full and during the winter and early spring, when the weather is heavy, wet and cloudy…it makes them too heavy and damp.

* To find out what type you are, Deepak Chopra has this “what dosha are you” quiz you can do.

But this is key: Vata controls the whole lot. And if vata is out of whack, everything goes to pieces. All the doshas become unbalanced.

let’s look at what gets vata grumpy….

I’ll bold the things that strike me as particular to modern life, as in it’s stuff that we’re increasingly exposed to or served up or told is good for us. See if you agree.

* cold weather and exposure to wind or air-conditioning.

* cold foods - iced water, refrigerated foods, green salads

* food that is dry, rough or light in properties (I’m thinking cereals and rice cakes and pretty much everything in the “health food” aisles) and irregular eating habits.

* excessive physical exercise, particularly of a strongly aerobic nature

* lack of proper rest, mental and emotional stress and anything that disturbs the peace or security of a person.

and what happens when vata is upset?

We get cold, constipation, lack of energy, loss of sleep, fatigue, emaciation, abdominal distention with flatulence, defective sensory functioning. Psychological symptoms include fear, anxiety, insecurity, confusion, and aimless talking.

Familiar?

but in addition….

I think that modern life demands that we become vata-ish. We’re expected to be fast, fleety, jumping from one thing to the next, give answers “even if they’re incorrect”, not concentrating fully, toggling, being thin(!), not settling on one thing, demanding lots of choices…and so on.

So, modern life not only upsets our vata, it makes us vata-like in the first place!

I know all this because my dominant dosha is – surprise, surprise – vata.

And I know my vata is being pushed to the limits all around me. It’s niggled by air-con, loud voices, cold drinks.

And that this has in the past made me sick…and now can impede my wellness.

so what to do?

The simple answer: we must passify or de-excite our vata when we’re feeling it being whipped up.

Below is what I do. I think ALL of us, no matter our dominant dosha, need to be mindful of these things. So that we’re not thrown by vata. Also, bear in mind vata healing requires patience and consistency over a long period of time. I know, I know…friggen hard if you’re a vata. Life’s like that.

Finally, these tips are particularly crucial at this time of year. Vatas don’t like being cold!

So, overall:

1. get warm

2. combat dryness with oils

3. replace the light flutteriness with heaviness

4. replace roughness with smoothness

5. be consistent

  • I eat warm, smooth, heavy foods like soups and stews and root vegetables. Sweet potato soup with coconut milk is ideal! I avoid ricecakes or breakfast cereals…dry stuff.
  • I warm most foods…even just a little. Or eat salad at room temperature if possible.
  • The three ayurvedic tastes that help balance vata are sweet, sour and salty – milk, salted toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds make good snacks. Eat less of the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes. Nuts are wonderful vata-pacifiers. Oily!
  • Walking is the ideal exercise… gentle, 20 minutes. Yoga is also good. Vigorous, jumpy exercise ain’t good when vata is playing up.
  • I wear heavy clothing and use heavy bedding – thick blankets on top of my doona. Heavy things ground vata.
  • I always drink water as a tea, or at least warm.
  • Try tea with fennal and licorice. Try the Maharishi Ayur Veda Vata Tea – Licorice, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon. Chai is also great. Tim Brown also makes an amazing range of dosha teas…
  • I eat lots of oils and butter (not deep fried or greasy stuff)
  • I wear socks and I protect myself from wind. Scarves are my friend.
  • Saunas are great… warm and still!
  • Oils! I use Rosehip oil on my face and untoasted sesame oil on my body. Argan oil in my hair. It works to ground me.
  • Be aware that noise will throw you. Don’t be ashamed to turn down volume!
  • Maintain a regular routine as much as you can – regular bedtime, regular getting up, regular meal times. I never skip meals – this makes me fluttery and jittery.
  • Don’t travel too much…moving about in cars, trains, planes sends vata to pieces
  • This is a tricky one – I avoid flighty, jittery people…

Have you come across Ayurvedic thinking? Does the above resonate with you (even if you think the premise sounds bloody weird)?


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  • http://thehealthylivinglounge.com/ Carole – Rejuvenation Lounge

    Sarah, this is excellent, excellent, excellent.

    I’m vata deranged and constantly striving to feel still and grounded on the inside.

    I find restorative restful yoga (legs up the wall and childs pose) really, really helpful.

    Peace, love and chocolate, Carole

    [Reply]

  • http://thechocolatefigsf.com Sarah

    sounds like me. this is good stuff. i’ve always wondered why i feel so comfortable in heavy hotel beds with thick duvets!

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    It’s like they hold us down!

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  • Jenny

    Yes – I completely resonate with this. I can’t stand the cold or loud noise and love the quiet time and heat! Would love to hear more about how you integrate this into your world. Have you found adopting these principles has helped with your thyroid? Am battling at the moment with hashi’s and can’t seem to get the levels right (also only have half of the thyroid bcoz of thycancer.) Something needs to give me some relief!!!!!!

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  • http://oneaprilmorning.net Laura

    I have never heard of this before, but I am intrigued… off to do the Chopra quiz!

    [Reply]

  • Caitlin

    Thanks Sarah!

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  • T

    I have looked into this before but seem to be dominant in both vata and pitta which seem to have almost opposite diet reccomendations.. any ideas on what to do here?

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Simply listen to which is out of whack….are you angry or flighty?

    [Reply]

    T Reply:

    Both. Irritable, anxious, short tempered, poor digestion, and unsettled.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.benmarden.com.au ben

    This is new to me, very interested to learn more! Are you going to talk about Pitta types?
    Thanks!

    [Reply]

  • http://adamcordner.com Adam Cordner

    KAPHA-PITTA?

    Interesting, it looks like I’m Kapha post Christmas festivities, and Pitta mid ice hockey season. I don’t usually do these sort of things, occasionally I’ll read my start sign, but this is strangely on the ball.

    “Kapha-pitta” sounds like how toddlers would say “caterpillar”

    [Reply]

    Mia Reply:

    Oh that’s so cute :)

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  • Michele

    I’m a Vata but my Kapha is out of whack which has led to a number of difficulties that I am currently experiencing – thanks for the lead on the Chopra site – I can now work on getting my Kapha back in order so that I can lead a more settled existence.

    Happy Easter Sarah, thanks as always for another wonderful post! xx

    [Reply]

  • http://www.blossom.net.nz Tracy

    I had never heard of this. Love my big heavy blankets and warm yummy food. I’m going to look into this more! Thanks for sharing Sarah :)

    [Reply]

  • trace

    I like to refer often to the line in “Desiderata”…”Avoid loud and aggressive people, they are vexations to the spirit.”

    I have found that my Vata enjoys the weight of blankets in preference to a doona, under which I get far too hot, even in the middle of a Melbourne winter!

    great post, thanks Sarah!

    [Reply]

    Heather Reply:

    I love the Desiderata! <3

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  • Mia

    I actually struggle with the Ayurveda concept, always have, as I find myself very contradictory! I love travel, and am never more relaxed than when I am moving. I find driving late at night particularly soothing to my brain. I even enjoy plane travel when I am in good health. I love rain, and the open sky in summer gives me the heebie jeebies. (Yes, I acknowledge that’s weird. I hate summer sky. Its too… open and big and threatening. Give me a nice cover of storm clouds, and I feel like I am tucked in and heavy and safe. Same with being underwater, Im more comfortable diving at 30m than I am on the surface.)

    But at the same time I am physically exactly the same as the Kapha type, and mentally the same as the Vata type. Therein lies my confusion!

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Not contradictory. It just means you have all these going on. You’re clearly quite Kaphic. But sometimes we can be drawn to things that aren’t good for our dosha. We just have to observe the results of things…

    [Reply]

    Mia Reply:

    Interesting that you say that. I just read some more on the link you provided and it explained that you being born with one dosha doesnt necessarily mean that is the only one that could dominate or become unbalanced. It can change throughout your life. I did not know that! Would explain why I am very Kaphic but potentially have troubles with my Vata becoming unbalanced. Good call. :)

    I’m still finding this quite strange, but open to all things – who am I to say anything is wrong without trying it for myself? Will continue to research more. Thanks as always for the post… I think of your articles as little gold nugget of wise info, to kick me up the bum and go find out for myself. Loving it as usual. xx

    [Reply]

  • shiv

    I have never heard of this before! According to the quiz, I am “Tri-Doshic” which means I “exhibit equal characteristics of all three doshas”. Very typical of my adaptable self (I’m a sagittarius with pisces rising – two mutable signs) Hmm definitely have some reading up on this topic to do! Thanks, Sarah

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    I think that’s quite rare!

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    Jade @ No Longer 25 Reply:

    Me too! I got Vata: 3 Pitta: 4 Kapha: 3 which is tri-doshic and just about sums me up – confused and a bit of everything rolled into one!

    [Reply]

    shiv Reply:

    Yes the results said it was quite rare…pretty cool though I have to say :-) Jade, that’s awesome! I totally agree with you, confused and a bit of everything rolled into one is correct!

    [Reply]

  • mags

    wow… so I am a pitta but I did the following quiz and my vata score was high for both mind and body. So I guess I need to do more vata-like activities to bring them down? Really interesting food for thought whilst I nourish myself over a super-long weekend. Thanks Sarah

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  • aimee

    Shiv – I’m with you – a fellow Tri-Doshic.

    Sarah – this is such great stuff, thanks for sharing. I’m off to educate myself in the wonderful world of Ayurvedic thinking & healing.

    [Reply]

  • http://londonbubbleandsqueak.blogspot.com/ Alex

    I definitely believe this- my naturopath recently had me switch to eating all warm food, no more ice water or salads as meals and it has made SUCH a difference in my digestion. I’ve only had digestive problems for 10 years… Now just have to conquer the anxiety but vata all the way!

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  • http://Www.newleafnutrition.com.au BridgetJane

    Oh thanku Sarah!!! I think i too am vata but will do Deepaks quiz to see.. U have helped “dumb it down” a lot! Currently trying to work my way through an Ayuvedic Healing book & oh man was i lost!!! Makes sense though too why ive bn craving- and obliging(!!!) so many more nuts & perhaps why caffeine OD sent me round the twist yday!!! I am going to get Deepaks book!! Thanku& ps. Hope ur ankle is healing well :) xxxo

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    try milky things too. Milk settles vata.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.jacintafleur.com jacinta

    Thank you for posting this Sarah, I’m so out of whack I feel like I’m upside down. This is exactly the piece of information that I needed. I’m going to keep researching. Thank you!

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    pacify, pacify!!!

    [Reply]

  • Cara

    Thanks Sarah, for this timely reminder to nurture and ground myself. Just what I needed to hear. x

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  • Alex

    Sarah I loved reading this; found it so interesting. I could immediately identify people I loved in all the descriptions.

    My boyfriend sounds exactly like a vata type, my darling mum is kapha, whilst I am without a doubt pitta.

    I hate summer in Sydney and often retreat back to my parents house in the Blue Mountains to escape some of the heat, I sleep with a flat sheet + empty doona cover at all times of year, and have the fan on as well in summer. My poor boyfriend freezes his skinny butt off so usually he will have a doona to himself and the poor thing can only cuddle me for 30 secs before I overheat and wriggle away. I think that’s part of the reason why he loves me though, because he is always cold and I am always not! People comment all the time when they hug me how warm I am, I sweat very easily and exercising in summer is hideous.

    I’m a perfectionist to a fault (working on it) and get fired up and angry very easily. I actually have to moderate what blogs and comments I read as I know if I come across something I think is completely wrong or stupid I will become extremely annoyed and want to spew out my anger all over the internet. I’m pretty good now at just closing the window and laughing at myself the next morning for how worked up I got over a 25 word comment from Bob in Mosman but my first instincts are definitely to fire up.

    Aand I am always hungry and thirsty (I eat a lot of good fats to fill me up) and have been a curvy size 10-12 my whole life, despite periods of being committed to dieting or totally laissez-faire.

    Thank you for allowing this very self indulgent comment but I was just very excited to read this description as it rang so true! Will definitely be doing some more reading.

    Happy Easter! :)

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    My pleasure Alex!! You need to eat the salad, your partner a big hearty stew x

    [Reply]

  • Lila

    I did laugh when I read vata type typically have ‘big, protruding teeth; small, recessed, dry eyes’ – sounds like a little native animal. LOL.

    But I notice you use Argan oil now in your hair. Do you find this better than Moroccan oil?

    And just saw your twitter about going to church tomorrow. Not sure if they do the whole kneeing thing anymore. Last time I went it was almost like an express mass…all done in about 25 mins.

    [Reply]

    Mia Reply:

    Moroccan oil contains Argan oil… plus a whole bunch of synthetic silicones and artificial stuff. Stick with small amounts of the Argan oil, its the same stuff but without all the additives.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Mia is right…Moroccon Oil is full of chemicals and claims to be argon oil. Go natural!

    [Reply]

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  • V Frost

    I am a Pitta through and through- uncanny! Thanks for the intro to Ayurvedic healing; I will definitely be living by the guidance from now on. x

    [Reply]

  • Rebekah

    This is so interesting. I have had digestive problems for the past two years. I did the test and I am a Vata type. I love salad but enjoy it more if I mix heated up vegie stirfry throughout. The days I am balanced are when I eat eggs, nuts and sunflower seeds, an abundance of green tea and made from scratch chicken, garlic and vegetable soup, or ginger stirfry, an apple and then fish with potato for dinner…

    I am also anxious, always on the go, I have dry skin and hair and I skip meals. I get easily irritated and upset when something goes wrong, because 9 times out of 10 I will blame myself, even if I had nothing to do with the issue. It is so spot on!

    I do not have any routine, but I am a full time student, part time worker, in a relationship, and I am a writer. I love having alot going on but I hide away and avoid people when I feel overwhelemed which is alot of the time. I don’t watch TV because I would rather be intellectually engaged while reading, or on the internet reading. I read alot. I also listen to loud music in the car to block out my thoughts but at the moment I like silence to listen to them, when I feel overwhelemed I also hate driving! It is the wierdest thing! My partner suggested when we move in together that I won’t need a car as he can drop me at train stations etc. (I have to drive at the moment as I live on acerage an hour from Brisbane CBD- and Saint Lucia where I go to uni, being a poor student and all…) I quit a job that was neither emotionally or physically rewarding and now work for alot less but with alot more love for life… So I also wonder if my monthly redecorating shemes can also be attributed to my Vata type…

    So jut to sum up thank you for this story/post. I am working on several ways to change my life for the better. I love reading this blog because it inspires me, so thank you for for sharing all your wisdom . I hope that by the end of my (albeit first) degree, I have a better grip on my life, body, mind and my routine! Thank you for this blog I love reading it and learning more about life and how to live more harmionously.

    [Reply]

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  • Michael C

    I’m 600% vata. I always have been. I found out my dosha about 15 years ago when I went to the Himalayan Institute and got exposed to Ayurveda there.

    You said that today’s society is pushing people toward being more vatic. Well, I’m not surprised. Vata is the most rare dosha; most people are pitta or kapha. Many kapha (and pitta) types would love to become more like vata, for obvious reasons. And because they’re the most common types, then of course the majority is making more vata-elevating lifestyle choices. The problem is that vata types need to stay AWAY from making those choices. We’re not the target audience. Which, I guess, broadly means: whatever society says to do, do the opposite instead if your dosha is vata. But it sucks, because being a vata type means you’ll never be popular or find connections with people easily.

    [Reply]

  • Ashley

    I have been battling all the things that you wrote were things that demonstrate a vata imbalance and all the things you reccommend are things that make me feel better. Interesting huh :)

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  • Mia

    yes, totally agree that our society creates lots of vata imbalances. I’ve been diagnosed with vata imbalance, so I am trying to be good to myself now rather than run around keeping everyone else happy! x

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  • Christine

    Best advice is to be under the care of an Ayurvedic practitioner before diagnosing yourself. Ayurveda is such an indepth form of medicine, it’s best to have someone trained in it to diagnose and prescribe. Including in regard to the Ayurvedic tests. Considering ayurveda is such an individual medicine where no two peoples prescription will be the same. A trained practitioner looks at more than just the physical attributes of a person or their personality types etc. A great practitioner will be able to give you an indepth health reading via your pulse! And sometimes when you think your one type according to a test, you can actually turn out to be another. Amazing stuff! I love Ayurveda! It is saving my life.

    [Reply]

  • Jacquie

    Thank you for such a thorough article! I began following Ayurveda for Pitta in 2005 due to a doctor’s orders, and only this year figured out that I am a dominant Vata. I’ve begun to use the same lifestyle changes you do to calm allergy, anxiety, depression, hypertension, and even superficial bladder cancer. Practical information hasn’t been easy to find, so I appreciate your sharing your experience, which is specific to Vata dosha.

    [Reply]

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  • http://www.gameover.smfnew.com/index.php?action=profile&u=3894 Online Casino – 1000kr gratis

    Aw, this was an incredibly nice post. Spending some time
    and actual effort to make a top notch article… but
    what can I say… I hesitate a whole lot and never manage to get anything done.

    [Reply]

  • Emily

    i am a vata, no doubt. I thrive on hot oatmeal, eggs, nut butters and herbal tea. I ate some mary’s gone crackers the other day and felt off. sick. its because it was dry and light food, something which does not sit well with me. sometimes i hate going out because i have the chance of getting cold… thermal underwear is my friend. so are thick blankets and fish oil tablets. i am so glad there’s actually a name i can put to these feelings, i thought i was the only one.

    [Reply]

  • Tania

    Thank you for the article, Sarah! Do you have any idea, if argan oil is good for pitta type skin?

    [Reply]

  • Battle

    “Sweet potato soup with coconut milk” – Sarah, do you have a recipe for this?

    [Reply]

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  • Shawn

    Thanks for this article! I especially appreciate the mention of AC. I live in the Southern U.S., and it’s still hot hot hot here (September right now), and I’ve been falling to pieces, and I swear that the prolonged use of constant AC (months and months now) is a huge trigger. I just never knew why! I get dehydrated from the heat in the winter, but this AC reaction is a whole different animal. It helps to be able to say…hey, my vata is getting whipped up…and thank you for the recs. on how to tame it. I’ve got my homework set up for me!

    [Reply]

  • Maria

    I am really struggling at the moment with vata derangement but it’s not possible for me to stop travelling as I live a long way from where I work and my days start at different times so one morning I am up early the next I’m not. I am not in the position to be able to change my life to support me having a routine. :)

    [Reply]

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  • Narayani

    Sarah, you’ve helped me a lot here. I am Pitta Kapha but I came out of menopause with a vatta imbalance. So I need to learn more about balancing vatta. I live in a very dry, hot and windy climate. I used to be able to do vigorus aerobic exercise – like running, or swimming distance, but lately I find myself very vatta after exercise like that. Now I have support for my theory that gentle walking and swimming is better for me (along with my regular gentle yoga practice).

    I see so many vatta imbalances in my students too. We ARE living in very vatta times.

    [Reply]

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  • rachel

    Sarah: Buddhism did not ‘stem from’ Ayurveda. Or the Vedic teachings! Please — I really support what you are doing and think you are right on with the comments you make about chronic, societal Vata imbalance. These ancient systems have a lot of value to offer us. There is no need for this inaccurate and confusing conflation/linkage. (I say this as a qualified yoga teacher who uses a range of Ayurvedic and hatha yoga practices, and someone who has had the good fortune to deeply study and practice Buddhist teachings.)

    [Reply]

  • rachel

    Hi Adam, it’s not uncommon to be what’s termed “bi-dosha”. Although pitta-vata might be more common than kapha-pitta! There’s a lot of nuance to this. When I was studying this, my teacher gave us diagnostic questionnaires that illuminated our “base” dosha (kind of what we’re born with) along with where we’re at right now (that base dosha plus all the things acting on it). That’s why vata imbalance (or vata derangement as I think of it) is so common, because in the West we live in a society that aggravates vata virtually non-stop.

    [Reply]

  • Gerry

    I am definity predominant Vata and some pitta I think. My biggest problem is the need to stick to routine

    [Reply]

  • Jacquie

    You can be Kapha with a rajasic mind, the gunas express the state of mind….
    Look at your body type would be best to describe your Dosha, but for state of mind, look at the Gunas

    [Reply]

  • Secret Smile

    I am vata as well, I drink ginger honey tea often to calm and ground me. I like being Vata though. I am light, fine boned and I have a tiny little waist :)

    [Reply]

  • Air+Light

    I am vata as well, I drink ginger honey tea often to calm and ground me. I like being Vata though.

    [Reply]

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