FINDING BALANCE WITH AYURVEDIC GUNAS: DECODING THE SECRETS OF DOSHAS

Throughout the past few weeks, we’ve unpacked the three overarching Ayurvedic gunas that represent the universal energies flowing throughout all forms of life: Rajas (representing motion), Tamas (representing inertia) and Sattva (representing harmony). While these three gunas provide a helpful framework for understanding the broader energies at play in the world, there are also a wide number of other gunas representing qualities that can describe our experience to a greater level of granularity. 

When you look at a flower, you might sense that it is bright, light or soft; when you encounter a stream, you know that it is cool, wet and fast-moving. All of these are qualities that can be attributed to specific gunas, the unique combination of which makes up all forms of matter. What differentiates one plant from another, or one person from another (even if they have the same dosha) is the distinct combination of gunas that differentiates each form of life.

HOW THE GUNAS INFORM OUR DOSHIC CONSTITUTION

The Ayurvedic doshas are comprised of three categories of energy that make up an individual’s constitution. Manifesting different combinations of the five central elements, Vata represents ether and air, Pitta represents fire and water and Kapha represents water and earth. While we are each comprised of a combination of all three doshas, we typically have one dosha that is dominant; this dominant dosha determines our individual constitution and shapes our overall health and well-being. Knowing one’s dosha can in turn help one to identify sources of imbalance and locate dosha-specific remedies for various ailments.

Like the three central gunas, the three doshas provide an overarching framework for understanding the general tendencies of our constitution. However, there is of course a lot of variation among the doshas; no two Pittas will experience their doshic tendencies in the exact same manner. 

That’s where an expanded notion of the gunas comes into play. Several gunas characterize each dosha, and this variety contributes to a wide range of experiences. For example, while some Vatas might skew toward coldness, others might be more prone to dryness, qualities that, when out of balance, cause quite distinct effects. Paying close attention to your body and its states of both internal and external balance can thus empower you to identify what gunas may be more prominent in your constitution and to better understand how to combat specific imbalances.

Here are some of the gunas that are associated with each dosha:

VATA

  • Dry
  • Light
  • Cold
  • Clear
  • Rough
  • Subtle
  • Mobile

PITTA

  • Oily
  • Hot
  • Sharp
  • Spreading/expanding
  • Liquid 
  • Oily 

KAPHA

  • Slow
  • Heavy
  • Cool
  • Thick
  • Oily
  • Soft
  • Slimy
  • Stillness

If you notice that you experience certain qualities characteristic of your dosha more than others, you can tailor a gunas-specific regimen to optimize your health and well-being. For example, if you’re a Pitta who experiences symptoms of heat like sweating, redness or inflammation, you can combat this hotness with cooling remedies, such as an aloe vera or cucumber topical treatment or the consumption of cooling herbs like cilantro. If you’re a Kapha experiencing heaviness, you can combat its symptoms by incorporating regular exercise and holistic detoxification activities—such as dry brushing or using a Kansa wand—into your routine. Ultimately, understanding how the gunas inform the doshas can help empower you to take charge of your own holistic well-being —the more you know about your constitution, the better equipped you’ll be to redress imbalances when they arise.