How the Doshas Respond to Stress
Stress is inevitable; however, it often gets a bad rap because it is correlated with overwhelming situations, challenges, loss, or any of the many hardships that can devastate our lives. But stress is necessary and has kept us alive—for centuries stress has helped Homo sapiens escape death, reproduce, and thrive as a species. For most of us living in a modern society, stress becomes a daily experience with the bombardment of sensory information coming at us in any given moment. Understanding and accepting that daily stress is inherent to life, Ayurveda teaches us to use preventative measures to lessen the toll it can take on one’s physical health. Each individual constitution will adapt to stress in its unique way, making the pathway to balance multilayered.
In Ayurveda, the doshas are used as roadmaps to track the ways that imbalances manifest for each individual. These roadmaps act as guides, alerting us to the signs and symptoms the body displays when affected by stress. And each dosha’s unique manifestation provides a different route to get to a destination. We can think of these doshic paths like the alternate routes found on a map. Over time we learn the roads to avoid, and the ones that provide easy, relaxed travel. After we’ve taken the same route numerous times, we begin to find shortcuts, interesting places to stop, and the best time of day to avoid traffic. We can make sure we have enough gas in our car to get us to our destination, and in the process, lessen the amount of stress getting there.
The Routes Each Dosha Can Take
Vata dosha, a combination of air and space, gives rise to a route that can be somewhat erratic; imagine difficult to make left-hand turns, suddenly slamming on the breaks and then speeding up quickly, rushing across town in rush hour through side streets, ignoring stop signs, and trying to find the speediest but often most tumultuous route.
Pitta dosha, a combination of fire and water, is similar to a route with no speed limits which allows you to go as fast and as far as you can until you hit burn-out. Pushing to the limit without stop, fueled by adrenaline (maybe road rage!), and a burning desire to get to the destination is a very pitta-like approach to this route.
Kapha dosha, a combination of earth and water, is akin to the stuck-in-rush-hour commuter route. There isn’t much space to move in the slow, stop-and-go traffic as you inch along for the arduous trek, feeling defeated by the journey ahead.
Vata Manifestations and Finding Balance
To understand how that energy manifests in the body and mind, we use the qualities of each dosha to understand our “route.” Vata dosha is dry, cold, mobile, and erratic. In the body, we will experience dry skin, cold extremities, constipation, gas, and bloating. In the mind, we will experience erratic and fast-paced thinking, which could lead to feelings of anxiety and fear. In relationships, this combination of qualities may also set off a cascade of stress hormones that will cause you to want to flee from interpersonal conflict or difficulty. To balance vata, we want to bring in the opposite qualities, such as:
- A warm abhyanga with Vata Massage Oil is grounding.
- Heavy and supportive herbs, like ashwagandha used in Stress Ease, bring calm.
- Spices, like those found in the Kitchari Spice Mix, stimulate the digestive fire.
- Take time to quiet the mind through meditation or pranayama before making any impulsive decisions.
Pitta Manifestations and Finding Balance
Pitta dosha appears more like a fight response, both internally with physiological symptoms, and externally in the way we relate. Physiological symptoms will mirror the qualities of hot, oily, mobile, and spreading with a sensation of heat in the body; oiliness may appear in the form of heartburn or loose stools, heat rashes or hives, and sweating easily. Similarly, feelings of frustration, irritability, anger, or judgement may arise. To balance this:
- Excess heat in the body can be remedied with the cooling blend Pitta Digest.
- Mental Clarity is a lovely formula for cooling pitta that rises to the mind.
- Taking cool showers calms and soothes pitta.
- Self-compassion or metta meditation practices help to soften the judgements that can arise.
Kapha Manifestations and Finding Balance
Kapha dosha’s heavy, cold, and dull qualities become overly stagnant, causing a freeze-response or major challenge in taking action. Weight gain, acne, and respiratory conditions manifest when these qualities increase in the body. Similarly, in the mind, lethargy, sadness, and even depression can begin to sink in. To balance kapha:
- Take a warming and lightening formula like Kapha Digest (also known as trikatu) to help support agni.
- Kapalabhati Pranayama (Shining Skull Breath), breathing deeply, or chanting will lighten heaviness in the prana region of the body.
- Tulsi is a wonderful adaptogenic herb that reduces the impact of stress on the body.
- Asking for help from a trusted person is a milestone.
If you have signs and symptoms from more than one dosha, (That’s not uncommon; we are incredibly dynamic human beings!) begin by balancing vata first. Vata is known to cause the majority of imbalances, and simple grounding practices like abhyanga and incorporating digestion-friendly spices into your diet can go a long distance in managing stress. To learn more about your doshic makeup, take the Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz.