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Know your Dosha: Ayurveda 101

Do you remember the early '90s and the step aerobics craze? I do. Intimately. I took a lot of step classes. During lunch. After work. I wanted to be healthy and in shape. Feel the burn, they said. I did. And I hated it. Every minute of it.

Step aerobics is a vigorous, power-oriented aerobic workout performed by stepping up and down on an elevated platform. The more risers you have under your platform, the more intense the workout.

The original Step with one riser

I aspired to two risers, but most days settled for one. My boyfriend at the time, an exercise maniac with a bit of an anger problem, used three risers. Our teacher, a woman with lots of muscle and what looked like zero body fat, used two risers and really heavy hand weights. Ugh. 

Skaneateles Lake
One day during class, I fell off the step. Seriously. I fell off the step and sprained my ankle and had to wear this boot thing and I could not go to step aerobics for weeks. What a relief!

Even better, I got to convalesce at a friend's camp on Skaneateles Lake. Life was good. Sort of.

As I sat at my friends cabin in the woods, I kept wondering: What's wrong with me? I'm young, fit, healthy ... Why can't I do a step aerobics class without feeling like I'm going to die? And then I learned about Ayurveda and the doshas and the proverbial light bulb went off.

Ayurveda is India's traditional medical system. Unlike Western medicine which treats the symptoms (in this case, the sprained ankle), Ayurveda looks at the whole person and the underlying cause, asking: what is making this person so unbalanced that she/he becomes ill or injured (i.e. falls off the step)?

According to Ayruveda, my dosha (or constitution) needs gentle to moderate exercise such as yoga, walking, biking, hiking and dancing. Anything too vigorous - such as step aerobics - depletes me. The answer, according to Ayurveda, was, of course, to treat the sprain, but also to stop taking step classes and find a kinder, gentler form of exercise. For me, that was yoga. But we'll talk about that another day.

There are three doshas in Ayurveda: vata, pitta and kapha. Everybody has a little bit of all three, but usually one or two dominate. I'm a vata-pitta, which means I am mostly vata, with a lot of pitta and very little kapha. Usually, you can tell a person's dosha by their body type. But not always. Looks can be deceiving.

From left to right: Vata, Pitta and Kapha body types. 

Vata is light, dry, always moving, thinking, quick. Naturally enthusiastic, vata types have bursts of energy, but tend to tire quickly. When out of balanced, vata becomes worried, anxious, unable to sleep, forgetful.

Pitta is hot, sharp, strong and loud. When a pitta type walks in the room you know it. Pittas tend to be actors, athletes, politicians. They are competitive and do not know when to stop. When imbalanced they tend toward anger and inflammation. Any disease that ends in "itis" such as bursitis, diverticulitis and rheumatoid arthritis is most likely a pitta problem - too much fire.

Kapha is heavy, solid, steady and slow. Think Earth Mother. Kapha types excel at endurance, but struggle with motivation. They need vigorous exercise to prevent a tendency to gain weight.

One of my favorite basic books on Ayurveda is Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra, MD. It explains the doshas in detail, offers a quiz to help you determine your dosha, and describes what each dosha needs to stay balanced and what makes them imbalanced.

Learning about the doshas taught me so much about myself and really changed the way I lived. I can't say for sure I never took another step class, but nowadays I definitely stop myself before I come crashing to the floor.


  1. Yeah....I don't see you taking step class....actually getting a chuckle just thinking about it. Great info!

    1. Naomi, So glad I could make you smile today.

  2. I couldn't agree more with you about aerobics! Hated every minute of it too. And it made me dislike exercising even more. Never liked Phys Ed in school either... Then I found NIa, which is a holistic form of training. More like dancing than exercising. Changed my life and I'm hooked ever since!

    1. Maria, Thanks for your comment. I took Nia for years and loved it. Exercise for the soul.

  3. Hi Les,
    I am enjoying your comments

  4. Hi Howie,
    Thanks for reading. It's so fun to be writing again.


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