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August 18, 2010

Your Body Type and the Ayurvedic Doshas: Vata, Kapha, and Pitta Energies

The three Ayurvedic Doshas (body energies — Vata, Kapha and Pitta) determine greatly how you look and feel throughout the seasons, and throughout your life. You have all three elements in your body-personality but most people have one or two dominant traits. (So stop body shaming and cut yourself a break.)

There are some simple ayurvedic reasons you and I may never look as skinny as Tara Stiles. No matter how much yoga we practice.

The simple reason for this is found in the sacred tradition of yoga’s sister science, namely Ayurveda.

The Three Ayurvedic Doshas and Their Body Types

According to Ayurveda, there are three basic body types. These three bodily humors can manifest themselves in a variety of forms, and very few of them look anything like most yoginis featured on the cover of Yoga Journal.

Here they are:

VATA Dosha Body Type

The physical appearance of vata yogis: they are either tall or short, non-muscular, with thin and bony limbs and have a quick gait with short, fast steps. In other words, vata yogis can twist their bodies into just about any asana position practiced in a hatha yoga studio this side of the Ganges river!  Tara Stiles seems like your typical vata yogini.

PITTA Dosha Body Type

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Pitta yogis have a moderately well developed physique with muscular limbs and a purposeful, stable gait of medium speed. Their bodies are often hot and sweaty, so steamy hot Bikram classes are actually not the best for their hot-tempered pitta personality. Better for them to do asanas in an ice-skating rink!  Rodney Yee seems like a typical pitta yogi, at least physically.

See also: The Right Essential Oils for our Doshas

KAPHA Dosha Body Type

Kapha yogis have a thick, broad, well-developed frame, large bones and muscles and are relatively short=statured. They may have difficulties siting in full lotus or pulling both feet behind their ears, but they are good-natured and will fail with a considerate smile. Neem Karoli Baba, with his rotund body, might have been a kapha yogi.

But of course, we yogis do not always fit neatly into these three physical categories. Because there are actually many variations of these body types, including pitta-kapha, vata-pitta, vata-kapha, and pitta-kapha-vata.

So you may be a skinny vata yogini with large kapha hips, for example. Or a tall vata yogini with large kapha hips.

The point is: if you have a pitta-kapha body (like myself), you will never, ever look like a string bean…or a wonderful yogini the likes of Tara Stiles. Never, ever.

You may fast and eat nothing but fruits and vegetables for years, but your hip bones and your hips may, if you are a pure kapha, for example, remain as large as a beautiful horse’s ass—even though you have less than an ounce of body fat.

Hence, when I started yoga, it took me a while to get into lotus pose. And once I was able to get into it, I could barely get out of it! All this sweat and agony due to my large bones and muscles, while my vata brethren in the ashram in India could sit in lotus all day without batting an eyelid.

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Consequently, siddhasana, or half lotus, has become my favorite meditation pose, because I can comfortably sit in it for long periods of time. Indeed, this royal seat of asana is preferred by many yogis for various higher meditation practices.

In other words, it does not necessarily make you less of a yogi because you are unable to sit in lotus pose for hours on end without feeling pain. Yoga is not just about physical looks and abilities.

Many great yogis looked like pot-bellied weirdos and hardly ever practiced yoga asanas in the first place.

But is this physical and spiritual diversity reflected in the ads and the photos in yoga magazines today? Hardly. More like: hardly ever! Most yogis or yoginis (yes, they are mostly yoginis) featured in magazines are skinny and bendable saplings of either a vata or a vata-pitta nature. In other words, they tend to look like Tara Stiles.

But (fortunately) most yogis look like you and me, with bodies that reflect the whole ayurvedic spectrum of human body types.

Indeed, yogis come in all shapes and types. Some small and thin, some short and relatively large, some tall and shaped like a plump pear, some tall and skinny like a young tree, some medium and muscular like a pit bull. And we are all yogis, and we are all beautiful! Yes, indeed!

Shouldn’t our yoga magazines and books better reflect this yogic and Ayurvedic reality?

Watch this video on the Ayurvedic Doshas:

 

 

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Relephant read:

Find the Perfect Workout for Your Body Type (Dosha).

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Bonus:

 

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Mindful offering:

Ohm Deodorant

Reply to mandy cancel

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Kristina Jan 28, 2016 3:12pm

I am told I am vata. I think I am mostly vata. Anyways, while I am flexible in some ways there are certain poses I won’t ever be able to do deep because of structural issues. I won’t do splitz or full forward bends for example. Vatas aren’t all naturally flexible by any means.

I highly recommend “the Science of Yoga” and read up on injuries. A lot of poses just aren’t healthy. Like full lotus…knees are not meant to bend left and right! It’s very important to read up on this. There is a NYT article on this topic..every yoga person needs to read to avoid serious injury.

mandy Oct 3, 2015 1:21am

True! I’m a vata and I love Tara Stiles. How funny 🙂

Maria Sep 14, 2015 1:27am

I read this article because I saw the drawings of the different body types and it made me annoyed.
I thought it was understandable why the article was written in these these times of bodily obsession. But WHY is is the male body just standing straight and the female positioned in a more sexy pose? What has that to do with Ayurveda? That’s not ok in my opinion.
/Maria

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Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes has traveled the world as a meditation teacher, Ayurvedic practitioner, author, and is currently the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center teaching yoga, meditation, and juice rejuvenation. He studied yoga therapy in Nepal and India, Ayurvedic Medicine at California College of Ayurveda, and naturopathic detox therapy at the AM Wellness Center in Cebu, Philippines. He is the author of four books, and he lives with his wife Radhika and Juno, a sweet, gentle Great Pyrenees, in the mountains near Asheville, North Carlina. Connect with him via his website: prama.org and rameshbjonnes.com.