The classification of individuals into three constitutional body types lies at the foundation of Ayurvedic healing. The concept of the embodiment of different constitutions with their inherent strengths and weaknesses is not unique to Ayurveda - it is a recurring theme seen in other traditional systems of medicine too, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tibetan Medicine and Ancient Greek Medicine. Several recent studies have found some interesting correlations between the constitutional body types and different metabolic activities, biomarkers, the basal metabolic rate (BMR) and the body mass index (BMI).1
Beginning of Creation
In Ayurveda, the concept of your constitutional body type is known as 'Prakriti' (also spelt Prakrti or Prakruti). The word Prakriti originates from the Sanskrit roots 'Pra' meaning 'beginning' and 'kriti' meaning 'creation', referring to each individual's original state of being. Your Prakriti is determined at birth by the unique combination of the three Dosha’s (which can be understood as bioenergetic or functional principles), known as Vata, Pitta & Kapha. Your unique bodily and mental makeup not only determines your appearance and personality, but also relates to how your body functions, its inherent weaknesses and strengths, and its predisposition to disease.
Each Dosha originates from a combination of two elements that determines its expression and function:
- Vata (translates to 'wind', formed by the elements Space and Air) relates to movement and communication and rules the central nervous system.
- Pitta (translates to 'bile', formed by Fire and Water) relates to digestion and transformation and rules the digestive and endocrine systems.
- Kapha (comes from the Sanskrit root 'Ap' meaning water, formed by Water & Earth) relates to cohesion and structure and governs the immune system.
The three Doshas are present in all living beings as the processes and metabolic activities that allow life to flourish. Although each of the three Doshas are present within our bodies, one or two will usually dominate to create our unique constitution.
Enterotypes & Agni
In Ayurveda, the three Doshic body types give rise to 3 types of metabolism (3 types of 'digestive fire'), namely Vishama (irregular) due to Vata, Teekshna (sharp) due to Pitta and Manda (slow) due to Kapha.
Although it is not possible to make a direct correlation, in 2011 the thousands of different species of human gut bacteria were classified into three basic groups, known as Enterotypes. These Enterotypes may indicate a disposition to developing certain diseases and it is suspected that the aetiology (development) of the same disease may be different depending on the dominant enterotype2. This corresponds to the Ayurvedic thought that the vast majority of diseases start with an imbalance in the gut and therefore balancing the digestive system is always the first port of call in managing disease.
Somatotypes & Prakriti
A Western system with strong correlations to the Ayurvedic concept of Prakriti is the system of ‘Somatotypes and Constitutional Psychology’. Developed in the 1940s, this system divides individuals into three main body types with their corresponding psychological traits.
Comparison of Somotypes with Ayurvedic Doshas:
|Somatotype||Characteristics according to Somatotype||Prakriti||Characteristics according to Dosha theory|
|Ectomorph (named after the ectoderm, which develops into the skin and central nervous system)||
• slim body, slender muscles,
• contemplative and anxious personality
• slim physique, underdeveloped muscles, smaller lips and eyes, dry skin and hair, cold hands and feet
• creative, enthusiastic; tendency towards anxiety, fear and restlessness
|Mesomorph (named after the mesoderm, which develops into the muscular system, heart and blood vessels)||
• strong, athletic body
• adventurous, assertive and aggressive mind
• medium athletic physique, sensitive eyes with a piercing look, warm skin tone with combination skin, warm extremities
• passionate, strong leadership qualities, organised; tendency towards anger, irritation and being critical.
|Endomorph (named after the endoderm, which develops into the digestive tract)||
• larger body with a difficulty losing weight
• affectionate, laid-back and easily complacent personality
• large bone structure, heavier weight, well-formed muscles, large eyes, strong teeth, thick hair & oily skin, sluggish digestion, physical stamina
• compassionate, grounded and empathetic; tendency towards over-attachment, stubbornness and resistance to change
Although the Somatotypes have a strong correlation with the Ayurvedic Constitutions, Ayurveda has developed its concept of Prakriti into a sophisticated and complete medical system of healing. Apart from the inherent weaknesses, strengths and predispositions of each Prakriti, any of the three Doshas (or a combination of them) can go out of balance in a given Prakriti to create disease. The imbalance of the Dosha's are known as 'Vikriti', coming from the Sanskrit roots 'Vi' or 'after' and 'Kriti' or 'creation'.
The Doshas go out of balance due to emotional stress and incorrect diet and lifestyle choices, along with external factors such as the season and environment. By acknowledging the effect that a multitude of different lifestyle factors can have on the individual's health, Ayurveda places emphasis on the importance of modifying our habits – small dietary and lifestyle adjustments can create a powerful impact on health and the outcome of a disease.
The diseases created by each Doshic imbalance can be understood according to its elementary makeup:
- A Vata imbalance (with the drying and cold qualities of the wind) creates issues such as constipation, insomnia, lower back pain, nervous tics and spasms, constriction and loss of movement and reduced memory.
- A Pitta imbalance (with the hot qualities of fire) creates inflammatory conditions such as eczema, acne, rashes, acid reflux, loose stools, digestive ulcers, excessive sweating, burning sensations, migraines and autoimmune conditions.
- A Kapha imbalance (with the moist and heavy qualities of water and earth) creates conditions related to mucous, congestion, weight gain, slow metabolism, water retention and growths such as cysts and fibroids.
A unique map
The Doshas provide a unique map of how different systems, organs and emotions are interconnected in both health and disease. Ayurveda's aim in treating disease is to correct the imbalanced Doshas and return the body to its inherent and unique state of balance or Prakriti. In practice this is done by the skilful application of herbal remedies, detoxification processes, body therapies and dietary and lifestyle changes.
1 Dey, S. & Pahwa, P. (2017). Prakriti and its associations with metabolism, chronic diseases, and genotypes: Possibilities of new born screening and a lifetime of personalized prevention. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Jan-Mar; 5(1): 15–24. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.128848
2 Costea, P. et al. (2017). Enterotypes in the landscape of gut microbial community composition. Nature Microbiology. 3. 10.1038/s41564-017-0072-8.