At the root of all Ayurvedic treatment is the concept of balance. But to understand this, we must first understand what it is that gets out of balance.

Each of us is born with a genetically determined constitution, or prakrti. Two conditions influence the development of the prakrti: the balance of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha energies (doshas) and the prenatal conditions in the womb. The preponderance of one or another dosha in our prakrti establishes our natural body type and determines our strengths and weaknesses.

Once established at birth, our body types do not change. The slings and arrows of life do not often permit us to remain in that state, however, and we frequently find ourselves out-of-balance. In this imbalance, the seeds of future illnesses take root.

In most people, one dosha or a mixture of two dominates body type. In rare instances, the three doshas may be in almost perfect balance. It is important to understand that illness is not caused by the balance of doshas in the prakrti, but rather by the imbalance between our prakrti - the natural body type we were born with - and our current dosha balance (known as vikrti).

Individuals with a Vata-dominant body type tend to be thin and active, but lack the stamina for prolonged activity and therefore often depend on caffeine and sugar for stimulation. The dryness of the Vata constitution and the consequent creakiness of their joints make them seem almost brittle. Restlessness, hyperactivity, curiosity, and creativity mark the Vata-dominant personality, as do rapid, chaotic speech and frequent changes of mind.

The Pitta-dominant body type typically manifests itself in a well-proportioned, muscular frame. Pitta-dominant types tend toward lighter, more sensitive skin, often overly sensitive. They are usually active, particularly in sports, where they can be fiercely competitive. They are passionate and dedicated, but can be overly competitive, intolerant, and irritable.

Kapha-dominant individuals have big bodies and big bones, thick hair, strong, big teeth, and large, attractive eyes. They move slowly and gracefully, and exhibit great endurance. They are similarly slow to anger, and their loyalty makes them valued friends. Physically, Kapha-dominant individuals tend toward obesity; mentally, they can be selfish, greedy, and easily offended.

Mixtures of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are also common. To discover your body type, try our dosha self-test. Not intended as a replacement for an evaluation by a competent Ayurvedic practitioner, it will nonetheless give you some idea of your original body type, your current condition, and your mental and emotional states.

With a clear understanding of the doshas, the gunas, and prakrti, we are now ready to explore the Ayurvedic concept of wellness.