One of the main goals of Ayurveda is to bring us more into alignment with nature.

One of our innate tools we can use for this is sensation. By becoming more and more aware of our sensations, we bring ourselves into the present.

Discover sensations with this 6 minute meditation practice:

Understanding the 20 gunas is one very nice way to start to connect more with your experience and understand your connection to your environment.

There are as many kinds of sensations as there are words to describe them, but Ayurveda focuses on 10 pairs of  sensations. Each pair is a continuum between opposites.

  • Hot  to  Cold

  • Wet  to  Dry

  • Heavy  to Light

  • Smooth  to  Rough

  • Static (stable)  to  Mobile (spreading)

  • Dull  to  Sharp (penetrating)

  • Dense  to  Liquid

  • Gross  to  Subtle (expansive)

  • Hard  to  Soft

  • Sticky to  Clear

These sensations can be applied to anything you experience. When you are happy, it might feel light, and mobile and clear. Anger might feel hot and rough.

The gunas also instruct us how to find balance in our diet and lifestyle. When the weather is hot and dry, we might find that our body, mind or emotions become hot and dry as well.We could try taking a stroll in cool, light, moist moonlight. Moistening and cooling coconut juice might soothe. Or maybe even a heavy, cool nap.

When the body is experiencing something cold, wet and heavy, like a mucusy cough, it can be helpful to drink some channel-opening, warming, sharp, dry ginger tea. Or to sit in the hot, dry, penetrating sun for 20 minutes.

Learning to work with the 20 gunas is the key to understanding your constitution.

The 20 Gunas and Constitution

A Vata-predominant person:

vataiconwill have the qualities of wind element; dry, light, rough, subtle and mobile.

They are usually  light-boned, with curly or frizzy hair. They can be creative because of their subtlety, and they may move a lot, especially when talking.

They will tend to have problems of dryness: dry skin or constipation. An expansive and mobile mind might keep them up at night.

They will usually benefit from: the heaviness and moistness of sleep, the oiliness of abhyanga, and the moistness and warmth of soups and stews.


A Pitta-predominant person:

will have the qualities of fire and water elements: hot, sharp, light, oily and spreading.

They are usually of medium build, with reddish skin and warm, red palms. Their skin and hair tend to be oily and their mind is sharp.

They will tend to have problems of heat: inflammation or loose bowels. Their intensity can become intimidating and their heat can make them irritable.

They will usually benefit from: the coolness and expansiveness of meditation, the soothing, cool moistness of the full moon, the dull sweetness of coconut.

kaphaiconsmallA Kapha-predominant person:

will have the qualities of earth and water elements: heavy, dull, static, cold, soft and sticky.

They are usually are of a bigger and more regular build. Their bones are a bit heavier and their stability makes them loyal friends and workers. They tend to have thicker hair and skin, both literally and figuratively.

They will tend to have problems of stagnation: lethargy, edema (swelling without heat)  and dullness. Their dullness and heaviness can lead to depression.

They will usually benefit from: the mobile heat of exercise, the mobile roughness of thinking or dry-brushing, the lightness and warmth of spiced sauteed vegetables.

Combinations of the Doshas

Of course, many of us don’t have just one dosha in predominance.

For example, we sometimes say that someone is a “Pitta-Kapha.” In this case, the person would experience the combined gunas of those 2 doshas in their life. They are likely to feel hot and very moist. Sometimes heat or frustration can become trapped inside the layers of Kapha and become a problem if it stays unexpressed.

A “Vata-Pitta” person may run hot and dry. Dry inflammatory conditions, like eczema may show up. They may feel easily irritated especially when they are hungry.

A “Vata-Kapha” person experiences lots of  cold and stagnant sensations. Slow digestion and constipation, poor circulation and low body heat might disturb them. They might become dull-minded and apathetic.

There are many subtleties to sorting out your birth constitution and the current balance (or imbalance) in your life, but stick with the 20 gunas and they will lead you in the right direction.


Read more about The 3 Doshas.

Read more about The 5 Elements.