Meet the doshas

Meet the doshas

Vata, Pitta, Kapha

In Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, there is a concept of 'doshas,' three essential energies said to be present in everyone and everything. These energies are called Vata dosha, Pitta dosha and Kapha dosha. They comprise what Ayurveda considers the 'mahabhutas' or five great elements: air, ether, fire, water, and earth. These elements are the building blocks of all matter, including our bodies, and they combine in different proportions to form the doshas.

In this short article, we will consider how the five elements relate to each dosha, how the doshas manifest in the human body and how we can use this knowledge to improve and maintain our emotional, physical and social well-being.

How the five elements relate to the doshas

All five elements are present within each dosha, but two predominate.

Vata Pitta Kapha

Ether+Air

Fire+Water

Earth+Water

Vata combines air and ether, Pitta fire and water, and Kapha earth and water. In very simple terms, the unique characteristics of vata are dryness, pitta heat, and kapha heaviness.

Now we have a basic understanding of the doshas, let's consider how they manifest in the human body.

The role of the tridosha in the mind and body

The 'tri dosha' is a fundamental concept in Ayurveda. These three energies are responsible for all functions of the body, mind, and consciousness and play a crucial role in maintaining health.

They are responsible for the processes that maintain the body's normal physiological state by overseeing the production, upkeep, and breakdown of bodily tissues and the elimination of waste products from the body.

They also play a role in psychological processes, influencing emotions like fear, anger, and greed and higher emotions such as understanding, compassion, and love. They also influence our natural tendencies and preferences.

Thus, they are the building blocks of every individual's physical and mental well-being and play a pivotal role in human design and health.

 Doshas in the context of the individual

We are each born with a unique ratio of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, which is our prakruti or constitution. This distinct combination is determined at conception based on the proportions of air, fire and water in our parent's bodies during fertilisation. No two people have the same tri-doshic makeup, so we can consider this individualised blend our genetic blueprint, much like a fingerprint.

When considering an individual's prakruti or constitution, two doshas usually predominate. Some people are born with one dominant dosha or an equal ratio of all three, although this is less common.

Constitution v's conditional state

A person's 'prakruti' or constitution does not change and remains constant throughout life. However, the state of the doshas constantly fluctuates due to various internal and external influences. This changed pattern is called 'vikruti' or conditional state, as it does not match the original pattern. A disorder will manifest if the doshas move too far away from their original state or balance. Understanding our vikruti can help us identify when our doshas are out of balance and take appropriate actions to restore equilibrium.  

Understanding your prakuti

In general, there are seven types of constitutions:

1. Vata

2. Pitta

3. Kapha

4. Vata-Pitta

5. Pitta-Kapha

6. Vata-Kapha

7. Vata-Pitta-Kapha

Within these seven general categories, countless subtle differences exist based on the proportion of vata-pitta-kapha elements in the constitution.

So, how can we determine our individual dosha balance? Traditionally, this would be ascertained by a highly skilled pulse diagnostician or Vaidya (Ayurvedic doctor). However, you can get a general insight by considering the following list of attributes. Just remember to focus on what has been true for most of your life rather than at present. There are also numerous online quizzes available that can offer a clue.

Vata

If we liken vata dosha to an animal, it would be a bird; light, fast, twitchy movements, likes to fly high, always on the move, mobile.

  • Light, thin bones, visible bony joints, long slender limbs.
  • Weight can be harder to gain and relatively easy to lose. Tends to put weight on the midriff.
  • Complexion is dull, grey and lacking lustre.
  • Skin is dry, rough and transparent. Veins are visible.
  • Sensitive to the cold and wind, often has cold hands and feet.
  • Digestion is changeable, prone to gas, bloating, constipation and hard pellet-like stools.
  • Appetite varies — eats a lot or very little, can easily get lost in a project and forget to eat, loves crunchy snacks.
  • Likes variety and change, dislikes routine.
  • Walks fast, talks fast and excessively, has low stamina, tends to be over-enthusiastic, and then overdo.
  • Quick to learn but also quick to forget, creative, enthusiastic and inspirational.  
  • Light sleepers, prefer to be active rather than sedentary.
  • Prone to worry, anxiety, and nervousness when emotionally imbalanced.

Pitta

If we liken pitta dosha to an animal, it would be a tiger; sharp, intelligent, natural leader, intimidating, intense, piercing glare.

  • Medium, muscular build, medium bone structure, well-proportioned limbs and joints, naturally athletic, competitive.
  • Puts on weight evenly, can be wilfully successful at losing weight.
  • Complexion is fair, pinkish or coppery, freckled, slightly oily, good lustre, prone to acne, skin rashes and blackheads. 
  • Skin is warm to the touch all over. Veins are moderately prominent.
  • Gets overheated easily and becomes irritable in hot weather.
  • Strong, fast digestion, tendency to loose, odorous stools. 
  • Irritable if a meal is missed or late, loves hot, spicy, oily, colourful, aesthetically pleasing and luxurious foods.
  • Very efficient, precise and orderly, prefers routine, average stamina except in heat.
  • Intelligent, planners, visionaries, leaders, ambitious, enjoys research and learning, good at dissecting large complex information into simpler formats, reasonable memory.
  • Direct, precise, assertive movement, precise speech, loves to debate, talks to anyone they feel are intelligent equals.
  • Sleeps well when the mind is clear, disturbed sleep when under stress, prone to night sweats.
  • Prone to anger, frustration, irritability, and criticism when emotionally imbalanced.

Kapha

If we liken kapha dosha to an animal, it would be an elephant; slow, heavy, steady, grounded, nurturing, caring. 

  • Big, heavy, short bones, joints are not prominent but well lubricated, large, strong build, well proportioned limbs.
  • Weight is easily gained and lost with difficulty. Tendency to gain weight around the bottom and hips.
  • Pale complexion, thick, oily skin that is cool to touch, veins are well covered.
  • Prefers warmth, sunshine, comfort, generally cold all over, rarely cold hands and feet.
  • Slow to learn but holds onto information well once it has been digested. Natural protectors and nurturers with good strength of mind and emotions.
  • Appetite is stable, digestion is slow/sluggish, not usually hungry for breakfast, missing meals is not a problem, but has a tendency towards emotional eating — loves sweet, starchy foods.
  • Slow-moving and relaxed, prefers to be still, loves sleep, can sleep deep and for long periods, enduring stamina if inspired.
  • Prone to attachment, greed, and possessiveness when emotionally imbalanced.

The benefits of understanding the tridoshas

Understanding our prakruti is about self-awareness and empowerment. By being aware of our nature and that of others, we can honour our differences and ways of approaching life. Moreover, knowing what disorders we are naturally prone to allows us to make informed lifestyle choices that can prevent the onset of these disorders. If health does show signs of deteriorating, understanding the language of the tridosha allows us to recognise which doshas are moving out of balance. Using this knowledge, we can guide the system back to balance through the appropriate actions.

Ultimately, by understanding the doshas and our inherent nature, we are empowered to take charge of our physical and emotional health, happiness, and overall well-being—another wonderful gift from the wisdom of Ayurveda.

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