According to Ayurveda, in every biological organism, there exist three psycho-physiological forces, known as “doshas,” a Sanskrit word literally meaning “stain” or “lesion” but in effect conveying chiefly the notion of “something that can be injured or imbalanced.” These doshas are given the names kapha, pitta and vata. All three doshas are present in every cell and every tissue of every organism, in varied proportions.
Ayurveda tells us that we are made up of the five elements and individual consciousness (jivatman). These five elements (maha bhutas) are Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space and the combination of these elements give rise to three doshas. The doshas are the psychological and physiological tendencies found in all of us.
Reknowned Ayurvedic Vaidya and guru, Dr. Vasant Lad of The Ayurvedic Institute, says, “In Ayurveda, body, mind and consciousness work together in maintaining balance. They are simply viewed as different facets of one’s being. To learn how to balance the body, mind and consciousness requires an understanding of how vata, pitta and kapha work together. According to Ayurvedic philosophy the entire cosmos is an interplay of the energies of the five great elements—Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Vata, pitta and kapha are combinations and permutations of these five elements that manifest as patterns present in all creation.”
The three doshas are a blend of the maha bhutas:
- Vata—Ether (space) and air
- Pitta—Fire and water
- Kapha—Water and earth
These are not singular entities, but collections of forces. VATA refers to all of the transportation systems of the organism. PITTA refers to all of the transformative (both gross and cellular) digestive systems of the organism. KAPHA refers to all the catabolic, tissue-building, augmentative functions of the body.
Vata governs all movement in the mind and body. It controls such things as blood flow, elimination of wastes, breathing and the movement of thoughts across the mind. Since Pitta and Kapha cannot move without it, Vata is considered the leader of the three Ayurvedic principles in the body.
Pitta governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism, body temperature, skin coloration, the luster of the eyes, intelligence, and understanding. (Digestion is the fire-like transformation of complex substances into simpler ones easily utilizable by the body for energy, on both the gross (gastrointestinal system) and cellular (molecular) levels. It promotes appetite, vitality, and the efficiency of mental processes and discrimination, metabolism, body temperature, skin coloration, and the luster of the eyes. Pitta also governs the “digestion” of sensory stimuli by the body into simple signals cognizable by the brain.
Kapha governs the structure and cohesion of the organism. It is responsible for biological resistence (immunity), tissue formation, and a cohesive body structure. It also governs the “insulation” of mind and body, protecting these from hostile outside agencies. It controls weight, growth, lubrication for the joints and lungs, and formation of all the seven tissues: nutritive fluids (plasma), blood, fat, muscles, bones, marrow and reproductive tissues. Because of the denseness of kapha dosha, individuals with this as their dominant dosha tend to be most resistant to disease, although they do exhibit a proneness to cancer, respiratory conditions characterized by tissue overgrowth, edema and mucous congestion.
Though everyone has some of each, most people tend to have an abundance of one or two of the doshas. This unique combination is determined at the moment of conception, and is your own personal blueprint, or prakriti (nature). As you move through life, the proportion of each of the three doshas constantly fluctuates according to your environment, your diet, the seasons, the climate, your age, and many other factors. As they move into and out of balance, the doshas can affect your health, energy level, and general mood. This is called vikruti (imbalance).