The three dosha, Vata, Pitta and Kapha, are the fundamental terms used in Ayurveda to describe and categorize people’s constitution. Furthermore, the Doshas describe the qualities of any phenomena, such as food items, symptoms and more.
In essence, the Doshas are energetic forces of nature, functional principles that help us to better understand ourselves, and the world around us.
According to Ayurveda, the universe is made by the blending of the five great elements: Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. These five elements represent the five states of matter known in nature and their mixture in different quantities is responsible for the creation of reality as we perceive it.
To transform the idea of the five great elements into a practical diagnostic and therapeutic tool, the elements were reduced to 3 basic qualities/functions; these are the three Dosha – Vata, Pitta and Kapha.Each Dosha is composed and represents two of the five great elements.
As with the elements, all three of the Doshas can be found in everyone and everything, but in different proportions. They combine to create different climates, different foods, different species, and even different individuals within the same species. In fact, the particular ratio of Vata, pitta, and Kapha within each of us provides us with a blueprint for optimal health (otherwise known as our constitution), and garners a significant influence on our individual physical, mental, and emotional character traits—as well as our unique strengths and vulnerabilities.
The Sanskrit meaning of Dosha is: “What naturally tends to increase and eventually violate balance”. This means that each Dosha or function in the body has the natural tendency to increase and exceed, unless it is restrained. An excess of any dosha(function) in the body will cause disharmony and disease. As long as the Doshas are normal in quality and quantity, they maintain a harmonious psychophysiology.
Vata, pitta, and Kapha are each essential to our physiology in some way, so no one dosha is better than, or superior to, any other. Each of them has a very specific set of functional roles to play in the body. That said, when the Doshas are out of balance, they can wreak havoc on our health. But before we get into the specifics of each of the three Doshas, it is helpful to understand their elemental composition, and their broader role in the natural world.
Vata function: is responsible for movement, represents the elements of Space and Air, and is defined by the universal attributes: Dry, Cold, Light, Hard, Rough, Mobile, and Subtle.
Vata is characterized by using energy or resources, and is therefore catabolic. Vata is easily stimulated and governs all movement, including muscles, nerve impulses, and thoughts.
Pitta function: is responsible for transformation, represents the elements of Fire and Water, and is defined by the universal attributes: Hot, Light, slightly Oily, Sharp, Liquid, Mobile, and Subtle.
Pitta is the energy associated with metabolism, and is therefore metabolic. It governs digestion, absorption, assimilation and body temperature.
Kapha function: is responsible for nourishment, represents the elements of Water and Earth, and is defined by the universal attributes: Heavy, Cold, Oily, Slow, Liquid, Smooth, Soft, Sticky, Static, and Dense.
Kapha is the energy associated with body structure, and is therefore anabolic. It provides the “glue” that holds the cells together. Kapha lubricates joints, moisturizes the skin and maintains immunity.
These qualities make balancing the Doshas very intuitive because, according to Ayurveda, like increases like and opposites balance. When any one of the Doshas is aggravated, we can generally promote a return to balance by reducing the influence of that Dosha’s qualities, while favoring their opposites. And if we know which specific qualities are aggravated, we can focus on pacifying those qualities in particular, while favoring foods, herbs, and experiences that amplify their opposing energies. The following table shows the ten pairs of opposites most commonly referenced in Ayurveda:
- Slow (Dull)
- Cloudy (Sticky)
- Sharp (Penetrating)
Each person’s constitution and proportions of Vata, Pitta and Kapha are determined by genetics and by the condition of the parents at the time of conception.
Although Doshas are inherently on the verge of excess, never the less each and every individual constitution isnaturally healthy. Constitution is gradually revealedthroughout childhood and ripens at around the age of 20. There are seven possible combinations of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, 7basic constitutional structures. Each constitution has all three Doshas, but for most there will be one or two Dosha that will be more dominant.
- Vata constitution
- Pitta constitution
- Kapha constitution
- The combination of Vata and Pitta
- The combination of Pitta and Kapha
- The combination of Kapha and Vata
- The combination of Vata, Pitta and Kapha
The description of 7 constitutional types does not restrict all humanity to fit into a 7 type model. Each individual has more or less of the different universal attributes, what makes each constitution personal and unique. For example, a person with Vata constitution may be colder while another Vata constitution may be drier. The use of the 7 model type serves to describe the doe’s and don’ts for each type, in order to manifest and realize life in the best personal way.
The definition of constitution gives information first and foremost regarding the physical structure of a person. Is the body more hot or cold?dry or oily?heavy and dense or light? Apart from the physical body, the constitution also affects the character and personality of a person. There is no constitution that is good or bad in essence. Each and everyconstitution has weak points and strengths. The goal in Ayurveda is to know the advantages and disadvantages of each constitution and how to act to maintain balance so that the leading constitutional Dosha will not increase and cause irregularities. Treatment does not have the intention of changing the constitution or the primary Dosha, but only to actualize the abilities, qualities and talents of the leading Dosha to progress in life, without suppressing the leading Dosha. The dominant Dosha should be kept within safe boundaries, so it will not increase beyond what is desirable and lead to symptoms or illnesses.
Constitutional knowledge is important for health care and for maintaining a lifestyle that gently calms the dominant Dosha. In therapy, the goal is to restore the Doshas to their relative balanced state which is unique for each individual.
Understanding your constitution is vital information for life, to know yourself, is to know your needs, your abilities and your boundaries. By knowing the constitution of the people around you, you can understand them better and take into accounttheir special needs and abilities.
The division of life stages according to the three Dosha model
Although every person has a fixed constitution, at different stages of life there is a dominance of a certain Dosha:
Childhood – the process of growth and construction of the physical body that characterizes Kapha Dosha is the most dominant between ages 0 to 20. The growth process is fed by the element of water and earth. If and whenKapha becomes excess, typical symptoms appear such as snot, coughing with sputum, fluid in the ears, drooling, vomiting, all symptoms which are typical of children.
Maturity and middle life – during this period of life the fire is burning, Pitta Dosha is on the increase and there is strong will power. The physical body has completed the growth process, the body is built, the “vehicle is ready” for action, a time to conquer and fulfill inner potential. This stage begins in adolescence with youthful rebellion and typical features of criticism, skin problems such as acne or eczema, first love, sex, and continues with the acquisition of education and development of intelligence, career development, family life, desire to conquer, realize and achieve (ages 15 – 60).
Old age – power is weakened; the vehicle needs more maintenance and visits more often the garage. The body slows down and reason reaches its peak (age 60 and beyond). Dehydration of the body fluids is increasing, causing the tendency for skeletal problems, neurological problems, memory problems, sleep problems.
Using the Dosha model to describe symptoms and disease
Imbalances in the Doshas are generally caused by unsupportive diet and lifestyle choices, as well as stress or emotional trauma. These disturbances tend to upset the natural state of internal equilibrium represented by one’s constitution. When the Doshas become aggravated, each of them disrupts the body in its own unique way. Therefore, Vata, pitta, and Kapha are each associated with a particular set of health challenges and tendencies toward disease.
While we are all susceptible to an excess in any of the three Doshas, we also tend to be somewhat predisposed to imbalances in our predominant Doshas. In other words, Vata-pitta predominant individuals will usually tend toward Vata and pitta imbalances before Kapha imbalances.
The Dosha model canbe used to describe a situation of imbalance, when a certain Dosha increases beyond one’s relative balance between all three Doshas. Dosha literal interpretation is “what tends to get out of balance”. By its very definition the Dosha tends to increase if not regulated. Dosha is increased by the principle of “similar increases similar”. For example:
When out of balance, Kapha triggers emotions of attachment, greed, and possessiveness and can also create stubbornness, lethargy, and resistance to change. Physically, Kapha tends to invite stagnation and congestion in organs and tissues throughout the body—including the mind.
A person with a heavy, slow, moist and cold structure that eats foods of similar quality (e.g. milk), expose himself to a cold and humid climate, and refrains from physical activity, will most likely cause the increase of Kapha and may develop symptoms of sluggishness, overweight, cough, apathy, vague thought.
When out of balance, pitta causes fiery, reactionary emotions such as frustration, anger, jealously, and criticism. Imbalanced pitta is often at the root of inflammatory disorders, which can affect organs and tissues throughout the body.
A person with a warm, moist and oily structure who will eat foods of similar quality (for example, fried meat), will expose himself to the sun during the hottest hours and perform very vigorous exercise (aerobics, kickboxing, jogging) may develop symptoms of excess Pitta such as fever, Heartburn, rashes, anger and arrogance.
When out of balance, Vata tends to cause fear, anxiety, isolation, loneliness, and exhaustion. It can lead to both physical and energetic depletion, disrupt proper communication, and cause all sorts of abnormal movements in the body, such as tics, tremors, and muscle spasms.
A person with a cold, dry, delicate, light and moving structure who will eat foods of similar quality (such as fresh vegetables and fruit) will not dress sufficiently during fall and winter and his occupation includes many long trips may develop symptoms of constipation, insomnia, neural pain and obsessive thoughts.
Befriending the Doshas in Your Life
It is important to remember that we all have innate strengths and gifts, as well as persistent challenge areas. The Doshas are a wonderful tool for understanding both, and also for recognizing and correcting any imbalances at work in our systems. Invariably, the Doshas shed light on our personal nuances, guide us in improving self-awareness, and can help us to understand how to offer support—precisely where and when it matters most. As a result, cultivating a relationship with each of the three Doshas can have a transformative impact on your overall health and well-being.