The Doshas: A Brief Overview

Ayurveda is built on the principle that the mind, body, and spirit are united at the level of the consciousness, and Manas truly controls the body. However, mind, body, and spirit all affect each other. One cannot be affected without somehow impacting the other. Through a web more complex than overseas banking, the psycho-neuroendocrine-cosmic-energenics system is all inter- and intra-woven.

So, what is a Dosha? The literal translation is “fault”, from the Sanskrit word “dus” (dis/dys).  Why? Because the disbalance of the Doshas – which cannot be seen or quantitatively measured – causes disease. Vasant Lad says, “They [Doshas] are energy complexes; these complexes are known by their attributes or Gunas.”  Doshas are a collection of traits gathered from the 5 Great Elements, or Pancha MahaBhuta, (earth, water, fire, air, ether) that are present in all living –and nonliving – things. On the level of the mind, the five senses are born from the five elements; on the physical level, all forms of structure, function, and creation rise from the five elements. Despite how they are described and often referred to, Doshas cannot be seen or touched; they are not molecules to view under a microscope. But you can sense and detect their presence. Doshas arise from the joining of The Five Elements. Therefore, each Dosha has qualities of each of its contributors. If and when you sense the attributes in yourself, others, or the environment, you are experiencing the Doshas.

Your “ideal” Dosha balance is determined at birth and is called our Prakruti. It is determined by many factors, including genetics, diet, and lifestyle of your parents, time of conception, your mother’s health during her pregnancy with you, etc. As long as this ideal balance is maintained, so is your health. Because you are exposed to mental and environmental stress, processed food, seasonal changes, sleep disturbances, and other life hiccups, your Doshas accumulate and shift. Day-to-day fluctuations in your Doshas are called Vikruti.  

Let’s take a closer look at the qualities of each Dosha.

Understanding Vata Dosha

Vata can be translated as “wind” and means, “that which moves things”. It is represented by the air and ether elements and the following Gunas: light, mobile, subtle, clear, dry, and rough.

In the body, Vata promotes movement within cells, muscles, and tissues; it governs breathing and air flow; and it is responsible for sensory and mental adaptability, orientation, and comprehension. Because of its light, mobile, and dry qualities, Vata “destroys”. Like wind to the earth, over time erosion and deterioration take place. The same occurs in our mind and body, as we inevitably and eventually break down. Mentally, Vata is responsible for creativity and intuition. Excess Vata can -cause anxiety, stress, fear, and insomnia. In nature, wind, air, autumn season, sand, straw, lettuce, rice, and anything old and aging—all possess Vata qualities.

Understanding Pitta Dosha

Pitta is represented by the fire and water elements and means, “that which digests”. The Gunas that describe Pitta are: sharp, hot, light, liquid, mobile, and oily. Pitta is responsible for all types of chemical and mechanical transformation: digestion, assimilation, absorption, nutrition, metabolism, and temperature. It takes that which has been created (nutrition, tissue, heat, knowledge) and uses it for physical or mental tasks. From a mental perspective, Pitta governs intelligence and understanding. When Pitta is out of balance, it can cause anger, feelings of hatred or jealousy, and inflammation. In nature, you find Pitta in salt, hot climates, sour and spicy foods, caffeine, intensity, alcohol, and friction.

Understanding Kapha Dosha

Kapha is a combination of the earth and water elements. The most stable of the Doshas, it represents the following Gunas: heavy, cold, wet, dense, soft, sticky, firm. Kapha forms the body’s structure, or “glue”, supplying the water and lubrication for joints, skin, eyes, tissues, and metabolism, and maintaining immunity.  Kapha is responsible for love, compassion, and calmness. Excess Kapha can lead to greediness, depression, and attachment. Kapha is found in trees, rocks, dirt, butter, meat, and honey.

Health problems and disease manifestation arise when Doshas accumulate and are not excreted properly. This accumulation can lead to an overflow or eventual relocation of the Doshas to places in the body they don’t normally occupy.  Ayurveda is a strong proponent of health maintenance and disease prevention – it is far easier to ward off than to eradicate illness. The Doshas are integral to your psycho-physiologic balance, and knowing how to use each element to create and maintain harmony within yourself and your environment is the key to a long, and ultimately content and unruffled life. Thankfully, it doesn’t require an advanced degree in quantum physics, just wisdom in how to apply opposing forces. Ka-Bam.

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