The Three Doshas in Ayurveda: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha

The Three Doshas in Ayurveda: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha

In Ayurveda, doshas are the functional intelligences within the body mind complex. These dynamic energies manifest in the body through their qualities, specific sites, and the active roles they play in orchestrating the processes that create and sustain the body. In other words, they are the energies that make things happen in the organism. Ultimately, any aspect related to metabolic function and its relationship to health and disease boils down to the harmonious actions of the three doshas.

Ayurveda is a common sense science with a profound knowledge of all the systems and functions of the body (from the grossest to the most subtle aspects), but for practical purposes it is important to understand that any imbalance in the doshas is what really triggers the disease process. This is why Ayurveda encourages the prevention of imbalance and restoration of balance through the management of the doshas with a natural, down to earth Ayurvedic regime that includes proper diet and lifestyle, Ayurvedic herbs and herbal preparation, as well as dinacharya or daily healthy routines, yoga and meditation practices suited to your unique, individual constitution, Ayurvedic therapies for relaxation and rejuvenation, and Panchakarma for deep detoxification. These are the tools to your optimal health and long life with Ayurveda.

General Description of Ayurvedic Doshas and Their Manifestations in the Body

Most of us have a predominant dosha in our constitution, and some people have a dual doshic constitution, where two doshas are equally predominant. It is extremely rare to find someone with all doshas in equal proportions. In any case, is it important to remember that the body mind complex is a dynamic unity and all three doshas are constantly interacting with each other and with the environment. In Ayurveda, there are three dosha-predominant constitutions or Prakrutis (also prakritis): Vata predominant, Pitta predominant, and Kapha predominant; three dual dosha constitutions, where two doshas are equally or nearly equally predominant: Vata-Pitta, Pitta-Kapha and Vata-Kapha; and one tridoshic Prakruti with all three doshas equally prominent: Vata-Pitta-Kapha. The following are general descriptions and attributes of each dosha.

VATA: The Energy of Movement in Ayurveda

Vata is the principle of mobility that regulates all activity in the body —from how many thoughts one might have during a given period to how efficiently food moves through our intestines. Vata is in charge of functions such as the pulsation of the heart, respiration, circulation and elimination. It is responsible for joy, happiness, creativity and speech. Vata is also in charge of the vital life essence, or prana. Thus when vata (prana) leaves the body, life ceases.

The colon is the most important seat of vata dosha. Vata is also present in the nervous system as motor neuron impulses; in the ears; in the pelvic cavity, lower back, sacrum and thighs; and in the joints and skin. When vata is increased, there may be signs and symptoms connected to these locations.

Vata has the qualities or attributes of dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile (erratic), and clear. These qualities translate into the makeup of the vata individual, as shown in the chart of vata attributes.

THE VATA INDIVIDUAL

Qualities Manifestations in the Body
Dry
Dry skin, hair, lips and tongue; dry colon, tendency toward constipation; hoarse voice.
Light
Light muscles, bones, thin body frame; light, scanty sleep; tendency to be underweight.
Cold
Cold hands and feet; poor circulation; hates cold and loves hot; stiffness of muscles.
Rough
Rough cracked skin, nails, hair, teeth, hands and feet; cracking joints.
Subtle
Subtle fear, anxiety and insecurity; fine goose pimples; minute muscle twitchings, fine tremors; delicate body.
Mobile
Fast walking and talking; doing many things at once; restless eyes, eyebrows, hands and feet; unstable joints; many dreams; loves travelling but does not stay long at one place; swinging moods, shaky faith, scattered mind.
Clear
Clairvoyant; understands immediately and forgets immediately; clear, empty mind; experiences void and loneliness.
Astringent
Dry choking sensation in the throat; hiccough, burping; loves oily foods and mushy soups; craves sweet, sour and salty tastes; tendency toward constipation.

Physically, vata persons have light, flexible bodies and big, protruding teeth. They have small, recessed, dry eyes. With irregular appetite and thirst, they often experience digestive and malabsorption problems. Vata types tend to be delicate in health, so they may have few or no children.

In their behavior, vata individuals are easily excited. Indeed, they are alert and quick to act without much thinking. They may give a wrong answer but with great confidence. They have good imagination and enjoy daydreaming. Vata individuals are loving people but may love someone out of fear or loneliness. Fears of darkness, heights and enclosed spaces are not uncommon. Because of a tendency to change, vata people may often move furniture or residence to keep from feeling bored. They do not like sitting idle, and seek constant action. Due to their active nature, they make good money but spend it on trifles and have difficulty saving.

Any of the qualities of vata in excess can cause an imbalance. Frequent travel, especially by plane, loud noises, constant stimulation, drugs, sugar and alcohol derange vata, as does exposure to cold and cold liquids and foods. Vata people should go to bed by 10 p.m. since they need more rest than the other types. In general, people with excessive vata should dress warmly and eat warm, moist, slightly oily, heavy foods. Steam baths, humidifiers and moisture in general are beneficial. Daily oil massage before the shower or bath is also recommended.

General Guidelines for Balancing Vata Dosha:

  • Keep warm
  • Eat warm foods and spices
  • Keep calm
  • Keep a regular routine
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Avoid cold, frozen, or raw foods
  • Avoid extreme cold

PITTA: The Energy of Digestion and Metabolism in Ayurveda

Pitta represents the Fire principle in the body. Everything that enters the body must be “digested” and assimilated, from sensory perception to food for nourishment. In addition to the gastric fire, pitta also includes the enzymes and amino acids that play a major role in metabolism, and even the neurotransmitters and neuropeptides involved in thinking. Some of the responsibilities of pitta are to regulate the body heat through the chemical transformation of food and to give a person appetite, vitality, and the capacity to learn and understand.

Pitta is hot, sharp, light, oily, liquid, and spreading in nature. It is sour, bitter, pungent to the taste, and has a fleshy smell. These qualities are revealed in the body of the pitta person, as shown in the chart of pitta attributes.

THE PITTA INDIVIDUAL

Qualities Manifestations in the Body
Hot Good digestive fire; strong appetite; body temperature tends to be higher than average; hates heat; tendency toward grey hair with receding hairline or baldness; soft brown hair on the body and face.
Sharp Sharp teeth, distinct eyes, pointed nose, tapering chin, heart-shaped face; good absorption and digestion; sharp memory and understanding; irritable; probing mind.
Light Light/medium body frame; does not tolerate bright light; fair shiny skin, bright eyes.
Oily Soft oily skin, hair and feces; sensitive to deep-fried food (which may cause headache).
Liquid Loose liquid stools; soft delicate muscles; excess urine, sweat and thirst.
Spreading Rashes, hives, acne, inflammation all over the body or on certain areas; wants to spread his name and fame all over the country.
Sour Sour acid stomach, acidic pH; sensitive teeth; excess salivation.
Bitter Bitter taste in the mouth; nausea; vomiting; repulsion toward bitter taste; cynical.
Pungent Heartburn, burning sensations in general; strong feelings of anger and hate.
Red Red flushed skin, eyes, cheeks and nose; red color aggravates.
Yellow Yellow eyes, skin, urine and feces; jaundice; overproduction of bile; yellow color aggravates.

By virtue of these attributes, pitta people have a sensitive and reactive body with a medium frame and weight. They seldom gain or lose much weight. They may have sharp, yellowish teeth with soft and, at times, bleeding gums. Their eyes are bright but tend to be sensitive to light. Pitta people usually have strong appetite and thirst, and like cold drinks and sweets.

Pitta people have excellent abilities for learning, understanding and concentrating. They are highly disciplined, can be excellent leaders and are blessed with wisdom. Pitta individuals never yield an inch from their principles, which sometimes leads them to fanaticism. They can be judgmental, critical and perfectionistic, and tend to become angry easily. They love noble professions and often make large amounts of money to spend on luxurious items. They like perfume and jewelry. Overall, the pitta constitution is endowed with moderate strength, much material knowledge, wealth and a medium span of life.

Summer is the time when pitta gets easily aggravated. Sunburn, poison ivy, prickly heat and short tempers are common. These pitta disorders tend to calm down as the weather gets cooler. Diet and lifestyle should emphasize coolness: cooling foods, avoidance of chilies and hot spices, exercise during the coolest time of the day, and cool climates.

General guidelines for balancing Pitta Dosha:

  • Avoid excessive heat
  • Eat cooling, non-spicy foods
  • Avoid excessive oil
  • Exercise during the coolest part of the day
  • Avoid excessive steam
  • Limit salt intake

KAPHA: The Energy of Lubrication and Structure in Ayurveda

Earth and Water give kapha its definitive qualities. Kapha comprises all our cells, tissues and organs. Kapha molecules tend to stick together to form dense masses and give the body a chubby shape. Lubrication of joints and organs, strong muscles and bones, cellular secretions, and memory retention, are all part of kapha’s function.

Kapha is heavy, slow, cool, oily, liquid, hard, smooth, dense, soft, static, viscous, and cloudy. It is white in color and has a sweet and salty taste. The manifestation of these qualities in the kapha constitution can be seen in the table of kapha attributes.

THE KAPHA INDIVIDUAL

Qualities Manifestations in the Body
Heavy Heavy bones and muscles; large body frame; tends to be overweight; grounded; deep heavy voice.
Slow Walks and talks slowly; steady appetite and thirst with slow metabolism and digestion.
Cold Cold clammy skin; repeated colds, congestion and cough; desire for sweets and cold drinks.
Oily Oily skin, hair and feces; lubricated, unctuous joints and other organs.
Liquid Congestive disorders; edema; excessive salivation; mucus.
Hard Firmness and solidity of muscles; compact, condensed tissues.
Smooth Smooth skin; gentle, calm nature; smoothness of organs; smooth, gentle mind.
Dense Dense pads of fat; thick skin, hair, nails and feces.
Soft Soft pleasing look; love, care, compassion, kindness and forgiveness.
Static Loves sitting, sleeping and doing nothing.
Viscous Viscous, sticky, cohesive quality causes compactness, firmness of joints, muscles, tissues and organs; loves to hug; is deeply attached in love and relationships.
Cloudy Mind is cloudy and foggy in the morning; often desires coffee as a stimulant to start the day.
Slimy Excess salivation; slow digestion; attachment.
Sweet Anabolic action of sweet taste stimulates sperm formation increasing quantity of semen; craving for sweets.
Salty Helps digestion and growth; gives energy; maintains osmotic condition; craving for salt; water retention.

The above qualities give a strong and large body frame, big eyes, strong teeth and thick, curly hair to people of kapha constitution. They have thick, smooth, oily and hairy skin. Kapha people have a steady appetite and thirst, but tend to have slow digestion and metabolism. These characteristics often result in weight gain, which kapha people have great difficulty in shedding. At times, cravings for sweet and salt lead to water retention.

Kapha people are blessed with a deep, stable faith, with love and compassion, and a calm, steady mind. They have good memory, a deep melodious voice and a monotonous pattern of speech. A kapha person makes and saves money. An unbalanced kapha suffers from greed, attachment, possessiveness, and laziness. All in all, the healthy kapha individual is endowed with excellent strength, knowledge, peace, love, and longevity, due to a strong constitution.

Kapha people tend to have diseases related to the water principle, such as the flu, sinus congestion, and other ailments involving excess mucus. Sluggishness, excess weight, diabetes, water retention, and headaches are also common. Kapha tends to get aggravated as the moon gets full and during the winter and early spring, when the weather is heavy, wet, cloudy, and cold.

General guidelines for balancing Kapha Dosha:

  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Vary your routine
  • Avoid heavy foods
  • Avoid fatty, oily foods
  • Keep active
  • Eat light meals
  • Avoid excessive dairy
  • Avoid daytime naps
  • Avoid iced foods and drinks

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