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  5. What Exactly Are The 3 Ayurvedic Doshas?

The theory of tridosha forms the basis of ayurvedic medicine. It is based on logic and the simplest way one can understand the complexities of the human body. The best part is that it can help you make the right choices for your food, lifestyle and even your ideal profession based on your prakriti.

In fact, Ayurveda as a whole, is meant to be understood by everyone, not just the practitioners of ayurvedic medicine. This is because it is the science of everyday life. So, here’s an attempt to simplify the ayurvedic concepts of tridosha, so that you can easily adapt and strive for the best that health can offer.

To understand the theory of tridosha, firstly, you need to get acquainted with the concept of Panchamahabhuta [1].

Panchamahabhuta, or the five great elements - Akasha (space), Vayu (air), Agni (fire), Jala (water), Prithvi (earth), are considered the basis of the universe. To put it simply, just like every element is classified on the periodic table, a rather broad classification of all matter can be done on the basis of the five elements:

Mahabhuta

Properties

Sense organ Association

Akash

Empty area of cosmos, frictionless, sound

Ear

Vayu

Light, subtle, touch

Skin

Agni

Energy, transformation, ageing, warmth, vision

Eyes

Jala

Fluidity, motion, taste

Tongue

Prithvi

Solidity, grounding forces, smell.

Nose

What are Ayurvedic doshas?

Tridoshas are the three humors or forces of the body, which bring health when in balance, and produce diseases when out of balance. The three doshas are called Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

The doshas ensure that all mahabhutas are held together and exert their functions in synergism for the optimum function of the human body. These are forces or energies that work through the body to maintain homeostasis. [2]

  • Vata is the force that holds together Akasha and Vayu mahabhuta.
  • Pitta is the force that holds together Agni and Jala mahabhuta.
  • Kapha is the force that holds together Prithvi and Jala mahabhuta.

1. Vata

Vata makes sure that your body movements take place without obstructions. This includes absorption, cell ion exchange, nervous system conduction, all types of excretions, breathing and musculoskeletal functions.

2. Pitta

Pitta has an equally important role in keeping together two very opposite qualities of fire and water. Like an acid, which are fluids in their existential state, but burn. Pitta governs this principle in the body. It brings about transformation, acts as the heat energy, digests food at gross and cellular levels. It imparts warmth, vision and colour to the body.

3. Kapha

Kapha is the cohesive and lubricating force that holds together the opposing elements Jala and Prithvi. Imagine mixing stone and water. Kapha force makes the body stable, the structures well held with muscle, tendons, ligaments and fats. It also forms the protective coverings and fluid shock absorber for joints, brain (CSF) and spinal cord.

Dosha

Mahabhuta

Effect

Vata

Akasha and Vayu

Prana - Inspiration

Pitta

Agni and Jala

Teja - Transformation

Kapha

Prithvi and Jala

Oja - Immunity

 

Doshas are further divided into 5 subtypes each:

Vata:Prana, udana, Vyana, Samana and Apana.

Pitta:Sadhak, Ranjak, Bhrajak, Pachak and Alochak.

Kapha:Avalmabak, Tarpak, Kledak, Bodhak Shleshak.

Can You See Ayurvedic Doshas Physically?

Many people equate the humoral theory of Hippocrates [3] and Ayurvedic Tridosha theory. The description is similar in many ways, but fundamentally they differ.

Ayurveda believes Vata, Pitta, Kapha conduct themselves as energies, seldom as matter. In certain classical texts, the authors have mentioned the quantity of Pitta and Kapha in the body, but never for Vata.

In practice, Vata-Pitta-Kapha are always assessed qualitatively, not quantitatively. This is an important point here and the very reason why blood ( Rakta ) is not considered as the fourth humour, unlike Hippocrates. [4]

When Are Doshas Generated & What Do They Do?

The following table explains when doshas are generated in the body:

Dosha

Expressed as

Correlation

Vata

Anna mala

Expressed at the end of Leukopoiesis [5] and blood plasma formation

Pitta

Rakta mala

End of haemopoiesis [6]

Kapha

Rasa mala

End of digestion (gross and cellular)

 

Here are the basic functions of each of the doshas and their subtypes:

Dosha

Functions

Functions of the subtypes

Vata

 

  • Enthusiasm
  • Inspiration
  • Initiation and execution
  • Maintenance of bodily functions
  • Proper functioning of sense organs

 

 

1. Apana

Excretion of urine and feces, menstruum, semen and childbirth.

2. Samana

Aids digestion. Just like fanning the flames, samana vayu makes digestion keen.

3. Vyana

Brings about the musculoskeletal movements, maintains circulation and blood pressure.

4. Prana

Brain, heart, intelligence and sense organs are maintained. Inspiration and gulping down of food is eased by Prana

5. Udana

Speech, efforts, energy, strength, skin colour and intelligence are maintained by Udana Vayu.

 

Pitta

 

  • Attends digestion
  • Maintains body temperature
  • Vision
  • Appetite
  • Thirst
  • Complexion
  • Intelligence
  • Courage
  • Valour
  • Suppleness in the body

 

 

1. Pachaka

This is the pitta that governs digestion and assimilation of the ingested food.

2. Ranjaka

This pitta imparts colour to the blood and governs proper functions of blood.

3. Sadhaka

This pitta is located in the chest and maintains intelligence (ahamkara). The intelligence of the WBC’s to recognize a pathogen vs. a host cell can be said to be governed by sadhaka pitta.

4. Bhrajaka

This Pitta imparts proper colour (melanin) to the skin and hair and all the other accessory tissues. It also governs the sweat and sebaceous glands.

5. Alochaka

Governs the vision and its associated centres in Brain.

 

Kapha

 

  • Confers stability
  • Lubrication
  • Compactness of joints
  • Forbearance
  • Capacity to hold emotions and mental stress

 

 

1. Kledak

The Saliva, mucus and other gastric juices that soften the food are governed by kledak Kapha.

2. Bodhak

Perception of taste on the tongue and its associated centres in the brain are governed by Bodhak kapha.

3. Shleshak

This kapha lubricates the joints and maintains its proper functions.

4. Tarpak

This kapha governs the functions of the cerebrospinal fluid. It can also be equated to myelin sheath, thus maintaining proper nerve conduction.

5. Avalambak

This Kapha resides in the chest and maintains the functions of heart and lungs.

 

Tridoshas And Prakriti

Prakriti, literally translated to nature, is the innate balance of doshas that one acquires at the time of conception. Your Prakriti is dependent on the following factors:

  • Quality of the parent’s sperm
  • Quality of the parent’s ovum
  • Health of parents
  • Season (explained further in the article)
  • Diet of mother
  • Dosha dominance of each parent
  • Geographical location (Desha)

These factors govern how Vata, pitta and Kapha will express themselves in your physique and your psyche throughout your life.

A Prakriti once defined cannot be changed. Although age, time and seasons exert their effects, the basic Prakriti remains constant. It’s very much like your DNA, very unique but also a crossover of your parent’s Prakriti.

There are a total of 8 Prakritis based on the three doshas:

1. Vata dominant

2. Pitta dominant

3. Kapha dominant

4. Vata-Kapha dominant

5. Kapha-Pitta dominant

6. Pitta-Vata dominant

7. Vata-Pitta-Kapha balance

8. Vata-Pitta-Kapha imbalance

Note:

All doshas are present in all prakritis. The dominant Dosha that expresses apparent characteristics, physical and mental, is considered the dominant prakriti.

Characteristics Of Each Dosha Dominance

Vata

Bodies are dry, thin and they don’t sleep peacefully. They find difficulty in waking up fresh. Their gait is light, voice raspy, they are talkative and love to move about. They find it hard to stay at one place for long. They keep fidgeting with their fingers or shaking their legs without conscious attempts. Their bodies are wiry, lean and sinewy.

They are quick in action, almost jumpy and impulsive, abundant in energy, but tire quickly. Quick to like, quick to hate, quick learners but forget quickly too. They are intolerant to cold things and catch colds very frequently. They have thick, full, flowing hair that may be coarse and rough. Their skin is prone to dryness and needs regular moisturization.

They tend to have small meals throughout the day. Their joints may make noise (crepitus) on movement. Their day lacks routine and they often leave their tasks unfinished, because they simply love novelty and excitement.

Vatas are witty and make great orators, dancers, singers, artists, salesmen and are good at travelling jobs. They are good at maths, but pure vatas lack the patience for business. They make good analysts and statisticians. They get ideas and are very creative. They often find their money coming in quickly and also going out quickly too if not checked on impulsive habits.

Pitta

They despise heat and all things hot. Their body is soft, muscular and when obese, is loose and flabby. Pitta put on weight easily and lose it quickly too. They have a keen digestion and are often gluttons. They have moderate sleep and wake up fresh and easily.

Their hair is fine and thin. Pittas have hair of lighter tinge (auburn and gold undertones) and are fair skinned. They are prone to freckles, heat boils, acne and plenty of moles. Their eyes are red tinged. Their nails and skins are soft and have a yellow or red undertone. They are quick to anger and impatience, but don't hold grudges for long.

They are sharp, intelligent, full of pride and love to show off. They have a sharp body smell, and their body fluids have a pungent odour. Their hunger and thirst are intense and they often enjoy big hearty meals. The age quicker than all other prakritis. Wrinkling of skin, baldness, graying have an earlier than normal onset in Pittas.

Pitta likes organizing, arranging, planning, scheming to make everything better. They are naturally competitive and often make very good leaders. Pittas are good teachers if they learn to be compassionate. They can be good in show business and are good at debates, politics and rights activism. They have a zest for life and often enjoy cooking and patronizing arts.

Kapha

Kaphas have big broad bodies well covered with fat. Their hair skin and nails are well moisturized and seldom suffer from dryness. Their hair is often straight and deep black in colour. Their complexion can range from very dark skin tone to fair, but is always smooth and radiant.

Their bodies are strong and compact and are often lazy. Kaphas move with great difficulty, mentally and physically. They are strong in their convictions, get work done at their own pace with perfection. They have a stable gait and lack intense hunger and thirst.

They love routines, and can continue doing the same thing everyday meditatively. They have soft deep voices, which are pleasing and have a happy disposition. Kaphas can get ponderous and can suffer from procrastination. They can also get complacent. They are slow but firm.

Kaphas make excellent researchers, and thinkers. They are naturally intuitive and empathetic, thus make good doctors and psychiatrists. They are good at employing people and know how to manage resources. They take good business decisions, shoulder responsibility and see the task through to its completion. They make good long term investors.

Vata-Pitta

These people have the air of vata and fire of Pitta. They love action in their lives. They are impulsive and like to say things out loud without much consideration of its implication.

They are fast paced, competitive, but often lack energy due to burn out. They love to try different cuisines and get bored easily. Vata-pittas are pure energies and when employed positively, can be very good at executing difficult tasks.

Pitta-Kapha

These people are always looking for a little more in their lives. If their energies are employed positively, the drive of pitta and patience of Kapha gives them rich dividends. But it can also lead to pride and contempt for others. Pitta and Kapha dominants should be watchful of their eating habits and weight.

Kapha-Vata

These people are good at ideation and execution. They are very good at tasks that require profound (kapha ) knowledge and its deliverance (Vata). They are natural counsellors, for they understand human emotion, are empathetic and also have a way with words.

They are intelligent and also creative. Vata energies when balanced with Kapha makes one an excited but diligent worker.

Tridosha Balance

Rare to find, but these people have the best of all the three doshas. Their bodies are balanced and free of diseases, if the doshas are maintained harmoniously with good lifestyle practices.

Tridosha Imbalance

These prakriti people find it very hard to stay healthy. They always suffer from one ailment or another, and attain health with much difficulty, perhaps by following a stringent diet and lifestyle.

Tridosha Sites In Your Body

Broadly, Kapha is dominant in the chest, Pitta around the navel, and Vata below the navel.

The chest, heart, thymus (lymphatics) and stomach all are dominant in Kapha dosha. Small intestines, pancreas, liver and all the intestinal digestive glands are dominant in Pitta dosha. Bladder, uterus, ceacum, rectum and the bodily sphincters that open downward are all governed by Vata Dosha.

tridosha sites in your body

Tridosha Dominance In The Circadian Rhythm

Ayurveda believes the diurnal rhythms govern the Vata, Pitta and Kapha doshas.

tridosha dominance in the circadian rhythm

Vata

Is active before sunrise, thus it is ideal to wake up at this time of morning. This way, the nervous system is active, brain functions strongest and is also the best time to evacuate bowels and urine.

The nervous energy should be channelized for positive thoughts and hence, quiet deep breathing with meditation can do wonders at this time of the diurnal rhythm. This balances the entire system.

The period before sunset (in the day time) signifies plenty of energy to get the day’s work done and put the tasks to completion. The mind and body are active, creative and excited. Communication and socialization are two activities that are best done during this time.

Kapha

Is active in the morning and immediately after sunrise. Sleeping at these times is not advisable, because sleep further promotes Kapha and makes the system sluggish, weight loss journey difficult and dulls the mind and senses.

Since immediately after sunset is when most people choose to eat, it is advisable to keep the meals light. Heavy meals produce more kapha and result in sluggishness. It is apparent that exercise in this time greatly benefits the body.

Planning the day in the morning and analyzing the day in the evening are best done in the Kapha periods. Kapha periods should be introspective.

Pitta

Is at peak at noon. It's the best time to eat. Lunch should invariably be the biggest meal of the day. Pitta is also at peak around midnight and people who want to avoid overheating their body system should avoid keeping awake between 10.00 PM and 2.00 AM.

One should not eat around midnight, though it is the time of Pitta. This Pitta energy is mainly for the tissue level digestion. Scientifically, the liver is most active at this time during the diurnal cycle [7]. To not overburden the system, food should never be consumed beyond 10.00 PM.

Pitta time during the day is best for eating, organizing and taking definite action for difficult tasks. At night, one should ideally be sleeping peacefully for the body’s energy to clear up the toxins and metabolites at the cellular level.

Tridoshas And Age

tridoshas according to age

Insite of your prakriti, the doshas are dominant at the different stages of life.

Kapha

Is dominant in the young age, from birth to adolescence, The body tissues are soft, and mind contemplative. Time to learn, and prepare.

Pitta

Governs from adolescence to the fifties. The bones now start to ossify (harden) and so does the mental conviction. One has drive and zest for life.

Vata

Is perceivably dominant in old age. The body is afflicted with musculoskeletal derangement, weakening of sense organs and fatigue.

Tridoshas And Yearly Cycle

Tridoshas And Yearly Cycle

Just as the day and night cycles affect the rhythm of tridoshas, yearly, the sun cycle also exerts its effect on the tridoshas in the body.

All of us have experienced the Spring Flu season that Kapha domination triggers, or the aggravated pains in the Monsoon. Autumn brings the heat in the body and triggers herpes, malaria and dengue infections that primarily affect the blood.

Ayurveda recommends following different seasonal routines to balance the effects of the doshas and maintain health throughout the year.

Vamana is the best detox treatment for Kapha in the spring season. This involves medically induced vomiting and helps prevent allergies, viral infections and manages one’s weight issues. Vamana helps expel Kapha from its site, stomach and lungs.

Basti is the best detox treatment for Vata and is advised when Vata derangement is at its highest in the monsoon. Basti is a series of medicated enemas that helps balance the Vata dosha. The large intestine is the site of Vata dosha, and enema treatments are thus very potent to balance Vata.

Pitta aggravation in the Autumn is managed with a Purgation treatment called Virechana. This expels Pitta deranged in the small intestines. This normalizes the Pita functions throughout the year.

Apart from the Detox prescriptions, every season has dietary recommendations to protect one’s Agni (digestive fire) and thus prevent diseases.

Tridoshas And Tastes

Food is what makes us who we are. Food has a direct effect on the Vata, Pitta, Kapha of the body. Ayurveda, very clearly states, “You are what your food is.” The panch bhautik food that we consume, becomes a part of our body. Food plays a major role in governing our inclinations, likes and tendencies.

Taste

Translation

Mahabhuta

Effect on dosha

Example

Madhur

Sweet

Earth + water

Increase: Kapha, Decrease: Vata, Pitta

Sugar

Amla

Sour

Earth + fire

Increase: Kapha, Pitta Decrease: Vata

Lemon

Lavana

Salty

Water + fire

Increase: Kapha, Pitta Decrease: Vata

Sea salt

Katu

Pungent

Air + fire

Increase: Pitta, Vata Decrease: Kapha

Pepper

Tikta

Bitter

Air + ether

Increase: Vata Decrease: Kapha, Pitta

Bitter herbs

Kashaya

Astringent

Air + earth

Increase: Vata Decrease: Kapha, Pitta

Green tea

This means, if a person is a Vata Prakriti, foods that are sweet, salty and sour are best suited for his health and they should avoid eating foods that are dry, pungent and bitter.

A Pitta Prakriti person will benefit from sweet foods, bitters from the gourd family, leafy vegetables, and astringents (like green tea). Spices, salt and sour foods put pitta out of balance.

A Kapha should avoid foods that are sweet, salty and sour. They benefit a lot from grains that are sufficiently spiced and accompanied by boiled/raw vegetables that are astringent (cabbage) and bitter with minimum cooking oils.

The Last Word

Vata, Pitta, Kapha govern the body functions when healthy and cause diseases when out of harmony. For every person, this state of harmony is unique which is their very own Prakriti. Only monozygotic twins have the same Prakriti.

Vata, Pitta, Kapha are sensitive to the rhythm of sun, day and night and seasons. Hence, one has to adapt and change their routines likewise to stay healthy.

Know Your Dosha Now