Āyurveda is the natural healing system of India. It is:
A science whose knowledge has been coherently derived over millennia of direct experience, yielding knowledge and methods that remain relevant today.
A system that understands life as multidimensional and dynamic, spanning constant evolution and change.
A living wisdom with health as the emphasis—a thriving, wholly conscious and connected way of being.
A life-positive approach towards physical and mental balance, self-understanding, elevation of spirit, and contented living and longevity.
Āyurveda's three main health strategies encompass medical therapies (including herbal, oil and heat treatments), food and dietary therapies, and lifestyle and daily routine, within seasonal, and life-stage cycles.
This suite of approaches and practices centres around the three dosha—three intelligent forces within the physical body that determine our unique metabolic constitution. Maintaining the natural balance and rhythm of the doshas is Āyurveda’s primary goal.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, five great elements—ether, air, fire, water, and earth—comprise all planetary matter, including the human body. Everyone is born with a unique mix of these five elements, which blend to create each individual’s dosha or metabolic constitution. At conception, the proportion of the five elements present largely determines which of the three dosha will dominate our constitution. Each of the three doshas manages two of the five great elements.
We each contain all five of the great elements and all three dosha. When our personal mix functions harmoniously, the physical body operates seamlessly and upholds every aspect of life. But if one or more elements become excessive or diminished the doshas lose equilibrium, and their imbalance drives the process of physical disease.
Early correction of dosha imbalance stops illness before it flourishes.
When minor problems go
un-addressed conditions deepen and spread.
Attempts to heal the physical body while ignoring its elemental and dosha mix are bound for a degree of failure.
Beginning to work with our metabolic nature (rather than so often against it), supports every aspect of life.
Within us, our mix of elements and dosha manifest their distinct characteristics and qualities and greatly influence who we are.
Recognising our dosha type highlights our physical , metabolic and mental tendencies; and our innate abilities, affinities, weaknesses, and strengths.
Through getting to know our dosha type, we better know ourselves.
Vāta dosha is the intelligent force that manages the elements of air and ether. Similar to its elements, vāta dosha is invisible to the eye, with no particular size or physical shape. Instead we know vāta through its qualities and actions.
Qualities of Vāta Dosha
The marriage of air and ether gives vāta dosha its qualities of dryness, lightness, coldness, roughness, subtlety and mobility.
Vāta Co-ordinates & Moves
Among the three doshas, vāta is co-ordinator and mover. In Sanskrit, the term vāta derives from the verb ‘va’, meaning to move or carry. When transport's required, vāta springs into action. Because of vāta, all prana, breath, food, water, blood, hormones, lymph, wastes, thoughts, speech, emotions, sensory impressions and expressions, and all nerve impulses move. In its natural state, vāta's 'wind' (air moving within ether) coordinates all metabolic processes, communications, impulses, rhythms, and cycles through time.
Where Vāta Dominates
The physical home of vāta is the colon. Other important locations include the ears (and sense of hearing), skin (sense of touch), bones, and nervous tissues including the brain. These locations are often first to show signs of vāta imbalance such as dry constipation; crackling or ringing ears, balance issues, noise sensitivity; dry, cracked, rough skin; osteoporosis; anxiety and nervous stress.
Physical Attributes of Vāta Dominance
Mental Attributes of Balanced Vāta Dominance
The Sanskrit word pitta is derived from the root, tapa, which literally means “what cooks”. Guiding the elements of fire and water, pitta is hot and transformative by nature—the only dosha with fire in its mix. In the physical body, the fire element is always suspended in a liquid medium to protect delicate tissues.
Qualities of Pitta Dosha
The marriage of fire and water provides pitta its qualities of slight oiliness, sharpness/penetration, heat, light, a sour/pungent odor, liquidity, and the tendency to spread.
Pitta Digests & Transforms
In every human system pitta dosha dominates the process of digestion. The entire process of food breakdown, conversion and assimilation into tissues is driven by pitta. Plus every metabolic transformation in each living cell.
Where Pitta Dominates
The chief pitta zone centres around the navel, especially the small intestine, liver, gall bladder, lower stomach, pancreas, and spleen. Pitta dosha also dominates in the sweat glands, eyes, blood, and uterus and vagina.
Physical Attributes of Pitta Dominance
Mental Attributes of Balanced Pitta Dominance
From its original Sanskrit, the term kapha translates as “what sticks,” referring to the nature of earth and water to adhere. In the food body, kapha is the intelligent principle that manages the coming together of earth and water into form and structure.
Qualities of Kapha Dosha
The marriage of water and earth provides kapha its qualities of oiliness, coolness, heaviness, density, smoothness, slowness, softness, cloudiness, and stability
Kapha Builds, Lubricates, Stabilises, Protects
Kapha’s dominance of water alongside earth creates lubricating, protective substances such as cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, mucus, and lymph. Ultimately, all physical tissues are built of kapha's elements, including all cellular secretions, mucus membranes, and fatty cushioning.
Where Kapha Dominates
Above the diaphragm is considered the kapha zone, foremost the upper stomach, lungs, throat, mouth, tongue, sinuses, nasal passages, and the head in general. All of these structures require on-going lubrication. Kapha also dominates in lymph, fatty tissues and the reproductive system.
Physical Attributes of Kapha Dominance
Mental Attributes of Balanced Kapha Dominance
Often the mix of elements means that two doshas exist to a similar degree, creating a ‘mixed’ or ‘dual’ constitution.
When two doshas rule, a mixed constitution may follow one or the other dosha more strongly, or show a blend of qualities of both dosha , which vary in domination. Sometimes two doshas nurture opposite qualities (such as vāta and kapha), which tend to "cancel each other out" and can make diagnosis and management more challenging.
When two doshas rule, we need to understand and cater for both.
In total, Āyurveda recognises seven distinct constitutions or metabolic types. Three single- or pure-types—vāta, pitta, and kapha. Three dual-types—vāta-pitta (pitta-vāta), vāta-kapha (kapha-vāta), and pitta-kapha (pitta-kapha). And one balanced or tridoshic type.
To read more about the five great elements, the three doshas and universal qualities in relation to food and taste, see the section on Food & Nutrition.
I discuss all these topics in detail in my book, The Art of Ayurvedic Nutrition—Ancient Wisdom for Health, Balance, and Dietary Freedom.