Introduction to Ayurveda: The Three Doshas
by Anne-Sophie Eckert
Have you ever come across the terms ‘Vata’, ‘Pitta’, and ‘Kapha’ and been confused by what they mean? These are the three Doshas, concepts unique to Ayurveda but easy to relate to. This blog post is a short introduction to the Doshas; it explores their relationship to the body, to health and well-being, and to the cycles of life.
What are the Doshas? The Doshas are not directly observable and have no equivalent in modern empirical science. According to Ayurveda, they orchestrate our physiology and psychology. And beyond the physical plane, the Doshas govern the rhythms of nature throughout our lives.
The Doshas and the Five Elements
In Ayurveda, Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space are the five basic elements from which everything in the universe arises. They are referred to as the ‘Maha Bhuta’, which translates into “The Great Elements“.
Everything in the universe manifests through a certain ratio of the five elements. Even our bodies are seen as a microcosm of the universe, and are therefore also made up of a certain proportion of each of the Maha Bhuta.
Vata, Pitta, and Kapha: The Body Managers
The primary function of the Doshas is to organise the five elements in our bodies:
- Vata Dosha governs all movement happening in the body, it relates to the elements of Air and Space.
- Pitta Dosha is in charge of transformation, it deals with the elements of Water and Fire.
- Kapha Dosha is responsible for lubrication and nourishment, it manages the elements of Earth and Water.
Not only do the Doshas serve important functions in our bodies, they also determine our individual body type.
The Doshic Body types
Since each individual is born with a certain combination of the five elements, we are made of a predetermined combination of the three Doshas. Your birth constitution is called ‘Prakruti’ in Ayurveda.
In order to determine someone's Prakruti, Ayurveda uses twenty main qualities:
- The qualities of Vata are dry, light, cool, rough, subtle and mobile.
- The qualities of Pitta are oily, sharp, hot, light, smelling, spreading and liquid.
- The qualities of Kapha are unctuous, cool, heavy, slow, smooth, soft and static.
Your birth constitution determines the combination of the three Doshas with a potential dominance of one or more of these. There are seven types in total. This combination sets your preferences and tendencies and influences your personality. For example, Pitta people have the tendency to be driven people with quick tempers, Vata types are prone to osteoporosis, while someone generally steady and calm is Kapha dominant.
Learning your doshic type in consultation with an Ayurveda practitioner can be a great help in preventing disease and getting to know yourself better.
The Dance of the Doshas
When the Doshas are balanced, your body and mind are in harmony, you feel stable, and you have a strong immune system. Whereas when the Doshas are in excess, the imbalance that results can create disease in the body.
When the Doshas are out of balance, you experience ‘Vikruti’, a state different from Prakruti, which happens when your natural equilibrium is lost. Vikruti usually relates to the quality of a certain Dosha. For example, if you spend too much time in the sun at midday during summer, you will feel heat accumulating in your body and Pitta Dosha will increase.
In order to bring the Doshas back into a balanced state, Ayurveda uses the concept of ‘like increases like and opposite brings balance.’ This means that you can use a substance of an opposite quality in order to balance the effect of an accumulation. If we use our example of too much sun leading to excess Pitta in the body, the way to restore your balance is to create coolness in the body. For example, you can practice a cooling breathing exercise like Shitali or drink cool coconut water (see our blog post on the Pitta Season for more tips).
Since mobility is one of Vata’s qualities it is also the most unstable of the Doshas, so it can be found in many common conditions such as pain, insomnia, or stress. For some tips on how to reduce Vata, you can read this blog post on stress release.
The Cycles of the Doshas
Beyond the human body, the Doshas provide life with a cyclic rhythm.
Our days start with Kapha Dosha when the sun rises, followed by Pitta as the sun is at its peak, and they close with Vata as the sun sets. The same cycle in the same order happens at night. It is during the last hours of the night just before sunrise, during Vata time, that Ayurveda recommends waking up, as Vata inspires movement.
The Doshas are also found throughout the year, expressed in each season. Late winter and early spring correspond to Kapha Dosha, late spring and summer belong to Pitta Dosha, and fall and early winter are Vata Dosha’s seasons.
We can also observe how the Doshas express during a lifetime; Kapha dominates at birth, then Pitta dominates from the age of twenty to sixty until Vata manifests in our advanced years.
The concept of a Dosha is a tool to recognise and treat balance in every aspect of life. This system allows us to live in harmony with our individual bodies and to find balance in our diet, lifestyle, and environment.
Interested in learning more about each Dosha? We will be publishing blogs on each individual dosha in the coming weeks! Stay tuned for more.
This blog was written by a student in our Ayurveda Practitioner Studies degree programme. If you are interested in becoming an Ayurveda Practitioner or want to deepen your professional knowledge, skills, and experience in the field of Ayurveda - see our website here.
Anne-Sophie is an Ayurveda Practitioner Training student at Delight Academy. She also is also a lawyer, a dancer, and a yogini. She has lived in France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and has now settled in the Netherlands with her son and partner. Her aspiration is to spread the beautiful wisdom of Ayurveda and collaborate with students and practitioners all around the world. She has been finding inspiration in Vedic sciences and philosophy including Yoga, Vedanta, Vedic Astrology, and Ayurveda.