According to Ayurveda, the traditional system of healthcare in India, the five main elements present in all things, the foundations of life, are: air, fire, water, earth and space. Different combinations of these elements give rise to the three biological forces, or principles, known as ‘doshas’.
Vata dosha (Air) is the combination of space and air; Pitta dosha (Fire), the combination of fire and water; and Kapha dosha (Earth), of earth and water.
Each of us possesses a unique blend of the three doshas, just as we do of the five elements. This combination will determine, in turn, the body and skin type of each individual.
The doshas are not physical attributes, however, but patterns of intelligence found in the space that exists between mind and matter. They govern not only our physical functions but our mental functions as well. Our diverse personalities and intellectual capacities are therefore the result of these doshas.
The literal meaning of the term dosha is "impurity". This sense of the term refers to the idea that they are not the pure essence of consciousness but rather a dilution of it. The doshas are expressions of the three essential life forces: Prana, Tejas and Ojas.
Prana, the life force, is the essence of Vata; Tejas, the transformative energy, the essence of Pitta; and Ojas, the cohesive force, is that of Kapha.
Vata (Prana) is expressed through the movement of the body. It is visible in the action of the breath and lungs, the nerve impulses, the heartbeat, the contraction of muscles, the cells, the flow of nutrients, the function of the senses and the natural impulses. In fact, Vata controls the movement of the doshas themselves, guiding Pitta and Kapha which are immobile in themselves. Any blockage of Vata will lead to a process of decay. On the other hand, if Vata flows too quickly, we will feel dizzy and tired. Vata is the source of our inspiration, freshness and optimism, but also of fear, nervousness and pain.
Pitta (Tejas) exists as metabolism in the body. It is responsible for body temperature, heat, skin colouration and lustre as well as the transformative actions of digestion, absorption, assimilation, metabolism and all the biochemical reactions. It is also responsible for the functions of the mind and intellect. Health will depend on the capacity of Pitta to correctly metabolize all the information that we perceive, whether nutritional or emotional. If the fires are too strong or too weak, normal digestion is interrupted, toxins are generated and we lose lustre and shine in our skin and eyes. Pitta provides us warmth, intelligence, perception and understanding, but also anger, jealousy, frustration, hatred, allergies, ulcers and heart disease.
Kapha (Ojas) is the force of cohesiveness in the body. It consolidates all the elements to create the material structures of life. Kapha heals wounds, contributes to physical growth, provides strength and stability, and nourishes the body’s internal environment. It is the source of all bodily fluids, including plasma and cytoplasm. It supplies energy to the heart and lungs. A lack of Kapha weakens the immune system, while an excess causes heaviness and blockage. Kapha provides the capacity to love and forgive, along with calmness and wisdom, but also causes envy, attachment, laziness, depression and obesity.
Imbalances in the doshas may arise at any time. However, the more vital energy we possess, the less we will be affected. As we age, our energy levels decrease and we thus become ill more often. An alteration that may not have affected us at all in our youth, now affects us much more.
Spiritual practices increase the quantity and quality of Prana, Tejas and Ojas (the three forms of Prana, that is, energy or spiritual light). They help to protect us from imbalances or alterations in the doshas and therefore from disease.
Adapted from a text by Pratima Raichur