The 3 doshas


For every living entity there a few basic requirements that need to be present. These are:

  • staying in one piece
  • processing incoming nourishment
  • movement

For example, to exist every single cell in the universe needs a cohesive force so that it has form. The particles of the cell wall need to adhere together, the structures within the cell walls are also organised by the pull of this force

When there is structure, there can be activity. For an organism to stay alive it needs to be nourished. This is cellular metabolism. Nourishment is taken in and used to create energy and keep up a healthy environment.

The activity within an organism has to happen through movement. For nourishment to enter an organism and for waste to leave it there has to be a pushing and space creating activity present.

These three activities are called bio-energies. They are behind every living being and its minute parts: cohesion, transformation and movement. They can be likened to the concepts of anabolism, metabolism and catabolism respectively. In ayurveda we call them kapha, pitta and vata.

These are called doshas, Sanskrit words whose literal translation is phlegm, fire and wind. One or two of these energies are usually more prominent others. Some cells manifest more movement (nerve cells), some stability (bone cells), some transformation (liver cells). The proportion of each energy varies from cell to cell. This gives a whole organism, like the human body its particular features of behaviour. There are therefore three basic body types:

  • those that express more movement – vata
  • those that express more transformation – pitta
  • those that express more stability – kapha

By saying they express more of these features means that they also have the other two in them but in less quantity. The three doshas combine together in innumerable ways and their combination gives each body-mind unit its particular way of behaviour.

Considering that every cell in one body has these three energies in them, and, every cell has these three in different proportion the chances that trillions of cells would be identical in two people is nil. Therefore, every single being is unique in its constitution. It is through understanding the individual make-ups that we manage life’s quality and diagnose disease.

In nature healing occurs through balancing opposites. To find opposites we need to think about qualities of everything. We look at the qualities of the body and mind, the qualities in the environment and see if they are in balance. Is there enough cool to balance heat? Is there enough moisture to balance dryness; is there enough stability to balance movement; is there enough lightness to balance heaviness and so on? There cannot be too much of any quality, otherwise an imbalance and a sense of unease results. A continuous increase of one or more qualities will then result in a full-blown disease. This again is healed with a proportionate amount of opposite quality.

Different qualities can be categorised according to doshas. Each dosha has its particular features and most of the times, if one of the qualities of dosha is out of balance there is a strong likelihood that other qualities of that dosha are also out of balance.

The features of doshas are determined by the five basic elements called mahabhutas. They are ether, air, fire, water and earth and they feature in the doshas as follows:

Vata – ether and air Light, dry, cold, irregular, fast, moving, rough, hard, blackish
Pitta – fire and water Hot, sharp, light, liquid, smelly, pungent, soft, yellowish or greenish
Kapha – water and earth Heavy, cold, slow, liquid, slimy, smooth, stiff, whitish

The prevalent elements in doshas give them their particular characteristics.

Everyone has their unique mixture of doshas and depending on how much there is of each dosha their bodies and minds express those features in their behaviour. However, all beings, including humans, are in constant interaction with their environment. The environment is full of qualities. The qualities of the body and mind are in constant contact with the qualities of the place and time. A feeling of cold is exacerbated by wind but pacified by sunshine. The conditions change constantly. To stay in balance we must understand what is the state of doshas and what are the times and places we need to take more care of ourselves. For example a vata person would be more careful during the times when weather is cold and windy, kapha would take care during cold and damp weather and pitta during summer, when it is hot.

Every moment needs to be interpreted through its qualities and seen in the framework of an individual experiencing those qualities. Vata, pitta and kapha form a classification of qualities. When we experience a feeling of a certain quality we can associate that to a dosha and then understand what line of treatment we need to adopt. It can simply be pacifying one dosha but it can also involve pacifying more than one or even all three.

Anu Paavola

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