A dosha is one of three bodily “humours” that make up one’s constitution according to Ayurveda. [Humours are any of the fluids in a body, which are believed to control the health and mood of the human body.] These teachings are also known as the Tridosha system.
Each person is thought to be born with a combination of the three types of doshas, with one or two dominant doshas determining our physical, mental and emotional characteristics. An imbalance among the doshas is thought to cause illness.
The central concept of Ayurvedic medicine is the theory that health exists when there is a balance between three fundamental bodily ““humours” or doshas called Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
- Vāta or Vāyu (wind) is the impulse principle necessary to mobilize the function of the nervous system. It affects the windy “humour”, flatulence, gout, rheumatism, etc.
- Pitta (bile) is the bilious “humours”, or that secreted between the stomach and bowels and flowing through the liver and permeating spleen, heart, eyes, and skin; its chief quality is heat. It is the energy principle which uses bile to direct digestion and hence metabolism into the venous system.
- Kapha (phlegm) is the body fluid principle which relates to mucous, lubrication and the carrier of nutrients into the arterial system.
All Ayurvedic physicians believe that these ancient ideas, based in the knowledge discovered by the Rishis and Munis, exist in harmony with physical reality. These Ayurvedic concepts allow physicians to examine the homeostasis of the whole system. People may be of a predominant dosha or constitution, but all doshas have the basic elements within them.
Vata means to blow or move like the wind. Consisting of the elements air and ether, it is the principle force of motion in the body and mind. When vata dosha is healthy, the movements of the body are graceful, unimpeded, and controlled. When out of balance, the movements become erratic, excessive, decreased, or blocked.
To understand the vata dosha, it is important to understand its qualities. Vata dosha is light, dry, mobile, cold, hard, rough, sharp, subtle, flowing and clear. A body and mind in which the vata dosha predominates expresses or reflects these qualities.
Vata dosha is best understood in terms of its component parts, its subdoshas, which are the five types of vata or five types of movement. Each subdosha defines a direction of movement and governs specific actions in the body.
1. Prana Vayu: Prana vayu represents the force that draws sensory experience to us. It is the force of attraction and has a magnetic nature. The way it functions determines the types of impressions we expose ourselves to. Prana vayu resides in the head and heart (chest) where desire dwells, choices are made, and sensory experience is processed. When it is healthy, we are drawn toward that which is harmonious and which brings us health and well-being. When prana vayu is out of balance, we misuse our senses and bring inside of us that which will cause disease.
2. Samana Vayu: Whereas prana vayu represents the force of attraction, samana vayu represents the force of absorption, pulling the impressions we are drawn to toward the center of our being. For example, samana vayu carries nutrients from the intestines into the circulatory system, and the sensations of things we touch are carried from the skin to the central nervous system. When samana vayu is functioning properly, impressions are properly absorbed. When it is in a state of dysfunction, absorption becomes difficult, and malnourishment and numbness may occur (respectively).
3. Vyana Vayu: Once absorbed, an impression must be acted upon. This is the role of vyana vayu, which is the force that circulates the response, moving it from the center toward the periphery. Following our examples, in the digestive system, blood carries the nutrients throughout the body so that each cell receives its proper supply. In the nervous system, a signal is sent from the central nervous system toward a muscle or organ.
4. Udana Vayu: Udana vayu is responsible for action and expression, which means putting the energy received to work. Cells take the energy received and perform their unique functions. Nutrients are used for cellular energy and for building proteins. The nerves instruct muscles and organs to act properly.
5. Apana Vayu: Cellular activity produces both work and waste. While udana is responsible for the work, apana vayu is responsible for cleaning up the waste. Apana vayu eliminates waste primarily through the functions of urination, defecation and menstruation. However, it is responsible for all the downward flowing energy of the body and as such is also responsible for the energy needed for carrying the child out of the womb and into the world.
Vata or vayu was focused on in this article. A similar summary may be made for the five elements of Pitta and Kapha. The following is a brief summary of the ayurvedic doshas. Hindus believe that your dosha can be tamed and regulated to create a more harmonious life, principally through diet, a balanced lifestyle and exercise. Your dosha is unique to you.
- Vata is the humor governed by wind or air. Vata people generally have thin frames and tire easily due to quick excitability. This dosha controls movement and the nervous system.
- Pitta people are usually of medium build and may have red hair or short tempers, as this dosha is governed by fire. Pitta can lose its balance when exposed to too much sunlight or heat.
- Kapha people tend toward stockiness and larger frames. Physically strong and resiliant, kaphas have good digestion, tend to be slow eaters and talk slowly.
- Double doshas are people who have their doshas in combination, such as vata-pitta or pitta-kapha. This means that you have equal qualities of both doshas.
About the Author
Dr. Sonica Krishan is an Author, Freelance Health Writer, Editor, Ayurveda Consultant at Herboveda and Holistic Healing Coach based at Chandigarh, India. She has a Bachelors in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery and also an Advance Diploma in Naturopathy and Yoga. She has authored three natural home cure books: Herbal Healers, Home Remedies, and Healing through Ayurveda. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website http://www.herboveda.co.in.
Note – Information presented in this article is solely for the purpose of imparting education on Ayurveda and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or mitigate any disease. If you have a medical condition, please consult a qualified health professional.