A little introduction to Ayurveda – the Doshas

If you have already dipped a little bit into Ayurveda, you surely have encountered the word “Doshas”. Without understanding the concept of the Doshas, it’s going to be difficult to delve deeper into ayurvedic topics. Let’s take a look at it together.

The five elements

The basis for all ayurvedic teachings and of the concept of the Doshas are the five elements ether/space, air, fire, water and earth, as well as their qualities. All these elements can be found everywhere in nature, and in us as well. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we have literal fire or earth in us. In fact, the bodily functions can be described according to the energies of these elements. Our common parlance uses some phrases that are fitting: „He has a fiery personality”, “She’s pretty airy” or “What a down-to-earth person”.

Ether, respectively space, stands for expansion. In our body, ether becomes manifest in hollow spaces, such as paranasal sinuses and hollow organs like the heart.

Air stands for movement and becomes manifest in gases, for example in our digestive tract and as the air that we breathe.

Fire represents the power of transformation. We feel it as our body temperature, furthermore it shows in our ability to metabolize.

The water element is a little more tangible than the previous ones. As you may already have guessed, it stands for all bodily fluids, like blood, urine and tear fluid.

The earth element stands for everything that’s firm. In our body, that’s bones and teeth, but also hair.

The three Doshas

The three bio energies, the Doshas, are formed of all these elements.

Ether and air form Vata-Dosha. This Dosha is responsible for movement and catabolism in the body.

With a little share of water, fire forms Pitta-Dosha, the transformative energy in the body. Pitta takes care of metabolism and is significantly involved in the digestion.

Earth and water create Kapha, the energy of structure and anabolism.

All these principles are present in us and around us in nature. Plants grow in soil (earth), with the warmth of the sun (fire) and the rain (water) they can grow and thrive. The wind (air) spreads seeds and pollen in the environment (space/ether). In the body, the Doshas operate all processes like growth, digestion or excretion. We all have all three Doshas in us, but the shares of each Dosha vary. The unique proportion of the Doshas is called constitution. The constitution determines the body type and the personality.

The qualities

In order to better understand how this might look like, we must consider the qualities of the elements. Here are some examples of qualities to describe each one:
Earth: heavy, stable, firm, inert
Water: cold, fluid, oily
Fire: hot, sharp, permeating
Air: light, subtle, cold
Ether: light, astringent, expansive

As we already know which elements form the Doshas, we can now derive which qualities Vata, Pitta and Kapha have:
Vata: dry, light, cold, mobile
Pitta: transformative, hot, passionate, piercing
Kapha: heavy, smooth, cool, nourishing, calm

The Doshas in our daily life and in us

As already stated, everything is infused by these three energies – the weather, our relationships and interactions, our food, every situation.

Here’s an example: A windy day with a lot of sudden changes in weather has Vata-quality, a project that we tackle with passion and ambition has Pitta-quality. The loving relationship between two partners or friends, where both feel comfortable and taken care of, has Kapha-quality.

Now that you know all of this, you might be able to figure out how the previously mentioned influence on our bodily and mental type can look like. Depending on which Dosha or which two Doshas are dominant, we can notice differences in terms of physique and personality.

People with a predominant Vata-Dosha are usually petite, slender persons with dry skin and thin hair. They are very creative and have tons of ideas, but it is hard for them to really focus on one – they tend to be flaky.

Pitta-persons on the other hand approach their projects with determination and their talent for organization. They are passionate and often sporty. Their physique is average to muscular, their hair is often fair with a touch of red, and they tend to have freckles.

Persons with a predominant Kapha-Dosha are usually grounded, rather calm people with a lot of empathy and a stable mind, which means they don’t lose their temper easily. As the earth element is so present, all firm substances in the body are very distinct, so Kapha-people are gifted with sturdy bones, thick hair and firm nails.

Keeping the Doshas balanced

Each one of us is born with a unique proportion of the three Doshas, just like every color is made of the mixture of the three primary colors. There is no “good” or “bad”, each Dosha has its great and its difficult aspects. When the Doshas are well-balanced, everything is fine, and we feel healthy and energized. The more difficult aspects show up when the Doshas are out of balance. Factors like nutrition, lifestyle and relationships can influence that balance.

Another example: A person with a lot of Pitta works highly concentrated at their demanding job and is very competitive. Instead of unwinding in their spare time, that person does sports that require disciplined training and competitions. All that increases the Pitta fire further, so that it can get too high. This might lead to aggressions and irritability or digestive issues.

To balance such an excess, the qualities come into play again. The leitmotif of Ayurveda is pretty easy: “Opposites balance each other.” There are 10 pairs of opposites, three of them are important for daily use:
Heavy – light
Hot – cold
Oily/moist – dry

We are most prone to imbalances of our strongest Dosha, but the others can get out of balance as well. The person from our example, for instance, would need rest and meditative activities without pressure to perform, like painting. As the quality “hot” is predominant with an excess of Pitta, cooling is beneficial: taking a swim in a cool lake, a cool cloth on the forehead or cooling food like sweet fruits.

Further information about the Doshas

Reading this introduction spiked your interest in the Doshas and your own constitution? Then proceed with the article “You and your Dosha – friends for life”. Enjoy!

17 thoughts on “A little introduction to Ayurveda – the Doshas

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