Definition of dosha
In Sanskrit, dosha means ´fault´, ´disease´. It has been defined as “doosyati iti doshah.” The literal meaning of this is “that which contaminates is called dosha.”
The term ´dosha´ comes from the Sanskrit root ''anything which gets disturbed from causative factors'', ''factors which can be disturbed or which can disturb each other''. So doshas may be considered the agents which cause imbalance in the body as well as experience it, even while they are absolutely essential to life. The doshas were originally so called only when disturbed. When balanced, they were called 'dhatu', tissues.
Observation of nature, seasons, times of day, sun and moon, animal behavior, the effect of certain foods and of foods grown in certain climates, of optimal health and of illnesses and recuperation, of youth, middle age and old age, of rejuvenation and longevity demonstrates the validity of the Tridosha concept. We clearly see that the movement of the earth in relation to the sun during the course of the day and the year affects light and dark, temperature, climate, physical strength, feelings of energy or tiredness, and appetite. We are constantly influenced by time, place and our own daily decisions and habits in terms of sleep, food and physical and mental hygiene.
According to Ayurveda there are three factors, energies or humours (made, naturally, from the same five properties which make up the universe) which form and drive the workings of the universe: Vata (formed of ether and air) Pitta (formed of fire, and to a lesser degree, water, and Kapha (formed of water and earth properties). Note that the factors which can be disturbed are the unstable properties of air, fire and water, ie Vata, Pita and Kapha, whereas space and earth are considered to remain stable. We must remember that the doshas are not air, fire or water themselves, but rather represent the qualities associated with them.
The concept of 10 pairs of opposing qualities (gunas) comes into play here. What are the intrinsic qualities of ether, air, fire, water ad earth? Are those qualities inherent and indivisible? Can they exist independently? We can´t properly understand the qualities associated with the five properties (and therefore the doshas themselves and how to balance them) if we don´t understand the concept of gunas.
slow, sluggish,dull quick, penetrating, sharp, active
unctuous, oily dry
soft, mild hard
stable, static mobile, moving
tiny, subtle gross
translucent, clear cloudy
Note, for example that the opposite of ´dry´ is not ´wet´, but ´unctuous´. Therefore the dryness associated with Vata dosha is not necessarily the dryness of the desert, or of dehydration, ie a lack of water. It is rather a lack of juice, unction, lubrication or oil. Dried out Vata skin is not soothed by bathing, but by oiling, just as a creaking door hinge needs not hydration but lubrication!
We should also bear in mind that while these qualities have a physical dimension, they also have a non physical, mental, emotional or subtle dimension. The light and quick qualities associated with Vata dosha, for example, work on the level of swift communication, understanding or speed of light creative ideas. In Vedic cosmology, ´Vayu´ (the ´blower´ of Vata) is the Lord of the Winds and his steed is a gazelle.
As these paired qualities describe our perceptual experience of the physical world, it is along these continuums that we find therapeutic balance. Excessive cold is balanced by heat, as excessive lightness is balanced by weight.
As they form part of an energetic system, these qualities exist both ´inside´ our bodies, minds and spirits as well as ´outside´ them. The doshas are responsible for three specific areas of functioning. However while they have specific sites in the body (certain organs for example) where one rather than another dosha predominates, they exist in all parts of the body down to the individual cell and their functions are carried out on the cellular level. They are inter-related throughout the body and cannot function properly in isolation from each other.
As Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the energies within the body responsible for structure and function (anatomy and physiology), and ´as above, so below´, we can consider Vata, Pitta and Kapha as organizing principles in general, that is in the external world of matter, and in the subtle world of mind, spirit and soul. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are not so much physiological ´types´ as related energies which move the world and everything and everyone in it.
The word Vata derives from the Sanskrit root ´Vah´ which means to carry, to move. Vata dominates the central nervous system, reaching every part of the body and brain. In fact the sub functions of Vata are related to ´prana,´ that is ´breath´. And ´winds´ are the impulses travelling through the body at speed of light, as well as the wind we can see moving grass, trees, or sand.
Rough, quick, light, cold, dry, clear, subtle.
The word Pitta comes from the root ´Tap´, to heat, to undergo austerities and is connected to the body´s metabolism, digestion and transformation, i.e. processes which involve changes of state brought about by heat. Just as the course of the sun determines the growth or transformation of nature, heat alters the nature and digestibility of food. In fact transformational processes never stop happening in every cell of our body.
Intense, hot, oily, liquid, sharp, mobile
The word Kapha is derived from the root ´Ka´ meaning water and ´pha´ which means to flourish. Kapha comprises the physical mass and structure of the body, its tissues and organs, and is responsible for lubrication and cohesion in the body. Just as dry powdery flour needs water to become a mass, our body needs lubrication to become a unified, cohesive structure. Lubrication is also necessary to keep the brain balanced in the skull, and our joints from wearing away.
Stable, static, heavy, cool, soft, moist, cloudy, dense.
Stable, static, heavy, cool, soft, moist, cloudy, dense.