Introduction to the three Doshas
All cultures throughout time have honoured the elements and based their systems of medicine upon balancing them. The Greek system of healing, which our modern Western medical paradigm was founded upon, was also based on the four elements of earth, water, fire and air. In Ayurveda, we use these four elements, together with the spiritual element of ether. Ether is the space that all of our atoms exist in, and the addition of this element recognizes that subtle energy can be a valuable healing force.
Taking a deeper look at the 5 elements we will discover intuitively that :
- space/ether – akash– is expansive, light, subtle, clear, infinite. Relates to sound and the ear
- air – vayu- is mobile, light, rough, dry, erratic. Relates to touch and the sensation of the nerves
- fire – tejas – is hot, sharp, luminous, light, ascendimg. Relates to sight and the eyes
- water – jala– fluid, heavy, wet, cool, soft, lubricating. Relates to taste and the tongue
- earth – prthvi – dense, thick,solid, hard,heavy, stable. Relates to smell and the nose.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, we combine these five elements into three doshas.
The three doshas and their qualities are:
- Vata – combines ether and air and has the qualities of being light, dry, mobile, quick, rough and cold.
- Pitta – is mainly fire with a touch of the oily quality of water. It has the qualities of being hot, sharp, light, transformative and pungent.
- Kapha – combines earth and water and has the qualities of being moist, slow, heavy, dense, oily, cool, sweet and smooth.
The elemental system is a naturally intuitive way of understanding the world within and around us. Everything in our world has a predominant elemental quality and therefore be categorised as a Dosha.
When we apply this to personality types, we may say that someone is ‘airy’ (Vata) and we intuitively know that this refers to a flighty, changeable and ungrounded tendency; while someone who is ‘earthy’ (Kapha) is more grounded, stable, firm, reliable and consistent. Someone we refer to as ‘firey’ indicates a passionate, angry, dynamic and courageous characteristics – pitta qualities .
See how easy this can be when we use our innate inner wisdom !
We can also apply these qualities of the doshas to our foods , which are elaborated upon in the section Vata, Kapha and Pitta.
Tastes are an essential principle of classifying our foods and herbs. The 6 tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent are used to balance the doshas.
Astringent, bitter and pungent tastes are considered Vata increasing, whilst sweet, sour and salty will pacify or balance Vata.
Pitta increasing tastes are pungent, sour and salty, and Pitta may be balanced with the tastes of bitter, sweet and astringent.
Kapha increasing tastes are sweet, salty and sour, which need the tastes of pungent, bitter and astringent to balance out the Kapha dosha.
So, how do we categorise foods under this system of tastes ? I prefer to look at the foods in terms of the basic elements again. So, if I were to ask you – what kind of food is earthy – heavy, dense, grounding – what would you guess ? I am sure you would say grains, nuts and seeds, sweet fruits, oils and even dairy…. makes sense right ? This would be our category of sweet – kapha is sweet , and we say the earth is sweet – the most pacifying for vata and pitta, and the most aggrevating for kapha.
sweet foods would include grains, dairy, nuts and seeds, oils and sweet fruits. They build tissue and nourish and calm the nervous system.
sour foods would include sour fruits, yogurts and fermented foods. They cleanse tissues and increase absobtion of nutrients.
salty tastes are salt, miso, seaweeds. This improves taste, lubricates the system and stimulates digestion.
bitter tastes would include green vegetables, and many medicinal herbs. They detoxify and lighten the tissues.
pungent tastes would include chilli pepper, ginger, onions and garlic, and some spices. They stimulate digestion and metabolism.
astringent tastes would include legumes, and most raw foods- vegetables, salads and fruit, as well as tea and coffee. They tighen tissues, reducing water and fat in the tissues.
So, now you have the outline of how to use these food categories to balance the doshas. This is covered in far more depth in the sections under each individual doshas – vata, pitta and kapha.
When we apply the qualities of the doshas to climates or seasons, we can see that a cold, wet, damp environment would be Kapha increasing; while a hot, humid and sunny environment such as the tropics would be Pitta increasing; and a dry, windy and cold environment such as in the high mountains would be Vata increasing. In the same way, we can apply these qualities of the doshas to the seasons – summer would be more pitta increasing, autumn is cold and dry would be vata aggravating, and deep winter and spring would be kapha aggravating. as nature would have it, the foods available durng the seasons will complement and naturaly balance the seasonal disturbances. In summer, we have an abundance of fruits and vegetables ideal of balancing pitta, in fall we have the grain harvest to last throughout the winter – perfect for balancing the vata, and in spring, we have the fresh bitter greens to cleanse and lighten the body after the sedentary winter.
Keep referring back to the qualities of the doshas to understand how innately simple it is to catogorise our inner and outer environment in ayurvedic terminology.
Along with climate and foods, we can also apply the doshas to our occupations. A lot of time on a computer doing intellectual IT work is very Vata increasing because it is quick, abstract and predominantly mental using a lot of nervous enegy. A high pressure competitive occupation, such as a CEO or an athlete, is Pitta aggravating because it is highly active, competative and intense. A sedentary, routinely monotonous occupation, such as a routine desk job, is Kapha increasing because it is lethargic and uninspiring.
Our choices of books or movies will create different emotional or mental states that may be considered more vata (intellectual or heady), pitta (passionate or violent) or kapha (sentimental).
Indeed, anything in our world, both internal to our being and external in our environment, can be categorised into a particular dosha-pacifying or dosha-aggravating quality.
The human condition is such that we are most comfortable with what we are most familiar with and we resist that which is different. This also applies to the doshas. Thus, when we have one dosha as our constitutional vikruti type in our body, it tends to want more of its own kind. This then creates a spiralling affect of aggravating that dosha further. Therefore it is important to first recognise what dosha you are, so you can observe its tendencies. Then, by realizing that opposing qualities balance, even though this may be challenging to explore the unknown, you can balance yourself and find a whole new level of health and well being you werent even aware was even possible !
– Vata dosha is balanced by (i) decreasing vata aggravating qualities in its environment and (ii) increasing mainly the kapha qualities, with some of the pitta. This is noted as V-P+K+
– Pitta dosha is balanced by (i) decreasing the pitta qualities in its foods and external environment and (ii) by giving its internal environment plenty of kapha and vata increasing qualities. This is noted by P-V+K+
– Kapha Dosha is balanced by (i) decreasing kapha qualities in foods and lifestyle etc, as they are aggravating to it, and by (ii) increasing the vata and pitta qualities to balance it. This is noted as K-P+V+
For more information on which dosha is aggravated in which areas or systems in your body, and how to remedy it, see our simple, self-diagnostic survey on what dosha am I?
Understanding the difference between Prakruti and Vikruti
Dosha, in Sanskrit, translates as ‘fault’ and indicates that these are the elements that are out of balance within us at any given time that we refer to as our health condition – known in Ayurveda as our Vikruti. When these elements are balanced within us, they relate to our natural state – our own unique Prakruti. Our Prakruti is not an equal fifth of each element – rather it is a blend of the elements that is unique to us, created at the time of our conception. Our Prakruti is unique to us – making one persons natural healthly state different to anothers. So whilst one persons natural prakruti may be firey, that is healthy for them, only when it is out of balance does it become pitta – a dosha – a fault or a problem. We may have a tendency to cause a doshic imbalance in vikruti in the direction of Prakruti’s predominant element, but not necessarily so. We do not treat our Prakruti, as it is our natural state – we treat our vikruti – which is an imbalance away from that natural state, and can change with emotions, season , climate and cultural environment. Once we have unwound the layers of imbalance in the vikruti , we can then maintain a healthy management of our Prakruti. I will refer to the Prakruti in terms of elements, and the Vikruti in terms of the Doshas – vata, pitta, and kapha. This may difffer from other books and explainations on the matter, but for clarification , I prefer to teach this way as to avoid unecessary confusion, and since the elements make up the doshas, it is correct to use both terminology.
It is important that we do not oversimplify when it comes to the doshas.
We are not just one dosha which remains constant over time, but rather:
- We may be a blend of the doshas in our constitutional type– vikruti. For example, we may be vata/pita ( predominantly vata with a close secondary pitta) or a pitta/ vata (primarily pitta with a secondary vata), a pitta/kapha or a kapha/pitta; vata/kapha or a kapha/vata; or a tridoshic vata/pita/kapha of equal proportions
- A dosha is a condition that may change over time because of changes in our foods, climate, weather, seasons, profession etc. When we have too much of a particular external element entering our inner environment, it will disturb it towards an aggravation of that direction. for example if one moves to a routine desk job ( kapha) in Seattle ( kapha climate) and starts eating a diet of bread and cheese and cakes ( kapha) – there will undoubtably be an increase in Kapha in the person. This may be balancing for a vata (if the diet was a healthier kapha increasing diet!) and even a stressed-out pitta, but damaging for a person with a kapha vikruti or even prakruti.
- A dosha may change location within our body systems. For example, if we have a dosha in our digestion, this may then travel to other parts of the body and cause a doshic imbalance in another system or srota.
- We may have one dosha in one part/system of the body and a different dosha in another part or system of the body. Ayurveda has a system of dhatus which refers to ‘layers of the body’. Simply translated as lymph, blood, muscle, fat, bone, nerves and sexual organs. Ayurveda also recognises 14 different srotas or body systems, for example, the upper digestive tract (actual digestion), the lower digestive tract (elimination), the water regulation system, the menstruation system, the subtle channel of the mind, etc. Therefore, we need to identify what dosha is in what dhatu or body system. It will not always be vata in all the srotas (systems) in all the dhatus (tissue layers).
- Hence, it is necessary to have an overall perspective of the doshas in the body and how they inter-relate so we can make accurate dosha balancing remedies. Ayurveda treats the vikruti, which often requires layers upon layers of unwinding the doshas in the different body systems in order to reclaim our original prakruti. As a Vaidya (an Ayurvedic practitioner), we work with unravelling the various layers of vikruti to realize our prakruti, which on a spiritual level, requires an unravelling of the effects of our samskaras (thought patterns and limiting beliefs) or karma ( deep past life experiences) upon our Essential Self.
Because of the instability of vata – Ayurveda recognises that 70% of diseases are caused by the Vata dosha, as it is the most mutable and can easily be off-balanced. The Pitta dosha is considered responsible for only 20% of disease and Kapha dosha is considered responsible for 10% of diseases as its nature is stable and it takes a lot of momentum for it to go out of balance, but once it is out, it is stubborn to correct. Hence, pacifying the vata dosha vikruti is key to many Ayurveda treatments, regardless of constitutional body type.
Understanding Ayurveda is simply a matter of inter-layering a few key concepts. There are many wonderful books on a deeper explanation. This website aims to introduce some simplified basics so that you can understand your health and the tools you need to heal yourself. For a private consultation to deepen your understanding of your condition, contact me at