By Arun Deva
Dec 14, 2017: While in Albuquerque attending an ayurvedic workshop, a group of us went to a restaurant to have lunch. When the waiter overheard us talking about our ?body systems?, he became quite excited. ?I know all about vata, pitta and kapha!? he said, ?I am a pitta!?
There are many aspects to this story. The first is that I believe he was right. The second is how heartening it is to see the knowledge of ayurveda spreading into the general consciousness of our society. I even know people who do not know much about ayurveda, but are still familiar with the words ?vata, pitta and kapha?!
The third has more serious consequences for those of us who teach ayurveda. As the awareness of the doshas spreads, it becomes our responsibility to make sure that the truth of what they are does not get distorted.
Understand the doshas
Vata, pitta and kapha collectively are known as the tri-dosha. The word dosha is difficult to translate as it has so many layers. Literally, it means ?fault? or ?blame.? It also has been translated as ?humour.? If we think of humour as an ?ill wind? then we can see how this connects to the first translation. However, taking responsibility for our actions does not necessarily mean taking ?blame? for them. Therefore, the best way to look at the doshas is as ?that which is responsible.?
To understand the doshas, we have to first understand their composition. Ayurveda believes that all creation arises from five basic elements. The first of these is Ether and it is the container for all the others. It symbolises all space within which structure can exist, from the space in the heavens to the space in your mouth. When ether begins to stir, it takes the form of Air, which is as much the movement of wind as it is the force that moves our hands and our thoughts. As this wind moves through you (and the universe) it creates friction leading to heat and is symbolised by Fire which is not only the visible fire we are familiar with but also the fire of our digestion. As this fire heats, it liquefies, leading to the Water element. Water is water as we know it, but it is also the blood, plasma and other fluids within us. Eventually, it will cool and cohere and we are left with the last and most stable element, Earth. Earth includes the structure of our bodies: skeleton as well as the muscles and flesh.
Not only are these five elements the basic fabric of the Universe, they are also what make up the tri-dosha. Vata is composed primarily of the elements of air and ether; pitta of fire and water; and kapha is water and earth. These three together are the governing principles of our existence. As such, each lends its qualities towards creating our personalities and that is where we begin to learn about our individual natures. What makes us unique is the proportion and combination of these forces within us.
Because these principles are in reality nothing more than a collection of their qualities, even if you and I have the same dominant dosha, we may have quite different personalities. We will, however, have more in common with each other than with someone of a different doshic constitution.
They make you what you are
Vata dosha will have certain qualities inherent from its elemental roots of air and space.
- People of this dosha may tend to feel cold and have dry skin.
- While either tall or short, they are invariably light framed: if they do put on weight, it will be mostly around the hips.
- They may be easily excited, and tend towards poor or light sleep.
- Under stress, they tend towards nervousness, anxiety, or fear.
- Although they grasp concepts rather easily, they have poor retention.
In balance, vata types are creative and expansive, and can be very sensitive and intuitive individuals. People of a predominantly pitta nature have the qualities of fire and water, reflecting courage and intensity.
- They have a strong metabolism and their physique will be better formed than that of a vata.
- With their radiant eyes and sharp features, they are very focused and dedicated and are blessed with intelligence and a good memory.
- They generally eat well and often.
- Due to their fiery nature they are subject to inflammatory diseases and often their skin will reflect this by breaking out.
- Emotionally they may foster anger, hatred and jealousy.
- When in balance, they are focused, decisive and passionate, thus having good leadership qualities.
Kapha being primarily water and earth, people of this constitution are well built, even stocky.
- They have excellent bone structure and are very strong.
- Unfortunately, they tend to put on weight easily and can end up becoming heavy.
- They have well-rounded faces with large eyes, a pleasant nose and full lips.
- Slow to comprehend things, once grasped they rarely forget them.
- Although they have tremendous stores of energy, they tend to be lazy and need motivation.
- Their systems are very strong but they are susceptible to colds and coughs when weakened.
- Naturally easy to get along with, they can become quite attached to things and even people and this can make them greedy and possessive.
- Given a goal, they will be meticulous in their performance, otherwise, they would just relax!
- In balance, they are just, objective and easy to rely on.
Since none of us is entirely composed of just one dosha, we all have traits that we can identify with in each of these characterisations. However, we will also identify more with one of the doshas than the others and that gives us a clue to our nature. It also gives a trained ayurvedic practitioner the keys to helping us heal. In the end, better health is based on being in harmony with our own inherent nature. When we are in balance, the different facets of our constitution reflect each other as one. This leads to a state in which we are well established and content in ourselves.
Arun Deva lives in Los Angeles, where he practices and teaches yoga and ayurveda.